Episode 6

#Episode 6: Limnus Test
Hrothgar (June 1991)

The White Oak is known for its strength and stalwart nature. Like all oaks, the White Oak is a tree of protection, used to strengthen and ground a person or place. The Oak was sacred to Perun, as well as Thor, and is thus often associated with lightning and inspiration. Add leaves or acorns to arrangements for the home to smooth conflict.

          During the weeks following his initial explorations of the Finn’s Wood Preserve, Hrothgar found that he wasn’t using the books inherited from his grandmother nearly as much as he had. Most of the outskirts of the preserve were a study in similitude, a small number of plants oft repeated in different combinations. He’d learned to recognize these common trees and shrubs, and repeated back to himself their entries from the books as he stumbled across them.
          It became a mantra as he moved deeper into the woods, the recitation of the familiar as he discovered species he didn’t recognize on sight. Then he would stop and sort through the books in hopes of finding an entry. The constant reading of the first few weeks had led to a general sense of what was contained in each volume, which sped up the process of discovery significantly. He’d yet to find something not mentioned in any of the three books, but he’d bought a small notebook the other day just in case he discovered such a rarity.
          That day had started out much like any other. It was early summer, school had only been out for a few weeks, and he’d fled the house after breakfast to go exploring. He’d made plans with Ryan for that night to see a movie with him and the guys, but he had the whole day to himself. It didn’t take long to ride his bike to the edge of the preserve, stashing it in a copse of bushes near the gate once he arrived. After having explored mostly directly forward and to the west, he decided he’d head east today. Finn’’s Wood Preserve was large, and he looked forward to spending the summer hiking through the entirety of it.
          The common trails vanished to nothing a few miles in, leaving Hrothgar only deer trails and what paths he himself could make as he made his way through the underbrush. After several hours of wandering, Hrothgar suddenly found himself ankle deep in disgustingly warm soil, dark with swamp water that made the entire affair resemble black preset oatmeal. By the time Gar realized what was happening, the sludge was already past his ankle high socks and he had sudden visions of drowning in the stuff. With concerted effort, he was able to pull his right foot out of the stuff and stumble backwards, though the ground was only slightly more stable. As he tried to do the same with his left foot, he heard a loud splortch and was dismayed to see his wet-socked foot break free sans shoe before his balance wavered and he placed his foot behind him. Growing alarmed, he moved backwards with the right foot, and once again the marsh claimed his footwear. Only two more steps freed him from the muck’s loving embrace—minus, of course, his shoes. The old red high tops were old, but had been some of his favorites. He was likely to be more upset at their loss than his parents were. Gar grumbled under his breath as he moved onto a large rock protruding from the ground. Riding his bike home was really going to suck without shoes.
          Again on solid ground, he could see now that the whole area was a marsh of some kind, rich wet soil interspersed with cattails and buddleias. Tall trees ringed the fen as the soil gave way to mud, swamp oak and silver maple reaching for the sky in interweaving clusters. A rampaging choking vine, one of the few species Gar had yet to identify, was doing its best to climb the trunks of a pumpkin ash, resting its bulk on the bulbous protrusion at its base. The same species of wild grape vine that he had spotted just a few weeks ago hung looped from some of the lower level branches of the nearest tree, looking like desiccated frayed rope.

Grape vine, when wreath-spun, may stand for abundance and bounty. If more than two rounds deep, it may signify overabundance and decadence. Use in arrangements to denote the threat of truth, especially of secrets that may harm. Popular in fall and holiday arrangements.

          Turning to leave this clear place of no return, Gar took a moment and got out his own notebook. Perhaps it was time to make a map of the parts of the preserve he’d explored to date. He was a crap artist, but he could at least get a general sense of where he’d been and where he was now. He sat down at the base of one of the swamp oaks—the ground was cool, but not wet this far out—and quickly jotted the trajectory he’d followed today. Some of the larger trees he used as reference points, naming them for easy recall. The giant poplar he’d noticed a few minutes’ walk before the swamp he’d dubbed “Paige” as a nod to the entry in his great-grandmother’s journal. Also to a girl in his social studies class, who spent most of the time chatting with her friends every time the teacher turned around. He wouldn’t care normally, but he liked social studies, and it was a constant distraction.

The poplar, either in leaf or in flower, stands for the perils and joys of language. In context, the flowers are chosen for those easily swayed with words, the gullible that may make use of their innocence as a shield. In a bouquet set to warn, clusters of Poplar flowers may warn of gossip.

