person out for a pleasant Sunday stroll could have easily mistaken Will for some sort of like-like, front yard fountain. If on this peaceful date, their eyes had fallen upon him standing still like a statuesque flesh lawn ornament, they might have second-guessed themselves as to if he were truly human or some form of futuristic robot gardener. For almost ten minutes now, Will Disco had been staring up into the oak tree rooted at the edge of his yard, pivoting the head of his garden hose back and forth in a rhythmic, almost mechanical motion. Besides the smooth revolutions of his wrist, the rest of his body had not moved in quite come time. The only detail that could, hands-down, convince an innocent passerby that Will in fact was a living, breathing male was his eyes. If the weekend ambler were so bold as to inspect Will closely, face his gaze head-on, they would see that he possessed something no sculpture or machine ever could. Fear.
It was a picturesque California afternoon in the suburb of Modesto. The summer sunshine was blanketing Will’s quaint neighborhood with its warm presence, reminding everyone that life wasn’t so bad after all. The trees and blades of grass were a lush green, cool and inviting to the touch. Small whitecaps of cloud floated through an endless sea of blue sky while a light breeze swept across the earth below. There was no aspect of this charming day, however, that could steal Will’s attention away from the oak tree full of parrots.
Branch after branch of bright red birds now sat where the oak’s leaves had once been. Eerily, the tree still resembled its former self, swaying with the wind, calm and quiet. The flock of parrots perched patiently with an air of confidence, as if their replacement of the foliage was normal. The scarlet tree seemed to tower over Will, hypnotizing him with its wavy wash of red ruffling feathers. The plumage looked thick. Thick and crimson like that young girl’s blood.
Will broke free from his hallucination, slumping down cross-legged into the wet grass. He sprayed himself in the face with the hose, running his palm up and down from chin to forehead. He was losing touch with reality, teetering on the edge of sanity, unsure about what action to take against his ever-cracking mind. Will’s horror consumed him, creating a constant state of paranoia about what bleak future might lie ahead. If he was losing his mind, how much longer did he have before his grasp on reality was completely exhausted?
r. Theo White had diagnosed Will with extreme fatigue due to stress, and ordered him a two-week leave from work. In his tranquil psychiatrist tone, he had told Will that the profession of Emergency Medical Technician is accompanied by many burdens, the worst of which was standing witness to horrid sights and extreme situations in which others would lose composure. He had even convinced Will that an EMT’s resolve was stronger than the average person’s, having been desensitized by the hectic duties performed daily. Dr. White has assured Will that he shouldn’t worry about the anxiety attacks and recurring nightmares, just to rest up and regain a solid hold on himself. That forty-five minute session, a mandatory meeting scheduled by Will’s boss, was now a week behind him and Will’s hallucinations were becoming more frequent and grandiose. Will could not bear the thought of contacting Dr. White to admit that now he had started to see apparitions. Driving that ambulance over the past ten years had filled his head with numerous visions he could do without, cramming the recesses of his mind with gruesome memories. He had observed countless grisly accidents and he had viewed many untimely deaths over the years, all without personal mental or physical repercussions. Why was his psyche shattering now? A shiver trickled down his spine as Will tried to pretend that he did not know the answer to that question.
The earthquake. It had caused so much chaos and commotion. Bridges had crumbled like crackers, swallowing motorists up mid-air. Sirens, screams and smashes had reverberated through town while a choir of car alarms belted out a dizzying hymn of conflicting melodies. Houses and businesses had shaken violently, their foundations creaking and some even collapsing due to the unexpected shifting of the earth.
Dispatch had ordered immediate assistance at the girl’s apartment on the other side of town, five minutes before the quake hit. Will still wanted to believe that they would have been able to save her if it wasn’t for the massive trembling disrupting traffic. Still, he knew, deep in the dark caverns within him, that she had lost too much blood for there to have been any hope. Will just wished that he had been the second man in.
The precise moment in which he had entered her bathroom kept replicating itself over and over inside Will’s head, skipping his train of thought like a scratched record album. Her gaze. Her lime-green gaze. Her lifeless, lime-green gaze. Her lifeless, lime-green gaze had shocked him into a state of paralysis when his own eyes locked with that inert stare. Young and beautiful, her smooth, pale face had been drained of its living glow, making it appear as if her skin had been crafted from the same piece of porcelain as the toilet she leaned against. Like a lone and distant island, she sat motionless in the center of an ocean of blood, blankly gazing back at a mainland she would never again be a part of. The pure travesty of the moment had jolted his mind so severely, Will hadn’t even been able to move, let alone perform his duty of attempting to save the young woman. It had seemed too morbid to be reality. She looked so young, so sweet and beautiful. Fixed in place on the linoleum floor, clothed in a blood-soaked sundress, she had been peering up at the door waiting for someone to save her life…or at least what was living inside her.
Will hadn’t even realized that the young girl was pregnant, most of her body lying wedged between the toilet and the wall, until Juan burst into the bathroom, banging the gurney on the doorframe. His partner’s loud entrance had broken Will from his trance, and from that point on was no more than cloudy chaos in his mind’s eye…Juan screaming for him to get his shit together and start administering CPR…his own bloody hands attempting to connect the artificial resuscitation unit to the girl so the baby’s brain would be receiving its needed oxygen…sirens and swirling red light…standing alone in the hallway of the hospital that night, his hands shaking as violently as the earth had two hours earlier…
He had not been the same man since. Crippling panic attacks started interrupting daily life. Dark, distressing nightmares began to invade his evening; and now, if that hadn’t been enough, the ever-growing frequency of the hallucinations.
Will pulled himself up from his soggy indentation on the lawn, now conscious that a neighbor might have been watching him this entire time. His weary eyelids squinted together, blocking the sun’s rays in order to better assess his surroundings. He scanned his neighborhood, mentally taking note of what objects he could prove were actually there, a task that was becoming increasingly more difficult. He exhaled a desperate sigh, craving his old sane life as if it were some euphoric drug he had once been under the influence of. Will didn’t want to see parrot trees or buildings with grinning faces. He didn’t want to watch fuzzy, orange caterpillars crawling across his fingers as he ate. He didn’t want to wake up in the middle of the night sweating over the horrid, but instantly forgotten, images that plagued his dreams. Will Disco did not want to lose his mind.
Why did he have to look that girl in the eye?
This post is part of a series on trees. Submit your tree features to snakeoilcure[at]gmail[dot]com.
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Matt D. is currently a resident of Roslindale Village, but spent many years enjoying the hip culture of Cambridge, MA where he resided with friends, lovers, pets, and his overflowing imagination. He has an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Goddard College, but that does not mean he knows more about writing than you do. He digs good tunes, cold beer, and loud laughter. His submissions to Dr. Hurley’s Snake-Oil Cure can be found here.