Copyright © 2015 by J. Lynne
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to any persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
All rights reserved by the author. This eBook or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the author except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
The being peered out of its glass box prison and spoke to the little girl with the bright green eyes and blue specks who stared up at it from the floor. It sent a message into her little brain: eat me. The girl jumped and tried to get a closer look at the juicy, red apple locked in the small square container on top of the refrigerator.
“Mommy, I’m hungry.” She called out.
Wrapping her little fingers around a kitchen chair, the girl dragged the chair closer and climbed on the seat. This four-year-old child needed that apple. It called to her.
You’re so hungry, and I’m so tasty. The apple needed her help to escape. Sarah, I’m waiting for you.
Before the little girl could try to reach for the apple, her mother picked her up and placed her on the floor. “You can’t eat that.” She looked at her daughter nervously. “I know you’re hungry. Daddy will be home with something soon. I promise.” She stroked her daughter’s face.
Sarah folded her arms, knowing her mother lied. “Okay.” She turned and walked out of the kitchen, glancing at the apple before she disappeared down the hall.
You can’t keep us apart forever, Rose.
She cringed at the sound of the apple in her mind. Covering her ears, Rose wished it would die or rot away into nothing more than a simple apple core. Her life changed the moment she had inherited that evil apple from her grandmother six months ago…
“It’s the cure I’ve been waiting for.” Her grandmother pointed at the apple. “Bring it to me.” She looked at her granddaughter, Rose, and nodded with a smile.
Rose sighed. “An apple won’t cure your cancer.”
“No.” She shook her head slowly. “But it can cure my suffering.”
Rose didn’t know how to explain to her grandmother that she was delirious. The pain was too much for the old woman, and Rose just wanted to comfort her. “Where’s the key, Grandma?”
The old woman pointed at a jewelry box sitting on top of her dresser in the corner of her bedroom. Her hands shook as she watched her granddaughter retrieve the key. “Yes.” She clutched her hands to her chest. “Yes, that’s it.”
“Why’s it locked in here?” Rose used the key to unlock the glass box. She reached inside and picked up the apple. The moment her fingertips touched the skin, a wave of chills pulsed through her body and she shivered. She jumped back and almost dropped the apple.
“Bring it here now.” The old woman reached out to catch the apple her granddaughter fumbled around with even though she was nowhere near either.
Rose turned to face her. “It can’t be good.” She walked over and handed her grandmother the apple, frowning. “I remember staring into this locked box as a child wondering why the apple was inside, but you would never let me touch it.”
“It’s not rotten.” The old woman sniffed the apple.
You must tell her.
She stared at the apple and nodded. “You need to promise me something, Rose.”
“Sure.” Rose placed a hand on her grandmother’s shoulder.
The old woman leaned forward in her wheelchair and grasped Rose’s arm. “When I die, you’ll lock this apple inside that box and take it with you. Don’t throw it away. Keep it out in the open. It doesn’t like to be hidden.” She tightened her grip. “Don’t make the same mistake I did or you’ll end up like me.”
“Let go.” Rose buckled under the unexpected strength of her ill grandmother. “You’re hurting me.”
“But don’t you ever eat it.” She yanked on Rose’s arm. “Don’t let anyone touch it. Keep it locked up and safe. Give it to your daughter when you die and tell her the same. It must stay in our family for all eternity where we can keep watch over it.” Her eyes widened. “Promise me…”
You’re making a mistake, old woman. You can’t keep me locked up forever.
“I can try.”
“What?” Rose pulled away from her. “Try what?”
Tears welled up in the old woman’s eyes. “Please, promise me.” She struggled to catch her breath.
“I promise.” Rose felt guilty for not understanding what her grandmother wanted from her. She knew she was too far gone to reason with. “I promise.” It had gotten much worse in the past week.
The old woman smiled. She could rest knowing her granddaughter would hold true to her word. Holding the apple up in front of her, she admired it. The end came for her. She took a bite of the apple and within seconds was dead.
