By Lexi Anders
Something rapped rhythmically at the door. This was it. The moment Gerardo had been waiting for.
He staggered over and opened it to a dark, stormy scene.
Lightning illuminated a figure wrapped in a cloak. The man didn’t heed the rain that poured over the ground, but calmly offered a bleak little package before disappearing down the alley into the gloom. Gerardo tilted his head, perplexed by the strange man, but shook off his concern pretty quickly. What mattered was the gift.
Without closing the door, he inched to a table and would have set his joy down- except that the table was broken.
He took no notice of the second set of footsteps that approached as he unraveled the package. In the flashing light he held up the object of his anticipation.
“What on earth happened here???” a voice exclaimed.
Nicole held up a lantern and examined the mess of a room. It appeared as though some sort of fight had occurred.
“Ah, it’s you! Look, I got it!” Gerardo, although surprised to see her, held up the lemon for her to see.
“Hah, wonderful, then go eat it.” Nicole smirked.
Gerardo dropped it.
“That wasn’t part of the deal!!”
Twenty-three hours and thirty-two minutes earlier . . .
Gerardo arrived at Sir Picolli’s party.
While being one of the richest men in town, Sir Piccoli also had a terrible reputation. This was due to his charming propensity to lie- the most ridiculous and elaborate lies anyone had ever heard.
He once claimed that the moon was made of cheese since it had holes like swiss cheese. But, his only “proof” was the word of a made up friend who had supposedly strapped fireworks to a chair and flown to outer space . . .
However, recently he managed to tell a lie that had spun off the charts and was actually quite successful. Thus Sir Piccoli gained sudden standing that he was unused to- and desperate to keep. In order to do so he continued to push his propaganda and even formed a proper organization: The League Opposing Lemons, otherwise known as LOL.
Gerardo had only recently moved into town, and seeing how popular the League was, assumed it was a well-established function. Since he had no connections yet, he hoped the League would be his entrance into high-society there.
Now they sat around a chart full of fake statistics oohing and aahing. Sir Piccoli declared what a “crying shame” it was that so few took his warning.
“Indeed, how can people stand to disclaim you when there is such obvious evidence??” Gerardo cried in agreement. However, in the back of his mind he wondered if that was so . . . where had Sir Piccoli got this information? Why had Gerardo never heard of such things before?
“There’s a wise man here!” Sir Piccoli raised a glass in toast.
Gerardo smiled a bit conflicted. No, he shouldn’t worry about it, surely Sir Piccoli was a good man and wouldn’t lead people astray. And even if it was false . . . did it really matter? At least it gave him this opportunity.
“Would you care to share a few words, good sir?” Sir Piccoli offered his stage kindly- or more likely to say he was hoping the bright young man would bring forth a solid argument. Sir Piccoli could already see doubtful glances among the other guests and trembled at the thought of losing their approval.
“Su-sure!” Gerardo stood up. “You see, umm . . . I have long thought that lemon’s were rather suspicious,” Gerardo lied, “after all- no one ever eats just a lemon by itself! We have to dilute its power to withstand the taste- and yet it calls itself a fruit! It begs the question, what is wrong with a fruit that can’t be eaten-?”
“Yes, yes! Exactly!!” Sir Piccoli piped in, his voice cracking slightly. “That’s what I have been saying! It only makes sense that it’s secretly a poison to our bodies! Those foreign countries have been selling it to us on the cheap to weaken us! And with a slight overdose- well, you all know what happened to poor Sir Archebald.” He tisked and shook his head.
His main hold on the community rested on the case involving Sir Archebald- where upon drinking several glasses of lemonade he fell over and was bed-ridden for days. Coincidentally, Sir Piccoli made his first claims about lemons merely hours before the incident. Sir Archebald was an honorary member of LOL, although he had never dined to join the party. Apparently there was some bad blood between Sir Archebald and Sir Piccoli.
