If you didn’t read last week’s blog post, you might want to do that first since this is the second part of that story. When my mom read this, she told me it was about sex. I’d greatly appreciate it if someone could explain that to me. Personally, I think the woman has issues.
Apples (Final Bite)
The rain started Sunday night and was coming down in sheets by Monday morning. It rained so hard that Michael didn’t even think about the house as he hurried past on his way to school . He had his hands full just holding onto his umbrella and trying to keep it from blowing away. It rained during gym class, so the big kickball tournament was postponed. It rained during social studies, making that even more boring than usual. And, because it was still raining at recess, no one was allowed on the playground. The students all stayed in class where they had a choice between cleaning their desks or reviewing for the next day’s math test. By the end of the school day, Michael didn’t care if it was raining or not. He just wanted to get outside and get some fresh air.
As he approached the house, he didn’t even pretend to look the other way. He wanted to find whatever it was that had caught his eye on Friday. It had been something shiny and bright, high up in that ugly old oak tree. At least, he thought so at the time. It didn’t make much sense now. As Michael trudged past, oblivious to the puddles that covered the sidewalk, he studied each branch in turn. He saw nothing remarkable. The tree was as wretched and gloomy as ever, a tangle of darkness, shadows and rot.. Then, as he turned away, convinced his eyes must have been playing tricks on him, something miraculous happened. A single ray of sunshine broke through the clouds and fell directly on the biggest, reddest, most delicious looking apple Michael had ever seen. He stared openmouthed, wondering how he’d somehow missed it day after day. Something else occurred to him as well. What was a beautiful red apple, any apple for that matter, doing at the top of a decrepit old oak tree? Michael suddenly realized it wasn’t an oak tree at all. It was an apple tree, and nowhere near as old or decrepit as he’d thought.
In the weeks that followed, he made a number of other discoveries, each more incredible than the last. In addition to that one apple, he found dozens of others, all high up in the branches of that beautiful tree and all big, bright, red and ready to be picked. He wanted to climb the tree. He wanted to get those apples. He knew that could never be, not even after discovering a huge tree fort one day and a tire swing the next. He asked Richie if he’d ever seen them.
“You need to stay away from there,” Richie said, grabbing Michael’s arm insistently. “That’s a bad place. Don’t go near it. Don’t look at it. Don’t even think about it. Remember the rules?”
“But what about those apples and that tree fort?” Michael wanted to know.
“They’re not real!” Richie shouted. “Don’t you understand? You’re seeing things that aren’t there. It’s a nasty old house and a nasty old tree. That’s it.”
Michael looked at his friend. He wanted to believe him but, he’d seen all those things, how could they not be real?”
“Listen,” Richie said. “I think I know what’s happening here. Before that Dennis kid disappeared, he told my sister all sorts of crazy things about that place. He said a nice old woman lived there and gave him the best tasting cookies he’d ever had. He also said there was a big swing set and a pool in the back yard and he could go there and play anytime he wanted to. You’ve seen that place. There’s no swing set. There’s no pool. Heck, there isn’t even a back yard. It’s just a pile of weeds and prickers. And, let’s not forget that it’s haunted. STAY AWAY!”
Michael thought about Richie’s warning. It made sense. He’d been walking past that house for years. Until recently, he’d never seen any apples, tree forts or tire swings, let alone any of the stuff Dennis had mentioned. Then again, if those apples didn’t exist, how was it that they could look so real… so delicious? Michael decided he needed to find out once and for all.
The next day, he didn’t walk home with Richie or any of his other friends. He waited until all the other kids were gone before finally leaving the school yard. Moments later, he stood alone outside that old house, gazing in wonder at all that he saw. How had he ever thought of the place as old or scary? It was a charming little cottage painted a cheerful yellow with white trim. The large front porch was decorated with fresh flowers every color of the rainbow. A smiling old woman sat in a rocking chair watching all the children at play. Two boys were in the tree fort playing cards. Others raced Hot Wheels cars all over the front yard. A pretty blonde-haired girl sat in the tire swing. Michael couldn’t see into the back yard from where he stood but thought he could hear kids splashing around in the pool. Everyone he saw was crunching a red, delicious apple and the tantalizing aroma of fresh baked cookies hung heavy in the air.
Without a seconds hesitation, Michael headed for the house. The tree fort, the tire swing, the cookies and apples, the kids at play, it was too much to resist. He moved cautiously at first. Children waved as he stepped onto the soft green grass. The girl in the tire swing held out an apple even bigger and shinier than the rest. Michael looked all around. Everyone welcomed him, calling him by name. He moved closer.
“Come here child,” said the old woman on the porch. She smiled, her eyes twinkling like Christmas morning. “Come have a cookie. I made them just for you.”
Michael lingered, staying just outside the beautiful white picket fence. The woman beckoned, holding the plate of cookies out in front of her. “Come,” she said. “We’ve been waiting for you.” Michael broke into a run. He’d get a cookie first, then sink his teeth into that huge, delicious apple. Weeds immediately tangled around his feet. He didn’t stop, didn’t slow, didn’t even notice. He only ran harder. Prickers tore at his clothes and left long gashes in his arms and legs. Branches from the oak tree scraped his face. He didn’t see the blood or feel the pain. The smell of cookies was too strong. He kept running. Michael didn’t make it to school the next morning. But that decrepit old oak tree stood just a little bit higher and there was one more crooked, moss-covered fence post in the front yard. Richie didn’t notice. He was too busy looking the other way.