The Shape

A fable

The great oak tree walked toward Michael, wrapped its long, thick roots around him, and pinned him to the ground. Thin roots slid into his throat. They crept out of his nostrils, ears, and eye sockets.

Everything burned, as if the tree were made of fire.

He thought the tree was bending down toward him to tell him something. He thought he could hear a voice in his head, deep and full: Are you the planter? Where is the planter? The tree shook its branches wildly. The voice sounded again: Are you the one who made me? Who abandoned me?

Michael looked past the tree at the reddish sky of dusk above. Stars flashed into bright yellow lights before disappearing, like candles being extinguished.

Then the roots clawed his throat. He coughed and gagged, convulsed, vomited on himself. His eyes squeezed shut, he cried.

When he opened his eyes, the tree was gone. The stars were back. Michael was alone, lying on the ground.

***

That was not the first vision. It was not the last.

When it began, Michael witnessed the beings of the natural world trying to kill him. Bats. Sparrows. Earthworms. They all tried to destroy him. Sometimes he heard a voice accusing him of some misdeed or evil.

He tried to stay in the human-made realm, with its stacked concrete, glass walls, and molded metal, in the hope that his visions would stop and his life would be spared. But it continued. Once, a streetlight twisted around him and shone so hotly in his face, he thought his skin was melting off. Once, a crack in the sidewalk burst wide open under his feet, sending him into a dark abyss.

He thought he would be able to bear with his visions, but they became too much for him, so he stayed inside. Afraid of the objects that filled his house, the bookshelves and the silverware, the tables and the lamps, Michael retreated into the basement, where there was nothing but white walls, a gray carpet, a pantry with boxes and cans of food, and the simple wooden staircase that led upstairs. He put up with the pantry, for he needed sustenance. He had his can opener with him. He was thankful it never tried to kill him.

***

One night, after his dinner of cold tomato soup and dry pasta, Michael lay on the floor and pondered: Was the crisis in his mind, or in the world around him? It felt too great to fit inside him alone.

He mused. Everything that had wanted to kill him had accused him of evils that he had never done. Perhaps the beings and objects who wanted him dead were mistaken. Perhaps they had confused him for someone else, someone who had come before him and done evil, and he was now being punished for those deeds.

When he drifted into sleep, he saw a shape of a person. It could have been anyone; he couldn’t see who it was. He saw the shape walk through the city. The trees, animals, street signs, and park benches attacked it. But everything that the shape touched disintegrated.

Upon waking, Michael shivered. He wondered if the one who had come before him and done wrong would return. Could this person even be punished? Or would this person destroy everything?

***

Michael’s terror of the world and of the return of the one who had come before him was so heavy, he could not rise from the floor. He stayed there for days. He told himself that if everything might be annihilated, then there was no reason to leave the ground. But, in truth, he did not want to die like this, frozen in fear. Hoping to ease his pangs of hunger, he dragged himself toward the pantry door. When he was inches away, he was shocked by a sudden sound, and he curled into a ball to defend himself.

Minutes passed. He was so hungry. He was not sure if he was safe, but he reached for the door and opened it. Everything inside the pantry was still.

***

The food in the pantry ran out. Michael began to starve. The pain was so hard to bear that, despite his fear, he resolved to search for any food that could be salvaged. He crawled up the stairs and into the kitchen.

He thought he sensed a presence there. Something that he did not understand compelled him to stand up.

It was hard to see, the house was so dark. The red glow of the setting sun seeped in between the blinds, and his eyes made out the shape of a person.

His heart stopped for a moment. Was this the end? The shape neared, and Michael could not move. His head throbbed. Even when the shape was in front of him, he could not see who it was. The shape raised a hand, pushed it into Michael’s chest, and pulled out his heart. Michael felt a wave of heat pass in and out of him. The shape crushed Michael’s heart into pulp before walking away.

Michael dropped to the ground, landing on his back. Blood poured out of him, made his chest and arms sticky. His body was still. He thought he could feel his breath leaving him. He closed his eyes as he lay on the floor of his basement.