By DANIEL HOJNACKI
Special to LifeAtStart.com
It is the third day since the plague began. It is October 3rd, and the number of infected among my fellow leaves is rising at an alarming rate. The first visible sign of illness in all cases was a change of complexion, from our healthy, natural, and familiar green, to varying gaudy shades of yellow, brown, and red. The first one to go was Mike. When the change first came over him, no one was scared. Some of my comrades even found his new crimson color to be pretty. Others found it silly and laughable. When he withered and eventually fell from the Life-Giver, the sound of laughter subsided and the unmistakable echoes of silent panic began.
It is October 10th. Twenty more of us have joined Mike. Their bright colors make a morbid mural on the grass at the base of the Life-Giver. I offer a prayer to the Great One, as He shines his luminous rays on us. My comrades begin to speculate on the cause of the plague. Bill believes that it is simply a seasonal virus. Jake’s guess is that the cause must be dietary. Frank says that we have behaved sinfully, and the Great One has forsaken us. I want to tell him to keep his faith, but looking at the pile of our dead, hearing the corpses rustle sickeningly in the wind, I can’t tell him he’s wrong.
It is October 12th. A two-leg has been spending more time near the Life-Giver. It takes one of its giant talons and scrapes it along the ground, raking my fallen comrades into a mangled pile. He is going against the wishes of the Great One. Leafkind deserves to be buried by the earth or swept away by the wind, as is natural. The Two-leg’s heathen ways are troublesome. It has been sitting under the life-giver writing bland poetry about nature. It is afraid of the Great One, for it always shades itself under my comrades and I. Its sins are too great to let the Great One see its face. For a while, I wondered what the purpose was behind his desecration of our dead. Then I overheard a conversation it had with its mate. It is paying tribute to its deity, which it calls “University.” It needs to offer up something called “student loans” to appease this false god. If there’s one thing I hate, it’s an idol-worshiper. The Great One does not ask for tribute, but offers up life to all, shining indiscriminately on everyone. The two-leg must pay for its idolatry. I heard its mate say to it “These leaves are so pretty this time of year.” What a hideous wonder, I thought, to find such beauty in the suffering of others.
It is October 25th. The plague has slaughtered half of my comrades. Even so, I am eager for the rain the Great One has bestowed upon us. The inebriating liquid helps me forget the direness of my circumstances. Antoine gets drunk as he always does during these water offerings. Antoine has become an intellectual, because he’s on a lower branch and could read whatever people read under the Life-Giver. I had been raised to believe that books were evil because they were made from murdered Life-Givers. Antoine doesn’t think so, though. Now Antoine, the drunk intellectual, is convinced that our existence is absurd.
“We’re destined to die, you know,” says Antoine. “It’s written. That poetry that the two-leg writes says it all. This thing that’s happening to us, it’s no plague. It’s just the seasons. Every quarter of the year, the Great One deserts us and we wither and die.”
“Shut up, Antoine,” I say. “You’re drunk.”
“Yes, I am. Drunk and dying. By the way, your complexion’s changed you know. You’re getting a bit yellow.”
“You’ve got some red on you, yourself,” I say.
Antoine just smiles his sardonic, drunken smile. The way he moves with the wind tells me he’s prepared to die. “He’s a fool, you know. That two-leg that insists on making a metaphor out of our plight. If only he’s stop scribbling in that notebook of his and just look up for a second, he’d see that our existence is more poetry than all his cheap substituting words.”
I don’t necessarily understand Antoine, but as I feel myself becoming sicker and sicker, I like the sound of it.
It is November 10th. Antoine and I are the only ones left. The two-leg has clawed the rest of us into putrefying piles to offer to his god. I am now completely yellow. I try to grope for the last few rays of the Great One, but I know my time is coming soon. The two-leg starts running in large circles, another one of its pointless rituals. Again, another two-leg asks it why it shuffles through these purposeless tasks and he says it is for “Fitness.” If there’s one thing I hate more than an idol-worshiper, it’s a polytheistic one.
Bells clang in the distance, and Antoine falls gingerly in the acrobatic wind. As the sole survivor, I have become immune to the shock of death. Fear of my own demise is overtaken completely by my hatred for the two-leg heathen. It has clawed away all of my fallen brethren, denying them a proper natural decomposition. As I feel myself wilting, I can sense the two-leg running past the Life-Giver. Jogging with awkward, clumsy steps, it trips over Antoine’s corpse, falling on its back. It lets out a gloriously audible shriek of pain, and as my connection to the Life-Giver starts to finally break, I see one of its bones sticking out of its leg. What a marvelous wonder, I thought, to find such beauty in the suffering of others.
Daniel Hojnacki is a senior at Start High School and an essayist who is a regular contributor to LifeAtStart.com.