A Death in the family.

by Psi-nova

Alone in the Orchard [ver. 2]

It was early afternoon and the rich sun beat down upon Sweet Apple Acres. With the end of summer only days away and the blazing heat of the sunlight drenching hardened muscles, his shoulders were soaked in sweat before any real work had been done. All alone, Big Mac worked the south field; this job was one that only he could really manage to sustain. Only he could manage the effort required to do this work for more then an hour or two without dropping from exhaustion. Today was the day for Deadwood duty. Even Mac dreaded the day, for the size and weight of the greatest of the apple trees that their clan had managed to breed resulted in towering monsters that could break thirty feet in height, and were often four feet thick at the base. Even as strong as he was, the thought of seventeen tons of wood crashing down on his head was not one he enjoyed, thus this duty had grown into something of a ritual, carried out with the utmost reverence and care.

Mac worked with diligence and ignored how his body had began to ache, back muscles tense from the effort of a steady pace. A bandana was tied under his thick blond bangs, its fabric trying to prevent the flowing moisture from reaching his eyes. From some distance he could hear Winona and AJ in the field to his north, the volume of the work dog's voice carried easily though the grove of trees. Grinning lightly, he took another few steps with little effort, lifting his right hand to wrap knuckles upon the bark of another tree he had picked out in the last few days. Hollow, echoing vibrations resonated inside the dead tree and back into his waiting ear. Silently, Mac turned to face the monstrous bark brother in a field of its kin. Any comparison between his target and those surrounding left no doubt; the signs were now as clear as day. The majority of its neighbors held so many apples their branches hung low under their massive weight, while this one was half empty. The dead trunk might continue to grow a small crop for a few years, yet it was a danger that was quickly becoming all the greater. Stepping close to the old giant, a whispering prayer escaped Mac's lips in reverence for the old wooden titan. Spilling forth respect for all the burdens of life it lived though, then thanks for its endless days of work to feed his family and sustain their livelihood.

With tender care, he inspected the branches a second time, circling the tree to find an angle to do the least harm to its brothers. With the expertise that could only come from endless practice, Mac took the time to let his weight shift from one leg to the other while finding a position that put the sun from his eyes. Leaning back to brace his left leg as a pivot point, he focused for what would come next. With muscles tight, he shifted his hips into place, drawing up the powerhouse that was his right thigh and placing it into striking position. A soft breeze blowing though the orchard twisted at locks of his golden hair that had not not been trapped by the drenched fabric of his bandana. A low grunt echoed from his gullet, his stance shifted one last time and his right foot at last lifted, and in an instant the echoing blow of his iron shod leather boot did its work, the violent impact to the tree's trunk a booming roar over the otherwise quiet Orchard. That single motion was all it took, cracking the dead husk in half and toppling it with a mighty roar. Even as the gargantuan tree crashed to the ground, Mac's hand lifted to his cheek, silently wiping away a single tear from his cheek for the lost brother of the orchard. With the deepest respect he stalked around the severed base, walking lightly to avoid the freshly uprooted sections that his mighty blow revealed, bare fingers tracing over the cracked wood as he passed. Dry lips parted, and he struggled to restrain a sob and the heart-wrenching pain, his voice cracking as he murmured what comfort he could find. “Forgive me brother, I swear your seeds will grow anew.”

Taking lazy steps easily brought the weathered giant to the landing point of the branches and the few ripe apples that it contained. Applejack would be around with the cart in twenty minutes, maybe more. They would collect the rest of the apples the dead titan had grown. For now he bent down, plucking two of the rich fruit from those in easy reach. He bit deep into the soft fruit, his teeth shredding its flesh while his tongue savored the rich taste that for the last time. The second apple was pocketed, for its seeds were to be taken later and stored for future generations. Returning once more to the dead tree's base, Mac bent down and grappled the hulking, half uprooted stump in both hands, clutching it to his chest even while the half-apple was still gripped in his clenched teeth. With a single strained and gargantuan effort, he tore the stump from the ground, shattering many of the stronger roots in the process. Leaving behind only a hole beneath his feet, his hand went to the pouch on his belt. A random handful of the assorted seeds contained within were drawn free and sprinkled into the freshly turned earth revealed by the removal of the stump. With care Mac split the the apple core form the last of chunk of fruit still held in his lips, taking time and care to pluck forth and drop each of its seeds into the hole with the others he had selected from the pouch. One foot lazily pushed loose dirt in to cover over the seeds, while the sweat that poured from his bare chest and flowed over his exposed arms spilled into the hole and darkened the already rich black dirt.

His ritual of death and rebirth was at last done. Mac turned to face the accusing eyes of the tribe that watched his act of murder. It took effort, but as he at last manged to swallow the final chunk of fruit, he whispered in hopes of recompense for the deed. Big Macintosh diverted his gaze from the trees, their haunting silence and knowing stares penetrating the fabric of his mind. He turns to leave quickly, dodging the multitudes as he returns to his job. He does not need anymore of this unwanted stress, the job had never gotten to him like this before, as vile as he found the work... was he getting soft in his 'old age'? The ritual had been completed forty times already, but Big Mac knew this wasn't the last one on the farm to tend to. No, he had several more to go...

...several more painstaking heartbreaks ahead.