He burst from the library and headed down the hall at a fast walk, Ruth trailing behind and looking confused. His eyes darted in every direction looking for a door to the outside or a window. There wasn't even an EXIT sign.
Mortimer spotted a hall branching off, turned on his heel and jogged down it.
"Not down there." Ruth trotted after him. "Nobody goes down there!"
The hall was dim, every third or fourth fluorescent bulb burned out overhead. Cobwebs in the corners.
"Stop!" she shouted. "You'll get us in trouble."
He ran faster. "Why? Is this where the door is?" he shouted back. "Is this the way out?"
"Please!" Distress high in her voice. "Stop!"
"Get away from me, wack-job."
A door at the end of the hall snapped into focus, and Mortimer ran for it. As he got closer he saw the DO NOT ENTER sign across the front, the yellow police tape crisscrossing the doorway. A large padlock.
Above the door was another sign, spray-painted in rough, juvenile lettering. HOLY OF HOLY.
He heard more footsteps stomping up behind him.
Mortimer ripped aside the yellow police tape. He kicked the door hard, rattling the padlock. The shock traveled up his leg, hurt all the way to his hip. He ignored the pain, kicked again.
Mortimer tried to turn, but white-hot fire struck him in the side, bathed his nervous system in electricity. He fell, twitched and slobbered, tried to turn his head.
The last thing he saw was a man in a dress.
"Hit him again with the stun gun," he said.
When Mortimer came around, he was tied spread-eagle on an operating table. Bare-ass naked. He felt slightly queasy, his whole body still humming from the massive zap, all his nerve endings buzzing and raw. It was cold, and Mortimer shivered.
He blinked the blur from his eyes, saw the rows of faces above him like some grim jury. He realized the operating room was theater style, a place where surgeons could demonstrate complicated procedures to student cutters.
Mortimer worried what they intended to demonstrate on him.
The women in the gallery were of every variety, tall, short, fat. Women with haggard horse faces. Younger women with open, timid expressions. Old crones crazy eyed and wrinkled.
Some regarded Mortimer like a new species of insect to be logged and dissected. Others had an eerie, hungry look, like Mortimer was raw red meat.
"Some hardly remember what a naked man looks like." The voice behind him was gruff and low. "A few have never seen one at all, not quite like this."
Mortimer twisted, tried to turn his head. All he could see was the suggestion of a big, dark shape behind him.
The voice rose for the benefit of the gallery. "Fate has sent us this man. His seed will ensure the survival of the society. The lucky chosen shall bear children, and we will know life again."
Murmuring from the gallery, a mix of excitement and anxiety.
"For years have we lived in harmony and peace and safety," the voice continued. "We need not have any contact with the world outside. The world poisoned and destroyed by men. We happy sisters live and prosper here in our sanctuary of Saint Sebastian's. Only one thing do we need: the seed of life. It is the ultimate irony that those who would destroy the world would also hold the essence of life, the seed. But destiny has provided this man. We will take his seed, and we will live!"
Halfhearted applause from the gallery.
The voice walked around the table until it came into view. Mortimer gasped. It was the man in the dress, a flowing black gown with a high neck. He was tall, broad-shouldered. He had a potbelly and big arms bulging beneath the silky sleeves, a five o'clock shadow on an anvil chin, an Adam's apple the size of a baseball. The blonde wig was some sort of cabaret nightmare.
He leaned in close, his hot breath like bad cheese on Mortimer's face. "You're going to get it up, little man. And you'd better perform."
He turned back to the gallery again. "Let the breeding begin!"
A door slid open on the bottom level of the amphitheater. Mortimer lifted his head, watched the newcomer enter between his feet. A silhouette against the harsh light from the hallway. She came into focus as she entered the operating room.
Mortimer was suddenly angry. Sweet, naïve Ruth shouldn't be made to sex up a stranger in front of an audience of nutballs. To hell with these women and their wacko society. Ruth didn't know any better. She could only have been a little girl of nine or ten when the world went boom. She didn't know how men and women lived.
Still, if it had to happen...well, Ruth would be best. She was shy and innocent and gentle. Under other circumstances it would even be pleasurable.
