A satire on celebrity and genetic modification. The god Pan comes to Earth and because of his goats' legs is mistaken for a genetically modified organism. He becomes famous, appears on a couple of TV shows, and tries to remember that his original reason for coming to Earth is to thwart the intentions of his rival Joe Progress, a thoroughly modern deity. Unfortunately, a big genetics company has the patent on any mix of goat and human genes.
Buddha calls me an ecowarrior, but then he has a dark sense of humour. Warrior implies action. I'm more of an ecowhiner, sitting on my hairy backside complaining about injuries to my habitat but doing little about them. I make noises about the avocados with a walnut in their centre rather than a stone, though to be fair they taste very nice. And I grumble about the trout that jump from the river into any skillet placed in front of them, despite their convenience.
Only in our battle with the woodcutters have I managed some action, and even that was merely organisational. I pointed out to the woodnymphs that they are beautiful, highly-sexual creatures and the woodcutters are strapping young men, and it shouldn't be too hard to send them home each day with big smiles and no timber. The woodnymphs have a strong incentive as they can't exist without trees.
Right now I'm lying in my favourite clearing with the gorgeous woodnymph Echo reclining on my left, and Buddha on my right, in the lotus position as always. A few yards in front of us a stream crosses the open space, springing up at one side and disappearing mysteriously at the other. Although there's barely any gradient it runs fast and uneven, gurgling from end to end as the perfect stream should do. The insects are respectful too, never pestering us, just hovering above the grass like mist above a rain-soaked road. Even the breeze is selective, it blows cool across my brow like a caress, yet leaves Buddha's brow alone, as he has no need of it. Staying motionless for hours at a time, as he likes to do, can give the impression that he's furniture of a kind, and far from disliking this he feels that if he can give that impression then he's successfully removed the dualism between himself and his surroundings and has truly accomplished something. Personally I think this is a delusion too far, but we are good friends so I don't mention it.
I'm feeling peckish. I turn on my side and within arm's reach a brazil nut scurries across the grass, but I'm not a fan of the ones with legs even though they come off easily. I spot the purple lantern of a fritillary growing out of the grass. Delicious, and very few calories.
"I wish you wouldn't do that," says Buddha, evenly. His voice is rich and knowledgeable but always has a curious edge, some indefinable weirdness that steers it clear of bland. It's a voice that anybody can listen to for an hour, mesmerised and curious at the same time, always on the cusp of recognising where the weirdness comes from, but never quite getting there, and trapped by the imminent arrival.
"Eat flowers. It's very… uncivilized."
How does he do this? I swear his eyes were closed.
"I didn't eat it!"
"Then where is it now?"
This is a question I can't answer. Instead I watch Echo as she snoozes peacefully. Really I should be careering through the forest on her trail, with her screeching and yelping ahead of me until I catch up with her and throw her to the ground and screw her to the point of exhaustion, as tradition demands. But this is a lazy afternoon and it would be rude to wake her. And to be honest I'm not as hot on the chase as I used to be, and the exhaustion is usually mine rather than hers, and often arrives before we've made a start on the screwing, which is not ideal. But then I am three and a half thousand years old. Echo refuses to accept my age as an excuse and says my problem is I'm too stressed-out trying to avoid Joe Progress, which is so far off the mark I won't even talk about it. But otherwise she's very accommodating and often takes a tumble on a tree root just a few minutes into the chase, which helps, as long as my ego doesn't fall with her.
It wasn't long after I got the woodnymphs organised – and very effective it's been too – that I first heard Joe Progress wanted to see me. The lumberjacks are his and many of his building projects have been slowed by the shortage of lumber. The weird avocados and chocolate pomegranates and eager trout are his too, developed in his Workshop of All Invention and carelessly released into my favourite forest, and any reasonable god would surely have thought 'win some, lose some' and let the timber issue ride, but no, Joe Progress is president of heaven and thinks everything should go his way.
This is what I assume. I don't know for sure because I haven't taken up his invitation. Joe Progress may be keen to see me but I don't particularly want to see him. I've never been good with authority figures. Anyway, I doubt that he wants to pat me on the back and buy me a margarita.
Avoiding him is getting increasingly difficult. I can't spend five minutes in a public place without some god sidling up and whispering "The Great God Progress wants to see you," like they're his closest confidant and the holder of privileged information. Brown-nosers. His true confidants, his agents, are also searching for me. Five days ago I was standing in the audience for St George and the Dragon, one of heaven's minor attractions, and a car pulled up on the opposite side of the plaza. There are relatively few cars in heaven and almost all of them belong to Joe Progress and his crew, so I was immediately on the defensive. Out popped his chief henchman and henchwoman, Mammon and Mercedes. I'd scuttled away even before they managed to close the doors.
At least here in the forest I can let my guard down, especially when I'm with good friends. In my daydreaming mind I'm chasing Echo at this moment, and my eyes begin to close, my legs and hoofs start to twitch. In my dreams I often chase her for miles, until the dreams turn philosophical and inside them I begin to wonder if I'm more interested in running than in sex. But this time, for no reason I can fathom, suddenly I'm wide awake, and so is Echo.
"What happened?" I ask.
Buddha hasn't moved but his eyes are wide open. "Darkness," he says, enigmatically.