“I saw him, sir, under the apple tree, plain as anything. Such a shock it gave me.”
Isla was a QA on the production line. I could see she was too upset to work, so I called her into my office and poured her a coffee.
“Others have seen Mister Cooper’s ghost before you,” I reassured her. “He haunts the apple tree he planted outside when he founded this company. Coopers have been making cider in these parts for a century and growing apples for longer than that. That’s his name, on your badge.”
My workers all wore the Cooper’s Cider logo: a rosy apple in a sun-tanned hand.
“He looked,” she said, hesitantly, “so sad.”
“It’s a sad story,” I said. “Don’t worry about the rest of your shift. You’ve had a fright and need to calm yourself.” She nibbled on a shortbread while I told her the story. “Brynmor Cooper wanted to share his good fortune so he adopted a little boy, dark-haired imp he was, bought at the marketplace for an old farthing and named Hammet.”
Isla sniffed, but was no longer shaking.
“Such tragedies followed. Brynmor’s older son fell out of a window. His young daughter died in the cradle. Then his wife sickened.”
“It got worse. Brynmor took a turn and died soon after his wife and of a similar sickness. Very mysterious. The family didn’t want Hammet to inherit the business. They came to Pomona House to challenge the will.”
Isla’s eyes widened. “Was that … the Big Fire?”
I nodded. “That apple tree is all that’s left of Brynmor Cooper’s estate.”
“So Hammet inherited the business?”
“I suppose he did.”
“How nice for Mr Cooper,” said Isla, “watching over the business from his old tree.”
I walked Isla back to the factory floor, then crossed the busy road to stand under the tree. It was a fine autumn morning and the town was scented with ripening apples.
“Still there are you, you old fool?” I murmured.
The branches shifted in breeze. An apple dropped to the grass. I picked it up and took a bite, while I contemplated my factory.
“I’ve insured it for a fortune.”
A worm wriggled out of the apple core. I threw it away.
“This time, Father,” I told the rustling branches, “I’ll make sure your wretched tree burns down too.”