Art featured by Seth Engstorm
High up above, amidst the lush greenery of the mountains, he saw it. A beautiful cottage. It was surrounded by a garden of a variety of colourful flowers. They were red, pink, yellow, lavender and maroon. There were trees of various kinds of fruits that he had only seen photographs of, and some that he had never even heard of.
And then his eyes fell on it. A magnificent thing. With a trunk of a deep shade of purple, it bore fruits that had patterns of purple and nude. Judging on its shape, he felt it could be a distant relative of the dragon fruit. But its leaves were green with purple thorns on them.
Lost in its beauty, he slowly advanced towards the tree.
A sound from his left broke his trance. As he darted his eyes towards the source of the sound, he saw her. A beautiful girl clad in an off-white dress came into view. Her hair in a loose plait that hung behind her, she had a calm serene expression adorning her face. She looked at the tree with much admiration and then made her way towards it.
“Hello,” he said.
She lost her balance, tripped and caught a nearby tree for support. Clutching her chest, she took deep breaths and looked at him. This is when he realised that until now she had failed to notice his presence.
“Please don’t scare me like that!” she said, hand still over her heart.
“I am so sorry! I didn’t mean to,” he said as he approached her.
“That’s okay. I don’t get many visitors. That’s why I was caught by surprise.”
She immediately began collecting all the fruits that had fallen off the basket she was carrying. He bent to help.
“Is this your house?”
She nodded at his question.
“And the garden?”
“All mine,” she replied.
“And you live here alone?” he asked further.
He notice her hesitate for a moment before she said, “Of course not. I live here with my father.”
He smiled and nodded. She continued, “But right now he has gone to the market to get some supplies. He will come home anytime soon.”
“Okay,” he slightly chuckled.
She furrowed her eyebrows and said, “Why are you laughing? It is the truth!”
“I believe you!” he smiled again.
She shook her head and started walking away from him. But his curiosity rose again as he noticed her gaze at the beautiful tree. He asked, “What tree is this?”
She went to the tree and touched its trunk. Looking up, she peered amidst its high branches and said, “I do not know, really. But I call it ‘The Sweet One’.”
She started walking around the tree, her eyes still on its high branches.
She continued, “She has been here since a very long time. No one knows who planted it here or how it got here.”
As a ray of sunlight found its way through the branches and fell on her face, she said, “She’s beautiful, isn’t she?”
“Yes…” he replied, unsure if he was talking about the tree or the girl. He found it difficult to decide which one he would go for.
Directing attention back towards the tree, he said, “I wonder what the fruit tastes like.”
She turned her face immediately towards him. Increasing her pace, she closed the distance between them and pointed an angry finger at him.
“You must absolutely not eat its fruits. It’s forbidden!”
While he stood in shock at the sudden change in her demeanor, she retraced her steps and began walking away.
“Why?” he whispered, still confused.
“Some fruits are such. You can only see and admire. But never eat.”
He was startled by her answer, surprised that she had heard his near whisper.
So I’ll have to pick either her or the fruit. He thought.
“I have to go now.”
He was brought back to reality when she spoke.
She walked towards the forest, carrying her basket with her. She turned around one last time and said, “I think you should also leave. It is getting dark and the forest isn’t safe for those who are new.”
Then she disappeared behind the bushes. He thought, I guess I pick the fruit.
He watched from afar as she made her way into the cottage.
She definitely lives alone. There is no father.
Though initially it was purely out of curiosity, now he wanted a taste of that fruit just to get back at her.
A miracle of nature of that sort shouldn’t be kept to oneself. It should be shared, he thought.
It was quite dark by then and he made way to the tree in silence. Only the chirping of crickets could be heard in the darkness. Far away he could see the lit windows of the cottage. As he got closer to the tree he noticed that the chirping was not heard much. But a beautiful scent tickled his nose. It got stronger as the tree neared. It wouldn’t take a genius to figure out that the tree was producing the scent.
“What are you?” he whispered to the tree. Moonlight that fell upon its leaves and seeped through the gap between its branches had painted quite a beautiful picture. He smiled and said, “The sweet one.”
He raised his arm towards a fruit that hung on a low lying branch and plucked it.
He retracted his arm, the fruit still clutched in his hand, when he felt a scratch. He walked to an area with more light to see where he was hurt. Sure enough. It was a scratch and tiny drops of blood had started to appear.
Ignoring the scratch he turned his attention towards the fruit.
It was soft. He smelled it. Sure enough, it was the fruit that produced the smell. And then he immersed his teeth on its surface and took a bite.
It was sweet, but not too sweet. It was the right amount of sweet: the kind you would never get bored of.
The flesh inside was white with a dark seed in the middle, which could have been purple. he couldn’t ide
As he aimed for another bite, he started feeling it. A little strange, a little dizzy. He walked to the tree and sat beneath it, clutching his head. He was feeling sleepy and tired. He couldn’t control his eyes as they drooped and closed.
