's 2017 Horror Write-off:

An Apple A Day

Submitted by Kira M.

The first time that it happened, we put it down as an isolated yet bizarre event. The woman came into the store, looked around for maybe twenty minutes, then bought a single apple. She walked outside and ate it while sitting on the bench for the bus stop. Nothing surprising, strange or frankly memorable at all. Why would it be? This was a totally insignificant incident. 

A week and a half later, a security guard named a Brian Gallor was drawn behind the store by a disgusting. He found the woman's decapitated body on the railroad tracks. She'd thrown a blanket over herself to conceal her body as to not alert the locomotive engineer. Some scavengers like crows and stray dogs had left their mark, but the true victors of were the maggots and worms who made the body melt  like a ice cream sundae in the July heat. The police later determined her name was Fujiko M. from Hokkaido, Japan. She'd bought a one way plane ticket to Ohio, traveled alone, and then took a bus to our tiny city for no apparent reason, then killed herself behind the grocery store I worked at. She was 29 years old... she'd been the same age as me. It was all certainly a sad and strange story, yet ultimately saying nothing about the woman herself but everything about her mental state. 

However, we'd already thought about other things, and continued among our lives, 

Then something similar happened not but a month later.

Again, a single 20 something woman from Japan traveled here, bought an apple, then sat down on the train tracks. Still took a week for the rot to give her presence away. Then a woman from Thailand repeated the same exact process. A man from India was next, and after him a man and woman from Egypt. The FBI got involved, trying and hoping to string these lost souls together in some tangible way. The only thing that tied them to each other was the fact that they were foreigners who bought a plane ticket to Ohio, traveled to our town by some means, bought and ate an apple and then committed suicide. Literally the only thing that we could do was to be suspicious of anyone buying a single apple. After all, when you think about it, buying a solitary apple is kind of strange in and of itself. Who is this mysterious person who's hungry enough to buy an apple but nothing else? Why not a banana or kiwi? It's a whole process to ring up a single piece of fruit on the cash register. It's actually easier and cheaper to buy a sack of apples. So, that's what we started looking for. After two weeks of silence, a woman came in and tried to buy just an apple. 

We stalled her for as long as possible, but she didn't speak much English and she started getting upset. Finally the police arrived and escorted her to a mental health facility. All they ended up doing was harassing a Lebanese woman for 72 confusing hours. She said she didn't have any intention of suicide, she just came to our town passing through and that she was immensely sorry about buying an apple, or whatever she did wrong. Pretty much everyone felt terrible about putting this poor woman through this shit, and even though we had good intentions we ruined her experience of an American vacation. So when she came back to the store, we all apologized for everything and offered her whatever she wanted. She was just happy to learn that Americans aren't all anti-foreigner and it was all a misunderstanding. She smiled as I walked through the store with her, and she was getting a free plane ticket back home, payed for by the manager, and an apple. We all laughed nervously at first, but she was very self aware and good humored about it; she said it was too ironic not to get one now. I agreed with her that it was all so silly and walked her to the produce, were I selected the very best apple for her. She smiled and said at least she'd have an interesting story to tell her friends about back home, then she gave me her email address and said I should keep in touch. We all watched her leave and waved goodbye as she ate her fruit while we mocked shock and panic at it, and we all laughed. She then calmly walked to the busy intersection, looked both ways, and crossed the steer safely. Then she disembodied herself with knife she'd had inside her bag. Her face while doing it was one of relief and satisfaction. She pulled out nearly twelve feel of her digestive system and simply smiled...

 That was the day we stopped selling single apples to anyone. Perhaps inevitably, they evolved to thier strategy.

They switched to buying a peach plus an apple. After the Lebanese woman, twenty eight foreign visitors bought a piece of fruit and proceeded to destroy themselves in various fashions at or near the store. The fruit was the only thing linking these people together. The FBI found no evidence of internet activity between the people, and the stories were quietly hushed to dissuade potential copy cats. That's what we all thought, it was a series of grotesque copy cat suicides. The store was put in a situation where we'd just have to monitor anyone buying a single piece of fruit. Which turns out to be an unbelievably stressful workday. Suddenly, anyone buying any fruit, especially apples, immediately triggered me to have an anxiety attack. All I could think about was the Lebanese woman laughing and smiling at me right before she killed herself. A psychiatrist diagnosed me as suffering from post traumatic stress disorder. They gave me medication but I was constantly bombarded with feelings of guilt and self hatred, all triggered by a stupid piece of fucking fruit. And the suicides never stopped happening, in fact they accelerated. 

