Beanstalk to the End of the World

Helix apologized for the end of the world first thing in the morning. Of course he knew something had to be done about it, and of course he felt badly about it, but also, he also wanted to watch the M*A*S*H* marathon on 227 without having to think about the imminent end of civilization as it was generally known. In the back of his head, he was aware that there was something pitiful about seven hours of M*A*S*H* on a Saturday night, a pitiful that was compounded by Helix’s tumbling black curls, his easy laugh, and his apocalyptic smile. There was no doubt that he could have been doing anything or anyone on any Saturday night, and instead: M*A*S*H*.

Mostly, he wanted to someone to ask him what he was doing, so that he could tell them. But no one called, and so he was left with M*A*S*H* and looming Armageddon until dawn.

Trillium didn’t accept his apology. (Trillium was not really her name. Actually, Helix was not really his name either. The names of gods are impossible for humans to spell, much less pronounce. Our lips and voice boxes aren’t made for it. Curiously enough, the lips and voice boxes of the Madagascar Aye-Aye, a specialized lemur that retrieves grubs from trees by means of an elongated middle finger, are made for it, but no one asks them). Trillium told Helix that she’d been thinking, and she had this theory that Helix had only triggered the end of the world to get attention.

“That’s ridiculous,” Helix replied. He was in his pajamas. Not pajamas like you or I wear, but the original paijama, from West Asia. He’d paired the trousers with a hideous bright blue calf-length sherwani that he liked because a mortal had once told him it brought out the blue in his eyes. His eyes were no longer blue, but the memory of the flattery remained.

Trillium, on the other end of the phone, said, “You’re like a puppy. Even negative attention will please you.”

Helix considered this. He didn’t feel like this was true. He didn’t care for Trillium’s angry voice, and he didn’t particularly like apologizing in general. His father had never apologized, and his father had done many more things worth apologizing over. Anyway, Helix knew when he was doing things on purpose, and this particular apocalypse didn’t feel like he’d done it on purpose. And he didn’t think he’d done it subconsciously. Gods were all subconscious.

“Oh, stop,” Trillium snapped. “Fine. Just tell me where this damn volcano is.”

He told her. She made an irritated noise.

“Don’t you think that was a bit dramatic?” she asked. “Don’t answer that. Fine. I’ll take care of it. Don’t say thank you, by the way. You don’t really mean it. How long do I have?”

Helix told her.

Trillium made an irritated noise. “Well, I guess I’ll call you back in a few minutes.”

Helix said, “We never do things together anymore. Don’t you miss that?”

She made another noise, and then she hung up on him. She didn’t call him back, either. Helix would’ve thought he’d imagined the entire conversation except for the fact that the world didn’t end. He peered out the window a few times, anxiously checking the sky for a smothering cloud of ash and noxious fumes, but it remained blue and clear. Helix was simultaneously relieved and disappointed. It wasn’t that he had wanted humanity wiped off the planet, it was just that he’d been hoping for something to happen to pass the time.

Then there was a knock on his apartment door. It was Trillium. She was dressed entirely in white, which made her skin look inky, and and her lips were painted the color of the blood of innocents. She looked dangerous, which she was.

“I cannot believe you’re wearing that,” she told him, before he’d said anything. “You should’ve told me it was that bad.”

In his kitchen, she sorted through the cabinets until she found the good stuff (technically, “the good stuff” was called ambrosia, but calling it “ambrosia” gives people the wrong idea. It’s cloudy and gritty, although most of the chunks stay in the bottle if it’s poured right. The ambrosia has to distill for at least two centuries to even be drinkable, and even then, drinkable is a very subjective term. I know you don’t have a sensitive stomach, but I won’t tell you what it’s made from regardless). Trillium lounged with a glass and watched him.

“Aren’t you going to get dressed?”

Helix drew himself up. “I am dressed.”

“Aren’t you going to get dressed?” she repeated.

“What for?”

Trillium said, “You said you missed doing things together.”

Helix was quite thrilled, but it wouldn’t do for him to be quite thrilled, so he shot Trillium a filthy look and stalked to the bedroom to change. He took everything out of his closet and began to try them on in front of the mirror. Gods have a different sense of time than mortals, and so it was Tuesday when he emerged from his room, resplendent in Cary Grant’s suit from North by Northwest. Of course it was the real thing, made by Kilgour, French, and Stanbury of Savile Row, and pinched from the hands of collectors decades before.

