This was all her fault. Not him. No. Not his fault, at all. She made him do this.
It was all her fault.
She should have been his. They would have been perfect together if she had just … just ….
He slammed his hands against the steering wheel.
He stank of gasoline. His skin. His clothes, too, and his shoes. He had spilled some while filling up the cans. Ruined his shoes. Yeah, that was her fault, too. The car would probably smell like gasoline for weeks.
He scrubbed his sleeve across his nose, but that just made him flinch and sneeze.
Blinking rapidly, he took his foot off the accelerator and clicked off the headlights. He let the car drift down the narrow driveway. The front tire hit a shallow pothole and the car bounced. The gasoline cans rattled in the trunk.
He peered out the window, grimacing.
Trees loomed over the road. The moon was bright enough for him to see their heavy branches spread out overhead like some kind of old fashioned walkway or corridor.
Nature’s cathedral, she had called it.
He had laughed.
She had frowned.
He should have known then that there would not be a second date. He had laughed at her stupid trees. The century-old oaks that lined the road. The wildwood of ash and hazel and maple at the back of her property. (For the Good Neighbors, she had said. He hadn’t known what that meant, so he had just kind of snickered, not laughed out loud.)
And the apple trees. Her pride and joy. A grove of … what had she called them? Oh, right. Heritage breeds. Old apples. Old trees.
Dead trees, soon enough.
He cut the engine and let the car coast a bit further. Her driveway wasn’t long; maybe a quarter mile. He needed to get close enough that carrying the gas cans wouldn’t be too much trouble, but not so close that she might spot his car.
There. Good enough.
He tapped on the brake just as the attic window of her old house appeared through the archway of oaks. With a squeak that made him flinch, the car lurched to a halt.
Cracking open the door, he listened.
Birds. And bugs. Lots of both, though he had no idea what kind.
No sounds from the house, though, and no light leaking through the trees.
Shutting the car door carefully, he moved to the trunk, popped it open, and hauled out the four full cans of gasoline. The metal handles bit into his palms.
Should have brought gloves.
He’d been in a hurry, though. Angry. Too angry to remember everything that he needed to bring.
That was her fault, too.
Huffing, he staggered down the driveway. Before he was within sight of the front door, he staggered off to the left, squeezing between the gigantic oak trees. He banged his toes against the thick roots. Muttering a curse, he lifted one foot to kick at a knotty truck and nearly lost his balance.
An owl hooted, making his skin pebble.
Glaring up at the branches, he shifted the gasoline cans for a better grip, and made a wide circle through the oak trees, around the edge of the wildwood, around the house, to the apple orchard in back.
The branches were heavy with white and pink blossoms. By autumn, they would be straining under the weight of her heritage apples.
Or not. He felt the weight of the gasoline cans, and grinned.
He paused as he passed her little shrine. Something else he had laughed at. It looked like one of those hollow alcove things that old women had their front yards. Except hers was stone, and it had the statue of some Goddess or other holding an apple. Which one? Id-something. Idu? Idun? Idunna?
Idiot, more like.
He set the cans down this time before taking a good kick at the statue. It took a few shoves, and he even had to pull at it with his hands, scraping his palms, but eventually he was able to knock it over.
It fell face first into the ground.
Straightening with a satisfied smirk, he wiped his hands on his shirt. The cuts stung.
An owl hooted again. Maybe it was the same owl.
He looked up — and suddenly realized that the birds and bugs had gone quiet.
Nothing. No sound.
Even the wind was still.
A shiver ran up his spine, quickly becoming a shudder. His mouth went dry and it was suddenly very hard to breath.
Sucking air, he looked around frantically. Front, behind, left, front, right, behind —
With a stuttering shriek, he stumbled back, tripping over the gasoline cans. He caught himself, jamming his wrist against the ground. His feet tangled, untangled, tangled again.
Panting, he threw himself back onto his feet.
The woman was still, so still. She studied him, her head tilted slightly to one side. She wore a long gown. It might have been green or blue or maybe it was changing color, he wasn’t sure. She held an apple in her hand, a perfect golden apple.
She smiled. Laying her hands flat, she held out the apple to him.
He stared at it.
He tried to swallow, but his mouth was too dry and his tongue felt heavy.
One step. Two. Three.
He moved towards her, his eyes fixed on the apple.
His. It was his. The apple belonged to him. And he would have it. Because it was his.
The woman smiled as he snatched the apple from her hands. He backed up a few feet, far enough so that she couldn’t take it back. He cradled the fruit in his scraped palms, staring down at it.
He opened his mouth wide. One, two, three bites and the apple was gone, the sweet fruit and sweeter juice sliding across his tongue and down his throat. He groaned happily and licked his fingers, not even tasting the gasoline.
The woman was still smiling. “Mine,” she said.
He blinked at her.
His legs felt heavy. He couldn’t move his feet. Why couldn’t he move his feet? His arms felt heavy, too, and the moonlight looked …. He blinked. The light looked funny. His skin felt hard. Why couldn’t he lift his arms?
“You will not harm her,” the woman — no, Goddess — said, drifting closer. “You are one of mine now.”
Annie found his car when she woke up early in the morning. It sat halfway down her drive, one tire in a pothole. It was covered in apple blossoms.
She called the police.
An officer came out, frowned, looked around. He walked around the property, but found nothing. Shrugging, he gave her his card and told her to call if she noticed anything else odd.
A week passed. His boss reported him missing. The police came out again, this time with dogs. They found nothing. The car was hauled away.
She did not tell them about the broken statue, or the cans of gasoline. How she had brushed it off and sat it upright again in its alcove. How she had tucked the cans in her garage, next to all the other car stuff.
She didn’t tell the police about the new sapling which had sprung up overnight in her orchard, either.
But she did leave extra offerings of mead and flowers at Idunna’s shrine. And, the next autumn, after the sapling had grown for a year and been visited by the bees, it produced a new breed of bright, golden apples.
She named them Idunna’s Grace.
[Rebecca Buchanan is the editor of the Pagan literary ezine, Eternal Haunted Summer. She has been published in a variety of venues, and a complete list of her works can be found here.]