by Don Bagley © 2002

Gaylord Small's orchard comprised a swath of parallel lines of filbert trees that ran from Yankee Hill Road back to Stoney Hollow. The nuts in autumn were irresistible, sweet, not bitter like canned filberts. And a break in the west Oregon rains lent Ronnie and his friend Joshua the opportunity to sneak in among the rows and pilfer enough nuts to fill out their jean pockets.

"Ronald," said Ronnie's grandmother when she saw him emptying the contents of his bulging pockets on the hall table. "You've been told to stay clear of Gaylord's orchard."

"But they're just right this time of year, Grandma."

"I've told you of the young couple who wandered into the orchard-"

"And never came out," said Ronnie. "Last Halloween-"

"A year go tomorrow, boy."

"I know," said Ronnie. "They walked in till they came to the dark corner by Stoney Hollow, and Lord knows what became of them."

"You needn't mock me," said Grandma.

* * *

"I bet you wouldn't dare," Ronnie told Joshua late the next day.

"I ain't scared,." said Joshua, looking into the dappled shadows that fell from the filbert trees like a net cast over the dirt. He jumped the log fence and began walking back toward Stoney Hollow.

Ronnie followed him, pausing to grab a few nuts from this branch or that. He noted that the trees seemed older as they progressed through the orchard, each trunk more gnarled and bent than the last.

"There's the hollow," Joshua called, and he skipped ahead of Ronnie. He ran across a space where the trees were sparsely planted. Suddenly stopped as though his feet were stuck.

"Hey," he called back to Ronnie. "I can't-"

Ronnie heard him make a gurgling sound in his throat. A shudder seemed to ripple up through the boy's torso. Ronnie yelled at him to get out of there, but already his friend was beginning to change.

Joshua's arms contorted, and his legs pulled together at the knees. His elbows bent at wrong angles, and then there was a cracking noise like that of a wishbone snapping. Ronnie took a step back when Joshua's left ear stretched up over his head and branched out, all brown and wrinkly. He ran off before all of the boy's skin had turned to bark.

Grandma pointed a dry finger at him, the yellow nail nearly scraping the skin from the bridge of his nose. "I've told You!"

x x x

Read more Flash Fiction?
Chat about this story on our BBS?
Or, Back to the Front Page?