Saturday, December 8, 2012

"Little Apples Spell Horror" by Ellen Lynn

As he walked along in the mild spring evening, Arthur Lansing could feel the small square box in his breast pocket and his fingers clutched it joyfully. At last he had made up his mind to marry Mildred Hemming and he had impulsively stopped into a jeweler's and bought an engagement ring. He hurried a little faster as he thought of her and his heart pounded. Why hadn't he decided on this step a year ago? She was so beautiful — so wonderful!

He bounded up the steps of the Hemming house, two at a time, and pressed hard on the bell. He saw Mildred coming to the door and smiled in anticipation of her surprise and delight when he proposed. When she ushered him into the livingroom a rather good-looking man of about thirty-five was seated there. He stood up as they entered and was introduced to Arthur. "This is Ken Marley," Mildred said.

The evening was a strained one. Arthur felt that both he and Ken were waiting for the other to leave first. He shifted the little square box with the engagement ring to his outside pocket and clutched it frequently to steady his impatience. Finally at eleven o'clock — hours of boredom — Ken stood up and said goodnight. Arthur smiled inwardly: he had won, outstayed this chap who obviously admired Mildred, too. Wonder when she met him, Arthur thought. Mildred returned after seeing Ken out. "Arthur," she said, "It's quite late and I must get up early in the morning..."

"But this is a special evening, Mildred, " replied Arthur. "There's something important I must say to you." He took her arm and led her to the sofa.

Can't it wait for another time?" she protested. "I have a headache and would like to get some sleep."

Arthur firmly pressed her to sit down and took her hands in his.

"Mildred," he said, "You know I love you. I want you to marry me."

She drew her hands away, lowering her head slightly. "No, I didn't know you loved me, Arthur. But I can't marry you..."

Arthur drew the little box out of his pocket. "This is for you, darling," he said. "I hope you like it — your engagement ring."

"It's lovely — but — but — I'm going to marry someone else — Ken," Mildred faltered. "We're both in love very, very much."

The blood drained from Arthur's face. The ring fell to the ground and the sound of it rolling on the wooden floor till it hit the wall broke the sullen silence of the room. Mildred felt uneasy, disturbed by the strong reaction Arthur displayed. "I'm terrible sorry — Arthur. I never thought — you never showed the slightest sign of loving me."

Abruptly, Arthur stood up and stalked toward the door. "Wait — your ring," Mildred called after him. She hurriedly picked it up and dashed after him. When she reached the door he was already in his car and the motor was started. Arthur was yelling back, violently, "He will never marry you, never."

For some time Mildred was upset over Arthur's rather violent reaction. She tried to reach him by telephone to ask him to stop by for the ring and once drove to his laboratory where he worked on various experimental projects, but he was away on a trip. After a month had passed she forgot the episode in her preoccupation with trousseaux and arrangements for her wedding to Ken.

It was a week before the wedding that Arthur phoned and asked if he could come over. Mildred felt an odd clutching at her heart, but she said yes. Maybe, she thought, he has become reconciled and this would be an opportunity to return to Arthur his ring. Much to here pleasant surprise, Arthur was charming that night. He was gay and amusing and struck up an interesting discussion with Ken, who also was a scientist. In fact, they became so engrossed in their scientific talk Mildred found herself yawning.

"If you men want to talk, go right ahead — but please excuse me. It's midnight. But do finish your talk and, Ken, you can let yourselves out when you're through. Drinks are right there — so help yourselves.

"We'll be going shortly, darling. I want to hear the rest about Arthur's work with that strange poison, curare. Good night, dear."

Upstairs in her bed, Mildred could hear the low masculine voices as she started to doze off. The tinkling of glasses lulled her to sleep and she only stirred once when she heard them at the door, still talking. She sighed contentedly — all was well. The door could be heard to shut.

It was the next evening that Mildred realized she had not received her daily — and twice-daily — call from Ken. She telephoned his apartment. No answer. The laboratory said he hadn't been in all day. It was late that night that she thought of calling Arthur — he had been with him at her house till the early morning hours. Arthur told her that they each had gotten into their own cars and had separated at that time. But he advised her not to be alarmed that there would be a perfectly valid explanation the next day from Ken, he was sure. "He probably had to rush off some place and had no time to let you know. Now don't worry," Arthur assured her, "I'm sure you'll hear from Ken in the morning."

But all the next day there was sill no word and Mildred now became frantic. She notified the police and they got to work on finding Ken.

The third day Arthur drove over — it was Sunday afternoon — and he found Mildred strolling on the rear lawn. Lines of anxiety were marked on her face.

