Lester Tuckwell hesitated and peered around nervously. No one in sight. He dived through the doorway and took the stairs two at a time. Breathing deeply, he pressed the doorbell - three long, a pause, then two short. He stood so that he was in clear view of the peephole.

There was a clatter of chains and bolts, and the heavy door opened. Lester stepped into the hall. Connie, the maid, quickly secured the premises again. You couldn't be too careful these days, especially since the clampdown by the League of Restraint. The League's two main protagonists, the Very Rev Teddy Murray and Dame Maria Blackshed, had recently been elected to the Upper House and made their presence felt.

Urged on by the zealots of the League, the Moral Police carried out their duties rigorously. So sophisticated was the technology in the year 2200 AD it was possible to detect nefarious activities behind closed doors. Highly trained experts worked around the clock, combing the city in mobile units equipped with the latest gadgetry.

Connie, a plump elderly lady dressed in a black maid's outfit, tried to put Lester at ease.

'Don't worry, love. It's quite safe. We've got our own early warning system ...'

'Miss Carol - is she ...'

'Busy, love. Shouldn't be long. Would you like to settle now?'

Lester handed over five twenty-dollar bills and Connie ushered him into a waiting cubicle. He wriggled on the edge of his chair. The thought of Carol catering to the needs of another drove him to a frenzy of anticipation. What were they up to? He wished he could watch.

After an interminable ten minutes, Connie returned.

'This way, love. Miss Carol is free and waiting for you.'

'G'day, Lester, long time, no see.' The owner of the voice was a full figured, honey blonde, mid-twenties, dressed in a filmy black slip that didn't quite reach to her knees.

'Hello, Carol ... Haven't been able to ...'

'Never mind. You're here now. That's what counts.' She glided over and pressed hard against him. Lester's expectations rose.

'Missed you, darling.' Her lips tasted of strawberry. The atmosphere crackled.

At last breaking away, she breathed: 'Come on, let's get on with it.'

Lester sat in the guest's chair before an ornate table laid with the best silver. A bottle of red wine, smuggled into the country at considerable risk, reflected ruby hues in a crystal decanter. The potatoes were crisp and browned, the gravy smooth and rich, the peas so fresh and expertly cooked that they crunched in the mouth. The prime beef was juicy and rare.

Lester tucked in. He was in Seventh Heaven.

Then Carol, sitting opposite and looking very wanton with gravy trickling down her chin, committed the ultimate blasphemy. She bit into a large, rosy apple with a salacious crunch, savouring a mouthful before offering her guest a bite.

The fiendish incarnate Eve ...

... or so it was written in the Holy Catechism.

Following World War III, which decimated the global population, the famines took off millions more. There was no hope and utter chaos for years to come. Then came light. Out of the ruins of Woolloomooloo emerged a prophet: the revered St Egbert, hallowed founder of the Gluttonites. He taught that all man's woe came from centuries of misinterpretation of the Scriptures. There was nothing symbolic in Eve's defiance. She should literally never have bitten into that accursed apple - it was as simple as that. Before the primordial obscene event, man had been sustained by the Celestial Light. He didn't need food in the crude form that was necessary thereafter.

The Almighty Father, being infinitely wise and perfect love (and presumably, because He was also omniscient, knowing what would happen), demonstrated these sterling qualities by damning his whole creation. From then on, calamities had pursued humanity down the ages. St Egbert taught that, although man - miserable sinner that he was - could not forgo sustenance entirely in his fallen condition, he could compensate to a degree and so ensure salvation in the glorious hereafter.

The enlightened avatar's teachings spread until they formed the official religion of the Western World. Heresies were strenuously suppressed. After all, why tolerate error in the presence of absolute revealed Truth? Food was strictly rationed and always rendered unpalatable with bitter aloes before ingestion. Thus was man reminded of the awful guilt he'd inherited from distant forefathers. Thus was his chance of deriving any pleasure from the act minimised.

It was St Egbert himself who first suggested the mastication hood, although it had only recently become compulsory. Of course, if at all possible, the function should be performed in private - in the dark, with the eyes closed. where this was not feasible, the head and shoulders should be covered with a thick black veil whilst ingesting one's daily ration of State gruel.

According to the most learned authorities, the naked act was particularly harmful if viewed by young children. See adults ingesting could corrupt them for life. Even referring to it was an acute embarrassment to the very devout. If they were obliged to speak of it at all the polite euphemism ingestion was used rather than the older, cruder terms.

With defiant gesture, Carol placed the apple core in the centre of the table. She poured the wine and raised her glass.

'Eat the Gluttonites.'

Lester took a deep sip before responding.

'Eat the chewing, nibbling Gluttonites.'

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March 9, 2001
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