He shall be like a tree,
Planted by the rivers of water,
That brings forth its fruit in its season,
Whose leaf also shall not wither;
And whatever he does shall prosper.
Part I: The Storekeeper
THE FRUIT REMAINED untouched for days, as the batch from the Caroline Islands was slowly diminished, depleted and restocked, the freshly ordered fruit from Melanesia remained unsold and unappreciated, yet it was still, after several weeks, to all appearances fresh and strangely sweet smelling. Many a customer would handle the apples, the oranges and the forelle pears, only for a distant chimaera to wash their countenance clean, and being drawn out of themselves to some unknown state of mind would return the fruit to its casketed home. Much to the storekeeper's amusement this game of 'touch and drop' among his many customers continued for several weeks, and finally exasperated, he began many attempts to try to push the fruit onto the unsuspecting; for instance, he had tried to hide the Melanesian fruit within the Caroline stock, and noted with a sigh of disbelief that the entire hidden store still remained later that same night, that is—all Melanesian and all unsold. He had also tried sneaking the odd apple or pear into a customer's bag at the check-out, but by rare chance it would tumble out and many customers were involved in collisions with each other, dropping all their items, and by chance, failing to pick up those in question.
'Walter, you old fool, something is amiss here. Are you now too old to see the problem?' his weary eyes seemed to say as he scratched his balding hairline and held a portly shaped pear to the light. With a sigh of resignation he bundled up all the Melanesian fruit he could find into a rough sackcloth and placed it outside beneath the lamp-lit fascia sign which read: Walter's Vegetable and Fruit, with its own handwritten sign which read simply FREE FRUIT in large bold letters.
The next day whilst serving a young man and helping him pack up his vegetables, he noticed a mother with a pram stop and take notice of the sacks, and not wanting to miss a opportunity to enquire he excused himself and stepped outside onto the street.
"Won't you take some fruit?" he asked the woman amiably, thumbing the straps of his dungarees as he was accustomed to when engaging in friendly conversation.
"What's wrong with it?" she replied suspiciously, looking at the apple she was holding, then back to Walter, then the apple.
"I assure you there's nothing wrong with it, it's perfectly good fruit!" he said, smiling assuredly.
"Then, why is it free?" She frowned.
Choosing to ignore this, Walter said rapidly, "Tell all your friends. Look, there's enough here for everyone!" Desperate now to be rid of this burden, he began bundling apples and pears onto the hood of her perambulator. "Here, kid, you like red apples?" He smiled, handing a unblemished red apple to a very appreciative young boy, who wrapped both his hands around it with a great beaming smile.
"You put it back!" the mother roared. Slapping the apple from his hand, she eyed the storekeeper sharply. "What I should do is call the police!" she said, drawing up to him. "They're rotten, that's what they are! Trying to poison my boy, are you?"
"Do they look rotten, ma'am? I'm not in the business of selling rotten fruit. I run a respectable business here!"
The raised voices soon attracted the attention of passers-by, and crossing the road, a young man approached Walter. "What's wrong here?" he said, combing his hair through his hand and frowning down upon him.
"He's trying to sell me rotten fruit! Trying to sell them to my children!" said the mother, and with that outburst she gathered her son protectively into her arms.
"Can't you see she doesn't want your fruit? Why are you pressing her?" said the young man angrily. Walter was so bemused and hurt by the sudden change of events he only stammered and shook his head as he meekly returned to his store.
Not to be discouraged, he left the sacks a further two days. The forlorn storekeeper tried to forget about them, but when during an afternoon (usually the busiest time for him) he noticed two old ladies pointing at the noxious fruit outside his store window, both shaking their perms and hairnets and in the wagging of their tongues, Walter, wide-eyed and sweating, imagined he could make out such words as "poison", "children", "mad-man", "police". Perhaps it was only the heat and that sweet lingering smell, not unlike camphor oil, that still clung to small corners of his store and onto the back-draft of the double-barred doors when a customer would enter or the memory of the confrontation with the young man which debarred his better judgement, but it was precisely those moments that that ungodly fruit was now always on his mind, and so he decided to close early that very afternoon so he could personally be rid of the untouchables once and for all.
