Bonus Story: Apples in Spring

on March 23, 2008 in Other Tales

Originally I was going to write a bonus story more closely related to the current chain of events, but that idea just wasn’t coming together. I’ll probably make that the next one. So, instead, here’s another little glimpse into the past of a character or two.

The comfortable underground home of Robert Willikins, Esquire, was the single most valuable thing in his possession, though it wasn’t truly in his possession. It had come to his family from his wife’s Great-Aunt Ruth, whose will stipulated that the family could remain only as long as her niece, a full-blown Callaway, lived in it.

It was a proper home, a comfortably furnished burrow carved out of a round hillside and not a brick-and-timber job as was becoming so common. The so-called “modern” home builders claimed that they represented a sort of progress, and there was something to be said at least of their claim that the tallfolk were less likely to unknowingly drive a road through or build a reservoir over a gnomenshire that had brick-and-timber houses out where anybody could see them.

Still, the fact remained that a house was not a hole, and even if the name of Willikins had fallen far in recent generations, for the time being at least Robert Willikins could say that he lived in a proper, respectable hole. That was a boast no other Willikins could make.

In the cozily cluttered kitchen of that hole, his daughter Hazel Willikins stood at the table, carefully peeling the skin off an apple. She meant to do it in one long strip, just as her mother had showed her how to do years before, but she broke it twice and cursed, loudly.

“Hazel?” her father called from his study. “What are you on about in there?”

“I’m peeling an apple for Mum!” Hazel called back.

“Let her rest,” her father said. “She don’t need you bothering her all the time.”

“I’m not bothering her, I’m just giving her an apple!” Hazel shouted down the hall. The Willikinses’ hole had a relatively high ceiling in the central hallway. The oft-repeated claim that one of the tallfolk could have walked its length with his head un-bowed might have been true, depending on the exact individual and as long as he stayed towards the center of the round passageway. “Bloody…”

“You watch your mouth, young lady,” Robert said, his head suddenly appearing from the door of his study. “And quit your shouting.”

“Sorry, Dad,” Hazel said. It would be no good mentioning that he’d shouted, too. “Can I please bring Mum an apple?”

“Oh, well, all right,” Robert said. “But mind you leave the knife in the kitchen.”

“I know,” Hazel said, paling a little.

“And no honey. Last time it ended up in her hair.”

“I know.”

Her father’s black curls disappeared back inside the study, and the door shut. Hazel returned to the kitchen. She proceeded to cut the large apple into tiny pieces, leaving the core aside. She dragged a stepstool over to the pantry and very carefully got the honey pot down from the top shelf, and drizzled some over the slices, then sprinkled cinnamon over that.

She was torn about the matter of napkins. Her mother had never liked the paper kind, and had been absolutely horrified when the grocer started stocking them. But, they could be thrown away when they were used. If Hazel used the good cloth napkins, she’d have to clean them carefully before her father had a chance to see them. She grabbed a small stack of the paper ones and a pair of the cloth napkins. If her mother objected to the paper, she’d have the cloth ones ready before it caused a fuss.

She trod carefully and quietly past her father’s study door, to the bedroom he’d once shared with his wife. He’d long since moved into the former guest bedroom, rendered superfluous by the utter lack of guests.

“‘lo, Mum,” Hazel said a little nervously, entering the dark room at the back of the hill. The hallway was cut clear through the low mound, so that the back bedroom had a big round window, but the drapes were drawn. “It’s me, Hazel.”

“I can see that,” her mother said, sitting up in the big, wide bed. Her face was prematurely lined, but still kind… still her mother. Her auburn hair was streaked with gray. “Silly girl. The barn’s on fire again.”

“Is it?” Hazel asked. Her mother often said queer things, and ones about the barn—the oldest and only semi-respectable free standing structure in the shire—were among the most frequent.

“Is what?”

“Is the barn on fire?”

“Who said anything about the barn? All I said was, ‘silly girl.’ Thinking I wouldn’t recognize my only daughter.”

