[See the story behind this story in “Warts & All: J. Tull & My Early Creative Writing.”]
The center of the room was occupied by a pillar, a tall and sturdy, strong and functional pillar, rooted firmly in the floor and growing broader as it rose upwards. This pillar had a name: He was called Zeus.
Zeus was wearing his favorite white tunic today, the one with the fine gold fringe and tassels. He had arranged for the Eternity Suite and, upon arrival, had firmly planted himself as if he intended to grow still greater. He had checked his thunderbolts downstairs and now stood like a pillar with his hands behind his back, alternately gazing upward and then casting his eyes down.
He muttered, “So many. I had not thought death had undone so many.”
(This, echoing down through the Ages, would later be picked out of the Ether by some crazed poet.)
The others had by this time arrived and were lounging about, awaiting the solemnities. There was Aphrodite in the cushioned, low-backed chair, her leg over one of the arms, her golden hair trailing to the floor behind. She was gazing lustfully at Apollo, who had found a harp and was absentmindedly plucking the strings. Apollo glanced up and gave a slight smile. She licked her lips seductively. Suddenly becoming very aware of his short tunic (and the fact that he was wearing nothing beneath it), Apollo twanged a sour note and looked away.
Pan, meanwhile, was sitting on the floor in the corner, his knees drawn up, horns nicely polished, leg hairs neatly trimmed and styled. He was playing on his pipes in pleasant discord to each note of Apollo’s.
Just over from Pan was an overstuffed sofa bearing a gaudy design of intertwined vines with broad green leaves and flowers of purple and yellow and blue. (You pay a little extra for the suite and still get ugly furniture.) Sitting on this sofa were Hera and Athena, talking, straightening out old differences. Hera, her hair up in a bun and wearing a gown of pink gossamer (which, by the way, clashed awfully with the sofa), was confessing to Athena how embarrassed she was over that whole Trojan War incident. Athena admitted that, yes, it had been a silly mistake, and anyway, they both knew who was really to blame. They turned disdainfully towards Aphrodite and saw her blow a kiss to Apollo. Hera then inquired after Athena’s vacation plans.
If we shift our view to the right, slightly beyond Zeus, we can see that there was also a bed here in the Eternity Suite. It was quite a large bed, a brass bed, with bulging white mattress and box springs. These were surmounted by several layers of immaculately white hotel linen. We can imagine that the bedspread had fallen to the floor next to the wall. Beneath the sheets was something large and amorphous—possibly a remnant of primordial ooze beginning to form something solid. Actually, on further examination, this blob does seem to be something at least vaguely humanoid. It’s sort of large in the middle and tapers off to both ends.
Leaning against the foot of the bed was a small, nondescript person with a book open in front of him. His name explained his existence: Prompter. He wasn’t a god or anything; Zeus just kept him around in case any of his players forgot their parts. Zeus was, of course, confident that this would not be the case—but no sense taking chances.
In through the door came rushing our old friend Hades, looking somewhat disheveled in his best attire. Smudges of soot stood out on his bronzed skin.
“Sorry I’m late,” he boomed. “I’ve had simply a hellish day—big close outs down in the basement, you know.” He always referred to his domain as the basement. “I hope I haven’t missed anything?”
“All right,” said Zeus, stroking his long gray beard. “Let’s get this over with.”
Zeus waved his hand sort of impatiently and said something like “Poof” under his breath. And then he was holding a long oaken staff. He used the wide, gnarled end to prod the form in the bed. The sheets began to writhe a little more. Possibly it was something turning over.
Beneath the covers there suddenly developed a consciousness. It maneuvered the sheets so that what passed for its head was visible on the cushy white pillow. The consciousness looked around the room.
It was a hotel room. Probably a suite. The walls were pink, apparently done in water color, fairly dark in the corners and fading gradually to almost white in the centers of the walls. The consciousness found this somewhat odd. What was even more odd was the strange looking group of people all staring at this consciousness and smiling. One of them was playing some exalted melody on a harp.
The consciousness realized it probably knew how to create speech and decided to give it a try:
“Here, now, what’s this?”
Zeus stepped forward. He had already caused his staff to cease to exist.
In his most glorious voice, and still with Apollo’s accompaniment, he said, “This is the Ceremony of the Changing of the Gods.”
