Sunday Snippet, Red Line Scofflaw by Bill Chance

“My heart is warm with the friends I make,

And better friends I’ll not be knowing,

Yet there isn’t a train I wouldn’t take,

No matter where it’s going.”

― Edna St. Vincent Millay, The Selected Poetry

(click to enlarge)

Red Line Scofflaw

As I was standing at the kiosk

(I had had to walk back to the car to get four quarters from the little holder thing that folds down between the front bucket seats as I only had a single dollar bill plus two tens – and I didn’t want to shove a ten in the machine – who knows what would happen then)

with my dollar bill and four quarters

trying to figure which buttons to push

and where the coins slot was

the train pulled up.

It was Sunday and who knows when the next train will come

So I boarded quickly, without my ticket

I’m a scofflaw

They warn you never to ride the trains without a ticket

one hundred fifty dollar fine.

I clutched my dollar and my four quarters in my hand

So I would have an excuse for the

transit police

if they came down the aisle checking

for tickets

I’ve ridden the train a lot

and never seen the transit police

check for tickets

Though I’ve seen their cars

leaving donut shops

parked in the parking lots

sleeping man in the front

There is a kid

sitting across from me

working on his very short hair

with a big comb

looking at

his reflection in the window

above his head is a poster

bright purple with white letters

it says:

Poetry in Motion

The poem on the poster is:

This is Just to Say

I have eaten

the plums

that were in

the icebox

and which

you were probably

saving

for breakfast

Forgive me

they were delicious

so sweet

and so cold

William Carlos Williams (1963)

Short Story of the Day, Flash Fiction, A Lake Upon a Lake by Benjamin Niespodziany

“The lake of my mind, unbroken by oars, heaves placidly and soon sinks into an oily somnolence.’ That will be useful.”

― Virginia Woolf, The Waves

The ponds at the end of my block, Richardson, Texas

And today’s flash fiction:

A Lake Upon a Lake by Benjamin Niespodziany

from Claw & Blossom

Benjamin Niespodziany Twitter

Benjamin Niespodziany Blog

Short Story of the Day, Flash Fiction, Zombies in the Bosque by Becca Yenser

“Things like that happen all the time in this great big world of ours. It’s like taking a boat out on a beautiful lake on a beautiful day and thinking both the sky and the lake are beautiful. So stop eating yourself up alive. Things will go where they’re supposed to go if you just let them take their natural course.”

― Haruki Murakami, Norwegian Wood

My Technium on Winfrey Point, White Rock Lake. Dallas, Texas. Look carefully and you can see a guy on a unicycle.

From my old journal, The Daily Epiphany, June 16, 2001 – 20 years ago to the day:

Breeze on the Water

I overslept something terrible today. Actually, I set my alarm for eight; late enough as it is, woke up and puttered around, but then fell back asleep.

I wanted to get some exercise and have been enjoying loading up my new pack and going for walks. By the time I was able to get my shit together it was three in the afternoon and brutal hot. Hiking on a hot summer day is good exercise anyway, so I decided to give it a go.

I drove over to White Rock Lake and since there is all new construction going in around the dam area, went farther north and entered at Emerald Isle, intending to hike down to the dam and back.

My pack was stuffed with as much weight as I could get in there, camera, books, and water bottles mostly. I had my sun hat and safety-glasses style sunglasses on, shorts and hiking boots – I looked plenty stupid and felt it.

They are working on the old road on the entire southeast sector of the lake, building a new, wide asphalt bike and jogging trail. For now, though, it is all torn up. The afternoon was killer hot and the sun scorching. There were very few people out, two women hiking with hydration packs and a scattering of sweating bicyclists, mostly guys, mostly shirtless.

I walked down to the area close to the dam, then walked out on to one of the old wooden piers to sit and rest for a bit. I’m terribly out of shape and the easy walk wasn’t so easy for me. I hesitated for a minute, the jutting, T-shaped dock doesn’t afford any shade and I wondered if I would be better off finding a tree. The green water looked inviting though, and I decided to sit on the end hanging my legs over. The pier is old – the wood gray and weathered, broad, brown nail-heads stick up on little pimples of wood, the area around worn away by sun and water.

It was dead calm but comfortable out there so I sat and read for a while. A fish roiled the surface, going after a bug or something, showing a flash of tan fin and a splash. A duck paraded back and forth. Two soft-shell turtles splashed off their nearby log and floated around, their dark necks and thin heads sticking out of the water, wondering when I would leave so they could get back to their basking spot.

I sat looking lakeward with the sounds of the traffic on Garland road behind me. The roar of rubber on tarmac, the occasional horn, thumping of untuned engines, and the treble chatter of car radios out of open windows. When the traffic let up I could hear the roar of water going over the spillway to my left. The waterfall gave the odd illusion, sitting on the dock above it, that the lake existed as a shelf above the ground; I was looking into the tops of trees and buildings sticking up above the water. In the distance were the geometric towers of downtown.

The water around me was calm, flat, green, and smooth, but looking toward the dam I could see patch of wavelets, glittering, jewel-like. As I watched the patch began to grow and move toward me. Soon, little ripples passed by where I was sitting and then a gust of cooling breeze. The water was then covered with little silver-blue waves, the sun glinting in thousands of fast moving stars off the sides of the water.

The burst of breeze moved on, the water calmed, but for a moment, it was beautiful.

