SUMMARY: Adam’s life changed to a darker tone one night when he and a young lady shared some apples. Now Little Joe likes those same apples and Adam wants to protect him but can’t tell him the whole story. You can read it here though.
Rating = PG Word count = 2135
Nightfall was a natural time for him. His black clothing blended in so naturally as did his rather dark complexion and black hair. A mood of despair helped too. After he had seen his younger brother once more head to that house to try to steal some apples, he had known what he had to do. After heading off Little Joe with the usual complaints and insults, he had waited until his younger brother was in the house venting to their father. Then he had gone to the storehouse and gotten an ax which he had sharpened earlier that day before his resolve had abandoned him. It was back now and the darkness that was approaching only made him more resolute. He mounted up on Sport and headed to that old house where his life had changed. It didn’t take long to chop down that apple tree spilling the fruit that still clung to its evil branches. Stomping on each one that lay in the dirt left a satisfying if sour taste in his heart and soul. Staring at that house almost daring the ghost to appear but knowing it wouldn’t, he cleaned the head of the ax before he rode home. The sweat from his exertions was not the only reason for the shivers he had as he made that trek. The ghost only appeared one day of the year as far as he knew, and that day was approaching.
The next day, as Adam Cartwright worked at his tasks, he knew his little brother saw the whole thing as a game. Little Joe was clearly trying to find his chance and finally did slipping away in the early afternoon when he thought his oldest brother was preoccupied at the forge and wouldn’t see him leave. Adam had a fairly good idea of what would happen next and those expectations were accurate.
“How dare you? I can’t believe you would go that far to get your way!” Little Joe had ridden into the yard and swung down off his horse to challenge his brother. Still furious at finding that apple tree cut down and the fruit destroyed, he wanted Adam to explain his actions.
“I told you something bad would happen to you if you ate those apples. I told you that I had eaten some and they made me sick. I was only trying to protect you.”
“What’s ridiculous?” Ben had come outside because of the commotion. He wanted to know what had set off trouble between his oldest and youngest once more.
“He didn’t like that I was going by the old Benson place to get apples. He cut the tree down and destroyed the apples just so I couldn’t have any.”
“Adam, is that true?”
“But why would you do that?”
“I ate some of those apples and got sick.”
“Pa, he said that was years ago. It could have been something else that made him sick.”
“Pa, it was the apples.” Adam worked at the forge avoiding looking at his father or brother.
Not knowing what to make of the whole situation, Ben decided to try to move on. “Joseph, nothing can be done about it now. Can we simply say that your brother did what he thought was right even if you disagree with him?”
“If he apologizes.”
“There are apples in the house.”
Ben had to grab Little Joe before he went for Adam who calmly continued working as if he had not stirred up a maelstrom. Knowing there was no peaceful solution at hand, Ben simply directed Little Joe back to his horse and guided him into the barn to take care of his horse. He warned him not to approach Adam.
“I want you to stay away from your brother. I’ll talk to him and see if I can get to the bottom of this. You cool down. Nothing will be settled when you’re in this temper.”
Walking back outside, Ben noted the stiff posture of his eldest son. Moving beside him, he wanted to comfort him but knew it wouldn’t be welcome.
“Do you want to tell me what’s really bothering you? Is it that Joanie Benson died there by that apple tree?”
For a time, Adam was quiet, but Ben could see that he had hit close to the mark with that question. When his son stopped working and stood staring off into the distance, Ben waited. Eerily, a wind began to blow from the direction of the Benson place about the time Adam turned toward him to speak. His eyes were darker than usual.
“Her parents still think I killed her. They blame me. Some people around here suspect me of killing her. I couldn’t even attend her funeral services because I wasn’t welcome.”
“I know. It was very unfair. When she was found, you were badly hurt. You were battered and bruised like you had fought someone yet you had no memory of who it was.”
Frowning, Adam didn’t know how he had managed to fool even his father on that one. He knew who it was, but he couldn’t say it. An unbelievable story would have gotten him committed or cemented the opinions that he was guilty of murder. No, the truth wouldn’t have helped him at all. He was much younger then and not nearly as strong as he was now. He wondered if he could win the battle if they fought again.
“Son, do you remember something now? You looked like perhaps you did.”
“I was trying to remember. It’s one of those odd things. It was so dark. I can remember the blows but not who delivered them. There’s only a vague wispy outline of something. Nobody I could identify.”
“You fought hard. I remember your hands were bloodied. It was what convinced the sheriff and anyone who knew anything that you were telling the truth. There wasn’t a mark or bruise on Joanie’s body so you couldn’t have hit her. You hit someone else. She was suffocated. Someone stopped up her mouth so she couldn’t breathe. Stuffed her mouth and throat with those apples. Gruesome thing to do.”
