Episode 3

#Episode 3: Meadowlark
Beth (August, 1991)

The Blue Rose is one of the rarest of the rose family, signifying the fulfillment of wishes.  Blue roses require long cultivation and many treatments of blue dye to the roots of the chosen bush.  As such, the flower may also indicate faithful service towards an end. If paired with Daisy, it reveals a longing to attain the impossible. Royal blood, Mystery.

          There was nothing to do but admit it: she was lost. She’d managed to avoid the others so far, but the brush was getting too thick to continue in the direction she was headed. She’d left the loud, brash preteen behind a while back, and no doubt whomever he’d been searching for as well. She’d snuck away before her mom had explicitly told her to watch Josh this afternoon, and she wanted the few precious hours of alone time to be filled with nothing but her increasingly frustrated attempt at sketching. The boy had ruined her sketch of the fawn she’d found sleeping by the river, and in her desire to distance herself from whatever drama may have been unfolding she’d managed to get herself into a different sort of bind altogether.
          Beth had diligently followed the stream for what felt like at least a half of a mile before it had widened into a marsh of sucking black mud. She’d almost lost her shoes twice as she tried to get to firmer soil, and she was certain the tall socks she’d worn were all but ruined. Everywhere around her looked the same, black, glistening soil with islands of moss and thin-rooted weeds clustered together that looked far sturdier than they were. Even here, though, there was enough beauty that her fingers itched to sketch. Amidst the goldenrod and wild small daisies that seemed to trail through the muck on runners were a few large buddleia bushes in full bloom with plumes of white and purple flowers. Small blue forms danced from each heavily-ladened branch, occasionally flocking to another nearby bush as if to sample and compare.
          If she was going to be honest with herself, this sense of disorientation unnerved her a bit. She hadn’t gone quite so deep into the preserve before, and she wasn’t one hundred percent sure she could find her way back easily. The shouting boy, and whomever he had been shouting for, had vanished from earshot a while back. She could circle back, get closer to home and thus not risk being trapped in the wood at twilight with no easy way out. She stamped her foot in frustration, annoyed that she was going to have to explain her afternoon activities after all. That ended up being an unfortunate choice as well, though, as a good half of her shoe was swallowed by the muck. She backed off, slowly pulling her left sneaker free. Then, walking carefully until the reeds and marshmallow topped cattails gave way to small saplings and actual brush; she took off the shoes and socks and gathered some leaves to scrape off the evidence.
          It took a good twenty minutes before she had scraped away enough of the pasty mud that she could once again see the damp sneaker underneath. Resigned to walk with a squish in her step until she could get back to the house, Beth did the best she could to retrace her path. She reckoned that if she could just find her way back to the stream, she could follow the water until she recognized a spot she had been before. From there, it wouldn’t be difficult at all to reorient herself and make her way out of the preserve and towards the inevitable tongue-lashing waiting for her at home. Indeed, before too long she felt herself on more familiar ground. She’d seen a few clusters of trees that she swore she recognized. As she headed west—it was hard to tell, with the sun now almost directly overhead—she noticed a bit further downstream several decent sized rocks covered in blue-green moss protruding from the lazily ambling water like giant paving stones. Oddly, she hadn’t noticed them before.
          A strong gust of wind momentarily blinded Beth, as the sun broke through the canopy and hit the rims of her glasses. She was startled again as the tall tree in front of her burst into a cloud of color, blues, greys and blacks in all variations and striations, pattern upon pattern on diaphanous wings that kissed her cheeks and swept through her hair. Hundreds of butterflies descended on a cloud of wings, hovering around her for a moment before following the stream towards the marshland she’d just fled.
          She’d never seen anything like it. She’d seen the Monarch butterflies that had come to the plants in the neighborhood or in the park, but they’d not looked anything like these! She absentmindedly wondered if these were blue because they fed on blueberries or some such thing as she watched them go. She’d have to check one of her field guides when she got home and see if she could identify the friendly visitors.
          She was startled to see that one or two of them had lingered. A large-winged member of the strange kaleidoscope had landed on her forearm, its dainty feet barely stirring the sun-bleached hairs below her elbow. She watched, as the curled tube of his mouth seemed to reach out and lick the sweat from her arm where it had perched. The creature had wise, black eyes and thick blue-grey fur all over its tube-shaped body, a bespectacled sausage of dryer lint with folded mottled grey and brown wings—but as the butterfly relaxed, its wings spread to reveal a brilliant powder blue surface veined in black, ringed by an even paler blue wrapping their edge.
