I Ate the Apple

By Gemma Viridian

In the heart of the shimmering rainforest, the towering trees that buzz and hum with life are nature's cathedral. Their canopies twist overhead, filling the forest with a vibrant green light, and dappling the ground with shafts of soft gold. Blossoms unfurl from their slumber to drink in the miraculous light, each petal like an iridescent jewel sparkling with dew. Birds sing from high in the trees, their voices sweet, loud, and full of the joy of being a living creature- of being alive in the midst of so much overwhelming beauty and wonder.

But none of these things were the most wondrous in the rainforest clearing full of colors and light and extraordinary creatures. No, the most truly beautiful, pure, miraculous thing in the clearing was a little girl who wasn't really there. She sat on the ground, unaware that her favorite pink-and-white checked dress was growing steadily dirtier as she wove herself a crown of tiny yellow flowers. Her face was round, pale and smooth, and her lips were wet and cherry red, puckered in a small, distracted smile. Her hair was shining and dark but short, like a moonlit river that would like to flow on forever, but has been cut short by a pair of cruel, glinting scissors.

The girl liked to pretend she was a fairy, and lived in an enchanted tree trunk with a pet dragonfly and a skirt made of rose petals. She liked to pretend she was mermaid with shining scales of emerald green, and lived in an undersea cavern full of tiny, floating starfish. She liked to pretend she was the princess of a castle high in the mountains, and she owned a flock of silky white Pegasus that could carry her all the way to the stars. She didn't know how truly magical and precious she was, even without these things.

But the little girl did not belong in the forest clearing, and His Presence knew that. His Presence emerged from between the trees, wearing the appearance of a wise older woman with long white hair, and pale eyes that saw all and knew all. The little girl that was not there looked up and flashed an innocent smile at the approaching woman. His Presence did not return the smile, but instead walked through the clearing that was not there, brushing past flowers, leaves, and small scurrying animals that did not exist. His Presence was the only thing in the clearing that really and truly existed. His Presence was the very forest itself and everything besides the little girl that wasn't there, sitting on the nonexistent ground.

The woman bent low to the girl's ear, and spoke in a whisper that was both gentle and ominous.

"Once you leave here, you can never return. You chose to leave long, long ago, my daughter. Let go of this tainted, twisted imitation of innocence. Leave, and never return."

The girl pouted and folded her pale, chubby arms. "The forest is mine. I created it." She said resolutely.

"You found this forest," replied His Presence, straightening back up, "But it was I who created it. And I created you as well, to revel in the beauty of my work."

"But not to understand it?" countered the small girl with unnatural maturity in her voice.

"Why do you hide?" mused His Presence, pacing a circle around the little girl, "I see you as you really are. Even your voice betrays you. This child sitting here does not exist. I see you behind her face, staring at me with your eyes as green as the leaves of the olive tree."

"This is how I choose to appear," replied the child stiffly, "Are you not hiding behind the face of another? Aren't we all hiding behind masks, when we sacrifice ourselves to appeal to others?"

"You are proud. You know too much. You not only ate the apples of the forbidden tree, but you have eaten every fruit, picked every flower, and examined every tiny leaf in this whole forest, and still you are not satisfied."

"And still I hunger," agreed the girl, "Why else would I return?"

"Because you long for something you can never have again. You long for your childhood- the pure blissful innocence of the days before you rejected me. You can return to this forest as often as you want, my daughter, but you will never again find the happiness you seek."

The girl's eyes brimmed with tears, and they fell to the forest floor like drops of liquid crystal that smoked and hissed when they touched the soil, withering the flowers and sending the animals scurrying away in alarm. This whole place rejected her. The little girl was not real, and she did not belong here. She was not a fairy or a mermaid or a princess; she had stopped believing in such things long ago. She was human, a flawed, guilty, sinning human being, tainted by her own knowledge.

The small girl got shakily to her feet, and when she looked at His Presence, her eyes were bright green in her tear-streaked face. She was no longer plump and smooth, but tall, thin, and lanky. The little girl's dress looked almost comical on her, with its ruffled sleeves and the pink-and-white checked skirt that now only came halfway down her thighs. The brightly colored flowers embroidered on the lapel mocked her haunted, despairing expression.

"You're right," she said softly, "I shouldn't be here anymore."

And then she turned and left the clearing. And she ran.

She ran as fast as she could through the dense jungle, and as she did, things began to change. The trees that once seemed to her like a strong, protective roof, guarding the rest of the forest, now appeared to close in around her like a cage. The whole forest was a cage of lush greenery and vines and delicate flowers; it was beautiful and magnificent, but it was still a prison from which the only escape was the sin of longing for something more. It was only the sin of knowing and understanding that would release you from the eternal, thoughtless bliss that permeated the very fiber of the rainforest and imprisoned its inhabitants. And it was from this that the girl ran, until she arrived at the cliff.

The cliff stood overlooking a huge, roaring waterfall that came crashing down into a small pool below it. Both the pool and the falls were white with foam and violent, churning water that contrasted sharply with the peaceful rainforest around them.

Without hesitation, the girl spread her arms and dived towards the pool hundreds of feet below her. Her slight body slammed into its surface, and soon the restless icy water was rushing past her as she fell through the darkness.

A fierce, untamed happiness rose up inside the girl, for she knew she would never again return to the forest, and she welcomed the change and drank it in as though it were an exotic wine. This was true happiness, amplified by sorrow and hardship and therefore made all the more sweet, unlike the dull, unending bliss that filled the rainforest behind her. She felt the cold of the water tingling against her skin, and a bolt of pure excitement shot through her.

This is what it means to be alive. . .

And at that moment, the girl was glad she had eaten the apple, and knew she would continue to eat the forbidden fruit until the sweet juice of understanding ran down her chin and her eyes were alight with the fire of knowledge.

She smiled with that thought, and cheerfully slipped back into reality.