Visions of Gingerbread
a short story
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
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
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
"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
"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."
"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
"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
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."
"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
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
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.
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