The Apple Tree

Submitted into Contest #63 in response to: Write about two characters going apple picking.... view prompt


Fantasy Mystery Thriller

Six months and three days ago, I visited 1920. It was the day they said I killed the boy. He was quite a cunning boy to tell you. He wanted to kill me, to ‘preserve us in the afterlife’.

How they found him dead, how he was flung with a gushing chest, pouring red onto the orange leaves remains a mystery to me. He lay there atop the fiery mosaic of leaves and blood. It surprised me to see him in solid form; he used to look as misty as a ghost. He told me he was already dead, killed in an accident on apple picking day, September 26th, 1920.

A hundred years later, I get blamed for his death. I sit now sacrificing every drop of ink to write my defense. The rest of the boys have gone for lessons but I have only a fortnight before court.

6 months and 3 days ago:

It was a misty morning. Uncle Henry was trying to wake me up for the volunteer work he’d put me in. We'd had a little fight; it was only 5 a.m. And he’d signed me there to teach me a lesson. Something stupid, I tell you. I thought I was supposed to focus on my studies.

Anyways, in 15 minutes I was on the way to Wooden Bark. Me and my friend Delun, we walked all the way. Delun’s parents also thought he needed some lesson on ‘being of service’.

Wooden Bark was a big field, so full of trees, you could lose your child. From a distance it looked like a forest; people sometimes called it the forest of Wooden. People camped there, they rented lands, but most importantly they harvested their crops in September.

The smell of the air drew pictures of pumpkins and black cats in my mind. It reminded me of my mother. She was the art teacher, Miss Rosa Winfield, every student’s favorite, every man’s too – I despised how they looked at her, grew jealous when she spoke to one. I used to think my father left because he got jealous too because I didn’t believe the story my mother told me – that he left to help the angels. Only when I turned 8 did I realize he actually died.

Every autumn she would let me cut black witches, cats, pumpkins… She would ask me to collect fallen leaves for her to use in school activities. I used to secretly crush some of the reddish crisps we collected just to have extra time outside and collect others – extra time to enjoy that fresh autumn air that seeped through my ears and filled them with cold.

The year after I realized my father died, Miss Rosa Winfield died, too. Ever since, I’ve been angrier and at her for leaving me with Uncle Henry.

Delun nudged me back from my memories. “Why they bringing us to that damn fields, Jack?" Delun was of Chinese decent. His father made him wear the Chinese dress every Halloween to ‘celebrate our tradition, my son!’ Of course Delun would change his costume in school and we would dress as twin demons. I met him in 4th grade and were ‘bad’ together. He helped me move on from Miss Winfield.

In between our crispy footsteps and Delun's hip brushing against mine, a sudden feeling struck me in the chest. It was the thickest panic I’ve felt in my life. I was stricken with fear for no reason. My tongue made that spongy dry sound when I swallowed; the life had dried out of me.

‘Brother! What happened with you?’ Delun’s hand on my shoulder made me feel like a ghost; I couldn’t feel his touch but I knew it was there. It was as if layers and layers of thick mist were covering my body, secreting a toxic chill in me.

‘Brother! What happened-‘

We both heard something. One could mistake it for the whispers of the wind between brittle leaves but the wind doesn’t breathe that loudly; it doesn’t breathe harder in one spot and lighter everywhere else. It blows like a balanced symphony and treats the whole place equally.

But that kind of wind we experienced sounded like a foreign language that we couldn’t understand so we just compared it to the wind. It felt like it blew on me and Delun only, neglecting the rest of Wooden Bark and everyone in it.

    ‘What in world was that!’ Delun said, but I stood frozen like a stone; I felt like running away because someone was out to kill me. ‘Jack! Wake up, what the matter is with you!’ He shook me and I felt the blood moving inside of me again. I took a deep shaky breath, a heavy one like I had forgotten to breathe.

Facing us stood an apple tree. The apple tree – because it’s the only one in the world that ended up sending me to prison.

