Sunday, June 05, 2016
read fiction by Lara Biyuts
CACTUS FLOWER -- FERN FLOWER
“However, the flower is closely guarded by evil spirits and
anyone who finds the flower will have access to earthly riches,
which have never benefited anyone, so the decision to pick the flower or
leave it alone is left up to the individual.” (Wikipedia)
St John’s Eve, by nightfall. The sound of the Moonlight Sonata flowed from the opened window of the Manor. The big old garden was full of dark shadows -- underneath the trees, in the midst of the lush clumps of lilacs, on the lawns and pathways. Light spots of white flowers over the parterre of the house; the dewy grass glittered green in dark. The old house and landscape of the estate, full of crepuscular significance, modern allusions and old legends, seemed awaiting a miracle on the night in the late 19th century.
All windows were opened as well as the paned door to the terrace, but the lit room was the only. The gray limestone house looked white with windowpanes gleaming. Coming into the dark rooms, the moonbeams slid over the walls, cast lacy shadows on the floor and let see that the house was empty. Everyone was out, on the warm night, except the old tutor who feared frogs and dew, and who stayed to play piano in solitude.
Jasmines along the front of the house and along the broad staircase. Enjoying the aroma of jasmines, a human figure was standing on the small square between the house and the group of old lime-trees and pines in the beginning of a big alley. The cigar in the human’s hand was almost gone. “What’s become of them all?” the man asked to himself, “Where’re they hanging about?” At that instant, he realized something, turned and went to the alley, leaving the light and music behind.
The sanded path gritted beneath his tread; leaves rustled in the breeze overhead. Darkness underneath the lime-trees, only a glowworm in the grass on the left of the pathway... Lo! A voice.
He heard someone’s saying his name at a distance of a yard. Two or more females talked sitting on a bench, most likely. Only an old lime-tree was between him and the talkers. He paused to listen to.
The voice that said his name belonged to Trudy, cousin of his schoolmate on a visit at the Manor; the second belonged to his cousin Eulampia.
Eulampia said, “Why to talk about Alex? The question is you. I no longer know what to think of you.”
“I no longer know what to think of myself!..” Trudy said, “Do you think I can think all right?”
“Formerly, your problem was that you could not fall in love with anybody. Now, when you are in love… Are you in love -- once and for all?”
“I am. Once and for all!”
“Why do you do all in your power to show him that you aren’t? Why do you tease him?”
“Do I tease him?”
“You smile. You know that you do. He could fall in love with you…”
“He? In love? With me? Are you sure?”
“Why not? But he nicknamed you Cactus Flower.”
“Did he?!.. Villain.”
“Really, I take your feelings.”
“Villain and milksop.”
“Trudy, you are moody. If I were you, I’d…”
The lime-tree’s branches rustled, moving like a living creature’s paws.
“Who’s that?!” the talkers said.
Silence. The dark shade was frozen behind the lime-tree. The glowworm was shining green in the grass, with the red light of the thrown out cigar nearby.
The talk resumed. “It all is very nice, but it doesn’t make my problem easier.”
The moonbeam fell on the bench, gliding over the white dresses of the two damsels, making their faces shining white. The dark shade watched them.
A cloud veiled the moon; the alley became dark again. Two white silhouettes on the bench. The talkers’ voices began sounding cheerful.
Trudy said, “I’ve gathered herbs.”
“What kind of herbs?” Eulampia said.
“One should gather thirteen kinds of herbs for the night -- keeping silence -- and put the herbs under the pillow. When abed, one should keep silence too. Thinking of anything. If I see him in my sleep, well then… Ah, it’s time!”
“What, we are going there together? Nobody else?” Eulampia’s voice rang with notes of hesitation.
“Yes, we together. Nobody should know!” Trudy said excitedly.
“To the Old Pond?” Eulampia said.
“Yes. We’ll go through the lower gate and leave it open. If they see it, they’ll think we’ve gone to the well. But we’ll go round the Park and then to the Pond.”
“Secretly? All right, but it’s very damp there, and two ditches on the way.”
“There are the best ferns. That’s why the Pond is special! I always believed that there are water-nymphs. Though I don’t believe…”
The dark shade left the umbrage of the lime-trees and went towards the Manor.
Overgrown with reeds, the Old Pond had much water in the center, with the moon’s reflex. Old branchy birch-trees were there on the high side of the Pond, with the thick forest surrounding them and the Pond. Only one meadow spread uphill going towards the estate. Both the Pond and the forest were in a deep hollow, and at the hour, the hollow was full of a silvery steaming mist. In the umbrage of the old birch-trees, two silent shades were so dark and motionless that they could be taken for two stumps or trees. Only the red light of the indispensable cigar betrayed belonging of one of the shades to the great tribe of smokers in general and young smokers in particular. “Here they come, at long last!” the smoker said.
