Their heart began to pound, filling her chest with fire. They stood up sharply. They turned and searched for the tree. They canvassed the land again and again with their eyes, but saw only a pale white hand rising from the ground where the tree once stood. The skin of the hand barely covered the bone, and clung to the joints. The lines in the palm were drawn in faint red, along with the veins of the wrist and the forearm that constituted its trunk. Suddenly the blackness crept over. A ringing sound fell into her ears. They stared down as it coated their small, frail frame, until it slowly encircled their eyes, and pushed inward, until they saw nothing but reflections of small birds, dogs, horses, men, women and children. They recognized them all, knowing them as well as they nearly as well as they knew each other.
They woke up facing the wide blue sky and wondered if they had returned. If she was he, or whatever it was, she began, or he set out to be. They stretched their hand out, displaying it to their eyes and saw a pale white palm. The wrist looked slender and the palm wider. They stared down at their frame, and it seemed to be human, not much more than that. It stood up and ran its hands along its pale white skin. It felt up to its neck and then to its face, to find it had nothing more than nostrils, eyes and ear holes. It went to whistle, and found it could only blow through its nose. Finally, it pulled itself up, towards that blue sky. When it stood upright it took notice of what cradled it. It sat in that giant hand. This time, the skin coating the palm and fingers seemed tan, healthy and thick. Beneath the palm stood an array of tree tops, the vast canopy of a jungle. The white being, impressed by the splendor of the jungle, made its way to the edge of the hand, and leaped from the palm that clutched it. The fingers closed slowly, and the hand formed a fist.
As it descended through the air, the sunlight faded with its fall. The moon’s glow hugged the land tightly. The air rushed against the face of the being as it plummeted. The air started to mold the soft pale flesh as though it were clay, parting the skin beneath the nose. The being felt a new orifice form. It earned a mouth to scream in exhilaration, and take one large breath before splashing into a pool of perfectly clear water. Its eyelids peeled back and the water splashed an ocean blue hue into two empty pupils. It felt weightless floating beneath the water. It lingered in the pleasant chill of the water. It sank down further, feeling the weight of its body slip away. Suddenly it felt a fire in its lungs. It gasped for air and found none. It flung its legs about in furious effort to propel itself forward. It could feel the burning pain creep across its body. It saw blotches of blackness encroaching on its vision. It kicked so fiercely that the water pushed away the soft clay at the end of its blocky feet. Toes formed from its shapeless feet. Its head peaked out of the water, and its mouth sucked in air.
It gripped the grimy shore. It slipped and slid against the mud. The mud pushed against its palms, and forced five fingers out of the slabs of clay on the ends of the arms. It jabbed its fingers into the soft ground and hauled itself through the shore line, until the terrain seemed steady enough to stand on. All around the pool were varying shades of mud, some yellowish, others a sort of tan, another of a pinkish variety. All of the pallets of mud blended together around the edges where they met. Its newly formed mouth felt empty, so it searched for something to fill it, and found small pink fruit dangling from the branches of stout trees. It reached up, pulled one loose, and started to chew on it. The pink fruit tangled up along the edges of its mouth, and formed out a strange layer that let it know the taste of its saliva and the feel of its breath. It reveled in the novel sensation of lip smacking as it walked a dirt path flanked on both sides by trees full of all sorts of fruits. Long and forked red fruits dangled from some trees. In bushes it saw white, serrated vegetables with sharp curves. It spotted a crunchy looking bunch of white blocks. It pulled loose a bunch and eagerly munched on them. It hurt its moist mouth, but soon the white cubes jammed into the sticky pink residue of the fruit and formed two layers of something as strong as bone. It shifted its jaw about and bit at the air and clacked the cubes together. It kept down the road, wriggling its fingers and observed the bounty of the land. There were fruits and vegetables of all shapes and hues. Suddenly, it found a wet looking fruit with a scratchy, wide surface. It grabbed it and shoved it hurriedly into its mouth. It bit on it at first, and formed a slight depression in the middle of the strange shape. It curved the sides of the fruit with its mashing until the fruit fit sat snugly in the mouth. The fruit slid into the film of red that held the fine row of strong white teeth in place. It waggled the new device around the mouth, and ran it along the pointy undersides and smooth surfaces of the white bones in its mouth. Suddenly, it let loose a little squall. It laughed high and childlike at itself. The laughter settled and it formed its first smile. It took a lot of exertion to stretch its mouth at the corners and reveal all of those square white teeth, but something made the whole endeavor feel effortless.