Rose found it hard to explain to other family members how the death occurred. She witnessed it but still wasn’t sure what she saw. Her grandmother had taken a bite of the apple and her head slumped to the side. Rose tried to clear her airway, thinking the apple was stuck in her throat. The apple fell from the old woman’s hand and rolled onto the floor. Rose picked it up and found no bite marks.
Still, she did as her grandmother asked and brought home the apple locked inside the square box. However, Rose didn’t heed her advice and placed the apple in the closet. Things went from good to bad the moment that apple entered her life. She started to argue with her husband about the smallest things that never mattered before. The day after her grandmother died, she lost her job at the local bank where she was the manager. Her husband kept his job, but his hours dropped drastically at his company weeks later. They were behind on the mortgage and knew the bank would eventually take their home. Rose struggled to feed her daughter most days.
The weight of her problems became too much, so she set the glass box out with the trash. She watched from the living room window as the garbage man picked it up, shook it and tried to open the lock.
It must stay in our family for all eternity.
She heard the words her grandmother had said ringing in her head. It wasn’t her grandmother’s voice but something darker. The thought never occurred to her that the apple spoke to her directly until much later. Rose grabbed her chest and considered the promise she was about to break. Why did this apple have to remain with her?
Rose watched the man continue to tinker with the box. Her breathing increased and panic set in. What if he smashed it open? What if he took the apple to his home? She rushed from the house and ran to him. Grabbing the box from his hand, she apologized to him and explained that her husband placed it out there by accident. He inquired about the apple inside as she walked away, but she continued walking, ignoring him.
The apple didn’t return to the closet. Rose knew she could no longer try to hide it. She placed it on top of the refrigerator in the back near the wall. Rose stared at the apple inside the box that never rolled away from the center, even when she snatched it away from the man outside, and knew her daughter would have this same burden one day, but would they ever know why?
Four teenage girls stood around the glass box sitting on the desk of the motel room. One girl leaned in and stared at the apple with her bright green and blue-speckled eyes. She didn’t realize that the apple was looking back at her, waiting for freedom. It yearned for Sarah, who brought three friends to the rodent-infested motel she and her mother had called home for the last two years, to touch it. The apple couldn’t smell the stench from inside its prison, but it could see the disarray of the room.
“I don’t believe you, Sarah,” Cynthia said. “There is no such thing as an evil apple.” She rolled her eyes. This girl stood out from the others with her short, blunt haircut.
“Why would I lie to you guys?” Sarah didn’t want them to leave because they were the first to accept her invitation to hang out. Her life changed after her parents divorced, and she desperately wanted to fit in.
The leader of the group moved to the center of the girls and crossed her arms. “There’s only one way to prove it. I double dare you to take a bite of that apple.” She smiled and flipped her blonde hair with effortless motion.
The other two girls giggled and waited for Sarah to respond.
“I can do that, Claire. No problem.” Sarah walked away from the desk and entered the bathroom where her mother hid the key to the locked box. She grabbed it and returned.
“Did you get it?” Claire asked, remaining in the middle of the group as the center of attention.
Sarah smiled and raised the key. “But I have something even better than eating the apple.” She knew her mother would never allow her to take a bite, and after the stories she heard about it killing her great-grandmother, she didn’t want to. “I’m going to cut the apple into slices.”
“She’s scared.” Claire frowned and looked at the final girl Lisa, who was the shortest in the group.
She can sense your fear. You’re a coward.
“That’s not true.” Sarah stepped forward with balled up fists at her side. She looked past Claire and stared at the apple. “Just stop talking to me!”
“Come on.” Claire motioned to Lisa and Cynthia. “This is lame.” The two girls followed her to the door, stepping over an overturned suitcase near the foot of the queen bed.
Sarah rushed forward. “The apple regenerates.”
Lisa twirled a finger through her hair and turned to look at Sarah. “So when you cut it, it’ll grow back?”
“Grow back?” Cynthia shook her head and laughed. “You’re so stupid, Lisa.”
