Fruitpicking

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Other  |  House: Booksie Classic

Two brothers wander through their war ravaged home, scavenging to feed themselves. But all may not be as it seems.
The fruit doesn't pick itself.

 

Fruitpicking

 

We found one, lush and tactile. Digging through its stiff, black fingers we found a soggy clot of ripe blackberries. The soft kind that stains your fingers sanguine if you squeeze them too hard.

Easy pickings, straight into the rusty old lunchbox. 

Best carry on, the fruit doesn’t pick itself, Toad’s voice proclaims.

At least nobody’s ever seen fruit pick itself. 

Plodding on, the fruit clink, clink, clinks in our old lunchbox. We can smell its sickly scent creeping from the tin sarcophagus. 

All the fruit we pick stinks. It stinks of rot. But not a fermenting kind of rot, or a mouldy kind of rot; more a yellowy-brown, bloated kind of rot on an evening in July, maybe August, but certainly not September.

We can’t think of many things much better than rotting fruit. Yummy, yummy festering blackberries, hot from the putrid sun.

It’s hot today. Boiling, even. The sun scowls her blazing eyes from the heavens as we trek through the blighted landscape of crumbling hovels and scattered wreckage. Her heat sticks to us, clings to our skin like syrup and stabs us with cancer that spreads like ants over a spoiling carcass. But there’s plenty of fruit that needs picking, it would be a shame to let it all go to waste.

The sand dances through the air, tripping and falling like a drunken ballerina. It gets in your eyes and your ears and your hair and your mouth and your shoes and just about everywhere. That’s why it's so hard to find fruit sometimes. Especially when it's this hot. Boiling, even.

But Toad finds another. This one's not as good as the last, it's scorched around the edges; black, charred, smouldering and singed. There will still be fruit on it though, there always is. 

Figs this time. The precious little dumplings feel like gold in our hands, plump and gooey like disgorged eyeballs. They stink, obviously, they reek. Some of them are slick with an indistinguishable muck. Yellow and red and black slime that clings to your fingers like honey. 

Into the rusty old lunchbox.

People will pay a lot for certain kinds of fruit. Lots and lots and lots for the things me and my brother find decaying in the dust bowls, from cracks in the tarmac and bogs in the woods. 

We love picking fruit together, filling our old, tattered lunchbox with sweet, glistening, gems. We do it every day, probably. 

The fruit doesn’t pick itself. 

There’s never any shortage of fruit, that’s what most people don’t realise. You just have to look in the right places. Fruit can grow in buildings, you know. A family might be living in their ten by five annex, boiling their rice and beating their children, same as always, but the next day the whole room could be full of it. 

Rancid fruit.

The next one we find is surrounded by dogs and rats burying their scabby snouts into our spoils, sniffing for something to fester inside their stomachs and make them shit blood. They clamber and claw at each other, yipping and yowling for their chance to gobble up whatever scraps they uncover.

We hurl rocks at them. Toad hits one of the dogs in the head; it howls with beautiful agony as its skull cracks under the impact and a dark blotch begins to form like a Rorschach test above its eye. The emaciated vermin scamper away like children fleeing the belt, snarling in submission.

We sift through the festering mass of maggot filled filth, pulling out handfuls of fetid blackberries that squirm with enthusiasm as we dump them into our lunchbox. The maggots slither over each other in a frenzy, as if locked within an orgy of mucus and rotten flesh. 

I slice through the reluctant clusters with the blunt dagger we salvaged from our father’s corpse after dysentery clawed the last ounce of life out of his vile body. The clumps crack off like the ancient branches of a dying oak tree, splitting with a satisfying crunch. 

Once we’re finished, I chew whatever morsels I can savour from underneath my fingernails.

Yummy yummy. 

Rotten fruit.

You don’t think they mind, do you? Toad whistles a tuneless hymn that echoes uncomfortably through the darkening streets.

It’s only fair isn’t it? We’ve got to eat something, and they have no use for it anymore, so why would they mind? 