“As you say, Mum. I’ve brung you an apple… with honey and cinnamon, just how you like it,” Hazel said, holding up the plate.

“That’s very thoughtful.”

Hazel brought the plate over and set it on her mother’s lap.

“Go ahead,” she said. “Have a piece.”

Her mother reached down and picked up one of the slices with her fingers. She smiled as she put it in her mouth, and Hazel relaxed a bit, taking a piece for herself. They each had a few more, chewing in silence.

“Would you like me to open the drapes?” Hazel asked. “Maybe let in some sunlight?”

Her mother shook her head.

“I’m sick of the view,” she said. “Isn’t it almost time to take the boat upriver?”

“Can’t, Mum,” Hazel said. “This is your Auntie Ruth’s old place. We had to leave the boat, remember? The river’s moved.”

“How you do talk,” her mother said. “The river’s always moving. That’s what a river is. Always moving. Just like you, my little Witch Hazel. You’re going to go further than any… than any…” She trailed off, blinking slowly. “Oh dear, what was I talking about?”

“I asked Dad if you could come to the Spring Festival,” Hazel said. “He said maybe, if you’re strong enough. It’s in two weeks. I think that’s enough time, for you to be well, if you rest enough and eat properly…”

“Spring festival?” her mother repeated. “Wasn’t it just the Solstice Ball?”

“No, Mum,” Hazel said. “Solstice was ages and ages ago. Months. It’s practically spring. The snow’s melted and everything. The grass is green and the flowers are coming back, and…”

“Has the river thawed? We should think about moving the boat.”

“All right, Mum. I’ll mention it to Dad, next I see him.”

“Oh, the Solstice Ball… that Willikins boy couldn’t keep his eyes off me,” her mother said. “Of course, I could never… what would my mother think, me taking up with river trash?”

“All right, Mum, I’m going to let you rest now,” Hazel said. She moved the plate of apple slices to the nightstand. “I’ll just leave the rest of the apples here, if you want a snack. Remember, you have to keep your strength up if you want to sing at the festival.”

“Where’s my cat?” her mother said suddenly, looking around in confusion. “Can you find her and bring her in?”

“Mum, we don’t have the cat any more,” Hazel said.

“Of course we do,” her mother said. “My little Ginger. My pretty little puss-puss. Do you know where she’s gone to?”

“Mum, honestly,” Hazel said, fighting back tears. “Y-you… well, we had to get rid of Ginger, that’s all. Remember?”

Liar!” her mother cried, lashing out and knocking the plate of apple slices across the room. Her face twisted in anger. “Why won’t you give me my cat? Why won’t you give me my cat?”

Robert was at the door in an instant.

“Hazel, go outside and play with your friends,” he said.

“She took my cat away, Robert!” his wife shrieked. “That little beast took my Ginger away and won’t give her back!”

“It’s all right, love,” Robert said soothingly. “I’ll take care of it.”

“I didn’t mean to…” Hazel said.

“Go play,” her father repeated.

Hazel didn’t have any friends, really, but she did go outside. She went around to the side of the hill where the slope was gentle, and headed up, climbing into the branches of the apple tree there. She sat up there for an hour or more. She’d wait until it was time for tea, at least. By then, her mother would be asleep and the mess would be cleared up and her father probably wouldn’t say anything about the honey.

“Bit early in the year for picking apples, isn’t it?”

The voice from behind her startled her, and she gave a little yelp and almost pitched forward off of the limb.

“Sorry,” Heather Callaway said. “Didn’t mean to frighten you.”

“Wasn’t frightened,” Hazel said, turning around in her seat to face her cousin.. “Just surprised.”

“I brung some stuff for you and your dad,” Heather said, holding up a large wicker basket. “From my mum. She says to tell you there’s no shame in charity.”

“Thank you,” Hazel said. She’d heard it often enough from the Callaways. At twenty-two, she was just old and wise enough to understand the purpose of such reminders.

“Say, er… would you like to come to a sort of party on Saturday?” Heather asked.

“I thought your mum’d had enough of me at her parties,” Hazel said.

