My parents live in a cabin deep in the north woods. I know this sounds like the start of a fairytale. Sometimes it seems a bit like one.
There are bears in the woods. Deer run in herds. The seasons are far more pronounced and extreme than those I am used to. After a day of glorious autumn sunshine on my bare arms, I woke in the middle of the night and saw, in the moonlight, that snow had covered the ground, turning the green grass white.
“It won’t last,” my mother assured everyone within earshot. “There’s still a lot of nice fall days to come.”
I knew she was right, but those snowflakes were a not-so-subtle reminder that summer was officially over and a very different season was on its way. Autumn brings a sense of anticipation and a tiny dose of dread.
The weather turned dark and rainy. I went for a walk in a rain poncho I’d hauled around in a pouch for two years and never worn. The poncho was bright red, I discovered. I pulled the hood up over a broad-brimmed hat and headed out.
I was walking down a narrow road in light rain when I heard the pickup stop behind me. I turned around and saw a woman and a young girl in the truck.
“Maybe they’re lost,” I thought. I wouldn’t be of much help if they were, a virtual stranger there myself. But I stopped as the woman rolled down her window. She looked at me for a moment.
“I thought you were someone I knew,” she announced.
“Oh,” I replied, temporarily at a loss for words.
“Would you like some apples?” she asked.
“Um… you have apples?” I thought perhaps she had picked the last of the season’s fruit. I looked in the back of her truck. There was nothing there.
“Yes,” she said. “I just bought some.”
“What kind are they?” I was expecting she’d tell me they were McIntosh or Winesaps. It was apple season, after all.
“Walmart,” she replied.
“Do you want some?” she asked again. “You can have the whole bag if you want” I had no idea what the correct response was, but this seemed like it was pretty important to her.
“Um… sure, I’ll take one,” I decided. The truck was a double cab. She jumped out of the front and opened the backseat door.
“My daughter says you look like Little Red Riding Hood,” she told me.
“I guess I do,” I agreed.
She reached into a bag and pulled out an apple. It was tiny and bright red. She handed it to me. Her nails were long and white and pointed. I looked at the bright yellow leaves on the wet pavement and her long white nails holding a shiny red apple. I suddenly felt a little nervous.
I took the unnaturally red apple.
“I used to walk here all the time,” she told me. “I used to walk here every day.”
“Ah,” I responded, feeling seriously awkward.
The little girl was staring at me. I wondered if I was expected to eat the apple on the spot.
“Well, I better get on home,” I announced, tucking the apple in my pack.
“Bye-bye,” she said. The truck started up and they drove off.
When I got back to my parents’ cabin, I told my mother what had happened. My mother looked at the bright red apple for a long moment.
“Maybe we should just keep that apple for decoration,” my mother said.
Maybe we should.