“Now, I move that we push for the immediate prohibition of lemons in our town, before those foreigners gain word of our miraculous insight. Then with our town united we can convince the province, and next the country! We must not wait! The time for action is today! All in favor?!”
The group cheered, and Gerardo, seeing their hearty reaction, cheered along with them.
“You can’t be serious.” a voice cut through the din.
The party turned to see a young lady, holding a tray of lemons aloft.
“Nicole!? Throw those away this instant.” He pointed a thin finger in a weak command, “We have banned lemons in this establishment out of respect of dear Sir Archebald-” he turned apologetically to his audience, “and we will move to higher prospects soon!”
The group cheered again, but some still looked at her curiously.
“Listen, you fools,” Nicole continued brazenly, “you’ve fallen into his web of silly lies, don’t you remember his previous tales? How have you been tricked now??”
“Nicole!” Sir Piccoli hissed, “Silence that- that impudent talk! If you don’t, you can trust it won’t be my roof you sleep under tonight.”
“Oh, please, it’s better that I reveal you now than let you be defaced before the king himself- or maybe defaced isn’t the right word . . . maybe even beheaded!”
“One more word! That’s all I will take from you-”
“You may wonder, good people, where I have found these lemons . . . you see, the truth is your hero, Sir Piccoli here, had these stashed away in his cellar,” she said sweetly.
“That’s ludicrous slanderous speech-!” Sir Piccoli interposed.
“Because,” she continued with a pointed look at him. “He has an acute adoration for the taste of lemons, and he couldn’t bear to part with them for the sake of his absurd plot.”
“So you’ve come to ruin me, child! This is the gratitude you show for my generosity!” He wept bitterly.
“Generosity, is it!? Why, how I do admire your gentle heart- and at what a mild cost does your benevolence come! Hear ye,” she addressed the crowd again, “did you not wonder as you looked upon his ‘compiled proofs’ where he found such outrageous numbers?”
Despite Sir Piccoli’s protests, Gerardo could see that the group was undeniably swayed by the lady’s words. She somehow had impressive credibility, so their already shaky trust was easily giving way to her appeal. Gerardo heard those next to him whispering and realized their disquiet.
Perhaps it hadn’t been so prudent to support a cause he had no solid evidence or personal belief in . . . they passed furtive glances at him and he shrunk in embarrassment. There was a reason none of them had voiced their particular concurrence with Sir Piccoli. How could he fix this-???
“That is it, Nicole! You have forever ruined my goodwill towards you- it will be a fissure that cannot be undone.” Sir Piccoli declared dramatically. “You are henceforth like a crow to me and will live as such, homeless and destitute!”
“No, I imagine she shall not!” Gerardo called. The crowd parted to let him through, “My lady,” he bowed to Nicole, “you have brought light to my eyes on the deception of this man. Though he may discharge you, I am obligated to provide you with a position forthwith.”
“Hah! You see, father? Your so-called ‘prodigé’ betrayed you with little delay on hearing the voice of reason.” Nicole took Gerardo’s arm, and cast one last contemptuous glance before pulling Gerardo out, away from LOL.
Her final remarks sunk in. “Wait- Sir Piccoli is your father??” Gerardo stopped her.
“Yeah, are you surprised? Don’t worry, it’s not like he’ll actually disown me, he just needs a few days to get over himself. And won’t I be glad- his pride has been through the roof since LOL got together. But anyhow, I don’t really need your lodging sir-”
“Ah, I heard about you. You’re the new tenant of the Kilfshire Estate, right?”
“Yes, I am. And if I’m being honest, I’m having a hard time trying to fit in here.”
“Don’t try, it’s not really worth it, everyone here seems to go back and forth and never keep their minds straight. It’s what gives father too much false hope. One minute they adore him, and the next they are belittling him. Now, he’s a very odd man, but if they wouldn’t lead him on so, it would solve half the problem.”
“It seems that this story of his will blow over soon.”