Claire stepped closer. “Let’s get on with it then.”
Sarah moved to the locked box on the desk and hesitated before sliding the key into the lock and turning it. This was the second time she had unlocked it. The first was shortly after her mother brought the apple home. She found it hidden in the closet with the key resting on top of it. Her mother caught her holding it in her hand, admiring it. That was the first time she ever heard the word evil in her life.
Opening the small door slowly, she reached inside and let her fingers hover over the apple. A feeling of warmth surrounded the apple, something that felt comforting. The exact opposite feeling she had when it was locked away. She took the apple and felt the heaviness of it. The three girls moved to her side and watched her place it on the desk.
“There’s a knife in the pizza box on the bed.” Sarah didn’t look at the girls. She waited until she felt the knife touch the palm of her hand. “Are you ready?” Sarah asked.
“You better not be lying.” Claire frowned.
Sarah raised the knife and rested it on the skin of the apple. She felt the air around the apple become heavy and thick. Taking a deep breath, she struggled to force the blade down. A piece of the apple landed on the desk, but the rest of it remained in the upright position when Sarah released her grip, stepped back and dropped the knife to the floor.
“How long does it take?” Lisa asked.
“Any minute now.” Sarah bit a fingernail.
“This is real exciting. You sliced an apple,” Cynthia said. “Can we go now?” She addressed Claire.
“Just give it a minute.” Sarah looked at Claire. “It’ll happen.”
Claire rolled her eyes and picked up the apple slice, raising it to her mouth.
“Stop!” Sarah grabbed her arm.
Claire sniffed the slice. “Lisa, eat this.” She pulled away from Sarah and held it out to Lisa. “I dare you.” She smirked.
Lisa shrugged and took the apple slice.
Hello, child, go ahead and take a taste.
Shocked, Lisa stared at the apple slice. “What the?”
The motel room door opened and Sarah’s mother stepped inside carrying three bags of groceries. Rose struggled with the door and called to her daughter for help. Turning around, she saw the group of girls and the apple out of its prison.
“Mom?” Sarah stepped in front of Lisa. “What are you doing here?” Her mother wasn’t supposed to be home this early. She expected to have the room to herself for another thirty minutes.
Lisa held the slice up. “I swear this thing just spoke to me.” She giggled nervously.
Sarah tried to calm her mother down. “We’re just playing around. I swear. Nothing bad happened.”
“Don’t eat that!” Rose dropped the groceries and pushed Sarah away.
“What the hell, man?” Cynthia pulled Claire to the side to protect her. “What is wrong with your mom?” She looked at Sarah. “She’s crazy…”
Lisa felt a hand wrap around hers, but she didn’t see anything. The force of this unseen thing took control of her own body and she watched as the apple slice headed to her mouth. She tried to shake her head with no success. Her mouth opened and she ate the slice.
“No!” Rose grabbed Lisa as she dropped to the floor. She tried to force the girl’s mouth open and pull the apple out, but her teeth were clenched, as was the rest of her body.
Sarah ran to her mother’s side and stared at Lisa, her face no longer a rosy pink but pale and empty. Lisa opened her mouth and tried to speak. Her eyes rolled into the back of her head and she shook slightly.
Claire and Cynthia stared at the scene with a look of shock. They didn’t move or say a word.
Rose felt for a pulse. “She’s dead.” She looked at Sarah. “How could you be so careless? I’ve warned you!” Rose slapped her daughter.
The force of the slap sent Sarah backwards into the desk. The acid in her stomach rose into her throat and she leaned over, vomiting into the small garbage can. She wiped her mouth and gaped at the empty spot on the desk where she had left the apple. Her eyes shifted to the glass box where the apple rested in the center behind the closed and locked door.
It was whole again.
Don’t be scared. You have me.
Sarah heard the voice of the apple in her mind and struggled against the man restraining her in the middle of the dark alley. She and her mother had fled the motel, trying to escape the group of men after the glass box and the power within. Two men had been watching the motel and the attack came without warning. With no time to pack, they left everything behind—everything but the apple.
