Boy Who Cried Wolf!

There once was a boy who lived far away in the here and now, high on a hillside among the mountain orchards. The road which encircled the mountain was an infinite loop which soon gave rise to the saying ‘What goes around, comes around.’

Now Mountain Apples, not to be confused with mountain oysters, were the only crop native to this highland hillside and could be grown nowhere else. These marvelous Mountain Apples, unlike their Lowland cousins, were sweet and juicy, cool and crisp. And, as Apple lovers can attest, they kept well for many years. All who tried them agreed-one bite and you were hooked for life.

Lowland Apples, on the other hand, were known to be tasteless and tricky to chew. Worse, more than one tooth had been broken trying to get to the core. (Dentists were their biggest fans.) But the greatest drawback to the Lowlanders, other than the continual spitting of teeth, was their exceedingly short shelf life. Buy a bushel in the fall, and they might well be past their prime by spring.

And yet, in spite of their obvious disadvantages, Lowland Apples were sweeping the marketplace. They were, after all, cheap and easily come by. More and more canneries began to call for Lowlands, and only Lowlands, not because they were better, but because they were spreading like the plague.

The little mountain village had fallen on hard times and the villagers feared for their future. What if they were forced to leave their highland fastness for the bottomlands below? What if their children were to grow up speaking only dreary Lowland instead of the rich Mountain dialog? What if they were forced to spit teeth for the rest of their days?

The village elders formed a committee and settled down to some serious bickering. And, after much wrangling and a bit of arm wrestling, it was agreed, for the first time in Highland history, to ‘Spread the Good Seed’.

For years some had argued that by keeping the Good Seed a Highland secret, the Lowlanders were gaining market share barrel over backside. Reasoning was that merchants, bottlers, schools and factories felt safest when there were multiple sources to fall back on in times of drought or disaster.

Then too, the excitement created by the new orchards could revitalize interest in Mountain Apples everywhere. And the competition (ah, but there was the rub) should eventually lead to better and better Apples for all.

Soon small orchards began springing up along the mountain slopes, just off the main loop. Pie makers, muffin men, fruit sellers and Apple-ade stands popped up like mushrooms. Developers wrote and rewrote their recipes to include this Mountain resurgence. It seemed like a time of plenty for everyone. “After all,” recalled the villagers, “on the mountain, what goes around, comes around.”

“Say, what about the schools!” cried one of the Highland mothers, noting slipping market share in the lunch programs. “Those Lowlanders have zippy little boxes with animated logos all over the outside to disguise the tasteless stuff inside. And,” she added, “they’re cheap too.”

“Not to fear,’ counseled an elder. “Wait ’til you see what we have in store for the schools!” And he pulled out a delightful little box, just the right size for small fingers, and made to hold vitamin enriched, mineral enhanced applets guaranteed to make super tots out of the slowest students. Teachers everywhere convinced their administrators to build next year’s program, not to mention next year’s budget, around the nifty new vitaMates.

Things were surely looking up. And yet, in spite of all the enthusiasm, the orchard elders had to admit that profits remained low and fewer bushels seemed to be sold each quarter. The village was at a loss. Stymied. “Well,” sighed someone, “there’s always young Jack.”

And again, after much wrangling and a bit more arm wrestling, they agreed to see if Jack, their wayfaring boy and protagonist of our story, would be willing to make a pilgrimage back to the village.

Now Jack, a bright but passionate lad, had set off some years ago after a quarrel with the original elders and had sworn never to return. But nostalgia, and a chance to even some old scores, changed his mind. One morning, there he was, trotting down the loop, ready to impart his worldly knowledge and a kick in the backside to the folks back home.

“Just look at this place!” He shouted before his feet ever left the path. “Are we living in the Dark Ages here or what?” And by the close of day, he had not only installed himself on the committee, he had sent the mayor and a fair number of elders packing.

That taken care of, he set about sizing up the Orchard as the workers trembled on their cherry pickers. “Fools!” He cried. “Festering Fungi!” And by the end of the week, a bedraggled group of villagers were headed down to the swamp lands, their long tended plots reassigned or reduced to stumps.

