“Once Upon an Armageddon” by Rachel Rodman
“I’ll huff and I’ll puff and I’ll blow your house in!” cried War.
Exhaling powerfully, War toppled a cottage of straw, and a cottage of wood, and a house made of gingerbread, and a witch’s tower, which contained no door at all, only a single window. And an ensorceled castle, covered in brambles, so that all these inhabitants died, crushed by the falling stones, without ever waking.
And a giant beanstalk. And a cottage-sized shoe. And Humpty Dumpty’s wall. And the trellises in Mary Contrary’s garden, which crashed to the earth in a tinkle of silver bells and cockle shells and the dismayed wails of all the pretty maids, as their rows were smashed askew.
And once everything, everywhere, had fallen, and there was not a structure left on the whole earth that deviated in the least from the horizontal, War loped forward, claws clicking in the rubble, excited to devour the scraps.
“You are just right!” cried Famine.
Brandishing her spoon, Famine feasted on a sack of oats, so that the three bears could make no porridge from it. And a whole meadow full of clover, so that even the largest of the Billy Goat Gruff brothers became small and skeletal. And all the bread crumbs in the forest—and all the pebbles, too—so that Hansel and Gretel lost their way. And all the remaining vegetation, everywhere, in the whole world, so that Mary and her little lamb and her cousin, the Boy Who Cried Wolf, and all their extended family, kinsmen and kinswomen, out to fifteen degrees of separation, keeled over, totally famished.
Once Famine had stuffed herself, and there was nothing left to eat, she became very sleepy. So she constructed a pillow out of a gaggle of emaciated bird corpses—a certain Goosey Loosey, Ducky Lucky, and so on, who had starved to death as a result of her depredations. Their corpses were all feathers and bone, but no flesh—which made them soft, but not too soft.
Then, settling comfortably, Famine fell fast asleep.
“I am the fairest of them all!” cried Pestilence. But the Mirror, which floated before her throne, whispered, “Not yet.”
So Pestilence shook back her sleeves. From her fingers, lightning issued. It struck a princess with hair like midnight and skin like snow, and a princess with golden hair, which fell in flowing waves, as long as summer. And a peasant girl, all dressed for a ball, in a pumpkin coach, and a miller’s daughter, surrounded by straw, staring despondently at a spinning wheel.
At the lightning’s touch, the girls’ vaunted faces erupted in bloody lesions. Their noses fell off, and their hands did too, finger by finger. And a terrible fever coursed through their heads, burning their brains to cinders, so that what little human expression remained to them was rendered sluggish and dull.
At the touch of it, just the same, all the king’s horses and all the king’s men fell, proud and lovely no more. And a beautifully crafted man, fresh from the oven, whose gingerbread flesh was pitted and scarred. And a smirking cat, clean-limbed and impeccably dressed in hip-high boots, whose smirk rotted off, flaking down to the bone.
“I am the fairest of them all!” cried Pestilence once she had finished her work. And this time the Mirror said nothing.
“Who will help me make the sky fall?” asked Death.
No one would, of course—no one ever helped Death—and so Death reached up sadly, with a put-upon sigh, and proceeded to do it herself.
Under her industrious pecking, everything fell: sun and moon and the enterprising cow that was suspended above the moon, mid-jump, and an innumerable profusion of little stars, which twinkled and twinkled, and the awful blackness that lay behind them. As the pieces crashed to earth, they obliterated her and War and Famine and Pestilence and all the wreckage of the world, too, until all was still, silently ever after.
|Rachel Rodman (www.rachelrodman.com) writes fairy tales, food poetry, and popular science. Her work has appeared at Fireside Fiction, Daily Science Fiction, Expanded Horizons, and elsewhere.|