“Yes, and perhaps with your help we can make sure he doesn’t get into any other mischief. But anyhow, I believe I will head into town- if you’ll excuse me.”
She began to walk down the road. Gerardo hesitated and then ran after her.
“Of course, I will accompany you.”
“That . . . that’s not necessary, although I appreciate the sentiment,” she replied nicely.
“Oh please, it’s no hassle. I thought I might go for a visit this afternoon, so this will be convenient.” Besides, she seemed like a good insider for what this place was really like.
Nicole was not pleased with his failure to pick up on her cues. Yet, she wasn’t so frustrated as to outright scold him, he remained in her graces for the time being. And perhaps . . . this was his way of expressing a deeper interest?
They arrived in town and heard a commotion.
Gerardo tried to peer over the crowd- but he was too short.
“Psst,” Nicole called him over to a tree.
He struggled for a moment, and scraped himself getting onto the first branch.
From there they could see a man at the center of the crowd, and lemons were strewn around him, squashed into the dirt.
“That’s Sir Archebald,” Nicole explained, “it appears he’s feeling better, and back to his normal self- theatrics and all.”
“Good people of this town! You have heard the rumors of the poisonous nature of lemons- and it cannot be denied any longer. I myself suffered under this curse! However, the truth of the matter is that I had already discovered this prior to my incident, and hoped to reveal it to the public in a way that might convince you- but some horrendous fiend knew of my noble intentions and tricked me. He has tried to take the glory for this report, but his nature is untrustworthy. Alas, my feud with that man must not have precedence. Take it from me, the danger of a lemon is real and must be combated. Let us outlaw them without further ado.”
The crowd cheered.
“I can’t believe it.”
“Maybe your father was right after all?”
“Are you serious? Isn’t it obvious that he’s just trying to get attention too?” She jumped out of the tree, and he followed slower.
“If it’s so obvious then why do all those people believe him? I’m going to go join them.”
“What happened to your “eyes being opened” and all that? Is your goal just to follow the crowd?”
“I only just got here, they probably know better than me.”
“No, they know even less. But whatever, don’t let me tell you what to do.”
Gerardo thought for a moment, surely they would realize this was all a joke eventually. So, he should just let it roll over and stay uninvolved . . . but what if that ostracized him? He would be an outsider for not being a fool along with the rest of them . . .
No, Nicole was firm at least, he wouldn’t be alone.
“Hey, stop waffling- how can anyone respect you if you don’t make up your mind for yourself?”
“You’re right, I should stick to my own conviction, I’ll stand by you if you’ll support me.”
“No- you’re still doing it wrong- it shouldn’t be on the basis of what anyone else thinks- even if I wasn’t here you should still have the strength to hold on for yourself. It’s about the principle of the matter! Don’t you have your own opinion?”
“Fine, then leave me, I don’t care. The fact is that I don’t think there’s anything wrong with lemons and I can’t back down now.”
“Great, now you go solve everything while I sail to Paris for the week.”
Gerardo, believing this was another test, brushed it off and sat down to watch the crowd. But, after a couple minutes he began to grow more anxious. If she didn’t come back . . . well, what did she care what he decided to do? Wouldn’t it save him trouble to rejoin the mob, even if he didn’t necessarily think they were right?
Then again, Nicole had a point, why did he think just doing what the majority did was automatically the right thing to do? Weren’t there plenty of instances where history proved that to be wrong?
It’s okay, he reasoned, I’ll play it safe; I’ll stick to my gut, but I won’t fight anyone about it. I’ll just stay back and keep my thoughts to myself. He edged away from the crowd silently.
“Hey, where are you going? We’re lighting a bonfire-!” an onlooker grabbed Gerardo and pulled him in.
The overwhelming stench of a hundred burnt lemons seared his nostrils. “Long live the Lemon Extermination Division!”
“Yes, may the LED prosper forever!”
He was jostled about, and couldn’t seem to slip back out. “Weren’t you a part of LOL?” someone asked him. “Yes, I believe he was, he even gave a speech, poor disillusioned chap. Should have joined LED.”
