The grim frost-rot apples barely filled a quarter of the barrel. The sad sight brought a twinge of pain to Granny’s chest and sorrow to her eyes. The frost had ruined every apple, leaving only a precious few salvageable, and of those they were all shriveled shadows of an apple. There were hardly enough apples to make one whole pie, and Granny worried that it might be the first year she lost the Golden Hills Pie Baking contest, to that evil witch Bridle. She hoped Birdie wouldn’t have enough apples either.
An Old Crone cackled loudly behind her. She was bent and old, even to Granny, with one cloudy eye. “Poor Granny, I always did enjoy your delicious pies.” the Old Crone said. “It will be a shame if you don’t have apples enough for even one.”
Granny gave her a sideways glance. “I’m in good company, no one in the lands has apples.” she said with a frown.
“Not so, not so.” said the Old Crone, “Why I have just passed Birdie’s Bakery and saw, with this good eye, a great many apples Birdie brought in from out of country.”
Granny’s heart sank. Now there was no way she could beat Birdie, with so few apples, not even her superior skills could make up for lacking basic ingredients.
“Don’t fret Granny,” the Old Crone smiled, “I bring you good news. For I have always loved your pies the more and would like to help you, with your apple shortage.”
Granny was intrigued, but eyed the Old Crone suspiciously, for she had never seen her before, and Granny was too old and wise to believe a persons altruistic intentions. “No disrespect to you, my old Mother, but what’s in it for you? I have no extra coin to pay you for this help.”
The Old Crone laughed. “My payment will be a slice of your splendid apple pie.”
Granny smiled and said, “That is agreeable.”
“Excellent, now listen well. There is a cave at the end of the old trail. If you follow the cave wall to where it forks and stay right you will come to a hidden grove of apple trees. There you will find the most delicious apples, big as melons!” she said gesturing with her hands.
“I’ll go, but if I find no apple grove, you shall have not a slice of the paltry pie made with these few apples.” Granny said sternly.
“Humph. To be rebuked by my younger, and after offering only help no less. You shall find a grove. When you do you owe me a slice, and apologies.” the Old Crone said with her nose held high.
The Old Crone turned and walked off in a huff. When she was a good few houses down she let out a deep evil laugh. She began to spin and cackle and transformed back into Birdie. So caught up in her laughter was she that she lost her balance and fell flat on her face.
Granny followed the directions and sure enough she found the hidden grove. However, the trees were all barren. She frowned at the wasted day, but then noticed an odd, large, red rock slumped by one of the trees. Then she saw another and another. “Peculiar,” Granny said and walked over to investigate.
To her astonishment these were no red rocks. No, these were even more peculiar indeed. Great big apples, bigger than any melon Granny had ever seen. The apple’s were so big, that she barely managed to stack all three in her wooden cart. Loaded up she carefully headed for home whistling a merry tune. These three apples were going to save the day and win her another ribbon.
Once home Granny immediately set to work washing the apples in cool bath, as the measly apples from the harvest boiled in a pot with cinnamon and an assortment of spices only known to her. The rich aroma of stewing apples and cinnamon filled the air.
So it was to this horrid smell of murder and mayhem, of ice cold torture, that one Husk Spice awoke to. Granny screamed in horror as the skin of the apple split to reveal two fleshy eyes with seeded iris’ looking about. These eyes were quickly joined by a mouth screaming, “Huh-uh-Aarhhhhh!”
Stems grew and twisted about each other to form woven arms and legs. It then launched itself from the freezing torture bucket high into the air, landing in the slop bucket of chopped and cored sticky apples.
“Aghhhh!” Husk screamed again. This time more stems grew twisting into a woven armor that covered the giant apple.
“You, abomination.” Husk said reaching down and holding onto one of the discarded cores. “Why!” he screamed, “You’ll pay for your crimes witch!”
The two other giant apples began to shake, and sure enough they awoke too. Forming eyes, a mouth and limbs much like Husk. Only one, the smallest of them all, grew stemmed wings with a leathery apple skin. It flapped it’s wings, hovered in the air and took in the grizzly scene.
“Husk why do you…” it sniffed the air, “oh sweet mercy. What foul demon is at work!” the flying one said.
Granny regained her composure and stepped silently to the side, reaching wide for her broom.
“Crow Egg, it is the work of a witch!” Husk called to the flying apple, known as Crow Egg.
