A Sleight by a Hand

A Sleight by a Hand

He disappears into a wooded brush. Someone, anyone, a stranger follows, slowly, cautiously, purposefully. He feels the itch of a sneeze, hears the pop of a nearby twig snapping. Unsure now of the direction from whence he came, he holds his breath; frozen, his eyes dart from right to left in a blurry attempt to find or recognize a way out. Eyes search, nose runs from the suppressed sneeze. Wondering if he is able to withstand the torment, he shuts his eyes tight and shuts out the world. A miraculously slight breath in, an impossibly slow breath out. He may pass out, he decides if he must continue to breathe at such a pace. A faint wrestling of leaves under foot. His eyes bolt over his left shoulder toward the sound.

Simultaneously frightened and excited, he feels his heart racing and pumping deep inside his chest. Forgetting that silence is the best, most likely cloak for his survival, his breath grows in both rhythm and volume. The stranger that follows, he assumes, has taken another slow, steady, step. Moist, soggy leaves smush underfoot. A jolt of fearful electricity shudders his entire body as he jumps ever so slightly in surprise at the nearness of the footfalls. Clear, slimy snot runs down his upper lip. He presses his lips together, tight. The snotty ooze continues down his chin. The suppressed sneeze makes another attempt to be freed. He shuts his entire face as tight as he can.

The trunk of the tree against which he leans quivers. Slowly, his eyes open and peel curiously up and to the left. Soon, his entire face must also lift as his neck cranes upwards to see the thing the tree feels. His eyes meet the eyes of not a stranger. Disbelief fills his mind and refuses relief to relieve him. “What are you doing?” the not-stranger asks. He whips his head around to have a look around his wooded surroundings. He returns his gaze to the not-stranger and shrugs.

“Let’s go. Get up,” the not-stranger, with an odd sense of friendliness and familiarity, commands him. He violently shakes his head in defiance. “No?” the not-stranger reiterates with a mocking question. “Let’s go,” the not-stranger continues on with a little more force now. He looks around a bit again. He wipes his face with the sleeve of his long-sleeved shirt. He turns to face the not-stranger directly, “Where are we going?” “You know where,” the not-stranger insists, angry now. He makes a small move away from the not-stranger. “No, I’m not going.” The not-stranger sighs a sigh of frustration. After a short moment, the not-stranger lunges toward him, but just as the not-stranger lays the tip of a finger on him, he vanishes in a thick cloud of mist that soon thereafter dissipates, leaving the not-stranger standing alone within the thick brush of a deeply wooded forest.