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The Fruit of the Baskervilles

by David C. Kopaska-Merkel

A tangerine is lurking in the stairwell. Steven snatches the mail out of the box mounted on the wall and dashes up to his room. He fumbles trying to unlock the door. The tangerine is hopping up the stairs: thump, thump, thump! It's coming closer and closer; sweat's beading on his brow. Finally, the key goes in. He lunges into the room and slams the door. His heart pounds. He leans his ear against the door. The hall is silent, but he knows the truth. The fruit is out there.

The sun sets. A murmur of avocados in the street below. With nightfall it becomes a killing grove. No one goes out after dark anymore. The table: bare. Steven has tried to work, but between the noise from the street and the silence from the hall, he can't concentrate. Nothing on TV but a special about Carmen Miranda and some horror flick called Attack of the Killer Tomatoes. He goes to bed, lying rigid on the sheets, staring at the ceiling.

The sun also rises. Steven hasn't slept, but it's morning and he has to go to work. He needs a diversion, checks out the kitchen counter. Nothing there but a banana cowering in the bottom of a basket. What about the fridge? A slice of pizza so old all the life's gone out of it, some horseradish bottled in Elizabethan times, and, in the crisper, something purple and feisty, quivering for a fight. "You'll do."

Steven rips the door open. His messenger bag's over his shoulder and the grape stem is pinched between thumb and forefinger.

"Where are you, you little monsters?" he calls. There is no response. He pads silently to the stairs, starts down. When he rounds the corner he sees them at the bottom, rolling back and forth like cars revving up for a race. He raises his hand to show what he is holding, descends a few more steps. The tangerines freeze, then some of them start to edge back uncertainly. A few turn and roll under the credenza.

Steven laughs brittlely. "Who let the grapes out!?"

He releases the bunch.

The end

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