“Let her go,” Rose said. She stood about fifteen feet from Sarah and the two men. She clutched the glass box against her chest.
A bald man instructed his partner to hold Sarah tight and cracked his knuckles. “Just give us the apple and we won’t hurt your girl.” He smiled and allowed his eyes to trace the outline of Sarah’s body. “I promise.”
“Don’t believe him.” Sarah ignored the rain droplets streaming down her face.
“You have to let her go first.” Rose demanded.
The man holding Sarah tightened his grip on her. “Want me to do her?” he asked the bald man.
“I’m not here to negotiate.” The bald man looked at Rose. “It’s clear that you don’t have the proper genetics the apple wants, but she might.” He grabbed Sarah by the hair and forced her head back, looking into her green and blue-speckled eyes. “Give the apple to us and we’ll take care of it.” He released his grip on her.
“Mom, don’t.” Sarah tried to pull away by stepping forward.
Rose took a step back.
Rose looked down at the glass box. She heard the apple and knew what she had to do. “You can’t have my daughter.” She raised the apple. “And you can’t have this.” Throwing the glass box against the side of a dumpster, Rose watched as it shattered. The noise frightened away a small orange and white cat living behind the dumpster. The liberated apple rolled across the ground and stopped in front of Sarah.
Sarah kicked backwards, snapping the kneecap of the man holding her. He released her and fell to the ground. She stumbled forward and snatched up the apple. “Don’t move.” She ordered the two men.
The bald man stared at Sarah. “You’ve learned to control it?” He ignored his companion writhing in pain. “It’s true then. You’re her descendant.”
“What’s he talking about?” Sarah asked her mother.
The bald man laughed. “You’ve had the apple all these years and you still don’t know?” He reached into his jacket and pulled out a pistol.
“Oh, I’ve learned some things.” Sarah held the apple in front of her and focused intently on the man. The apple began to vibrate in the palm of her hands and seconds later levitated. A blast of lightning jumped from its core and struck the bald man in the heart. He died before a scream could escape his lips.
“Please.” The second man on the ground tried to skitter away from Sarah. “You can’t run from them. They’ll find you.” His plea became a warning.
“Kill him,” Rose said.
Sarah dropped her arms to her side, ignoring the apple that remained floating in front of her. She stepped forward and the apple moved with her. “Why do you want the apple and why do you want me?” This organization chased them for years after the incident in high school went public. It seemed they were searching for the apple and lost track of it for a long time. Sarah’s mistake put it back on their radar.
“Just come with me. They will explain everything to you. Please, just don’t kill me.” The man reached behind him and slowly dragged himself away from her.
Sarah bent down. “I can make you talk.”
He reached into his jacket, as the bald man had, and produced a pistol. The man did not intend to hurt Sarah. That wasn’t allowed. Instead, he placed it underneath his chin. “I’ll do it, I swear.”
Rose grabbed Sarah’s arm and pulled her back. “Let him talk.” She wanted him dead, but the information was more valuable than revenge. This group killed her husband. They may have been divorced, but she never stopped loving him and in her heart, she believed he still loved her. They had kidnapped him and tried to get him to talk, but he refused. He had been tortured for hours before they put him out of his misery and dropped his dead body outside the cafe where they had witnessed him meeting his ex-wife. When she had found him, the organization followed her.
The man let out a sigh of relief and loosened his grip on the pistol. He didn’t want to die, but he knew he couldn’t return without the apple and the girl. “You’re special.” He blurted out.
Sarah frowned. “That’s all you got?”
“The apple… It’s chosen you.”
“The apple is pure evil.” Rose scowled.
“It’s been waiting for you to be reborn and it’ll try to consume you.” The man leaned back, hoping to find a way out of this situation.
“Start making sense.” Sarah stomped her foot.
“You killed my husband. What’s it all for?” Rose rushed towards him, ignoring the glass shards under her feet.
He shook his head. “It wasn’t me.” He pointed the gun at the apple.
