Wilfred was an old man. He spent his long days listening to the radio, watching cricket, tending to his garden, doing the crossword in the Daily Mail paper… Rinse and repeat it went on for years this way. He kept himself to himself; he was quite alone, but quite content.
One day, he opened the front door, and found something that threw him off quite completely. Placed perfectly centered on the top stone step that led up to his open door, an apple sat, glistening at him in the hazy daylight. Frowning, then wincing, Wilfred bent his knees and curled his back to pick up the uninvited apple off the floor. He stood up and examined the apple closely.
It was almost utopian, the utmost picture of what an apple should be, shaped with sweeping subtle arcs as though crafted with divine precision, unbefitting of any material reality. It was smooth – without a bruise nor bump nor imperfection. And it was shiny, so much so that Wilfred could see the distorted image of himself staring back at him, disconcerted, and the reflection tinted with a deep red hue. Moreover, it fitted impeccably snugly in his hand, almost as though its reason for creation was to be ensconced there in that very moment.
Surely it couldn’t have been one of his own apples growing in the back garden? No, their skin was more like his own calloused fingers, and of a lighter red colour. Even then, one could never have rolled all the way round to the front door and onto the top step, without a scratch or bruise, and so meticulously placed.
Yet there was no note. Nothing. No sign of life.
“How quaint an occurrence for a Tuesday afternoon,” he muttered (or any afternoon, at least by Wilfred’s monotonous daily standards). Shrouded in all its mystery there was a certain allure about the apple in his hand. Simultaneously he felt an intense desire to eat it whilst also being wholly repulsed. All he wanted was to take a bite, to breathe in its sweet fragrance, to hear the sound of sort crunching, but deep down he feared ill. The two are not compatible and sohe made a decision and: with all his willpower, he continued on his way to the supermarket, as intended, and put the apple in the nearest waste-bin he found. He rubbed his wrinkly eyes with wrinkly fingers.
Usually at the supermarket he hurried down the fresh fruit aisle but today he had a close look at the apples piled up in their plastic crates. There were large green supposedly sour ones meant for cooking, and small reddish ones with streaky lines down the sides. None of them were like his apple; he remembered the one on his doorstep to be a rich sanguine red, with neither speckles, stripes, nor even the tacky tarnish of a peeled-off sticker.
“Good afternoon, Wilfred,” said the woman at the till as he approached, having bought what he had needed. She was old. Too many years she had spent on that till, watching flitting slides of other people's lives, fragments of conversion, of niceties, of boiling disputes. She’d know your life story by the products you buy, from the way you carry your basket to how you fill up your bags; every hesitancy, every sigh, every blink giving her a glimpse into your soul. And she never forgets either – all the folk in town know it's not wise to get on the wrong side of old Sybil (no one even knows her last name).
“Morning, morning,” said Wilfred, “Sybil. Could I ask you an odd little question?”
“If you must,” she responded in a croaky, curt voice.
“Do you happen to know of anyone going around the village and putting apples on people’s doorsteps?”
“Ha! HA! No I don’t. Why by God’s name do you ask?”
“Oh, it’s nothing.”
“You know what I think? If someone’s putting apples on your doorstep you’ve got yourself a lover, albeit one with a flair for ridiculousness.”
“I think it’s more likely some youths think it’s funny to mess with my head. It gave me a right old surprise this evening.”
“If you think the youths around here have any interest in you then you’re greatly mistaken. But do keep an eye out, Wilfred. You never know what strange scheme those rascals might be up to.”
He paid, thanked her, hauled his bags off the counter and walked out of the supermarket with one balanced in each hand. He hadn’t been outside that day, apart from this trip, and the balmy breeze planted a comforting surety in his step.
Soon he had arrived back at the pebbled front yard to his home, but lo and behold, much to his shock and terror, another apple was sitting there cunningly on the step. ‘My God!’ he said, and looked left and right for any sign of the perpetrator, tempestuous alarm bells ringing in his troubled head.
“Is anybody there?” he said, to himself, to the air. “Come out at once!”
There was no answer.
What’s more, as he got inevitably closer, he would have sworn it was the same apple as before in the exact same place as before, were he not also sure he had thrown away the first. He stepped over the apple, as though it was neither there or of importance, and quickly unlocked the door, entering swiftly and closing it behind him, not without another anxious scan of the garden.
The light inside was comforting and warm, and he let out a deep breath. Eyes closed, all he could see were fuzzy yellow blotches upon a sea of black. Letting those barely distinguishable colors wash over him, he ran a soothing hand through his thin hair, and slipped off his shoes onto the soft carpet floor. He stayed like this for a full minute listening to the welcome silence, watching the blotches and patterns on his closed eyelid display. He thought about how quaint an occurrence it was for a Tuesday afternoon, and opened his eyes again.