The figure in the bed was clearly perplexed.
“What do you mean? What gods?”
Hera stood and walked up next to Zeus.
“Well, all of us, dear,” she said. “We are all gods.”
“That’s very nice for you,” said the consciousness. “But what do you want to change for?”
“Good Heavens!” Hades exclaimed while Pan, still sitting in the corner, just snickered. “Apparently he doesn’t quite understand things yet.”
The consciousness in the bed had raised the covers and was peering beneath.
“Where did I get this form?”
“Perhaps we’d better take this slow and spell it all out, as it were,” Hades confided to Zeus.
Zeus nodded in agreement and turned back to the bed. The figure was still staring beneath the sheets and biting its lower lip. Noticing the others again, it quickly pulled the covers up to hide its face below the eyes.
“Good sir,” said Zeus. “Attend to my speech, please.”
The figure nodded its head rapidly.
Apollo again played some regal accompaniment as Zeus began.
“We, here, are from shining Mount Olympus. As gods, we have ruled for countless time gone by. Our charge has been the life forms of a world in an unimportant and uninteresting corner of the universe. To them, we are all-powerful.”
“Well, almost,” said Apollo, pausing a moment in his melody. Zeus took no note of his remark.
“Their worship of us gives us this power.”
Zeus drew himself up in a dramatic pause. All eyes were on him, awaiting his next utterance. Even Aphrodite, who had become quite moody, perked up at this. The pause grew longer as Zeus seemed to revel in his oratory prowess.
Then Zeus sighed and sort of shrunk a little.
“Suffice it to say, we’re giving it up.”
The figure’s eyes flew open and it dropped the sheet from its face.
“What? What do you mean, ‘giving it up’? Why would you want to do that?”
A burst of sardonic laughter came from over in the corner.
“Why, indeed,” said Pan, getting up. “That’s a real hoof stomper, ain’t it, friends and neighbors?”
He danced a little jig step, providing his own accompaniment on his pipes, while Athena glared at him and the others shook their heads disapprovingly.
“Look, can anyone tell me what’s going on here?” said the voice from the bed.
“It’s like this,” said Hades. “As noble Zeus has just told you, our power comes from being worshiped. Well, we’ve interfered and botched things up so often that our followers won’t worship us anymore. Hence, we’re out, as it were. They think they’ve developed a new system, and, the long and the short of it is, you’re it.
“What? No! There must be some mistake. I mean, I’m not even a god.”
“Yes you are, dear,” said Hera soothingly. “You’re their new ‘One God.’”
“No, I can’t accept this. I don’t even think I like the idea of being corporeal. Isn’t there someone I can talk to?”
Now it was Athena’s turn to rebut.
“Listen. You’re the new God. They chose you. It’s finished.”
“That’s the beauty of it,” said Pan derisively. “You don’t get a choice. They choose. We didn’t get a choice when it was our turn either.”
“But I don’t know how to be a god,” said God.
“That’s why we’re here,” said Zeus.
“We’re supposed to help you get started,” said Hera.
God looked around the room. Pan was across the way, picking something out of one of his hoofs. Athena, with her stern face on, was still sitting on the sofa. (“What an attractive piece of furniture,” God thought.) Apollo sat with his harp, though he wasn’t playing anything now. He seemed to be moping about something. Then there was Aphrodite, who hadn’t moved, except maybe to turn away from the others. And standing before the bed of God were, left to right, Hades, Zeus, and Hera.
“But— Why me?” God whined.
Hades took it upon himself to answer.
“Well, I suppose they reached into the Ether and you’re what happened by.”
“What rotten luck,” God said.
“Here, let me tell you a story,” Hades said, to the groans of some of his companions. “Perhaps this will make it all clear. This is many years ago now. I was working down in the basement when—”
Hades’ face suddenly went blank. He stroked his walrus whiskers. Zeus pretended not to notice this.
“Oh dear,” Hades muttered, and then: “Line!”
“When I was visited by…” quoth the Prompter.
“Yes, thank you,” said Hades.
“Who was that?” said God, sitting up and revealing his blue- and- white-striped night shirt as he tried to see over the end of the bed.
“Never mind,” said Zeus.
“When I was visited by a young squire begging for the life of his love. Arachne was her name. Or was it Persephone? I can never remember.”