Ruth stepped aside and ushered in a woman with the biggest ass Mortimer had ever seen. Fat flat lips that looked like they were pushed up against a window. She had short black hair and many chins.
Mortimer arched his back, pulled at his restraints until they dug too painfully into his wrists. No use.
He felt the transvestite's hot breath on his ear again. "You're not going anywhere until you put out, lover boy. Now get some lead in that pencil."
The corpulent brood mare approached the table and dropped her white robe. Naked beneath, a wide, thick torso, a thick thatch of hair in each armpit. A big mole at the corner of her mouth sat there like a lost kidney bean. She climbed on the table, hovered over Mortimer.
"Wait," Mortimer said. "This isn't a good idea. You don't want my seed. I have bad DNA."
She grabbed his cock too roughly and Mortimer winced. The mix of sweat and love juice radiated from her, smacked Mortimer in the face. He had never been more uninterested in sex, hung limp in the woman's fist.
She looked in confusion at the transvestite. "Mother? He's not ready to put the seed in me."
"Get him hard like I showed you," Mother said.
She nodded, started yanking Mortimer's prick with hard, sharp jerks.
Mortimer winced, shut his eyes tight and turned away. He opened his eyes briefly and saw Ruth watching, horror and fascination at odds on her childlike face.
"That hurts," Mortimer said. "For God's sake, you're bruising the shit out of me."
"Stop," said Mother.
The breeder ceased her sadistic jerk job on Mortimer's pecker. He sighed relief.
"Clear the operating theater," Mother said. "His body hasn't recovered from the stun blast."
Muttering among the women. They began to file out.
The ogre on top of him slumped in disappointment, slid off him and grabbed her robe. Soon only Mother Lola and Mortimer remained. Mother paced around the operating table, her high-heeled boots echoing off the sterile tile, pouring derision onto him with a vicious expression.
"If you know what's good for you," the transvestite said, "you'll get Mr. Johnson into the ballgame. You take my meaning?"
"I'm not used to doing it as a spectator sport."
"Tough shit," said Mother Lola. "You think I'm doing it this way for perverse jollies?"
"Seems like it."
Mother Lola shrugged. "Okay, maybe a little. But it's more important they all see. This is a very special group of people with special needs. You think it's easy leading them?" He snorted. "Fat chance. I know you'd rather have privacy, but we can't have a few privileged breeders while everyone else is left out in the cold. That's the perfect way to foster discontent. No, they must all be involved, even if it's only as spectators for many. That's the sort of unity that keeps our society together. Unity keeps us strong."
"I thought it was fear," Mortimer said. "Fear of the world outside the front door of this hospital. What lies have you told them to make them so terrified to leave? That's how you stay in control, right?"
"And what of the cannibals? Are they a lie?"
Mortimer's eyes grew wide.
Mother Lola nodded, chuckled softly. "You think I don't know? I don't need to make up fairy stories to keep my girls in line. The truth is devil enough."
"It's still a lie," Mortimer said. "Acting as if they have no choice is a lie."
"They are children and need leadership. But all of this..." She shook her head and tsked. "All this talk is of no concern to you. Your function here is biological, not philosophical."
"It might be a little easier to make with the semen if the first one up to bat wasn't some slobbering hog."
"Yes, I'd forgotten how important arousal is to the process for you men. It's not enough to know you're creating a new life. It's all about getting your rocks off, isn't it? Fine. If that's what it takes." Mother Lola slipped the black dress slowly off one shoulder, then the other.
Ohhhhhhhh no no no...
Mother Lola let the dress drop, stood naked, arching her back in an unfortunate pose.
"Uh, listen," Mortimer said, a slight tremor of panic in his voice. "You don't want the other girls to think you're getting special privileges, remember?"
"They don't need to know. It'll be our special moment."
Mortimer tried to stop himself, but he couldn't help it. He looked. What he saw made his stomach churn.
Mother Lola was not a transvestite. The oversize breasts were obscenely tight and perky compared to the sagging flesh on the rest of the body. Clearly the work of a surgeon with more ambition than skill. A hairy crater like some abomination against anatomy itself sat where there should have been balls and a schlong.
