The Golden Apple
It took place at midnight, on the field across the bank.
My acquaintance stepped out of the boat, restlessly grinding his teeth. He clutched his pistol by his side.
On the other side of the field, I saw his enemy, and his second beside him. I recognised their faces: they were decent people from the town, folks I had eaten and spoken with before. We were the wrongdoers on this night.
I met with his second in the middle.
‘What is this all about, friend?’ I said.
‘For honour,’ he replied solemnly.
‘Damn this honour,’ I said, but he was already walking away.
The duellists faced each other, with pistols primed. We stood in a clearing, willow trees and a full moon the only witnesses to the affair.
Then the most unlikely thing happened. My acquaintance suddenly cried out. He pointed to something in the enemy’s hand. There, in the palm of his left hand, a golden apple glimmered in the light. His pistol still hung from his waist.
My partner was mesmerised with the object. He began to shake, then splutter, then gibber nonsense. The golden apple had poisoned his mind.
‘For God’s sake,’ I said, ‘it’s only an apple.’
‘It’s beautiful,’ he sobbed. ‘Look at it!’
‘Get a hold of yourself!’
I looked at the golden apple again. It shone dimly under the moonlight, but it was the size of an ordinary apple. I couldn’t see the point.
His enemy stood, staring, while my acquaintance fell apart before our eyes. He could not look away from the apple and collapsed to his knees. His pistol hit the ground with a thud.
I turned away in disgust. I never wanted this damn duel. Nobody told me of its cause and I didn’t care anyway. I was roped in by honour, friendship and favours I owed. Damn honour, and damn favours owed. They lead people down the road to hell.
There was nothing any of us could do. With every passing hour, he became less human, more of a mess. But still, he could not tear his eyes from the golden apple.
Dawn broke. Still, his enemy stood, holding out the terrible object, while his second observed. My acquaintance had stopped responding to my questions and demands long ago and hadn’t spoken in hours.
Eventually, the doctor arrived in his coach and asked what had happened. He had expected a winner and a loser, the loser presumed to have been killed. I pointed to the two men and explained.
‘He has lost his mind at that golden apple.’
The doctor looked over.
‘But it is just an apple.’ I shook my head.
The doctor took out his tools and began his examination where my acquaintance lay, still crumpled on the grass. After a moment, he decided that he needed to go to the hospital. We had to leave our boat behind and take the coach the long way to the city. As we pulled away, the enemy remained, still as a statue under the morning sun, holding that cursed golden apple. I never saw him again.
My acquaintance never recovered. Once he arrived in hospital, the hallucinations began. Then his madness. The doctors diagnosed him with a stroke. High blood pressure, they said. Terrible in stressful situations.
I visited him often, then less over time. Whenever I visited, he would always ask about the golden apple. I told him I hadn’t seen it again, but he refused to accept this and became angry. My answers became more evasive and defensive. Eventually I stopped visiting him altogether. His instability was beginning to infect me.
It doesn’t take much to break a man. Especially when, in a clearing, at midnight, under a moonlit sky, a mind cannot untangle itself from an obsession.
Now, I cannot fix my mind on anything, or anyone. This is how I have guaranteed my freedom.