“Is there a point to this, Hades?” asked Zeus.
Hades pondered a moment. “Probably not.”
“Can we just go ahead then?”
Hades sniffed the air a couple of times for no apparent reason. “Yes, I suppose we should.”
“What does a god have to do, anyway?” asked God.
“Practically nothing at all,” said Zeus. “In fact, you needn’t even get out of bed.”
“Oh, well, that doesn’t sound too bad. But wait a minute—what was it you did that made them not want you anymore?”
Pan jumped in.
“We were running amuck. You know, knocking up babes, wiping out cities, turning people into animals. They got a little tired of it.”
“That’s just it,” said Zeus. “They’re looking for a ‘hands off’ deity now.”
“So I don’t have to do anything,” said God. “And they’ll just worship and leave me alone, is that it?”
“Well, basically. There may be a slight hitch, however.”
“Oh no, here comes the part I don’t like, right?”
Hades sat down on the foot of the bed. He hesitated a moment, thinking of just the right words.
Aphrodite was now sobbing quietly to herself. Apollo was plucking at his harp again.
“It’s like this,” said Hades. “They sort of wanted to get a fresh start. So, they created you to create them.”
“Yes, I know it makes no logical sense, but it’s the way it’s got to be done.”
“But I don’t know how to create anything.”
“That’s what we’re here to show you,” said Athena. “Noble Zeus, explain the law of creation so we can be finished.”
“Yes, do,” said Apollo. “We might as well get out of here if we’re going.”
“Yes, Zeus,” said Pan. “Some of us have vacation plans to get on with.”
“All right, all right,” said Zeus impatiently. “Listen up, God. I’m going to explain the Poof Law of Creation.”
“All right, I’m listening,” said God reluctantly.
And so God was introduced to the miracle Poof Law—a must in any god’s repertoire of miracle working machinery.
Zeus finished his explanation with a flourish, he said a majestic, “Poof,” and he once again held his staff.
“Ooo! That was super!” said God.
“Oh, it’s really nothing,” said Zeus. “Practically anyone could do it. Why don’t you give it a try? Start small, though.”
God thought for a moment, his brow creased. Then, with a glimmer of excitement as he decided what to create, he uttered, “Poof.”
On his bed appeared a tray bearing a pot of tea and several cups. God, startled, smiled at his success and then poured a cup for himself.
“Well, that’s an impressive first effort, I must say,” Hades boomed out.
“It could have been better,” said God after taking a sip. “It’s not really hot enough.” Then, remembering his manners, he said, “Would anyone else like some? There’s plenty.”
Hera began pouring herself a cup.
“Thank you, that’s most gracious of you, dear. I’m simply parched.”
“Excuse me,” said Athena, obviously irritated. “Before this little tea party degenerates too far, might we not finish what we came here to do?”
“Quite right, daughter,” said Zeus, clearing his throat. “Let’s get back to business.”
“What’s your hurry, ’Thena?” piped up Aphrodite for the first time. She had produced a polished ivory brush and was absentmindedly running it through her golden tresses.
“I’ve told you not to call me that,” Athena snarled back.
Aphrodite took no notice. She was staring dreamily at nothing and talking to the air. “You seem eager to relinquish your godhood, to go into an unknowable oblivion which you all keep calling a vacation. You want to exist only in books or as a dim memory. But it’s good to be worshiped. . . . But, of course, you, ’Thena, wouldn’t know that nearly as well as I.”
Pan took a break from noisily slurping the tea he had poured for himself to give a little snicker.
“She’s right, you know, ’Thena. She always was first among us in followers.”
He raised his cup to his mouth and quickly lapped up some tea with his darting tongue. He smiled.
Athena wasn’t sure if she wanted to scowl more at Aphrodite or Pan.
“Did someone say something about oblivion?” God asked. “I kind of like that idea a little.”
“You two just don’t realize the significance of this event,” Athena finally said.
“I’m afraid oblivion’s not for you,” Hades informed God good-naturedly, still sitting on the foot of the bed. He patted God on the knee a few times.
“Pipe down, why don’t you, Athena.” This was from Apollo. “I mean, what difference does it make now? The point is we couldn’t handle the job.”