          The other visitor had landed on the spiral of metal capping the top of her sketchbook. This fellow was striped pale blue and black on its wings, with two black circles ringed by yellow as if to mock the eyes of potential predators. The curiosity had a large head that almost resembled a gecko’s, though two large antennae extended far above the angled head. The eyes were enormous, reminding Beth of the dimpled surface of a golf ball. Having rested their wings, both abruptly rose from her skin and the book and followed their compatriots down the river towards the bog.
          Sitting promptly down, she did her best to sketch what she could remember of her encounter. No one interrupted her, a wonder in and of itself on this day of nothing but interruptions, and she wondered if this might not be a good spot to set up camp. If the swarm of butterflies regularly fed here, she could fill the rest of her sketchbook just trying to accurately depict their strange and varied anatomy. She worked quickly, her eyes closed as she tried to capture the essence of the experience as honestly she could, using long sweeping thin charcoal lines to trace the arrival and departure of her newfound friends, their trails a tattoo upon the air around her.
          She felt her right ankle and foot start to tingle, a sign she’d sat cross-legged far too long. Looking down, she was amazed. She may not have captured every single one of their features, but even drawing blind as she did, the stylized grace of the scene brought tears to her eyes. It wasn’t precise, but it evoked the sense of confused wonder that had filled those precious moments. Yes. She could do this. She took the few steps necessary to arrive at the tree that had erupted in the shower butterflies just a few minutes earlier and slid down to its base, resting her lower back against the aged, gnarled trunk. As she got out her set of colored pencils and began to sharpen some of the blues and greys for heavy use, she felt a sudden wetness on her shoulder. She didn’t think much of it until she felt something drip on her forehead as well. When she brought her hand up to touch it was warm and gooey, and there were a few small white aphids trapped in its sticky embrace.
          Looking up, she saw more of the sap fall from the branches and leaves above. Each branch was thick with leaves ending in clusters of green pods from which manifold cream-colored stamens jutted out in a dome. Small brown pods hung from delicate stems from many of the flowers, looking a lot like the antennae of the butterflies that had so recently made their home among its branches. Each time a small gust of wind blew through those small protrusions, more of the sweet smelling liquid fell onto Beth’s shoulders and, unfortunately, her face as she looked up. She brought a small amount of the liquid to her lips, gave it a taste, and was unsurprised to find it sweet. She finished the pencil-work quickly and stood up, grimacing at the amount of her outfit she’d potentially ruined between the mud and sap. She was quite possibly never going to hear the end of this—and she was going to be burdened with Josh for the rest of the summer. Maybe the rest of her life.
          If that was true, Beth mused, why not make the most of what little time she had left? Having come so far, why not a little further? She had her bearings now, and going a little further wouldn’t keep her from returning before supper. She wasn’t going to avoid a scolding, anyhow. Getting up, she approached the stream tentatively, pleasantly surprised that the brush hadn’t hidden more quicksand. Rearranging the shoulder strap of her bag across her chest, Beth took a tentative step onto the first furry stone. Then, clutching her still dangling bag in her left hand and stretching her right arm out for balance, she precariously hopscotched from one moss-mucked stone to the other until she was across.
          Smiling safely on the other side, it was only moments before she found herself fighting through a small barbed wire tangle of blackberries that had wound itself around the trunks of several old and gnarled oaks in search of sunlight. Finally free, and with a minimum of blood lost to the thorns, she saw daylight ahead. Momentarily blinded, Beth let her eyes adjust to the increased brightness as she approached. As she got closer, she could see the forest open into a large meadow, the dense brush and vines giving way to tall grasses and wildflowers rustling in the gentle breeze of the open air. Beth wove her way through the last of the saplings and the thick, moss-covered trunks of the older trees towards the light, feet cleverly dodging the wild grape vines reaching out of the earth to strangle the trees.
          Behind her, small bluebells unfurled from each of her footsteps on the forest floor; hyacinths gently rose like miniature towers, releasing their thick musky aroma that called slumbering bees, lazy from the noonday sun, to feast upon the sudden harvest.

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