Apple Magick

—Paul Jessup—

"Eyes" (detail)—Richard Bowes
          Once upon a time elves lived in the sewers beneath the city. They had apple orchards that stretched under the streets for miles. They had their own political system, their own way of life that happily existed underneath ours. Then one day they all got up and left.
          And they took their apples with them.
          I blamed Chloe for their disappearance.
          Chloe, and those birds that used to haunt the city.

          Chloe caught an elf once. Used an apple as bait. She left the apple outside of a sewer drain with the Hebrew letter aleph carved into it. She said elves couldn't resist an apple with Hebrew carved into it. It's like a magnet. A magical magnet.
          A yummy, delicious, magical elf magnet.

          The elf was short.
          He smelled like fire.
          I think he tried to seduce me once.
          I remember punching him in the throat when he tried to touch my ass. He always had this knack for pissing people off. Some days I wondered why Chloe even cared and why she didn't just leave him in the backyard for the birds.

          The elf's name was Gogongretinsobwimsoboyin.
          He wouldn't let me pronounce it properly. He put his stinky fingers against my lips and said, "Shh. Do not taint the beauty of my name with your stupid, fat, English tongue, or I will rip it out of your skull and use it for a jumprope."
          This made Chloe laugh.
          She had a great sense of humor.

          She kept Gogongretinsobwimsoboyin under her house in a wicker birdcage. The birdcage used to belong to this old lady who lived down the street from us. She had forty-two birds. All of them spoke in unison, squawking and taunting the neighborhood with their ancient voices into all hours of the morning. One day the old lady went to go feed her birds, but they were all gone.
          The floor covered in feathers.
          Bright blue and orange and yellow.
          At night I could still hear the birds, hiding in the secret parts of the city, still squawking in unison. They were up to something. I could smell it. A socialist revolution. A freedom from birdseed and the tyranny of old ladies everywhere.

          Gogongretinsobwimsoboyin didn't like his cage.
          He said it was haunted.
          Chloe just laughed and taunted him with food.
          Nothing like elf torture to cure the blues.

          Elves eat flower petals and seeds. I guess they're kind of like birds in that way—vegetarians. Us omnivores have one thing over vegetarians as pets—if we ever get bored of them, we can eat them. I've often thought of eating Gogongretinsobwimsoboyin. I wondered what elf meat tasted like.
          Chloe didn't think you could eat elf meat. She thought it was like lion or orangutan meat. "Y'know," she said, "Against the law of nature. It would be like killing a unicorn and then selling its horn. Or like hunting a phoenix and eating its feathers."
          "There are just some things," she said, "you don't do. It messes with the natural order of things, yo."

          Some days I wondered why she dragged him out of the sewer. He wasn't very pretty. I always thought elves were supposed to be shiny pretty balls of faerie light. He was just kind of short and lumpy, bruised with ugly skin and acne. His face was mangled and broken, his hair stringy and clumped. I felt kind of sorry for the guy. So ugly and so broken. Lost amongst the torturing humans.

          Do you know why the caged elf sings?
          Because we'll shock him in the balls with a car battery if he doesn't.

          That old lady must've been pretty brutal to her birds, 'cause one day the cops found her dead in her front yard, hanging from the clothesline like a scarecrow. Somebody had pecked "Fuck you and your fucking apple seeds" all across her rib bones.
          The police never found who did it.
          Chloe and me, we know the birds did it.
          You could still see them.
          In her house, they slouched behind the drawn curtains. Shadows of birds. Stalking the night air. I wanted to move far away, always afraid that the birds would come after me in the night and peck sentences into my dead chest.
          Chloe said that's unpossible. "Our elf would protect us. Birds are the natural enemy of elves. That's why elves grow apples, to use them as weapons against the dark bird army, led by the ravenous King Crow."
          Some things Chloe said are just bullshit.
          It's hard to tell which is which, but this was one of those times. King Crow? Who ever heard of such crazy garbage?

          While Chloe was upstairs masturbating in the shower to REM's Orange Crush, Gogongretinsobwimsoboyin told me the story of how he was born. It went like this:

          My mother was a racehorse, and my father was the devil. A giant stole a rock from the heart of the sun and tried to sell it to my dad. Pops was infertile (mostly because he was infernal), and mom gave all her eggs to charity.
          So, the giant sold my dad this rock saying it was an egg. "Hot damn!" The devil thought, "Now I'll have an offspring, and I'll finally be as cool as Zeus."

"There were stories of apple terrorism in the streets of the Albino Parrot, and war tales from when the elves lay siege to the royal tree palace of the Underground Fish, who sided with the birds in the twenty-year war."
          And he went and opened up my mom and stuck the rock inside of her. He placed it between her stomach and her ribcage, hoping that I would grow there. Little did that Giant know, but this rock (since it was from the sun) was a magic rock. It contained the meaning of the stars encrypted on its stomach. So while the rock was in her, the words began rubbing up against her bones, scratching themselves into her insides.
          This caused the rock to fuse in her womb and transform into me. Little me. All the rubbing must've brought me out. So there I was, all warm and cozy. I stayed in there for fourteen years. Why would I go out? I wasn't going to leave unless I had to.
          Too bad my dad was the devil. 'Cause eventually he forced me to come out. He laid some soup next to my mom's vagina, and I just couldn't resist. Out I came, crawling and mewling and hungry for soup. When my dad saw that I was an elf, he got pissed off and sent me to live with my own kind.
          They eventually adopted a little girl from China and called her their true daughter and just ignored me. Which is fine, because they're both assholes. I hear that someday that little girl is going to kill them all. It's a prophecy that the elves talk about almost daily. They don't like the devil and his racehorse wife. He was an apple hater and a bird lover. She crocheted and picked her teeth with a shotgun. Nasty habits. Nasty, nasty habits.

