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Apple Tree Club House
Angela positioned herself on a tree stump platform. A proud grin spread wide across her face as she showed off her new discovery. “Isn’t this place just the best?” she declared, waving her arms out like a conductor in an orchestra. She hopped down from her stage and twirled around on her heels, making a gap in the soft soil. She shot Kane a smug grin.
“Told ya I wasn’t lying bout this place. I can tell by yer face you didn’t believe me for one second.” She stomped a worn brown boot, surrounding her ankles in a cloud of dirt. With her hands on her hips, she flicked her tongue out at him.
Kane rolled his eyes and disregarded her, moving to get a closer look. A small girl with thick sandy curls and wide blue eyes clutched one of his sleeves shyly, making his advance clumsy. She peeked up, watching her brother’s expression change as he stared out.
“I don’t see it, I don’t see what she’s talking about.” She whined, looking out squinting, and then pouted back at her brother. He knelt down beside her and gently moved her in front of him.
“Look close Diana,” he pointed. “It’s right over there.”
Following his gaze she found it, and gasped. Ahead of them was a little apple orchard. It rested out in the center of a thick overrun pasture, surrounded by wild flowers and undergrowth. A subtle dirt trail led a good sixty feet away from it. There stood a house, with its frame falling in from termite damage, violent weather, and time. The windows were blown out and doors hung loosely on rusty hinges, chunks of white fence and roof shingles were scattered across the yard. The house itself seemed to sag, as if one slight breeze would crumble it.
“It’s perfect for a club house! We can go on adventures!” Angela beamed. She pulled her strawberry blonde hair into a ponytail and took off toward the house. Her olive-green dress swiped at her calves as she ran. Kane smiled and pulled his little sister onto his back. He followed suit, Diana bobbing and protesting in his arms.
The trio stood at the entrance of their new find, gawking. Kane set his sister down and felt the warning bells going off in the back of his mind as he examined their club. There were boards of wood dangling by a single nail, and masses of broken metal. He grimaced.
“Should we really go in there? It looks like it could break on top of us.” He said shifting his weight uncomfortably.
Angela laughed and put a clammy hand on his head.
“Don’t be a chicken. It’ll be fine. How can we break a house?”
With that she seized the handle of the front door and pulled. When it didn’t budge, Kane grabbed hold and they both heaved. The door moaned loudly and finally gave way throwing the two backward on their butts. Diana giggled at the sight.
“Ya! Let the adventure begin!” Angela cried, patting off her dress. She stepped up in the doorway her feet crunching on glass and they went to exploring.
“We should split up, girls and boys, sorry Kane,” Angela snickered grabbing Diana by the hand.
Kane sighed and a movement caught his eye. He squinted and could make out a shadow weaving through the bars of an old baby’s crib. It was tipped on its side, painted a faded blue, which had begun to chip. It looked as if one of its legs had been snapped off. He approached the crib warily.
He wouldn’t have even see the thing if it hadn’t hissed. A copperhead snake coiled around the cradle’s lock its mouth wide, fangs exposed.
The memories sprung back before he could stop them. That man’s furious, cold face swam into view. Kane could smell his stale breath reeking of alcohol and cigars. Sweat dripped from his grimy forehead and onto Kane’s flushed cheeks. The man spat in his face, threatening him to move. When he didn’t a fist connected with his fragile ribs and he collapsed to the floor gasping for air.
“I told you boy,” he slurred. “You’re just like your mother.”
Kane struggled to pull himself up. He would not let this man harm her. This delicate baby girl, untainted and sleeping soundly in her crib; the only family he really had. The man took a swig out of a half full bottle and struck Kane across the cheek.
“Kane I don’t think it’s possible to win a staring contest with a snake.” Angela said waving a hand in his face. He shook his head and sighed heavily. Diana ambled up behind him and tugged on his sleeve, moving him away from the crib.
“Can we go look at the flower trees?” Diana asked eagerly. Kane smiled and stroked her soft hair.
“Of course we can. Angela?”
Angela rolled her eyes. “Fine but I want to come back here before it gets dark.”
“I found a basket. I’m gonna put some flowers in it.” Diana stated cheerfully.
They marched out the back door and made their way toward the trees. As they got closer they could see the orchard itself in more detail. The trees curved in toward one another forming an awning of apple blossoms. It cast a dark shade below stripping the earth of any plant life that needed the warm touch of the sun. The trees bowed slightly by the weight of heavy unkempt branches. It was truly a beautiful picture.