Husk leveled a guilty stem at Granny, who had managed to grab the broom. Crow looked toward Granny, just in time to be smacked in the face with the bristly broom. Crow fell from the air and landed on the floor with a thud.
“Alright,” Granny said circling with the broom, “where’s the other one? Eh, where’s your little friend.”
Husk laughed and climbed out of the slop bucket. “You’ll never find Prairie Spy. Master of shadows, travels unheard on any ground.”
The carving board hit the floor and Granny spun around, wielding the broom like a martial master. With keen old eyes she noticed the butchers knife was missing. Her ears perked up when she heard the scamper of little feet. From the dull shadows beneath the big block table, the butchers knife flew for her neck. She caught it with a deft hand and winged it back into the shadow, it struck deep into the floor.
“Ha,” Granny laughed, “you don’t think I’ve been in more than a few kitchen knife fights? You know nothing of competitive baking! One way or another, my bad apples, you’ll make a good pie!” When she turned to the slop bucket Husk was gone, and Crow too.
Husk, Crow and Prairie listened to Granny’s rant as they hid in the pantry, peeking through the smallest of cracks in the door.
“We’ve dealt with witches before, we know how to take care of this one.” Husk said tightening the five stems of its hand into a fist.
Through the crack in the pantry door they watched as Granny slid knifes and a rolling pin into her apron, then placed a colander on her head like a tin-helmet soldier.
“She appears to be more formidable than other witches.” Crow said.
“Agreed. We haven’t even tested her magics yet and already she has come close to killing us.” Prairie added.
Husk looked contemplative, for an apple, then said, “Don’t fear. We were on the defensive. Surprised and off guard. Now we are aware of the witchly threat. She’ll be the one to die.” Husk looked at Crow and asked, “Can you get the top hinge off this door?” Crow nodded. “Prairie, I’m gonna need you to get us weapons, the sharper the better.” Husk said.
Prairie nodded and disappeared. Husk moved to take out the bottom door hinge and pointed up to the top, signaling Crow to take it out.
Granny held out the big roller like a club looking for those audacious apples. A funny scratching sound came from the pantry. She smiled and silently stepped toward the pantry door.
“Oh where, oh where could my little apples be? Are they still in my kitchen?” she said. “Are they still in their grave!”
Before she could pull the door open there was a loud THUMP from the other side. The heavy wood door angled sideways and fell upon her, knocking her to the ground and the rolling pin from her hand. She was trapped under the door. Crow flew above her and out of sight. The big one, Husk, hopped up on the door and took loud, heavy, stompy steps, that smacked the door painfully into her. With each step Granny groaned in pain.
“Get off me you red devils!” she cursed.
Husk just grinned down at her. Crow landed beside Husk, barely managing to hold the big roller with both hands. Husk took the roller, easily holding it in one stemmed hand, and slung it over the shoulder. “You like pies witch?” Husk asked with a malicious smile.
“Nope. Never made a pie in my life.” Granny said with a sheepish grin.
“Well,” Husk began with a sick grin, “you’ll make a fine one in death.”
Granny heard two knives running together, the sharp edge grinding along the dull. The source of the sound appeared right before her eyes, but she could not recall seeing Prairie Spy approach. Husk let the big roller fly and knocked Granny out in one blow.
Later that day, Birdie came by to see if the enchanted apples had taken care of Granny. She peeped in the window and saw a delicious looking pie cooling on the counter. Birdie was about to curse when a strange voice called to her from the kitchen and invited her in.
Birdie entered with caution. To her splendid horror she found the apples, doing an abysmal job of impersonating Granny. They stood on each others shoulders, wore her dress and apron, even her crudely scalped hair. But that big red apple face couldn’t be hidden.
“Don’t go stealing that pie now, it’s a special pie.” Crow said, in a comical attempt at an old lady voice.
“Of course not, Granny.” Birdie said with a placid smile. “What type of pie is it?”
“Why my dear it’s Granny’s Own Fresh Meat Pie.” Crow said, with an evil guffaw.
Unable to control their mad merry, Husk and Prairie burst into malicious laughter from beneath Granny’s dress. The evil laugh was too infectious and now Birdie joined in, thrilled that Granny was still in the pie competition.
Later that evening, Birdie wasn’t laughing when Granny’s Own Fresh Meat Pie won the Grand Prize.
*Crossposted at The Midnight Bards.