Another Halloween night was fast approaching, and the McFarlands could do little to conceal their increasing anxiety. They could ill afford a repeat of last Halloween. The police hounded them for months after the disappearance of two local teenagers during one of their traditional “Haunted Halloween Hayrides”.
“Ran off to neck in the orchard, I suppose,” the elderly farmer had told the Sheriff as to the teenagers presumed whereabouts. “Took my dog and shotgun out there after the hayrides were over, thinking I’d scare them back out. Didn’t see hide nor hair of them, though. Must’ve run away together.”
If only they had been so lucky. The farmer and his wife knew what really happened to them, but they weren’t about to share that knowledge with anyone. Not only would everyone think them insane, but they would surely have their decrepit farm seized once and for all. This was their life, their home, and they weren’t about to let a few rotten apples take that all away from them. Besides, it wasn’t the first time it had happened, and with each passing Halloween night, the McFarlands knew it wouldn’t be the last.
Several hours later, Mr. McFarland drove his tractor into the barn and took the wagon off the hitch. The evening of hayrides had been a success. The youth all had a scream, and no one went missing. The farmer closed the barn door and took a quick look around to make sure everyone had gone home. Satisfied that nothing was amiss, he retired to his farmhouse for the night.
The two high school dropouts crept out from where they had hidden behind the barn. They had no intention of going directly home. It was Halloween night, and they were out looking for trouble.
The allure of the apple orchard reached out and beckoned to the two miscreants. The wind howled and moonlit shadows danced eerily from tree to tree. The two boys headed off toward the orchard, Brad punching a scarecrow in the face as he passed it by. Nate snickered, following closely behind.
Upon entering the orchard, the wind picked up, swirling fallen leaves around the boys as they walked. Wisps of fog snaked along the ground.
“Hey, check that out,” said Brad, pointing to a lone apple tree in the far corner of the orchard. It’s gnarled branches swayed in the breeze like withered arms reaching out toward the teenagers. It’s roots were exposed, jutting out of the ground and resembling skeletal remains. Surrounding the tree was a low black fence.
“Think there’s a graveyard under there?” Nate asked, as the boys approached the tree, stepping over the fence to investigate the area further.
“No, it’s just an old tree,” answered Brad. “It looks dead.”
He kicked the trunk, chips of wood splitting away, revealing rotten, worm-eaten areas beneath. Reaching up, he snapped off a gnarled branch from overhead. An unusual thick red sap, oozing from where Brad had broken off the branch, went unnoticed as the clouds covered the moon, enveloping the orchard in complete darkness.
Nate pulled a small flashlight from his pocket. He was growing uneasy as the branches creaked in the wind, and a bat swooped down from the bare branches above. He directed the penlight toward a nearby branch, taking note of some oddly shaped apples still attached to the limb.
“Look at these,” he told Brad, shining the light directly on the apples.
“They’re rotten. So what?” remarked Brad.
“Look closer,” insisted Nate, reaching up and turning an apple from side to side. “It almost looks like these rotten apples have distorted faces on them. Those are the eyes, and that looks like a mouth drooping open…or maybe even screaming.”
Brad grabbed the flashlight from Nate and directed the small beam on another apple. “Hey, this one wants to smoke,” Brad laughed, as he obliged by holding a cigarette up to a small hole in the apple.
“Quit it, Brad. Maybe we should just get out of here,” Nate whimpered, clearly spooked.
“Don’t be such a crybaby, Nate,” Brad admonished. “You’re scared of a dumb old apple tree?” With that, he yanked the apple off the branch and hurled it at the tree trunk, causing it to explode all over the tree, spattering brownish-red pulp all about.
Suddenly and without warning, a sharp-spiked branch shot out from the tree trunk and skewered Brad right through his Adam’s apple. His eyes bulged out and a gurgle issued forth from his torn throat as he twitched in the throes of death.
Nate would have been screaming in horror, had it not been for another branch simultaneously stabbing him down through his open mouth and through the base of his skull, cleanly severing his spinal cord. His body tore free from his neck and flopped down to the ground below, the roots of the tree curling up over his body, and pulling it down into the blood-soaked soil. Brad’s body followed suit, and it sizzled as it hit the ground and began decaying at an incredibly rapid rate of speed. The heads of both boys remained attached to the branches, and they too decayed rapidly and shrank down to the size of apples. Their eyes sunk in, their mouths remained open, and their flesh took on a bruised and withered appearance. Their skin had turned brown, their faces frozen forever in the guise of a grim and horrible death. The few shattered remains of their decayed bodies were hidden among the fallen leaves and gnarled roots of the apple tree.
The fog on the orchard floor began to lift, the clouds in the sky separated, and the moonlight revealed naught but a deadly silent apple orchard below.
Mr. and Mrs. McFarland peered down at the orchard from a high window. The farmer put his arm around his wife, trying to comfort her. “Don’t worry, Dear,” he said, soothingly. “Who’s going to miss a couple of rotten apples?”