This is the third installment of five. Below are links to previous episodes for anyone who missed them.
“The Fern Flower Summons” (Part Three)
“Shall we get started, Dabrowski? I have conducted baseline scans for dimensional radiation, but I’m depending on you to guide us through these archaic rituals.”
The literature professor set his suitcases down near the bonfire, opening one with a flourish.
“Now, everyone, gather around. I’ve had costumes specially fabricated for this experiment. I think you’ll find them quite amusing.”
Connor’s classmates bunched forward, shoving him aside.
“Don’t touch anything, Orbit!” someone whispered.
“Yeah, careful! I hear Orbitals are allergic to everything down here. You could go into anaphylactic shock.”
“It’s like Orbitals aren’t even human.”
“Probably why resettlement restrictions exist. It’s for their own good.”
“Nah, if we let everyone back, it’ll ruin the climate again.”
Mortified, Connor fled to another part of the circle.
“Tonight’s the eve of the longest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. Humanity has long revered the solstice, believing it a time when a portal to the fey realms opens.”
“Fey realms? Professor, is that another name for Para?”
“Yes, I suspect so. Now, I’ve brought along plenty of traditional Slavic costumes for anyone wishing to dress the part. The academy has graciously provided funding for replicas made with transforma-cloth. You’ll find everything adjusts to fit.”
“Professor, they’re so garish!”
“Ah, but that was the style.”
The students began picking through the pile of multicolored garments as Professor Dabrowski opened the other suitcase to reveal a jumble of clippings.
“Now, we have violet, rosemary, vervain, thyme, hyssop, mugwort, lavender, and St. John’s Wort.”
“What are we doing with flowers, Professor?”
“Making wreaths. These plants were believed to be magical, especially on Midsummer Night’s Eve.”
“Providing protection from wayward spirits or conversely attracting good luck. Some even claimed such herbs could help find true love.”
“What kind of field trip is this?”
“Don’t be gross!”
“I think it’s romantic!”
“Ladies, gentlemen, please control yourselves. Remember, this is a school function.”
“Professor, how’re a bunch of flowers going to find true love?!”
“Glad you asked! Simply weave them into a wreath and toss it into the river. If your suitor retrieves it without getting wet, rest assured knowing their love is true!”
“Why can’t we get wet?”
“Because of the rusalka.”
“Spirits lurking beneath the waters eager to lure helpless young men and women to their doom! Remember, the veil between worlds is at its weakest tonight!”
“I’m not afraid.”
“You’re an idiot.”
“It’s not real.”
“Para is real.”
“Yeah, this is just a superstition.”
“Ah, but we’re here to test that conviction. Are these truly just fairytales? Other dimensions and parallel universes hid around every corner. Science has proven this. Contact with the inhabitants of Para has cast everything into doubt.”
“You’re scaring me, Professor.”
“Rest assured, you’ll be completely safe provided you remain dry. In the event you fall into the water, our bonfire will ward you from harm. Its flames summon kindly faeries keen to bestow aid and good fortune.”
“Really? What kind of aid, Professor?”
“Success during the coming year or good health.”
“How about passing all my exams?”
“A worthy aspiration for all my students!”
“Professor, what’s special about the fire?”
“It’s the bravery displayed about the bonfire that’s important.”
“Our ancestors leapt the flames hoping to prove themselves worthy of otherworldly gifts, favors, and secret knowledge.”
“Like hidden treasure?”
“Most sought help procuring the fern flower, a rare blossom found only on Midsummer’s Eve.”
“And if you find it?”
“Discovery grants a wish.”
“We should try to find it!”
“Yeah, where do we look, Professor?”
“I should warn you. The flower is guarded. Legend says only true desperation reveals its location.”
Connor wondered why any of his classmates would ever need to find such a flower. Wishes were meaningless when you already had everything, he thought.
“Remember, everyone, make time to acquaint yourself with the dim-scanner. I’ve collected rather unusual readings with Professor Dabrowski’s arrival and subsequent lecture. Perhaps there is something to all this nonsense. Sorry, Dabrowski, no offense intended.”
“None taken, Dalton. You are, undeniably, a consummate man of science. Leave the imagining to me!”
With instructions given, the students dispersed. Some plopped near the fire with armfuls of cuttings for making wreaths, while others danced about waiting to jump the bonfire. Connor sat on the outskirts quietly surveying the antics. He found himself distracted by the countless fireflies flickering about in the surrounding darkness.
“Finished my wreath. Protect me as I toss it into the river, Brad?”
Connor watched the couple stumble off, giggling. As usual, everyone ignored him, but tonight he didn’t care. Leaning back on his elbows, he stretched his legs and gazed across the meadow. Above, the lights from Earth’s ring of artificial structures twinkled brightly. While trying to locate New Seattle, his eye was suddenly drawn to a glimmering glow near the forest’s edge. It appeared to him to be another fire. Startled, Connor jumped up to get a better view.
“Do you see that?”
Several heads turned toward Connor.
“Are you talking to us?”
“Ah…yes. Do you see that light?”
“They’re called fireflies, Orbit.”
“No, in the woods. See the light changing color?”
“I don’t see anything. You feeling ok?”
Out of character, Connor grabbed hold of someone walking by.
“Tell me you can see that!”
His classmate angrily brushed Connor’s hand away.
“Let go of me, Orbit! What do you think you’re doing?”
“What’s your problem?”
“I… I’m sorry. I didn’t mean….”
“He’s hallucinating or something.”
“You shouldn’t even be here.”
Embarrassed, feeling trapped, Connor’s eyes darted about frantically. Spying Professor Dalton, he rushed over to the man.
“Professor! Professor! Professor Dalton!”
“Connor? Whatever is the matter?”
Connor glanced quickly again to the forest seeing the light still blazed conspicuously. His stomach clenched, realizing he alone could see it. He paused to recollect himself.
“Sorry, Professor. Nothing’s wrong. Just a bit excited to be here.”
“I should say so.”
“Professor, I’m curious. Has the scanner picked up any indication of an actual dimensional rift developing nearby?”
“Why yes, Connor. I owe Dabrowski an apology. The readings are off the charts.”
“Any idea where?”
Surprised to hear such eagerness in his student’s voice, Professor Dalton quickly scrutinized Connor.
“Well, multidimensional radiation is high everywhere, but it increases significantly on this side of the bonfire.”
“Is the scanner difficult to use?”
“No, not at all. Give it a go, Connor. It’s straightforward enough once calibrated, which I accomplished painstakingly earlier. Simply point and press this button to capture a reading.”
“Have you scanned closer to the forest?”
“What? Well, no. I’ve focused my attention around Dabrowski’s activities.”
“Professor, may I sample levels further away from the bonfire?”
“A budding scientist, eh Connor? By all means, but let’s not stray far. Lady Science demands controlled methodical inquiry. Remember, our objective is to uncover any correlation between concentrations of dimensional radiation and reenacting superstitious practices.”
Walking several paces towards the woods, Connor took a measurement.
“Interesting, Connor! This warrants further investigation. Unquestionably, this uptick in energy suggests the presence of a nearby weakening of the division between our universe and the next.”
“Perhaps, the bonfire really does provide some kind of protection.”
“Interesting. Dabrowski will be delighted to hear this.”
“Where is Professor Dabrowski, sir?”
“He’s down by the river. The notion of treacherous spirits skulking about is absurd, but youthful shenanigans are not.”
“I’ll tell him what we found. Thank you, Professor!”
This tale was inspired by a submissions call from Shoreline of Infinity Magazine for their upcoming September 2022 issue themed around science fiction fairytales. Hope you check it out. I’m eager to read what made it in!