Thomas removes his cotton shirt and the burlap sack that serves as his pants. He looks at the ground around him and finds three large white stones. He arranges them into a stack and places his clothes on them. Now naked, he walks to the center of the stream and lies on his back. Imagine him there- poor, young Thomas- naked. His warm body rests on cold dark stones, and the thin trickle of water flows around him. He brings his left thigh up and across his body, as if he is stretching before a baseball game. He takes a deep breath.
His eyes trace the movement of something large and black across the sky. Suddenly, he screams.
“Help me, Jesus! Help me, Jesus! Please, help me, Jesus!”
He stops screaming. He listens to the echo of the words, and he feels disappointed when they fade away into the surrounding forest. He hugs his bent knee and releases an infantile whimper.
Thirty seconds pass and Thomas releases his leg. He folds his arms across his hairy chest, resting his palms on the cryptodome just beneath the collar bone. He imagines his nails growing long as his flesh decays and falls into the river bed beside him. In this mental time lapse the forest around Thomas changes as well. Trees fall, new ones grow. Three hundred years later a rock slide buries the area and his skeleton is crushed into a fine powder. The powder catches the wind and Thomas tries to fathom the crippling disappointment that someday he will be nothing but powder, completely insubstantial and without the ability to offer nutrition to other creatures.
There is a noise in the brush to his left. Thomas turns his head. A black bear has approached the bank of the river. Its head hangs low. Thomas looks at its claws, its thick legs, and its teeth. Thomas drops his hands and cups them around his genitals.
“I am weak” he says.
A feeling of nausea overcomes him. He turns on his side and vomits, bucket loads. There is blood in the vomit. Thomas feels better. His stomach has been purified.
His mother had once told him that sometimes people go to sleep and don’t wake up. Earlier in the day he had seen a newspaper headline, he had just recently learned to read. It took him an hour, but he thinks it said: “Four Young Boys Dead in Car Accident in Doken.” Above the headline was a picture of a man carrying the limp body of a child, on the child’s feet were dirty socks. Thomas noticed this because the boy wasn’t wearing any shoes. He had been told to never leave the house without his shoes. At the man’s feet was another child. This child had his legs splayed and was sleeping.
“I am not like these boys” thinks Thomas. On the 4th of July they let him set of a few black snakes out in the driveway. He held the flame to them and watched as they coiled up and turned into fine grey powder and released a smell like bleach.
Thomas imagines a black snake slithering through him now. He sees a homunculus of his own body- cartoon like and exaggerated, laying supine, but with a real serpent- a slick black cobra rubbing its body all over him. It leaves oily streaks on whatever part of his insides that it touches. It is making its way to his heart, and begins to bite and spit at everything around it.
A voice comes to Thomas. The trees and the water and the animals, the entire world speaks to him in a gentle, fluttering tone. It sounds like a wind chime, with a genderless voice speaking from behind it.
“Wake up child. Let the sun shine on your face. You are no idiot. Accept your medicine.”
The rocks beneath Thomas begin to warm. They feel like giant fingers playing with his back, pinching and pulling. Thomas laughs.
“Stop. Stop that.”
It is a cold tickle, if there is such a thing. It bites into him, not like a snake but like a playful puppy. Biting and releasing and teasing. Thomas imagines the homunculus again. This time the snake too is a cartoon, and it is shivering. It is freezing, along with the rest of Thomas’ insides.
“If I die,” thinks Thomas, “Then you die, too.”
He finds comfort in these final words. The forest breaths a reassuring yes in its twinkling and jingling voice, and Thomas finally falls asleep.