“No, no, I was never a part of it.”
“I’m sure I saw you there. You left with Nicole Piccoli.”
“You’re mistaken, surely . . .” he kept his head down.
“What? Are you afraid to admit it??”
“Fine!” he snapped. “So I was there, but I don’t believe in any of it. What’s the harm in eating a lemon?”
“Aaah, so you’re one of those doubters, huh? Or worse perhaps- one of those foreigners trying to kill us!”
“A foreigner!!” the murmurs rippled around with growing fury.
Gerardo was shoved into the center where Sir Archebald stood, outlined by the blazing inferno. He was a man befitting his name, rather round and bald-headed.
“Are you a foreigner, son?” Sir Archebald glared into his eyes.
Gerardo shivered in the heat. “Listen, I don’t mean any trouble, if you’ll excuse me.”
But the wall of people moved to create a barrier wherever he tried to go.
“Here’s another one!” The crowd shoved Nicole forward.
“Get your grimy hands off me!” She struggled.
“Let her go!” Gerardo ran at them and the crowd backed off.
“So Nicole, been playing on your father’s side?” Sir Archebald asked.
“No, I play on my own side, I oppose this preposterous claim from the both of you!”
“And you, son? What do you plead?” Sir Archebald addressed him.
“I-” he looked at Nicole, “I can’t support it either . . .”
“There’s your loyalty! Stick to your cause Jerry!” Nicole slapped his back approvingly.
“Traitors, the both of them! Throw them in the town jailhouse!” Sir Archebald ordered.
The two of them were promptly taken to the rotting jailhouse at the town center. Their wardens locked the door, but didn’t bother to keep guard.
“I knew this was a bad idea . . . thrown in jail! At least they didn’t kill us . . .” Gerardo slumped onto the dirt floor.
“Hey, they have nothing on us; they can’t hold us forever.” Nicole looked through the door trying to see where our guards went.
“How can you be okay with this?? Tell me this doesn’t happen so often that you’re used to it.”
“I’m just being logical. In the end what can they prove about lemons?” she spun around. “What we need to do is make them admit their mistake! If we eat a lemon and nothing bad happens, then they won’t have anything to refute us.”
“And where do you plan to get a lemon while trapped in jail?”
“Naturally, we’ll have to escape first.” she shrugged and went to the other side of the cell.
“So that they’ll actually try to kill us?? No, I’ve gone as far as I’m willing. My life is more important to me than lemons.”
“This isn’t about lemons! Look beyond that- this is really just a power grab by two selfish individuals. And with their success they’re willing to imprison innocent people,” she gestured to herself, “for no reason!”
“What kind of place is this?” Gerardo muttered.
“You have a weak heart- but I can tell you’re a good person. If you can get a lemon, I promise I’ll make sure that you don’t suffer for standing up with me.”
“And how exactly are you supposed to guarantee that? What power do you have? You were thrown in here with me!”
“The truth is, I know neither Sir Piccoli, nor Sir Archebald would actually harm me- one is my adopted father, and I am betrothed to the son of the other.”
“Betrothed? Have I met him?”
“Oh, probably not. He’s a sickly sprite and hardly ever leaves his bed-chamber. His name is Maurice. That’s not important though! The fact is, that to protect their own reputations they will have to redeem me eventually- and I can use my leverage to help you out, even if our plan should fail.”
Gerardo took a couple minutes to consider her proposal.
“I don’t see why you even need me though. Surely you can do it yourself.”
“Well, I can’t be in two places at once now can I?? While I create a distraction you will slip out the bars back there,” she directed him, “this middle one is completely broken from my last visit.” she wedged it out.
“Your last visit?? So this is a common occurrence?”
“Now, quickly slip out.” She ran back to the door and kicked it open. “Help! Help! He’s escaping!” she cried pointing down the street.