          He stood up, having scribbled enough that he could elucidate it further later at home. As he tried to orient himself into a new, safer direction, he noticed a patch of purple muscari a little further back. He’d always loved those; his Grandma Rae used to plant them alongside Lily of the Valley and he used to play as a small child by trying to ring the tiny purple and white bells, much to her amusement. As he approached, he saw he had been wrong. What he had at first mistaken for a small patch of flowers was actually a winding trail, curving around several other oaks and a sagging weeping willow that, in hindsight, should’ve warned him about the presence of a significant quantity of water in the area.
          Oddly, with the exception of a scattering of wild geraniums and a few rare clusters of monkshood, the grape hyacinths were overabundant, their grass-like leaves and stalks of tiny blue-purple bells filled in the narrow deer path for as far as Gar could see. It was unlike anything he’d seen in his explorations to date—the path was so full of the flowers that it looked planted by hand, a dainty trail of soft leaves and purple-ladened stalks. Intrigued, he put the journals back in his backpack, zipped up, and followed the easterly path in nothing but his squishy socks.
          After gently treading down the trail for about 30 minutes, the tiny bell-shaped flowers giving way to more traditional low-lying plants. He spotted a couple small pools of water—they were too small to even be called ponds—and watched the fish and frogs weave in and out of the dappled shadows brought into being by the swaying canopy high above. What amazed Gar wasn’t the rich diversity of life he’d discovered in the preserve, but rather how the whole area seemed to be regulated into various smaller biomes. Small groves of one type of tree or another gave way to swamps or small patches of wild flowers or, in this case, strange muscari filled paths.
          The path petered out completely nearby a small cluster of redbud trees. Some of the older, taller trunks looked to be about 30 feet high, but there were many smaller trunks amid the underbrush. The tiny periwinkle flowers blossomed tight to the flesh of the trees branches, and its heavy brown seedpods dangled several inches from the boughs from which they hung. Gar always thought it was odd how the redbuds got their flowers before their leaves—something not many plants did, as far as he knew. And so, alternating between discernment of the forest floor and his head buried in the books that were his inheritance, he was caught entirely unawares when he cleared the small grove of redbuds and saw a little man, about 4’ high, covered in blue fur, with horns on his head and little hooves on his feet. The creature was picking some wilting flowers off a nearby lilac tree, his back to Gar as he appeared to plop the limp flowers into his mouth.
          He turned around after a moment, and the first thing that struck Gar were the creature’s eyes, mostly purple, but they were glowing and changing like a cat’s as they passed through direct light. He was wearing some sort of makeshift pants and shirt out of what looked like fabric scraps and had forget-me-nots and more lilacs woven into the hair on his head. Hrothgar was shocked still, unable to move as the creature picked one of the fruit off one of the grape vines a few steps away and gobbled it up. It seemed entirely unaware of Gar’s presence until Gar got enough moisture in his mouth to whisper, “Hello?”
          The creature jumped almost as high as it was tall and looked right at Hrothgar’s face. Gar felt a chill as the thing’s eyes penetrated deep into his own, as if it were rummaging around inside Gar, looking for something. Hrothgar felt the familiar disorientation of his strange sight stirring from its nascent slumber so strongly his eyes watered as the vertigo that accompanied such fits washed over him. For a moment, the world wavered within the dizzy tears of his eyes, but as he blinked them away, he saw the creature’s furry body crawling in vibrant rainbows, like a swirl of oil on water. Just as suddenly, the liquid stained glass vision came and was gone, leaving Gar gasping as the world righted itself.
          The strange goatish man, however, did not vanish with Hrothgar’s fit. He haltingly approached Gar, apparently ready to bound in another direction if it was startled yet again. Now standing in front of the frightened boy, the creature did something remarkable—it reached out its hand and raised a bushy eyebrow of darker blue in askance. After a moment’s prevarication, Gar reached out and clasped the furry hand into his own. Without warning, the creature let go of Hrothgar’s hand and leapt, pouncing onto a different grape vine crawling on a nearby tree and hopping alongside its vertical, curving length until the canopy of leaves shrouded him from view. Hrothgar stayed unmoving for almost an hour, torn between terror and fascination—unsure if he was waiting for the strange being to reappear or hoping it never would.
          Gar’s mind raced as the strange figure vanished into the canopy above. Who should he tell, should he tell, would he be believed?  What was with his fits anyway, was it just stress? Gar found he had a strong desire to not have the problem, if it was a problem, and he didn’t want it medicated away. He could still feel the warmth and soft roughness of the pads of the creature’s palm pressed against his own. He had felt so real. His fear—more of his parents worry for him than whatever imaginary creature he had created in the woods—eventually prompted him to leave.