One day in October, we had a tour bus stop. People from all over the world swarmed the grocery store like a mob of ants. Most people walked out without buying anything. Four people however, bought single pieces of fruit while another eight people simply stole a piece of fruit. Some of them cut their wrists in the bathroom or behind the store. A few jumped into traffic while some caught the train. One man doused himself in lighter fluid and self immolated in the parking lot. Twelve successful deaths in less than 45 minutes. Most of the staff quit that day, including myself. I just couldn't handle this shit. I worked in a grocery store selling milk and eggs to old ladies with the chance of someone killing themselves. It was too much. Rent be damned, I wasn't about to let myself be mentally tortured for minimum wage by sharing the last few moments of a determined suicidal person buying fruit. 

I got unemployment and moved back in with my parents. Psychologically, I was a wreak. After all, I'd been the person who had checked some of these people out at the register or even given them the fruit, in some way I was responsible for their suicide, because I sold them a goddamn apple or banana or orange. I was depressed and confused.

Just... why? Why our store? Why not anywhere else? Why an apple? What led them down this path? Slowly, I became obsessed with the whole thing, with the big picture they say. I stayed awake for days and refused to eat anything that wasn't canned tuna. I started researching it relentlessly, and I found out that this wasn't the first time this type of thing had happened, not even close. In the early 1960s, it was noted that alarming numbers of Irish, Italian and Korean immigrants had done the same exact thing in New York City. And what did they buy? Fucking apples. Every single one of them bought an apple at some produce stall that doesn't even exist anymore. After that in the 1970s, Japanese and Laotian immigrants and visitors did the same thing in San Francisco. Again, the pattern continues throughout decades in the United States. But I couldn't find a single report of this kind of thing from before 1962. So I did some more digging.

In the 1930s Japan suffered a rash of suicides in Aomori. It was and still is a largely rural area who's economy is dependent upon agriculture. More sleepless nights led me to discover something peculiar about this anomaly; Aomori is also the prefecture where the tiny town of Fujisaki is located. What does this have to do with anything? Well, I'll tell you since you're so inquisitive like me; Fujisaki is where the Fuji Apple was originally hybridized and created. When was the project first started? In the late 1930s. When did it reach global markets? 1962. The single most fragile of connection that linked these doomed people is also the only link. The Fuji apple. It was there all along. Every single customer bought or intend to buy that wretched red apple, not a one of them got a Granny Smith or Red delicious. Always the Fuji. This was all information that I obtained from public documents over the internet or library, not some secret back channel. No, the FBI had to have been aware of it, at least on some level. But I didn't tell them. I couldn't risk anything, there's no telling what these people are trying to accomplish. I called every horticulturist that'd talk to me about the apple; what they knew of it's history and impact. Yet they all repeated the same basic facts as if fed a script. Except for one. The only clue he gave me was that the apples quote "Taste better from their native land." That one clue captivated me. So I sold my car and drained my savings account and flew out to Aomori. 

That was four days ago. Four confusing days ago...

And so, here I am, at a hotel in the middle of a foreign country. I toured the original orchid where it was raised, despite not understanding the tour guide. And I've literally just returned from a walk across the street, to a small stand selling the Fuji Apple. And as I'm writing this, eating this apple, I realize something. Something I just... it's like a orgasmic feeling. Like this surge of repressed emotion has become a tidal wave, all the negative emotions and fear and hatred, the anger and confusion; they're all gone. It's like I'm thinking clearly for the first time in my entire life. I don't have any regrets and I love my family and friends, 

I'm just so excited and happy to feel this! It's so obvious now, like a magic eye picture suddenly coming into view. I don't have any regrets! I never have. This is why I'm here. In this life at this time at this moment. I am me. And I must do that I need. There's only one me, and I love you. I swear I do. It's not your fault or anyone else's, I'm consciously aware and choosing my destiny. I love you. And I have no regrets. I loved all of you. I've bought a lovely kitchen knife from a man in the city. I've spent the better part of the day sharpening it. This knife is my ink pen. With it, I decide to write the last chapter of my life. All stories end, and I'm choosing mine.

I love you. And I have no regrets. I love you. Let my story inspire you. Freedom awaits. AAnd I'll see you soon.

Love, Matthew K. Fields.