“Oh, we’re such failures!” Pan said, melodramatically raising the back of his hand to his forehead, mock anguish contorting his features.
Athena shook her head in frustration and disgust and went back to the sofa to sit down.
“Are you absolutely sure about this oblivion thing?”
“Quite,” Hades responded.
“Oh, bother,” said God, doing his best Winnie-the-Pooh impression.
“Now, what say we get on with the creation,” Zeus said.
“Are you sure there’s no way for me to get out of this God thing, then?”
“No. We’ve told you.”
Zeus was growing weary of this whimpering entity.
God sighed. “All right. Explain again what it is I have to do. I’ll probably end up botching it worse than you ever did, but we’ll not worry about that I guess.”
“Now that’s the chipper attitude I like to see,” said Hades. “What a lad!”
Now that they’d come to the boring part, Pan went back to the corner and sat down. He held his tea cup out in front of him in the palm of his hand and uttered a fast stream of “Poofs.” With each one, the item changed; first it was a flower pot with a single daisy poking out, then it was a silver candlestick, a mouse, a golf trophy, a handful of copper roofing nails, a soap dish, wind-up chattering teeth, and, finally, his pipes, which he immediately began to play upon.
“Show off,” said Apollo, beginning to combat Pan’s music with his harp.
Meanwhile, Aphrodite had resumed quietly sobbing to herself and Athena was still sulking.
“It’s like this,” Hades told God. “You have been created, or summoned, or imagined, if you wish, by the power of worship. Now, the beings that created you are going to believe that it was you that created them. So, what you’ve got to do is to perform that particular miracle of creation, as it were.”
God looked thoughtful for a moment, then began, slowly, to speak.
“But…if they made me…how can I make them—being as they already exist?”
“Well, as I told you before, it doesn’t make any logical sense. That’s the way with these sort of things. You see, they’ll just make up their myths about you later.”
Hades was always the very image of patience, though some of his quick-tempered companions found him simply obnoxious and meddlesome.
“Are you ready to give it a try?” Zeus asked.
God answered, reluctantly, “I guess so.”
“Well, okay, let me help you get started,” Zeus said and he began to concentrate hard. After a moment he uttered a “Poof” and a spherical patch of the Void opened above God’s bed.
“There—I’ve cleared you a work area.”
“Thanks,” God said, biting his lip and staring at the fuzzy blackness with suspicion and fear.
“Now create into it already,” Athena shouted.
“But take your time, dear,” Hera said.
God sat up straight in the bed. He raised his arms out in front of him and shook them a little. He then wiggled his fingers and flailed his hands a bit. Obviously, he was warming up for quite a task. He then drew up his knees (which were, by the way, if it makes any difference, still under the covers), placed his elbows on them, and folded his hands together under his chin. He pursed his lips, and began.
The patch of Void hovered over the bed, the bottom of it about even with God’s face as he sat up. This bit o’ Void drew the attention of all in the room, as things slowly began to take shape within it.
First there was a slight shimmering in the center and this coalesced into a small, blue spherical object. It seemed to be heaving from inside. Other colors started to appear on the object, swirling over its surface. At first these were primarily whites and greens, but then the true beauty began to show—the pinks and purples, orange and yellows. (Beauty, that is, was what God thought in the moments before it started to get away from him altogether.)
The ball continued heaving as if it were drawing breath. Texture began to break out on the surface, slowly at first. It appeared to be developing miniature mountains and canyons but these were quickly eradicated as the sphere became engulfed in fur. It was a ball of pink and purple, orange and yellow fur.
(“No, no. That’s all wrong,” God said.)
The fur disappeared and the mountains and canyons returned. They continued heaving and growing. One canyon became so deep that the sphere collapsed, closing it off again. The little bumps that would be mountains grew up in isolated clumps, becoming slightly pointy with huge white tops. The largest one burst and a gooey white ichor oozed out onto the surface. It was just like a cosmic pimple. Others began to follow the first one’s lead and before long the whole sphere was dripping with pink and purple, orange and yellow goo.