‘Delun, let’s get away from here.’

‘What, you scared, Jacko?' Delun laughed but the look I gave him maybe spat poison. ‘Jacko, brother, I am joking with you.’ He said in a low voice, flinging an arm around me. And we walked away. I thought I would never let myself be anywhere near that tree. But something bigger than me was controlling my fate. If only I knew.

The team of volunteers arrived shortly after. They were starting to get separated into various fields. I was starting to get bored already. I thought of a way we could ditch and do something fun. By this point, I had forgotten all about the apple tree.

‘You two!’ A voice called. The speaker was Miss Jones, the Captain of Volunteer work. ‘You’re in the wrong section. Find Jerry’s team now!’

Delun leaned towards me with a smirk on his lips. ‘Lunatic,’ he whispered to me.

‘Let’s go.'

'But don't be scared this time,' Delun said.

‘I wasn’t scared.’ I gave him that look again and he cowered to my side, slipped his hands to far down his pockets he could have torn a hole in them. ‘Last warning,’ I ensured.

I was actually proud that my best friend feared me. I liked when people feared me. But now I realize: why did he stick with me so long. I’ve done him horribly. I’ve punched him many times. He never told a soul and was never mad at me. Not even upset. Later when I would apologize he would only say, ‘It’s fine, I love you, Jacko.’ It’s warming when you have someone like Delun. I don’t know if it warms him to have someone like me.

We reached the same place again; people were starting to spread sheets and shake the trees. Some apples rained down and made a hollow thump. Others had to be picked by hand. Something hard hit me in the back of my head; the first few seconds I could only think something had fallen from the sky.

‘Boris,’ Delun told me. ‘Look. Over there in that tree.’

Boris waved at me as though he didn’t realize how much that apple hurt. I waved back. ‘Idiot,’ I mumbled to Delun. ‘Next time I will shoot the whole tree at him-‘

‘You will do what, Mr. Winfield?’ Jerry.

We both said nothing. I was lost in a deep thought about how Jerry’s forehead drew branches when he frowned. He had two deep lines that leaned into each other like a couple standing in the sunset.

‘Sign your names,’ he handed us his pen; I was hesitant to touch it; he chewed the tip all day, you could see where his teeth were dug. But we had to sign anyways.

‘Very well,’ he continued, ‘I will be watching you. You better do a good job and help your teammates.'

He left and I scoffed. ‘Come on, we’ll show him what he wants to see.' I said.

We stood in Jerry’s sight on purpose and began to pluck out the apples. The air was sweet and filled with a waxy odor. It made my mouth water like I had bit into the fruity crispiness of the red apples I was throwing on the sheets.

Jerry’s beaver eyes were on us the whole time. I waited till he smiled at Samantha who was calling his name to tell him something and I slipped one in my pocket. I took another one for Delun just in time Samantha left.

I felt so proud and confident that things were going my way. I had forgotten about the apple tree incident; it existed very lightly in my memory like a fading dream until the feeling struck me again. Harder and stronger. I felt sick and weak. A single apple felt like a stone in my hand. Several trees behind us, I realized, stood The apple tree.

And I didn’t know what was I seeing but at first there seemed to be a great border, shining so brightly around it like a flipped fish bowl. I was surprised it attracted no one’s attention but mine. If everyone saw a bear right now they would be running for their lives. But that shining light coming from The apple tree - brighter than sunlight! How could nobody else notice? Was it a normal phenomenon I was the last to know about?

I could hear the sound again echoing like a gate was opening – or a portal.

‘Delun,’ my voice came out weak and shaky. I was embarrassed to be afraid in front of him. ‘Did you hear it again? Can you see this light?’

I could see the light reflected in Delun’s black eyes. ‘Oh, man. Brother. What is this? It must have an explanation in Chinese mythology or I don’t know. My father would know.’

