There Was No Apple When Mankind Fell

This story originally appeared in Penumbric Speculative Fiction Magazine in December 2021

We started so well. In the circle’s center grew a great glass sphere: the world we were creating. Leviathan wound round the globe, biting his tail, turning, binding.

We were the circle, and we stood front to back, tightly packed. We bent our knees and eased back, groping with our behinds. And as we knew must happen but were afraid would elude us, each of us alit on the knees of the person behind them. We became infinite and unbuttressed.

We improved. Each person shuffled their right foot forward. Then the left foot. Then a small step with the right foot, then the left. We walked seated in this chain with as many pillars as legs.

We thought, “Marvelous!” We exclaimed, “It’s working!” We dreamed, “None are crushed, none overburdened, none abandoned. Each of us nurtures and is nurtured in turn.”

Inside the globe arose a maelstrom borne of our combined energies and collective yearnings. The wind twisted and switched back, desultory and meaningless. Then it caught momentum from us and began blowing in earnest in the direction we walked. As it found itself, so it pulled the globe with it, and the globe began crawling around an axis.

Through the globe we smiled, talked, collaborated, instantiated, and agreed. Our words became wave-particles. They gathered energy from the core and deposited whorls on the surface in transit from one person to another.

And then someone sneezed. One simple, involuntary expression of individual need. They say sneezing makes the heart stop. We didn’t know who sneezed, but the “achoo!” was muffled as if they knew it was a death stroke. Their legs trembled with the expulsion. The next person felt his support wobbling, turned halfway to see if his seat was still assured, and threw the woman in front of him. In that moribund instant, panic gripped us, and our hearts stopped.

And then we were no longer one. Crones shattered brittle bones against the ground. Corpulent men landed on small children. Many fell inward, clutching at the glass globe for salvation. It spun them with the momentum we had given it, slammed them into neighbors, and dislocated shoulders. It teetered. Leviathan writhed as the globe lost its axis, careened, and flung itself to the ground, riven into countless shards and lacerating dust, releasing the storm within.

The rushing wind gathered moans, sharp cries, and shouts, then sowed them again far from their origins. Someone cried, “Who did that?” and the question caught in a whirling eddy. One woman keened and others joined her as they cut their elbows and buttocks on the shards of the razed dream.

“Wait!” one pleaded against the lamentation and the wind. “Surely if we try again we can get it right. Get up everyone and form a circle!” He veered and swerved like a bee in flight, repeating, “Get up! Form a circle!” and dragging people bodily off the ground. When he turned his back, the raging wind devoured each person he had helped.

“Someone must pay for this!” declared another. He appointed himself judge and heard grievances as the tempest swept victims by. The accusations were all variations on, “He dropped me and it hurt.” Since the accusers were right, the judge soon stopped listening. He pointed a finger like a talon at anyone close by and cawed, “Guilty!”

The cold shards of the globe drew warm blood and awakened in others the instinct to escape, but they lacked the strength and direction. Like drowning men, they hauled themselves onto the nearest warm body in self-preservation, driving the razor edges deeper into their victim’s flesh.

But I watched, unsure of what lay ahead, yet sure it could never be what it should. Seated just inside the eye of a human hurricane, I saw billions whirling around me. Some grabbed at each other, twisting and reaching, wanting and needing, but not finding. Others, hopeless and limp, were animated only by the wind. And I knew this storm would not cease; the best we could do was find peace in the suffocating winds and tormenting shards. I collected all of my hopes, all of the dreams I had shared, all of the comfort I had thought could be freely exchanged. I collected them into one deep breath, and I expelled it in a sigh, leaning back into the wind’s grasping arms.