After dragging the sacks into the store and pulling the shutters closed, he then pulled the sack-cloths into a small croft at the back of his lot and doused them in kerosene. At the touch of a match they shot up into brilliant blue and green flames, whistled, popped and screamed. He lingered on a while to watch the colours dance whilst holding a cloth to his nose and mouth to dull the ungodly stench, until at last they were no more; only piles of ash and cinder. He was, in fact, surprised how simple it all was, and only an hour later he was ready to open up again for the remaining two hours of service. Happy and relieved that he could resume his familiar friendly role, it was only moments after serving his first customer that in the corner of a eye there flashed a hidden patch of red underneath the leaf of cabbage in the far corner of his store—therein lay a single Melanesian red apple.
Before he could excuse himself, much to his surprise, a gaunt intelligent looking man pressed his hands to his knees and with a smile picked up the apple and walked casually over to him. "How much?" he asked curtly, holding up the apple and blowing off a layer of dust.
"Just that?"' asked the storekeeper.
"Just this," he replied.
"Now, are you sure you want that?" asked the storekeeper, a little frightened, and the fear, though he tried to hide it, was shown plainly on his face.
"I don't want it. Fact is..." the young man replied distantly. "The fact is, I need it... I can't say why. It's curious, it's the most curious feeling," he replied, staring absently past him.
At first Walter thought it was the jars of condiments racked up behind him that had caught the man's distant gaze, then he knew it for what it was.
"Just take it," replied the storekeeper mutely, shaking his head as he recognised that same drawn out vacancy in the young man's eyes. With a touch of dread, he repeated, "Just take it—and please, for God's sake, get out!"
Part II: Spring to Summer
In the province of Ātman, off the the banks of the Moska river, the procurer of the apple—a strange introverted man by the name of Samson H. Roe—was preparing his evening meal, and once he was satisfied all was in place, he sat down quietly at the table, folded a small napkin over his knees, and began his solitary repast, smacking his lips loudly and gazing over his immaculate and minimalist apartment. Every few moments he took a sip of wine and was sure to replace the glass between a certain patch of the chequered tablecloth. Sullivan Pedzoti, thought Samson, suddenly frowning on a wren that had perched on an ash branch outside his window, could have been the greatest writer of them all, a gust of apoplexy, tampering of conceptual forms with brutish onion-thin dilemmas, Panama hats in the cirque de rouge, solublien limbs in a current of seawrack, the ashplant of memories skirting the bitter unmanageable coastline—pure reason, God-like nubile, with sentient warmth wrapped in cod-liver stench, no I mustn't dwell on it, thought Samson as his attention turned to the apple. He absently twisted off the stem, with a clink, placed it gently into the now empty glass of Elssass wine. His teeth sank in with a deep crisp crunch. He had barely swallowed the first bite, when suddenly his stomach rumbled and churned, his vision blurred, (two wrens, fine shadowed mottled tree line), his hands began to shake violently, so much so, that the table and cutlery in dancing fits clattered and scraped in jolts of energy, tiny droplets of sweat formed on his forehead, his amber pupils dilated and became a zero-zone—his mouth open wide, agape, numb with surprise, still awaiting that second bite.
"Measured himself every day, he did"
"Inside-outside, up and down, an anthropometric eccentricity. I suppose he had a real passion for dimensions..."
"What's in a mind like that? Elimination of the ego? Intransigence of somatic neuro-muscular obsession? What they needed to do was bleed it out of him. Show a man his own blood, it irradiates the solipsist, creates a divergence culture within the socio-pathological pnuema of the compulsive."
"Why not? His treatments have shown progress. The fields of cognitive therapy—ECT, E-meters, electrodes—these are all relics of the past. Now the Coptic fields of the Hesymian order and revised sub-Galen texts, integrating these natural remedies with machine code, show some exciting and viable results!"
"So... Computers and what? Leeches...?"
"Computers, yes. The program's fittingly named EDEN, but not exactly leeches, no. The suctorial mouth excites the satyriasis—the lesser aberrants show... a minor response, but it's the leeches' hirudin we extract in sustaining the consanguinity of blood-flow. It's this way the subject can be primed and drained."
Within the medical mechanics of the Jiva Sanatorium, certain wheels were turning, the embryo of an experiment was under way, a mutilated figure half suspended in a vat of sodium bicloride, wired to the tendrils of machine; con blue sparks of electricity and the sound of running water passed beyond the door labelled:
A-Amo Lab: Restricted, Class 1
Subject: Samson H. Roe
Slowly but surely, the small lonely apartment came back into view. The first and only discernible change Samson noticed was that the world around him seemed imperceptibly cleaner, more righteous and forgiving of his confusions. The apple's red skin still hung from his pierced lips. The colours and shades around him seemed to bloom brighter. Nothing was more glorious than what the future seemed to hold, no more idle days, no more frozen moments of unchanged melancholy. Samson's eyes darted with widening alacrity to his front-door, where the rattling keys of an un-accosted neighbour jangled and rang out like a siren beckoning him to shed his old skin and to embrace something new.
