Apple Heart

When I was born, I did not have a heart, so the Doctor fashioned one for me out of an apple. In return, every day for the rest of my life, I was to bring him an apple.

Until I was old enough to walk, mama delivered the apple to the Doctor, carrying me swaddled to her back so I received the credit. After I could walk, the burden fell on me. Every day, I would go into town, take a left at the dead tree, climb over the crumbling wall, and place an apple in his hand.

When it rained, I waded through mud. Every day, the mud grew thicker until the water began to pool on top of it. The standing water went from kissing my toes to tugging at my ankles, deeper and deeper each day. The rain would not let up. When it reached my waist and the only way out of the house was through a window, I begged mama to let me miss this one day, what could it hurt? My backside was on fire as I sat in the rowboat and paddled through the town, the roads hidden beneath the standing water.

I hated the Doctor.

I hated mama for agreeing to his demand.

An apple hand delivered every day for the rest of my life.

Mama called it a small price to pay for my life.

I called it greedy.

The window swung open on shrieking hinges when I knocked. The past few days he’d had me pass him the apple through the window to keep the water out. “Doctor?” I called out into the inky darkness.

He had no candles lit. His fireplace was under water. There was no light.

There was no answer to my call.

I grabbed the dockline and tumbled through the window, splashing into the water in his house. Once inside, I tied it off to something sturdy. Or at least something too large to slip through the window. I didn’t fancy swimming home. I traipsed through each room, calling out for him, wishing I’d brought an oil lamp or at least a candle.

He was nowhere to be found.

Dead bodies float. And there were no floating bodies.

I looked at the apple in my hand. Mama would tan my hide again if I brought it back.

I set it on the highest surface I could find because it looked like the water would swallow the table at any moment. “I delivered the apple,” I called out as if speaking the words into existence would absolve my debt for the day.

I untied the boat and began to paddle through town.

My chest ached.

I clenched my jaw and paddled harder. The sooner I returned home, the sooner I could rest.

I tied the boat off when I returned home and waded to the window, clutching at my chest.

“Mama?” I could not pull myself into the house. I called out again, but her name was nothing more than wind rustling through branches. I scratched myself on the window frame and sticky golden liquid flowed out.

She appeared in the window, her face pinched.

“You didn’t give it to him.”

I didn’t know how she knew. My teeth clacked together, wooden and heavy.

“All I’ve ever asked of you was to deliver an apple.”

The words would not come, I could not tell her he was not there. And even if I could, she would ask me if I searched for him. I hadn’t.

“One apple, and you could have been my daughter forever.”

She reached through the window and put her hand on my cheek. “Find him. Give him the apple.”

My body jerked, stiff and hard as I turned to find the boat. My joints creaked and groaned before they seized up.

I fell and my legs rose.

Bodies float.

I closed my eyes as my heart turned back into an apple.

At the age of six, Eliza was certain of two things. The first was that she had stories to tell. The second was that she had no talent for illustrating them herself. Talent or no, she still wrote and illustrated her first book, one that should be located and locked away if only to prevent her parents from embarrassing her terribly by showing it off alongside baby pictures. Now she spends her days writing stories that she isn't embarrassed to show off after a little bit of polishing.

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