The liar - he said he didn’t see anything in court. Instead of defending me! But when I get out I will fix things. I’m not very mad at him, because that day in apple picking, I later disappointed him very much. Well, it was all a misunderstanding. 

 We both walked towards the tree. We both ignored Jerry’s “hey, where are you two going? You better get back here-‘but that’s all we could hear. The closer we got to The tree, we felt safe from Jerry and his call. We felt unreachable. We felt embraced with an assuring warmth – something I hadn’t felt since Miss Winfield left me.

I felt one with the tree. Delun on my side – he was afraid from all this warmth The tree radiated. He found it too unusual, which is quite understandable. But me – I hadn’t felt loved for a long time. I refused to go back with Delun. I refused to do anything but to keep on walking. Even if that meant being alone.

It wasn’t long before I understood that within that border – that fishbowl – you could never be alone. The moment I stepped beyond the blinding light that I’d tolerated so patiently - ignoring the fact that I was crying from all the heat in my burning eyes – I discovered a whole town.

It was still autumn there. The fiery leaves were crispy underneath my feet – something I deeply enjoyed. The sky was still gray and the air was still filling my ears with cold. Just the way I liked.

Surrounding me was the bright border but ahead of me was a stretching distance that seemed longer than it actually was outside the fishbowl – the tree seemed miles away.

And in this town, they spoke English – obviously, because I could read a newspaper that the wind had blown to my feet. It was still September the 23rd but it was the year 1920.

A time machine, I thought. I was damn proud. Jack Winfield, 17, discovers a time capsule in Wooden Bark. I imagined this heading in London’s next issue. Maybe Uncle Henry would be proud of me for once and remove me from volunteering.

Ahead of me there were streets and shops, and people. If they were able to see me, they probably thought I was strange from the way I dressed – a big hoodie with a scarf, and sweatpants. A bit too underdressed. I don’t know if hoodies were even a thing back then; all the people looked a bit too fancy: swirly hairdos (like chocolate cream), gloves, dresses and skirts; not a woman in pants. And the men, all suited, coming back from work it seemed. A train station was on my far left, the smoke filled the air lightly.

Acid got me back to my body. It burned my larynx; I felt starved for days. I wanted to eat something from 1920, to be the first person to eat something from 1920!

There was a place a bit beyond the station called Tres Sucre. I craved some sugar, alright. Everything was okay on my way there; I was looking forward to that first bite of cake, or pie, or anything. Everything was alright. It’s not like I was planning to murder anyone.

Everything was fine – until he appeared like a mist before me. He stood before me like a rainy day changing our plans to do something I longingly waited for.

But I couldn’t resent him. He looked so endearing – around 8 years old, big blue eyes, drooping down from the sides, like a lingering sadness, plump red lips, skin as white as cream, and a gray coat, oversized. He wore big shoes, torn, like the rats have nibbled on them day and night.

I cracked a smile for him. He remained fixed in front of me like a statue. I got nervous around children; I wanted to leave. But he stopped me when he spoke.

‘I can keep you here. We will live forever.’ His voice was small and coarse, like he suffered a bad cough.

‘What, little boy? Do you need anything?’ I offered him an apple from my pockets, awaiting the sweets in the shop I wanted to go to.

‘I need you. We can stay here forever. If you let me keep you.’

I frowned. Must be a sick boy. Mental or something.

‘Okay, little boy. Your mommy will find you.’ I was jealous about the thought that he could have a mommy and I couldn’t. But then I remembered his bad attire.

‘No, my mommy is not here. I left her. But I need you.’

I was getting frustrated by this point. Children were always annoying for me.

‘Why? Why do you need me? I just got here, can’t you find someone else?’

‘I waited for you. So long. You are me. You have to stay or I will not exist here anymore.’

There was not a hint of innocence in his voice. There was not a thing about him – besides his physical state – that would have made me feel a touch of sympathy for him.

‘You are,’ I looked around, trying to spot a mental asylum somewhere, ‘you are lost, aren’t you?’