A terrible sound woke him up. Still feeling tired, he slowly opened his eyes. He wanted to rub his eyes but realised that he couldn’t move. And then he saw her.
He could hear the sound of her sharpening her knives. Even in the light from the fireplace that painted the room a dim orange, she looked beautiful. But looking at himself he realised that he was on the floor, tied. up with a rope.
“Oh good! You are up!” she said as she saw that he was awake.
“You must be hungry. Why else would you eat the fruit I had clearly asked you not to?”
He watched her, confused and scared.
Looking around, he saw it was a small kitchen, quite an old style of architecture.
Is she taking revenge for not obeying her? He wondered.
“You had one job. Just walk away from her. Walk away from my paradise.”
The fact that she was smiling throughout this conversation started to freak him out.
“But no. You had to intervene. This is the problem with humans. So much greed and gluttony!”
She leaned against the kitchen counter, the freshly sharpened knife clutched in one hand.
“But, incidentally, that worked out for me. And I haven’t eaten properly in days! Fruits and vegetables cannot give you all the strength you need, you know? There is a limit to which I can tolerate bird meat.”
She walked to him slowly and he squirmed back in reaction. Squatting on the floor, she placed the knife on his chin and whispered, “But human meat tastes the best.”
As his eyes turned round in shock, she laughed and stood up. Walking away to the counter she said, “I love her.”
Noting the confusion on his face, she added, “I’m talking about the tree. She is just so majestic. She has been providing me food for generations now. Once in a while a human – just like you – passes through this forest and lusts after the fruit. You see, she is sweet but toxic. She puts you to sleep within seconds. Just give me a second.”
While the girl poured water into a huge container, he looked around. He wanted to find something – just about anything that can help him get out.
She continued, “Did I not clearly warn you not to eat the fruit? Did you not see the thorns on the leaves? Did you not notice the distance crickets keep from her?”
She placed the container filled with water on the large stove fueled by firewood. While her back was against him he saw an old rusted container with a sharp edge placed by his side. He wriggled towards it without her noticing.
“I’m sorry but I think you deserve this,” she said, a disappointed look on her face.
“But…your father might come home soon…” he said gathering all the energy he had, just hoping he would have been wrong earlier.
“What father?” she asked.
The tiny bit of hope he had died when she replied so.
She continued, “He was fed to the tree a long time ago! I thought it was obvious that my father being in the market was a lie.”
“Fed to the tree?”
Breathing in, she closed her eyes and patted her chest. Then she opened her eyes, put on a smile and said, “Of course. The tree gave you to me, so I have to reward the tree with your bones. It’s the law of nature,” she shrugged as if it was obvious.
She walked to him and sat beside him on the floor. She grazed his arm with her hand and said, “I really didn’t want to do this to you.” She moved further close and whispered, “You know, because you are so dashing,” she chuckled.
“But I have to,” she said pushing the old rusted container away from him, “For my survival.”
She backed off from him. Closing her eyes, she leaned against the wall beside him. He tried to raise his leg in the hope to kick her. But he couldn’t. The toxins in the forbidden fruit were too strong.
“You know the meat tastes the best when the prey is still alive? By that logic, I should slice off little pieces from you before you actually die.”
Her words let him confirm that this girl was crazy.
“I’m not crazy. I am just in a co-dependent relationship with the tree. Just because our food pattern is different, that doesn’t make me less deserving for survival. If it did, all the vegetarians would have killed you a long time ago.”
Watching the knife in her hand, he accepted that this was his end. He cursed those few minutes that led him to eat the fruit. He should have just left the tree alone. It was too beautiful to be eaten. Nature often provides beauty to hunters as a method to attract preys and hide its ulterior motive. He knew that now.
She trailed off as if lost in some serious thought. He looked up at her with pleading eyes.
“If you beg enough, I might let you live.”
“Please let me go. Please! I will never do something like this again,” he begged her, trying not to fall asleep.
“More,” she pouted.
“I will do anything you want me to do. Anything. I will not tell anyone of this tree, or this forest, or even about my trekking trip. Please don’t kill me.”
“Now you are talking!” she sat up and said, “I’m sorry I can’t let you go.”
He hung his head as silent tears wet his cheeks.
She watched him and his handsome features for a moment, then said, “However, there is one thing you could do for me.”
He looked up at her in doubt.
“Excuse me! Please stop!”
A voice from behind the bushes startled the young girl. She straightened the huge backpack on her back and followed the voice. That’s when she saw the very handsome man standing by the tree. As she stared at his perfection, he walked closer to the purple tree and said, “Please do not pluck the fruit from this tree. It is too special for its fruit to be eaten.”
The young girl shook her head, being brought back from the spell she was caught in. She tucked a strand of hair behind her ear and asked, still a little mesmerized by his presence, “And why is that?”
He looked at her, gave her a sly smile and said, “Some fruits are such. You can only see and admire. But never eat.”