WHEN THE WORM TOOK OVER
MAY 25, 2011. Everybody on astral island W-53A2K was free, young, happy, and wild.
Except one worm that moved slowly through the soil.
In his younger days, he’d wanted to write The Great W-53A2K Novel, but his dream had now taken on a new shape.
On a long flat stone near the river, across from the palace where people ran and played in the small grove of purple trees, the worm inscribed a series of indelible smears in the local language.
Five years later, a young shepherd found the stone, took it to the palace, where it was examined by a bevy of drunken scholars. Its message, in essence, was: THE WORM IS GOD.
A general meeting was called, and after much hilarity, a verdict was agreed upon:
“Let’s make the worm God. It might be fun.”
So a search was mounted, and they eventually discovered the creature under a rusty plow by a hay barn near the river. He was taken on a white satin cloth to the palace and installed on a throne.
A scribe was appointed to note and convey his commands.
The first worm edict was: YOU’RE ALL CRAZY AND I’M SANE. THEREFORE, STOP MAKING MAGIC. NO MORE TELEPATHIC TRANSMISSIONS, SPONTANEOUS MATERIALIZATIONS, OR SUNDAY BREAKFASTS. SUNDAY IS FOR CHURCH. I’M THE GOD. SO I CONDUCT THE SERVICES. GATHER HERE, LISTEN TO MY WORDS, AND HEED THEM. WE’RE GOING TO WAR, WHEN I SELECT A SUITABLE ENEMY. DIVERT THE RIVER AND DRY OUT THE BED. WEAR CLOTHES. NO MORE NAKEDNESS. PRAY TO ME AT BREAKFAST, LUNCH, AND DINNER. FORGET YOUR NAMES. YOU HAVE NO NAMES. BURN THE FIELDS. IF YOU DREAM AT NIGHT, REPORT YOUR DREAMS TO THE SCRIBE AND I WILL INTERPRET THEM. LEVITATING IS A FELONY. ON TUESDAYS, EVERYONE WEARS A BLINDFOLD. ALL DAY. NO DRINKING WATER ON WEEKENDS. ALCOHOL IS BANNED. ILLNESS IS A SIN PUNISHABLE BY DEATH. NO WRITTEN OR SPOKEN SENTENCE MAY BE LONGER THAN SIX WORDS. ADVERBS ARE OUTLAWED. STOP WEEDING GARDENS. TRAVEL IS ILLEGAL. ADDRESS ME AS HE WHO CREATED THIS PLACE. DO NOT SHOW YOUR TEETH FOR ANY REASON. FISHING IS PUNISHABLE BY DEATH. WALK SLOWLY. WEAR ONE SHOE. EXTINGUISH ALL LIGHTS AFTER SUNSET. EAT STALE BREAD. BY A SYSTEM YET TO BE DETERMINED, HAPPINESS WILL BE QUANTIFIED IN UNITS. EACH PERSON MAY EXPERIENCE THREE UNITS A YEAR. MEMORY IS OUTLAWED. SPECULATIONS ABOUT THE FUTURE MUST BE CLEARED THROUGH ME.
The scribe read the edict to a throng gathered outside the palace.
Afterwards, the laughter went on for several hours.
One by one, the people disappeared. Winked out where they were standing. The last to go was the scribe.
So now, on astral island W-53A2K, the worm, alone on his white cloth on the throne, in the palace, ruled no one.
“It’s a shame,” he said. “I was going to create a whole new civilization. Gift cards, cell phones, subways, Oprah, news headlines, law schools…”
Suddenly, a thin man in a suit appeared in the throne room and stepped forward.
“Your Majesty of Majesties,” he said. “I’m here from TY437UIS49Qv-32-ITYD. It’s quite an advanced operation, and we just lost our God in a tsunami. Terrible thing. We’re interviewing candidates for the job. The superstructure of our society has 2Q-/%yuv7* layers. Very complex. Maintaining order is a top priority. I have a feeling you might be right for the job.”
The worm gazed at the thin man for a long time. The man didn’t seem to mind waiting.
Finally, the worm spoke.
“I assume there would be conditions. A contract of some kind.”
The man nodded.