‘But now I am found. Please. It will hurt just a little. But then no more. You will live here forever. I am so lucky that you exist. Many here don’t have other versions of them so today in a short while, the tree will recycle all its components and they will not exist anymore.’

The tree.

‘The tree? What do you mean?’

‘One hundred years ago. Please say you remember. You were me and you died near that tree. I am that 1920 version of you that remains. The tree kept and protected me. You felt safe in that tree because you could feel me.

‘Please, it will only hurt a bit.’

I felt so irritated – the acid in my larynx, the salt crawling in my eyes, the sight of the boy…

But I believed him. It felt so true.

‘What would hurt?’ I said, decisively creating annoyance in my voice. ‘What would hurt? Tell me and get over with me already!’

‘Let me show you.’ He removed a dove from his pocket. It was alive, asleep with its little head tucked in its wing.

I will not describe the means in by which he killed it and threw the corpse in my hands – but he did. And he had an explanation:

‘This corpse is like you, but,’ he said, pointing at an appearing mist of a dove, fluttering seamlessly, ‘this is like me. This is how I want you to be. Alive forever.’

A long argument came afterwards and I was so taken by it that I forgot about the bird in my hand. I, with my full awareness, began explaining to him that he could live here forever without me, and he, with full force, explained to me why this was not possible – that every 100 years the tree recycled its components and today was his last day; only those components like himself that had other versions of themselves (that being me) were allowed to have a place in the safety of the tree if  these versions agreed to be dead to “free the soul from the body and allow it immortality”.

With the bird still in my hand I ran with full force. He, of course, ran after me, but he couldn’t break through the barrier. I got back to present time and watched him fade as he tapped against the fishbowl, calling. One would assume he was the victim by the way he appeared.

I found Delun outside and he saw the dead bird in my hands. Then he looked a distance away from me, right beside The tree. His face was a mixture of ugly expressions. For the first time I was afraid of him.

I found the boy, lying dead, spat by The tree.

Dear Delun, the boy killed the bird. And the boy was already dead. I did not kill either of them.

I am not a killer.

Jack Winfield.

October 15, 2020 20:50

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Hey Lara!! AMAZING story! The way your plot went and how you built the characters is just... amazing! Great job, and it seems you're pretty new to Reedsy, so I am here to wish you the best of luck!! I am sure many more people will start noticing your talent like me!! :)


Lara 🦋
06:09 Oct 17, 2020

Thank you so much!! I really appreciate that u read it and enjoyed it too! Thats right, it was my first story on reedsy and it was so fun to write :D ♡


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Chelsea S D
14:59 Oct 22, 2020

Hi Lara. Quite the interesting story. I'll be honest, I had to read it through a few times as it felt slightly jumbled. Was Jack telling this story from memory.... were we experiencing it in real time with Jack... I could have used more definition between the present, 6 months and 3 days ago, and 100 years ago. The concept is intriguing though, I want to know more about this Brigadoon-esque town and how it's reincarnation works. I am glad the critique circle brought me to your story and I look forward to reading more of your stories in the f...


Lara 🦋
15:30 Oct 22, 2020

Hello, Chelsea! Thank you for your honest review 💕 I'm sorry it was confusing 😅 I appreciate you pointing that out so i could better my writing next time 🥰 I have a new story posted (Immortal), if you don't mind checking it out ☺


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Ariadne .
22:31 Oct 18, 2020

This is a crazy good Reedsy debut. The only thing I noticed was that you tend to use apostrophes (') to close off dialogues instead of quotation marks (" "). Other than that, the plot is excellent and your writing skills are amazing. I am a fan! Well done! ~Ria Mind checking out my stories? Thanks!


Lara 🦋
06:32 Oct 19, 2020

I'm so glad you enjoyed! Thank you for reading and commenting, Ria, I will surely check out your stories :) And yes the apostrophes are my bad habit 😅🙈 will take care in my next story :D


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