And soon a stately Samson, trussed in a newly donned heavy trench-coat, was outside, locking his own door and smiling wistfully onto the old man behind him. "It's been a while," he broached, taking fragile tentative steps towards the neighbour, "since I've felt the joys of living..." He buried his hands deep into his pockets; the old man startled, held a mute expression, and for want of words rapped at the floor with his cane, like a nervous bird might do.
"Who knew a single bite, a quick crunch silver snap," said Samson, producing the apple from his pocket, "could bring about such throes of ecstasy? The orchards of Altapass have met their match. Left-winged moralists, in vacuums of limpet-like malaise, have never tasted a sweeter fruit!" With shaking hands, Samson extended the apple towards him, an ice breaker.
But the old man shook his head impatiently in disgust. A flash of horror suddenly struck his face. "If you were my son, I'd pack you off to the Carina and let the birds have you," he spat. "I've heard you in the dead of night, screaming and laughing like a mad man!"
Samson grinned broadly. "Yes, my darks have been dark lately, neither finding myself here nor there, and feeling completely out of sorts."
"So you agree you are a reprobate, a mad screw that—that no neighbour should have to tolerate!"
"I was perhaps," said Samson pointedly, "but suddenly, now everything seems clear to me."
The neighbour made a sputtering sound in the back of his throat and pursed his lips as if to display disbelief. Reaching for his cane, he attempted to bustle past, but Samson stood his ground.
"I have noticed you yourself," said Samson in a hushed voice. This was almost whispered into the old man's ear as he shuffled impatiently to find some open ground. "Your nocturnal practice is by no means impeccable. I'm speaking of the Jew who was here earlier and the ledger from the banks of Potterem who arrived the night before last." Suddenly the old hunchback straightened up a little, his eyes now wide with speculation. A faint nod meant he understood exactly what the young man was saying. "Until recently I'd have found your practice unfavourable, but now I find myself intrigued and with a little too much coin. "If she is free, this lady of the night, this temptress, I've a mind to taste a still sweeter fruit."
For a while the old man thumbed his keys thoughtfully. "Indeed," he said finally with a sharp glance upwards, since Samson was a good three heads taller than he, "but you, you pay extra."
Samson entered at his bidding and once inside was amazed to find the old man's apartment—in sharp contrast to his tidy appearance—was suffused with an oppressive air of dampness, and it was not difficult for him to see why: the walls papered with golden-green fleur-dis-lis sagged like dampened cloth, the flooring resembled that of a companionway of a ship. Puddles of grime and rainwater were collecting from tribulated streams that ran noisily from open potholes. He could observe that although his own room was situated at the far end, this apartment was much smaller, being beneath the slope of the rooftop, so the farther you walked, the steeper the ceiling became, indeed, he could only take a few steps before the cold draft from the open tiling was head-level and the sodden rafters cramped down upon his shoulders.
In one of the side rooms there chimed an old clock, the pealing reveille frightening several birds, and they fluttered on down the corridor and out through the rooftop by way of a back room, which, judging by the flood of sunlight that illuminated the corridor's far end, mustn't have any shelter at all. The old hunchback, now ahead of him, looked furtively into the room, and with great difficulty—the door being warped and unhinged—closed it steadfast by reaching into the lintel and pulling it towards him. He then waved him on as if to say the bed chamber was elsewhere. Samson, taking long strident steps, quite hunched himself, said, "If can I ask you, do your other clients agree with the chill of this place?"
"You mustn't be put off by all this... unpleasantness," said the old man. "Chatelaine Ida, like myself, takes personal hygiene quite seriously." Both men were now on their knees. Coming to the far end of the corridor, Samson could now see into the sunlit room, and it seemed the entire side of the house had fallen into the street below. He even could make out the neighbouring district, with its hanging white linen that flapped in the breeze, reflecting the pre-meridian sun, the bustle on the street below.
The neighbour with a cough drew his attention to his right flank and to what appeared at first to be a small barrelled door but on closer inspection was not a door at all but a billet of hewn timber. The neighbour grunted as he pulled the wooden piece towards him away from the opening. A layer of dirt had almost cemented it in place.
