The Artist

James stared out the window as the instructor lectured animatedly at the whiteboard. He let his hand drift over the clean white paper, his pen lazily floating across the page. He purposefully kept his eyes away from the notebook, giving his hand free rein.

He usually came up with some interesting scribbles; someday, he knew that he would turn his eyes to the desk and see a masterpiece. He just knew it. He let another few seconds go by, the ticking of the clock on the wall seemed painfully slow. He pulled back his hand, breathless, and turned his face to the page…

“James. What did I just say?” The professor stared at him expectantly, toe tapping the linoleum, scowling at the wide-eyed look of incomprehension from James. “Quit doodling and pay attention!”

“Sorry, man.” James scowled with ferocity equal to that of the professor, glaring at the mass of incomprehensible scribbles in his notebook. “Just spacing out.” He tore off the top sheet of paper and crumpled it loudly. James returned his gaze to the window.

* * * * *

He jerked awake suddenly, elbows sliding off the desk. Had he fallen asleep? James darted a few surreptitious glances at his instructor and classmates; no one seemed to have noticed. Relaxing his tense shoulders with a sigh, his eyes dropped to his notebook, expecting to see the usual mess of indecipherable scribbles.

Instead, the stark image of a tree was scrawled across the page. The roots twisted in a tangled mass, the grim branches stretched alarmingly to the edges of the page. He blinked fiercely, screwing his eyes shut so tightly that they watered.  He looked again. Just scribbles… the usual swirls and jagged slashes of an aimless, wandering pen. He was sweating, but a chill shivered through him.

A tree. James shook his head. My mind is playing tricks on me, and for a split second I thought that I saw a tree. He looked at the page again; it hadn’t changed. It was nothing, just a mess of ink scrawled across the page.

But if it was nothing, why wouldn’t his hands stop shaking?

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