The massive orchard was ablaze in the setting sun. Various fruits on the ground mocked their fiery father as they lay in the waste of one another, shining with the same vibrant color of sunsets and sunrises without emitting any light.
Twigs, twisted and broken, or young and bent lay amid the roots who gripped the Earth like thick, demented hands protruding from the base of every peach, orange, cherry, and apple tree. As Damion walked, he imagined the orchard to be a star factory. He picked up a red dwarf and peeled away the vibrant skin with his grandfather’s pocket knife. The little tool had seen many more years than the boy, along with wars, tragedies, and even the insides of men and animals alike. All of this was lost on Damien, who had only known its place to be in his grandpa’s pocket until it became his. Surely, some stories went along with it, but certainly not the ones he’d enjoy. He never had much use for it, to tell the truth.
Damion ripped apart the little orange and felt the stringy veins wrap around his teeth out of spite. As he did so, he watched the last of the daylight darken from a pink to a deep purple. The feeling of regret for the loss of a day wasted clung to the back of his mind as a mold brought in by the tide of day’s end.
He discarded his torn apart orange on the ground and waited for the thing he’d been dreading all day. It was not a thing, really, but a person he’d hoped to never to talk to for as long as he lived. Jesse Courtnick pushes his way through the orchard toward the boy, followed by two others— Damion assumed them to be his fellow menaces. The little crew marched toward Damion wearily and with careful feet. Nervous glances passed between the three children as they checked their surroundings.
“Hello there, gentlemen,” said Damion, a trace of a voice-crack pushed through, omitting his youth to the three slightly older boys.
“Well, Dame, you know why we’re here.”
Damion’s heart fell into his stomach and jiggled the butterflies awake from within him. He truly hated what was inevitably to come next. “Yes,” he said with the most emphasized reluctance, “I know.”
The stare of six eyes was unnerving and relentless; eyes that spoke of curiosity, malcontent, and apprehension. “We’ve come for the fruit,” said the boy on the right of Courtnick.
“Of course,” said Damion. “Everyone does,” he mumbled to himself. “Well, there’s plenty to go around. Why not grab yourself, say, a pear? Apple? Orange? Peach?”
“Sick bastard,” exclaimed Courtnick, “We know where you get those from. No, we want the forbidden stuff.”
Damion sighed, “Look, you already know that I can’t, Jesse. My grandfather doesn’t want anyone to pick from that tree.” The tree he referred to was hidden within the orchard somewhere else. A beautiful cherry tree with bark made of silver and leaves made of emerald. The fruit it bare were priceless rubies. When eaten, swallowed whole, one could appreciate the sweetness of life forever.
“How do you know my name?” Jesse scowled. The boys on either side of him shifted uneasily.
“Word gets around. I know everyone who comes into the orchard, typically before they do it.” Damion’s voice crack had gone, but his whiny, prepubescent mumble was lacking in the confidence one needs when facing three bigger boys.
They stepped forward, “Are you going to give us the fruit or do we gotta do it our way?” Courtnick pulled out his knife, as did the boy on his right. Damion did the same until he noticed the boy on the left had no weapon.
“Do you need to borrow mine?” asked Damion. The boy shook his head but Damion insisted, “I’ve never used it anyways.” He closed it and tossed it at the boy’s feet. Opening and inspecting it, the boy noticed it’s ancient wood handle and bone blade. He raised it, ready for combat. The three stepped in unison toward Damion, who stood alone, slouched with his arms hanging loosely by his sides. One step, two steps, three and he still stood there. Petrified, Courtnick thought, then he lunged.
As soon as he lunged, he regretted it and was the first to fall victim to his own blade. His arm was twisted by a blur of Damion’s right hand, forced to drop his switchblade. The next thing Jesse knew, his knife had been caught by a second blur and returned to him through his belly button. His body erupted in pain as, at the same time, a second knife planted itself into his back left shoulder. His body tightened and writhed in horrible pain until the shock overcame him and his scream faded.
The second boy was lain by his own, homemade blade shortly thereafter. He had worked hard to perfect the little ridges in the knife in such a way that when it stabbed, it burrowed, and when it was retrieved, it tore. When it stabbed the wrong person, well, he had to make a choice. Frozen in arbitrary indecisiveness, the choice was made for him as Damion extracted the blade and then rived the boy’s skull with it.
That only left the boy with Damion’s knife. Covered in blood, Damion’s true form appeared: a grizzled and ancient thing that waited in the moonlight to tear and cleave his enemies like a werewolf. Before, he was not petrified. In fact, he was bored and disappointed. For this time, it was only boys that took it upon themselves to challenge him. It felt good, however, to be young again, even if it was an involuntary illusion.
“You can run,” said the Grizzled One. “I don’t anticipate you’ll get very far.” The boy remained out of fear of moving. “Fine, but I really will be needing my grandfather’s knife back.” The boy dropped it and ran. The moon became a spotlight that pursued his every movement.
As he ran, the trees began to move around him, creating a great level of difficulty in making any progress. The floor beneath him, riddled with living roots, began to move like a treadmill, ensuring he’d stay in place. “Help us,” said the roots as they tugged him down, gripping at his feet and ankles. Their fingers were upon him and soon the boy would be no more.
The Grizzled One shook his head as adolescent screams echoed throughout the orchard. He was no more a guardian of his family orchard than he was of his family secrets.
Laying the three boys at the edge of the little trees, aligned with the pattern, the Grizzled One placed seeds in each one their mouths. He recognized that life and death must be balanced, and for every loss, a triumph. Flowers bloomed out of the gaping orifices and in a day, the orchard seemed just a little bit bigger.