Sarah stared down the barrel of the gun and covered herself from the sound of the blast. She flew back and landed on the ground. Her back slid on the wet pavement of the alley. Opening her eyes, she saw bolts of lightning shooting in all directions from the apple. It lasted for a mere second. The smell of burnt flesh reached her nose and she crawled over to her mother lying on the ground with blood pouring from her mouth.
“Please, don’t die!” Sarah shook her and cried.
You’re safe now. The apple fell to the ground and rested next to Sarah.
The girl battled against the frigid wind that threatened to push her down into the deep snow. She grabbed the furry hood on her thick jacket, struggling to keep it over her head. The wind tunneled up her sleeves and goosebumps formed on her skin. Her long black hair flew out from the sides of her hood and covered her face.
She placed a single hand on the metal door built into the side of the mountain, trying to decide if she should pound on it and face her fate. Behind her, the world was empty and covered in thick snow from a raging storm that hadn’t stopped in over thirty years. The girl wondered if it would ever stop.
They will kill you.
“Maybe that’s what I deserve.” Her breath was visible in the frosty air.
Think carefully, Alexis.
“I’m not making the same mistake my mother did.” Alexis tried to block out the image of her dying mother. The jeweled dagger sliced its way into her mind. “She protected you and you brought her death.” She raised a fist and struck the metal. Her gloves didn’t protect her from the cold and she felt the pain in her hand.
Within seconds, the narrow slat in the door opened and eyes appeared. “Do you have it?” the woman asked. “I’m not letting you in until I see it.”
Alexis reached into her jacket pocket and pulled out the perfectly red apple. “Let me in.” She held it up to the slat.
The woman on the other side slammed the slat closed.
Alexis lowered her hand and returned the apple to her pocket. She took a step back and looked up the mountain. The sky wasn’t visible. She had never once seen the blue sky, the sun, or the moon.
The door slowly opened and the woman poked her head around the corner, beckoning Alexis to enter. The girl stepped out of the cold and inside the mountain. She removed her hood and noted the torches attached to the rock wall that led them down a narrow tunnel from the door to the middle of the mountain, where it opened up into a great room.
The woman leading Alexis pulled her shawl tighter around her shoulders, trying to warm herself, and waited for the girl to take in her surroundings. Here she saw a great library protected by the same organization that hunted her family since the apple had first entered the life of Sarah Givens centuries ago and made them aware of its existence in the modern world. The threat the organization thought they removed from the earth was back and stronger than ever. They had followed the apple through the many, many years that it passed from mother to daughter, killing any that got between them and the apple. Alexis’s mother Nadine was one of their victims.
“What’s your name?”
Leave this woman. Where is the old man? The apple vibrated in her pocket.
Alexis closed her eyes and waited for the voice to fade in her mind. She needed to concentrate. “I’m Alexis Givens.”
The woman stared at her intently.
“I’ve been summoned by you.” Alexis tapped the tip of her foot on the ground. She looked around and started to see faces appear around tall wooden bookcases. Some were old and some young. They all had one thing in common—they looked scared.
“It wasn’t her,” a shaky voice said.
Alexis turned and faced an elderly man approaching her with the use of a cane. He had a baldhead and thick, wrinkly skin. She didn’t understand how this man was a threat to her family.
“It was me.” The man nodded. “I’m Conner.” He held out his hand and grabbed hers, squeezing it. “It’s nice to meet you.” The old man leaned his head close and examined her eyes. He smiled, seeing them a sparkling green and blue-speckled color. Nadine didn’t have them. He remembered that. This child was the first in his lifetime that he’d seen with that trait.
Alexis pulled her hand away and watched the woman disappear into the stacks to join the others who stared at her from a distance. “It wasn’t always you, was it?” She didn’t believe that this man was in charge. She expected a large council that changed members as the years passed and people grew old and died.
Conner smiled a toothless grin. “No. But it was always the responsibility of my family to seek the apple as it was yours to protect it.”
