Paul couldn’t believe it. The orchard had been completely destroyed once again. Not that he could ever get anything to grow there anyway, but storm after disastrous storm had ripped through the region, ruining any chance Paul might’ve had at a successful season. He was miserable. He hadn’t even wanted the land, but when his grandfather had passed away suddenly, he had willed it to Paul. Paul hadn’t had the heart to turn it down.
He didn’t know a thing about gardening, much less maintaining an entire apple orchard. He had already suffered through one largely unsuccessful season, receiving fewer visitors to the orchard than any season before it, and now it looked like he would be doomed to struggle through yet another. Paul had tried everything to get something to grow, but all of his efforts had ended in failure.
Paul headed inside from surveying the damage and hung his head in despair. He had invested so much time and money into this place that he didn’t know how he could continue to keep up the house and he certainly had no idea how he would manage to pay off the colossal debts he had managed to run up. Paul was stuck. He was just about ready to set the place on fire and try to collect what he could from it, when a stranger appeared on his doorstep.
Through the screen door, Paul could see that the funny little man was wearing a suit and a bowler hat and he was holding something green in front of his face. Paul went to the door and opened it to his unexpected guest.
“Can I help you?” he asked the strange gentleman.
The man lowered the green orb to reveal a toothy grin. If Paul hadn’t known better, he might’ve said it looked a bit mischievous.
“No,” came the man’s slightly raspy reply, “but perhaps I can help you.”
“How do you know I need help?” Paul asked of the stranger.
“Well, apart from the visible evidence,” he said, gesturing towards the ruins of the orchard in the backyard, “I know your granddaddy had trouble with these lands when he was starting out, too.”
Paul was desperate for any scrap of assistance he could get, so he stepped aside and waved the man into the kitchen.
“So, did you know my grandfather?” Paul asked, once they were seated at the big blue kitchen table.
“We did a little business together,” the man replied, a smirk tugging at the corner of his lips.
“What kind of business?” Paul inquired, certain he’d never heard his grandpa say anything about a business associate.
“Well, for a small price, I was able to turn that infertile patch of dirt into the healthy and successful orchard your grandpa came to be known for,” came the man’s response.
“And how did you do that?” asked Paul.
“Like this,” his strange guest said, holding up the green thing once more.
Before he could do anything else, though, Paul’s voice broke in.
“What’ve you got there?”
“It was one of the remnants from your sorry excuse for an orchard,” he began, “but it will be the beginning of a whole new chapter for you, if you agree to my terms.”
He held the rotting green apple carcass in the palm of his hand and raised it so that Paul could watch as it transformed into a ripe, fully grown, deliciously red apple before his very eyes. And Paul’s eyes grew quite wide at the sight.
“How did you-?” Paul started.
“Trick of the trade,” the stranger replied, quirking an eyebrow at him.
“So…So you would fix my orchard like that in exchange for what?” Paul asked, allowing the tiniest bit of hope to grow in his heart.
“Just your signature on a little document of sorts, stating that, when I need you, you’ll help me in return,” the man answered as he rolled the apple around in his hand.
“That is a tempting offer,” Paul mused, only slightly hesitantly.
“Well you don’t have to agree to anything right away,” the man offered, “Take some time to think on it. And take this as, uh, food for thought, if you will.”
The stranger tossed the apple up in the air as he said it, but before Paul could catch it, he woke with a start. He must’ve fallen asleep in the rocking chair on the porch, for that’s where he found himself as he took in the pitch-dark night around him. He must’ve been dreaming. He knew an offer like that was too good to be true. His head felt fuzzy. It had been a busy and confusing day.
Paul headed inside to grab a midnight snack for his mind, figuring he needed a little more mental fuel to reason through the day’s events. When he reached the kitchen, he froze in his tracks. There on the big blue table sat the perfect apple that the stranger had tossed to him, as if it had been plucked straight from his dream. Unless it wasn’t a dream after all, Paul thought to himself. He plopped down into a chair and stared at the apple, certain that it would take far more than Midnight Mind Food to riddle this one out.