I didn't really know where I was, but I remember being very hungry as I walked down a narrow, bushy path. The grasses on either sides were really green and tall. The sky was clear and the weather, fair. There were tall trees a short distance away from me. As I got closer to it, my tummy continued to rumble. I knew that whether I liked it or not, I was going to have to look in the trees, just in case there were ripe succulent fruits on it. I quickened my steps and soon, I was well under the first tree. I looked up but didn't find a single fruit. Not satisfied with that, I moved to the other trees and also looked up. Still, I couldn't find any fruit, untill I got to the fifth tree. The tree was taller and wider than the other ones. Also, it stood a good distance away from the others. The tree had so much apple in it, enough to feed ten hungry families. However, something was different about this particular tree. I couldn't see what was different, I could only feel it.
"Ah!" I said with so much excitement , ignoring my intuition. "Now I can fill my belly."
I didn't waste a minute more looking at the fruits on the tree, I simply folded my sleeves and climbed up. In as much as I was wearing a flowing, knee level skirt, that didnt stop me from climbing fast and high. Soon, I plucked and ate five big, red apples. To avoid hunger during the rest of my journey home, I plucked ten more apples, kept them in my small side bag and started to descend from the tree. When I got down from the tree, I had not gone more than five steps when I suddenly heard a feminine Voice behind me.
" You can't go more than that." The voice said.
I turned back and looked around but there was no one there. I looked some more but still, I couldn't see anyone. Fear took over but I quickly turned away. It was far better not to see anything, that way, fear wouldn't have a place to stay. After relaxing my nerves, I made an attempt to move again but, the same voice talked, again.
"You can't go more than that." The voice said, for the second time. "Didn't you hear me?"
"Why can't I? Who are you? Show yourself!" I said boldy, as I turned around again to look for the person who had spoken.
I looked up at the tree, and then at the sky, expecting to see a mystical being with weird looking hair and face pointing at me, but no, I saw nothing. I saw nothing because I didn't look directly at the tree. Neither did I notice the tree's eyes, nose and mouth which were now facing me.
"Why can't you show yourself?" I asked, arrogantly, while still looking up.
"I have shown myself. Its you who should look in the right direction. Look down."
I looked down at the ground but I saw nothing.
"Not at the ground, you moron! Look at me, look at the tree."
I looked straight at the tree. Oh dear, my liver almost failed me, my heart almost stopped beating and then it tried to jump out of my mouth.
"Was that what I climbed?" I thought. A tree with wide eyes, nose and lips. Its eyes were sea green, its lips and nose hard and brown, just like the tree back. Looking at the whole face, I remembered placing one of my leg on the nose when I climbed up earlier.
Scared out of my wits, I started to move back gently. But again, I couldn't. Its like something, or should I say, an invisible force was preventing me from getting past that spot.
"How many times do I have to tell you? You can't, I repeat, you can't go further than that."
"But why?" I asked, turning back to face the tree monster, as I called it.
"Because you ate five apples." It replied.
"Five apples?" I asked, as I remembered the apples I ate up on the tree. "What has your apples got to do with this?" I asked.
"My apples are no ordinary apples. Once you eat them, you must play their game."
"Okay." I said, pretending to understand what it was talking about. "So, I eat the apples and in exchange, I play a game."
"Yes." The tree replied. "Glad to see that you're finally catching up, child."
"I'm not a child! Don't call me that." I protested. "Do I look like one?"
"Okay, as you wish." The tree said. "So, are you ready to play?"
"Yes. Just tell me what the stupid game is. I'll do it and be gone."
"Sure you would." The tree said, as it squeezed its brows into a frown. It wasn't hiding its dislike of my rude behavour. "You better behave better.
I didn't say anything in response, I only stood back and looked at it without unflinching.
"If you really want to win this game? Start with being nice." The tree said. "Now, here is what's expected of you. You have been walking for a long time. You got tired and hungry. As fate would have it, you found me. Then you climbed, plucked 15 apples, but ate only 5 out of it. Now, since I know you're still tired and in need of plenty rest, my fruits and I think its better for you to rest here until tomorrow morning. By the way, there is danger ahead and I don't want you to get caught up in it."
"What?" I asked, while trying to understand what the tree meant by danger. I quickly shook my head to free it of all sorts of images that were already forming. "Well, if its danger you're scared of, I need you to know that I can take care of myself." I said. "But leaving here tomorrow morning?" I asked, bewildered. "So what will happen when my parents suddenly realise that I'm missing?"