Gerardo panicked and clambered through the hole away from the approaching danger. He had no plan, no idea where he was, and no clue where to go.
He started down one way, but nearly collided with another fellow as he came out of the alley. “Sorry, excuse me,” the man apologized and continued running, behind him a group of villagers ran behind with lemons impaled on pitchforks.
Gerardo ran the other way and followed the mysterious stranger. His guide darted to the right- but came running the opposite direction as Gerardo came to the alley’s end.
“Where are you going?” Gerardo panted.
“I’ve somehow managed to attract the LED . . .” the stranger laughed. “And not in a good way. I take it that you’re with the rebellion?”
“The rebellion? How quickly things develop here!”
“I mean, it is a such controversial topic, things are bound to get heated.” He ducked as a villager waved a torch in front of him.
Gerardo stumbled away from the villager and hurried to catch up to his new ally.
“I’m Gerardo, and I need to get my hands on a lemon-”
“Good luck with that,” his friend snorted, “they’ve all but been destroyed at this point.”
“Please, I think if we can show them that the lemons aren’t poisonous then this whole thing will die down.”
“You may be onto something . . . I’m Maurice by the way.”
Gerardo took a second glance at him. Maurice was by no means sickly, he was well-tanned and solidly built. Something glittered in his intense dark eyes.
He didn’t have another chance to ask anything, because Maurice shoved him into some bushes and had a brief scuffle with some villagers. He had managed to knock them down, and then for some reason he had to stop and place a “calling card”.
Maurice crawled into the bushes and led him some distance away before breaking their silence. “You don’t seem equipped for this kind of mission, civilian. Perhaps you ought to stay hidden and let the professionals deal with this.”
“You’re Sir Archebald’s son, aren’t you?” Maurice nodded grimly, “Then are you working with Nicole?”
“Nicole!? Pah! No, I avoid her like the plague! She is absolutely besotted with me, but she annoys me to no end. Sorry, I shouldn’t speak so ill of her, she’s dearly loved, but not by me.” He shook his head regretfully.
“She is in the rebellion though . . .”
“Is she now? Well, that’s very like her, but the excitement will wear off eventually.”
“Hmm.” he was receiving conflicting reports, his own experience had determined that Nicole was very tenacious and firm about her beliefs. Then again, was she really planning on leaving him earlier? Was she accidentally caught?
“Nevertheless, my job is to get a lemon.”
“Like I said, I don’t think you can handle it. I can lead you to a safehouse though.”
Gerardo looked away, it was tempting for sure. But wouldn’t that be admitting his cowardice. Maurice smiled broadly, “There’s no shame in backing down from this fight, mon ami. It’s not for everyone.”
Something about that arrogant look annoyed Gerardo.
“Actually, this is something I have to do,” he said impulsively.
“Please, point me to where you think there could be a lemon.”
“Ah, well, first let us test your aptitude, eh?”
Without explaining, he dove through the ferns, back towards civilization. Gerardo paused, this seemed unuseful towards the task at hand, all he needed was a lemon, how hard could it be?
Nicole had claimed her father had a secret supply, the question was whether that still stood. But, it was the best idea he had, and this Maurice fellow . . . well, he simply didn’t like him.
The sun was already going down now, and he realized how much time had passed since that morning. Hopefully Nicole was doing okay . . . he should hurry.
He managed to find the path back to the Piccoli residence, and was at the threshold when he was tackled to the ground. “Were you just a spy?” Maurice asked, holding him down. “With you heading to LOL I see it must be so.”
“No- no,” Gerardo denied, “I just don’t have time to waste on your games!”
Maurice backed away as though realizing what Gerardo meant. Gerardo got up and brushed himself off. Maurice socked him and his fall knocked down the door.
“Tough words there, amigo. Let’s make a deal. You can either leave and never show your face again- I won’t stop you, or take a wager. We’ll fight, and if you win I’ll get you a lemon, and if not, you tell me where Nicole is.”
