“I’ve never had an apple before.”
She reached up with one pearly white hand and plucked a crimson orb from the tree. The shine on the skin glistened as she examined it. For as far as she would see there were lines of trees reaching into oblivion, each with gleaming apples hanging from their branches. High in the sky above them, a warm sun shined gently upon the leaves.
She looked back at her father, Elijah Wilts, who was standing back under the shade of a nearby tree.
He nodded, “Go on, Jamila, collect some.”
Jamila hesitantly placed the apple in her small woven basket and then reach for another. Upon collecting a small pile of four apples she discovered, much to her frustration, that she was too short to reach any more.
Standing on her tiptoes, she strained for the nearby apple, swaying peacefully from a low-hanging branch.
Suddenly, her father picked her up, and the apple was in her hands. She pulled it from the tree and added it to her assortment. He held her up as she greedily grabbed a few more.
“My parents and I would go to Old Hatchway’s Apple Orchard every November. I was always a short kid, so my dad had to hold me up too.”
He set her down, and she ran excitably to the next tree. He picked her up again and continued his reminiscing. “We would make all kinds of apple products. Apple juice. Apple cider. Caramel apples. Apple pie. My mother would give apple pies to the whole block.”
Jamila accidently overfilled her basket and a few apples tumbled free, bouncing on the grass and rolling away. Jamila chased them and scooped them up in her arms, holding them close.
As she ran between the trees, they flickered. Everything disintegrated away until they were standing alone in a large room with perpendicular lines up and down the walls, floor, and ceiling. The lights flickered.
“Simulation aborted,” a mechanical voice boomed.
Jamila stood, tiny in the large room. Her hands were empty, the apples figments of the illusion.
Elijah sighed. He pulled a small device from his pocket. “I need to increase the bounds.”
Jamila sat down on the ground, staring at the blank wall that had once held an infinite orchard.
Elijah stopped typing and looked at her. He sat down by her side. “Sorry. I wanted it to be realistic. Like my own childhood. I’ll get it right, okay? Then we can go again.”
Jamila stood up angrily, “It doesn’t matter. No simulation will ever actually be earth, Dad. I’ll never get an apple pie. Or apple cider. There’s no point.” She turned and stormed out of the room.
The smell of apple pie reached Elijah as he sat alone, though he had not smelled it in several decades. He closed his eyes. He could practically see his mother setting out a line of pies alone the counter. They overflowed onto the dining room table. He would sneak up to them and attempt to grab a bite only to be swatted away. “That’s for Ms. Durlap. No touching!”
His mouth would water as he examined the golden crusts and plucked a piece of apple to snack on instead. Flour floated in the air and warmth escaped the oven as his mother put another pie in. “Come help me cut the apples, Elijah.”
“But Mom, when will I get to eat one?”
“That’s the last one. We save the best for last.”
And so, they would cut the apples into thin slices, stealing a few from every apple. The sugar and the cinnamon would create a heavenly smell until Elijah was begging his mother to let him have a bite. She would give in, and he would eat half the pie in less than ten minutes.
Unsurprisingly, he would feel sick the rest of the day and vow to never eat apple pie again. And every year he would break that promise.
Until one year he didn’t.
One year there were no more apple trees. There were no more apple pies and there never would be again. Who knew it would take the end of the world to make Elijah Wilts keep his word?
No simulation, no matter how realistic, would ever bring them back.
He remembered sweating and huffing and puffing as he carried the pies for his mother and delivered them door to door. The neighbors would squeal with glee at the freshly-baked treat, while his father would sit on the porch and remark how strong Elijah was getting as he came back for more pies to deliver.
The ground would be covered in leaves that would crunch beneath his feet, and the wind would be blowing excitably this way and that. The smell of apple pie would cover the block. Through his many years of delivering pies, Elijah never dropped one.
He would give anything to carry a mountain of pies down the street and balance them precariously in one hand as he rang the doorbell again. He would give anything to cut apples by his mother’s side and dodge her attempts to stop his snacking just one more time. He would give anything to have his father pick him up and hold him to the nearest apple on a Saturday morning at Old Hatchway’s Apple Orchard.
The large empty room stared back at him.
He pressed a button.
“Running simulation,” the voice said.
The lights turned bright orange to simulate an autumn sun above him. The trees sprouted around him and bright red apples appeared from their branches. Grass sprang from the ground beneath him, the gentle blades blowing lightly in the wind.
It was almost perfect.
The simulation could never get the smell.
He stood and plucked an apple from the tree. It was a large red apple, the most perfect one he had ever seen.
The door to the room opened and the simulation flickered as it was interrupted. He turned to see his daughter standing between the trees.
“I’m sorry,” she said in a small voice. “I just get tired of all the stories of things I’ll never have.”
“No, no. I’m sorry. I keep trying, but I can’t bring it back.”
He pulled the device from his pocket.
He stopped, looking at her.
“I liked collecting apples.”
He smiled, “you’re going to need a bigger basket.”
The apples glistened, the sun shined, and the wind blew.
And it was perfect.