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Johnny Appleseed, the great civilizer

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Johnny came back to the towns he had visited.

Checking on his crop.

Everywhere he planted, he was greeted with cider and cheers.

No one ever ate his apples. Apples don't reproduce true; the fruit hides a seed which becomes a tree, but this new tree's fruit tastes nothing like the parent. Sweet give birth to sour, crisp gives birth to mealy and wormed.

But it doesn't matter. Because before Johnny, the plains were wide and the workdays were long and the lives were hard, so hard, one problem after another. Not enough of anything except troubles and taxes.

And things were still like that. But now they had cider. And the sweet tang of liquor and fruit would wash down their throats and for a moment they would believe that their lives were something more than a repetition of hardships and the trite sayings that helped them cope with them.

Johnny himself was responsible for making settlers' lives bearable. But he would never be able to be a settler. Trying to carve a permanent home? Hell, Johnny didn't even like to sleep indoors, and he sure as hell didn't want to deal with farm mortgages and town-building, and having to listen whatever ass happened to worm his way into the position of local authority. The rules were a little wild in these parts of the land, but Johnny never really saw how the life of a settler was free.

But then again, living those harsh lives without any kind of strong beverage -- that seemed just uncivilized. Even to Johnny, the man who thought of an outhouse as too high-falutin' for a normal guy like him. So Johnny was the bringer of alcohol, of full cups of glee, of silliness and occasional rage, of foolish friendships and regrettable lusts and all the other things that intoxication brings with it.

So when Johnny came back, a few years after planting orchards around some nothing town, he came back to cheers. He came back to a bouquet of hands reaching out to touch his legendary self, to shake his hand, slap him on the back.

But some part of Johnny had to wonder. If he hadn't given them cider, would more of them refused the life that was handed them? And sometimes, as he left a town that had been smaller when he first showed up - that had grown a saloon and a courthouse and another few shops since his orchards had given people reason to gather and stay -- he tried not to think about the gray vertical lines of the appletree trunks, how they were strong and straight and all the same size. How from a distance they looked like iron bars.