Budding World

Budding World

Author's Note: Don't worry, the art tutorials are coming soon.

Yellow fields sparsely decorated with bald, skeleton-like trees flanked both sides of the road, a black bisecting line that marched endlessly into the horizon. In that horizon, gray clouds brooded, threatening a downpour on the craggy hills lounging beneath them. Obscured behind the clouds, the sun lay dormant and the world was shrouded in a somber veil. The early morning palette matched the man’s mood.

The man sat in the driver’s seat of a black sedan, barreling down the road like a discharged bullet. Back perfectly straight, head resting against the seat, the man tightly gripped the steering wheel at the 10 and 2 o’ clock positions—a picture from a DMV pamphlet brought to life. The exterior of the car was freshly washed, the interior sterile and unembellished with any personal flair. No charms or air fresheners dangled from the rearview mirror. No fast-food wrappers or bottles littered the vacuumed floors. No gathered dust on the dashboard. No music to mask the rumble of the car’s engine.

The car mirrored the driver. Lips pressed into a thin line, even breaths through the nose, freshly shaved, and still—no rolling of the shoulders or neck to fight off weariness. Another car hadn’t been seen on the road in at least an hour, but every few seconds the man’s eyes shifted to the rear-view and side mirrors like an automaton engaged in a programmed ritual—a robot pushing a straw broom back and forth over the rubble of a world long abandoned, its rusted hinges creaking with the continued effort.

Flipping on his turn signal, the man braked and pulled off to the side of the road, rocks crunching beneath the car’s tires. No sign or novelty in the environment welcomed a stop at this location. Yellow, brittle grass. Barren trees. Gray clouds in the distance. 

The man brought his car to a halt all the same. This was his destination.  

Car halted, the man remained seated staring out the front windshield, hands still tightened around the wheel. A flicker of movement in the distance. He put the car into park and turned off the engine before stepping outside. 

Cold, crisp air danced along his skin and played with his black tie. Black suit and slacks did little to impede the cold’s embrace, but the man didn’t shy away from the touch. He didn’t rub his hands together or contemplate retreating into his car. The cold felt good as he stood and waited, watching as the flicker of movement in the distance gradually evolved into a perceptible image as it drew closer—a black sedan. Gloomy clouds began to shift from above the hills to follow the approaching car into the valley as if they were a carriage strung along by a galloping black horse. 

The approaching car signaled and pulled off to the opposite side of the road from the waiting man. Engine silenced, the driver stepped out of the car. A woman in a black skirt suit. She looked both ways, short black hair shifting as she did, before crossing the road with confident, long strides. She stopped in front of the man and gave a slight nod of her head in greeting. The man returned it, locking eyes with the woman for a moment before turning and walking around his car and into the surrounding grass.  The woman followed.

Grass crunching beneath their feet was the only sound as the two strode further into the field. By the man’s arrow-like trajectory, a withered tree was their destination. The man stopped in front of it and the woman halted at his side. Both their gazes were directed at the tree—a sad, naked thing worn down by the cold with a myriad of slim branches reaching towards the skies, fingers grasping for the sunlight’s warmth that had left the area long ago.  

Angry clouds that had followed the woman, no longer content to hide their displeasure, began to rain on the intruding man and woman, attempting to spur their departure. Inoffensive sprinkling that quickly evolved to a heavy downpour, soaking the two but failing to hasten their leaving. Unphased, the man and woman stood beneath the torrent, not moving a hand to block their faces. Their attention remained focused on the tree, searching for something unsaid between them.  

A hint of a smile on the man’s face like a mouse peeking out from a hole in the wall. The man shifted his eyes to his right as if checking his car’s mirror and saw that the same expression had come over the woman’s face—an infant smile that played at the corners of her lips. He returned his gaze to the tree and his smile bloomed. A white flower in a yellow field.

On the tree, amidst the branches, grew a single green vegetative bud.