“Yes, sir. I have a copy with me. Basically, you would exert unlimited power. Quarterly reviews of your actions would be compared to a Standards Board Outlook long form, which was drafted for the purpose of assuring our population would remain in a servile and malleable state of mind.”
“So, for example,” the worm said, “total destruction is out of the question.”
“Well, of course.”
“And devastating storms, floods, magnetic shifts, earthquakes and the like would be adjudicated against a grid of ongoing operational control.”
“There are clauses which cover that, yes.”
“You have the landing platform of a myth structure on which I could credibly alight?”
“I believe so, sir. Its cardinal premise is ‘the lowest shall be highest.’”
The worm considered this.
“I’m the only one who can perform magic.”
“Goes without saying. Over the course of twenty centuries, we’ve scrubbed the memory of it from the collective consciousness.”
“Oh,” the worm said, “you have a collective consciousness?”
“We do,” the man said. “Its propagation is Job One. Actually, it’s a fiction, but a widespread belief in it is as effective as the real thing—if there were a real thing.”
“Yes,” the worm said, “I believe I understand. Now, if I wanted to change my identity, even my appearance…”
“This could take place gradually, over a suitable period of time,” the thin man said. “For example, you could become a seventeen-year-old boy at the height of his sexual power. There are coteries of girls which could be made available. But that’s just one possible scenario. We’re flexible on the details.”
“An old man holding a scroll sitting in a thundercloud, a radiant figure floating down from a cherry tree, a fierce hawk diving through still blue air to seize prey, a troll surfacing from a pond, a hybrid genetically engineered military leader holding an electronic paralyzing whip, a priestess adorned in gleaming metal astride a magnificent stallion…”
“All those, and more,” the man said.
“And this would be a permanent job?” the worm said.
“That is the whole point, sir,” the man said.
“You are continuing to degrade the intelligence and energy of the population, over time?”
The thin man nodded.
“We have a medical establishment dedicated to that goal. Drugs. They depress function.”
“While mitigating symptoms.”
“I’m interested,” the worm said.
“I thought you might be,” the man said.
“What about my rake-off from taxes?”
“After your ascension, you start in at eleven percent. That figure increases each year by one percent, based on a positive report from the Standards Board Outlook Committee, until you max out at forty-nine percent.”
“And who holds the other fifty-one percent?”
“Who is we?”
“Well, sir, it’s a question you’re not permitted to ask.”
“I see. Was that why your recently deceased God was wiped out in the tsunami? He asked the question?”
“We had to send a message. After all, we watch God.”
“And who watches you?” the worm said.
“Even I’m not privy to that information,” the thin man said. “I’m told it’s an infinitely receding series of control centers. But that may be just a cover story.”
“Can you be promoted?”
“What about me?”
“No. You’re God.”
“Can I write a book?”
“Of course. We would consider that a plus.”
“Where would I live?”
“As far as the people are concerned, your home is in the sky. Actually, you and your staff would occupy a villa overlooking the sea in temperate zone 4A04dtL.”
“Why have a God at all?” the worm asked. “Why not make one up?”
The thin man pursed his lips.
“It’s a position. It exists. Someone has to issue commands, edicts, and arbitrary decisions.”
“There would be churches in my name?”
“Churches, temples, cathedrals, small far-flung franchises.”
“After the unfortunate tsunami, you could have introduced a double of the old God.”
“We thought of that, but we have the opportunity to stimulate the population with a Great Change. It will be said you are the inheritor of the mantle, by His decree.”
“Which means you’ll have to announce that he died.”
“No. We’ll say he has important business elsewhere, where things need to be cleaned up.”
“Then I’m simply his deputy,” the worm said.
“The scepter will be passed. Permanently.”
“Do you have television?”
“A form of it. There are no screens. Electromagnetic waves of meaning distributed over the whole system.”
“I can promise to give much and yet give little?”
The thin man paused. He moved a step closer to the throne.
“Sir, let me make this very clear. Your job is to promise everything and give nothing.”
“Why?” the worm asked.
“Because we’ve found, through trial and error, that things work out best that way. The total hoax is the most effective hoax.”
“In other words,” the worm said, “the people pretend I’m a giving God.”
The thin man snapped his fingers.
“You’ve got it,” he said.
“Where do I sign?” the worm said.