No one knew how it happened, only that it did. One night – nothing. And then suddenly, in the middle of the village green, there stood a large apple tree, fruit already being bared.
The villagers were delighted. There had recently been a food shortage in the area – it had been so hot in the summer heatwave that the crops hadn’t grown as they should. But the apples were a saving. Their children wouldn’t starve for much longer.
The villagers had apples in everything. Apple crumble, apple tart, apple sauce. Oftentimes, just raw. They sold their apple products to travellers passing through, who were bemused that all the villagers boasted the same produce.
Yes, the apple tree was delightful – until it wasn’t. The villagers began to compete with each other. They began to hoard apples in their pantries, tell their children that they couldn’t be eaten because they had to be saved. Before, they had only taken what they needed. Now, they stripped the tree every morning and hoarded more than they could ever possibly stomach.
Then, the tree stopped giving fruit.
It happened slowly at first. A few branches began to stop, and then a few more, until a few days later a group of schoolboys, on their way home, ran through the streets yelling, “There’s no more fruit! No more fruit!”
The villagers panicked. They tried to make their apples into all of the tarts, and crumbles, and sauces that they possibly could, but every apple they cut into fell apart – they were mouldy on the inside.
A famine took over the village and soon they had no choice but to eat the mouldy apples. They began to go mouldy themselves.
One would cautiously venture outside and find people simply dropping where they stood. Soon, only children remained, much too small to dig hundreds of graves themselves. A small group of survivors, 15 or so, ventured to another village some 20 kilometres away, their faces tear-stained, to get help.
But when they returned, there were no bodies left to bury. They had rotted quickly, their flesh becoming a nice fertiliser. The undigested seeds in their stomachs caused hundreds of apple trees to shoot quickly into the air. It was a forest of the dead, their fruits laid bare across branches which didn’t sprout leaves.
The children ran through the village, searching for anyone – anyone! – still left. They reached the village green, now covered in a sea of brown, green and red. In the centre, prouder and taller than all the others, stood the first apple tree, its branches now carrying fruit once more.