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Asclepius was enraged at the feeble oxygen hoarders, and for an eternity, a thunderous virus hung over all the land. Nowhere in the land was even a child in a classroom or a scrivener in a catacomb. For imperceptible periods of time, the most hardy or most outlying folk endured one way or other, pillaging Beige Paw, as the money-grubbing landlords continued to hike rents and forced them from their sun-dried mud brick homes.

Autumn came.

Where anybody had or purchased old goji berries, they swallowed them, ignoring Hippocrates’ call for a good diet and rest. They believed in homeopathy, but no combination of sour cherry juice, melatonin, and goji berries gave them rest.

The merchant Hegestratos took out the largest bottomry and became leader of all the land. He hired Edelman to launch a campaign touting the infallible goji berry as the cure for the virus. Even as their sun-dried mud brick homes crumbled, the folk rejoiced, drinking Beige Paw from small cups and prepping well-drained soil with pH levels between 6.8 and 8.1.

When they cast the mighty goji berry seeds into the sanctified soil, that was the last they saw of them. “I curse Apollo the physician, and Asclepius, and Hygieia and Panacea and all the gods and goddesses, that, according to my ability and judgement, the mighty goji shall save us all” the folk cried out.

Now unemployed and clinically disconsolate, the folk spent their days gulping Beige Paw from the tiny cups, some prone, others supine, as they pressed their ears to the well-drained soil, hoping for a peep of germination.

As more imperceptible periods of time passed, the folk grew weary, but not thin, for they consumed fortified Beige Paw when the fresh press ran dry. They gorged on goat-bacon-wrapped figs smothered in goat cheese and became too bloated to entwine their partners with both their legs or apply chokeholds.

Circe, Medea, and Diamanda Galás shrieked as babies squalled, for now it was manifest that death by virus was approaching.

Winter fed into spring, seasons no more perceptible than time. Yet there was no sign of slightly thorny deciduous woody shrubs. No blessing was poured forth, for the drought emerged with wind.

Snow was scant in the winter, and the black earth lay barren. All the world began to perish. The folk coughed to their deaths. The goats, exhausted from producing too much milk for fatty meals, collapsed.

There was, at that time, an ignoble emperor in Pax Romana, who portrayed himself as Hercules, the mythical Greek hero, in countless statues, even though he was morbidly obese with a salmon pallor, though he’d never consumed any fish or food rich in Omega-3 fatty acids.

The kindest thing said of Emperor Bugle was that he was not inherently evil, but such an imbecile that he allowed his court of demons to denounce science.

Followers of the emperor, named after the simplest brass instrument, became known as Bugles. While his doting, dopy disciples came in Original, Nacho Cheese, Chocolate Peanut Butter, and Caramel flavors, he favored the Original, while claiming he invented Nacho Cheese as a hoax.

He surrounded himself with yellow-haired hetairai and pornai, who also read aloud from scrolls, touting his hourly accomplishments. He publicly ranked them based on whether they could fetch three obols or as much a drachma for an hour of flesh pounding.

With the passing of more imperceptible periods of time, it became apparent to the folk that all the world would perish.

The gelatinous emperor, himself infected with the virus, but receiving hourly doses of conium maculatum, made a proclamation that all Chocolate Peanut Butter and Caramel flavored folk (he’d previously classified all Nacho Cheese flavored folk as fake news) be drowned. This was necessary to ensure that goji berries might not be wasted in vain, but there might be a supply of goji berries for him and the yellow-haired hetairai and pornai suckling his teets and rubbing his calluses as he grabbed their netherregions.

By his order, the brigands seized all Chocolate Peanut Butter and Caramel flavored people, and drowned them without mercy.

There were then, in a certain place, three yellow-haired sisters who refused work as hetairai and pornai, even though as a trio they would fetch buckets of drachma for a pinch of their juicy, pert buttocks, who had a Chocolate Peanut Butter mother and Caramel father.

“My daughters, such is the will of the emperor and his god, take me, let me perish at once, only that you, my daughters, may live on. I am already with one foot in the grave.”

“No, mommy and daddy! We will die, but we will not give you up,” wept the yellow-haired maidens with one voice. “We will keep you! We will take goji berries from our own mouths, and we will nourish and heal you.”

