THE DECEPTION by Fred White

August 7, 2017

He arose from his grass bed, stretched, and inhaled deeply. He felt invigorated. He also felt—he couldn’t find a word to fit the reality—disoriented? disconnected? isolated?

Even more disconcerting, he had no idea who or where he was.

A voice boomed out just then: “Well, well, you’re awake! Welcome to Paradise. There are a couple things you should know: First, you are endowed with eternal life and complete fulfillment.”

“Sounds nice. Who’s speaking?”

“There is one danger, however—and that’s the second thing you need to know . . .”

“A danger? But you said this is Paradise.”

“I know, it sounds paradoxical.”

“I don’t understand.”

“You don’t need to. Understanding is irrelevant in Paradise.”

“So explain the danger. Who are you? I’d like to see who’s talking to me.”

“See that tree? The one with those globes of red fruit? That’s an apple tree. It’s also the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Chomp on one of those babies and you’re a goner. You will then learn about and understand the world. You will come to know the pleasures of the flesh. But you will also know pain and misery and you will die.”

“Whoa—wait. If this is Paradise, why plant such a tree here?

“Good question, son. It’s to test you, to see how well you listen to your father when temptation comes your way. You will soon be tested in all sorts of ways once I fashion a companion for you from one of your ribs.”

“Ouch. Wait a minute: if I’m completely fulfilled, how can I be so vulnerable as to be tempted by anyone or anything? Why must I be tested?”

“You were given free will, the freedom to choose.”

“That sounds like a condition of mind—of judgment, critical thinking, borne out of knowledge. But didn’t you say—?”

“Look, I know—there are inconsistencies; but just take my word for it when I tell you to avoid that apple tree.”

This was giving him a headache. “Who are you? Why are you showing me food and telling me not to eat it? Describing conditions that pique my curiosity and then telling me not to think about them? I don’t think I’m going to like this place.”

Something stirred in the grass. He stared in awe as a cobra raised its hooded head to speak.

“You’re in deep shit,” hissed the snake. “It appears that I’m not the only deceiver at work around here.”

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Fred White’s fiction and humor have appeared most recently in Beautiful Losers, Every Day Fiction, Clockwise Cat and Praxis (“Bremer in Extremis,” May 15, 2016). He lives near Sacramento, CA.

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