But Jack saved his greatest ire for the apple seedlings multiplying up and down the mountain slopes. “Leeches!” He thundered across the ravines. “Who allowed these apple-sucking parasites up on my mountain!” And before the month was out, he’d axed the lot.

This came as a terrible blow to the fledgling orchards and the various pie makers, muffin men and Apple-ade stands that had sprung up expecting a long and prosperous alliance. There had been, they pointed out with increasing animosity, papers signed and promises made. And just to emphasize their point, they arrived one morning brandishing rakes and hoes.

But neither rake nor hoe nor threat of lawsuit worried Jack. “Seedmongers!” He shouted. “Appleworms! A blight upon you all!” And brandishing a branch of his own, he hopped from rock to rock pelting the fleeing orchard owners and their allies with apples and epithets.

A thundering silence enveloped the mountainside and the valleys below, soon to be followed by the disagreeable smell of rotting apples and broken promises. A domino effect left growers and gardens in ruins all across the mountain.

Jack nodded. Then he dusted off his hands, grabbed his hatchet and headed back to the Orchard. A ruthless weeding was just the thing to shore up stockholder confidence. He began to look around for other plots to be razed.

Now long before Jack returned from abroad, bottom dwellers had been quietly buying their own Apples from the neighborhood markets. Friends and relatives might scoff, but these sensible souls knew they couldn’t go wrong. Not only would they enjoy the freshest, juiciest Apples around, they came with a lifetime guarantee.

“What’s with all this ‘lifetime support’ nonsense!” Jack barked next morning, scowling at the ledger books. “You don’t see those Lowlanders giving anything away! Gonna walk with the big boys, ya gotta talk like the big boys!”

“Well, sir,” ventured one of the eldest of the elders, “we did make them a solemn promise. It was part of the deal and…”

“Balderdash!” Jack snorted. “And while we’re at it, we could save face and a bushel of bucks if we consolidated our sellers. Have you seen the state of some of those markets! One outlet ought to do it. The masses down below are hardly our core market. We’ll never miss them.”

When those loyal customers returned to their local grocery for advice and a pound of Apples, they found the Mountain aisle closed and the shelves stacked high with withering Lowlands. Nonplussed, they called 1 800 SOS APPL for their lifetime promise of support only to find it had withered away as well.

Betrayed and bewildered by the loss of their favorite fruit, they were forced to fill their carts with Lowlands. Their teeth would never be the same.

Back at the Orchard things were shaping up. It was getting harder to know what to chop next. But Jack had never much cared for those upstart pocket-sized mini fruits. Of course, if he dumped the minis, he would have to dump the vitaMates, too. And those vitas were a hot item with marketing to match.

When a new male lion takes over a pride, woe to the young of the male before. And so it was for the luckless minis and the lucrative vitaMates. All the hype that had gone before, all the sales that were to come hereafter, could not save them.

Soon a second contingent made their way up the mountain to Jack’s house. They were armed, not with rakes and hoes, but with paper and pens. Their expressions, however, were equally grim. But, as these guys fit into Jack’s master plan, he turned up the charm and switched on the old reality distortion field.

“Sorry about the vitaMate thing,” Jack told the assembled group of school boards. “No sweat though. Just wait til next year. Have I got a deal for you!” But the schools had spent next year’s budgets on this years promises and the administrators were in the doghouse.

Jack was right, of course. Next year was set to beat all records. And would have too. The Orchard was lean and mean. The newest crop of Apples was state of the art. It had taste. It had aroma. It had byte. It had everything, in fact, but buyers.

And where were the buyers? Feasting, albeit gingerly, on a second rate crop of Lowland tarts. Some from fury. Some from dismay. And some because that was the only fruit in town. But each still smarting from loyalties sundered and promises broken.

And so, once again, the mountain was filled with the disagreeable smell of rotting apples. For as the eldest of the elders whispered as he made his way down that steep and winding road, “What goes around comes around. And around. And around. Life on the mountain’s an infinite loop.”

“But… where’s the wolf?” You say. “You promised us a wolf! Thought this was all about the Boy Who Cried Wolf!” And so it is. But there’s more than one way to cry wolf.

Susan Howerter

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