The Roots of Consciousness
by Julio X. Palomino
At first the stinging sensation I felt on my neck felt like nothing, and then as time went by, it became unbearable. It became a tic. My head would twitch in spastic motions that would seem completely normal, but the number of times my neck twerked in that skewed way became an absurdity.
By no means was I panicking, my hypochondria was as natural as my twitchy mannerisms. Thrilling as it was for me to understand my strange persona, I vowed to take a step to follow my instincts whenever possible; to disregard them would mean the suspension of my own critical thinking, at least that’s what I believed. The shadows around me would thicken when my eyes would shrink. Then they’d grow in a strange disarray of flamboyancy, otherwise irreversible given the set of circumstances.
By nightfall, my body felt itchy unlike anything else I’d ever felt before. These new events were of a great worry to me.
My wife had abandoned me some time ago; run off, I suppose. She had become frightened by my lack of inhibition and morals. She claimed that I was “too scary to be around” and that being around me was like being around a fragile piece of artwork that had been handled far too many times for her own enjoyment.
Beth was always fond of the English language, despite being from France and knowing that her cultural background acted as a safety-net for jealous bystanders. For the many years that I had grown beside her, I was content.
At Cambridge University, where I made my first friend, the scholar, Edward Worthington, I became somewhat of a nuisance to the Science Committee. The professors regarded me as a freak of nature, acceptable only due to their immense love for nature, and self-righteousness.
They regarded my aroma as a relative of skunk, or perhaps rotting fungi. I took no offense, for I knew more about who they were than they did. Those silly white-coats and silly spectacles did not aid them in their vocation; or perhaps they did, and I was completely unaware.
According to my friend, Edward Worthington, I was a mystery for them, and they simply couldn’t understand the beauty of what’s called “different.” For the time that I was planted at Cambridge University, I was thrilled to have him as my companion, whenever he was between classes, of course.
As time went by, I sat in silence and, in remorse, I wanted Edward to be by my side forever, but I knew that was impossible. He was a strapping young lad, and I could never pressure my loneliness upon him. He had other wild, young things to do. However, what I couldn’t accept was complete abandonment, for I could never experience such a degrading insult again.
Even if they hadn’t known, in my own decrepit silence — except for the rustling of my shrubberies — I wept. I longed for someone or something to accompany me in my depressing immortality. See, for I alone was witness to my own decay, and to the strange miraculous healing potion Edward supplied.
One glorious afternoon, Edward came upon me from the courtyard that gave way to the entrance of the beautiful University. He was wearing a green jacket with a strange emblem on the breast pocket. On his head was a strange hat that covered his ears; it was lined with fur like that of the strange beasts that roamed around me more frequently on sunnier days.
With a finger pushing up at the bridge of his nose, he readjusted his lovely spectacles. “Hey there, Pete. How are you doing today?”
I smiled despite myself. I was too nervous. I was perspiring.
In a lovely British accent that was quiet and unacquainted with the rest of the faculty members I had experienced, Edward said, “I came to tell you that I will be moving in, just a few miles from here! I will come see you as often as I can.”
I smiled again with excitement, yet I still couldn’t utter any words.
“I also have a little something in case you want to try again.” He looked up to me then, eyebrows narrowed with hope and his magnificent blue eyes glimmering like never before. “You know that I could care less if none of the professors here believe me, but I also came to tell you something that may... frighten you a bit.”
Oh no, my poor boy, I hope you aren’t being scolded like all the times before. I had no idea why he had been still, I just figured it was due to something involving his late assignments or projects. Regardless, nothing at all mattered as long as he was happy.
“I need you to really try this time, okay?”
But try what, Edward?
Edward sighed and glanced behind his shoulder, afraid of being overheard or seen. He whispered, “I need you to try writing anything, anything at all. I know in my heart you can do it for me. I don’t need to prove anything to those guys. I just need you to try writing a single word for me. I brought this video camera. Could you try in the next couple of hours? I don’t know how long the battery will last, but... I’ll place it over here on top of these bushes, okay?”
I remembered then. Like all the times before, Edward wanted me to write on a piece of paper so that he could prove something. What it was? I did not know at the time but, soon, I knew I’d give it the best shot I could.
Edward pulled out the big goofy-looking gadget from his duffel bag. He walked quickly to the sticker bushes, placed the gadget on an edge, and returned to pull out a blanket, that was mostly for camouflage. I was bewildered.
“When the little red dot is on, I need you try and pick up any of those three things you see by the dirt right there. I know you can reach it. That’s why I chose those thick permanent markers. The little latch you see here on this box” — Edward paused and brought out a small box with a golden emerald of a kind I’d never seen before, and placed it near the hedges — “the latch is easy to disengage, Pete. Remember, if I can’t get you to do this successfully, I might never graduate, and also, I may never be able to save you.”
Save me? What in the world do you mean?! I thought fearfully.
