Arcadian as Apple Pie

Nothing prepares me for what I behold. The Banque de Triomphe—-The Bank—-built by the giants of the past—-those patriots who molded Aracadia from the mud of royal shoes into a goliath floating above the world. And finally, I have reached Maturation, where I will seek higher education that prepares me for my ultimate responsibility, my position as a Safekeeper of the Future—-the title bestowed upon those whose mortar board balances on their heads on graduation day. 

The first step in the Maturation process is the grandest and a rite of passage for every Aracadian Prospective. The Bank soars to the stars and the Bell of Truth sits at its pinnacle. At its ring, we’re ushered into the fold, full-fledged citizens.

“Keep up, son, we have even more Prospectives today than yesterday,” the fat cat pauses, “though not as many as tomorrow.”

I rush to the crimson rope and extend my hand in apologetic greeting. 

“Don’t cross that line!” His voice is sharp and rebuking.


“That is,” his face brightens in cheerful mannequin expression, “Don’t wanna ruin the allure, now do you?” he purrs.

“Guess not.”

“Of course you don’t. I can tell you’re an admirable young man—-parents still married type.”

I gawk at the fast-talking feline in purple velvet from bowler hat to paws, his green and white polka-dot ascot tied to perfection. He made a striking presence, much more than I. 

“Don’t you worry. You cut a fine figure…on the inside, if nothin’ else.” He twisted the tips of his whiskers into points to the envy of any dagger. “It’s somethin’,” he said in response to my wide-eyed stare. “Door’s made from the Trojan Horse. Stands twenty feet tall. Come.” He unhooked the rope, letting me pass.

“Call me, Mr. Virgil,” he says, handing me a mask attached to an oxygen tank with his calico tail. “You go ahead and take a nice deep breath, son. Nothin’ to worry ‘bout. A little concoction to wake that memory bank.” He pokes my forehead with a gloved finger. “Can’t go in ‘til you do.”

I inhale; the aroma of apple pie fills my nose. I hand Mr. Virgil the mask. Steel doors breath to life, unveiling a brilliant world. An art deco feast welcomes me. “I still smell apples and cinnamon,” I say, as we enter. 

“You’re transformed. A regular Cinderfella,” he smirks. “And one of us.” Mr. Virgil brushes the shoulder of my luxury suit and straightens my silk tie. 


The stained glass hexagonal ceiling floods the lobby in sun-kissed glow in contrast with the cool marble floor. Cheshire-like grinning men and women parade in expensive suits in an orderly, though vigorous, fashion. I rush to the counter and peer through the iron grate.

A beautiful teller greets me. “Hello, I’m Jane. May I help you acquire an Education Maximizer Loan, today?”

I shrug. 

“Not to worry. We’ll give you money now and you pay us later. It’s practically free,” she says, her smile coy.

“He’d like that very much,” Mr. Virgil says.

“You have a degree?” I ask.

“Of course! Everyone does—-PhDs, in fact.”

“And what of the loans,” he coaxed.

“Covers tuition, books, supplies, even living expenses–very handy. You’ll max them out by graduation.” 

Mr. Virgil’s whiskers stood on end.

“But,” she blurted, “the grace period before payments are expected is generous.”

“Well now, time’s slipping away,” he says, leading me to the elevator. “Bell of Truth, it is.” While we await its arrival, he talks about interest rates, employment, health insurance, and something about me being the pride of Arcadia. I’m not listening.

“Are you all right, son?”

“It’s the apple pie.” 

His tail whipped.

“I didn’t realize until now, but the aroma is gone. I shouldn’t care, but I do.”

His words quicken and he rapidly presses the bell shaped button. “You know it’s terrible to lose that comforting scent, care for another whiff?” He pulls a small tank from his jacket.

I reach for it, catching a glimpse of the lobby. To my shock, the tellers’ counters are smashed, the iron gating bent and mangled. Where chipper, well-dressed successes had bustled about are dejected paupers whose knees poke through holed graduation gowns. Their mortar boards balance signs that read, “Will work for food” and “Student loan = Lifelong debt.” 

The Bank is a lie. 

A ding signifies the elevator’s arrival. 

“In we go,” Mr. Virgil says, forcing me inside.

“What was THAT?” I demand.

“Some bad apples,” his only reply. 

I approach the Bell of Truth. Can I unsee? Can anyone? I question everything. Hope and pride no longer glitter in my eyes. My soul is heavy and my head light. My hands don’t meet as I grasp the striker and hold my breath.

“It’s time,” Mr. Virgil says cheerfully.

With the strength of my will and might, it meets its destination. The knell reverberates, shuddering the world around me. 

The droll dissipates; Mr. Virgil approaches, stern and cast in shadow. “What will do you, son?”

Tears well in my disillusioned eyes.

“Arcadia is an affliction, an abyss.” I want to cover my ears from my own words.

“A chimera worth continuing, and as a Safekeeper of the Future, you will forget these trivialities with time. Instead, accepting the lies and embracing empty promises because to do otherwise is simply too terrifying…too painful. Everyone does.”

“Everyone?” My enlightenment grows like a cancer in my heart, stealing my innocence and threatening my life.

“Such is Maturation,” he says. “Accept it or don’t. Simple as that.” He motions to an arch opening into the clouds at the edge of the Bank. 

“I don’t think I can.”

“You will,” he says.

I stand with my toes hanging over the ledge. “What’s out there?”

“Exactly what YOU make it.”

“No.” I turn, meeting his gaze for the last time. “It’s exactly what YOU let it be.” 

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