Mother Lola moved closer, her sweat and musk filling the operating theater.
He/she put a loving hand on Mortimer's flat stomach, caressed downward.
"Listen," Mortimer said, his nerves making his voice an embarrassingly high squeak. "I've been thinking. Why don't you bring the other woman back? I'm pretty sure I can fill her up with seed. Seriously, let's get her back in here."
"Don't be shy," Mother Lola said. "I know you want it." She brought her fingers to rest in Mortimer's pubic hair, curled it playfully around her pinkie. She bent in low for a kiss, her breath like greasy meat.
Mortimer convulsed and vomited.
Mother Lola screeched and flung herself backward, the puke barely missing her as it splattered the operating table and floor, running down Mortimer's chin and chest.
"Asshole," spat Mother Lola. "You wouldn't know true beauty if it bit you on the ass. I would have rocked your world." She grabbed her dress, shimmied back into it, thrust her arms into the sleeves. "Ruth!" she yelled.
Fast footfalls in the hall, the door pushed open quickly. "Mother?"
"Ruth, clean this animal up." She bent over him, brought her face to within an inch of Mortimer's. "And you'd better be ready to perform this time," she growled. "Otherwise you're no good to anybody." She turned back to Ruth. "He's got an hour to rest." She stalked out of the theater.
Mortimer felt a cool, wet towel on his forehead, looked up into Ruth's concerned eyes. She dabbed at the puke on his chin, wiped his chest.
"I'm sorry," she said. "Mother Lola is only trying to keep the society safe and strong."
"Mother Lola is insane. She's not even a she."
"She-Mother Lola-she says if you finish with Mona-"
"The woman who tried to-she was on top of you before-"
"Mother Lola says if you finish with Mona, that I could be, maybe after, I mean..." She wouldn't meet Mortimer's eyes, went pink in the cheeks. "I've read a book from the hospital library on how to pleasure a man." The pink went to deep red.
"You've got to listen to me, Ruth. This isn't right. You have to see that keeping me like this is wrong. Unshackle me. Please. You've got to show me the way out of here."
"I don't think...If Mother Lola..." She bit her bottom lip, shook her head.
Mortimer sighed, leaned his head back and closed his eyes. "How old were you when you came to Saint Sebastian's, Ruth?"
"I wouldn't talk to anyone. I was withdrawn."
"I saw my parents burn to death in a fire."
"You're talking now. You seem okay."
"You don't need to stay here, Ruth. That was a long time ago. Show me the way out and come with me."
Her eyes widened in surprise then narrowed to suspicion. "Mother Lola says it's dangerous outside."
The cannibals and brigands? Starvation and disease? Small potatoes. "You'd be free outside. Mother Lola doesn't want that. She wants to control you. Get me loose and we can go together. There are risks, yes, but that's what it means to be free."
She shook her head vehemently. "I can't."
"You can. Unbuckle the straps on my wrists."
"No." But her hands went to the buckles and loosened them. She moaned the whole time, as if the weight of rebellion caused her physical pain.
Mortimer sat up, rubbed his wrists, then bent to release his ankles. He slid off the operating table, the tile floor cold on his bare feet.
"I need my clothes."
"Mother Lola took them."
"I don't know."
Mortimer grabbed her by the forearms, and the sudden contact made her gasp. She went weak, going to her knees. Mortimer sank to the floor with her, shook her until she met his eyes.
"Listen to me," Mortimer said. "You've got to make a decision. What is it you want?"
"I want to go outside," Ruth said. "I want to go with you."
"Then show me the way."
"Take this." Ruth shoved something into his hand. "I saved it for you. I wanted you to know that I...that I was thinking about you."
He opened his hand, looked at what she'd given him. His pink Joey Armageddon's platinum card. "Thanks." His only possession in the world. "Ready to get out of here?"
She searched his face, then nodded slowly. "It's mealtime. If we're quick, we might get out without anyone knowing. Follow me."
Mortimer again confronted the words HOLY OF HOLY spray-painted over the door. The yellow police tape lay in tatters where he'd ripped it down earlier. He touched the padlock, looked at Ruth.
