Somewhere in the apple orchard, Naomi Pearson has tied herself in a tree and she’s not coming down.
The crowd has gathered around the edges of the orchard, watching the trees and the fog through the Plexiglas fence. They’re full of apples and loud with elation. A few have collapsed to the ground, weeping, clutching an apple core to their chests.
Thirty minutes to go.
You’re the only one who notices Naomi is gone.
Every autumn, the orchard appears on an empty plot of land for six days. Then the fog comes through, swallowing the trees and the apples and everything else within the fence’s boundaries, and it disappears. People come from all over to see it. The Disappearing.
You scan the faces of the crowd once more. You’ve memorized her face, her slanted smile when watching the fog roll in, waiting for the Disappearing. She never misses this.
People are crying. A few are stoic and shaky. Twenty-six minutes.
The orchard produces no ordinary apples. Multi-colored, cantaloupe-sized, they’re juicy and sweet with patches of sourness, producing drunken euphoria followed by visions and revelations unique to the eater, glimpses of the future, the past, innermost secrets and the ripples across their lives. Some handle it better than others.
Naomi came to the orchard late in the day. You sold her an entry ticket. The fake mustache you glued on was no longer sticking to the left side of your upper lip. Naomi lightly pressed the mustache back against your skin, holding it there for what seemed like days as you held your breath, your ears full and echoing like you were underwater. She smiled slanted and wandered away through the trees.
You ate an apple only once. As you chewed, you thought of her, hoping that maybe there might be a vision of some sort, something to hold onto. But all you saw was the hot, asphalt main street leading to the orchard, the blank faces of your family staring straight through you, the unbearable sameness of it all – and far away, in the tallest tree in the orchard someone you couldn’t quite make out, waving at the town.
Twenty minutes to go before the orchard disappears for another year. Already the fog is rolling in and the edges of the trees are flickering.
When the apple orchard appears, the workers are always ready, in their overalls freshly washed, their beards brushed and shaped for the occasion. This is your family, the servants of the orchard, and you, who, at the age of twenty-seven, can still not grow facial hair without patches of baldness, wearing a fake mustache.
As the minutes count down, your cousins and brothers slap you extra hard on the back, muss your hair like you’re a toddler, kick up dirt onto your overalls. You laugh absently, as your gaze leaps around the crowd, the trees, the edges of the hills. She’s not there.
Your father and uncles come out of the orchard. “It’s all clear,” your father says. “Everyone’s out. Lock ‘er up.”
“But what about Naomi?” Your voice squeaks. No one hears you.
Your legs move before you’ve made a decision. You slip past the closing gate and run into the growing darkness of the trees, screaming her name. Your father shouts something, but it’s lost.
Somewhere in the trees, Naomi whispers your name to herself. The orchard twirls its collective leaves around the sound and throws her whisper toward you. It slips along the chilled air.
As you run you imagine her around town, at the library, at the market, serving pancakes and hash browns to long-distance truckers at Mave’s Café. You look forward to these sightings of her. She can’t Disappear.
Your legs feel spiraling and unsteady. You think for a moment that, possibly, the orchard is toying with you. Naomi isn’t here at all. The orchard wants to swallow you up alone. You imagine the faces of your brothers reciting this story over dinner, laughing.
The whisper knocks against your skull. And you hear her. Your legs surge forward.
Your heart thumps a little louder at the surprise of her saying your name. You run toward her voice. Twelve minutes left.
You find her, high in the air. She’s tied herself to the branches and is holding an apple, but hasn’t taken a bite. You stare at her.
“What?” she says.
“Get down. The orchard is Disappearing soon.”
“I know,” she says.
“So get down,” you say.
“No thanks,” she says.
You start to climb. You’ve never been much of a climber and it’s obvious. The fog is getting thicker. Ten minutes left.
“What are you doing?” she says.
You struggle but finally pull yourself up to the branch beside her.
The fog twirls around your feet. You can’t see the ground anymore. Far away, you can hear your own name being called, your brothers’ voices.
“You’re crazy,” you say.
“Don’t you ever wonder what it would be like?” she says.
“I feel like I do it every day anyway,” she says. “Just in smaller bits.”
“Well you’re terrible at it because I notice you all the time.” You’re surprised as it comes out of your mouth. “All the time,” you say again. The words roll around your mouth like marbles. A strange taste.
Naomi reaches out and pulls off your fake mustache. She drops it into the fog, which swallows it whole.
Six minutes to go.
The apple in her hand glitters and glows in the fading light. She cuts into it with a pocketknife, takes a piece and wipes it around your lip.
“There’s a bit of glue. Right there,” she says. “You look better. Without that thing.”
You shutter at her touch and let it wash over you. The sounds of the crowd, the voices of your brothers, it’s all fading. The orchard folds its branches around you both. The leaves twinkle. They’re warm.
“I’m not coming down,” Naomi says. “I saw a vision last year. I saw myself tied here, in this tree, waving goodbye at the town, ready to disappear.”
“Did you see me?” you say.
She shakes her head and smiles. “I saw someone, far down the main street,” she says. “Could have been you.”
There’s movement below you – your father and two of your cousins, searching, panicked, among the trees. Your name echoes up to you.
“Maybe we’ll never come back,” she says.
“There are worse things,” you say.
Naomi opens her mouth. You can see the words forming in her throat. The fog rolls around her lips and you watch your father and cousins stomp away, their steps crunching against fallen leaves. She closes her mouth.
Three minutes to go.
The orchard’s leaves tickle your cheek, and you start to worry what Disappearing is going to feel like – like falling through a canyon or slipping down a giant’s throat or being hit by lightning.
You can hear the voices of your father and brothers and uncles and cousins rumbling together, the creaking of the gate as it closes, a few shouts of the news of you, slipping as easily through the ears of the lookers-on as the fog through the trees.
The fog is thick now. Only seconds to go. Beyond the fence, the crowd roars and weeps together a final time. There are a few more shouts as the news travels to those watching from the hills.
Naomi leans closer, weaves her arms through yours, and, for a moment, you and the orchard and Naomi hold your breaths, as you Disappear, together, into the fog.
Chelsea Sutton is a playwright and fiction writer based in Los Angeles, CA. Her fiction has appeared in Spectrum, Catalyst, Fictionade Magazine, The Best of Farmhouse Magazine Anthology (Editor’s Choice Award), Eclectic Voices, Bourbon Penn, andThe Cactus Heart. She was also the first place winner of NYC Midnight’s Flash Fiction Contest 2011. withcoffeespoons.com