UKArchive



UKArchive ID: 20708The Poison Apple by thegeeza
Originally published on December 3, 2007 in Fiction

Written for Ginger's November prose challenge. 1,825 words.



‘Mum, I told you. Stop worrying, will you? I’m fine. I’ve got friends. I’m new in town, so it takes time.’

‘What takes time?’

Sarah shook her head, trying to shake her off. ‘It does.’

‘What does?’

‘It.’

‘Sarah, you’re not making any sense. Why don’t you just pack up and come home?’

Sarah looked out of the window at New York. She could see buildings lit at every window for as far as she could see. Despite being on the thirtieth floor she didn’t feel very high. There were many skyscrapers towering above even though the cars moving around the wide avenues below looked unnaturally small.

‘Mum, I got a transfer with my job. A big opportunity. I can’t just come home, it doesn’t work like that.’

‘So, you do want to come home?’

‘I never said that.’

‘Yes you did. You said you can’t just come home, like you’d like to, but you just can’t.’

Sarah took a sip of her water and laughed. ‘Mum, you’ll never change.’

‘Sarah?’

‘Yes?’

‘Just come home. Tell them that you’re lonely.’

Sarah could see the blinking lights of a plane as it made its way to JFK airport. She looked down at Park Avenue and wondered how many people were within eyeshot and what they were all doing. She looked at the other apartment block, just across the street. It had over forty floors just like her building. She wondered how many windows had faceless people watching the world go by like she was.

‘I’m not lonely, Mum. Look, isn’t it time for you to go to bed?’

‘It’s only half past eleven. I’m fine.’

Her mother sounded tired. Her mother sounded lonely. In a moment, Sarah decided that she should not have taken the transfer. Despite wanting to get away, it had not been the right thing to do.

‘Okay, Mum, you win.’

‘I told you.’

‘Okay,’ sighed Sarah, ‘you did, you told me. There, I’ve said it.’

‘So, you’ll come home?’

‘I’ll see what I can do.’

‘You just tell them. Sending a young girl half way around the world on a transfer. At your age. I’ve never heard of such a thing in my life. And to there. To New York. Full of murderers, perverts and thieves.’

Sarah laughed.

‘Why are you laughing? What’s so funny?’

‘You are, Mum. Listen, I’ve been in the office, in my apartment or walking the two blocks in between all the four weeks I’ve been here.’

‘And?’

‘And that’s all. I haven’t as much been to a bar. It’s not like you think.’ There was silence. ‘I haven’t had the chance to meet any of New York’s finest murderers, perverts … or any of her thieves.’

‘Well, good,’ said her mother. ‘I’m glad to hear that.’

Sarah looked at the city that seemed so full of life and wondered how you joined in. Her colleagues were pleasant, but they all lived out of town and disappeared at five sharp, onto busses and trains to normal suburban towns. They never as much as went out to lunch together. They told her she must be having the time of her life in the Big Apple.

‘Mum, let’s hang up. It’s costing a fortune.’

‘I wish your father was alive,’ said her mother. ‘He’d come out and get you.’

Sarah bit her lip and shook her head. ‘Mum, I’m twenty four years old.’

‘So?’

‘I’m a grown woman. I’m old enough to look after myself.’

‘I’m not so sure about that. I want you home.’

‘Mum, please … look, I’ll speak to them tomorrow. I’ll call you and tell you how it went, okay?’

From the cupboard by the door, he watched through the gap. He tried to smell the coat hanging from the rail, but his senses no longer worked. He tried to feel the material but his fingers were numb. He put his teeth on the wool of the coat, trying to feel the texture but his tongue was dry and alien in his mouth. He kneeled and looked at the shiny shoes reflecting the light from the lamp on the desk where Sarah was sitting. He listened and heard her crying quietly. He could feel her vulnerability. He liked that. It raised his heartbeat a little, it made him excited, it was a real feeling that could not be denied by any of his doctors. Not this time.

Sarah closed the drapes, shutting the city out and sat on the sofa. She heard a click and a snap. It was so very quiet.

‘Damn heating system,’ she said out loud. Her voice echoed around the bare walls of her apartment. The landlord had told her that the heating was controlled centrally by building services and she could not turn it off. It would run all through the night. She had no choice, her company had sourced and paid for the apartment as part of the secondment.