          After a night of dreams heavily influenced by what’d he’d seen, he was back the next day in the woods, actively seeking the spot he’d first seen the blue-furred man-beast (he really needed to find out a better word to call it). He was able to find the muscari trail and the cluster of redbud trees at its end after only an hour or so of wandering around the general area, the map he’d quickly drawn the day before had proven invaluable. Wanting a clear view of the area, Gar plopped down with the flower books and sat beneath a red maple, his head resting against the warm, crenelated bark, and started reading. It wasn’t a restful afternoon, as he found himself jumping at every snap of a twig or nearby bird call; his eyes were forever darting towards the lilacs that the thing had been eating yesterday.
          No stranger ever appeared, and Gar eventually got up and headed deeper into the woods. He figured that he’d imagined his strange experience the day before, although he didn’t see how that was possible. He didn’t like to contemplate what that might mean, ultimately. And so, as many children do, he simply put the entire issue aside. Clearly, there were no beast-men traipsing through the woods. Clearly! Therefore, Gar resumed his exploration of the wood, marking new flowers from the books as he came across them. He snaked a serpentine path through the trees and thickets, passing some old, wild lilacs that twisted their gnarled trunks into patterns that would’ve looked menacing but for their myriad sweet smelling clusters of pale purple flowers.
          He’d just passed the lilacs when out of the corner of his eye he saw something substantial move to his left. Turning his head slowly, Hrothgar saw only an ancient tree with low sweeping branches that arced towards the forest floor. One of the tallest trees he’d seen that day, it had spade-shaped leaves and cream-colored flower clusters at the tips of its newborn branches. The tall ovoid structure of the tree almost looked trimmed and sculpted, except for that random branch here and there that overreached its brethren. As Gar approached, he noted a sweet scent and a slight thrum in the air that turned out to be small swarms of bumble and honey bees. As he touched one of the leaves, he noticed the bees were lethargic, their wings beating arrhythmically as they tried to savor the nectar from the flowers. The leaf itself was sticky with a clear substance. As Hrothgar brought it to his nose, he recognized that the sap was the source of the local perfume. He quickly placed his finger into his mouth and was rewarded with a rush of sugar and a slight tang.
          He sat down briefly, flipping through his books until he identified the Linden tree before him. Judging from its size, it had to be several hundred years old—considerably older than most of the foliage around it. As he wrapped his head around that puzzle, he was both startled and relieved to see the creature from the day before apparently digging up some acorns buried not far from a nearby oak and popping them into his mouth. Gar jumped at the loud cracking sound as the nut shattered into fragments that were equally pulverized and loudly chewed in the mouth of this impossible thing. Spattered sunlight glinted on teeth that were far sharper than he’d have imagined even in his dreams the night before.
          Noticing him, it approached Gar and once again offered up its right hand. This time, the boy paused to look at what was being offered to him. The creature’s hand was, like the rest of its body, covered with fur up to the second knuckle of each sky blue finger. A small pearlescent, hooked claw finished each of those fingers, in turn. The pads that made up the inside of the creature’s grip were not unlike his cat’s, a tad rough but also warm and soft. The beast-man tilted its head to the left and those strange catlike eyes opened wide in question, displaying small smudges of opalescent color in the shadow of the wood. Steeling himself, Gar extended his left arm and clasped the creature’s hand in his own firmly, as his father had taught him. Something in the earnest gesture must’ve amused the creature, because it started to shake with laughter, its lips spreading wide in a smile that Gar couldn’t help but return, despite the very pointed teeth of his compatriot being on display.
          Thus began his almost daily trek into the woods. His parents were pleased that he was outside getting some fresh air after his earlier behavior and exploring allowed him to put off Ryan and his friends, who seemed to constantly want demands of his time. Every time he met his new friend afterward, they would always shake hands first. By the end of the week, the creature was meeting Gar in a different spot every time he visited the woods. Usually, he pushed Gar to go deeper into the wilderness, or take a path he’d never taken before. Sometimes the beast-man showed him deer trails he’d never have spotted without his strange friend’s help. Then again, it loved to pop up seemingly out of nowhere and tap Gar on the shoulder just to watch him jump. Indeed, it seemed to especially enjoy this sort of game—surprising Gar made the figure dance and shake with laughter, though it never spoke.
          Maybe it couldn’t.
          Maybe Gar didn’t want it to try.


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