He woke to the buzzing of the fireflies dancing around him and the peculiar sensation of the fishes eating the flesh of his toes. With his eyes wide open, he sat up in a violent jerk and the beings scattered in water and air. His legs were in the lake with ice frozen around them. He pulled them loose and crawled naked further up onto land where he lay for a while. It began to drizzle, and he looked around for shelter. He saw a lone conifer tree and dragged his useless legs over the gravel and took refuge under its impressive branches hanging heavy with blue cones. He propped himself up against the thick trunk and looked down at his blackened feet and lower legs. They were rotten with gangrene, and some of his toes were gone. He could see yellow bone shine through holes in the flesh. Night came as he sat shivering. His teeth chattered. His body trembled with cold as the rainwater on his skin froze and covered him in a thin film of ice. He did his best at staying awake. At keeping his eyes open, but soon they fell shut.
When he woke, it was day, and it had stopped raining. He looked down at his once destroyed toes that were pink and living again. He wiggled them in awe. His legs and feet still had a dark hue, but it was not as bad as it had been before he fell asleep. He propped himself up against the tree and tried putting weight on them. They were unsteady but working. He remembered his things and looked around. They were not there. He mustered all his remaining strength and headed for a trampled path going into a crevice. Holding onto the walls, he limped through to the other side, where it opened up like a balcony of stone overlooking a landscape of plateaus covered in cloud forests. He stood leaning against the wall and watched it all for a while. He jumped.
First, there were the small and swift animals that ate from his crushed body. It was as if they had known what was to come. Their little teeth could not gnaw through his skin, so they ate his softest parts. His eyes and tongue were first to go. Then they crawled into his orifices and continued their feast, eating him from inside, hollowing him out. Later came the larger beasts that had smelled the blood and scared them away. Now there was time for his flesh. There was a cat black as the starless night, and it tore his muscles from tendon and bone. It went away when its belly was filled. Then came the scavenger dogs of the forest. They cracked his bones between strong yaws and peg-like teeth and ate his marrow. When there was not much left but his ruined skeleton and flaps of rotting skin, insects swarmed and left naught but a heap of shattered bones.
His cells awakened as they were digested and assimilated by the body of their hosts spread throughout the forest. They called upon each other in a language no other could hear. Trillions of calls echoed between the trees as they made the blood of their hosts boil and hemorrhage. They ate and burrowed their way through bone and flesh. Liquified from the inside and out, their hosts soon fell dead, and the killers precipitated out the sludge. Like an invisible army, they marched over the forest floor and congregated at what little there was left of his broken body. At once, they began reconstructing the incomplete skeleton. As they had rebuilt the frame of bone, they filled it out with flesh and organs. Last, they covered it all in skin. When he was assembled, his heart began to beat, his lungs filled with air. His body was oxygenated, neurons fired, the innards stirred and moved.
He opened his eyes with a gasp and sat up. Clouds obscured the moon, and the forest was dark. He waited as his eyes adapted to the darkness while he listened to the sounds of the night. There was the cooing of a bird, the creaking of branches rubbing against each other in the wind, the croaking of frogs, the barking of something unknown to him. He looked down at his naked body. Then at his surroundings before getting up onto his feet. In front of him was the stone wall that stretched beyond the treetops. His eyes could barely distinguish the outline of the ledge from where he had jumped. He studied the wall for a while, feeling the stone with his fingers, testing his hands’ ability to grip. All was covered in wet moss that oozed water as he touched it, but the stone itself had many holds. After some more contemplation, he took a grip and pulled himself up, finding another for his foot. Slowly he scaled the wall, one push, one pull at the time.
It was dawn when he reached the ledge. He pulled himself atop where he sat resting while looking out over the ocean of trees bending into the horizon. He stayed there until the sunset. Then, there was scratching, and he turned around. A centipede, the size of a man’s arm, crawled out a fissure in the stone. Its antennae jerked around, tasting the air. The many legs rattled against the stone and gravel as it went back and forth over the ground, searching for prey. Its carapace shimmered and seemed to take on the colors of the surroundings. It was dark blue as it came out of the shadows before turning from gray to brown as it moved over the stone. It went yellowish green as it crawled over a patch of moss. He picked up a rock the size of a fist and held it while watching the centipede hunt. It circled back to the fissure before setting off into his direction. He threw the rock and hit the head. It writhed as the carapace shifted in all the colors of the rainbow. Then it became black and still. He got up, and as he passed the centipede, he picked up a rock and crushed the head, and went through the crevasse.
By the lakeside stood the lone tree withered and dead. He went up to it and laid his hand on the cracked bark before breaking it off. Then he snapped some branches and took it all with him back through the crevasse. He prepared a fire and used the straightest stick as a hand drill against the thickest one. Soon there was an ember, and he carefully moved it to the tinder and blew at it. First, it smoldered and smoked thin gray wisps carried away by the wind. Then the tinder burst into flames that grew as they consumed the surrounding sticks. He got up and found some dry moss to feed the flames. When the fire was going, he went back through the crevasse and got more of the dead tree. It took multiple trips before he had enough to last him throughout the night.