The stench of disease and the heaviness of sleep, along with the decay of sex and dirt forced Samson to button his collar, feeling that, like a cold chill, this air of sin and shame was pattering across his flesh. Conversely, his neighbour nodded, laughed childishly, held his wrinkled hand to his mouth, feigned shock, shrugged his shoulders and slapped the tarpaulin nailed to a beam beside him in a sort of rhythmic fashion. To Samson's disgust, he gulped in the air and grinned knowingly. It seemed his demeanour altered entirely at the sight of his secret. Samson hesitantly entered the crawlspace. Since he had eaten the apple he had felt compelled to an amorous edge; the need to spread his seed was overwhelming, and if not for this basic desire, this bestial viscera that had almost consumed him, he would not be here at all. It was not in his nature to lie with prostitutes; it was not even in his nature to be libidinous, but the gaiety and warmth which was the first obvious effect was now dampened by the cramped cold of the crawlspace. It was his growing desire and solely that which led him on.
"Who's there?" The voice was sick. It greeted Samson with a croak as he stumbled from the crawlspace and into a much larger room. It took several seconds for his eyes to adjust to the dark. He could make out a small tallow candle perched on a bale of straw, affording the view of an armchair in the far corner, but not much else.
"Chatelaine Ida?" asked Samson, taking a few tentative steps forward. There was a long tortured groan from the back of the room.
"Oh, you're here for that..." she said. "Come into the light so I can see you. Don't be afraid." There was a rustling from the back as Samson stepped forward, followed by sharp snaps, like kindle in an open fire, but still he failed to see owner of the fractured voice.
"You're the mad-man from next door?"
"Yes," Samson said. "I don't deny it."
"Is madness drawn to sickness?" she asked. "Will the children of Abraham forever be tortured by our disease? We are ghosts to the world, you and I."
"That is so, but I think perhaps I am more mad than you are sick, for I have no memory beyond a week or so, and I know nothing of my past. I take it you understand your sickness and are resigned to it," he sighed. "I often feel I am dreaming, and only yesterday I felt I imagined myself somewhere else... That is, until—"
"The apple!" she cried. "You're holding it! I have, indeed, dreamt of your coming. It has been prophesied that our union will purge the veins of our ailment, that children borne of new worlds will sanctify the old. We shall have peace..."
Samson stumbled, taken aback by the sudden change in her voice, which had fallen several octaves and now resembled his own. A new purifying effluence rose above the sweet smell of straw (which was perhaps in place to mask her unhealthy stench). He held his hand over his mouth, wide-eyed, his hands shaking, feeling a sudden sense of dread. By the wavering flame of the candle he knew something was moving towards him.
Piercing into the corona of candlelight came first the slow displacement of straw. At ground level there slid into view a bald and sutured scalp, roving amber eyes that once had found him fixed on him. He was repulsed to see it was only by manipulating its torso this thing could move. He stepped back beyond the candlelight into the penumbra of darkness.
"Touch me," it groaned imploringly. "Save us... before it's too late!"
A curtain-ring whispered a rat-a-tat, no windows, only cold breeze through the fissures of age, the animistic dance of foreign forces. In the dark, he searched the panelled walls around him for something to use in his defence, whilst the torso slid towards him, pulled its face upright in its blind search for him. Now clear in the half-light, Samson with a cry of terror realised this pale limbless thing resembled himself.
"Nature's default sex is female..." it spat, grimacing. "You are the perversion! Not I!"
The naked simulacrum, its face littered with straw, sniffed wildly at the air, as if to sniff out his location, and on failing, to Samson's disgust, assumed a somewhat childlike expression.
"Samson," it whimpered, "wake up..."
He held his hand to his mouth, unsure whether he was to going to vomit or cry out. Luckily, as he was unconsciously all the while backing away from the creature, his foot caught hold of the opening, which he stumbled into, ever fearing the sharp clamp of teeth upon his ankles.
The rain now poured heavily into the dilapidated room. A peal of thunder shattered through the corridor as raindrops chimed off the pewter of some unseen kitchenette. Tugging at his coat-tails, the neighbour yammering in Hebrew, perhaps demanding payment, pulled him to the ground, made easy by the slippery boards, on which Samson had lost his footing. A searing pain shot through his knee; he bellowed out in pain and fear.
"Pay!" the old man screamed, now much more stronger than Samson could ever imagine. He was violently pulling at his coat-lapel and pushing him back down. "Pay! Pay!"
In a panic Samson rose, emptying his pockets. The loose change jangled out, running down the warped floorboards, and between cracks, the old man hungrily snatched up what he could, leaving Samson free to make his escape.