The dirt path that stretched before it started to form into large and wide rocks packed roughly together. As it walked the road, it noticed some loose stones. It grabbed an interesting shaped stone and eyed it as it walked. Suddenly, it met a crag in the ground and fell face forward, holding the stone up to its face. The stone jammed into the malleable face right between the nostrils. It felt a mass of pain wash over it, and clear blue tears began to slide down its face. It felt the misery of pain, as the flesh of its face vibrated. It flared its nostrils, now separated by a mass of throbbing flesh beneath its eyes. It made small sniffles in response to the harsh feeling fire that burned across its face.
The darkness started to spread as the trees obscured the silvery moonlight. Drips of light only fell through chinks in the massive leafy armor above it. Suddenly, the area felt humid, damp and unpleasant. Tears poured from puffy eyes as the being cried out for some anonymous force. It could feel the sweat run down its skin as the heat draped it. It heard something from the trees drop in loud “plunks”. It started up into an awkward run. It ran and stumbled and then ran even more. It started to tire. It could not make its way out in the darkness. An utter emptiness in its chest forced it to a halt. It sucked in the air around it. Its breaths came to screeching halt when two plunks slid right in next to its ear drums and rattled its head. It rubbed the sides of its head and found mounds of waxy substance near those ear holes. It rubbed the sides of its head in small circles to try and ease its pounding headache, but only melded the wax into the flesh of its face. It could hear more now, but the noises simply compounded in its head until started to weep at feeling so overwhelmed. It heard barks, chatters, hisses, all sorts of strange noises. Smooth and harsh sounds came from every direction, but it could see nothing in the dark. It heard a massive beat beneath the very earth. It led a hand up to its chest, and felt the beat of the earth synchronize with something within it. Yet worst of all it heard strange chants, murmurs, strings of deliberate sounds that had no discernible pattern. It heard screams coming from all directions. It sobbed and walked wearily on through the darkness, with high pitched screams echoing all along the tree line it could no longer make out.
The rocks started to smooth out and become smaller now. The path became easier, but no less distressing. The moonlight only re-entered for a second, to reveal a fork in the road. It sweated so much that the skin at the bottom of its torso became wrinkled and shapeless, like wet and unformed putty. It stared down two paths, but saw only darkness in each. It shut its eyes and ran down one path. It could feel the heat intensify incredibly as it ran through a blinding ray of light, causing the sweat to make the runny skin at the bottom of its torso smooth out until it formed into a wrinkly rod and two bubbles. The path grew cold, and the putty formed solidly. It cried out wildly in bewildered and resigned confusion. It slid into the earth and shut its eyes.
When it awoke it looked down at itself. It seemed fully formed. Suddenly then the chants started to form into sensible things in its head. The sun started to shine overhead. He started to stride down the road. He saw things that were strange, but the chants, the voices, the words overhead explained the slithering green creatures and the large brown trotters that heaved chariots of men. He felt his feet adjust to a smoother path. He strode very confidently down the road for a while, encountering happiness when he heard voices, or mustered the courage to find silence somewhere. He spoke with sorrow when he felt guiding voices leave him, when he felt his path diverge from familiar sights and sounds.
He felt the heartbeat of the earth stop permanently once, and grief overwhelmed him but did not keep him from moving. Even without the beat, he knew how to guide himself through the periods of darkness. He walked for a while, until he found a garden full to the brim with thorny flowers, none of which he could touch without drawing blood. He tried many times to pluck a flower until another like him came a long and plucked one for him. She had a wide white smile and beautiful fair hair. They walked together for a while until she grew thinner and frailer as they slept and rose. The cobblestone road became populated with carriages too, of people who passed through. They would wave at the carriages. He came to know what shook her world, and he felt the tremors too. She understood the sense of his sighs and felt the breath leave her too. They discerned the sweet anatomy of each and every shoulder brush as they leaned on one another.
His heart beat again in unison with others. This time, his pulse guided their teary eyes past terrors. He felt them separate from him, and felt their heartbeats start to fade. He accepted it grimly. He steeled himself, remembering how inevitable it was that paths would diverge. He still felt one pulse tying him to all of the flickering shadows and rumbling noises.
One day he woke up, and that pulse went cold. He knew that his path had finally narrowed to the point where only he could cross. He felt oddly astray and did not wander long down an increasingly windy, sloped walkway. He stopped his stride when he met one final sunny road. He did not care to lean on anything else. It was a warm sunny day. The winds carried a fine summer’s radiance. He shut his eyes and reopened them. For a moment, he seemed ready to rest. He wanted nothing more than to sit down and observe all the things he ran through, when his legs permitted him to bound down slopes and his hands let him scale mountains. His smile grew weary. It seemed less novel than he remembered. His bones eased him down slowly. They shook more than he remembered. A wave of careful hands dressed him in a three piece suit finer than any Sunday he’d seen. A man with eager eyes, a black hat and a knowing smile ushered him into a carriage. He leaned back now and took a moment out of his long journey to just observe. Horse hooves clamored across the cobblestone crosswalk.
~Austin R Ryan