by Tony Rauch
I'm walking home one dark night when a man stumbles out of the bushes. He mumbles, "Help me... Help me," as he staggers about in the shadows. He is out of breath and shaking. I grab him and immediately direct him to an area under a streetlamp. He is weaving about, his arms extended from his sides, his movements slow and deliberate. It's as if he were entangled in bees and thus afraid to move.
Once under the light I see that he is covered in leaves. From head to toe. They rustle as he staggers around. I try to brush the leaves away, figuring that in the darkness he must have tripped and fell into a pricker bush. But in looking more closely it seems the leaves are growing right out of him, their stems poking from his skin. There are even a couple of taller stems projecting from his back like tiny branches with several leaves growing out of them. "Help me... Help me," he mumbles and shivers in terror and disbelief, his face obscured by flopping green leaves.
"Sir, sir," I wave the driver over, "This man needs assistance. Please. Please help us. He needs medical attention," I point to the man with the leaves, "He's been in some kind of terrible industrial accident or poisoned or something." I can't identify the driver through the darkness of the night, nor through the darkness of the cab. "He needs help. Something horrendous has happened..." And I notice, in looking back and forth between the leaf man and the driver, that in the light several of the leaves are turning yellow, and a few are already orange and red, as if dying. I turn to him. "Some of your leaves are yellowing. Some are turning a light orange," I comment.
Three men in dark suits jump from the dark carriage and stomp over to grab the man as if they know him. They jerk him away with a tug, snapping him out of the light. "Back you go," one of them growls as they re-enter the darkness.
I hear them board the carriage and the driver, a menacing blank blob in the shadows and darkness, says, "Yes, yes. We will help him. We will see that he receives the proper care and treatment. Thank you, sir, for your kind concern." And with that the carriage leaps ahead, the horses clomping fast, leaving me on the street alone in the darkness, the clomping and grind of the wheels quickly dissipating as the carriage whips around a corner down the block, leaving me to the darkness and ringing silence.