Trillium, who was still savoring a glass of Ambrosia, tipped the ice around in her glass and raked her eyes over him. “So it’s to be North America, then.”

“I can change,” Helix said.

“Oh,” Trillium said, “No, I think it’s quite obvious that you can’t. Shall we?”

Together they journeyed out into the noisy city Helix had chosen for his home. It was choked with people and all of their hopes and fears, people of every different race and status and gender. To humans, it was a cacophony of identities. To the two gods, however, the city was an ant hill, populated by frantic occupants with common goals. It was tedious for Helix to tell them apart. Luckily for most humans, it’s more difficult than one might think to catch the eye of a god.

Finally, though, the same boy caught their attention. Both gods at once. He’d been tasked by his mother to pawn her good china and bring back the proceeds for groceries.  The boy’s name was Jack, and this reminded Helix of a story. Gods adore stories, especially ones about them. It’s like a favorite movie that you watch again and again, never getting tired of the ending. So Trillium fetched some magic beans and gave them to Helix, and Helix possessed a street vendor to sell them to Jack. The two gods had no giants or magic harps or enchanted geese yet, but they had time. The beanstalk always took weeks to grow, and it seemed like it might take a little longer in this concrete city they’d chosen.

After the exchange had been made, Helix pranced back to Trillium with some falafel. He didn’t say that he was happy with his work, but his face shone with a joy that brightened the sun, rose the temperature of the closest ocean a quarter of a degree, and caused a shelf of ice to melt from the polar ice cap.
“It has been a long time,” Trillium admitted. As a god, she was more immune to Helix than most, but even she had a hard time turning her eyes away from his fierce happiness. The joy of a god was a powerful thing: it started wars and ended winters, murdered monarchs and melted hearts. So when Helix unleashed his ebullience on her, Trillium had no choice but to kiss him with her stiletto lips.

Helix had not been kissed by a god before. He felt he’d spent the last few centuries kissing statues. The most curious sensation was bubbling up inside him. It was as if now, standing on this busy sidewalk, every face around him became distinct and noticeable. Every human caught his eye, suggested stories. Every life seemed like an opportunity for the two of them to insert themselves and play.

“I thought,” Helix said, “that it was the end of the world.”

“Not yet,” said Trillium.

_______________

Author’s Note: my last Merry Sisters of Fate story! Based on our common prompt of Jack and the Beanstalk.

Image is by icliff.

36 thoughts on “Beanstalk to the End of the World

  1. (You may know me better as laeoukka. :D )

    While I’m sad to read your last story (I almost didn’t read it because I wanted it to last just a little longer), you went out with quite a bang. This felt different from your usual stories to me: perhaps it was the fact that it felt less morbid, and your Helix seemed so achingly human. Your descriptions of him left me giggling quietly to myself and on the receiving end of a few strange looks.

    What was your favorite line in this story? Mine was the one that went “his eyes were no longer blue but the memory of the flattery remained”. I felt it said a lot about gods in general, really.

    Well done! These stories were always my weekly highlight and I’m goin to miss them.

  2. This was an amazing story. One of my favorites by you! Very nice final farewell. :) I’ll miss reading your stories though, I always love them. Will Brenna and Tessa still be doing this? Or is this site going down?

  3. Holy Trinity, that was a good one! May you all code for awesome until the end of days. *wipes mouth on sleeve and goes to pre-order the book*

  4. What a great story! As always, it’s never what I was expecting; when it comes to your amazing writing, I guess I’ve come to expect the unexpected!
    Going to miss your short stories! I’ll be doing a lot of retracing before the site closes :(
    Thanks for these! It’s been fun! :)

    • Retracing does work just as well! Also, we’ll be leaving the site up forever — in fact, we’ll be going through and tidying it up to make individual stories hopefully easier to find. So don’t worry about it vanishing! Thanks for coming along on the ride.

  5. Wow. This story really reminded me of you on your blog. I could just imagine you smiling coyly to yourself as you wrote it. :)
    What’s the book called again? I’m so sad, I just discovered this site and now your taking it away from me…I need something to help me get over the loss of your stories! *sad nostalgic laugh*…

  6. Fabulous story and I like how they are both approachable and yet so very distant. Also, the idea that everyone has a story to tell is an important one.

    btw, I work in a high school and saw a girl reading one of your books. I encouraged her to check out the site. I think she thought I was a little weird because of how thrilled I was to see her with your book.