"Only Mother Lola has the key," she said.
"Why does it say 'Holy of Holy'?"
"Mother Lola says it holds the total knowledge of the society. Nobody but God should know all, so it's kept locked."
Mortimer walked down the hall, opened a glass door in the wall and came back with a fire extinguisher. He slammed it three times against the padlock until it popped open. He looked up and down the hall, but apparently no one had heard. He paused, then twisted the knob and entered.
The moldy smell hit him, the old, dusty odor of a room long unused. He turned around, looked back at Ruth still out in the hall. "Coming?"
She shook her head, took a step back.
The room was dark. Mortimer felt his way to a desk lamp and switched it on, the low-wattage bulb splashing its feeble light around the interior of the office. Desk, filing cabinets, bookcases. A big black leather couch along one wall.
A dead body on the leather couch.
He'd been dead a long time, his skin shriveled and dried. Most of his hair had fallen out. White lab coat with pens in the pocket. A plastic I.D. card with photo hanging from his neck. Mortimer noticed the corpse's pants were down around his ankles. A large pair of rusty scissors stuck out of a vacant eye socket. A mummified fist clutched a pair of faded red panties.
You horny old bastard.
Mortimer examined the cabinets. Patient files. This was what Mother Lola must have meant about the total knowledge of the society. He brushed aside the temptation to look up Ruth's file. He was curious, but it was none of his business. It took ten minutes of searching to find Mother Lola's file.
Unless there was more than one transsexual admitted to the hospital, it had to be her file. Lawrence "Lola" Jameson was a real piece of work. According to the file, he hated men and therefore himself. No wonder the sex change operation looked so shoddy. Lola had done it to herself, eliminating, according to the doctor's notes, "all that was male about herself." The doctor had allowed for Lola to be transferred to his care, theorizing that Lola might feel better among women. The doctor's scribbled notes went on to muse, "Lola blames men for the evils of the world, and supposes an all-female society as an ideal utopia."
Mortimer closed the file and returned it to the cabinet. He didn't want to read any more, and there wasn't time anyway.
He saw a door in the back corner of the room and went to it. He turned the knob and went inside. A very small, dank-smelling bathroom. He closed the door, pissed and flushed.
A pinstripe suit hung from a hook on the back of the door. It was in plastic from a long-defunct dry cleaner. Navy blue with gray stripes, a blue shirt. No underwear or socks. He put on the suit. It was a half-size too big, but it would do. The pant legs were long, so he rolled them up.
He went back into the office and took the dead man's shoes. He left the socks. The shoes fit perfectly. He took the belt too, cinched up the loose trousers.
Ruth stuck her head into the office. "What are you doing?"
Mortimer ignored her, went to the desk and searched the drawers, hoping to find anything useful. Stationery, pens, paper clips, a calculator. In the bottom drawer he found a set of keys on a big ring.
He held them up so Ruth could see, jingled them. "What do these go to?"
"I don't know. Mother Lola never lets us-"
"Think, Ruth. There has to be a door out of this place."
She wrung her hands, looked back over her shoulder, then back at Mortimer. "There is this one place-I don't know if it's anything. It might not be-"
Her deep, pleading eyes met his. "You'll take me with you?" she whispered.
"I'll take you."
She nodded, finally deciding, grabbed his hand tight and led him from the office. "There's not much time."
They continued down the hall past other offices with doctors' names on the doors. The farther they went, the more obvious it became that the hall was unused, dusty, almost none of the fluorescent bulbs burning overhead. As far as Mortimer had observed, this was the only portion of the hospital that had fallen into such disrepair.
The hall terminated in almost total darkness. Ruth led Mortimer forward, her hand gripping his almost too tightly, her other hand held out in front of her as her steps slowed near a wall.
Mortimer's eyes adjusted. Fake potted plants in the corners, covered by years of dust; a cheap oil painting of a sailing ship on choppy waters hung in the middle of the wall. A dead end.
"What is this, Ruth?"
She shrugged, her eyes unreadable in the darkness. "I was hiding in one of the offices. Mother Lola came from this direction."
"Why were you hiding, Ruth?"