Stand fast root, bear well top
Pray the God send us a howling good crop.
Every twig, apples big.
Every bough, apples now.
— Apple Wassail song, 19th century Sussex
This is the apple in your hand.
Some would say it is so red that it looks black, but that’s not quite right. It’s the color of wine and offal, of liver soaked in Pinot Noir. Bruise-dark and blood-bright.
The skin shows little russeting, if any. But it is home to a peppering of lenticels—the little white dots you sometimes see on appleskin. These lenticels feel somehow deeper than the skin itself. As if you are staring into a thing that is nothing as much as it is something: an object of depth, of breadth, like a hole in the universe. In this way the lenticels are like the stars of a moonless evening.
The skin is smooth and cold, always cold. It is a round apple, not oblong, not tall, but also not squat. The Platonic ideal of an apple shape, perhaps: roughly symmetrical, broad in the shoulders, narrow toward the calyx. The apple is heavy, too. Dense-feeling. Heavy enough to crack a window. Or break a nose.
Even before you bite it, a scent rises to meet you. It’s the smell of roses—not unusual, because apples are related to the rose. Same family, in fact: Roseceae.
What is unusual is the moment, a moment so fast you will disregard it, where the smell makes you feel something in the space between your heart and your stomach: a feeling of giddiness and loss in equal measure. In that feeling is the dying of summer, the rise of fall, the coming of winter, and threaded throughout, a season of funerals and flowers left on a grave. But again, that moment is so fast, you cannot hold onto it. It is gone, like a dream upon waking.
Of course, what matters most is the eating.
In the first bite, the skin pops under your teeth—the same pop you’d feel biting into a tightly-skinned sausage. The flesh has a hard texture, and if you were to cut a slice you’d find it would not bend but rather, it would break like a chip of slate snapping in half. That snap is a satisfying sensation: a tiny tectonic reverberation felt all the way to the elbow.
In the chew, the apple is crisp, resistant to its destruction, with a crunch so pleasurable it lights up some long-hidden atavistic artifact in your brain, a part that eons ago took great joy from crushing small bones between your teeth. The flesh is juicy; it floods the mouth, refusing to be dammed by teeth or lips, inevitably dripping from your chin. But for all its juiciness, too, the tannins are high—and the apple feels like it’s wicking the moisture out of your mouth, as if it’s taking something from you even as you take from it.
The taste itself is a near-perfect balance of tartness and sweetness—that sour, tongue-scrubbing feel of a pineapple, but one that has first been run through a trench of warm honey. The skin, on the other hand, is quite bitter, but there’s something to that, too. The way it competes with the tart and the sweet. The way how the most popular perfumes are ones that contain unpleasant, foul odors secreted away: aromatics of rot, bile, rancid fat, bestial musk, an ancient, compelling foulness, from the faraway time when crunching those little bones made us so very happy. And so very powerful.
The bitterness of the skin is a necessary acrimony: a reminder that nothing good can last, that things die, that the light leaves us all eventually. That the light leaves the world. A hole in the universe.
It speaks to you, this bitterness.
It speaks to some part of you that likes it.
Because part of you does like it.
And so, the cover for BLACK RIVER ORCHARD is revealed.
It comes out September 26th, 2023.
You can pre-order a copy here at PRH, or from these places: Doylestown Bookshop, Bookshop.org, Indiebound, B&N, Amazon, though as always, the best place to buy books is from your local bookstore. Booksellers are book wizards and you need to feed their magical hungers lest they turn on us all.
(I note too that it looks like B&N is doing a preorder sale. You get 25% off if you use the code PREORDER25.)
I’ll certainly talk more about the book as it gets closer to release. As for now, well. If you’d like to know what the book is about — I got you covered, friend.
A small town is transformed by dark magic when seven strange trees begin bearing magical apples in this masterpiece of horror from the bestselling author of Wanderers and The Book of Accidents.
It’s autumn in the town of Harrow, but something else is changing in the town besides the season.
Because in that town there is an orchard, and in that orchard, seven most unusual trees. And from those trees grows a new sort of apple: Strange, beautiful, with skin so red it’s nearly black.
Take a bite of one of these apples and you will desire only to devour another. And another. You will become stronger. More vital. More yourself, you will believe. But then your appetite for the apples and their peculiar gifts will keep growing—and become darker.
This is what happens when the townsfolk discover the secret of the orchard. Soon it seems that everyone is consumed by an obsession with the magic of the apples… and what’s the harm, if it is making them all happier, more confident, more powerful?
And even if buried in the orchard is something else besides the seeds of this extraordinary tree: a bloody history whose roots reach back to the very origins of the town.
But now the leaves are falling. The days grow darker. It’s harvest time, and the town will soon reap what it has sown.
Hope you consider pre-ordering it.
Hope you consider spreading the word, too, while you’re at it.
Tell your friends. Tell your family.
Tell the trees, too.
(The trees already know.)