Indeed, a distant snapping of dry twigs got louder; a moment more and light spots of the white dresses appeared on the top of the high Pond side. “How nice! How nice here!” Trudy’s voice cried out.
Eulampia said, “It’s too damp. We have to gather skirts up to knees!”
Someone’s laughter behind the birch-tress.
“Eulampia, did you hear that?”
“It only seemed to you. Well… Where are we going?”
“To the forest on the other side of the Pond. Wait a moment… I want to take the glowworm. Look at it, how beautiful it glitters, over there, in the sedge!” Trudy came down and leaned over the Pond.
It was difficult to get the glowworm, because it was deep in the dewy grass, that’s why Trudy never saw what happened on the top of the Pond side.
Hearing a small screech and footfall sound, she thought, “Eulampia stepped on a frog.” Next, it was too quiet around. “Eulampia!”
Eulampia’s voice responded from a distance, somewhere in the forest.
Trudy cried out, “Where are you going without me?”
The silvery fog swirled over the dark waters, sprawling between the trees, where the fog was unusually white and taking perpetually and fluently various obscure shapes. Some weird shades seemed to get waving into a big garland, moving and rising, seeking to part and fly away. It seemed like a dreadfully white water-nymph could come out of the drowsy waters any time now, twinkle green glassy eyes and begin to shake glittering water drops off her long green tresses. It seemed that a wood-goblin that lurked in the black boughs of the dry birch-tree could start screeching, any minute… But a strange drawling cry was heard in the thicket and died away.
With her pit-a-pat heart, Trudy ran up the Pond side, quickly, though it was somewhat difficult, and she looked round.
She was alone. Actually, it seemed to her that a dark shade glimpsed behind a tree – but it could be merely a play of her imagination. A distant screech of an owl. Trudy gave a start and hastened to the forest.
She believed Eulampia was on the other side of the Pond where the ferns grew thickly and wonderfully. “To her, to her! It’s fearsome to be here, alone…” It was dark and damp on her way in the forest.
Fallen leaves rustled underfoot; the dark starlit sky hardly could be visible between the crowns of old tress. The pathway went through dense thickets. “Eulampia!” her clear voice sounded in the silence of the night. A strange wild screech instead of a reply -- once again, from another side… Trudy ran forward, through the thicket.
What’s that? What a fearsome dark figure with an ugly head?.. It’s but an old stump, mossy all over. But… over there, ahead, it’s not a stump. Someone’s standing! Something tall and white is standing motionless and awaiting… The closer, the longer it looks. It cannot be Eulampia or the other human. What it is?..
It’s only a view of a glade between two old aspens!
The water-meadow sagged under her feet. Hummocks overgrown with cowberry shrubs and tussocks of fern here and there. A marsh! Sweat dewed her brow. The moon had vanished, and the sky was dark with bright stars. The forest was like a dark wall around; the thick fog was swirling over the glade, and its white streaks flowed towards the forest to disappear between trees. Dozens of glowworms were shining over the moss-grown hummocks. Suddenly, in the silence, a bell rang.
The brassy sound came from a distant village. It has announced a beginning of a midnight mass. That’s the midnight, the magic hour when water-nymphs came from dark waters, when the legendary Fern Flower bloomed somewhere in a dense thicket, and when a sly wood-goblin prowled around screeching from time to time… Here, Trudy saw a tall dark shade on the glade. The shade moved. It moved towards her! Getting closer, closer, approaching her! On the instant, at her feet, in the middle of a fern, a bright red sparkle flashed.
The Fern Flower? It’s blooming? It’s not but a fib? Fearing to look back, trembling all over, she leaned and held her hand out…
“Don’t touch it! It can hurt!” a voice said behind her back.
If it was a wood-goblin’s voice, then the wood-goblin sounded rather familiar.
“It’s you?! Nothing more?” she said with notes of irony in her tone. She pretended so skillfully that it did credit to her self-possession, especially at the moments when she was nearly swooning with agitation.
The wood-goblin sounded polite and quite himself, when he explained by saying, “I’m forcing my way.”
However, there were no further explanations. The Old Pond proved to be nearby.
Both Eulampia and her companion, Alex’s schoolmate, were nearby too, turning up as though from nowhere.
“All looked obscure on the weird night, moving in some extraordinary way. Aren’t you ashamed, Eulampia?”
“Why? You should tell where you’ve been!”
“Actually, you are a wrong person to be told about anything.”
Alex, the smoker with no cigar, said, “A wood-goblin fooled Trudy.”
Trudy said, “Did you drop your nasty cigar into the fern?”
He said, “I forced my way -- what was left to me to do, in the shrubs and ferns? Playing pranks on you was an absolute must, tonight. This is the Summer solstice. Joie de vivre.”
more stories is in the book "Crepuscular Rays" by Lara Biyuts :