Standing as still as stone, Adam made no response of any kind.
“I’ll talk to Joe about this. I’ll get him to understand that it was more than the apples.”
“Thanks, Pa. I think I’ll go got a ride. I need some fresh air.”
“Don’t be gone too late, son. I’ll worry about you.”
Riding toward town, Adam detoured to the graveyard behind the church. He had been there many times and could find her spot without reading any of the grave markers. Hers was getting old now and worn by weather. Her family had moved away many years earlier leaving a few months after her death when her father said her mother was having trouble sleeping. Adam had wondered what that ghost might be doing to torment her. It wouldn’t appear, but he was sure it could still cause mischief. He remembered the words it had hissed to him as they fought. The chilling words from the apparition had been prophetic.
“I get one day a year to wreak havoc and take a life if I can get it. You’re trying to stop me from getting the prize I’ve been waiting for. I’ve been vexing this family preparing for my great moment and you will not stop me.”
He had been worried that Little Joe was the next target and had to stop him from going to that apple tree. Stopping at Joanie’s grave, he stared at the marker. The temperature in the area dropped twenty degrees and a mist rose all around him as her restless spirit rose up to greet him as it usually did. They had eaten those apples and somehow that had connected their spirits.
“Kill it, Adam, before it takes another. Then I can finally rest in peace.”
“I’ll fight him, Joanie. I’ll do my best to win.”
“No, don’t fight him. Kill him. And Adam, remember, this is hallowed ground.”
Then she was gone. The temperature was once more a warm fall evening and the air was dry with no hint of mist. Thinking about going for a beer, Adam instead rode and thought and ended up at the telegraph office where he sent a message to Joanie’s father mostly as a courtesy because his next stop was the land office. He bought the old Benson place. It wasn’t worth much so he got it for the taxes owed which weren’t much either. A rundown abandoned house on a few acres wasn’t exactly prime real estate especially when prospective customers found out a young woman was murdered there.
When Adam got home, he told his father what he had done. Ben was perplexed but Adam said he had to do it and had plans for the property though he wouldn’t divulge them. A few days later, on the last day of October, Adam said he would be busy all day and not to expect him home for dinner. Ben’s suspicion was that he was going to be at the Benson place because it was the anniversary of Joanie’s death. He wasn’t sure if he should go there or not. He decided to observe from a distance. When he saw Joanie’s father ride up to his son, he almost joined them, but the two seemed to be talking amiably.
“I didn’t expect you to come.”
“When I got your telegram, well, I expected you’d be here today.” Seeing the supplies Adam had, he guessed what was going to happen. “You’re burning it today?”
“Yes. I have some of the soil from Joanie’s grave too. I suspect you know why or you wouldn’t have come here.”
“Yeah, I guessed you knew too. We moved because the missus was hearing voices all the time saying all sorts of vile things. I had to move her before I lost her too. I see you chopped down that damn apple tree. Used to be them apples would show up all over the house. We wouldn’t eat them, but they kept showing up all over.”
“It’s a good thing you didn’t eat any. Joanie and I did that night, and that’s when it showed up.”
“Damn, so that’s the connection. I wondered what happened. I am sorry for what I said to you then. I was distraught, but it was wrong to take it out on you.”
“Thank you. I cared for Joanie. I still do. I wish somehow things could have worked out so differently, but now I want to see some justice done or at least to protect others from what happened to her. I think that’s what she wants too.”
“What are you going to do?”
“I’ve collected all the remnants of the apples and the tree including the roots that I dug up today. They’re all in the house especially at every door and window. There’s coal oil sprinkled liberally throughout. I’ve got a sliver of wood here about the size of a toothpick. I’m going to stand in the front door and chew on it. It should appear and that’s when I’ll throw the dust from the grave and fire the house.”
“That’s cutting it mighty close. Need some help?”
“I would be proud to have you at my side. Torch or toothpick?”
As evening fell, Ben wondered if there was any reason for him to stay. Then he saw his son and Joanie’s father run from the house that burst into flames. Flames shot into the sky in an eerie green color and piercing howling screams came from the house as winds swirled around the property carrying smoke and embers in a spiral. Ben rode there as fast as he could.
“Son, who’s in there?”
“What’s his name? Where has he been all these years?”
“Evil. We sent him back to hell.”
“Are you sure?”
“As sure as we can be, Pa. At least he’s not here anymore. I only hope no one picked any of those apples over the years and planted a tree someplace.”
“I don’t know, son. This house does sit on a main road. Those apples could have been mighty tempting to travelers.”
The wind picked up then and unnaturally blew to the west toward California. It seemed like there a cackle in the fall colored leaves of the trees too. All three men shivered though the temperature wasn’t chilly.
Tags: Adam Cartwright, Ben Cartwright, Joe / Little Joe Cartwright
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