‘Echo, echo!’ she cried out. She giggled at her juvenile behaviour and then burst into tears. It reminded her of being young, surrounded by her parents, brothers and sisters. She picked up the remote and turned on the television. She switched around channels, finding nothing of interest. She kicked off her shoes and felt a sudden chill blast across her. She physically shook and looked towards the doorway. She could see the outline of the hallway marking out the door. It felt like a breeze was driving across to the window.

The only light in the apartment came from the lamp on the desk by the window and from the flickering television. She stood up and walked towards the dark recess by the front door. She looked at the small cupboard door and saw that it was open. She held her hand to the gap but could feel no breeze. She pushed the door very hard and it closed with a bang. Remembering her cardigan, she opened the door, reached in and pulled it out.

From the darkness of the bathroom opposite the cupboard he watched the back of her neck closely. It was about a foot away. He could see the strands of wispy blonde hair blowing in the breeze. Her skin was pale and soft looking. He reached out his hand to touch but pulled back quickly at the sound of the door slamming. He withdrew and slunk slowly towards the shower cubicle as she put the cardigan on.

She pulled it down and fastened it up by the buttons. She pushed open the door of the bathroom and turned the light on. Something didn’t feel right. Everything was as she had left it but it was ice cold. She hesitated for a moment and then sat on the toilet. She reached down and picked up a book that she had left there.

The shadow behind the frosted glass of the shower screen shifted uncomfortably.

Sarah took the ready-meal from the microwave, put it on the table and went into the bathroom to wash her hands. He came out from behind the sofa and stood over the meal. It was a curry. It frustrated and angered him that he could not smell the food. He heard the light switch and darted across to the wall by the doorway. She walked past him within inches. He stood, transfixed, making no attempt to hide. She sat watching the television, eating. She shivered and thought that she must be getting some kind of bug.

Sarah suddenly realised that she had an overwhelming sense of dread hovering over her and stopped with a forkful of food half way to her mouth. She looked at the phone and thought about calling her mother. She turned towards the doorway and saw a shadow against the wall. She tried to ignore the panic and started to argue with herself that it must be a trick of the light. As she made to stand, the shadow darted forward and hit her in the throat. She fell backwards off the chair and hit her head against the bottom of the bookshelf.

Sarah looked up and saw the dark figure standing over her, breathing heavily, licking white foam from the side of its mouth. She saw the glint of a large blade as it kneeled down next to her. Her head pounded and she felt nauseous. The man was hooded and his breath smelled of sweet mints. He looked at her carefully, like he had never seen a person before. He snarled and held the blade to her throat.

‘I’m gonna have you,’ he said, ‘then I’m gonna cut you.’

Sarah was paralysed. She couldn’t move, she couldn’t speak. She could think only of getting away, doing something normal, getting on a plane, going home.

The man carefully undid the buttons of her cardigan. He moved the blade to the top of her tee-shirt and pulled it down, cutting the fabric as if pulling a knife through butter. He pulled the clothing apart and looked at her bare stomach and bra. He put his face near to hers and smiled, showing his misshapen and discoloured teeth.

‘Don’t hurt me,’ she said quietly.

‘I’m gonna hurt you,’ he said. ‘I’m gonna hurt you bad.’

Suddenly a ferocious strike from the side hit his head so hard that he fell onto her. She saw the small figure raise the weapon again and smash it down on her attacker’s head. It rose up and came down on him twice more. The attacker lay across her, motionless.

‘Get up,’ said the voice.

Sarah pushed the body off and struggled to stand. She put her hand on the bookcase to steady her as she stood up.

‘Be careful,’ said the voice, ‘that’s not steady.’

Through the confusion, Sarah thought the voice was familiar. She looked at the figure on the floor.

‘He’s gone away now,’ said the voice. ‘I saw him leave.’

‘Mum?’

‘Yes, Sarah, it’s me.’

‘What are you doing?’

‘I told you to be careful, didn’t I?’

‘But I was just talking to you. How did you get here?’

‘I’m just passing through,’ she said. ‘On my way.’

‘On your way, where?’ said Sarah.

Sarah reached to the back of her head and felt that it was wet. She looked at her hand but could see nothing. The light from the lamp seemed dull. She couldn’t see her mother’s face properly. The harder she looked, the less clear the features become. Her mother stepped back.

‘I have to go,’ she said.

‘What? What do you mean?’

‘You were right. You are a grown woman but you need your family and friends around you. You need to go home.’

‘Mum,’ said Sarah. Every step Sarah took, her mother moved away. ‘How did you get here?’

‘I have to go now,’ she said. ‘Your father is calling me.’

‘I don’t understand,’ pleaded Sarah.

