35 comments

Oct 16, 2020

Speculative

The old woman wanders slowly through the orchard, pulling her shawl tightly across her shoulders. The sound of crunching fills the air as she steps through the freshly fallen leaves of various colors––yellows and oranges and reds. The sun is warm on her back, to which she gives a perplexing smile––because the air is rather icy. Freezing, actually. She watches as her exhaling breaths form small puffs of condensation.

She sighs in content. A perfect day.

“It’s cold.”

The voice flutters across the trees from her left. She turns to the voice, and breathes a sigh of relief upon seeing the familiar face. A young girl leans against one of the trees; she can’t be more than fifteen years old. The girl is tall, with olive skin and long brown hair reaching past her waist. Her feet are bare. And her eyes are a warm amber behind large glasses.

“There you are. I wondered where you’d run off to,” the old woman says, smiling, her voice withered with time.

“I was just over there, by the clump of apple trees near the edge of the orchard. I think they might be ripe now. Want to come see?”

“Of course,” the older woman says, nodding. She gathers her shawl and picks her way leisurely through the leaves, following the girl.

They walk through the orchard in silence, the old woman's feet still crunching in the leaves, the sound loud in the still and quiet scene.

The older woman studies the girl carefully as she follows her. The girl hasn’t changed much. Still wearing that pale blue sweater, those ripped jeans. The red glasses sit at their familiar perch on her round nose. Her hair sways behind her in the air, rippling against her back as she walks.

“This way.” The girl tosses the words over her shoulder, veering toward a small clump of five apple trees near the edge of the orchard. They’re large, with beautiful leaves and apples scattered around them.

The girl leans down to pick up an apple. She wrinkles her nose, turning the apple toward the woman. It’s black and wrinkled on one side, with a worm flailing around its interior. She drops the rotten apple in disgust. “Well. I thought they were ripe.”

“It’s still a bit early for disappointment, don’t you think?” The woman tuts, shaking her head and wagging her finger. “Don't you remember? We need to check our favorite tree.”

The girl smiles, brightening. “Yes, of course! I didn’t think of that!” She turns around and slips between the trunks of the trees.

The woman follows along, slower, carefully edging through the trunks. She hugs her shawl against her chest, careful not to let any branches snag the thin fabric. Finally, she meets the girl. They stand together in front of a large tree at the very edge of the orchard, behind the large clump––which hides it well.

They stare at the tree in awe. It is large, standing tall and firm, its branches spread wide, full of ripe red apples glittering with dew. There’s a wooden ladder leaning against the trunk. An empty wooden bucket rests at the base beside it.

“Shall we start our normal routine?” The girl asks, still looking at the tree with wonder.

“Certainly. I’ll take the bucket. You take the ladder.”

The young girl confidently steps forward and onto the rungs of the ladder, pulling herself up, higher and higher. The woman wobbles toward the bucket and picks it up off the ground.

“Ready? I got one!” The girl shouts from above, her hand stretched in the lush green and orange leaves.

“Ready!” The woman yells from below.

 The girl drops an apple. The woman catches it perfectly in her hand, wrapping her fingers around the cool fruit, before placing it carefully in the bucket.

The girl and woman continue their ritual; the girl climbs higher up the ladder, gathering apples one-by-one, dropping them into the woman’s outstretched hands far below, who never fails to catch them.

They laugh and giggle together, talking about their favorite memories of the orchard, reminiscing about their favorite tree that always stands tall, full of ripe apples. The girl climbs further and further into the leaves, until the woman has to squint her eyes to see the girl's feet on the rungs. And, then, the girl disappears as the leaves enshroud her. The woman still catches the apples as they fall down.

“Okay, stop!” The old woman calls up to the girl. She glances down. The bucket is full to the brim with ripe red apples. “I think we have enough to last a lifetime."

A rustling behind her. The old woman jumps, turning around wearily toward the noise.

Another woman approaches. Older than the younger girl, but younger than the old woman. Her short hair stops just below her ears, and she wears glasses, too––although these ones are thin and black. She folds her arms, shivering, her amber eyes questioning as she peers at the older woman.

“Mom, who are you talking to?” the woman’s daughter asks curiously, looking at the tree.

The older woman looks down at her hands. The bucket is gone. When she glances back at the tree, she finds that it is empty, too––no ladder. All the leaves and apples have fallen; the branches hang bare. The tree is still and dark and empty, without another soul in sight.