"Nothing will happen." The tree replied. "In fact, they would be glad you didn't return home."
"I don't like that idea."
"You don't have to like the idea, I only want you to be safe." The tree said. "Well, since you don't like the idea, let us play our game. The game is this, you have to eat more apples, only then can you go home. You see, you ate only five apples so, you were able to take only five steps."
"That's not true," I argued.
"But it is". The tree insisted. "If you walk back to me, you will see that you can take only five steps."
Being curious and wanting to prove the tree wrong, I carefully walked back to it and counted my steps while doing so.
"Oh my God!" I said, as I realised that the tree was telling the truth. My eyes opened wide in horror as I turned around and found that the distance from the tree, across the open field to the other side, where my home sat comfortably, was far.
"Please" I said, turning back to face the tree. "I can't eat thousands of apples just to get home, its too much!"
"Well since you can't, just stay here with me. You don't need to eat somuch apple, By morning, you will be fine."
But I can't do that either,"
"You have to choose one, Miss," The tree insisted. "Its my game."
Not wanting to play its game, I pleaded some more but the reply I got was the same. Feeling frustrated, I decided it was useless wasting my precious time begging. I climbed up the tree, plucked 10 more apples and ate them all, along with the other ten I kept in my bag earlier. I ate all 20 apples. Believe me, it was not a funny experience. After eating, I had 20 steps added to the 5 I initially had, making it a total of 25 steps. Happy about the added steps, I got ready to move out. At least, I knew that if I could cross the field, to the other side, the hold the tree had on me would weaken, at least, that was what it said. Happy about my decision, I started out. All the while, the tree said nothing. It remained quiet and watched me walk away.
I walked and counted my steps. Soon, I was close to the middle of the field but then, I stopped. I couldn't move further. An invinsible force was once more, preventing me from moving on. I turned back to look at the tree. I wanted to yell at it but I knew it was useless doing so. Not having any other choice, I walked back to the tree and asked how many more apples I had to eat to get across the small field to the other side.
"Well, since you have already eaten 25 apples, you need 35 more. You see, you need 60 steps to actually get across to the other side, but I must warn you, once there, you cannot come back this way unless you take a different rout."
"I don't wish to come back here, I just want to go."
"Okay then, but I must also tell you that everything I have done, I did to protect you. Now you can go. When you get to the other side, if you get there, please know that you will not be able to return. If you are in danger there, I won't be able to help you."
I climbed the tree and plucked 35 more apples. I quickly ate the first five. After that, I decided it was better to rest. I stayed under the tree and soon, a cool breeze blew and swept me off to dream land. After the unnecessary drama, it was indeed a needed rest.
I woke up with a start. It was evening already and the sun was already setting. The atmosphere was still and so were the leaves of the tree.
I looked around me and somehow, I felt something was not right.
"Why do I feel like something is not right?" I asked the tree without looking at it. However, there was no response. I turned to look at it but then, its eyes, nose and lips, were just nowhere to be found.
"Maybe its asleep." I thought, as I turned to face my bag with the apples in it. "Time to keep eating. I have to get home before dark."
For the next hour, I sat on the ground and battled with the remaining 30 apples. After eatimg, I almost threw up the whole thing but I was not havimg it. Throwing it up simply meant eating another 30 apples. I covered my mouth and tried to relax. After 30 minutes, I felt much better and ready to move. I was so happy because this time around, I was definitely going home.
I stood up, carried my bag and started my final journey home. I was already some distance away when I turned back and saw the tree looking at me. It finally woke up to see me go. I could see the sadness in its eyes but, I didn't care. I was happy to be free of it so, I waved it good bye and continued on my way.
When I got to the other side of the field, I went into the woods. I was still whistling happily and walking freely when I heard neighing in the distance. It was strange to me because there were no horses in the region. As the sound got closer, I quickly ducked behind a huge rock which was sitting quietly by the road side. From there, I watched countless horse men coming towards my direction. Soon they got to where I was and rode past without noticing my presence. They were an unusual type. They wore long robes with hoods over their heads, no part if their body could be seen. They were quiet and almost solemn. After they had all gone, I came out of hiding and studied them.
"Are they soldiers?" I thought. "If they are, what are they looking for in my part of the world?"
Ever since I was little, I had heard strange stories about horse men who visited our village once every 15 years. Whenever they came around, they often left dead bodies in their wake. The last time they attacked my village was the same year I was born. This was fifteen years after and so, I was very sure that these were the horse men my father had told me somuch about. I decided it was best to warn the villagers. The calamity that was about to happen had to be avoided at all cost. I turned around and took a short cut. The earlier I got to the village, the better for us all. I couldn't risk loosing my family and close friends.
