stay tuned for a temporary flash preview
of my latest foray beyond flash fiction '33 1/3rd rpm'
(2,467 words)
© 2017
by Shaun Lawton

Leaf Course

I had no idea what I was seeing. Staring through the surface of the still pond created a refractive illusion. I scrutinized the veneer of warped leaves submerged beneath the bracken. Stray beams of sunlight illuminated spores slowly drifting across them. On closer inspection the spores were swimming in unison. I thought of sea monkeys I'd ordered from comic books as a child while I leaned in to get a closer look. Then I realized they featured softly glowing spicules along the sides of their bodies. They resembled mutated infusoria or something. I reached through the surface of the pond water with my left hand and scooped one elm leaf out to study it closer. As the now clear looking water drained off the edges of the leaf and around my fingers to drip back into the pond, I noted the little invertebrates were sliding along just beneath the exterior of the epidermal layer itself. I could see the leaf's split veins amid the vivid green contours, yet these minuscule creatures appeared to be sealed within the upper epidermis layer. I observed in astonishment the tiny denizens of this leaf world.  

Setting this peculiar leaf next to me on the grass, I reached forward and scooped out more fallen leaves. None of them exhibited this remarkable feature. Somehow this startled me even more. It was getting later in the afternoon, and I could hear the sounds of children playing in the distance. I peered back at the first rescued leaf and could still plainly discern the movement of these protozoa-like colonies playing about on the surface, scintillating in the sunlight.  What the hell? All the other leaves seemed normal. I decided to take the strange leaf home, taking care to bring a few of its companions to showcase the difference between them.  I stuffed the normal leaves in my jean's back pocket. They were leaves fallen from a nearby elm tree which looked as if it must've been a thousand years old. I turned my head to the left to examine it. The tree appeared to be kneeling alongside the pond for an eternal drink. 

I never did make it back to the house that day. Somehow on the way I got lost wandering through a section of the park I hadn't really noticed before. There was a foot trail leading away from the pond which I followed until some time later I realized that wasn't the route I normally took to get home. Knowing that direction to be slightly northeast, I didn't worry about the new course, figuring I could re-correct as I emerged from the other side of this grove. Only there wasn't another side. There was just the pathway leading deeper into the woods, which grew thicker and wilder the further I advanced. The familiar sounds of children at play were nowhere to be heard. Starting to get a strange feeling of unease, I decided to turn around and retrace my route back to the pond, and head to my apartment complex the normal way. When I turned about there was no longer a trail leading back.  

This stopped me short for a minute while I pondered how bizarre that was. I was literally standing at the end of the well-worn footpath and gazing into darkly overgrown woods. What the hell? I whipped my head around back toward the direction I had been heading, fearing the path may have vanished in that area as well, but it was still there, leading with gentle curves around and deeper into the forest. Should I force my way through this new growth behind me anyhow and try to get back to the pond? I stared down at the strange leaf in my left hand as if to check for an answer to my dilemma. The leaf was radiating a new green barely brighter than before, and the miniature stream of eerie microorganisms I had perceived were still there, describing a pattern reminiscent of the tracks left by wood worms in bark.  

I observed the flow of these organisms or whatever they were was now synced up to form a closed loop flowing counter-clockwise. "Widdershins..." I thought to myself while listening to the growing quiet settling in around me amid this unexplored portion of the city park near my apartment. Only I felt as if I were as far away from my familiar lodgings as I had ever been, and the thought raised the hairs on my forearms with goosebumps. The twisting course ahead of me seemed to indicate I should follow, so I did. The shining leaf in my hand suddenly appeared to be a weird form of compass. I noticed the cycling protozoa were doing so more rapidly as I walked, and other times they slowed down. Then it dawned on me that it happened every time I took a turn in the pathway. When I veered right, the circling organisms trapped within the leaf's epidermal layer would speed up slightly, and when I began following the foot trail to the left, they slowed down to a crawl. I thought that was very odd.  

I decided to test something. I stepped off the path to the right and the flowing organisms in the luminescent leaf's infrastructure began speeding up remarkably, enough to scare me back onto the trail for some reason I couldn't begin to fathom. The hairs on my arms were raised back up again. I took a deep breath of the musky air, then I stepped off the path to the left, and sure enough those weirdly colored microscopic cultures slowed down to a sluggish pace. I took another couple of steps and they stopped entirely. This made me feel much better. I smiled in the growing shadows of the woods. I glanced over to my right at the path but it was gone. I had finally found my way home.