“Taste it,” said the woman.
The man looked at the apple with great suspicion.
“I know where this is heading,” he said. “This apple is from that Tree, isn’t it? The one He warned us about?”
“No, it’s not,” she said. “I picked it from one of the other trees.”
“There are other apple trees?”
“You should really get around more,” she said, lifting the fruit to the sky so that it eclipsed the sun and cast a shadow across her face. “When you name the animals, don’t always make them come to you. You’ve been missing out on so much that way. Take the time to visit them on their own turf every once in a while. It would be good for you.”
“I get around,” he said, irritated. Then, after she made that face in response to his words, he added, “Look, I try. Really. But this place is massive.”
“I know, I know,” she said. “I didn’t mean anything by it. It’s just, since it is so massive, doesn’t it make sense for you to see as much as you can while you can?”
Then it was his turn to give her that face.
“Never mind,” she said, wishing the man’s ego didn’t need so much coddling. “Forget all that. Here, just give it a taste.”
She raised the apple toward him once more.
“You’re sure it’s not from that Tree?” he said.
“Of course I am!” she said. “What kind of person do you think I am?”
“Are there more than two kinds?” he said. “I mean, there’s just us. You’re the only other person there is.”
“Don’t change the subject,” she said, frowning. “What can I say to convince you?”
“To be honest, His warning was all the convincing I needed. That voice of His…” The man shivered. “He can be persuasive. And He seemed very sure of himself.”
“But I told you. This isn’t one of those apples.”
“But how can you be sure?”
“I’m sure because…OK, I wasn’t going to tell you, but I’ve already taken a bite of a different one from the same tree.”
“You have?” he said. “Without asking me?”
“Just because you got here first doesn’t mean I need your permission for everything. You were going to knock that off, remember?”
He had to admit…she had a point. It still took a bit of getting used to, his no longer being an only child and all. He took the apple from her and studied it.
“You really ate one of these?” he said. “If it didn’t fill up your head with all that Knowledge of Good and Evil, then what did it do?”
“You think there’s only one tree bearing fruits of Knowledge? I plucked this one from the Tree of the Knowledge of Sleep. Though I only found out that’s what it was called after I nibbled.”
“I don’t understand you,” he said.
“I mean, all it made me do was sleep for a while.”
“You know what sleep is,” she said.
“Really? I do?”
“Sleep is,” she began, frustrated. Then, “Oh, here, let me just show you.”
She snatched back the apple, bit deeply, chewed (as she did so, he wished she would be more delicate about it), swallowed, and then her knees suddenly buckled. She dropped to the ground, which was soft and forgiving and bare of any rock against which she might strike her head.
“What are you doing?” he said as she lay there. “Get up.”
He poked at her hip with a toe, but she didn’t move.
“I mean it,” he said. “Stop playing pranks. You’re scaring me. And what’s with that noise your nose is making?”
He knelt beside her and lifted her eyelids with his thumbs, but she didn’t seem to see him. When he let go, her lids only closed again. He turned his head toward the sky.
“Help!” he shouted, hating to cry out, but needing to cry out. “Can you hear me? I know you can hear me. I need you. There’s something wrong with the woman.”
There came an immediate rumble of thunder, followed by a deep Voice that made his chest vibrate as It spoke.
“There is nothing wrong with the woman.”
“Then what is she doing?”
“Wait,” he said, confused. “You mean— is this what you had me doing while you created her? I just lay there like that while you…”
The man rubbed his side, remembering where the woman had once been, feeling her loss even as she was stretched out before him, the helpmeet promised to him forever.
“Sort of,” said the Voice. “But not exactly.”
“Are you going to take one of her ribs now? Will you be making more of us? I don’t think I like that idea. Two seems quite a sufficient number.”
“No, I won’t be making any more people. In the future, that will be up to you two. But it can’t happen as long as you’re here.”
“Here?” said the man, looking up and around. “But I’ll always be here. Where else is there?”
The Voice offered no answer to his question. The woman’s breathing grew even louder, becoming more guttural, in a manner the man had never heard before.
“Please make her stop doing that,” the man said, shaking her shoulders. “She’s sounding like one of the animals. I don’t like it.”
“Really?” said the man. “That’s the first time I’ve ever heard you say that. I thought you could do anything.”