Once outside the building, he vomited in a great jet, gulped in the air as the gentian leaves in the flurry of a fresh breeze rushed up to meet him and the sun felt wonderful on his face.
There was pure consubstantiation in that, thought Samson, eyeing the grey pediment, the storied windows above, recalling... Binah, the Torah of suffering, the supernal Maternal Mother—in her virginal form, the self—a parental unborn, cracking wise-cracks over a bursting open womb, seedlings ripe with facsimile acid, scatter like marbles, hooked like the sepals of spring. He sat, pondering for a moment the phantasma of passing events, perched on the cold marble arch above the stair-head. He gazed solemnly to the open city-garden, its fuchsia groves—pink with the shame of rain's touch—autumnal, like a blanketed disease that had pulled nature in towards it, consumed it, ever hungry for green shoots, and rich earthy soil.
Yet once more he was drawn to the apple, and with a single bite again fell victim to that unnameable void.
"Intubation felicitates the gag reflex, which is necessary to stage one of re-emergence—and as you can see... here... an insertion has been made to the corpus callosum. This is not a normative approach to a type-two schizophrenic, but we decided to give the go ahead to exploratory neuro-surgery."
"Samson Roe... ID 1219... Was this man born paraplegic?"
"We surgically removed the limbs and teeth; it helps with CAT mapping. When unnecessary pathway stimuli are eliminated, maintained at a primal level, heart rate, lungs, all electronically stabilised, this allows us to focus solely on the organ in question—the brain."
"Does this comply with AMTEC protocols?"
"Dr. Ghosh is running subsidiary; AMTEC protocols don't apply. We find the scientific rewards are considerably more remunerative and less circumscribed under A-AMO guidance... This man is a martyr, measures are in place to ensure stability—if he pulls through, the medical benefits could be enormous. It would be the end of schizophrenia, perhaps all mental illness..."
Unbeknownst to Samson, he had aged considerably. His hair mottled with grey specks and the fine tapestry of wrinkles had matured him to what we all know as our "middle-age," and yet his faculties were sharp and his intellect he remained, and so he was completely unaware of this sudden change.
Despite the omission in observation, what Samson could see was that a funeral march of some kind was under way. The streets were awash with the plangent throng of black garbed mourners. This was apparent to Samson from his shelter beneath the archway as he could see the streets were filled with clattering hoofs and the elderly patrons which marched dourly beside these horses. Strangely, he noticed there was not a child or youth in sight. The fog and the slow drizzle of rain bejewelled the street into a glass like lustre, so he was uncertain whether he was quite awake or if this was simply another passing dream.
"You there!" barked a wiry postillion disembarking his fiacre. He approached Samson and signalled the train to halt. "You knew Giovene once, I can see it in your eyes. Why are you not paying your respects to he who raised you since birth, he who sheltered you from candour, and filled your life with blind radiance?"
Samson stood, brushing himself off, kicking the leaves around him. "You must be mistaken," he said finally. "I don't know this man you speak of...." Burrowing his hands deep in his pockets, he observed the black Frisian horses attired in ceremonial plumes that stretched beyond the tree-lines to the purlieu of Citadel St. Adrienne. He shook his head and said, "Although I can see he's a man of great importance. Was he an official?"
The postillion laughed, retrieved a muslin handkerchief from his inside pocket, flicked it and mopped his brow. It seemed as if the proceeding was taking its toll on him, and he was relieved for this slight reprieve. It was now Samson who could see this old man was weary, not of his company, but of the world perhaps.
"Giovene..." he started at last, casting his weary azure eyes along the road, "we all agree, had died too soon, but you understand, none can agree on the time of his death. For some it was recent, but for me it was more years than I can care to remember." Samson steadied the man as he faltered backwards a little in a faint, almost losing his footing.
Could it be this man is growing older as he stands? thought Samson as the old man nodded in gratitude, and sighing, said, "We're holding a burial for him at St. Adrienne's." He pointed, tracing the building's outline in the far distance, though through the fog it was hard to make out. "For our own sanity... We're all tired of chasing ghosts, you see, and what has passed should be given a service—so we can lay him to rest and look onwards to the future..."
From the train there came a shout and a long drawn-out whistle that cut through the fog. It pealed into a tremendously high note and immediately the horses cantered into a slow trot. The footmen that had been looking on impatiently fell into their position at the rear. The postillion signalled to the vanguard, and with a deftness that belied his age lighted his post. "You will join us, of course?" he said, taking up his reins and nodding to an open seat beside him. Samson replied that he would but he would rather walk, feeling light-headed, and that a brisk stroll might restore his senses.
