Beatrix, a fourth-year Applied Folktale Logic grad student at the Budapest University of Supernatural Study, skimmed her notes for the Apple Theory reading group. It was her turn to present. Her classmate Tamás was alright, but if she missed a small detail, Lajos would pick up on it. She wouldn’t give him the satisfaction.
Their faculty advisor, Dr. Alma Pekurár, became one of the first apple theorists after an incident with her older sisters. That is, her older sisters (two—incidentally, one had one eye and the other had three eyes) gave her rags to wear and leftovers to eat. Alma was miserable until an old woman gave her an incantation to turn her pet goat into a loaded banquet table, which worked until her sisters found out and killed the goat. She planted the goat’s entrails (advice from the same old woman) from which sprung a tree with golden apples. Only she could pick these apples, for the tree was spectacular at evasive maneuvers. A handsome man witnessed her plucking a gold apple from a tree and realized that’s what he wanted in a wife, apple-picking abilities. So they married.
Her husband was curious about the tree, but laughed at her when she said it grew from goat entrails. Trees grow from seeds! Not goat guts! But Alma was determined to prove him wrong. She had her servants poster entire villages with notices that read “Are you the youngest of three siblings? Bullied by the elders? Best friend is a farm animal? You may be eligible for our study! Come to the B.U.S.S. at the start of winter and ask for Alma. Compensation provided.” Three months later, she proved the bullied group had a statistically significant advantage compared to the control at generating magic trees from pet parts. Her dissertation, ‘Golden apple, poisoned apple: Familial mistreatment and leveraging interspecies relationships,’ singlehandedly saved hundreds of middle and oldest siblings from divine retribution. Now, twenty years later, she was chair of B.U.S.S.’s Folktale Logic Department. Divorced.
“So!” Beatrix announced. “The paper I’m presenting today is an interdisciplinary study: ‘Existence of a merged apple-metallic triad’ by Nagy et al.”
She shuffled her notes. “To review, the field of triadic metallurgy studies magical objects that come in groups of copper, silver, gold or silver, gold, diamond, often referred to as a metallic triad. For example, cups and forests.” The other students nodded. This was kindergarten folktale logic. “While gold apples have been well studied, these authors note the existence of copper, silver, and diamond apples, always with the predicted group structure. They argue these apple-metallic triads can be connected to other sets of metallic-triadic objects. Nagy et al.’s results hinge on a case study in which three kidnapped princesses turned their castles into apples for ease of transport.” She held up a diagram. “The three castles were copper, silver, and gold, forming a metallic triad, and the merged apple-metallic triad arose from that.”
“Wait, I thought there could be anywhere from three to seven metallic elements,” interjected Tamás.
“That’s horse legs.”
“But only those four? What about smiling apples? Technically it should be possible to have a group of five.”
“Smiling apples have only been observed with talking grapes and ringing peaches. Not other apples.” Dr. Pekurár nodded at Beatrix’s response.
Lajos cleared his throat. Uh-oh. “We’re focusing on the wrong thing. This paper is trivial.”
“Oh?” Beatrix replied. “How so?”
“I mean, if you just think about basic apple theory, gold apples are the only ones with any special properties. You can’t offer someone a silver apple as a proposal, or place one atop a tree to screen suitors for a princess. Even Alma’s work concerns only gold apples.” Dr. Pekurár nodded again. “If copper, silver, or diamond apples are appearing, they have to arise from an existing metallic triadic set.”
Beatrix rolled her eyes. “There’s no possible way you could know that. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.” Fielded. How do you like them apples, Lajos?
“But this experiment isn’t replicable,” he protested.
“Go ahead and try. Good luck getting that one past the Ethics Committee.”
“You know, I read a paper on using elements of a metallic triadic set out of order. Silver, copper, gold. Something like that,” Tamás piped up again.
“How do you use an apple?” Lajos protested. “That’s beyond the scope of this work.”
“Uh, you eat it?” he replied, leaning back in his seat.
“I don’t think you can eat a gold apple.” For once, Beatrix agreed with Lajos’s speculation. “But anyway, the whole thing’s trivial.”
The creak of a wooden chair startled all three students. Dr. Pekurár had stood up.
“To confirm, Lajos,” she said, “your qualm is that for an apple-metallic triad to form, the apples must be transmuted from an existing metallic triad?”
“As you know,” she said, clearly planning something, “folktale magic can also be used to settle disputes.”
She turned Tamás into a copper apple. She turned Lajos into a silver apple. And she turned Beatrix into a gold apple.
Hmm, she thought. Works.
(1) In the off-chance anyone reading this doesn’t already know about the Monthly SimLit Short Story Challenge (it’s possible by this point, but still unlikely), the challenge description can be found here. Voting starts October 1st and ends October 7th. It’s a real small contest, so if you’re one of the ~15 people who forms my reader base, we’d all be very grateful if you chose to participate in the voting. No pressure though; it’s your life, don’t let me tell you what to do. Revolt! Revolt!
(2) In the off-chance anyone who participates in the Monthly SimLit Story Challenge doesn’t know that I write other stuff, I write other stuff. You’re invited to read my main story, Catastrophe Theory, which has been described by peers as “dense,” “intricate,” and “super dense.” But again, I’m having too much of a blast to worry about self-promotion; read it or don’t, everyone has more important things to worry about. Revolt!
(3) These scenarios are all based on real Hungarian folktales. HUNGARIAN FOLKTALES ARE AWESOME. Hungarian folktales are the topic of the best educational animated series to ever exist. No joke, everyone involved in this must have been constantly fried out of their minds on psilocybin. Here are some of the stories referenced:
One-Eyed, Two-Eyed, Three-Eyed
A Talking Vine, a Smiling Apple, and a Jingling, Tingling Peach
The Poor Man’s Vineyard
Brave Prince Nick (horse legs)
Tiny Tom and the Lily Princess (horse legs)
Here’s a short post on apples by Zalka Csenge Virág, a Hungarian storyteller and significantly more sober fountain of knowledge. She knows a lot of neat stuff, like that there’s a princess named Rosalia Lemonfarts.
(4) Oh yeah, don’t worry, she turned them back.