The seeds arrived on a Tuesday. Chloe hoped they would mean salvation. A great fever had settled down. In the west, where it first hit, the people were said to have eaten one another, but those are just lies Texans tell about Californians. Here, it hit more slowly, like a gas leak that went unnoticed, but still it took its effect. It was a vicious disease contained by neither biology, nor atmosphere. It entered orbit and tore apart satellites. Teeth like fire, it consumed. It grew mean.
You are what you eat, Jack said. Like many men, he had gone all in on wit at the expense of sincerity, and now was at a loss. You are what you eat, what a stupid thing to say while the sky is on fire, but, then again, what else was there to say?
When the fever spoke, a voice boomed from the heavens, very unlike a trumpet. It explained itself and then made a sound like laughter and was gone. Chloe and Jack and all those others who survived stood out in the street with their necks craned. In the new silence, they looked about themselves, waiting for someone to do something. Most people went inside. In the morning they came back out. They fell back into their old habits.
Chloe ordered the seeds on a whim. The internet is not a place one can map. It is entered into and wandered through much as a dream. Some say, a fortified enough curiosity can be palmed like an elven stone, held overhead, and act as a sort of compass, a siren shield, but these are the ravings of lucid dreamers. Chloe ordered the seeds when they presented themselves to her. They arrived in their packaging, appearing much as represented.
She read the instructions, scrawled in elegant penmanship across the back of the cardboard packaging, the front of which read: Magic Seeds.
1. Choose a location unlikely to be disturbed,
2. Wait for the promise of a stretch of warm, sunny days,
3. Clear a patch of earth,
4. Try to appreciate the placement of your hands in the dirt as you excavate a shallow hole,
5. Drop the seeds within,
6. Pray to the spirit of your choosing,
7. Cover the hole,
8. Water daily.
Chloe and Jack chose a corner of their backyard that received ample morning light and followed the instructions as listed. Chloe prayed to a complex and nameless deity of nigh omnipotent capability, influenced strongly by the protestant God of her youth, but imbued with an entirely different, and far more shadowy set of morals while Jack envisioned a shaggy forest sprite who he thought might inhabit a backyard such as this.
Silent prayers commenced, they filled the hole back in, doing their best to appreciate the placement of their hands in the dirt.
Maybe the true beanstalk is the friends we made along the way, Jack said as their hands touched underground. Chloe pulled away. She stood up, brushed herself off, and went inside. Jack lingered near the seeds a while longer. Ever since the night of the sky fire, they had been drifting apart even as they pretended everything was okay. Having been steeped in a culture of pretend okay their whole lives, it was about all they knew how to do, and both were quite natural at it, so, when Jack came back inside a few hours later, they prepared a meal together in an image of domestic bliss.
Jack dreamt that night. In his dream, the sky still contained spiderweb scarring. Magma veins where the satellites had burned through the atmosphere. It was as if they lived within a cracked snowglobe and were waiting for the final catastrophic failure. Any small thing might bring it on, and then the glass would fall from the sky, ending it all, but the beanstalk growing from their backyard nosed its way out of the earth, the brave little asparagus! It grew and grew. When it reached sufficient height, it began to sprout green tendrils. These tendrils fit themselves into the raw fissures in the sky.
At the same time, the roots reached to the depths of hell where they transformed wailing and gnashing into the nutrients that fed and stabilized the vegetal axis mundi. The tendrils healed the broken sky, feeding hell to heaven. Eventually, the sutures dissolved, revealing underneath healthy, tough scar tissue, capable of holding. Its job done, the beanstalk withered, and when it fell, the whole world yelled a joyous Timber!
The dream troubled Jack to no end though he made easy fun of it over breakfast. He did not want the dream to fall out of conversation even though he did not know what to do about it. He kept bopping it back into the air, a child with a beach ball they have decided cannot hit the ground, hoping Chloe would solve the riddle for him, but she did not know what to do with it either. To get away from Jack, she went out to water the seeds, which seemed to calm both of them down a bit.
Chloe darkened the thirsty earth with water from a drippy watering can. The stain upon the soil spread evenly. Chloe imagined a hollow chamber within the ground in which the seeds were tadpoles on the verge of drying out. Now water was rushing in, filling their chthonic aquarium. They swam joyfully, leaping from the cold pool into the lightless air, and diving back into the heavy mineral water. Swimming together into the exact middle of the grotto, they vibrated happily.
The water began its work. These tadpoles would not grow legs, but roots and a stalk. Their metamorphosis would mean an unfurling. Work done in shadow would be brought to light. Chloe saturated the earth. She emptied the can and then stood staring at the dirt. She felt for any momentous shifting in the earth, but sensed nothing through her thin sandals. Eventually she went inside, having done her daily duty.
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