“But why?” Alexis never knew why the apple came to her family.
The old man raised a hand. “How old are you child?”
He shook his head with a sad look. “I’m sorry that you’ve had to deal with this at such a young age. I’m an old man and can handle the burden.” Conner waved to a young boy, who carried a thick book to a small round table. “Come.”
Alexis unzipped her jacket and followed him. She waited for him to sit first and placed herself on the opposite side of him. The leather-bound book looked old and she ran her finger across the many cracks on the cover.
“I want you to understand the necessity of destroying the apple.” The old man placed his hands on the book and slid it closer to him. He heaved the cover open and thumbed to a particular page. “Our world is ending.” He maintained eye contact with her. “But this isn’t the first time.”
The apple grew heavy and she could feel her jacket shift to the right where it rested in her pocket. She waited to hear its words inside her mind but instead felt emptiness and sadness. Those hiding in these mountains remained out of her sight. They were the last living souls in this world beside her—thanks to the apple.
The old man moved his head to get her attention again. “Have you heard the tale of the Black Witch?”
Alexis frowned. “The fairytale?”
The apple started to vibrate in her pocket and she placed her hand over it. She sensed its anger. Alexis felt it push against her, moving her jacket. She grabbed the fabric and pulled it back into place, holding it there.
Conner began his story. “The witch walked this earth in human form over a thousand years ago and wanted nothing more than complete domination of every living being from the newborn baby to the monstrous dragon. She wanted control of it all.”
A small group of people formed at the far end of the library, watching Alexis closely. She felt them and turned to look. They scattered.
“They fear you,” Conner said.
Alexis turned her attention back to the old man. “It’s the apple they should fear.”
Conner shook his head. “It’s what’s inside.”
She removed her hand from her jacket. “I don’t understand.”
“The Black Witch used apples to kill.”
She killed those who betrayed her. The apple corrected the old man in the mind of Alexis.
“She injected them with brewed poisons, which turned the inside of the apple black. And that’s how she got her name.” He slid the book to Alexis. “When the townsfolk realized what she was doing, they were determined to stop her. They banded together and found her home in the middle of the forest. They killed her by shoving her body into her own bubbling caldron, mixing her with the poisons inside.”
“That’s horrible.” Alexis turned the book around and found the picture of the witch with her fingers. She traced the image. “She looks like me, but older.” The witch had the same black hair and fair skin. Even her lips were a bright red. Alexis leaned in closer to examine her face and saw her eyes. They were green and blue-speckled.
“They didn’t stop there, though.” The old man rubbed his face. “They took a syringe and injected the contents of this brew into a red apple that sat on her table.”
A high-pitched scream echoed within the mountain and Alexis covered her ears in pain. Conner clutched his chest and fell backwards from the table, landing on the hard ground. The screaming subsided. People emerged from hiding and ran over to the fallen man.
Alexis stepped back from the table and searched for the apple. It wasn’t in her pocket. “Where is it?” she yelled at the group. “Did you take it?”
They will pay for their sins. The apple appeared in the center of the table.
She rushed towards it and watched the apple rise up, hovering in the air. “Run!” Alexis tried to warn them.
A bright light escaped from the core of the apple and filled the room, blinding Alexis. She crouched and protected her eyes. Seconds later, the light dissipated and she stood. Everyone was gone. Reaching inside her pocket, she pulled out the apple. The face of the old man appeared on its surface. Alexis jumped back, dropping the apple. She turned around and found she was not alone.
Alexis rocked back and forth, pulling at her black hair. She felt the sting on her spine each time her back hit the bathroom wall. Her eyes were lifeless, her hair a tangled mess. She spent the past two years locked in this small room without food or water—kept alive by the apple against her will.
The red glistening apple appeared in front of her, floating in the air. Alexis screamed and grabbed it, slamming it into the floor repeatedly. It disappeared and her fingertip smashed into the floor, busting open and gushing blood. She grabbed her hand and cried out uncontrollably. Thrashing against the wall, Alexis kicked out and her elbow struck the wall, causing it to swell.