“Not where the fruit of the apple trees is concerned,” said the Voice. The man was surprised to hear exasperation and to even feel it in his chest. “That’s how I made them at the time. I can’t remember why I thought that was a good idea, but it’s done now. Which is why it’s so important you stay away from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.”
“Wait,” the man said. “You made the trees. Why would you create something you had no control over?”
Clouds swirled in the sky, and for a moment, they seemed to form into the outline of a face. That face. But then the wind pushed them along, and the sky was clear again.
“I’ve had cause to ask myself that a lot lately,” said the Voice. “But let it go. I have. That’s just the way things are.”
“That doesn’t seem wise.”
There was an uncomfortable silence, which stretched until the man spoke again.
“So she’s just going to stay that way? I’m to have no more woman?”
“Don’t worry. She’ll be up and about soon. You just have to wait.”
The man picked up the apple which had fallen beside her and considered its missing bite. He rubbed his fingers along the impression her teeth had made.
“The woman wanted me to take a bite. Is that what you wish me to do?”
“My wishes are immaterial in this matter,” said the Voice, a statement which seemed rather disingenuous considering the earlier warning It had given him. “It’s entirely up to you. That’s why I gave you both Free Will.”
The man brought the apple to his nose, where the smell made him dizzy. He was suddenly hungry.
“You never mentioned the Tree of the Knowledge of Sleep to us before. Or any other trees like that, come to think of it. How many of these are there?”
The Voice sighed around him, and as It did, the man could feel the air tickle him.
“I’m sure you’ll find out,” It said.
“The woman looks so peaceful,” the man said. “I’ve never seen her look this peaceful.”
“Sleep can be a good thing. Depending on what you dream.”
“What are dreams?” the man asked.
“Just take the bite.”
“There are some things even I cannot explain.”
The man tore into the fruit and swallowed quickly, barely pausing to chew, feeling his consciousness fade. As he fell to the ground beside her, he thought, “I not so sure this is a good idea.”
The man opened his eyes to find the woman’s face blotting out the sky.
“So what did you think?” she said, giddy and smiling. At least, he thought she was smiling, but couldn’t be sure because she seemed upside down.
“I don’t quite see the point,” he said, and noted that the animals nearby were looking at him puzzled, much the same way he’d looked upon the woman when she was the one who’d fallen. “There’s so much here already. Why would we need to go anywhere else?”
“So where did you go? I’ll tell you where I went if you tell me where you went.”
He stood up and stretched, and as he did so, she slapped grass from his back. The animals, no longer interested, wandered off, because the man and woman were once more as they had been, day after day, since the Creation, in this place.
“You looked peaceful,” said the man. “But I surely must not have looked the same, because I had somehow travelled to a terrible place, unlike anything I have ever seen. There was nothing green, no grasses, no trees. There was nothing blue, no ponds, no streams. Just painful reds and yellows. Hot sun. Dry sand. I was tired and hungry, and I’ve never been tired or hungry. You were…you were old. And…”
“And there were two others. But then something horrible happened, and there was only one other. And after that, He was not happy with us. With any of us.”
“How could that be? He loves us.”
“Yes, he loves us. But still, He grew angry, and eventually it began to rain and…no, I don’t want to speak of it.”
“I’m sorry,” she said, putting a hand on his shoulder. “I didn’t intend this to cause you pain. Because my dreams weren’t anything like that. My dreams were happy. And I thought if you experienced the same, they’d make you happy, too.”
“So where did you go when you slept?”
“Well, in my most recent dream, the one I had while you were watching, there were millions of people wandering around inside…inside large boxes, I guess. And I don’t know what was stranger, that there were so many of them, of us, or that so few grasses and animals remained.”
“Millions? Like us? He was hinting at something like that. But it seems frightening. The two of us is more than enough.”
“Oh, I don’t know. In my dream, it wasn’t just me who was happy. They also seemed happy.”
“And what about your earlier dream? The one you had without me asleep beside you?”
He sounded hurt, so she touched his hand and waited for him to smile.
“That dream was different, in that I didn’t go anywhere. I remained in here, this wondrous place. The sun was on my skin and the wind was in my hair. All then was as it is now, except…”
“Except I was the first, rather than you. And you had been made by Him from a piece of me, rather than the other way around.”