‘I love you, Sarah,’ she said, moving backwards, into the shadows.


(c) Steve Smith. 2007.

© thegeeza (thegeeza on OLD UKA)
UKArchive ID: 20708
Archived comments for The Poison Apple
Rupe on 03-12-2007
The Poison Apple
I enjoyed this. The menace, vulnerability and sense of isolation come through very effectively & the twist at the end is unexpected.

A couple of small points. Sarah apparently lives on Park Avenue & says she does nothing but walk the two blocks to work & back again (which implies long hours, very high flier, no time for anything but work) but on the other hand everyone knocks off at five. That's not the kind of corporate culture the reader expects - and if they do knock off at five, how come she doesn't have time for anything but a short walk home (and how can she afford to live in such a wealthy neighbourhood?).

The other point was about this line:

'Sarah suddenly realised that she had an overwhelming sense of dread hovering over her'

I know what you mean, but it's a little clumsily expressed as it stands - almost a mixed metaphor (can dread hover?) - and it states what you've already implied very well. Maybe some physical detail would work better to imply Sarah's fear (heart rate increased, throat dry, hands sweaty or something like that).

Rupe

Author's Reply:
Thanks, Rupe - glad you liked it.
Working backwards - yes, the "dread" bit, I wasn't sure of - I'll think of a better way.
For the other point - actually, I was working from my own experience, believe it or not. Not sure I'm a high flyer, but I've stayed in an apartment and hotels in Manhattan and looked out the window from high floors - having had a hectic day but watched people vanish out the door at 4 (on the dot for traders) and 5 (for support staff) in the bank where I worked. Most days people would take me places, which was nice, but sometimes (especially when staying over weekends), it's an exceptionally busy but empty place where you could die and no one would (appear) to notice or care! I'm quite a socialble person but you can't magic friends up from thin air! A friend of mine was properly seconded to NY too - unlike me, who stayed 1 or 2 weeks at a time. She felt the same as me - but more so, of course. It really is true about people going home on the dot over there - where I was anyway.
Thanks for reading and commenting.
Steve.

petersjm on 03-12-2007
The Poison Apple
I liked this, Steve. Haven't read any of your work in ages (have I just missed them or have you not been posting much?)

Couple of points: "she physically shivered" - is there any other kind of shiver? I think taking out "physically" would be something worth thinking about.

I know you were trying to give an insight into the attacker, but you gave too much - what's this about not being able to smell, to taste...? Does it need a bit of explanation? I don't know... Just struck me as something left unfinished...

The ending, as Rupe said, was somewhat unexpected, but nice. Perfect timing, though - maybe too perfect? Just a thought. Over all, a good read, though. PJ.

Author's Reply:
Hi PJ - long time no speak. I haven't been about much, put a few bits and pieces up (so to speak). Hope you've been well.
You're right about physically shivering.
The attacker - well - he's not a balanced person of course - I wanted to give him some strange characteristics to increase the sense of menace. I wanted to hint at him being the ghost, not having senses etc. too.
The ending is a bit cheesy, that's true - if that's what you mean about perfect?
Thanks for reading/commenting - have to read the others now, myself!
Cheers,
Steve.

Ginger on 03-12-2007
The Poison Apple
I thought the attacker was the ghost the whole time. I was surprised when he was actually physical. You captured her loneliness very well, and the change in the tone, the foreboding of the person in the closet was done extremely well.

One point: 'She pulled it down and fastened it up by the buttons.' How else do you fasten a cardigan? I hear you say zip! Well then she'd zip it, not fasten the cardigan.

I thought this was well executed, engrossing, and with a completely unexpected twist. Well done.

Lisa

Author's Reply:
Ah - yes, re: the cardigan - good point.
Glad you thought the ghost was the attacker - that was the intention, really.
Happy you liked it. I have some reading of the rest to do now.
Thanks for reading and commenting.
Steve.

SugarMama34 on 03-12-2007
The Poison Apple
I liked this too and thought it had been written well. The way you described the attacker with no sense of smell etc, I thought he would be the ghost, especially as he seemed to hide so well in the shadows and she walked past him ot noticing he was ther, so the twist at the end came as a surprise to me too, but an enjoyed one. Glad she got the git at the end.

Lis'. xx

Author's Reply:
Thanks, Sugar - glad you liked it. I tried to combine the menace of the attacker's warped character with a hint that it was a ghost - glad it came off for you.
Thanks for reading and commenting.
Steve.

