Stolen Apples

He tells me sometimes, it seems a little like fishing. Selecting the right bait for the kind of fish you want, making sure the environment is non-threatening, pretending to be harmless and appetizing until the hook has already taken hold.

He says it usually feels like tending an orchard, though. Fertilizing the land with lies, the light of his charm and attentions encouraging his grove of admirers to blush and flower. He thought his fruits watered themselves with their own tears while he plucked their heartstrings, speaking to them of love and loneliness, making them feel understood, securing their sympathies with stories of a troubled life.

Not all apples are the same. Some are soft, crumbling across your tongue, their flavor more like mealy sugar water than apple. Some are hard and tart, stinging the tips of the teeth, puckering the mouth to thirst. The best are crisp enough to echo in your ears as you bite, but still give way with a gentle tug. Borne of the blooms of summer, touched by the exciting humming of bees. Young enough to be firm, old enough to be ripe. Juices that stick to your fingers, sweet, heady, earthly; a flavor no candy can ever replicate.

It’s a skill, but not an overly difficult one. Lately, he has found that hosting a podcast gets good results. He writes a character who will do the podcast, gives them a romantic air. A sense of mystery, a sense of humor, and a deep sense of empathy. Teenage girls love a lonely, moody sort of guy. He creates a role and plays it online, gathering an audience tailored to what he’s trying to find.

He drops a few hints of a tragic backstory, then backs a local charity event to show what a great guy he is, so deserving of their compassion. Shows up to the event doing volunteer work, gets approached by girls who just must come meet him in person to tell him how much they understand what he’s going through, to give him their sympathetic ear in the hopes he might hold their hand, mistaking dangerous over-sharing for bonding with someone who truly understands them, needs them as much as they need him.

For the public appearance, he’s found he gets better results with big, sappy eyes. He uses just a bit of dark shadow, a neutral tone only a shade darker than his skin for a sunken look. Only a little brown eyeliner, not black. Don’t overdo it. Make the depression look real, not like a kid playing in mommy’s makeup. “What follows is easy,” He tells me. “Like picking the brightest apple from the tree.”

When her family hears he is a freshman in college (or so he has said for the last decade), doors in her house start slamming. He can provoke a family fight, wait outside and listen for the evidence of her locking herself in her room. The passions of a teenage girl run wild. While her anger is hot, he can approach her window with the promise of escape.

They often resist taking his hand and running off into the night, that first time. He does not worry. He usually has a few girls he can rotate through, driving greater and greater rifts between them and their families. Eventually, one or the other is ready to cut her ties. His efforts cover his tracks, make her disappearance seem logical, something the police don’t question too deeply. By the time he moves on, sometimes he’s harvested three or four. Even then, often a cop never realizes a mother’s panic and fury might hold truth after all.

He doesn’t kill them. If he did that, he would never get the chance to watch them, savoring each stage as they wither. It starts with the first crash of horror, a slight bending of her knees, a reflex as panic comes in. The primal parts of her nature freeze her in posture for flight, her darting eyes hungering for escape even before she understands fully what the danger is. Then, panic fights her dawning truth. The widening of her mouth, the sudden sharp breath as she realizes her lover is offering her as a gift to his father, and she will not be allowed to return home; these moments arouse him.

Then their fear and revulsion, when he forces them to know the glittering world they were born into does not exist, is illusion, that is his favorite part of it all, this spectacular moment when their hearts break and the terror begins.

Their journey doesn’t take as long as he wishes it would. When his father invites over friends and she understands she will be shared with others, her struggles making them laugh or become aroused, he cheers inside. When she starts to ask for the drugs used to keep her subdued, he enjoys pushing the limits of what she is willing to put up with to get more. He smiles as he says he especially loves when they realize how fast they are falling.

Eventually, they learn why some women do the things they do so willingly, why they put up with so much. Because hope is nothing more than an illusion, and he mocks them for ever believing otherwise. When this happens, he is done with them, their education is complete. He sells them, and his “father” and he move on to a new town, to find new toys to play with.

P.S. – This story became my first artsy type attempt at film.

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