Johnny’s Apple Seeds
Johnny’s Apple seeds
Mary Beth dug her wrinkled hands through the soft black dirt in her garden. After all the only way to get all the weeds is to get on all fours and use the tools Mother Nature had given her. It felt good to her, almost as if she was a part of nature it’s self. She sat up on her knees, wiped her fore head and surveyed her work. The tomatoes were bigger than last year but the rabbits took most of her cabbage but over all she was happy with the fruits of her labor so to speak. If only the neighborhood children would be a little quieter so she could enjoy her own back yard for once. How many times had their kick ball landed in her flowers she wondered to herself? No sooner had the thought left her mind when a loud ruckus erupted in the neighbor’s back yard and the familiar dark red ball came soaring over Mary Beth’s fence. Dead silence followed. Mary Beth smiled to herself as she strained to listen to the heated whispered argument happening between the terrified children. Mary Beth had earned the title of the local witch. Why? She had never known. Perhaps it was because she kept to herself. Maybe because she turned all her lights off and left one candle burning in the window on Halloween night and refused to come to the door to hand out candy. Sadness at that thought filled her heart and the smile slid from her face. Stupid brats, what do they know any way? She thought to herself. Mary Beth stood up and started to dust off her knees and hands. She walked over to her apple tree by the fence and picked up the ball. She turned to throw it back over the fence when she noticed a young boy standing there with a terrified look on his face. Mary Beth playfully bounced the ball in her hand and narrowed her eyes.
“Is this your ball young man?”
The boy jumped obviously not expecting her to speak to him or maybe he hoped she would not speak to him.
“What’s the matter? Cat got your tongue?” Mary Beth said as she positioned the ball between her arm and her hip and started to tap her foot. “It must have escaped your attention but I’m an old woman living on borrowed time, now is this your ball or not?”
The boy swallowed and mustered up his courage. “Yes… as a matter of fact it is and I would appreciate it if you gave it back.” He held out his chubby hands, trying not to let them tremble.
“Hum why should I? After all it seems to me this ball has crushed over a quarter of my flowers I planted this spring. I should stab a knife right in the middle of it and put it out of its misery.”
“You do that and I’ll… I’ll…” The boy struggled for words that wouldn’t come.
“You’ll do what?” Mary Beth said as she watched the sweat run from the boy’s sweaty blonde hair, down his chubby rose colored cheeks and watched as it dripped off of his chin. She decided to let him off the hook and tossed him the ball. “What’s your name kid?”
The young boy caught the ball with one big clumsy gesture. When he was satisfied he had a firm grip he looked up at Mary Beth. “Madison.”
“Madison? What kind of name is that?” Mary Beth asked with rich sarcasm.
“It’s the name my mother gave me.” Madison shot back heatedly.
Mary Beth smirked and nodded her head. She knew his kind all too well. These kids now days were nothing but smart asses. Too many unearned privileges, not enough discipline and in most case’s an absent parent. “You know a smart mouthed kid such as your self would never have spoken to an elder like that when I was a child.” Mary Beth crept closer to Madison and whispered, “Johnny Apple Seed would have come to claim you.”
Mary Beth slowly walked over to her back porch. As she hobbled up the three small steps to her favorite rocking chair she marveled at how the sunset was bathing her old wooden rocking chair in splashes of orange and gold making the porch look like heaven. Mary Beth sat down in the chair and slowly rocked back and forth as she used her apron to fan herself from the autumn sun set. She closed her eyes and let the sun warm her tired old bones.
“Are you talking about the kid who planted all the apple trees?” Madison said abruptly.
Mary Beth’s eyes shot open and she jumped with a start. She held up her wrinkled hand to shield her eyes from the sun light to take in the young boy’s expression. “Following old ladies around a new game for you? You could kill old people that way you know.” Mary Beth was pleasantly pleased to see Madison’s peaked curiosity. “Johnny was a curious boy too you know?”
“You are talking about Johnny Apple Seed the boy who traveled across the country and planted all the apple trees right? I mean that’s what they tell us in school.”
“Are they still spreading that lie?” Mary Beth snickered.
“Well what is the real story then?”
“You don’t want to hear a story like that. It’s a big responsibility to know the truth. I mean what are you ten?”
“Yes I do want to hear it and I know lots about responsibility. I watch my baby brother when my mom goes to the store and I’m thirteen for your information. I’m a lot more grown up than I look. I’ve kissed a girl and smoked a whole cigarette by myself. Trust me I can be responsible.” Madison said with a small arrogant grin.
Mary Beth chuckled. “A whole cigarette huh? You are practically a man already.” Mary Beth said as she looked the young boy over. “Being innocent happens only once. You don’t want me to open that door and take that from you.”
Madison crossed his arms in defiance. “Lady, do you watch the news or television for that matter? I can take it!” he said as he sat down on the porch step uninvited and waited patiently.