“Pete, what I am trying to tell you is that I don’t think they will let me continue my research here, and that means, I wouldn’t have the supplies I need to make... your food.”
Oh no, God in heaven, no! I was panicking, and it was obvious.
During this particular season, days flew by faster than the blinking of my eyes. I suppressed the urge to weep at my expenditure. Whenever I reached for the strange box Edward pressured me to open, my skinny arms would crackle. For hours it seemed that I just simply couldn’t do it.
When I looked at the gadget underneath the blanket, it motivated me. This time I could not fail, I knew I did not have much time. I stretched as far as I could and, finally, the thicket tightened over the strange golden emblem in an embrace. The lid sprang open, revealing the items Edward said would save me.
For a while my poor extremities rummaged through the contents. I winced with pain at the crackling of my weak limbs. I got a hold of a thick gray pen; a piece of construction paper lay inside as well, and so I pulled with all my strength the box towards me. I was careful to not rip it when I successfully brought the pen to paper.
Shakily, I looked and saw that the red dot was still blinking, and so I managed to successfully scribble three words: I am here.
I was so shocked at what I had seen. It was like the first time seeing literature. Edward was right! I am here! I couldn’t wait for his return.
* * *
Upon his return, he looked considerably more hopeful, and in his arms he held three bottles of my food. I smiled upon him with a graciousness I could never abate.
Stunned at seeing the opened box, Edward dropped the bottles on the grass and cupped a hand over his mouth. His eyes widened. “I can’t believe my eyes! Pete.... You are alive!”
Well, of course I am alive, you fool. Why would you have spoken to me if I wasn’t?!
Edward rushed to retrieve the gadget and, for a while, he simply stood there drooling over the thing. “I just can’t believe it!”
Well, I hope you’re happy. I am in pain over here, chap.
Edward stared down at the gadget for several minutes, and when he was done he looked up at me. His expression was different. It was hard to read. It wasn’t like all the other beautiful ones I had witnessed when he had made himself known to me. It was an expression of pure serenity, unmotivated by anything other than understanding. He stepped over carefully and said, “Peter, I hope you can hear me.”
I nodded, resulting in the familiar rustling of fall leaves.
“You were once a great Biologist... you were a professor of mine. Dedicated yourself in the studies of Biochemistry as well. You have just proven that there is life after death in one way or another. It could be that there are many ways and solutions for immortality! Before the accident at Oxford University, you were loved and respected by many. I just... couldn’t bring myself to tell the truth of your new existence. I think I should just show you.”
Edward pulled a small window out of the side of the gadget and revealed to me what had happened. Somehow, the record of my perseverance had been saved, ready-to-view whenever possible. A rush of emotions were threatening to overtake me. A sadness that I had never felt surged throughout my body. But I held back these feelings, because I couldn’t keep my eyes off the strange window.
What I saw was a strange tree. The branches curving in strange circles suspended in the air and connected by vines sprouting from the sides of a strange dark trunk. The tree somehow lurched forward slowly, one of its branches reaching for the strange oblong box on the grass below it, near the bottom. A filigree of great big maple leaves cascaded, floating down through the air, and to my surprise, the tree had managed to open and extract the pen it needed in order to prove its own existence.
The horror of it all caused a strange burning sensation at the root of my spine. Though I couldn’t call it that anymore, it was something else entirely now. Perhaps, it was just my roots sinking into the ground in search of nutrients. But I could never survive, no, not without Edward, and he was the reason for my existence, so it seemed.
“Yes, Peter, I saved your life. I was the one who planted you here. Please, I hope you are not upset. I’ve grown mad at the idea of losing you, and I have gone to such extremes to preserve our friendship.”
I wept. My leaves were falling around me. The sky was a dull gray, seeming to correlate with the terror of my happening.
“Please don’t be angry with me or with yourself. I want you to try and stay calm.” Edward was panicking, because he could see that I was moving not with the course of wind, but with extreme emotion that remained unexplainable, even to me.
“I used something called a Bio-Urn, and within it, were your ashes along with a compound that I extracted from sponges and other potentially immortal lifeforms. You were the one to tell me that we share so much in common with sponges that I never knew the answers were there all along!
“I could go all day explaining to you the beauty of their genetic makeup, but I know that for right now... you don’t care. I planted you for the sake of Science, and I know you would be proud.
“For the length of time that I have studied you, I thought I’d never come to this conclusion, This particular experiment lasted for so long I thought I was going mad! Seeing you rustle your leaves all on your own and your branches, they are like your new appendages!
“I wonder, where you see out of, and I have a theory that perhaps could answer that question. Perhaps, you see out of all your leaves and, in many ways, they are all miniature gateways to your consciousness! I guess we will have to see about that, won’t we? Thank you, Professor. I hope you’re as excited as I am. We may have just invented a way to cheat death!”
Copyright © 2016 by Julio X. Palomino