          When he finished his story, the house vibrated with the sounds of Chloe cumming. I gave him an apple. It wasn't an elf apple, but a granny smith. It was a good story and deserved something.
          Too bad I'd forgotten that elves used apples as weapons.

          I wondered if entrails of elves would be elftrails.
          I wanted to open up Gogongretinsobwimsoboyin and find out.
          Chloe wouldn't let me.
          Fuck, I'm hungry.

          After work I came home to find my living room floor covered in apples. Red and green and reddish green apples. When I walked in, I walked on them and left a carpet of apple pieces across the floor behind me. I found Chloe in my bedroom, dancing on my bed and dressed like a pirate.
          "Arrgh Matey!" she screamed, "Avast! Ahoy!"
          I asked her if she left the apples on the floor. She looked at me blankly and said, "What apples," pulling back her eye patch to show her violet eyes, "There weren't any apples there a minute ago."
          I shrugged my shoulders and got changed into my own pirate uniform. It wasn't worth wasting Pirate Friday on something as strange as apples.

          You used to be able to see elf faces peering up out of the sewer grates, their eyes watching you walk down the street, staring at you. Sometimes they would throw apples at your head, and you'd have to duck or else be smitten by the striking, and follow that elf until the end of time.
          These days the sewers are empty.
          No more dodging apples.
          No more kicking their eyeballs in.
          It used to be familiar.
          Now, nothing is.
          I wonder where they all went?

          The birds became restless.
          I saw them in our neighbors' houses.
          They planned, they plotted.
          They made diagrams and wore eye patches.
          It's not Pirate Friday, I thought, what gave them the right to wear eye patches? You could smell revolution cooking in that house. It painted the air with its vibrations.

          I tried to get into the sewers last week. I pried open the grates and covered my mouth. That funk was too much, the stink clung to everything. I just couldn't bring myself to go down there. Even if it meant getting clues as to what happened to the elves.
          Fuck the elves, I thought.
          At least Gogongretinsobwimsoboyin was still around.

          Chloe and me had one of those relationships where talking was overrated. Our conversations mostly led us to sex, and sometimes even our sex led us to sex. The only time we actually talked was during Pirate Fridays, and that was mostly "Argh Mateys" and "Shiver me timbers" and "Walk the plank, you lilly-livered varmint." I guess the meaning in our lives was always between the lines.
          When I went over to her house, we let Gogongretinsobwimsoboyin do the talking for us. He would ramble on about the war of the Crow King, and talk about throwing apple bombs on Main Street. There were stories of apple terrorism in the streets of the Albino Parrot, and war tales from when the elves lay siege to the royal tree palace of the Underground Fish, who sided with the birds in the twenty-year war.
          This may come as a shock to you, but, Gogongretinsobwimsoboyin's stories aren't really all too interesting. He tended to bog every tale down with hours of describing useless household items that the elves used. One time, he spent the whole night describing an elf apple peeler and an elf apple gun.
          The only good stories where when he talked about his mom and dad. Then he got to the point, cut to the meat of the story. The nights when he told the good stories he got to eat. The nights when he told the bad stories he got electrocuted.
          Elves are oddly resilient little bastards.
          You can pump them with all sorts of electricity before they even scream, let alone die. We kept Gogongretinsobwimsoboyin for about four years before he expired on us. And right before he died, he told us the secret of elfin apple magic.

          Now Chloe and me are the only people left who know apple magic. Everyone else is gone. The other elves left, and Gogongretinsobwimsoboyin is dead. We don't talk much, Chloe and me, but we do talk about the magic. We carve the apples and prepare for war.

          Gogongretinsobwimsoboyin tried to free himself. He attacked Chloe and me with a granny smith we left him, carving it up into an apple bomb. The blast shattered a hole in the house and knocked us out. It took a week to get all of the broken glass out of our faces, and I still have scars across my eyes to this very day.
          Gogongretinsobwimsoboyin knocked himself out with the blast. He should've been more careful with his aim. If he could've stayed conscious he might've been able to escape. Instead he got the beating of his life from Chloe.

          I smelled the birds gathering for war.
          It reeked on this street.
          That pirate Friday we sat around all day, carving apples.
          When those birds rise up, we'll be waiting.
          Angry, ready.
          Eye patches on and black belts buckled.

"Apple Magick" is Paul Jessup's attempt at writing a prose-styled short story in the vein of Eugene Ionesco's plays filtered through the lens of genre. In the end it's an antifantasy fantasy that tries to deconstruct plot, fantasy stereotypes, and genre narrative styles.

[ photo, Paulette Bowes ]

Richard Bowes's most recent novel is the nebula-nominated From the Files of the Time Rangers. His most recent short fiction collection is Streetcar Dreams and Other Midnight Fancies. He won the World Fantasy, Lambda, International Horror Guild and Million Writers Awards. Recent stories are in F&SF, Subterranean Magazine, Fantasy Magazine, Sybil's Garage, Salon Fantastique, The Coyote Road, So Fey, and Datlow Del Rey anthologies.

content Copyright 2007, Paul Jessup—All Rights Reserved
photo, "Eyes" Copyright 2006, 2007, Richard Bowes—All Rights Reserved