The city of apples and horses sat on the edge of the steppes, paved roads for cars and dirt tracks for caravans leading into and out of it like spokes in a wheel. Only a generation ago, the city had escaped forced collectivism and isolation, but now the days were bold and new.
Chef Shane’s chef shirt was chef white with black chef piping along the front and collar. He had arrived in the city to taste local delicacies such as horse steak with apple sauce and sausages made from horse guts as thick as a man’s arm. Chef Shane had been looking forward to visiting the city for a long time, but when he reached the main food market, his expectation wilted.
There, apples were piled up into steep cones on wide brass platters; apples with skin and flesh as hard and pale as white marble, cream-colored apples with gray freckles, bright yellow apples with thick skin, deep yellow apples with flesh in the same gilt hue, apples with one yellow and one orange side, apples that blushed a gentle pink, red apples with a dry surface, apples that had the color and sheen of red wine, light green apples with thin skin, dark green apples that shone with their own waxes, there were apples so sour they made the insides of Chef Shane’s cheeks contract, sweet and sugary apples, apples with dry and powdery flesh, apples that were so full of juice it flowed out when Chef Shane’s teeth crunched through their skin, there were spring apples, summer apples, fall apples, winter apples, apples as large as a human skull and as small as an infant’s fist, apples of all sizes and varieties, and some that didn’t exist anywhere else on the planet. There were fruits that looked like tangerines, but tasted like apple, vegetables that looked like tomato, but also tasted like apple and meat that looked like horse ribs, but tasted suspiciously like apple. But no real meat, horse or otherwise. Because the city owed its money and future to apples, apples now meant everything to everyone.
Soon Chef Shane’s belly was aching from apple acid, and bits of sharp apple peel had lodged between his teeth and cut his tongue. He yearned for the protein that a few fried cuts of giant horse gut sausage would have provided to make him forget apples for a while.
But that evening a thunderstorm rolled over the mountains, like a flash flood on the plains. The lightning bolts were so strong and sudden, they glowed bluish-white instead of yellow. The electrical discharges stretched out like spider legs from the clouds and scuttled quickly towards the city, bringing a rain that was a wall in the night. Human-produced electricity tried to keep up with the storm, but lost the battle, and everything became so loud and strobe-lit that no one could hear each other and stuttered about in slow-motion.
Because apples were the city’s fate and pride, the inhabitants had placed a monument, a giant gold-plated steel apple, on a tall foothill that gazed haughtily down on the city. Now the monument defied the drenching darkness with its bright metal skin. But when the lightning spotted the fat metal orb, it lunged at the apple and used it to dig itself deep into the ground. The shock made the apple leap out from the steel claw that clasped it to its pedestal like a diamond in a wedding ring. From there the giant fruit rushed down the hill, bounced off a truck full of gleaming green apples, crushed a restaurant that sold apple cider in seven different strengths, killing fourteen people and injuring another twenty-eight, before it careened loudly on.
Chef Shane had to throw himself down to avoid the giant apple. When he got up, steppe dust and apples made by horses adorned his previously elegant chef’s uniform.
“That’s it, I’ve had it with apples!” Chef Shane yelled and threw his tall chef’s hat into the ground.
“Our beloved apple,” the city’s inhabitants shouted, “it’s running away!” But no one dared step between the giant fruit and its newly acquired self-governance. The golden orb rushed and tumbled and sped down the streets until it came to the permanent two-story steeple-roofed houses in the suburb and the temporary round tent-houses at the edge of the city, and continued out onto the steppe past the grazing horses and the sleeping dogs and the marmot-hunting falcons
Chef Shane escaped to a country with red pagodas and green tea leaves stored inside pink lotus blossoms on white rivers. The city’s inhabitants didn’t try to retrieve their lost monument. With so many dead and injured people, a true national disaster, apples would never be the same again, so they had to find something else to be proud of. But on loud and thunderous nights, nomads on their way to the winter pastures sometimes saw a huge golden fruit running on bright blue crackling feet towards an uncertain, yet glee-filled future.