Besides, they’re dead, they couldn’t even if they wanted to.

Toad’s brittle song continues to tumble through the hollow avenues surrounding us. It's the only thing that we can hear, other than the menacing flutter of sand brushing against our clothes, or the occasional scuttle of a starving rodent.

It's not always this quiet. Most days the sand and the rats are drowned out by the thunderous barks of machine guns spitting supersonic wasps out of their unmuzzled jaws. Usually, this chorus of steel and sulphur is answered by the cries of mothers losing children, and the mortified moans of the newly limbless.

We love it though, the endless violence. 

The merciless, unjustifiable violence.

Without it, we’d have nothing to eat. It’s what kills them, after all, the violence.

The fruit doesn’t pick itself. 

We’re almost home, the lunchbox is very nearly full, we’ve certainly got enough to eat tonight. But then Toad spots it.

A mound of earth, adorned with a dark crumbling stone at its summit.

Jackpot, I think is the word. 

I get our collapsible shovel out of our tattered old backpack. The one that keeps the lunchbox safe. 

We start digging.

Dig, dig, digging.

Frenzied, we assault the ground, me with the shovel and Toad with his bare hands. Adrenaline surges through us with unbridled passion as we exhume the treasures that have so cruelly been hidden under the conceited turf.

The shovel cuts the earth, stabs the earth. Lascirates the earth.

Carves the earth, fuelled by the fury of our starving hands.

We can smell it before we see it.

The foul stench of worm eaten flesh, unevacuated shit, burst out of bloated stomachs and the sickly sweet aroma of insect larvae squirming inside of hollow eye sockets and dilapidated anuses. It was a dazzling bouquet. Flawless.

Immaculate. 

And the treasures. Oh, the treasures, enough to fill one hundred lunchboxes. A banquet fit for kings. 

The fruit doesn’t pick itself.

We dive into our spoils headfirst. Cutting and hacking and slashing and butchering our find into handful-sized chunks, throwing it directly into our backpack as our lunchbox fills to the brim before we’ve hardly scratched the surface of our operation. Worms, carrion beetles, whatever creatures have settled in our pit of gold all go into the bag. We don’t mind sharing, at least a little bit.

 Maggots find their way into our clothing, slithering over our perspiring skin, relishing in the newfound warmth of our bodies. We hardly notice, not that we mind anyway, maggots like fruit too you know. 

Finally, we run out of space, vittles spilling out of our backpack. 

We dance the rest of the way, giddy with excitement for the feast we’ll prepare upon our return home.

It’s dark now.

We know the way back though, we’ve done it a hundred times. The moon smiles a pillar of pale light at us. He’s proud of us. We can tell. The stars too, they wink and applaud us with their twinkling eyes, scattered across the sky like sunburn.

It’s cold. Freezing, even. Now that the wicked sun has buried her head under the horizon the cold crept in like a spirit, passing through us with the wind, chilling us to the bone, stealing a morsel of our soul with every passing cry. The creatures of the night sang with the spirit. They let loose a chorus of symphonic ecstasy at our victory, for they celebrated with us. They too knew the exquisite taste of our bounty.

We were almost there, a dim light flickered in the derelict concrete hovel we called home. Hardly able to contain ourselves we broke into a run with watering mouths and rumbling stomachs.

Our pitiful mother already has the water boiling as we burst through the door, throwing our bag to the ground, spilling out our days toil at her feet. She gazes at what we presented with unchecked bewilderment; her pallid face split into a gleeful grin. 

She picks up a skull sized chunk and sniffs it. Disgust contorts her face into an ugly mess of folded skin. 

It’s perfect. 

Our sister lay at her side, covered in sweat, shivering and moaning in agony as whatever phage she’s contracted ate away at her like woodlice in a sodden tree trunk. Her skin the colour of raw cotton and her eyes sunken into her skull as if afraid of the pale moonlight. A pathetic sight. 

Weak and unwanted. 

We begin to prepare our feast. 