“Stop fighting me.”
Alexis heard the voice of a small female child and ended her fit. She let her body slide across the wall until she reached the floor and curled up into a ball while banging her head against the wall. “Get out of my head,” she said.
“You silly beast.” The voice giggled. “I’m not in your head. Open your eyes and look at me.”
Alexis focused her eyes and saw a pair of small feet standing in her view. Struggling to move her head, she followed the legs up until she reached the face of the little girl. “Who are you?”
The little girl bent down and cupped Alexis’s face. “You’ve known me your whole life.”
“No, no, I don’t know you.” Alexis watched the plump, red lips of the little girl. They were unnaturally red. She knew because people often commented on her own red lips. Alexis noted her dark hair and fair skin. She stared into the green and blue-speckled eyes of the little girl.
The girl raised her hand and an apple appeared in it. She smiled and took a bite.
Alexis shook her head. “You’re dead.”
“Do I look dead to you?” She closed her fist and the apple disappeared.
“You’re the Black Witch?”
She giggled and shook her head. “No. I’m her daughter, Lilia.”
“But…” Alexis struggled to speak. “How, how is that possible?”
The same way you’re still alive.
Lilia smiled at her.
“Did you hear that?” Alexis grabbed her.
The little girl smiled. “No.” She stood and disappeared.
Alexis covered her face with her hands and cried out. She didn’t know what was happening. Nothing made any sense. “Why are you doing this to me? What do you want?”
“I don’t understand.”
“Those people killed my mother.” Lilia ran her fingers through Alexis’s hair. “Just like they killed yours.”
“Please, stop.” Alexis pleaded with her.
“I saw them do it. They wouldn’t leave you alone. They want to kill you and now they can’t. They don’t exist any longer.” Lilia comforted her. She waited several minutes before speaking again. “Do you remember them thrusting their special jeweled dagger into her heart while you watched?”
Alexis rolled away from her.
“They killed others in our family that exact same way. Don’t let them fool you.” Lilia scowled. “That story the old man told you was a lie. The fairytale they created to scare their kids and keep them from wandering too far from their perfect homes.”
Listen to her. She speaks the truth.
“The apple is evil, the apple is evil.” Alexis repeated the words her mother spoke to her on a daily basis.
“My mother wasn’t a witch.”
“She poisoned people.” Alexis stared at the tile floor.
Lilia nodded. “You’re right, but they paid her to do it.”
“She was an apothecary and helped women from the town with minor illnesses. Many came to her instead of the doctor because he would treat them differently.” Lilia sat on the ground and crossed her legs. “My mother listened to the stories of these women and how their husbands treated them poorly. They had other women while their wives sat at home taking care of their babies. It started with one named Marianne Hutch.”
Alexis lifted herself up and sat on the toilet. “Marianne? She asked the witch, uh, your mother to kill the other woman?”
Lilia shook her head. “No, her husband. If she killed the mistress, he would simply find another. She wanted to get revenge and asked my mother to concoct a poison to kill him. Marianne said her husband loved apples. He ate one with every meal, as did many others, because the doctor insisted it would be better for their health.” She picked at her nails for a moment and began to sing, “An apple a day keeps…” She stopped, smiled, and continued her story. “So she did. And I helped her, of course. Marianne was the one who came up with the idea of putting the poison in the apple, but we didn’t know how much to inject, so my mother had to give Marianne three apples before it finally caused his death. The first two simply caused him to become slightly ill.”
“Like food poisoning.”
“Yes. The third apple was so strong that he died the minute he ingested it. The inside of the apple was black. Marianne told her friends about my mother helping her and soon others sought her out. We were outcasts and this was the only source of income she could get. Some gave her coin and others traded. She needed to feed and clothe me, so she kept doing it. It went on for years.”
“That’s impossible. How did she get away with it for so long?” Alexis asked.
“She refused to provide the poison apples too close together. There was no law enforcement in the town, which made it easier. By the time people started putting the puzzle pieces together, over twelve husbands were poisoned and killed.”