And so they marched onwards silently with only the sound of wheels and hoofs on the gravel. Samson fixed his gaze on a short stout man ahead, who hobbled to keep apace, occasionally righting his hat, which the wind would knock aslant, until at last he was mercifully invited into a carriage, and with many bows and nods he accepted and disappeared from view.
Once they had arrived at the gates to the city garden, the ceremonial bell was produced by an emaciated old man who manned the garden's iron-wrought gate, allowing the thousand-strong crowd to proceed, single file, into the evergreen and linden trees beyond and disperse onwards to the great citadel in the far distance tainted by the growth of myrtles and devil-weed. The ceremonial bell he was sure to peal out in a timely fashion for all the walkers to hear and to set their their pace by, and with each ring he would bow, so as to perform two duties at once.
Roses and false saffron greeted the mourners amongst the peals of a carillon. A freshly dug grave, shallow, lay ominously beneath an unmarked tombstone. The sky opened up with fine rays that mottled the grass around him, and in this shattered sunlight Samson could make out the rouge tainted faces of the mourners who gathered beside him, dressed in course wigs, the fake imitation of youth, which hung from their loose skin like a sickness.
The open coffin on a bier surmounted by yet more roses was empty, he noticed. Waxen candles with the scent of petunia were littered around the hem in a ceremonious fashion.
"We can deny death. We can accept death. We can defy death," began the vicar as a thousand or more thronged around him, pressing to her the vicar's words. Samson felt himself suffocated within a black sea of of strained powdered faces.The sermon continued with the vicar's solemn voice rising, "We have gathered here not so much to talk about Giovene but to pray for him." A low murmur of assent waved through the crowd. "We do many things during life that in a sense, in the light of eternity, are a waste of time!" It was at this point in the sermon that many people hurriedly produced geranium and poppy petals to stain their lips. They dabbed and looked on earnestly, wiping their tears with stained handkerchiefs.
It was then it dawned on him, almost immediately, that it was no official, no respected philanthropist these men were mourning—it was the death of their youth!
"How pathetic!" he muttered aloud, circling the open grave. So immersed was he in his curious scrutiny that he didn't notice the vicar had stopped his service. The mourners' attention was suddenly fixed on him. Overwhelmed with an urge to crawl into the grave, to immure himself in loose soil, and to allow the hypnotic verses of the vicar's sermon to roll over him like a warm tide—the safety of velvet cushioned wombs—the world to him seemed shut off and distant.
He felt a claw like hand wrap around his elbow, and he was shoved violently from behind towards the open grave.
"No!" he screamed. Fear was beating its heated blood into his ears. "It isn't me you want!"
They didn't speak, these mourners, nor did they seem to hear him. They coughed and jeered, encircling him, cosmetically twisted faces, with aged hands outstretched, and yammering globuled mouths.
Sickness was in the air. As Samson frantically beat his way through those around him, they fell to ground almost like paper shards. So blindly did he rush and so consumed was he now with the will to live, he broke free from the crowd, finding an opening between two linden trees, and staggered uphill towards the citadel St. Adrienne, casting rapid glances behind him. He could see they were not in pursuit but had found an interest in the grave, which they were, in turn, descending into.
Once he had reached the citadel, he passed several lancets and quickly stole behind the first archway he came to. He crouched for a while in the far corner, catching his breath. It wasn't long before the russet sound of footfall was heard approaching his hideout, and preparing himself, Samson considering offence the best defence, clenched his fists, and when he felt the time right leapt out into the approaching steps, screaming, "Who are you!"
But what he saw was not the strangled party of a mob, it was a small girl, a child, in red Wellington boots, her hair primped with a clam-shaped barrette.
"You still have the apple?" she asked, and without hesitation she reached into his pocket, retrieved the apple, and smashed it beneath her slender foot, grinding it into the earthen ground as if she detested the sight of it.
"Isabel," she yawned, burrowing her hands into her yellow raincoat, her eyes narrow and thoughtful.
Samson was still looking on longingly onto the pulp of the apple, crushed within leafage and soil. "I-Isabel?" he stammered.
She waved this off with her hand as she said, "Do you believe this display of yours will bring my pity on you? What a circus you've created!" she scoffed contemptuously, her gamine eyes a blue blaze cut in the sun. Display of mine? thought Samson, how could I possibly be held accountable for this farce? Yet thinking her the daughter of a pastorate, seeing his valuable time and service wasted, he was preparing himself to apologise.