My brother and I separate the fruit from the rings, watches and spare clothes that some of them come with. 

Clink, clink clink, in they go to the tin can. We’ll sell them to the soldiers as presents for their wives back home. For a reasonable price of course, they’re the ones that make it possible after all.

The water rumbles with enthusiasm rolling over itself like a great sea serpent demanding sacrifices. We offer the sacrifices with equal fervour, dropping each handful in as if they were holy relics, to be prepared with the utmost delicacy. 

The aroma begins to fill the room. The intoxicating scent of flesh falling off of bone, of marrow dissolving in clumps, of intestines unfurling like twine, eager to release their hidden flavours. 

The skin we removed like banana peel lays across a wire rack that sat below the boiling pot. It crackles and wheezes as it basks in the purifying heat of the twirling flames. They are a delicacy, the ambrosia of our endeavours. 

We sing and dance and frolic and howl around the fire, desperate to gorge ourselves on our royal banquet. 

Finally, we give in. 

We attack the feast as one, as a pack of wild beasts, tearing at what we had primitively prepared with inhuman vigour. We gulp the broth of bones like water down the gullet of a wanderer stumbling onto a meagre oasis after baking in the hot sun for days. The flesh we tear without hesitation using our cracking fingernails and blackened teeth. And the skin, the delectable skin we crunch with care absorbing every moment of its soul-destroying beauty.

The bitter sourness of decay perfectly complements the flavour of dirt that has keenly mixed in with our sacred broth. It shivers through your whole body, consumes you as you consume it, enchanting your senses and invading your mind. 

Nothing could ever compare to yummy, yummy rotten fruit.

We are Kings and Queens, enjoying a delectable meal and fine company after a hard day's toil. 

It was a beautiful ritual of blood and bones. 

Savage. 

Exquisite.

Eventually, the ceremony comes to a close. We lay, exhausted, across the cold stone floor, stuffed with the evening’s spread. The fire dying, the spirit of cold sneaks into our home with clandestine indifference, it skulks in through our single paneless window through which the moon glares at us, his face blistered with abhorrence. 

The creatures of the night fall silent; no crickets chirp, no rats rustle, no worms grumble through the unforgiving earth.

Suddenly, I realise, in our exhilaration we had neglected to offer anything to my sister, who lay, pathetic and infected, by my side. 

I bring the boiling pot to her, and offer her the paltry dregs that remain.

She doesn’t accept. 

She doesn't even move. 

I feel her face, the baleful spirit of cold has found his way into her dilapidated body. Into her blood, which has come to a reluctant standstill in her veins, her breath, which lays stagnant in her lungs and her eyes, glazed, enshrouded in cold’s fatal mist gaze into the unforgiving void.

The girl is dead. 

By now Toad is at my side. We stare at the pale imp below us, and then at each other, our faces frozen in astonishment. The black pits of his eyes are empty, empty as the abandoned homes that form our hunting ground.

He gets up and crosses to the other side of the room at a laggard pace, picking something up off the rickety old table.

He returns to my side, kneeling next to me and our dead sister, and places it in my hand.

I look down to see the blunt, useless dagger we took off our father.

I return my eyes to Toad. His own eyes gleam with zeal burning away the shallow emptiness that had previously occupied them, his mouth split into a jubilant grin.

The fruit doesn’t pick itself.

 


Submitted: November 09, 2020

© Copyright 2020 J C Elliot. All rights reserved.

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Comments

Ann Sepino

I love how descriptive and immersive this is, and I love how it gets darker and darker as things progress. The ending is on point for what happens during the bulk of the story. Not sure if the spacing of the first paragraph was intended, but overall it flows smoothly. Either way, it's dark and very well done!

Tue, November 10th, 2020 1:27am

Author
Reply

Thank you so much! I'm really glad you liked it!
I had so much trouble formatting this from Google Docs, but I think it's pretty much fine now that I've done a bit of editing.

Tue, November 10th, 2020 1:30pm

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