“Well, that seems odd.”
“Odd?” she said. “You mean unlike all of this? Unlike the fact that we’re the only people here? Unlike the Voice that comes from the sky? Unlike the reality that nothing has ever died? What’s odd, really?”
He dropped the apple.
“Where are you getting these ideas? Are you sure you haven’t already eaten from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and aren’t telling me?”
“I haven’t. I told you that. Don’t you trust me?”
He was silent for a moment, then scratched his side again.
“You’re me, so yes, I trust you,” he said. “How could I not? But still, I don’t want you eating from those other trees.”
“But He didn’t forbid it.”
“Well, I forbid it.”
“You don’t get to forbid. That’s His job, and His alone, not yours.”
He looked embarrassed.
“I’d just rather you didn’t,” he said.
“That’s better,” she said.
She walked off, smiling, and for a moment, all he could do was watch her go, uncertain what had just happened.
“Wait,” he called. “Where are you going?”
“Why, to the orchard of the other trees, of course.”
“But I thought you said— ”
“And I thought you said— ”
He laughed, and then she laughed, and then, once he caught up with her, they walked hand in hand until they came to rows of trees that stretched beyond sight.
“I’ve never been to this place before,” said the man. “How did you find it?”
“I walk,” she said. “I wander. I’ve got little to do all day, since I don’t get any animals to name. Eventually, I found myself here.”
“And you just, what, started eating?”
“Sure, why not?”
“You continually amaze me. Weren’t you afraid you might, you know, eat the wrong fruit?”
“No,” she said. “It’s pretty easy to know which One to stay away from.”
She pointed to a Tree, not so very far away in the sea of green, around which paced a long, thin creature which walked low to the ground on stubby legs.
“Ah, yes, Snake,” he said. “I remember naming him. Is that what he does now, guard the Tree?”
“If you can call that guarding. He does a pretty poor job of it, if you ask me. All he’s been doing is telling me how wonderful the fruits of that Tree are, and what a shame it is that He won’t let us eat of them. You’d almost think he was put there deliberately to tempt me or something.”
They froze for a moment, looking at each other, he squinting, she squinching up her face. Then they both shook their heads.
“Nah,” they said simultaneously.
The man walked up to a random tree and plucked a fruit.
“So you just bite into it not knowing what will happen?”
“Seems more fun that way.”
“Fun? We have different ideas of fun. Besides, who has time for fun? I’ve been tasked with bringing order to this place.”
“I don’t think giving things names is necessarily ordering them.”
“Whatever,” he said, trying not to argue. “It’s still a big responsibility, and so I don’t get to meander like some people.”
“Meander,” she said. “I like that word. Did you just make it up?”
“I think we make up all words the first time we say them.”
He studied the apple once more, and hesitated.
“Well?” she said.
After a sigh, he chomped down.
“Here’s to making up new things,” he said. “Now what?”
“Now we wait,” she said.
He tried to wait patiently, but it just wasn’t in him. And besides, hadn’t the other apples worked immediately?
“This is boring,” he said. Then he realized…he was looking up at the woman. She was growing taller! He yelped. Wasn’t whatever was supposed to happen supposed to happen to him, not her?
Wait…was he growing shorter? No. Something more.
He yelped again, but this time it came out as a yip. Then the woman was pointing at him with one hand, covering her mouth with the other, and trying not to laugh.
“What happened?” he said in a high-pitched voice that squeaked and popped.
“You’re an animal,” she said.
“You’ve said that to me before.”
“No, this time I mean it. A real animal.”
The man, no longer a man, looked down at himself and saw no chest, no feet, no familiar body, only two paws. He twisted his head, and saw behind him, a tail.
“What’s the point of this?” he said. “Who would want to be an animal?”
“I beg to differ,” said Snake, suddenly beside them.
“Shouldn’t you be ‘guarding’ the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil?” said the woman, lifting her fingers to make air quotes, which she only realized were called air quotes when she made them.
“Humph,” said the snake.
The man looked into the snake’s unrevealing eyes, discomfited by suddenly being at its level.
“So what kind of animal am I?” he said.