The world seemed suddenly bright, such that it was only a moment later, with pupils adjusted, that he saw before him on the cabinet, that sitting there, perfectly poised, was an apple. A glance upwards and in the mirror above the cabinet he saw a petrified man looking back at him, a man so scared in that very moment that his heart skipped a beat, that his face grew pale. He saw a man whose hand scrambled onto the cabinet and for the metal letter opener, which he held tightly.
“Who’s there!?” he called. “Get out of my house!”
No answer – just the sound of dust settling and his own quickened breathing.
Then, from behind the turn of the hallway, appeared a figure. A figure the likes of which Wilfred had never seen in all his years on this Earth. It was tall, slender, short, fat, both young and old but visibly wise – definitely wise, and male? Oh, and it was made of apples. Or at least that is what it looked like to the confused eye, for amorphous, fluid red orbs of light and matter and energy constituted its form – each analogous part translucent, yet opaque, glowing and void, constantly dynamic; revolving, melting, morphing, yet with a certain stillness, of an insurmountable force.
The letter opener was clenched then, having been let loose, dropped to the soft ground. A light trembling was left in its place.
“Who… who are you? What are you?” Wilfred said.
It is hard to describe the voice of the man (if you can call it that) who stood before him. Try to imagine if every fruit and flower of the earth might whisper their last words, full of sweetness and tenderness and remorse and despair, and prudence. It was silky smooth in quality, yet subtly abrasive to the ears, and each word somehow multi-faceted, like a diamond. “I am everything you once were and everything you wish to be. I am both your mirror and your reflection; I am your soul.” No sooner than it had said these words did the aura lighting the hallway dim and footsteps on the soft carpet sound further, and further, away.
The mind, the troubled mind, is very good at making things, extraordinary things, remembered shortly after as nothing more than a fragmented scattering of its own manifestation. That’s what happened to Wilfred; and his self-determined insanity was comforting. Whilst the manifestations of that day were not lost to his memory, there was nothing qualifying their significance in order to latch onto his conscience and reinstate the perturbation felt not long before. He had called the police in those previous few moments, but unable to understand the deranged muttering that ensued, they never did arrive. All he was left with ten minutes after the event was slight bemusement and a nagging feeling.
And so the evening passed as follows: sausages for dinner, reheated mashed potato, ketchup; cup of tea sipped in a disconcerted manner upon a green cloth armchair, the curtains drawn, listening to the sound of the radiator thrumming. And after a short while, with night clothes on, he found himself lying down on his small bed in his small bedroom to get some sleep, for all would be well in the morning, he thought.
Wilfred doesn’t usually dream.
First he saw clouds – diaphanous, wispy, white strands rolling off into the horizon under a startling azure sky. Wilfred was flying. He was clinging onto the neck of a giant swan, it’s soft white feathers beneath his grip. The beast he rode radiated the warmth of a heartfelt hug, and he was carried by it through the balmy wind, amongst the rolling clouds, the apple man flying beside him. Looking down to the ocean below, Wilfred saw golden fishes, swathes of corals, waves reflecting the sunset in a kaleidoscope of colours.
Suddenly, in his dream a storm descended. Thunder rumbled. Lightning struck. And there emerged a blazing cold wind, wind which at first he braced with a wince, but which as it hastened made his eyes water and press into their sockets, which made his skin prickle and sting as though it was being torn from his very flesh. To his disbelief the swan began to melt before his eyes: where he had been holding its neck, the feathers became sticky globules in his hands, black as tar. The heat of the bird intensified until it was searing the skin on his legs, layers of skin burning beneath flaming clothes. The corals in their enormity bleached before him and were expelled from the sea by tectonic giants, huge chunks of porcelain reefs imposing, threatening the sky. The ocean evaporated into vapor. Through the emerging mist, golden fish lay dead on the sediment floor in their desolate thousands, while gold of their scales dimmed under the rising tide of their collective blood.
“Help!” he gasped, in his mind, perhaps aloud.
There was no answer
Wilfred awoke, hands clutched to the bed frame, panting, with a body dripping with sweat, a salty taste on his lips.
At the foot of his bed, a crimson glowing blur transcended the otherwise engulfing darkness, with the slowly transmuting shades of red that identified his invader.
There was an apple on his bedside table, waiting for him.
“Eat it, Wilfred,” said the being who he realised he had come to fear with such passion.
Wilfred felt the chill of hot scorpions crawl across his suddenly bare body, the duvet transforming into a swarm of buzzing insects, soon disintegrating into the hazy air. Without a duvet Wilfred was cold, and he curled into a foetal ball, knees tucked with scrawny arms into a hairy chest.
The apple man stood still as he was curled up shivering. The apple sat inanimate on his bedside table.
“Eat it,” the apple man said.
“You can’t make me!” His voice broke.
“No, I cannot.”
Tears are a funny thing. They know as little of what they are crying for as their owner. What does the gland in one’s eye have to do with anything anyways?
He bit into the apple, and fell into an eternal and dreamless sleep.