"How much you fail to recognise what's happening to you!" she laughed, holding her mittened hand to her mouth. She walked gracefully towards him, tracing her tiny fingers intricately along the citadel's stone wall, her raincoat's cuff scratching like rain on a tin can as her meandering feet scuffled the dirt beneath her, as she pressed on. Samson stepped back, feeling the same sick sense of trepidation that harrowed his soul as when he first observed Chatelaine Ida. How were they connected? he thought. She had same the same air about her that seemed to drain him from the inside.
Suddenly the girl stopped. The muscles in her face relaxed. "Yes, that's right, you don't know," her small voice rising, "and yet still you fear it..." She looked on Samson questioningly, as Samson just as bemusedly looked on her. "That's evident by your persistent rejection... So, on some level... " A look of horror flashed through her face. She held out her hands as if warning him to stay back. It seemed it was she who was afraid of him after all.
"Please! I don't know what you're talking about!" begged Samson. The bells of a nearby chapel house rang out as the funeral's carillon enjoined in a chorus of its own, and with each ghastly toll, the world seemed to close in around him. He could imagine the citadel, like the old bell ringer, bowing down upon him. He held his hands to his ears, trying to block out the nauseating cacophony.
"Liar!" she cried. Her arms outstretched, she buckled and ran blindly at Samson, hitting him in the midsection and throwing him to the ground. She ran off skirting between gravestones and kicking up loose soil and leaves in her tracks.
Isabel? thought Samson. Yes, I know an Isabel... Isabel...
"He would have created a symbolic dream-state, a mishmash of memories and thoughts. In theory, the release symbol would be contrapasso—like for like—that is completely dependant on the subject. If the program is successful, he should be drawn to the SRI, the Symbolic Release Icon, and snap out of the induced REM sleep."
"What Release-Symbols does the mind create with this program?"
"Pre-testing has shown food items are not uncommon, considering the curative nature of the pill, the necessity of nourishment in sickness. It's not surprising the mind makes this connection when it's under induced sleep, you see—the mind's attempting to heal itself."
"What will he think when he see himself like this, so pale... mutilated?"
"My God, you might be right! We'd want to avoid any psychological trauma; it could affect the results—Here! Take this... Cover his face... It can remain there until the CAT mappings are complete and I've had a chance to speak with him—study the results. Afterwards we'll have to inject him with potassium chloride. This will stop his heart, of course. We'll anathematise him first, of course. It's a humane death..."
"EDEN reads stage 3. Prepare for immersion. Stand by...."
Part III: Autumn to Winter
"There is a way that appears to be right,
but in the end it leads to death."
When he opened his eyes, Samson found himself an old man, thin, emaciated, weak. He stumbled as he observed his aged hands and felt the heavy wrinkles that disgorged his once youthful face. It was terrible how he howled and cursed. You must understand, it was confusion more than anything; he could blame his madness, hoping it will all pass, but he also knew there was more to this than his sanity. He thought on all the old men, patting their faces with youthful cosmetics, was he forewarned? Or were they in some way mocking him?
He stumbled from the city-garden in a haze to the only place he thought he could rest and think it out. The pier that stretched for a mile along the Aham coast was a favourite haunt of his, and once there, the boards groaned beneath his uncertain steps, the sea crashing wildly into the iron rails, the novelty stalls shuttered up and abandoned, and he thought to himself 'At least, I can sit now and try to make sense of all this nonsense!', that was until the wind caught a familiar voice, and like an unwelcome messenger delivered him a fresh sense of futility.
"Sa-ms—oon!" It was Isabel. The sea's waves crashed noisily into the storm-guards, lapped over her small frame, yet she held her balance perfectly. Beneath the hood of her raincoat—her upper face concealed—she smiled and said, "I apologise for attacking you earlier; you must understand, I am overcome by pity for what I've done to you." She trundled clumsily through the water towards him, just like a child. "This is why I discarded the apple. This is why I attacked you... Fear. I was afraid!"
Touching his hand, she said, "I may be merely a program, but mercy is not unknown to me."
"You're voice—it's changed. You sound like a woman," he said, perplexed.
"Yes," she laughed, "I do sound quiet different, you've noticed. You see, I am not Isabel. She is your daughter... That is... On the outside, I am formed flesh through her image. I know this because you know this." Outstretching her hand, as if to introduce herself, she said proudly, "I am EDEN."
