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Visions of Gingerbread

a short story
by Bruce Holland Rogers

I have never fired anyone on the night of the Christmas party. Not quite. But my employees always give me a wide berth at the annual event. It reminds me of my failure to escape the family spice business.

Once upon a time, decades ago, I had turned on, tuned in, and dropped out. My generation had set out to change the world, and my particular contribution was going to involve the cultivation and low cost distribution of marijuana. After the revolution, pot would be legal. Everyone would smoke it. Everyone would be mellow.

The revolution never materialized. When my girlfriend, Rainbow, got pregnant, she didn't want to live in a tipi any more. She wanted running water. She changed her name back to Mary Ellen. We got married.

After I finished college with a degree in botany, I took over the family business. Now, thirty-five years after my return as the prodigal son, I had my father's office, his ulcers, his heart condition, and his temper.

At this year's party, as usual, everyone from my executive VP to the mail clerk steered clear of me. An hour into the evening, as conversations buzzed in every other part of the room, I found myself standing alone, eggnog in hand, looking at the Christmas tree. It was as if I had never seen one before. There was something about the shape of the tree, about its deep green shadows and its smell, that spoke to me. It said, forest. It said, everything is alive. It said, this is the perfect moment. And at that perfect moment, I felt as if I were a key sliding into its lock. The universe and I, we fit.

God was in the tree, in the lights, and everywhere in the room with me. God was in the eggnog. I thought, LSD flashback? After thirty-five years? But on acid I had never felt anything like this wholeness and clarity.

"You look a thousand miles away," said a woman's voice.

I turned. I didn't know her. Her hair was severely short, mannish. But I smiled. "No, not a thousand miles away," I said. "I'm very much right here."

"Enjoying the party?"

"To my surprise, I am."

"Would you like to hear a crackpot theory?"

I laughed. Who was she? I didn't care. "Tell me."

"You know that nutmeg is a hallucinogen."

"Not one that you'd take twice."

"The voice of experience?"

"I am a child of my generation, Ms. -- ?"

"The psychoactive ingredient is thought to be myristicin."

"No," I said. "That's wrong. Synthetic myristicin doesn't have the same effect. A nutmeg high probably has to do with myristicin in interaction with other, similar molecules. There's a whole stew of them in nutmeg." I looked at the eggnog in my hand, at the grains of nutmeg floating on the top. Could my euphoria be nutmeg induced? But you had to choke down tablespoons of the stuff to get a buzz.

"That's right," she said. "There's a plant geneticist, a Dr. Thorpe, who has done some gene splicing. With nutmeg. Also with star anise, parsley, and parsnip."

"They all contain myristicin," I said.


I smiled. "I had similar interests once."

"So I've heard."

"Does this Thorpe fellow think he's going to make hallucinogenic tomatoes?"

She looked around the room. No one else was paying any attention to us. "Actually, the spliced genes are synthetic. Thorpe tweaks segments of DNA to produce mutations. And one of those mutations resulted in an analog to myristicin that has some fascinating properties."

Earlier, I had felt the universe suddenly resolve and make sense. Now the same thing happened for our conversation. I looked at my eggnog. "Let me guess. One of those fascinating properties is that the analog is active in small concentrations. Would that be right, Dr. Thorpe?"

"Another property is that it doesn't interfere with mental acuity. An ordinary nutmeg high would make you dopey. This won't."

In other circumstances, I might have thrown my drink to the floor, called security, and had Thorpe thrown out. Or arrested. But God was in the nutmeg. And I liked Thorpe. I liked her to an unusual degree. I took another sip of God. I felt loved.

"I've done some brain scans," she said. "My nutmeg stimulates the part of the amygdala associated with religious experiences."

"The what?"

"There's a part of your brain that triggers the experience of oneness with the universe. Of seeing God. Brain scientists can tickle that region of the amygdala with an electrode and give you a religious experience."

"Wait. If an electrode or a drug can make you see God, does that make God an artificial experience? A lie? Or does the stimulation just open your awareness?"

"See? No interference with mental acuity. You're still sharp."

"Answer the question."

"I'm agnostic. What matters to me is the practical effect. People have these experiences, and the experiences change their lives. People who have seen God are less anxious, less aggressive. The drug metabolizes completely in about forty-eight hours, but the psychological change lasts longer. Particularly if the experience repeats. And that's where the crackpot theory comes in. Because everything I've told you so far is real." She nodded at the eggnog in my hand. "As you can attest."

"Religious nutmeg. I'd have heard about this."

"Nutmeg in its natural form is legal." She looked around the room again. Conversations all around us were animated, pleasant, and focused. Everyone looked so friendly, so interested in one another. Dr. Thorpe and I might as well have been talking in a soundproof booth. "However, not everyone would approve of the modified form."

"Ah. Because your crackpot theory is that people will change. Give the masses a taste of your nutmeg, and they'll be less afraid, harder to manipulate into hating one another."

"Not the masses. Just one good soul and one gingerbread cookie at a time."

I smiled. "I like you very much, Dr. Thorpe."

"You love everyone. So do I."

"What you need is a plantation."

"Yes. I have seed stock for you. A start, anyway."

"It will take time."

"I know."

"Nutmeg seedlings won't flower for at least four years. The trees aren't full bearing for twenty."

"Believe me, I know," she said. "But a revolution doesn't happen in a day."

I looked around. The whole room glowed with adoring light. On Monday, all these wonderful people who worked for me would get a raise, and the company would get a new mission. We were going global. We were going to expand, but in a way that was friendly to customers and competitors alike.

The golden radiance around Dr. Thorpe's head might have been a hallucination. Maybe I was seeing auras. Whatever it was, it made me infinitely happy.

© Bruce Holland Rogers 2003, 2005.
"Visions of Gingerbread" first appeared in Analog (December 2003).
It was also included in Bruce Holland Rogers' Short Stories by E-mail.
Thirteen Ways to Water and other stories by Bruce Holland Rogers Bruce Holland Rogers: Short Stories, Volume 1Wind Over Heaven: and other dark tales by Bruce Holland Rogers
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