The empty aisles of the long-forgotten supermarket are laden with dust and empty shelves. The food here has been long consumed and raided by survivors ever since the uprising. What little organic matter that lays within the confines of the old abandoned box store has been taken by the rats or turned to mush through the composting of time. There is nothing here but dust and rot, and yet I limp between the barren shelves, passing yellow stickers, the once bright eye-catching yellow now a dull flaxen, the prices and labels that used to stick out are nothing more than faded ghosts.
My steps echo through the liminal space as I limp through the old store, with my left foot doing most of the work, my right leg drags behind, a syringe sticking out of my ankle. The plunger pressed in. My throat still feels the phantom of the plastic tubing that had been wrapped around it just a few moments ago. The back of my head still throbbing from the blunt force of a clipboard. Who knew that they made for such great close-quarters weapons? I use the shelves as a railing to relieve the pressure upon my foot, and when I don’t have any shelves to hold onto I use my shotgun as a makeshift cane. I am desperate, I am determined. It’s a long way to the produce aisle from this side of the store, but I have no choice but to keep going, otherwise, they will catch me, strangle me, tie me down, and wheel me away on a stretcher into the back of an ambulance. As I drag myself through the store, my mind slips into the pleasantries of the old days, before the uprising, before society crumbled overnight as an army of demons dressed in white lab coats descended upon us, before the last apple had been eaten.
I used to be a healthy man. I used to go for a run first thing every morning, no matter the weather, and no matter where I was. When I got back after my shower I’d eat a healthy breakfast of egg whites, toast, and an apple. Then later that day, before lunch I’d go to the gym to work on strength training. Fitness was as much a part of me as religion is for others. Little did I know at the time, all I needed to stay healthy was a simple apple. And most importantly it kept them away.
I know there won’t be any apples in the produce aisle. The state of the shelves showed that to me. This was a fool’s errand, and if I were in a rational state I’d slap myself and tell myself to pull it together. But my mind was not that of a sane man at that moment, but a desperate one, clinging to old habits to keep them away. My aid of shelves ends here. Using my shotgun I limp on over to the corpses of old waist-high coolers that used to hold chilled meat. I grasp upon the smooth edge and continue my journey. I hear a clattering in the distance, I relieve my foot of the additional support provided by the shotgun and hold in it front of me. My ears are hyper-aware of any sounds that might penetrate the silence. My eyes now trained upon the faded dangling sign that once proudly displayed in eye-catching green, now a dull imitation of itself, “Fresh Produce.”
Nobody knew who ate the last apple. Some scientists and doctors (of the PhD sort) believe that it had been consumed in a plastic bag, carefully cored and cut into half-moon slices with care by a mother as she packed her child’s lunch that morning. Others believe that the last true apple had been dropped from a tree in an abandoned orchard, laying to rot as flies laid their eggs upon it and their maggots borrowed through its skin and ate it from the inside out until the tart flesh of the last apple became nothing more than a pile of maggots squirming away in the middle of a forest.
The shuffling of feet and the rolling of a stretcher draws closer. I’m so close, and yet a gulf of scummy gray tile lies between the edge of the last meat cooler and the abandoned shelves of the produce aisle. I can’t use the shotgun as a cane anymore, not when they’re so close. I grit my teeth, lift the shotgun to my shoulder and begin limping toward the produce section. The shotgun won’t kill them, not with their advanced medical knowledge that hat developed over the years since the uprising through their inhuman medical experiments, but it could at least stun them and distract their buddies as they tend to their wounds.
My last check-up had started like they always did. Within the confines of a cold waiting room while a television in the corner had some daytime soap on that nobody paid attention to. My last check-up ended like so many others did that day, with my trusted doctor lunging at me with bloodshot eyes and a scalpel in her hand pointed directly at my jugular. I was one of the few lucky ones to survive that sort of encounter. The rest ended up being cadavers to be experimented on. In hindsight, I wish I had let my guard down a little bit. Or that she was a little bit more agile and thrusted that blade straight into my throat. Little did I know at the time that the lucky ones died that day.
Hallways there. My heels clack against the tiling, like a tap dancer unable to keep the beat. Clack, clack-clack, pause, clack-clack-clack, clack, pause, clack. Every few steps I point the gun around, ready to pull the trigger. And then she appears. My old doctor, dressed in a white lab coat that had lost its purity to the crimson stains of blood that now cover most of it. Her kind eyes are no longer there, and instead, she looks at me with a cool dryness only reserved for serial killers and war criminals. Without hesitation, I pull the trigger. A deafening boom ripples and reverberates through the store. The doctor falls to the ground, her blood spilling through her wounds mixing with the blood of her experiments, as she lies there gurgling and groaning in pain. The clattering of footsteps and the rattling of a stretcher’s wheels begin rushing toward us. I don’t have a lot of time on my fool’s errand.
There was a time in my life in which I thought I’d become a medical student and become a surgeon. But pre-med had been proven too hard for me, so I opted for a bachelor’s in nutritional science and sports medicine. I often wonder nowadays if it would have been worth the extra effort to get that MD, at least that way I’d be a survivor of the uprising. But would it be worth those extra years of school to become a monster after the last apple had fallen?
The doctors rush to her side and begin tending to her wounds. They always do. They took an oath after all to do no harm, little did we know that there was a fine print that stated: “to other MDs.” The fools we were. There are four other of them, each dressed in a white lab coat stained a dark scarlet. The two handling the stretcher park it and hunch over and begin operating. I have bought myself time, but not much. I limp over to the produce aisle, praying that at least a rotten core of an apple remains. Anything.
I search the produce section, passing by cardboard boxes that had begun to rot, their ripe musk haunts the aisle, giving false hope for composted vegetables and fruits, and yet the boxes are full of nothing but air and mold. I pass the plastic containers of pre-chopped food, their insides now a purée of rotten onions, mushrooms, or bell peppers, and mold. I gag at their appearance. Behind me, I hear the muttering of the doctors and the clanking of medical instruments against the tile. I hear her groans getting lighter and the seething of pain angrier. And then I reach it, the apple section.
There are plenty of pictures depicting apples along the boxes, but each of them is barren as the rest. I pull myself along the boxes searching for anything, even a seed. The faint light of the outside is of no help. I find a few insects that I mistake for seeds as they squirm away at my hands. I then begin searching for the mulch of an apple, or a bag of rotten apples. Nothing. And then I hear the sound of footsteps and the rattling of the stretcher.
I did not look at them when they took me. When the cool plastic tubing of their stethoscopes wrapped around my neck pulling me towards the stretcher. My mind drunk with desperation did not even look away from the apple boxes until they forced me upon the stretcher and strapped my head back and my limbs cuffed to the sides. And then she looks at me, my old friendly neighborhood doctor, with those cold killer eyes. And then she opens her mouth and speaks.
“You’re long overdue for your annual physical you know,” she said with a false smile. “Let’s go to the exam room and get you checked up.”
As I’m wheeled away only one word comes to my mouth as I scream it over and over again, hearing it echo off the tiling and right back to my ears. “Apple!” I say over and over again.
The Last Apple was originally submitted for this writing prompt. Be sure to eat your apples folks.