One Tiny Leaf

Short stories and poems

This is a story I wrote quickly and discarded it just as quickly. Later I rediscovered it and touched it up a bit. I'm not sure if I'll add to it or not in the future, but here it is in its present form.

This is a beforeshock. The foretaste, a glimpse of an unknown truth on the horizon.

He leans forward and pushes his index finger into the space between his brows. She is talking about something mundane, her paycheck. Her boss must have shorted her again. The pain rotates to a place deep behind his eye, a place just above his ear. If he touches the place, it will look weird. Afterall, they are at a restaurant. The throbbing intensifies until it is a solid stream, no pulses, no pauses, just unbroken pain streaming to his right eye.

The beforeshock begins.

His left eye sees Angela talking, her bright red lips moving quickly. His right eye sees a rainforest from a bird’s eye view. The emerald canopy stretches out beneath him like a rugged carpet. Mists rise from the blurry horizon. The vision slowly focuses on a smaller section of trees, and he feels as though he is zooming in on something. The pain intensifies the closer he gets. Angela has disappeared from his left eye, and nothing is registering on that side. On the right, he can make out details of the trees, the shape of their leaves. Shadows move beneath the sprawling branches, but everything is still too blurry to see their shapes. Angela’s touch hits him like a wave, and the vision is gone. The pain is reduced to throbbing again.

“Adam? Can you hear me?” Angela’s voice quivers, and her blue eyes are huge as she whispers, “My God, what is happening to you?”

The obese blonde family at the table across from them are staring with their mouths open, and a pasty faced boy covered in bits of smeared food shouts, “Eew! He’s bleeding!”

Sure enough, his nose had bled onto his white dress shirt, and tiny scarlet drops rested ontop of his rice pilaf like shiny beads.

“I swear if you don’t call Dr. Nelson this week, I’m going to,” Angela’s voice disappears into the hum of the restaurant, and everything seems to be spinning around him.

“Ok, ok,” he mumbles, taking a guess at what she said. “I will. I’ll go see him, and we’ll figure it out.”

Angela insists on driving home after the horrified waitress clears their food and accepts a much higher tip than she deser ved. The headlights of oncoming cars swallow him and spit him back out after they pass. Adam covers his eyes and reclines the seat, trying to retain the image of the rainforest. Something important was happening there. That is how beforeshocks work, he figures. You see an important image of something that hasn’t happened yet, but the shock of it tears up your body.

Two weeks ago, Adam thought they were migraine induced hallucinations, but then he started reading blogs and web studies about other people who had experienced the same symptoms as him. Everyone described a similar pain followed by visions. One woman had seen her son’s death happen only three days before his fatal car crash, and she credited the beforeshock for enabling her to say goodbye. Another man saw a cottage by a familiar bend in a local river. He drove up and down the highway for days looking for it, and when he finally found it, a twin he never knew he had was cutting the grass on the front lawn. There were dozens of similar stories. No explanations, no acknoweldgement from creditable scientific institutions, not even any religious musings were offered, just story after story of excrutiating pain followed by haunting images.

The mechanical rumble of the garage door pulls Adam out of his musings. Angela pats his leg, which is still shaking involuntarily.

“Ok, we’re back. Why don’t you leave your shirt on the washer and go to bed?” she says as if talking to a sick child. “I’ll take Duke out and work on the bloodstain.”

Adam watches the English bulldog waddle out the door after Angela, and leaving the bloody shirt, he falls into the bed with his shoes still on and passed into a deep, empty sleep. The next seven days are uneventful, but as the sun rises during his Friday commute, Adam fearfully experiences the slow clench of the tightness that will later become a beforeshock. His sick days are gone. His supervisor, Tracy, eyes him with managerial suspicion as Adam walks to his desk rubbing his right temple. She will later drop a loaded hint about his lack of sick time, insinuating of course that he must stay at his desk or lose his job.

It happens as he is reconciling the second quarter Accounts Receivable revenues. The dull pain spikes. His fingers lose all feeling, and his stomach convulses. He is cold and can no longer contain the shakes. Tiny silver comets reign across his right line of vision. Tracy’s dark outline has faded into an approaching sea of treetops veined with tiny grey rivers. The computer screen is too bright for his left eye, and he closes it just as the blood drips from his right nostril onto the key board. Murmuring voices whisper his name, and someone’s hand rests on his shoulder as the forest draws nearer. Black smoke is rising between the densely gathered branches. Adam focuses on the smoke, trying to follow the whisping trail to its source, but a paramedic forces his eye open and the vision evaporates into an excruciating white flashlight beam.

After a series of medical imaging tests on his head, the doctors conclude that intense migraines are applying pressure to areas of his brain that trigger the release of visual memories that are too deeply stored to have any conscious meaning to his short term memory.

“What you are likely seeing,” says Dr. Roberts, the leading neurologist at St. Mary’s, “is the visual memory of something that impressed you as a child or adolescent. Perhaps a place you visited or wanted to visit or simply something your memory catalogued and stored. In any case, it is being brought to your attention now because of the chemical imbalance caused by your migraines. It’s the same every time because your brain now associates this image with the migraine.”