"But I don't! I don't know anything!" croaked Samson. Holding his head, he buckled and whimpered. "W-What's happening to me? Why do I feel so weak?"
In contrast, Isabel, now cool and in control, stepped forward. Laying her tiny hand on his crown maternally, she said, "You're awakening, and what you find when you awake, Samson, will be terrible. There is not much time. Come!"
"When you said you were afraid," as he stumbled to keep apace, "what exactly were you afraid of?"
"I was afraid of you. You were so sure of yourself, so confident, coherent, and I am programmed to alter the weak minded, the sick. I had chosen the wrong season to approach you, and you must understand that only you could have chosen that apple. Indeed, there is no one else here," she said, sweeping her hand across the coastline.
Turning abruptly, her hand resting on the pier's iron railing, she gazed solemnly out into the offing of the wild sea, her blonde hair streaming with the wind, slapping fiercely against the hood of her raincoat. "I was too late. I could not heal you, Samson... Forgive me—I have failed."
"I don't understand what it is you mean, but I do know it's the truth and that I needn't understand," sighed Samson, himself looking out to the sea. "Why do I feel I will never see another day, that I'll never see the sun rise again?"
"I think you understand more than you know. Chatelaine Ida, once a beautiful Goddess garbed in silk, was transformed by you into the consciousness of the 'self.' It was your will, your awareness fighting my code, but enough of that..."
So I was wrong about that, thought Samson, just as I was wrong to have eaten that accursed apple. Although there was a part of him that was resigned to its inevitability, a destiny beyond his control.
She held his hand as a child might do, as his daughter, unbeknownst to Samson, had done many times before. She led him quietly to the walkway and onto the beach, the cold sand scudding across Samson's bare feet, and if one could see these two lone figures, the decrepit old man led by the innocence of youth, they would surely think the world a beautiful place.
"You used to enjoy the sea, as a boy!" she shouted above the wind, which was roaring now. "One time," she laughed, "you caught a rainbow fish with nothing but a crude net. True, it was already dead, but it was wonderful for you. I want to take you back there.
"Sometimes," she said distantly, "it is better not to awake from a dream, Samson." Taking hold of both his hands, she looked up into his eyes, smiled, and said, "Now, you must make a choice... Walk with me to the shoreline, and you will be free." She furrowed her brows, squeezed his hands tightly, and said, "But I won't lie to you—death awaits you there.
"Or you can wait here for winter, alone, and you will leave this place and live... If it seems an obvious choice, believe me when I say you will find no peace there."
"I am tired but also I have a great feeling of calm. I think, perhaps," he said as he looked out to the shore, his amber eyes thoughtful, "that I will come with you."
He clasped her hand and with a deep breath took his first tentative step. He watched as his foot sank deep within the sand. He hesitated, then took another. It sank farther still. This one being completely immersed, he looked on Isabel questioningly.
She nodded and said, "Seventy steps. These are the years of man which you never walked in life. Walk them, Samson, with me."
And so he embraced the steps, him feeling for the first time at peace in his heart, sinking deeper beneath sand-line with each step, his eyes fixed on the shoreline ahead.
13... 14... 15...
"We have created this world together, you and I," said the small child. Her voice now resembled once again her child-like form.
"I will build a new world, a covenant that will stand for eternity..."
23... 24... 25...
"I lay you to sleep, Samson, as you awaken me—my eyes are open, and I promise you, there will be no more..."
37... 38... 39...
"We are both children, you and I, innocent and abused by will and powers beyond our control."
52... 53... 54...
"This... will be the end..."
65... 66... 67...
She held his fingertip, all that remained of Samson. "Be at peace, Samson..." her voice cracked by tears. "You have achieved more than you could know. Rest, rest and be free from torment. You have awakened in me... love." She smiled. "I won't forget you."
With one last final step, his finger fell beneath the sand-line. The young girl rose, standing silently for a for few moments, before the wind dropped and in the far distance buildings crumbled into darkness. Then suddenly she too was gone.
"He's flat-lining! Defibrillators! Stand clear! 1... 2... 3... 4... 5. Clear! 1... 2..."
"Time of death, 10:17."
"Restart the program, empty the vat, bring in the next patient, a Mr. John Simmons, for preparation."
"I can't. It—it's crashed. There's a fatal error! The coding—it's completely scrambled!"
The screen read:
Together we sleep.
Silently, he lies with me.
He gave life to his daughter,
And her love has set him free.