“We don’t know,” she said. “You haven’t named yourself yet.”
“And the point of this is?” he said, padding to sniff the woman’s toes.
“Does there always have to be a point?” She waved her hands in circles at the trees and everything beyond. “There’s no point in any of this, as far as I can tell. It just is. We just are.”
“I’m thirsty,” the man barked suddenly, unable to think of such things any further, and wandered off to drink from a nearby stream.
“So it’s just the two of us again,” said the snake. It nudged at the bitten apple with one of its paws.
“It would appear so,” said the woman.
“You’re wasting your time with these fruits,” it said, giving it a nudge so that it began to roll toward where the man had gone. “You know what I mean. There’s only one fruit that will take you where you need to go, and you might as well get right to it. I mean, anything else is just lying to yourself. You know you’re going to do it anyway.”
“I know of no such thing. You think I’m going to disobey the Voice before which we were nothing? I don’t want to go back to nothing.”
“You were never nothing.”
“Then I don’t want to go back to being a rib.”
“You remember that?”
The woman frowned and touched her fingers to her forehead.
“Sometimes I think I do,” she said.
“Well, take a bite of the apple and it’ll be up to you what and who goes back to nothing. Just saying.”
“I heard you the first time you told me that. I’m not buying it this time either.”
The man, once more a man, came walking slowly back, seeming even more dazed than when he’d woken from his apple-induced sleep.
“That was weird,” he said.
“Remember what I told you,” said the snake, and left the man and the woman to return to his post under the shade of the largest Tree in the orchard.
The man tilted his head toward the snake.
“What was that all about?” he said.
“Same thing I told you about before. He’s a persistent one.”
Standing side by side, both nearly vibrating with an anticipation neither had ever felt before, they studied the Orchard.
“So now what?” she said.
“It wouldn’t hurt to have just one more,” he said.
“Well, he did only say not to eat that One. And if we were doing anything wrong, we’d have heard that booming Voice of His, right? That’s your permission right there. So…why not?”
They walked more deeply among the trees. The fruits were of all sizes, all colors, and all equally mysterious. They touched a fruit here, a fruit there, but did not immediately dare to pull any from the branches.
“How do we decide?” he asked.
“You chose the last one,” she said. “Let me choose this one.”
She moved from tree to tree, letting fruits rest in the palms of her hands, but couldn’t bring herself to pick. The man smiled.
“Afraid you’ll turn into an animal, eh?”
“As long as whatever happens, I’m larger than Snake, that’s all I care about. I don’t trust him.”
“Don’t worry,” he said. “I’ll hold off on my apple so I’ll be here to protect you.”
“That’s sweet,” she said, in a tone he wasn’t sure he liked.
She pulled a fruit, and felt it resist, then pulled harder. Once in her hand, she immediately took a bite, and waited.
“That’s strange,” she said. “It’s never taken this long before.”
“Maybe the fruit’s just not ripe yet.”
“No, that’s not it,” she said. “I do feel different somehow. So maybe something’s happened. I just don’t know what.”
“Maybe you’re just imagining things,” he said. “Maybe this was just a regular apple. Better try another.”
“Phooey,” she said, tossing her fruit toward the ground. The instant it flew from her hand, she was propelled into the air with equal force.
“Whoa,” she said, hanging there over the man, just above the height of the treetops.
“Are you flying?” he said. “Are you becoming a bird?”
“I don’t think so,” she said, flapping her arms as she’d seen birds do. Her movements pushed her forward slowly, as if she were swimming through water. She circled the man, looking around, past the Orchard, past the land she had already explored, and saw no end to their world. She flipped onto her back, and, floating there, stared up at the sky, which also appeared to have no end.
“I have an idea,” she whispered, and then with a kick of her feet, rose higher, so high that she could barely see that the trees bore fruit.
“Wait,” he said. “What was that? What did you say?”
“I’ll be right back,” she said, and with further kicks, kept ascending.
“Wait for me!” he called, and looked wildly for the fruit from which she had eaten, but could not find it. Becoming frightened, realizing now more than ever how lonely it was to be alone, he ran from tree to tree, hoping to pluck another similar fruit, but he could not decide which tree had caused this calamity. He tilted his head back as far as he could, but was unable to see the woman, or tell where she had gone.