“Why do you need to know that?” Gerardo wiped the blood from his lip and tried stalling. “She’s pro-lemon like you.”
“Ah, but I’m in the rebellion against LED, and she’s in rebellion against LOL.”
“Do you mean to say there are two separate rebellions- you don’t just universally oppose their shenanigans?”
“Well, if there are two sides of the anti-lemon movements, why can’t there be two pro-lemon groups? Anyway, make your decision, my fists grow restless.”
He couldn’t imagine himself actually beating Maurice, maybe it would be better to take the tactical retreat. “Too scared?” Maurice sighed sympathetically.
“Okay, let’s do this,” Gerardo took a swing.
He was steadily pushed further into the house, which appeared to be strangely abandoned. Gerardo searched for some sort of high ground and jumped onto a table- this turned out to be a poor idea because the table promptly collapsed and he landed on his back.
“Oh my back- my back!” he cried.
“Well, you had the courage to try at least,” Maurice helped him into a chair, “now tell me, where is my beloved fiancée?”
“Oh my back- my back . . .”
Gerardo repeated pitifully.“How can a fellow country-man of mine be so sad!? Where are you from, friend?”
Gerardo didn’t answer.
“Wait a minute- you’re not a foreigner are you???”
Gerardo blinked innocently.
“You are! Why, I am so sorry! I didn’t know! If that’s the case, then please, by all means allow me to get you a lemon! I’ll even make amends for Nicole!”
“B-but why?” Gerardo sputtered.
“Who else should lead our cause than the one they blame! And when you eat a lemon without any hesitation- won’t that wipe the smug looks off their faces! Just stay right here! I’ll sort out everything!”
Gerardo watched in confusion as Maurice left with a cheerful skip. He tried to get up, but was thoroughly exhausted and ended up fell asleep. Then, he was startled when a rhythmic knock came at the door.
Maurice dramatically delivered his prize, dressed in a bizarre robe and disappeared. Then, Nicole arrived from nowhere to make him eat the lemon.
“That wasn’t part of the deal!!”
“Well, you didn’t expect me to eat it, did you?? I did work on my end too! Hurry up, I managed to attract quite a crowd out there- and it was something in this weather.” Nicole glanced back at the storm.
“I did all this- and now you want me to eat the lemon too??”
“Well, it’s not like it’s really poisonous after all! Anyway, this is your big moment- we have to go before they start their march to the capitol!”
“Their what?”“Oh, that’s what I told them would happen after a ‘special guest’s’ demonstration.” She scooped up the fallen lemon and began to pull him into the rain. Then she felt the need to clarify: “The special guest being you, by the way.”
There in front of the extinguished bonfire, Nicole introduced him as a foreigner to the town. Gerardo held up the lemon as rain poured over him.
“Now, watch as he eats the lemoooooooon!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”
The crowd watched expectantly, and impatiently as Gerardo began to peel the lemon.
“J-just wait, no one eats the peel-!”
“Except anyone who zests it! Maybe that’s the poisonous part!”
“Eat the whole thing!” another agreed, and they began chanting for him. “Eat the whole thing! Eat the whole thing!”
He looked at Nicole helplessly, she waved him on. He took a bite- and choked on the bitter sour taste.
“Lemons may not be poisonous, but they are disgusting, ugch.”
They cheered as he finished, hurrying to get it over with.
“And there you have it!” Nicole announced, “Lemon’s are perfectly safe for consumption.”
“My mouth is burning,” Gerardo whimpered.
“But what if he drank the antidote beforehand!?”
“What antidote??? It’s not poison!!” Nicole cried.
“That’s what you would have us believe.”
“Give me one real good reason why you believe lemons to be poisonous.”
“Sir Archebald’s accident!”
“You’re saying lemon’s are to blame for the unfortunate incident involving an unhealthy older man? And definitely not the fact that the drink in question probably contained 200% more sugar than lemon juice?”
“Ah, so sugar is poisonous! Burn the sugar!!”
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