“Diana can I borrow that ribbon in your pretty little hair?” Angela asked slithering behind her, fingertips already prepared to pull the loop.
“Um, sure.” She answered quietly as her hair fell down to the small of her back. Angela smiled holding the glossy red ribbon and tied it in a bow around a tree trunk.
“There. Now this place is officially ours.” she said, “It’s our own personal paradise so don’t go telling nobody. Got it?” She wagged a finger at them and they both nodded.
“Look, birdies!” Diana squealed pointing up into the branches of the trees. They all glanced up and saw three little baby robins, mouths open and tiny bare heads bobbing out of the nest. Diana gave her brother a confused look.
“Where is their mommy? They look hungry.”
Kane shrugged and looked to Angela for the answers. She appeared deep in thought, and then she grinned deviously as she turned to the little girl. “I know, since they have no mommy we can be their mommies.”
Kane frowned. “I don’t think that’s a good idea. The mom could just be out gathering food or taking a bath in a puddle. We should leave it alone.” He insisted. Angela did not like this she fisted her hands by her side.
“Don’t listen to Kane; he’s not a girl like us so he doesn’t understand. Diana climb up there and save those poor things.” She said placing a hand on her small shoulder. Kane seized his sister and jerked her behind him, sheltering her from Angela’s fangs.
“I’m not going to let her climb that high up. You’ve got to be joking.” He growled. She glared at him then her expression suddenly softened.
“Then why don’t you climb up there?” she hissed. He flinched backward. His sister begged for him to save the babies, tears welled up at the rims of her eyelids, threatening to spill over.
He had never taken a liking to Angela, even though she was family. He and Diana had moved into the same household, taken the same last name, and even shared the same bedroom. He did not think of her as his sister. She was cruel in his eyes.
He’d seen her trick Diana into putting her hand into a boiling pot of water. He’d seen her steal Halloween candy, telling her that chocolate would turn her into a cockroach. She’d even tricked her into swallowing a penny once; telling her it would help her become a rich and beautiful princess one day. After Diana got out of the hospital that day he’d kept a close watch on her.
After a long moment he sighed and moved to the trunk of the tree.
“Diana can I use your basket?” Kane asked. She handed it to him, smiling ruefully.
He glared back at Angela and dug his foot into a small hole in the trunk; he grabbed a knot and pulled himself up onto a broad limb. He placed the handle of the basket in his teeth and prepared to climb upward. He dared not look down, for fear of losing his balance. He ascended branch after branch, being more careful as he reached the top. When he got to the nest he wavered and for the first time looked down.
His beloved sister stared up at him with such worry and hopelessness. He wanted so badly to soften her rough expression. She stared at him with the same eyes. They were sea blue, just like their mother’s.
He smiled reassuringly down at her, ignoring Angela’s look of disgust. Even if he felt it was a bad idea he couldn’t help but do what she felt was right. He gently placed the babies in the basket. The birds twittered loudly and flailed, frightened of the big monster trying to take them away. He started descending the tree with one arm cradling the basket protectively.
Climbing with one arm was hard work, Kane took a short breather.
“What’s the matter Kane? Is it too much work for you?” Angela smirked.
He twisted to utter a smart remark, but his words were choked back as the branch he sat on gave way.
Diana screamed as Kane fell. His back smashed into a thick limb and he floundered out to grab hold of anything he could; small twigs scratched at his skin. They traced the scars of his past. He latched onto a branch within reach, and closed his eyes. He had stopped falling.
It was quiet, except for his pulse pounding in his ears and parts of the tree hitting the earth.
He slowly opened his eyes as his breathing settled. He meet Angela’s annoyed gaze.
“Ah. I think you killed the babies Kane.” She said pouting, looking down at the upside down basket.
Diana was just below him looking frenzied.
“Are you ok?! Do you have owies?” She asked stretching up toward him.
He was still a little shaken but tried to reassure her. “I’m alright. My owies don’t hurt.” He was fairly close to the ground so he hung himself by his hands cautiously and
dropped. Diana bounded into his arms and began to sob heavily. He held her tightly and glanced up at the beast called Angela.
They stood in silence like that for a long time, daggers of hatred in their gazes. A frantic chirping sounded above them.
A robin hovered over its nest searching hysterically for its children.