The explanation continues, but Adam has stopped listening. Dr. Roberts had immediately dismissed the beforeshock theory as urban legend on par with gators in the sewer system and alien designed crop circles. Adam knows the forest is a place he’s never seen before, that it is not important as an image but because something is happening there. He accepts Dr. Roberts prescription without question or complaint, and he fills it to placate Angela. The following morning, he drops the first pill down the disposal in the kitchen sink. Maybe it would help the pain, and maybe it would dissipate the visions. But then, Adam would never know the significance of the forest and the smoke.

“Maybe it’s stress,” Angela says on Tuesday. “We should get away, somewhere tropical and beachy. You still owe me a honeymoon anyway.”

It had been almost a year since their tiny wedding in a mountain chapel. Neither of them had accrued enough vacation time to go anywhere special, so they spent a weekend in the city and returned to work Monday in the hope of taking a real honeymoon in a year or so.

He smiles at her. “You’re probably right, on both counts. Let’s take the Belize trip you found a couple of months ago.”

Seven days in a resort on a paradisical coastline with Angela sounds restorative, and suddenly he wants to leave the dreary midwest winter immediately.

“Let’s go soon,” he shouts up the stairs as she searches for her planner in the office.

Sunrise on Friday brings the pain again. This time the beforeshock comes late. After Angela has retired for the evening, Adam’s head is too tender to even touch a pillow, but rather than saying anything to Angela. He turns the television on and selects an action film that she is sure to hate.

“I’m not sleepy yet,” he says hoping that he isn’t overacting while he tries to contain the pain.

They exchange goodnight kisses, and after she is gone, he removes his shirt and wraps a navy towl around his neck. No tell-tale bloodstains this time. He has just returned to the couch when it starts. The familiar stab behind his eye, the slow revolution of the room, the silver rips across reality and the vision opens to him.

The trees approach more quickly this time, and the branches reach up to embrace him as the descent continues. He is following the smoke trail, it’s undulating black path uncoiling before him. As Adam strains to see through the thick foilage to the source of the smoke, he can feel a warm trickle of blood making it’s way down his face like thick tears. He can feel the tremors in his legs, but the pain has dissolved into emerald beauty all around him. This is as close as he has ever been to the trees. The descent has slowed enough for him to spot jewel colored birds perching in the branches and broad petaled pink and orange blossoms drooping from dark curling branches that part as he passes. The forest floor is alive with movement, and though the images on the ground are still blurred, Adam thinks he can see the outline of people moving quickly in various directions.

A heavy weight on his chest and slurping in his ears awaken him, and Adam opens his eyes just in time for a full face encounter with Duke. After the shakes subside, Adam goes to bed beside an unconscious Angela.

Ten uneventful days later, they board a plane bound for Belize. Angela is wearing a crimson sundress with a white cardigan, and she is the image of a dark haired American beauty on a tropical vacation. As they take their seats, Adam’s right temple throbs. She has generously given him the window seat, and she clenches his hand as they take off, leaving snow laden pines far beneath them.

The first two legs of the trip and subsequent layovers occur without incident. The further south they travel, the more intensely Adam’s head hurts. By the time their third and final flight takes off, she has had a few drinks and is too relaxed to notice the pain he can barely conceal. They are twenty minutes from their destination when Adam glances out the window and sees it. The forest, his forest. The rivers and trees align perfectly with the vision, and the beforeshock begins.

He sees it with both eyes this time. The silver comets swirl surround him tearing away the cabin of the plane one tiny illuminated streak at a time. He glances at Angela’s dozing face and holds her hand. Behind the rips, a new vision opens, and the pain in his head reaches a new apex. He hears his own scream joining a chorus of other voices, and it is too loud to tell if they are screaming or singing. New colors emerge around him blurry and whirling into each other in frenzied motion. The shapes reform into silouttes of partnered dancers hurrying on a coiled black surface. Lights flash all around him, and the pain never dulls. But Adam does not lose focus. The chorus, the dancers, the lights all pulse to the same rhythm. One, two, one, two they synchronize like a heartbeat, like his heart beat. His breathing matches the pace.

The blossoms and colorful birds have passed, and he knows there only moments before he finally sees the end of the smoke trail. The dancers gather around him, and silver swirls above. He feels the undulation of the trail matching the rhythm of his heart. The branches finally part, and he sees jagged silver pebbles nestled in a bright green carpet. The smoke rises thickest here, and just past it, past the rocks and the carpet, beneath them in the glistening sunlight, an ocean with a pure white shore stretches endlessly to the horizon. The coastline under that emerald carpet and smoke beckons to Adam with longing more intense than the pain. People are waiting for him on the shore. He mustn’t look back or they’ll disappear. The silver pebbles grow into boulders and then buildings. Adam can feel the warm water on his neck and arms, smell the salt heavy breeze. The people call his name, and he thinks Angela is with them, smiling and waving. One final burst of pain thrusts him into the warm white sand where he was always supposed to be.

When the recovery crew finds Adam, his fingers are still locked tightly around Angela’s, her wedding ring embedded in his palm. But his face is still looking longingly out the window.


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About One Tiny Leaf

I see my writing as one tiny leaf on a great big tree of budding authors. While I hope to one day publish professionally and find a community of writers and readers, for the present this blog allows me the space to put my work to the test. I welcome any constructive comments and feedback.