  7. You did keep your promise and wrote a happy story, Thank you, and what could be more happier that having love! Though I couldn’t help but be cautious as I read preparing myself for any twist and turns that would leave me cold. I can’t help but think that you were imaging you and how you re further to him as “Lover” when i was reading the story.
    My favorite part was “The names of gods are impossible for humans to spell, much less pronounce. Our lips and voice boxes aren’t made for it.” That’s so intriguing and a really cool concept.
    Can’t wait to be able to by your guy’s book Curiosities.
    P.S I don’t think IT’S the end of the world too, not yet.

  8. Favorite line? “After the exchange had been made, Helix pranced back to Trillium with some falafel.” The combination of prancing and falafel makes me smile, esp. since I love falafel with a passion.I also like how this re-telling plays on the traditional Greco-Roman ideas of the gods being self-absorbed and entirely too flippant re: their impact on humanity with, say, the end of the world. ;)

    I will miss these stories from all of you dearly, but I am glad what the end of Merry Fates means for all three of you. Thank you for all you have brought to us via Merry Fates over the past few years!

    • “.I also like how this re-telling plays on the traditional Greco-Roman ideas of the gods being self-absorbed and entirely too flippant re: their impact on humanity with, say, the end of the world.”

      yes! yes! That Red Hot Chili Peppers song was in my head: “can’t stop the gods from engineering” . . .

  9. Even though I haven’t yet read all of your early stories, it was sad to read this one knowing it was your last :( I still have others to read and I am looking forward to them.

    I loved how this one was…less disturbing than the others. I like a good happy ending :)

    This was my favorite part:Curiously enough, the lips and voice boxes of the Madagascar Aye-Aye, a specialized lemur that retrieves grubs from trees by means of an elongated middle finger, are made for it, but no one asks them.
    I liked it because I have seen pictures of Aye-Aye and they are very weird looking and I cannot imagine anyone stopping to ask them anything

    Thank you for all the great stories!

    • Man, they are weird looking animals, aren’t they? I don’t know what the universe was thinking when it planned that one.

      I’m so glad that you liked this one and hope that you enjoy digging back through the archives too. There are . . . a lot of stories. :)

  10. ” It wasn’t that he had wanted humanity wiped off the planet, it was just that he’d been hoping for something to happen to pass the time.” Love this so much, great story!

    Did the ‘end of the world’ part of this story have something to so with this being the end of the Merry Fates short stories? Either way, I will miss them, but I know you 3 are going to go do greater and funner -it’s a word to me- stuff! :)

  11. I loved this! Though when you mentioned Madagascar Aye-Aye I immediately thought of King Julian from the film Madagascar, which made me laugh. I love how your stories end, how you play the characters so you don’t think the story is done yet and then BAM, it’s finished, and you’re left with a feeling that’s hard to describe. Good, though. Like I want to read more.

  12. Hi Maggie, I’m a huge fan of your stories, I love them. I have a question though; when you close this site, can we still read the stories? Or is the whole site going to be deleted? I’m afraid I haven’t been able to read all of the stories here yet, but I would like to. Thanks. :)

  13. I’m still not over merryfates being over. I mean I have read all your stories, more than once. And of course I’ll buy the book as soon as I can get my hands on it. But aside from that, you kind of took all joy away from my life. Now I get home at night and have to go laugh at people’s status on facebook. Just thought you should know that.

  14. Maggie, I loved this short story! My favorite line was “Every human caught his eye, suggested stories.” but I loved the “stiletto lips” part. It made me smile and think to myself “how ‘Maggie’ this is.” It’s a wonderful end to an amazing four years. This group has given me so many smiles and happiness. The first short story I read from you was “Midnight Crisis”, one with the woman who woke up and later pressed into her neck to leave a mark. It was a chilling story and I was left with goosebumps all over my being. I will dearly miss your short stories but will love your novels! Congrats on making it this far, four years of short stories. Wow. That’s quite an achievement! I’m sorry I am far behind, but I have just recently started reading more of your short stories. Thank you for leaving the site up and running, it gives me much pleasure :)

    Thank you again Maggie, and The Merry Sisters of Fate! : )

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