By this time, God was completely out of control. The whole sphere was dissolving and the liquid dripping off its bottom end. God tried to shore it up by placing the dangling ooze back on top, but it only dripped down again, adding to the mess. Then he really got frantic. His arms were again flailing but this time as if trying to ward off each new monstrosity he created. He made a cup in the void to catch the sphere’s now liquid mass. Soon the sphere was entirely dissolved and the cup was overflowing. He tried to reform the sphere from the cup but it was all too amorphous by this point and just began melting all over. God thought about using different textures again but he couldn’t come up with anything besides fur. He worked on colors and patterns. He did polka dots and stripes, plaids and paisleys and florals. (His favorite was a pattern just like the sofa in the Eternity Suite.) But nothing worked; the object continued to dissolve and drip.
Now, the others were watching all this. They saw as the globe began to form and they were pleased. They saw as it developed fur and were less pleased. They saw the fur go away and were pleased again, though with a bit of trepidation. And then they saw as the whole process began to break down and realized that their evening’s work might take longer than they’d originally planned.
They also saw God at work, first with a calm assuredness, then some doubt crept in, and finally outright panic. They watched as he began to flail his arms in the throes of his mystic conjuration. They saw his night shirt suddenly replaced by a black top hat and tails. He was waving sparklers in his hands, a silly grin on his face. Then they saw him revert to his striped night shirt. They saw him pull a rabbit from his sleeve and toss it aside without noticing it.
They also saw, though most of them would not remember it later, someone leaning over, whispering into God’s ear. It was a very pale woman, vanilla white. She was dripping, melting, but retained her features intact. The Ice Cream Lady apparently finished her mysterious message and disappeared as quickly as she had appeared.
Finally, with his creation dissolving and oozing uncontrollably, some of it dripping out onto his bed, some of it falling into the Void, God cried, “Help! Help! Turn it off!”
Zeus waved his arm in a gesture of dismissal and the patch of Void cleared.
“Well wasn’t that exciting?” said—guess who?—Pan.
“I told you I didn’t want to do this!” God shouted.
Hera placed her hand on God’s shoulder.
“It really wasn’t bad,” she said. “For your first try at it, that is. I’m sure you’ll do better next time.”
“No. Forget it. I’m not doing it. No chance.”
“But you have to, dear. You don’t have a choice.”
She smiled at him with motherly patience.
“Besides,” she went on, “you wouldn’t have had nearly as much trouble if we’d remembered to teach you one other thing first.”
“What? You mean you—I mean, I’m supposed to create this whole bloody world and you haven’t told me all I need to know? What sort of joint are you running here?”
“Now calm down,” Zeus said. “We’ll get this all straightened out.”
“And here I am, some weird sort of goo dripping all over me, thinking it was a mistake anyone could make while all the while you’re all laughing at my stupidity and incompetence—and just what kind of god am I, anyway?”
“Oh, stop!” said Apollo. “You haven’t even been given the chance to fail yet.”
“That’s enough of that,” said Zeus, shaking a finger at Apollo.
Zeus then faced God, his hands behind his back. He took a deep breath, rocked back a little on his heels, and on his exhale came the rushed words, “Let me apologize if we have been remiss in our tutoring.”
“Yes,” said Hades. “We did neglect to give you the miracle Poof Law of Uncreation, which you might have put to good use just now.”
While Zeus and Hades explained this latest bit of magic to God, Pan took a short stroll to the foot of God’s bed. He leaned over Prompter’s shoulder, getting a look at the script. (Prompter, it is to be noted, took no notice of Pan. After all, it was his job to know everyone’s actions and he did have the script in front of him for easy reference. Also, Prompter knew that Pan was pretty good at this sort of stuff and rarely missed a cue. Actually, Prompter always wanted to be more like Pan—sort of a free spirit, an off-the-cuff type being. But unfortunately there weren’t a lot of openings like that in the Mysterious and Unexplained Entities Union.)
Pan, having seen what he wanted to see, stood up and said, “Good. Not much more left of this.”
“Yes, I think I’ve got it now,” God told Zeus.
“Well then, why don’t you give it another try?” Zeus coaxed. “And this time if you start to get in trouble you only have to uncreate the offensive bit. And remember—you’re in control. You decide, you create. It’s very simple. I know you can do it.”
