perfect specimens

May 15 2013

Some way off her path, through the trees, Jane thought she perceived fire. A bonfire, rather than wildfire, as it seemed to be surrounded by a noisy group. Consumed by an instantaneous rage, she began stomping through the undergrowth towards it. What could they be thinking, lighting a fire in this part of the world! But as she approached, the fire appeared to be abruptly trampled down, and to disappear, as though it had never existed. Jane realised that a midnight gathering in this remote wilderness seemed improbable, and decided she had imagined it – not without relief, as she realised that she was to some extent afraid of strange people in the middle of nowhere.

After a while she became mesmerised by the swinging of her flashlight with her steps, and forgot what she had seen or imagined. Her thoughts hummed along about her work with her insects, and she anticipated the comforts of her camp. Until again, in the periphery of her vision, she saw the same bonfire far off to her right through the trees. She stopped and stared directly towards it for some time, wondering what to do. The illusion, or hallucination, was persistent. Her thoughts were not so simple this time, and she even felt that she might like to join in the fun. “I’ve been out here too long”, she said to herself finally, “I am growing lonely for people, and I am inventing them.” She went no closer, but continued on her way, and from behind her, she heard the same sound, as though a blaze had been trampled in a single stroke.

When she sensed the fire again, away through the trunks, Jane wouldn’t look. “I’m being harassed by a product of my imagination,” she mumbled, “I refuse to indulge myself in this.” She admitted to herself an anxiety concerning the integrity of her mind, and wondered whether it were perhaps time to leave her field work, and to return to the city. But whether they were hallucinations or not, she would not be permitted to escape them so easily, and the flames leapt up before her, startling her and causing her to stumble backward. She felt the heat of the fire, but saw it and its attendants as though through a watery surface, wriggling and distorted. Although intending to run, she was transfixed by the vision, and on some level delighted by it. Variously brilliant figures were moving around the fire, apparently dancing and talking rapturously with one another, in bright and fantastical forms.

She stared stupidly for some moments before registering a presence beside her, and turned to meet a sharp expression of disapproval in a smooth face. “you have caused my party to be interrupted tonight, three times, by your approach!” cried the stranger. Jane did not know how to respond to such untruth. “I only approached once,” she protested. And then, because she was a little surprised, and couldn’t think of anything better to say, “Begone devil!”

“me, a devil? i have never been more insulted!” was the facetious rejoinder. Jane was immediately embarrassed. “you can only make it up to me by joining my party.” Jane noticed now that she was speaking to a girl with lithe cocoa coloured limbs, slick violet hair, and long wings that were green like those of a luna moth. “Your wings are very beautiful,” said Jane despite herself, and the flattered membranes fluttered appreciatively. “im puck,” said the girl, and reached out to shake her hand. Jane was enchanted, but did not say so.

“you must meet my friends,” said Puck, and Jane felt herself guided towards them. They were a little indistinct and wavy through the bubble surrounding them, but there appeared to be something special and beautiful about each of them. Many carried sets of wings as lovely as Puck’s, and all were different, like those of a monarch or swallowtail butterfly, or a dragonfly, a ladybeetle, and even a house moth. Others possessed qualities that were still different. Jane saw that one lady had the wings of a peacock where her arms should be, while the head of a leopard rested on the shoulders of a robust man. One strange person seemed to be made all of quicksilver. At first none of them noticed her, but as she came closer they began to turn and wave at her and to welcome her with their laughter.

Puck was drawing Jane along by her hand, but as her arm passed through the surface of the boundary, it tingled and felt different all the way through. She looked down and was surprised to see that it had become a conglomeration of delicately vibrating feathered antennae, waving bonelessly as she flexed it. With a gasp, she snatched the appendage from Puck’s grasp and from the sphere of the party, and held it in front of her face, where she saw that it was once more returned to the shape of a humble human hand. With her other fingers she prodded own dear ruined nails and the dirty crevices around them.

She looked back into Puck’s eyes, which were silent and sombre. “didnt you like it?” she asked, “wasnt it fun?” Jane nodded. Yes, it had been fun. She opened her mouth to explain, but was suddenly conscious of many other eyes on her, and was overwhelmed with embarrassment. Puck winked, and Jane found herself swiftly transported to the boughs above, where she was perched securely in a fork. “we can have some privacy up here,” said the girl, tightropewalking a slender branch towards her and sitting down on it beside her.

Jane peered down on the party below, where the guests had once more become absorbed in passing their merry time. They each appeared to be performing their personal accomplishments in turn for the entertainment of all the others, who cheered and applauded. Jane was impressed by a giant cockroach popping backflips, but that was nothing compared to the antics of a hefty paper manuscript which continually disgorged globs of fire that ate it up so it had to write itself all over again. Something tickled Jane’s arm, and to her horror she glanced down to see that it was a large spider; but her companion quickly grabbed it and put it in her mouth, where she chewed on it thoughtfully before swallowing it as though it were only the most wholesome fare.

“now,” said Puck firmly, “what are you afraid of?” Jane was not afraid, but she did not say so. “I’m not sure that I want to join your party, and change, and become something else forever,” she explained.

“but that is your true self you will become. dont you like your true self? and dont you want to be my girlfriend, Jane?” asked Puck. “dont you like me? it will be so nice, i promise, you wont regret it.” Unexpectedly, her soft pink lips yielded to a gentle and almost shy smile.

Jane looked at the party again. “I have my work,” she said. There was regret in her voice, but also a finality of decision. And again, before another moment had passed, she was picking her way through the forest to her camp, where she was looking forward to lighting a gas flame and eating food from tins. She had completely and entirely forgotten everything that had passed, and once more all that really mattered were the two glowing nocturnal anthropods buzzing and bumping around in specimen boxes in her pack, which she had named respectively, Et Meum, and Et Tuum.

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