He could feel the seeds growing under his skin like hard knobs of bark. His fingers mindlessly playing over the curves and points nested in his arms. On the back of his neck, protruding from the bulge of his seventh cervical vertebrae, edged ridges and grooves of a walnut hull pressed out from his spine. From there, a spiral of wooden grooves embossed his skin in a preternatural pattern. His arms bent into twigs, the trunk of his ribs ringed with age.
Every day, his chest formed a new circle, an expanding radial of mutated skin. His pores began to open with green sprouts. Tiny roots twined around his nerves, gripping them, wrapping themselves across his meridians. Buried deep inside him, something was coming alive.
He wondered, after the fire, if he was being possessed. He thought, as constant puffs of dandelions blew out from his fingertips, if it was the smoke of his own hand that choked her. It was too hot to see her face. It warped in the air with unforgiving heat.
His whole body trembled in a sticky sweat, sapped. His consciousness drug itself down into the abyss of an ocean with the unstoppable weight of anchors. He needed water. The storm in his head cracked with lightning, but never rained. His pupils dilated, drinking.
Every day he came to in the woods, a small clearing at noon. A cairn marked its center like a gravestone, a totem of faceless rocks balanced so precariously they seemed to be held together by still air. He was so thirsty. Digging always made him thirsty.
He carved triangles around the stones, an irrigation of mazes. He shoveled with the patience of a sundial, always leaning toward the sun, chewing its shadow. He had to keep digging. Somewhere in the memories, there had to be a reason.
His fingers shook as he tried to dial a number that no longer existed, the sharp watermelon seeds of his knuckles protruding into pinpricks. His head began to ring. He breathed the poison from the air, coughed up oxygen. He tried to breathe life back into her, watched the teary glaze of her eyes shudder, beginning to roll back.
Smoke filled her lungs, and then the house. He remembered the soot smeared on the roasted almond of her skin, the helpless streak of his thumb. The crackling house frame collapsed inward, chewed from the inside by the engulfing tongues of fire.
He felt her ashes below him, still with anticipation.
Rock by rock he covered himself, the cold weight pressing him farther into the ground. His roots tendriled into the earth, connecting him to each tree on the edge of the clearing. They would be one mind, a web of life, an interlocking pattern of growth exploding in the rivulets of God’s fingerprint.
He opened his throat, a wide gasp stuck in it, jarring his mouth toward the sky. He would eat the sun. He reached for it, digging his toes into the grit, bones splintering as he stretched through the space.
His face was covered in dirt, black and gritty, arms stuck up like two quivering aspens, the oldest organism. The white and black bark of his skin breathed with the sun. In the fall, tourists would come to see him, the trembling giant, the seeds of his eyes a matrix of raw potential, millennia old, bright orchids glowing in his palms. They quaked red and orange in the dry wind, leaving long trails of light in the dark like a lit cigarette.