And so, reluctantly, God began again. It started out pretty much the same in the bit o’ Void—a slight shimmering slowly developing into a solid sphere. It was mostly blue and soon some brown and green areas began to show up. And then the whole thing became shrouded in a misty white covering that swirled and danced about. God was working quite confidently now. He caused some other spheres to spring up near the first and sent them spinning off on their own missions. And then he made a little pin prick of fire to illuminate his creations, track lighting in space. (“Can you make that spotlight burn a little brighter?” someone said.) The dot of light flared into brilliancy as it grew and expanded, flooding the first sphere with glittering light (and, incidentally, searing some of the other spheres to charcoal).
And then God paused a moment, thinking very hard. A droplet of perspiration poked out on his forehead. There was a tense silence in the room. Then God uttered a final “Poof”—and Life began beneath the cloud covering of the globe.
A spontaneous burst of applause broke out in the room.
“Good show,” said Hades.
“An excellent bit of creation,” Hera said.
“Yes, yes, a wonderful effort,” Zeus said.
Even Apollo and Athena were impressed.
Aphrodite, now, there was a different story. All this while she had been quietly mumbling to herself. It might have been of interest for the others to have listened to her because there was a great deal of truth in all she said. Let’s back up a little and listen in on her:
“It doesn’t really matter. It’s all always the same. Every place, every time . . . it’s just the same. It’s like a freeway in the fog at night, with those orange street lamps illuminating the air with eerie light. And you drive under endless overpasses and past towns and cities without number, and they’re all just alike, one to the next. . . . And everywhere you go it’s just the same and you find this little piece of magic, this prestidigitation, a sleight of hand we call life, and you wonder what you’re all about anyway. And of course it doesn’t make any sense, anyway, but that’s okay, there’s not a problem with that. So you slide yourself over your seals and you make all your minimal squeals and your wise men tell you to learn to hate the things you feel. And it’s just a spark of magic, a trick of belief, a little lie you’ve been living that they tear away from you to slap down in someone else’s lap, someone who never asked for it and is just as unprepared as you ever were, and of course it doesn’t matter because it’s just the same anyway, every place and every time. . . .”
And so she went, weaving her own sort of spell. But as I said, none of the others heard her and maybe it didn’t make any difference.
The rest of the group were finishing up praising God.
“So that’s basically it, then?” God asked. “I mean, I don’t have to do anything else?”
“Well, yes, essentially that’s all there is,” said Hades. “Though if I were you, I’d give your worshipers an occasional miracle. Just, you know, so they don’t forget about you or anything.”
“Yes, that sounds reasonable. I suppose I could give that a try.”
“Well, I guess we’ll be shoving off then,” said Zeus. “We’ll just leave you to your godhood.”
“Have a good go at it now,” said Hades and gripped God’s hand in a firm handshake.
“Good luck in all your endeavors, dear,” said Hera and she bent and kissed God’s forehead.
Pan cantered up to the bedside, took God’s hand in his own, and energetically shook it as he said, “Good luck, there, old chap, and remember to have fun with it because that’s really the most important thing.”
Pan then skipped off to the door. The others began to follow.
“Come on, Apollo, I’ll race you to the elevator,” said Pan and he disappeared around the corner.
“Oh what’s the point? He always wins,” Apollo said as he followed Pan out the door.
“Now you stay firm and keep up with your duties, no matter how slight they may be,” Athena told God and she turned to go.
Aphrodite followed her out, head bowed, without looking back.
“Good luck, and have a good time,” the rest of the old gods told God. “Goodbye now. Goodbye.”
“Goodbye,” said God, waving energetically. “Goodbye for now, and thanks awfully.”
They went out the door. The last thing God heard from them was Hera asking Hades about his vacation plans.
The door shut behind them. And then it disappeared entirely. And then the Eternity Suite itself began to fade away. That was okay, that suited God just fine. He looked into the bit o’ Void that still floated above his bed.
“Yes,” he said. “Yes.”
He blew a great wind against it and waved his arms and the bit o’ Void went away.
“Yes,” God said.
He poured himself another cup of tea. He sat a while, quietly sipping. He was alone now. (Prompter had gone, too, though no one knew when or where; I imagine he went back to the Union to await his next assignment.)
God began to get weary, what with all the creation he’d done and all. His eyes started drooping and his mouth opened in a monstrous yawn, revealing several eternities down there. He finished his cup of tea and set it down.
“Yes,” he said.
And he pulled the covers over his head and went back to sleep.