Thursday, April 9, 2009

Minimal Investment: Apples by Jayne Waggoner

This week's minimal investment is a story called Apples by Jayne Waggoner. Jayne has been so generous as to let me host a copy of the text here at iheartmonster.com so that you don't have to link out to read it! Jayne is the author of Celic, and its sequel Vadas, which you should definitely check out. Celic is in my to-read pile, so you'll be getting an Inspection on that one in the next month or so. Please visit Jayne's website to see some of her other short stories and poems.

After you're done reading, be a doll and give us a comment on what you thought, won't you?

Warning: Apples has been rated PG-13 by the author.

Word Count: 1118

Apples
by Jayne Waggoner

Johnny walked through the quiet house toward the basement. Weariness weighed intense through every muscle. How long had it been? He’d lost track of time.

At the kitchen table, he kicked an unobserved doll.

“Mama,” it whined in a sing song voice.

He stopped to stare at the glassy-eyed toy. A present to his daughter. The little baby who.

“Don’t think, just go,” he advised himself. His feet shuffled toward the open door.

The pathway to the cellar lay clear. Even the rats knew to hide. The dank room smelled sour, pungent. On a bend, the odor of rotted potatoes assailed him. Pickles lay in their broken jar on the floor next to the dryer, and several flies buzzed pass him to escape up the stairs. He moaned but never slowed his advancement toward the back.

There on a table sat the object and reason for his journey. A small tree rested in a large tub, its bark stark white. Though the dimly lit room held no heat, bright red apples overloaded the plant’s tender branches. Impossible, any grower would argue, but Johnny knew its secret. The cuts on his arm testified to the mixture fed to the plant. He’d been required to donate all of its nourishment.

He retrieved a cardboard box nearby and picked the fruit from the tree. The chore completed, he returned to the kitchen to clean them in the sink. Dishes from the family’s last meal remained. Johnny howled like a wild man. He smashed every piece of china on the floor. Anger spent, he ran water over the apples to wash each clean then used a dishtowel to pat the fruit dry before he placed them back in the box.

The sun blinded him the moment he stepped from the darkened house. He wailed in frustration yet continued, not able to wait for his vision’s adjustment. At the next block, he set the container down with a tilt, the apples visible.

He chose a location busy with joggers, park goers, and casual strollers to set up business. Johnny lingered in silence while the sight of the fruit sold them. He accepted whatever amount of money offered. Two hours later, the complete one hundred and eighty four apples were gone. He picked up the empty carton with a heavy sigh.

An eerie silence met him at his threshold. His spirits descended. She’d lied. He tossed the box aside and raced up the steps, two at a time. He gasped from the unexpected sight that met him. The family lay in a row on the master bed. Jana, his wife, rested on the far side; their son of three in the middle; the little girl of one closest to the door. He thought them dead until a rise and fall of breathing occurred.

“What did you do to them?”

“Not much.” She eased into the room from outside the window. Her spiked brown hair glowed from the moonlight, her tan complexion whitish by its reflection. Dark round eyes appeared cold above lips of cream tint. A coffee-colored, skin-tight one piece garment covered her body. Johnny’s heartbeat accelerated. Her obvious dissimilarity from ordinary people had attracted him at first sight. Even now, with the wickedness obvious, he longed for another embrace. “I added a slight incentive to keep you at work is all.”

“I’ve done what you ordered.” He tore his gaze away to place it on Jana. “Give me back my family.”

“You didn’t mention them several nights ago when you rested in my arms,” she purred.

“You bewitched me.”

“I did nothing of the kind,” she said. “You picked me up at the bar, drove me to a motel, and undressed me. Therefore, it was you who placed yourself in my hands.”

He flinched. Could Jana hear?

“Don’t worry,” she walked over to caress the woman’s face, “your wife is beyond earshot of the words we’ve said.”

“How much longer must I obey your commands?”

“Hours.” Her eyes met his “Go back down, gather more. There should be a new batch grown by now.”

“Byzera, I….”

“Conversation time is over.” She ambled to the window to disappear into the night. “Finish before dawn, or your family will cease to breathe.”

“I can’t,” he objected. “Everyone is inside. It’s dark.”

“Leave an apple near each home,” she instructed.

Johnny walked to the bed and fell to his knees. He reached out a trembling hand and stroked his little girl’s forehead.

Forgive me, he longed to beg. Instead, he prayed.

Done, he gathered the cardboard box and returned to the basement. All night he worked to place the apples. Before the sun crested the distant hill, he’d finished. He returned home in exhaustion. Did this time make the last?

Closing the door, Johnny paused to listen. The abnormal silence unnerved him. He ran up the steps in the hopes she’d kept her promise at last. Their positions hadn’t changed. He bellowed in fury. Byzera appeared through the window with a look of contentment.

“You’ve done well. Our children are alive.”

“Our children?” Johnny asked.

“When we mated, you placed your seeds in me. I united them mentally with another who shared a similar condition. That’s how the apples grew.”

“Why?”

“Creature-like bugs will escape from the fruit to enter the walls. They will hide until night. Then, each one will feed from the female of the household. Not much to begin with. The gullible women won’t notice the bite marks or the loss from their systems. At daybreak, my darlings will find a place to hide. Nighttime comes; the feast continues one final time on the chosen’s blood. No prey shall awaken from the attack. We are, after all, a hungry breed."

“Offsprings will reshape into various victim forms once death occurs." She continued. "They’ll use the appearance until they enter the woods, their natural habitat. We exist in caves and forest, mostly in the guise of bats.”

His hand went to his neck. “The mark…?”

“I chose you for two reasons. One was your acceptance of me.” She smiled. “The other was your wife. She and I were united by the spill of your seeds in us on the same eve.”

“Jana?”

Byzera turned to the bed. Everyone sat up. The children looked confused; however, the woman grinned, displaying sharp, pointed fangs. She lifted and skimmed across the floor, ready to fade into the night.

“One from an earlier brood.” She grinned. “Shape shifters can’t be trusted.”

“What have you done with my wife?” he demanded, fists balled by his sides.

“Look in the basement.” She, too, left by the window. Her last words came from outside. “She’s the tree.”

Edited by: M. E. Ellis, editor

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