"Oh — I'm glad you've come, Arthur!" she exclaimed. "Perhaps you can help me figure out what happened to Ken. Let's sit here in the shade of this apple tree."

Arthur pulled up a wicker chair. "I'll sit in the sun, facing you," he said.

He explained to her that the conversation between him and Ken the night before was solely on their experiments. "But — I hate to say this, Mildred, especially since I am in the role of the rejected suitor — but — he seemed nervous about the impending wedding. Talked about his family in South America — he supports them. Did you know about his family?"

"Why, yes, of course," Mildred retorted. "But he never worried about them. He expected to continue to help them. We had discussed the whole thing."

"Well — it was just a clue," Arthur remarked.

"I must think this out," Mildred started — then — "I never noticed — the grass is so green under this tree. It used to be only brown soil. How strange."

Mildred remained seated. "The apples will ripen early, I can see. The branches are loaded with blossoms."

"I'm going to leave you now, Mildred. I see you would like to be alone. But if you need me at any time, call me. This may be an inopportune time to say this — but just remember, I love you and I'd do anything in the world for you." Arthur spoke softly, then turned and left Mildred at the tree.

In the months that followed, Mildred saw Arthur frequently. He worked with the police giving numerous suggestions and repeating whenever they questioned him the last conversations they had, particularly concerning his family in South America. The facts checked. Letters had been received by Ken's family just before his disappearance expressing his worry about them after he got married. But no one there knew of his whereabouts, nor could they offer any suggestions. On the contrary, Ken's family insisted that he was happy about his forthcoming marriage, despite financial worries. They suspected foul-play. But so far there were no leads.

It was a warm September night and Mildred and Arthur were having cool drinks in the livingroom. "Let's go outside," she suggested, "it will be cooler out there." She led the way to the apple tree and sat on the bench, making room for Arthur next to her. But, as usual, he drew up a chair and sat facing her. After some general chatting, Arthur said abruptly, "Mildred, won't you confess it's hopeless to wait for Ken to return. You and I have grown closer to each other. Now you must know how much I love you ..." He went over to Mildred and sat close to her, an arm around her. "Don't make me wait any longer. Marry me — right away!"

Mildred tried to release his arm, but Arthur held her fast. "Please, Arthur, I love — loved — Ken. Something must have happened to him. I must wait and find out."

"You won't admit it, Mildred, but he got scared of marriage and ran away. You'll never see him again. I've loved you a long time. Say you'll marry me." Arthur tried to kiss her.

As Arthur pulled her to him, there was a loud crashing noise over-head in the apple tree and a large branch came tumbling down. He jumped up, holding Mildred tight, to escape serious injury, but there was a deep gash in his forehead. Arthur stood staring at the tree, considerably shaken. It seemed as though the tree was trying to protect her. But as he felt Mildred's fingers wiping off the blood from his head with her handkerchief, he pressed his lips on hers. "Dear," he whispered, "say you will, say you will." Mildred nodded, and they went into the house.

A week later, Arthur and Mildred were married. They went directly from the Justice of the Peace to Mildred's house. They were to spend their honeymoon night there and leave the next morning for a trip. As Arthur prepared for sleep he noticed Mildred had suddenly disappeared. She wasn't there. He called to her; there was no answer. After searching the house he went outside. He saw her seated under the apple tree. Rushing to her he demanded to know why she had come there.

"It was so close, inside," Mildred explained. "And the fragrance of the apples was so strong — something pulled me out here. These apples — their perfume is amazing, don't you notice? They are just ripening."

Relieved, Arthur sat down next to her, and reached out for the apple she was about to eat. "These apples do smell wonderful," he said. "Here, let me have a bite of it, wife." His teeth crunched into the fruit—and he toppled off the bench, writhing and groaning in pain. In minutes, he was dead.

The next day the police reported to Mildred that Arthur had died from a strange poison, curare.

Suddenly, Mildred knew. "The tree, dig it up. Now." She demanded.

A squad of police did as Mildred demanded. And, as they dug around that apple tree, they found—a skeleton. The long absent, dead—Ken. He had been poisoned with curare. His skeleton fingers clutched a broken bottle of curare, with a label printed with the name of Arthur's laboratory. The police said Arthur poisoned Ken their last night together—and when he died, Arthur buried him under the apple tree. The poison had seeped through the roots of the tree and its fruit had killed Arthur. But Mildred knew it was not the fruit.—It was Ken or his spirit that had gotten its revenge.

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