The woman sighs. “Nobody,” she says quietly.

“Huh. I must’ve heard Riley and Taylor, then. I think they’re on the other side of the orchard playing somewhere. Come on, let’s go––we’ll find far more apples over there than in this old thing,” the daughter says, laughing, waving dismissively at the decrepit tree. She smiles at her mother before turning away, calling after her children.

The woman looks back at the tree. So bare and still and empty.

The woman slowly walks toward the tree. Her eyes blur as memories of many years long ago fill her head; memories of playing and apple picking and joy in this garden with her twin sister.

She lays her hand on the trunk. It is warm, surprisingly. She smiles, feeling the beat of a distant rhythm in her hand, the beat that has powered her memories and her life. The heartbeat of her sister.

And as she stands there, her hand pressed to the wood, feeling the beat of her sister, of her twin, of her best friend, her fingers sink into the trunk, melding into the tree, becoming it, stretching upwards and out with the branches, her body entwining with the wood, bursting with lush green and orange leaves and enough ripe red apples to fill buckets upon buckets upon buckets.

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35 comments

A.g. Scott
03:13 Oct 16, 2020

Good work overall, the edit suggestions I could make are really small things (e.g., a few too many upons instead of on.) There are actually a few similarities between your take and mine, you should take a look!

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Lina Ozz
03:39 Oct 16, 2020

Yes, thank you, I will go back and edit (I don't know why I'm so attached to "upon" in all my stories--maybe more "mystical" of a word? Whoops; great catch). I absolutely loved your story––I left a comment, too :) And yes, similar flavors. This prompt was a good one for that type of sad, speculative, contemporary genre, I think. Although I was at first going to write a kid's story about two dogs wandering around XD Glad I changed it!

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Kylie Rudolf
06:11 Oct 21, 2020

I love this story!

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Lina Ozz
19:27 Oct 21, 2020

Thank you so much! I appreciate it :)

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Philip Clayberg
16:29 Oct 18, 2020

Thank you for writing this story. It reminds me of a similar story, the myth of the Laurel tree (Apollo chases a girl he's interested in; but she isn't interested in Apollo; she asks her father, a river god, for help; her father changes her into a Laurel tree, ending Apollo's amorous pursuit of her). But I'm glad that your story had a happier ending. Also, I've sometimes wondered how dryads increased their numbers. Thank you for suggesting one possible way they could do it.

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Lina Ozz
16:33 Oct 18, 2020

I am going to go ready that myth right now––I haven't heard it before! I learn something new every day. :) Thank you so much for reading my story and for your wonderful comment!

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Philip Clayberg
16:38 Oct 18, 2020

When I was in elementary school (back in the 1970s), I loved to read Greek myths. In some museum, there is a sculpture of Apollo and Daphne (there - I finally remembered her name). He's almost ready to capture her, but she starts turning into a laurel tree. I don't remember who the sculptor is (Bernini, maybe?). You're very welcome. Happy reading and writing!

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Lina Ozz
17:00 Oct 18, 2020

That is amazing! I just looked up an image of the sculpture and it is stunning. I absolutely love that. Happy reading and writing to you as well! I'll read your stories and leave some thoughts right now :)

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Philip Clayberg
17:18 Oct 18, 2020

Sculptors do amazing things with hard materials (marble, granite, etc.). Michelangelo once said that sculpting was easy: you just remove everything that doesn't belong. Easy for *him*, of course. When I edit, though, it sometimes feels like I'm doing just that, but with words and keystrokes instead of hammer and chisel. If I end up over the maximum word count, I just whittle away and rewrite until I'm under the maximum word count. Glad you found a photo of the sculpture of Apollo and Daphne. Plenty of wonderful sculpture done back...

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Leilani Lane
15:16 Oct 18, 2020

This was a great read, as usual!! I really enjoyed the vivid imagery in this, and I also loved the deeper meaning/twist. Just a couple thoughts! "Finally, she meets the girl, and they stand together in front of a large tree at the very edge of the orchard, behind the large clump, which hides it well." Lots of commas there, maybe split it up? "It is large, standing tall and firm, its branches spread wide, full of ripe red apples glittering with dew." I'd use "It's" instead of "It is" to make it flow smoother. "before settling it c...

