If there’s one autumn ritual I can’t do without, it’s apple-picking. Way back when, when this orchard was no more than a glint in some conservationist’s eye, it was an excuse to climb every tree in sight looking for the fruit others missed. Then Daddy and I would run home, baskets full of nature’s bounty, and gorge ourselves on apple crumble for a month straight.
These days, of course, it was mostly an excuse to hang out with my dog. And my boyfriend, if I had one. Talking of which, Angel (my dog, not my imaginary boyfriend) was going a bit nuts.
“What is it, bub?” I said, crouching down. I shuffled over to where Angel was sniffing, pushing my hat a little further onto my head in case he tried to knock it off. Bad dog.
I looked down. There, on the ground, half-buried in the soft dirt, was a small, round, shiny thing. I kicked it to the surface. This was no discarded bottle cap. It was golden, about the size of a penny, and sparkling beneath the layers of detritus it had gained over the… months? Years? Decades? It’s hard to tell with gold.
Wait a minute.
This wasn’t just a pretty penny, it was worth one.
“Nice! Good boy, Angel!”
But Angel was off again, this time sniffing round the base of the D’Arcy Spice tree at the centre of the orchard. Making an odd whining noise and pawing at the ground, Angel uncovered another gold coin.
Then about a hundred more.
“Hey guys,” I yelled, “come look at this!”
“What’s up, Eve?”
I pointed. Adam’s jaw dropped open and he said some things I’d rather not repeat. “The apple, the ouroboros… these must have been hidden here during the Siege of Willow River! And it’s the biggest hoard I’ve seen since… what would you say, Eris?”
Atalanta gulped, for some reason.
“Just think what else could be under here,” Paris sighed. His expression had gone all gooey.
“Yeah, and maybe someone can think for five – four – one whole second about the number of trees we’re going to dig up to get to it? Please?”
Oh yeah. Hadn’t thought of that. No wonder Atalanta had gulped.
“Well, I say we keep the trees where they belong. Didn’t we plant these things in the first place because they were, like, super rare?”
“We did. Thank you, Eve, for proving my point. We should bury the whole lot and forget it was ever there.”
“Are you crazy?”
“We’re all mad here. All the best people are.”
“For Chrissakes, Paris. If you’re going to make a stupid reference, at least make it relevant. We’re about to face paradise lost, would it kill you to quote Milton?”
“How about ‘Not helping, Satan’?”
“Yeah, exactly like – hey!”
“Excuse me? What did you just call my wife?” Melanion hissed. “You’d better apologize before I knock your pretty little block right off.”
“Ex-cuse me,” I said, now thoroughly annoyed, “are we still talking about the apples? Or are we just arguing with each other?”
“You’re right,” Atalanta sighed. She took out a particularly big and scary Swiss army knife. “I’ll get some cuttings. I’d still rather we keep the trees, but knowing fallen humanity it won’t take a global flood to wipe ’em out.”
“Think I’ll join you, if you don’t mind,” I said. “Come on, Angel.”
Angel trotted off after me and we left behind the crowd, now much bigger and all bickering about the fate of the Eden Orchard hoard. I sighed. Apple-picking had somehow become my least favourite autumn ritual.
609 words – 6 pictures – now go read the rest!