Excerpt from “Coma - The Cataclysm”
Completely lost, Mark staggered down the winding forest path. His head still throbbed, sending sharp spikes of pain that shook his vision and threatened the slipping grasp of consciousness he struggled to maintain. As the trail wound downward the decline increased, pushing him on. Faster and faster he went, his tired legs screaming in agony. His mind was racing, where was he? What had happened? Soon the trees on either side of the trail turned to a green blur and he realized too late that he was, in fact, running down the steep decline and slowing down was no longer an option. That's when he saw it, the twisted, gnarled root protruding from the ground like a giant snake, waiting, ready to strike.
Somehow after the image processed in his mind the warning failed to reach his feet. Unable to stop Mark felt time slow to a crawl and watched in disbelief as the root loomed closer. Feeling the first burst of pain as his toes slammed into the base of the protruding offender he took flight, sailing slowly though the air. It was during that brief moment of suspension that he first looked at his surroundings. Each rock on the trail below crept past with stunning detail. Each leaf of each tree slowly danced on the cool mountain breeze. He took a breath and smelled the sweet, clean air of the forest, bringing back images of camping trips from his youth; echoes of a past he could barely remember. Just as he closed his eyes, trying to hold tight to the slipping memory, he felt it. Time lurched forward at double speed, regaining lost ground and thrusting him back into the present. His stomach turned as he opened his eyes to see what would break his fall. Squeezing his eyelids shut again he braced for the impact.
The expected piercing pain never came. Instead, his right shoulder buckled under the force of the tree, pain had been replaced with intense pressure that shot through his very core. He felt dizzy. Staring down at his knees he watched as blood soaked through the torn fragments of dirty linen. The pressure in his shoulder seemed to increase significantly, and then he heard it, the ominous pop that emanated from his flesh as he inched slowly closer to the trunk of the tree. The broken branch that had impaled him began to groan under the weight of his limp form and snapped. Slumping to the ground in a heap, Mark closed his eyes and fought the panic that threatened to take him.
Don't breathe he thought. The wind has been knocked out of you. Wait for your body to catch up. Steady. Steady... Okay, deep breath...
The crisp mountain air burned his lungs as he inhaled slowly and deeply, struggling to fight the urge to let go and gasp like a man drowning in a cold lake.
It's okay, easy now. His mind was racing, filling itself in on what had happened. The winding trail, he was going too fast and couldn't stop. The root, he'd tripped over the root. He saw it coming, he should have missed it but he didn't. The pain in his right foot pinged to life and he adjusted to look at his worn tennis shoe. The once white canvas was coated with dust and blood; the dark red-brown stain seemed to grow outward towards the seams at a slow but steady pace.
"It won't be pretty," he said to himself, smiling half-heartedly.
His eyes focused again on his knees, scraped and dirty with small shavings of skin barely clinging to the wounds in vain.
Pushing up on his left elbow Mark attempted to right himself but his right arm wouldn't budge. Again he attempted to grasp the trunk of the tree to brace himself and again his arm remained at his side.
"That's not right." he told the tree, concentrating intently on the contours of the bark.
It was a large, sturdy pine with tiny globules of sap which had dripped and hardened on the flaky bark exterior. As his vision narrowed in and focused he realized that the trunk was bleeding as well. His eyes followed the gleaming red trails upwards until he found the apparent source. The dead limb had long shed its bark and the smooth, weathered grayness peaked out from the crimson torrent that had washed over its surface. Six inches from the trunk the red and gray turned to a clean white where the limb had snapped with jagged disregard.
Mark felt his face run cold as he stared at the splintered wooden spear. The first wave of nausea hit like a flood. Again his mind raced into action, feebly striving to protect him from the gruesome reality of his situation. Tearing his eyes from the limb he forced himself to look down at his shirt and the hot, sticky blood that covered it.
"It's not right... It's not right," he murmured, totally transfixed by the gleaming wetness.
Unable to bear the dawn of realization he closed his eyes in disbelief. His fingers however, moved slowly through the unknown with morbid curiosity to the source of the blood. The touch of the splintered branch protruding just above the collarbone caused his stomach to lurch. Sickened, He opened his eyes and struggled to stand once again. Beads of cold sweat formulated on his brow, his vision began to fade as he struck out frantically with his left hand, ravaging the leaves in a desperate attempt to get away. Latching onto a nearby stump, he pulled himself away from the tree and onto his knees. The world seemed to spin uncontrollably and the nausea overtook the last bit of control he'd managed to hold on to.
With a sudden jerk his hot, smelly vomit covered the forest floor. His eyes began to water as his vision danced in and out of focus. Chancing another glance at the wound caused his stomach to jolt back into action, sending a fresh stream of vomit onto the very stump he'd used to pull himself up.
"You're in shock. Slow down." he gasped. A small string of saliva hung from his bottom lip and he wiped his mouth doggedly with his sleeve.
"It's just a flesh wound," he chuckled, looking back spitefully at the old pine. "One of these days someone will chop you down!" He yelled.
"And as for you..." he struggled to stand, now fueled by his growing anger and delirium.
By pure concentration of will his right arm flopped weakly and his fingers clenched into a loose fist as he grit his teeth against the new wave of pain. He bent down and picked up a rough, jagged stone from the side of the trail and stumbled drunkenly back up the path to the root.
Once, twice, three times the rock rose and fell, scraping away at the hard wooden skin and exposing the soft white interior. Faster and faster the rock came crushing down and Mark roared with his maddening battle cry until the mountains rang with his fit of rage. Blood from the wound in his shoulder splattered down on the tender white wood which soon turned to a dull pink mush under the pulverizing onslaught.
Mark felt his strength waning and soon the rock grew heavy in his hands. Dropping the small boulder he stared quietly at the destruction that lay before him. The root was no more and again the world began to spin as the blood drained from his head. Blurry brown dots invaded his vision and the world went black. The sounds of the woods around him died out as a million invisible ants marched through his head with the faint pulse of his heart. His awareness came crashing in as he crumbled silently to the ground, finally allowing the darkness to take him.
Ten yards away in the underbrush twin sets of eyes peered at the limp form on the trail. One set of eyes giggled followed by a sharp shush from the other. Leaves rustled and twigs snapped as the twins emerged from their hiding spot.
The young twins were about twelve years of age, a boy and a girl. Their tousled brown hair was unkempt from their day of playing in the woods. The girl pulled a dead leaf from her hair and tossed it aside. Her brother's menacing grin bothered her.
"Let's go look!" He giggled again.
"Joshua!" she hissed as he broke cover and crept closer to the still form of the man laying face down on the trail. Rolling her eyes she quietly followed.
Joshua had already begun poking the stranger with a stick by the time she'd caught up.
"I don't see what's so funny about poking a dead man with a stick." She glared.
"He's not dead," the boy giggled. "He's still breathing, see?"
The girl jumped back in fright. "Joshua stop!" she whispered. "He's going to get you, he's gone mad!"
"He ain't going to get me." The boy smiled before leaning a little closer to his sister. "He's fainted!"