“I too was once an innocent child. I thought I knew it all. I was an only child and pretty spoiled much like you. I demanded a story every night from my father and when he became ill my aunt came to live with us. She was a mean old woman but I was determined she would take over for my father and weave me a tale like he would to put me to sleep. She told me the story of Johnny Apple Seed. Now don’t be confused with the stories that are told in school or what the movies portrayed him to be. In this story no one lived happily ever after. Let me tell you kid. Cinderella never escaped the slavery her step mother gave to her after her father died, the little mermaid committed suicide after she found out her human love was in fact in love with another woman and snow white was murdered in the dark woods and her mangled body was stuffed in to a hollow tree while her step mother placed herself on the throne. So was the story of Johnny Apple Seed. Once upon a time parents used to tell the true story but over time huge production companies decided to make everything sweet and tolerable to children. You kids are brats because you fear nothing. Johnny was a bright and inquisitive young man. I am unsure of the year. That was never passed down in my family. But I do know that this story has been passed down in my family for generations. Johnny’s father was a farmer that much was true and he was a widower. It was said that the grief from losing his wife would have consumed him had it not been for his son she left behind. He adored Johnny and spent every waking moment teaching him the trade of farming the land. Johnny’s father wanted him to be a farmer some day and take over the family farm and continue his legacy. But Johnny rejected the idea. He wanted to board the ships to this America everyone was talking about. The land of endless possibilities, maybe even discover places in America no one has discovered yet. So when Johnny turned fifteen he left home. He pushed the image of his father’s saddened expression on his face as he waved good bye to him as he sailed away and let the excitement of his adventure wash over him. When he came ashore he quickly found a colony that was eager to welcome him in. He took up work as a black smith’s apprentice and hoped to work his way up some day as a full black smith. He loved his new life and he wrote to his father every week to tell of his new life and tried to talk him in to coming there to live with him. He wrote those letters faithfully until one day the last letter came back with a letter from the undertaker. It stated that his father had died and his father’s farm had been sold to pay off some debt he had acquired over the years. The letter further stated that all that was left was seeds and that those were included in the envelope. Well as you can imagine enormous grief set in and then when grief left, anger came to stay. He was angry that he had left his father behind and the anger only became worse when he would witness families around the colonies sharing happy times. He carried those seeds in his pocket every day and every day he would reach his hand in to his pocket to touch the seeds hoping to once again feel his father’s love but it never came and the anger grew even more. Then one day when Johnny reached in to his pocket he felt something strange. He pulled the seed from his pocket and noticed a small sprout starting to form. He began to feel deep despair. He felt that if the seeds were to die it would be like losing his father all over again. Without thinking he began to run as fast as he could to the woods at the edge of town. He ran deep in to the ancient woods were most men fear to go. He finally came to a clearing and dropped to his knees and furiously began to dig with his bare hands. When he was satisfied with his hole he had dug he gently laid the seeds in the ground, covered them up and wept bitterly. He wept until his body became weak with grief he laid down and fell asleep. When he awoke a figure was standing there. The dark figure said that Johnny’s anger drew him there and that he was going to collect him for his own. Johnny tried to fight but in the end he was just not strong enough to fight the stranger. Mean while the colonist started to notice Johnny’s absence and feared that he might have been killed by a wild animal. That was until the long and hard winter set in. They say it was the worst one to hit since they had settled in that part of the mountains. Strange sightings of a pale young man standing at the edge of the woods started to circulate. Quietly at first and then the children started to die mysteriously. The undertaker reported that the children were white as snow and they had quarter sized holes all over their bodies. Worse yet he said there was a strange worm in each hole with a arrow shaped head that would peak out of the holes just to go back in and eat the children’s flesh from the inside out. They say that the smell was as if the child had been dead for weeks yet it had only been hours. No one knew what to make of this strange new plague that settled over their quiet little town. What brought fear the most was that the plague only affected the children. My ancestor, I believe his name was Thomas, sat beside his son’s bed every night and he kept a silent vigil. For he knew there was more to these mysterious deaths of the colonies children and he was right. One night Thomas’s fear was realized as he watched in horror as Johnny invited himself in to his son’s bed room. Johnny was as pale as a fresh white linen sheet. His eyes were as white as winter’s first snow. His pale blonde hair hung over his brow and gently swayed back and forth as he walked soundlessly toward Thomas and his sleeping son. He reached in to his almost worn completely through pocket and pulled out seeds. The seeds where blood red and strangely enough they almost resembled miniature apples. They wiggled in his pale white hand and they gave out tiny almost inaudible screams. Thomas watched in horror as Johnny slowly approached his son. Thomas’s son’s skin began to crack and peel back until quarter size holes began to form all over his body. The holes were pulsing as if they were just waiting to welcome Johnny’s seeds of death. In desperation Thomas jumped in front of Johnny and yelled ‘Take me! I’m old! I’ve lived my life. His life has hardly begun. Have mercy on my sleeping child!’ Johnny stopped and looked at Thomas in the eyes. For a moment he was reminded of the love his own father had for him. He began to stumble in confusion and the seeds fell from his hand and hit the floor. The ground began to shake violently. Johnny fell back in to the door way and caught himself on the wall. He took one last look at Thomas with tears rolling down his face and he turned and walked away, he disappeared in to the night. Thomas scooped up his son as the ground shook below his feet threatening to throw him to the floor. The house began to crumble all around him and he barely made it out of the house alive. Thomas felt the chill of the winter night creep up his spine as he glanced towards the edge of the woods and watched Johnny disappear in to its vast darkness. Thomas then turned to the ruins that once was his home and watched with sadness as it became alight with fire. The fire was not like any other flame he had witnessed before it threw out sparks and hissed as if someone was whispering to him. And if you can believe it, a tree began to grown in the middle of those flames. An apple tree to be exact grew from the engulfed ruins. It grew ten feet tall and it even bore fruit. The flame eventually went out and from that day forward the story served as a warning to children to never take their parents for granted because Johnny with his apple seeds would come back.”
Mary Beth rocked gently in her rocking chair as she watched Madison run screaming from her porch leaving his ball behind. Maybe this is why the children think she’s a witch. Mary Beth silently laughed to herself.