KDR on 03-12-2007
The Poison Apple
Hi Steve,

Seems like others have already made you aware that this is in need of a rewrite/edit, so I won't bother saying it. All I will say is it looks very much like a first draft, completed and subbed to hit a deadline - or to at least be not too far behind it - and I'm guessing that that was actually the case.

For the content...there seems to be three different directions here. First, there's the woman away from home (I had to re-read; I initially thought the mother was in New York! Tiredness works wonders...) being 'got at' by the overbearing mother; second, there's the menace and suspense generated by the intruder; and third there's the saviour/ghost element. Of course the three do mesh together, but IMO they don't want to sit well together at the moment - and the ending is a bit trite.
I think there is a decent, suspenseful tale in the making here - but it is in the making. You can do (and have done) better.

Interesting sidenote about US working practices, too. We must be right mugs!

Cheers,
Karl

Author's Reply:
Hi mate, how's it going?
I agree it's in 3 stages - beginning, middle, end, I hope! - and the ending is perhaps a little corny - yes, defo. It's either that or something bad happens!
I wouldn't say it's rushed, as such, few bits in there to correct, well pointed out by the others - not sure I agree there. I did it quite quickly, and re-checked only a couple of times. Not sure why it looked like the mother was in NY? The first part was very much trying to establish characters that the reader might like / relate to in some way.
Just my observations on working practices from companies I've been involved with - the stock market closes at 4pm, you see! I'm sure other business types are different.
Thanks for reading and commenting as usual, mate.
Cheers,
Steve.

delph_ambi on 04-12-2007
The Poison Apple
"Sarah looked at the city that seemed so full of life and wondered how you joined in."

This is a superb sentence. Wish I'd written it.

'busses' is more usually 'buses'.

'were' rather than 'was' in 'I wish your father was alive', though it's always a moot point as to how grammatically correct you should be in dialogue. Up to this point though, the mother has spoken good English, so you might want to change that.

'twenty-four' needs hyphenating.

Enough nitpicks. This story is engrossing. I'm going to read on to the end now.

More than engrossing. Excellent story telling.

Author's Reply:
Thanks, Delph - I'll check those corrections at the weekend! Glad you liked it. Thanks for reading / commenting. Steve.
(damn - posted a comment as a reply first off!)

TheGeeza on 04-12-2007
The Poison Apple
Thanks, Delph - I'll check those corrections at the weekend! Glad you liked it. Thanks for reading / commenting. Steve.


Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 06-12-2007
The Poison Apple
Hello hello!

This is too confused for me. The first assumption is that its a face to face conversation, and that jolt into a the realisation that its a telephone call put me off forming a decent picture of a woman. I was too caught up in trying to formulate the scene. I think you'd be better off starting with a description of the view from the window, the city (which you do well) and then break up the conversation more with details that are more interesting than the 'Sarah laughed...' 'Sarah shook her head...' variety that we get.

Then we get the cut into the intruder's POV, but its so short, that we don't get time to really think about it, and we're back with Sarah again. I'd say stick with Sarah for so long and build her up properly, then cut to the intruder - don't use the intruder to make the story interesting, make Sarah more interesting so we care about her first. I couldn't picture her at all really.

Also, the conversation with the mother needs to show some further dimension, so that it can be reflected in her mother's final words to her. Could be so much stronger than the 'I'm off to join your father' option. This ghost has physical presence, why not give her mental presence too?

Maybe I'm being hard on this because I don't like the 'serial killer stalking young woman' line in it too much, but it did feel very unsubtle to me. Anyhoo, other people liked it, so it could be me having a bad day...

Author's Reply:
Thanks, BP. I thought perhaps I'd put too much in the beginning to establish their relationship, as it goes! You could be right about the phone being mentioned more quickly to set the scene, yes. I wanted short sharp glimpses of the nasty so that we were following Sarah almost entirely (as it is about her and her situation, not about the weirdo) and had only a sense of the type of darkness that was watching. I shall ponder!
Thanks for reading and commenting... Steve.
(B*gger, posted it as a comment first, again... senility approaches, me thinks).

TheGeeza on 06-12-2007
The Poison Apple
Thanks, BP. I thought perhaps I'd put too much in the beginning to establish their relationship, as it goes! You could be right about the phone being mentioned more quickly to set the scene, yes. I wanted short sharp glimpses of the nasty so that we were following Sarah almost entirely (as it is about her and her situation, not about the weirdo) and had only a sense of the type of darkness that was watching. I shall ponder!
Thanks for reading and commenting... Steve.

Author's Reply: