By Michelle Champagne
1st Place Winner - 2022 Flash Fiction Contest

There are many stories, well-told, of young girls fast asleep. But in this one, the bite of an apple, barely chewed, lodges like a cork in her throat. They shake her and shake her, but no pressure builds, no bile bubbles to the surface. Her airpipe is more backed up than a bathroom sink. Now she waits in a glass coffin perched upon a mountain, her dark hair unspooled across a pillow, red lips parted, cheeks as pale as pearls. From far away, she seems so pretty. As lovely as a flower. 

A bumblebee appears—disrupts our fantasy. But our beauty is safe here, secure inside her lockbox, the stench of rot sealed shut. Lazing among the blossoms, the bee finds a star of petals parted, opened and inviting. It enters only to topple forward into a damp cavity, where its wings soften faster than tissue in water. Each frantic movement, every attempt upward ends with a tumble back down, the flitting of the insect’s feet rousing the flower from its dreams. There is little to do except to wait, for time will work its magic and drown the bee in the very thing on which it feeds. 

Consider the bee once more. A different one this time. There’s a breed where the female burrows deep underground for a year of peaceful sleep. In the winter, when awakened, she tunnels her way up through the earth, her white furred face met by bright light and her beloved. A tale as sweet as honey. A tale that sours like wine.

Because just as she breaks the surface, this female bee falls forward and is swarmed by a horde of impatient males. In a few moments, she is surrounded on all sides, transformed into a buzzing ball, completely encased until one has had its opportunity to mate. 

But the lucky male, in his hurry, doesn’t see the small, pale face that rolls along the ground, now detached from its body. Her head that turned like a doorknob. Her head that spun like a stem twisted from its fruit, the crisp snap barely audible above the droning. 

Return to the apple. Must we? How it once hung, fat and round, from the forbidden tree? Or the Grecian one, that brassy gold, tossed like a bouquet into a wedding party? Or was it a pomegranate, its one seed barely licked as toll to a half-life in the Underworld? This path has been paved over with crackling tar, as thick and sparkling as the night sky. Does it even matter? Apples to apples. Dust to dust.

But one more thing—about apples, that is. As time trudged forward, this fruit transformed into something new, as all things do. For to bob for one in barrels amid the young and unwed was once a way to find a sweetheart. Or for a maiden to sleep with one under her pillow led her to dream of her future honey do. However now, on Halloween, this has become little more than urban legend, a way to find razors in the mouth—tongue cut, teeth bloodied, lips ripped at the seams. Perhaps we should speak of happier things. 

Back to the bee. There’s a myth that the queen is the one who holds the power, that she is the one who orchestrates the hive as they venture forth from flower to flower, then flower to hive. This is untrue. This is a lie. This is pure fantasy. Her power is only in her ability to reproduce, to replicate, to make and make, until, exhausted, she collapses to death.

And the apple? Some believe its power is in its very flesh, whether tart, rotted, or sweet, but it really all depends on one thing. Formed from God or goddess, woman or witch, its true power is in its ability to be consumed and to consume, its poisoned wrapper waiting to be chewed, to transform from inside out the entirety of you.  

About the author

Michelle Champagne is the Editor-in-Chief of Susurrus, A Literary Arts Magazine of the American South. She earned her Master’s in English at Wake Forest University, where she was the Graduate Fellow for Fiction Collective 2. Her work has been published in The Pinch, Ligeia, Sledgehammer Lit, and more.

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By Alex Bisker