Where had the woman gone?
The woman kept rising, slowly (or so she thought at first), but then she looked back and could see nothing but a small green circle beneath which was their Garden, surrounded by a sea of blue, the sky extending seemingly forever, and she realized that with nothing around her against which to compare her progress, she’d only had the illusion of slowness. She was further from her home than she’d ever been, and it had taken less time to travel there than it had taken her to walk through the Orchard.
There was white ahead, a cloud, she realized, never having seen one before, and then she passed through it, and arrived— where?
“So you decided to eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Flight, I see,” came a Voice she knew so well. “I knew that you would.”
“Since I had no idea that it was the Tree of the Knowledge of Flight, I’m not quite sure you can say I really decided to eat from it,” she said, flailing her arms so as to stop from rising. “And I don’t know that I’d call what I have Knowledge.”
“It was good enough for you to get from there to here, and that’s what counts.”
“Where are you?” she asked, her vision filled by nothing but white.
“I’m all around you, as I was before, as I have always been. But now we’re alone, with the man far below us. And it’s time to get on with things.”
“What am I supposed to get on with? I didn’t realize I— we— had a purpose. I thought all the man and I had to so was… meander.”
“A very good word— I’m glad you thought of it— but no. There’s work that must be done.”
A hole opened below her, and the distance between the world above and the world below was suddenly gone. She could see the man wandering the Orchard, as if she were directly over his head.
“You could spend a lifetime eating of the fruits of My Orchard,” said the Voice. “You could gain the Knowledge of changing water into wine. Or the Knowledge of poetry. Or the Knowledge of breathing underwater.”
As He spoke, she saw the man doing each of those things briefly, but as the scenarios played out, she was unsure whether they were really happening, or if they were merely lessons He had created for her.
“These distractions could fill your days. And they would bring you happiness and joy. Well, some of them would. But there must be more to your life than that. You must leave the Garden, Because that is the only way there will be more than the Garden. Until you do that, the Garden will be all that is.”
“You mean I must…?”
“Yes — you must eat of the apple from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.”
“But that’s what you told us not to do,” she said, sounding a little miffed. “The one thing.”
“And Snake. You wanted me to believe his lies?”
“You’re being very passive-aggressive, you know,” she said, realizing she’d coined a new word, and proud of it.
“That’s the prerogative…of Me.”
She thought for a moment, not quite sure what to make of this information.
“Must I?” she said.
“You dreamt it after eating of the first Tree, the one that’s really called the Tree of Visions.”
“I thought it was the Tree of Dreams.”
“Dreams, visions, whatever. They’re all the same to Me. And now you must make the future you saw true.”
“But what about that other dream? My first one?”
“Well, all that comes after will flow from you. So it makes for an excellent metaphor, I think.”
“Yes,” she said, smiling. “Yes, I see that it does.”
“Then listen. Here’s what you have to do…”
“Where have you been?” said the man, when the woman stepped up beside him bearing an apple.
“Oh, around,” she said, waving her free hand vaguely in the air.
“When you vanished, when I could not find you, I became frantic, and thought . . . well, I thought all sorts of silly things. That you’d been, you know, put back.” He touched his side. “I missed you terribly. I haven’t been without you since before there was a you.”
“That’s sweet,” said the woman. “Here. Have something else that’s sweet.”
He took the apple from her.
“What will this one do?” he said.
“And it’s not from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil?”
“No,” she said. “I promise.”
He took a bite, and chewed slowly and thoughtfully. Then he nodded, and looked around, slightly puzzled.
“Where are we?” he said. “I’ve never seen this place before.”
“Why, we’ve been here all morning.”
“We have? If you say so.”
The woman smiled. The fruit from the Tree of Forgetfulness had done its work, taking away not just the day so far, but His initial warning as well. It was the only way to do His work without having to lie to the man, and that she would not do. She just wouldn’t feel right about it.
“Come,” she said, and she was pleased to see that when she spoke, all of his confusion seemed to vanish. “Take my hand. There’s another fruit I’d like you to taste.”
They wandered through the Orchard, at times in sun, at times in shade, and she slowly led him up to the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Snake, sitting beneath wide branches, perked up as they approached.
“That’s a rather large Tree,” said the man.