The three yellow-haired daughters took their Chocolate Peanut Butter mother and Caramel father, conducted them into their crumbling sun-dried mud brick home, dug under the raised portion of the floor, made up a bed with sheets and frieze-coats, for straw was scarce. They placed their parents there, brought them goji berries as black as the sanctified soil, and covered them over with the floor. There the Chocolate Peanut Butter mother and Caramel father abode for two or three months, and their yellow-haired daughters brought them clandestinely all the dried goji berries they had.

The summer passed without harvest, without mowing.

September passed too. Autumn passed without joy. Winter passed, too. Finally emerged spring, and the sun grew warm. It was now time to sow, but there were no goji berry seeds in all the land. In the absence of seeds, the folk sowed cranberries, hoping there would be a crop that resembled the mighty goji. But when they cast them into the sanctified soil, they rotted there.

It seemed as if end days were imminent.

Then the three yellow-haired daughters went to their Chocolate Peanut Butter mother and Caramel father, and pleaded: “Mommy! Daddy! What shall we do? It’s time to sow, God is now sending showers of rain. The earth is warmed and is crumbling like grits, but of seed there is not a blessed grain.”

“Take, my daughters, and strip the old roof off the house, and thresh the bundles and sow the chaff.”

The yellow-haired maidens stripped the house and the empty barn, and threshed away until the olive oil and charcoal applied to darken their eyes smudged. They crushed the bundles as small as poppyseeds. When they sowed, a duo of futurefolk (a 71 year-old woman born in a futureland derived from the Choctaw words okla and humma, and a 79 year old man from the greenest of all futurelands) gave a blessing. In a week’s time (suddenly time could be measured again!) it became green like rue. It was little coincidence that the greenest of all futurelands that gave the folk the 79 year old man would remain essentially unscathed by the virus. For fate was in play.

In a month’s time, in two months’ time, there were cranberries everywhere!

There were cranberries, ever so much–ever so much, and all manner of seed and nut and dryable fruit was found there. Even Craisins® burst from the sanctified soil! Suddenly it seemed apparent the land would be showered in the abundance of deluxe trail mix.

Throughout the land, the folk rejoiced, and the yellow-haired hetairai and pornai rolled off the emperor’s slippery gut and grabbed their scrolls to break the news.

The emperor ordered the three yellow-haired virgin sisters to remove their masks and appear in his imperial, infected presence.

The sisters went again to their Chocolate Peanut Butter mother and Caramel father.

“Mommy! Daddy! They tell us to appear before the emperor. Advise us, Mommy! Daddy! What to do!”

“Go, my daughters. What will be, will be, and tell the pure truth before the globular emperor.”

The sisters borrowed a two-wheeled cart pulled by oxen and went to the emperor’s hospital bed where he sprawled out smothered in yellow-haired hetairai and pornai as they watched pankration performed live by unmasked boys with feverish cheeks. One player excused himself as diarrhea oozed from his loincloth.

The emperor inquired menacingly: “Why, vile virgins, did ye hoard up goji berries, when there was such a virus that so many people died without a cure? Tell the truth! If not, I shall order you to be tortured and racked even unto death!”

“Now, most gracious emperor, give us over to any torture whatever, or let thy kindness have compassion on us!”

No longer able to taste or smell the difference between a virgin and a hetairai, the salmon-skinned emperor began vomiting. The yellow-haired hetairai and pornai began vomiting and rolled off the hospital bed.

The emperor’s Ivari International weave magically transformed into human hair, exposing his brow, which became smooth, as his eyes became serene. He then ordered the Chocolate Peanut Butter mother and Caramel father to be brought before him at once, and made them sit beside him close to his hospital throne, and hearkened to his counsel till death, and the daughters he rewarded handsomely.

He ordered the goji berries and Craisins® to be collected one by one, and to be rubbed out in men’s hands. He ordered Hermes to collect goji berries and Craisins® with winged feet and soar at great speed above all empires, dumping the cure for all the world.

Natasha Gural

Natasha Gural is a fallen literary scholar and veteran award-winning journalist and editorial executive (AP, Dow Jones) who misses the old school newspaper and wire service hustle. Her creative pursuits include covering global fine art for Forbes. No doubt her literary breakthrough will strike as the Earth implodes.

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