Flash fiction by Gillian Church
He couldn’t survive on apples alone, but sinking his teeth through that smooth, shiny skin and into the crisp, juicy flesh gave him the closest thing to joy a creature like him was capable of experiencing.
Every day Callie’s mother packed an apple in her lunch bag, and every day Callie tossed it into the woods behind her school. She never thought about what happened to them, and even if she had, she’d have assumed some wild animals had enjoyed it. “Better them than me,” she would have thought.
She might not have been so cavalier if she knew who she was really feeding. The monster who lived behind the school had grown accustomed to his regular, sweet treats. He survived on rats, worms, squirrels…whatever he could catch and shove into his slavering craw.
Now he waited for the young girl with the bouncy black curls, ready to snatch the apple out of the dirt the second she threw it. He couldn’t survive on apples alone, but sinking his teeth through that smooth, shiny skin and into the crisp, juicy flesh gave him the closest thing to joy a creature like him was capable of experiencing.
Weekends were difficult for the monster. No school meant no apples. His forested home had a small smattering of berries, but they were bitter and mushy and wholly unpleasant. He gnawed on his rodents and his bugs, and when he saw children heading into the school building Monday morning, his stomach would begin to growl in anticipation of his lunchtime treat.
Callie obliviously carried on with this routine all through the school year. The monster didn’t understand much about time or human conventions, and did not understand that as June drew to a close, the children would stop coming to school for the summer and Callie would stop throwing her apples.
He thought it must be another weekend at first. But the weekend grew longer and longer, and he grew angrier and hungrier. How he longed to taste that sweetness again and feel his mouth fill up with that juice!
It consumed him. First his dreams were filled with visions of the girl with the curly hair and her apples, but soon they began to seep into his waking thoughts. He would hear her laughter though it wasn’t really there. He would see her walking down to the forest edge only to blink to see an empty pathway. He would loll into a stupor in the summer heat, and imagine the taste of the apples and the face of the girl and become enraged when he regained what clarity he was capable of and realized it wasn’t real.
Soon his delusions and dreams began to stop differentiating where the girl ended and the apple began. He imagined biting through her rosy cheeks and into the crunchy sweetness of apple flesh. He imagined apples giggling with a girlish voice as they bounced onto the dirt at his feet. He became so obsessed with Callie and the apples that he forgot to eat anything else, which only sent him deeper into his delusions and further into his ravenous rage.
Callie couldn’t have known any of this, which is why on one sweltering August afternoon, she and her friend Beth decided to cut through the forest on their walk home from town, desperate for the trees’ shade. They carried only a little pocket money—no water, no food. But they chatted and laughed and knew it wasn’t far to go.
When the monster heard the familiar laughter, he began to salivate. Apples. But the girl and her friend did not slow, did not stop, and did not throw him any apples.
He howled, a disgusting, guttural sound somewhere between a screaming hog and a baying hound. The girls stopped short upon hearing it, giving him the opportunity to snatch Callie with his wicked claws. Beth stumbled backwards, wide-eyed and dumbstruck, as the horrible creature dug his yellowed teeth into Callie’s round cheek, which he had seen as red and shiny as an apple.
The monster was surprised that the skin was not as smooth and firm as apple skin, but soft and chewy. Likewise, the flesh beneath surprised him. It was far from crisp, but it was tender and, like an apple, it filled his mouth with juice. And this juice, he noted, was far sweeter than any apple he had ever eaten. Callie tried to fight, but the monster was huge, strong, and frenzied in his newfound hunger for human flesh.
Beth managed to escape while the creature attended to his feast, but nobody believed her when she explained what she saw. There’s no such thing as monsters, they would say, and there’s no sign of anything happening in the woods behind the school. Maybe she had run away as teenagers sometimes do. Maybe someone had grabbed her and done God-knows–what. But nobody acknowledged that awful, hungry beast in the woods. Nobody except Beth, that is, and the occasional unlucky child to wander too close to the forest’s edge.