I don’t like this one. Tell me what I did wrong, please. I think it’s important to display all of my work, even the ones I’m not particularly proud of.
-Scott “Beep Boop” Brown
Cherie and Michael took the first steps into the orchard. Their legs were outstretched, and they tapped their toes against the earth.
The rows of unkempt trees stretched before them. The small valley the housed the forgotten orchard was steeped in fog. The sun was beginning to set. Trees on the horizon were just beginning to look more like silhouettes than three dimensional.
She wore a purple dress that went below her knees. He wore khaki’s and a white button-down, carrying a picnic basket and a lantern.
“It’s scary!” Cherie said, unable to contain her excitement.
“That’s the point, right?” Michael said.
“What’s wrong?” she said.
Cherie laced her fingers into Michael’s.
“I just. This. Us. I’m nervous.”
She looked at his eyes, and he refused to meet her gaze.
“I dunno. My parents. My friends. It’s like this is destined not to work,” Michael said.
Cherie leaned in, went to her toes and gave him a peck on the cheek. His face went red, and a smile crept up.
“It’s okay. They’re gonna feel that way. I’m black, you’re white,” Cherie said.
He squirmed a bit.
“What? You don’t like hearing it?” she said.
“It’s just…you say it like it’s not a thing to be worried about.”
“You like me, right?”
Michael paused, “Yeah. I do. Cherie I like you a lot.”
She leaned close, grabbing his arm with both of hers.
“Then let’s go, c’mon,” Cherie tipped her head towards the orchard.
“Alright, yeah,” Michael smiled.
The two of them walked down the row. Grass was sparse, dirt shown in patches. The chill of the evening began to fall from the treetops along with the fog.
“There’s no apples,” Michael said.
“Yeah, there’s no one to tend to the trees anymore.”
“No, I mean, wouldn’t there be apples that fell?”
Cherie pondered this for a second before responding.
“I guess. Does that mean there are people here?”
“I don’t know. I guess apples stop growing after a while.”
“If there’s someone here to ruin this picnic,” her voice went up in volume, “Then they’re gonna a get a slap in the face!”
She laughed, and Michael went to shush her.
“What!? That’s the quickest way to find out if someone else is here.”
“What if there are people here!” he yelled in a whisper. What if they’re, ya know…” Michael could not bring himself to finish the thought out loud.
“Part of the klan?” Cherie said.
Michael sighed, “Yes, Cherie, part of the klan.”
“We both know what everyone thinks of this place.”
“But what if…”
“What if! What if!” Cherie interrupted, “Just…live here, right now, with me.”
She pulled his head down to hers and kissed him. He was dumbfounded, frozen in place when she pulled away.
Cherie ran through the trees, arms up. Michael put the lantern and basket down to chase her. They frolicked until the sun was just about to disappear entirely. Returning to the lantern in time to light it then rolled out a blanket.
They fed each other cheese and grapes. Cherie giggled and Michael laughed. The two of them forgot about the weight of their skin tones for a time, relishing the pure bliss of a new relationship.
With their heads touching, they observed the night sky. Stars were bright. The moon was nowhere to be seen.
“It’s a new moon,” Cherie said, “Fitting that this is our first date.”
Michael fidgeted with his hands, licked his lips and then spoke.
“Cherie, I like you. I really do. This has been the best date I’ve been on.”
She reached a hand over to his face, touching his cheek.
“Date’s not over yet,” Cherie whispered.
WHUMP. A sound came from within the orchard.
Cherie and Michael sat up.
“What the hell?” Michael’s head swiveled.
“Was that a falling apple?” Cherie whispered.
WHUMP. This time closer.
The couple stood up, Cherie clung to Michael’s arm.
“Say something!” Cherie whispered.
“Then they know they’re getting to us,” Michael told her.
WHUMP. This time only twenty feet away. WHUMP.
“Hey! Knock it off, would you!” Michael yelled to the darkness.
WHUMP. whump. WHUMP. The sounds began to come from everywhere.
The two of them looked at each other in confusion. Michael picked up the lantern.
“What is…happening?” he asked no one in particular.
“The trees didn’t have apples on them when we came in, right?”
The falling apples continued for a full thirty seconds at least. Cherie and Michael stood on their picnic blanket, unsure whether to move.
Soon the sounds stopped, and Michael took small steps towards the trees. Cherie kept pace.
The lantern’s light illuminated the grass and dirt under the nearest tree. Apples, looking fresh as could be, were under the branches.
“Those weren’t there before,” Cherie said.
“I know,” Michael said, “I know.”
A voice, too loud to be human, bellowed from within the trees.
“THIS. IS MY. ORCHARD.”
Its tone was deep, female, and full of rage.
“Oh shit!” Michael grabbed Cherie’s arm and they both ran in the opposite direction of the booming voice.
The uneven ground tripped them up, Michael fell with the lantern, and it broke. Darkness fell on them like a net.
“You are in MY domain. You work for ME now!” the voice boomed.
A soft white light began to illuminate the trees. Translucent human forms appeared. Everywhere, under each tree, the spirits picked the fallen apples.
“We have to get out of here,” Cherie whispered.
At each touch of the spirits, the apples became translucent, becoming part of another place. They worked with no feeling.
“Run!” Michael yelled, pulling Cherie towards the edge of the orchard.
They went past rows of spirits, until the path in front of them became dark. They stopped, staring at the swallowed light ahead of them.
“This place is mine. And everything in it,” the voice came from in front of them, above the darkness.
A human head at the end of a long neck came down to reveal itself in the spirit’s illumination.
It smiled, and a tentacle shot out from each side of its immense body. With the slightest touch, Cherie and Michael became translucent, and the light left their eyes.