“This isn’t one of my mum’s parties,” Heather said. “We’re all going to meet up at the barn. Roger’s sneaking a couple bottles of mead and Danny’s bringing a jug of cider and I’m bringing my music box.”

“Mead and cider?” Hazel repeated.

“You’ve drunk wine before, right?” Heather asked.

“At weddings and stuff, yeah.”

“It’s the same thing,” Heather said. “Anyway, we’re twenty-two, aren’t we? In the village, the tallfolk let their kids drink whatever they want at twenty-one.”

“I’ll think about it,” Hazel said.

“Don’t do me any favors. I only asked to be nice,” Heather said. “How’s your mum?”

“Good. I mean, I think she’s getting better,” Hazel said. “I mean, she has her bad moments, but she knew who I was when I first came in, and I figure it won’t be long before she’s…”

She trailed off, noticing that Heather was staring up at her in disbelief.

“What?” she asked. “Is there something on my face?”

“Your mum isn’t getting better,” Heather said quietly. “She’s dying.”

“What? No. She’s not,” Hazel said. “Dad said she can sing at the festival if she’s well enough.” Heather stared, stony-faced. “What? She’s not dying. She’s just… sick. People don’t die of sick, Heather. They get healed. They get better.”

“Healers say they can’t do anything more for her. She’s got a couple weeks, if not days,” Heather said.

“What do you know about it?” Hazel asked angrily.

“I heard my mum talking about it.”

“Well, your mum’s a stupid cow who doesn’t know anything about anything!” Hazel yelled.

Heather went purple.

“And your mum’s mad!” she screamed.

With a fierce cry, Hazel launched herself down off the branch and onto Heather. Heather flung the basket away and raised her arms to shield herself. There was a sickening crack as Hazel crashed into her and Heather screamed, but Hazel didn’t relent. She pinned her cousin to the hilltop, her fists pounding into her face.

Jars of preserves and carefully wrapped bits of cheese and bread rolled down the hill to land on and around the flagstones in front of the burrow door.

Confused shouts came in answer to Heather’s screams. Rough hands grabbed Hazel and pulled her away.

“You’re mad as your mum!” Heather cried as they carried her down the hill on a stretcher. Her leg and both arms were broken, and her face was a puffy, bloody mess.

“That’s right, I am!” Hazel yelled, kicking at the two older boys who held her off the ground. “And if I see you around here again, I’ll kill you, Heather Callaway! I’ll kill you!”

Down in front of the burrow, a red-faced Robert Willikins made profuse apologies and promises to the Sheriff’s man. The Callaway family declined to press their case in the matter against the Willikins, but that was the last of their charity. Everybody in Logfallen and beyond knew they could have taken everything that Robert owned and had his daughter gaoled besides. The fact that they had done neither was more than enough for them to quietly lord over him.

Johanna Willikins did not sing at the Spring Festival, though Heather Callaway did sing at her funeral. She was the only Callaway to attend, and that was the end of the personal feud between the two cousins. Robert had to sell most of his possessions in order to take rooms in one of the above-ground buildings.

It was a new low for the Willikins name, though by this point he was long past caring. Most of his relations had moved when the river did. He’d only stayed in Logfallen because of his Joy, and now that she was gone he didn’t have the will to start things anew.

He would die without ever leaving Logfallen again.

His daughter and her Callaway cousin, on the other hand, would not. They would both, as Johanna had predicted, go further abroad than any gnome of Logfallen ever had before. Though, just as it had taken a tragedy to bring them together in true friendship, it would take another tragedy to send them forth.

This, too, Johanna had foreseen… but that is another story.

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2 Responses to “Bonus Story: Apples in Spring”

  1. pedestrian says:

    It is emotionally wrenching to be present at the dying and death of the ones you love.

    Current score: 3
  2. Konso says:

    Anybody else catch the part about the barn burning? Remember the scene from the Lord of the Rings, where the barn burns and sends Samwise on his journey? Ayup, that just happened.

    Current score: 5