2015 Crab Fat Writing Contest Runner-Up
I eat a pound of dirt, making certain it contains a fair number of earthworms. I consider a box of Miracle-Grow but decide against it. Next comes the samara of a long dead maple tree.
The engravings took months to complete. The deepest hours of the darkest nights of winter spent locked in the basement. My eyes pressed against the microscope, the double winged seed pod clamped beneath it. Fell instruments on the table beside me. A single bulb casting a circle of light upon my work.
The runes are etched in Starling blood with needles carved from human bone. Inscrutable symbols that pulse with a weird un-light. The finished samara radiates an elemental energy which has become rare in our world. It is the antithesis of contrived order. It scoffs at credit ratings and five-day workweeks. It is raw and beautiful and terrible.
I swallow it whole.
I eat another handful of dirt before heading into the woods, my path lit by the setting moon. I carry a shovel and a garbage bag as I venture to a narrow misty peninsula jutting into the lake – an emissary of the forest sent to greet the water.
I dig into an empty patch of ground near the tip of the headland. Spring has only just arrived and ice crystals linger in the dirt. There’s a chill in the air but the digging keeps me warm.
I strip naked, placing my clothes in the garbage bag along with several rocks. I throw these and the shovel into the dark water of the lake. Then I climb down, into the ground.
Goosebumps cover my body as I lay there. The cold damp earth caresses me with icy fingers. I breathe in the heady scent of fertile soil. The moon has set and the sky begins to lighten.
I pull in the loose dirt that surrounds the hole, covering my body. I bury my feet and legs, patting down the soil and making it firm. Then my crotch, stomach, chest and shoulders. My arms prove difficult, but I manage to wriggle them beneath the surface. Only my face remains exposed. I stare up into the gray, pre-dawn sky.
The weight of the earth is reassuring. It presses into me with cool indifference. The seed senses its time has come. If I could see inside myself, this is what I would see:
The rune on the samara begins to glow green and gold. A yellow fire flickers inside the seed. The coat cracks and a pale, white radical pushes into the soil in my stomach. It parts and splits and parts again, forming a complex root system in a matter of seconds. From the opposite end of the seed pod, the epicotyl begins questing for my gullet, pulling embryonic leaves as it reaches for the sky.
A small green seedling rises from my open mouth. I watch it grow quickly upward like the time-lapsed footage of an old nature program. Its bark hardens from green to gray as it climbs. The first tiny leaves unfurl against a pale sky. Dawn is close.
The stem thickens and the seedling becomes a sapling, forcing my mouth wider and wider with its radial growth. My jaw bone breaks with a loud crack that echoes through the trees and across the water. The skin tears at the corner of my mouth and my teeth shatter outwards. There is no pain. Only a gradual loss of self.
The root system rips through my stomach. It punctures my lungs and fills my chest cavity. Tendrils follow the arteries of my arms and legs, splitting and branching as they go. They burst from my fingertips and my toes and erupt from my flesh. They writhe and pulse through muscle and fat. My body is torn to pieces.
My head and face are all that’s left. My lower jaw hangs by ragged bits of tendon and skin. The ever expanding trunk cracks through the roof of my mouth, filling the sinus cavities with bone splinters and wood pulp. My eye sockets burst with crunching, squishing pop.
The mind is the final piece, the last thread of my humanity. The brainpan splits open and gray matter is suffused with phylum and bark. And still I grow. The creaking groans of my expanding fibers fill the woods as my trunk climbs upwards.
I am many-limbed. My branches fork and diverge, forming a mighty crown as I reach my full height. Leaves unfurl from the buds on the tips of slender twigs. Through them, I will drink in the first light of the morning.
As the sun rises, a new tree stands at the edge of the headland shrouded in the early morning mist. Bits of hair and bone and skin cling to its base, but they will wash away with the first rain.
Colin Talmage is an artist, writer and storyteller. Originally from the Hudson Valley, he has lived in New York, Florida, London and Sao Paulo. He has worked as a flower smith, a bartender, an English teacher, a gallery assistant and a wild animal removal specialist. He is the creator of numerous works of the fantastical and currently resides in Miami FL. Visit his website @ colintalmage.com.