After 30 minutes of walking very fast and sometimes running, I finally got to the village. Tears filled my eyes as I watched the scene before me with horror. I was too late. The horse men were already in the village. They attacked the villagers and killed everyone they came in contact with. Little babies were not spared and neither were women. Every man, woman or child that was killed, also got beheaded. My cries almost choked me as tears ran freely down my cheeks. My thoughts went to my family, my father and mother. I had to see them, to make sure they were safe and finally, take them to safety. I ran through the bush to the other side of the village, where my house was located. Once there, I sneaked in but my scream almost gave me away. In the house, my mother and father laid lifeless on the mud floor. I bent over them and cried bitterly. I was still at it when suddenly, I heard the sound of a horse at the entrance. I looked up and saw a rider looking at me. He slowly raised his hand, pointed at me and snarled. "You! Come here."
Scared for what I knew would happen, I moved away from my father's dead body and looked around for anything to fight the man with. I couldn't find any, and even if I did find something, I didn't know how I was going to fight a man who snarled like an animal.
While still looking for a weapon, the horse rider came down from his horse and started towards me. I panicked as his heavy boots got closer to me. I wanted to close my eyes and wait for it to grab and pull me from behind. But at that same moment, my eyes fell on a bucket of water which my mum had probably put in place for her bath. That bucket was her favourite and only she used it for whatever purpose she wanted to use it for. Well, water was absolutely nothing against a creature but I would have tried my best. At least, it would be a good distraction for me to escape. I picked up the bucket and in a flash, turned around and poured its entire content on the rider who was already very close to me. After pouring it, I made an attempt to run but then I heard it, I heard the robed rider scream like a little child. I turned around only to see him in smoke, no fire, just smoke. He screamed and struggled to get out of his robe. Well, he was sucessful but he was too late. He fell down and died on the spot.
With eyes wide open and surprise written all over my face, I went over to look at him closely. His body was badly burnt but his face was something else entirely. The mouth was wider than normal, he had no eye brows and no nose. There was a small horn at the top of his head and his eyes were completely black.
"This is not a man." I said, as I moved back from him and looked through the open door at the other riders. "They are not men, these are demons!"
I picked up a cup which had little water in it. I poured the water on the man and although he didn't scream or move because he was already dead, the water burnt the body some more. It was then I realised that the water was acid to their skin. With such new discovery, I found my courage, as well as some more buckets of water, before running outside to launch an attack. The few village survivors who were still fighting or running for their lives, saw me and all I could say to them was "water!!!"
Of course they didn't understand what I said until I poured some water on a horse rider who was coming on to me. The others got the cue when they saw the effect the water had on the rider, immediately, they followed suit. They ran back into their homes and came out with buckets of water which they poured on the horse men. The men screamed and fell off their horses. Some died on the spot while the others screamed and ran into the bush like mad men. When the other riders saw what was happening, they quickly took to their heels. Apparently, they realised that their swords and axes were no match against water that was acid to their skin.
After everything had happened, I remembered my encounter with the apple tree earlier that afternoon. The tree was actually trying to save me from the riders but I didn't know. I was too full of myself to know.
We spent the rest of the night gathering dead bodies together and burning them up. We were only fifteen left in a clan that was over two hundred in number. We cried profusely as we watched our dead burn in the fire. The more we cried, the more we made up our minds never to be killed by those demons again.
I looked up into the night sky, as rain drops started to fall. The sky was covered in thick dark clouds. It rained like never before that night and we knew that nature was also mourning our dead.
The next morning, I led the fourteen away from the village with its stench of blood and death. We took the longer route and soon, arrived at the same spot where I had met the talking apple tree. The tree opened its eyes as I stood in front of it. There was so much compassion in its eyes. Its like it knew exactly what had happened. I moved forward to hug it, and it hugged me back with one of its branches.
"Make this place your home." It said. "And I will do my best to protect you!"
"I will make this place my home," I replied, "And I will do my best to keep you company." We smiled at each other before pulling apart.
Its well over 15 years now, and we have grown again in number and strength. We have had no more attacks from those bloody demons. My tree friend also multiplied herself. Now, we have more magic apple trees. With their protection, we knew that nothing bad could ever come to us. That doesn't mean we don't have enough water on stand by. We are ever ready for those demons. If they attack again, they definitely would meet their final end.