“That many?” Alexis gasped. She couldn’t imagine wanting to kill the man you loved.
Lilia sighed. “Back in those days, women weren’t treated as equals. They remained in the home to cook and clean. The men went out and drank, doing whatever or whoever they wanted.”
“How did they find out about her and the poison apples?”
“A young girl was poisoned by an apple meant for her father. The woman didn’t want to watch her husband die and left it next to his meal. He gave it to his daughter. The woman was distraught and didn’t want to be hung for her crimes, so she blamed my mother, calling her the Black Witch. She told her husband that my mother put a spell on her and convinced her to deliver the apple to her own table, saying that was the reason why she didn’t join her husband to watch him eat dinner. They believed her. Even those that had paid my mother to kill their husbands believed the lie.”
“So they hung her?”
“That would have been kinder.” Lilia ran her finger along the bathroom floor, tracing the flowered pattern. “They wanted to give her a taste of her own medicine, so they came to our home and forced their way inside. I heard the noise and hid in the rafters, but I could see my mother. A group of men ripped her clothes off and beat her. Their wives and children stood in the back and cheered them on. Even Marianne was there. After they finished beating her, and other things, they pushed her towards the cauldron that was brewing another batch of poison. They forced her inside it. She didn’t fit, so they held her head in the boiling liquid until she didn’t have a face left. They didn’t leave until all of her was inside that cauldron.”
“That’s awful.” Alexis slid off the toilet and sat in front of Lilia. “I’m sorry.”
“It was a long time ago. But our family has survived, hasn’t it?” Lilia grabbed Alexis’s hand. “We are family after all.” She smiled. “I knew I could save my mother. I was determined to do so. I took a vial of that poison and traveled to find a real witch, the one who taught my mother how to heal with medicines. She injected the poison into an apple and told me my mother was inside. I didn’t believe her at first. It didn’t make any sense, but I could feel her around me. I vowed to keep that apple safe until I found the perfect host. Sarah was the first and now it’s you. You can help bring her back into this world and save it.”
“She’s the apple?” Alexis searched the room for the apple.
Lilia held her hand up and the apple appeared. “Yes.” She handed it to Alexis. “She can bring everyone back and even return the world to the way it was. Don’t you want your mother back?”
“I do, but if I bite this apple, I’ll die. It’s evil, it’s killed.” Alexis examined the apple.
“I promise you. You won’t die.”
Alexis took a deep breath and fought away the warnings from her mother echoing in her head. She wanted to see her mother again. Wanted to see, feel, and smell her again. Raising the apple to her mouth, she paused. “Are you real?” Alexis asked Lilia.
“My mother has kept me alive all this time. I’ve been inside the apple with her. She preserved my body.”
“Why hasn’t anyone seen you before now?”
“You’re the last human on this earth. You can’t reproduce, can’t create another in our family line.”
“That makes no sense.” Alexis lowered the apple. “You’re a child. You couldn’t have had children.”
“I had a brother once. My father left us after mother started trying to treat women. He said it wasn’t her place and that those women should go to a doctor. Only men could make decisions like that, he said, so he took my brother and left my mother and I behind.” Lilia raised the apple back to Alexis’s mouth. “Please. Only you can save the world.”
Alexis closed her eyes and searched for an answer. Should she take a bite and ignore the years of her mother warning her about the evils of this apple? If she didn’t, she’d be alone forever or haunted by this being. Maybe death was her only escape. She took a deep breath and a bite of the apple. She felt herself falling and opened her eyes to see a thick mist surrounding her. Her legs flailed underneath her, searching for solid ground but never finding any. The air around her was stale and old. Alexis found a small window in the mist and looked out. She saw the bathroom and Lilia looking back at her. A woman came into view and stood behind Lilia. She reached down and Alexis felt herself rising up. The woman looked just like the picture from the book the old man showed her.
“Don’t worry. You’ll be safe inside the apple.” The Black Witch smiled at Alexis.