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36 Chapter Thirty Six - Mutant Apples That Can Be Eaten

    The last month of summer was also when the main harvest could begin, but this did not mean that everything had to be harvested nor did it mean that there would not be things to harvest in the next couple of months.  Some of this food was needed to get them through the first Winter of the apocalypse, but not all of it could be kept for prolonged lengths of time, thus it was better to leave harvesting it until necessary.

    Things that were harvested in sunny month were eaten the same day for the most part and Paul would pour over cook books that they had found in most of the village homes for recipes that did not include dairy products and didn't use too much of the irreplaceable condiments and grains.  Sadly, these vegan meals were few and far between.  Still, regardless of taste, the men did not waste the food for the most part, with the exception of a chargrilled pan of vegetables that were more char than grill.

    Tyler was still working on producing ice, but had not much success, though his water was definitely chillier; great for drinking, not for bathing in!  Patrick had a little more control over his gravity ability, but was still working on activating his self-protection lightning, which he had only managed once when Tyler surprised him.  Tyler had not forgiven him for burning the tip of his finger with the biting static that laced around his small frame in reaction to being unexpectedly tapped upon the shoulder.

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    Nathan still had not come around to the notion that cultivating would be good for him.

    As the leaves upon the non-mutated trees leaves began to take on yellow and orange hues, Nathan was wandering from patch to patch choosing plants he wished to leave to seed or collect seed from.  He'd never needed to do this before, he'd just placed an order for seed with his grocery shopping in the late winter month, but he knew it would not be so simple this time.  He could not bear to imagine a world where he couldn't grow things in his garden, so he was seriously considering this matter.

    He knew the theory, of course.  Some fruiting plants such as tomatoes were abundant with seed from the moment they were ripe and ready to be eaten and some needed to be ready to fall from the plant to rot, such as cucumbers.  There were those whose 'seed' needed to dry out and those that would not produce seed until the following year, so could not be harvested at all this year!

    Just as he placed a small ribbon on a tall corn with several cobs nestled in its leaves, the tree behind him shook and a hard round 'apple' fell from its branches and rolled towards him.  He picked it from the floor, examining the black fruit.  It did not look much different to when he last picked up one of the fallen fruits, with it's hard and dark shell.  But still, he turned to the tree, whose leaves had hints of purple running through them and asked; "Is it alright to eat it now?"

    The wood creaked as the large apple tree bowed slightly in an attempt at a nod and Nathan placed the fruit into his basket before cupping his hands to produce water to feed the tree.  It shivered happily in response.

    *****

    "How do we open it?" Patrick asked as the black fruit took pride of place on a chopping board.

    Nathan glanced up at the man with the flax coloured hair with a slight wince.  Although the man was shorter than the others and smaller of build, he was one of the loudest and had the least volume control.  The others understood that he was no good with loud noises and with being physically touched, but that did not stop the smiling man at all from throwing his arm about his shoulders or shouting or jumping about, thus Nathan found he got along with him the least.  In fact, whenever possible, he would avoid him.  Nathan leaned closer to Ren Zexian; he felt that being within Ren Zexian's presence helped calm any agitation that arose from loud and sudden noises, from unexpected things.

    The oriental man did not move away from the boy, calmly enjoying the trust Nathan had for him, while the squad discussed the dilemma of opening the apple-shaped nut.  They had attempted to use a knife, but the blade would not pierce through the protective shell.  A nutcracker was not meant for something so big and Ren Zexian's air blade might damage the chopping board if they resorted to such means.

    In the end, they used a hammer to crack the shell and a meat cleaver to cut the inner fruit open.  For all intents and purposes, the 'apple' still appeared to be an Apple, just it happened to be covered by a nut-like shell.  However the flavour was mild, with just a hint of a sweet taste and the fruit itself was...

    "Oily," Patrick commented, rubbing his fingers together still slick with the fruit's 'juice'.  It wasn't a large amount, but it was enough to make them pause in question.

    "It's odd," Dexter admitted, his nose wrinkling with his forehead as he tried to place the sweet, slightly oily and slightly mushy texture of the fruit into a 'box' within his mind.

    "Still, it will be useful," Tyler suggested out loud.  After all, though they had a fair few bottles of oil, what will having plenty of stir fries in the week due to Paul's limited cooking abilities and knowledge of how to cook vegetables, they were still using it a fair bit.  The important thing, to Tyler, though, was that the fruit was edible and it's protective shell meant, in theory, that it should have a prolonged lifespan so long as it was contained within.  So what that the texture was just a bit odd.

    "Well, we'll collect the ones..." Dexter began, only for a loud bang coming from outside to distract their train of thought.  Nathan whimpered, but did not fall to the ground, just buried his head into Ren Zexian's shoulder, while his hands covered his ears.  The Cultivator rubbed his hands along the boy's back in comfort.

    "What was that?" Patrick asked the obvious question.

    "Dunno, but, it sounded like a gunshot..." Dexter said, before the majority of the squad moved as one to the front of the property aiming to see if they could catch a glimpse of the culprit from the height of the wall.

    Ren Zexian continued to comfort Nathan in the wake of the silence that followed, sighing inwardly as the earthy scent that lingered on the boy permeated his senses.  "Come on," he said, softly after a few minutes, "let's see about those apples."  Nathan nodded, brushing his forehead against the cloth of Ren Zexian's robes, before slowly stepping away.

    The two men then walked together and fairly closely towards the tree with its black apples.  They noticed little Lucy nearby, though Aslan was not guarding her as usual, perhaps looking for the source of the loud noise himself.  The little girl was holding a long stick and was prodding the tightly woven ivies along the bordering hedge with it.

    Nathan pressed his hands against the bark of the tree and willed it to shake its ripe apples from its boughs.  It shuddered and did as was bid, while Ren Zexian used thick gusts of wind to prevent them falling upon Nathan's head as well as guide them to a specific landing spot.  Quite the pile formed within the first few shakes, so Nathan took his hand from the tree trunk and automatically began to count the harvested fruit.

    "Baaaaaa!"

    The two men frowned and glanced towards where Lucy played, her stick pressing forward once more into the leafy vines.

    "Baaaaaa!"

    Oh, so they didn't imagine it.
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