I’m not having eyes anymore, but still I’m seeing him visit that wretched body, day after day after day. Time is not having meaning anymore, but he’s coming every time before sunset, via that little shop on Roosevelt Road. I can tell because he’s carrying a blue shopping bag that I’m imagining stretching tight across his face like cling film, his face reaching and pushing and groaning through the plastic while his lungs desperately suck at nothing but cheap chemicals and the stench of dead leaves.
He’s supping at a bottle of warm cider and scratching pictures in the dirt with a stick, while that discolored body is lying in the rotting leaves and mulch and filth of my forest floor. I’m seeing him from beneath the ground today, entombed and enclosed by mound upon endless mound of stale, wet, cloying earth.
So much earth.
I’m not having lungs anymore, but when I’m opening my mouth to scream I’m feeling the mud force its way past my lips, clods of soil pressing into the gaps beneath my tongue and behind my gums, roots and worms reaching down my throat and I can’t breathe, all I want to do is breathe, to get out. To stop him touching it to stop him perceiving it to stop him enjoying it.
I’m seeing his breathing getting heavy and he’s tap-tap-tapping that stick on the ground, on a tree trunk, on a hollow skull where the skin is stretched so taut I can hear the boom-boom-booming of the spiders’ footsteps like they’re banging the skin of a drum as they scuttle away from the man and his stick. I’m watching him for what feels like days but I’m looking up and seeing that the sun is still going down. Someone is telling me once that the sun is setting in the west and I’m looking at it now, sinking beneath the treeline where the forest floor is rising to meet the sky, where those final, dying fingers of light are penetrating the tops of the boughs and the dying of the light is so beautiful but I can’t breathe and I’m clawing at the earth and he’s still poking with the stick and it’s all I can do to keep myself from drowning, from suffocating, and why can’t I just be moving?
And then I’m being out and it’s dark and the man is gone. The stick is wedged in the body’s throat, only its leafy tip left poking out from between yellow teeth and white lips. I’m seeing it from the spot above the stream where I’m enjoying the foxes drinking on that first night.
I’m not having ears anymore, but I’m hearing the gentle trickle of water and the fluttering of moth wings in the night air of the woods. I’m not having skin anymore, so my face can’t be feeling the gentle breeze that’s making the branches sway above me or be sensing the tingle of moonlight on my arms, even though my hairs stand on end in the knowing that it’s there.
I’m breathing again and it feels like soaring, like I’m with the bats and the birds and the moths and there is no body and no man and no stick and he won’t be coming back with his blue shopping bag and that empty look in his eyes like he’s just as dead as it is. I’m remembering what it feels like to be having eyes and lungs and ears and skin and I’m smiling. Smiling at the water and the trees and the birds and the foxes. They are coming back tonight and even though time is not having meaning anymore, I’m smiling, because the best time is the time I watch the foxes drink.
Jonothan Pickering is a sporadic writer and editor of dark fiction magazine Seize The Press. He lives in the UK with his partner, where he spends his spare time watching pro wrestling and listening to synthwave playlists on YouTube.