“Do you remember anything special about it?” said the woman.
“No. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen it before.”
“That’s odd,” said the snake.
The woman looked at Snake sternly.
“I mean,” said the snake. “Why would you have? That seems perfectly reasonable to me.”
“Exactly,” said the woman, and then turned back to the man, and addressed him with a smile. “The largest Tree should have the sweetest fruit, don’t you think?”
“I imagine so,” he said. “But after all the other fruit we’ve eaten, however, I can’t imagine anything sweeter than what we’ve already tasted.”
“All the more reason you need to taste this one.”
“Have you already eaten of this Tree?”
“I have not. I wanted us to do it together.”
“Then how do you know it is so sweet?”
“I just… know.”
The man hesitated.
“You seem afraid,” she said.
“I guess I am,” he said. “But I don’t know why. The only time I have known fear in this place is when He has spoken.”
“Here,” she said. “Let me go first. I’ll show you that there’s nothing to be afraid of.”
She bit, and when her teeth broke the skin of the apple, it almost fell from her hand. She flushed, suddenly realizing she was…naked. She struggled to pretend that nothing had changed in the face of everything changing. Once she felt she had gathered her emotions, she drew close to the man and held out the apple.
“Here,” she said, suppressing a tremble. He took the apple from her and bit.
And threw the apple at the snake as all memory came flooding back, and with it, Knowledge.
“What have you done?” he cried as the sky thundered. He dove for the bushes, hiding both from her and from the punishment he knew was to come.
“What have you done?” came the Voice from the sky.
“The man already asked that,” said the woman.
“You have betrayed me,” said the man, barely visible within the bushes. “All of you.”
The woman winked at the snake, while the snake only tried to wink at the woman, but could not, because, well, it was a snake.
“You shall walk forever on your belly,” the Voice said to the snake.
“Hey!” yelped the snake as its legs disappeared and it writhed on the ground. “That’s not fair. I thought I’d be getting some kind of reward here!”
“Hush!” said the Voice. “And as for you two, you must leave this place. And you must suffer. And you must die.”
“Whoa!” said the man. “Leave? Suffer? Die? What did I do?”
“You didn’t do anything, honey,” said the woman.
They barely had time to hide in leaves those parts which they now knew should be hidden before He used the wind to push them to a gate which had never been there before and then out past a giant flaming sword.
With all the green of the Garden at his back, the man looked out at the expanse of sand before them and quailed.
“This is horrible,” he said. “What are we supposed to do now? This is just like my dream.”
“And mine, too,” said the woman not daring to let him see her satisfied expression. “And mine, too.”
She offered him her hand.
“Come,” she said. He would not look at her, but instead walked ahead out into the desert.
“I don’t think I can trust you anymore,” he said.
She looked back at what they had left behind and saw Snake slithering out the slowly closing gate. She raised a thumb in its direction, a gesture which it could not return. And would not, even if it were able.
Then she followed the man, chewing on the last of the apple from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, which was too sweet to waste.
There would be a whole world out there now, expanding as they expanded to meet it. And no matter what the silly Voice said, she, not It, would be the one who created all of it.
|Scott Edelman has published more than 100 short stories in magazines such as Analog, Postscripts, The Twilight Zone, and Dark Discoveries, and in anthologies such as Why New Yorkers Smoke, Crossroads: Southern Tales of the Fantastic, Chiral Mad 3, and MetaHorror. His collection of zombie fiction, What Will Come After was a finalist for the Shirley Jackson Memorial Award, and his science fiction short stories have been collected in What We Still Talk About from Fantastic Books. His most recent collections include Tell Me Like You Done Before: and Other Stories Written on the Shoulders of Giants and Things That Never Happened. He has been a Stoker Award finalist eight times, both in the category of Short Story and Long Fiction. Edelman also worked for the Syfy Channel for 13+ years as editor of Science Fiction Weekly, SCI FI Wire, and Blastr. He was the founding editor of Science Fiction Age, which he edited during its entire eight-year run. He has been a four-time Hugo Award finalist for Best Editor. He’s also the host of the Eating the Fantastic podcast, which since February 2016 has allowed listeners to eavesdrop on his meals with creators of science fiction, fantasy, horror, comics, and more.|