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Lina Ozz
16:18 Oct 18, 2020

Thank you so much! I made those changes that you mentioned––always appreciate your catches. :)

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Shea Redmond
15:06 Oct 16, 2020

This was sweet and tender and sad all at once. I love the layers you added to the meaning behind the trees and orchards and her sister being gone.

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Lina Ozz
17:00 Oct 16, 2020

Thank you so much for giving my story a read and for your comment! :)

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Lourenço Amorim
11:43 Oct 16, 2020

Good story. I was expecting a slice of life story, but I was surprised by a twist that adds a new layer of feelings and depth to the tale. Nicely done.

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Lina Ozz
14:35 Oct 16, 2020

Thank you so much for giving it a read and for your comment!

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Princemark Okibe
07:24 Oct 16, 2020

The way you write, I think you would love Ben Okri. You both love magical realism. What a beautiful ending. Just keep writing, expecting more from you in the future. This part was confusing at first though I later got what you meant [––the older woman’s grandchildren.] You were referring to the old woman's daughter as she. You just simply have said [––her children]. Since they are the children of the old woman's daughter, we the reader will then simply infer that they are the old woman's grandchildren. I did love the ending.

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Lina Ozz
14:35 Oct 16, 2020

Thank you so much for giving me a read and for your comment! Thank you for the catch as well; I'll change that now. Really appreciate your feedback :)

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Yolanda Wu
04:50 Oct 16, 2020

This was such an intriguing story, you managed some very subtle twists, and I love how the magical realism elements were incorporated - beautifully and effectively. You painted such a great relationship between the old woman the young girl. And your ending, as others have said, was done so, so well, and leaves me with kind of a hollow feeling, which is how you know that I've gotten so immersed in the story that I don't want to leave it. Amazing work, Lina!

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Lina Ozz
14:37 Oct 16, 2020

Thank you so much for giving it a read and for your comment! I really appreciate it. :)

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Yolanda Wu
21:27 Oct 16, 2020

You're welcome!

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Vameerah Darren
03:24 Oct 16, 2020

This was beautifully written, I would love it if you could leave me some feedback on my stories, I'm new to writing and would love to improve as much as I can :)

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Rayhan Hidayat
02:53 Oct 16, 2020

Wow. Core. Apple core. I love that title. I was a little unsettled by this but by the end I felt... sad. And yet the fact you put this under Speculative makes me think there’s supernatural stuff going on. Anyway. It’s so awesome to see people take these mundane prompts and turn them into riveting pieces like this. Sorry if there’s no critique, I quite like this the way it is 😉

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Lina Ozz
03:42 Oct 16, 2020

Thank you so much for your lovely comment! I was going for that bit of discomforting, unsettling feeling––hopefully, it came across well. There are some places that I might go back and edit to convey that feeling a little better. I struggled with the ending a bit (didn't want to make it to "horror" or "thriller") so tried to mess with ways that readers might a little... weird about it, haha. Hopefully it worked. Always appreciate you taking the time to leave a comment! :)

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Rayhan Hidayat
05:37 Oct 16, 2020

I thought the girl going unnamed as she popped up at the beginning was already quite suspicious. But if you need suggestions, maybe make her presence feel a little more incorporeal... for example, maybe her feet don’t make a crunching sound in the leaves, unlike the old woman. Just my two cents 😉

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Lina Ozz
06:07 Oct 16, 2020

THAT IS BRILLIANT. WOW. Subtle and mysterious. I love that. Will definitely add that edit tomorrow!

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Rayhan Hidayat
06:13 Oct 16, 2020

Yayy glad I could help 😙

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A.g. Scott
03:15 Oct 16, 2020

I think it's the magical realism

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Rayhan Hidayat
03:32 Oct 16, 2020

That’s the term!

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A.g. Scott
03:34 Oct 16, 2020

Hey... psst... wanna check out my latest... 🙊

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Rayhan Hidayat
03:58 Oct 16, 2020

Heading on over ;) I've actually been reading some of your stories but you never reply to my comments... Just hoping a fan of yours isn't going unnoticed lol

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A.g. Scott
04:20 Oct 16, 2020

Well I can't reply to every single thing, gotta look cool ya know? Half of writing is developing a mysterious air about yourself. haha jk i promise i'll reply to the next one

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Lina Ozz
03:40 Oct 16, 2020

If only "magical realism" was a category!

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The ending... was beautiful . You wrote this perfectly.

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Lina Ozz
03:42 Oct 16, 2020

Thank you so much for your comment and for giving my story a read! :)

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