And today’s flash fiction:

Zombies in the Bosque by Becca Yenser

from Lost Balloon

Becca Yenser Twitter

Becca Yenser Home Page

Sunday Snippet, Boca Diablo (part 5 – El Tiburón) by Bill Chance

“Sharks have everything a scientist dreams of. They’re beautiful―God, how beautiful they are! They’re like an impossibly perfect piece of machinery. They’re as graceful as any bird. They’re as mysterious as any animal on earth. No one knows for sure how long they live or what impulses―except for hunger―they respond to. There are more than two hundred and fifty species of shark, and everyone is different from every other one.”

― Peter Benchley, Jaws

(click to enlarge)

Boca Diablo (part 5 – El Tiburón)

Read Part 1 Here

Read Part 2 Here

Read Part 3 Here

Read Part 4 Here

Dwayne never imagined how difficult it would be to get to Boca Diablo and see the butterflies again. After all these years the orange swarm he had seen as a child had grown in his mind. Now, after Flynn had brought him information, probably only a myth, that indicated that the insects were used by the ancient indigenous royalty for supernatural powers, the idea of the butterflies had grown in his mind until they had pushed out almost everything else. With Flynn’s support, he assumed that gaining approval from the university would be a cakewalk, and funding would surely follow.

But there was violent political unrest in the Boca Diablo area and the State Department was restricting travel. A shadowy figure, El Tiburón had raised a ragtag peasant army which, somehow, had driven the government forces out of the area. The central command didn’t seem too keen on spilling the necessary blood on getting it back.

“It has always been a backwater,” the embassy official had told him, “It will always be a backwater – bloody and dangerous. And useless. I recommend you abandon concern for that godforsaken place. Forget about it completely. I know I have. At least until you came in and started bothering me about it.”

One night, he received a phone call from someone asking to meet him down at his university office. The person on the other end refused to give his name, but said, “You need to meet me there, you won’t regret it.”

“Are you sure I won’t?” he asked.

“Well, I am absolutely sure you’ll regret not showing up,” was the answer. And it sounded convincing.

After carding into the dark research building and walking down the eerie empty echoing hallways Dwayne was startled to see his office door open, and the lights on. When he entered he saw a tall man wearing an expensive suit, smoking a cigar, sitting at his own desk.

“Have a seat,” the man said in a slight accent. He gestured at a chair in front of the desk.

“Ummm,” Dwayne stammered, “That’s my desk, and my chair, and there is no smoking allowed in the building.”

“Oh, I’m sorry, so true,” the man said in a calm voice. But he made no attempt to move or to extinguish his cigar. He simply made a generous puff and repeated his hand gesture toward the chair. Dwayne sat down.

“How did you get in here?” Dwayne said.

“I’m Mr. Albert, I work for the CIA,” was the answer. Dwayne supposed that answered his question, even if indirectly.

“Why are you here, what does anything have to do with me?” Dwayne said.

“Anything of what?”

“That’s what I need to know.”

“Well, Dwayne, can I call you Dwayne? Here’s the thing. We understand you have been trying to get permission and funding to reach Boca Negro. Is that true?”

“Of course, I want… I need to get back and study a sighting of rare… of unique butterflies I saw when I was there as a….”

Albert interrupted him. “Now Dwayne, we have no interest in the reason you want to reach Boca Diablo. Why is not important to us. What we want to know is if you are able to help us.”

“But how can I help you, I can’t even get there.”

“Those are difficulties that we can make go away… like that,” and Arnold made a simple wave through the air.

Dwayne’s eyes grew large. He hoped that Arnold wouldn’t sense his eagerness, though he was pretty sure that was not possible. As cool as possible he replied, “I suppose with help with a visa and research funding I could make a trip. But what is it that you need… what could I possibly help you with?”

Albert sat silent, staring at Dwayne as if he were sizing up an opponent – or a lion staring at a limping deer.

“You know the area has been overrun by forces of a man that calls himself El Tiburón – that means The Shark, you know.”

Dwayne nodded.

“If you get into the area, you will certainly be brought before El Tiburón and we need information about him. You would be expected to get this information and return it to us, either by returning alive, or other means.”

Dwayne didn’t like the term, “by other means,” but he had been so obsessed with getting back to the butterflies, he was willing to march through hell on the way, which wasn’t far off from what he was being presented.

“How do you know he will want to see me?”

“Oh he will. We guarantee that, at least.”

Albert paused again. Then he opened a folder that had been sitting in front of him and extracted an eight by ten glossy photo.

“We have managed, at great cost, to obtain a photograph of El Tiburón.”

He turned it toward Dwayne. “I think you might know this man.”

Dwayne gasped. The man was older, streaks of grey ran through the thick hair that poked out from beneath the military cap he wore, and the face was furrowed by years of tough living… but there was no doubt about who the man was.

“Chaix,” Dwayne mumbled.

“Yes! Chaix!” Albert replied, with too much enthusiasm… bordering on glee.

Short Story of the Day, Town of Cats by Haruki Murakami

“I’m tired of living unable to love anyone. I don’t have a single friend – not one. And, worst of all, I can’t even love myself. Why is that? Why can’t I love myself? It’s because I can’t love anyone else. A person learns how to love himself through the simple acts of loving and being loved by someone else. Do you understand what I am saying? A person who is incapable of loving another cannot properly love himself.”
― Haruki Murakami, 1Q84

Waco Downtown Farmer’s Market Waco, Texas

My Difficult Reading Book Club has been cranking through Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84 at a steady clip – through Book 1 and well into Book2. There was even a mention of our last book, The Brother’s Karamazov.

In today’s chapter Tengo is on a train going to visit his father. He is reading a paperback of short stories and finds one that resonates with him and his story. It’s a strange tale called Town of Cats written by an unnamed Russian author.

I wondered if the story actually existed outside of 1Q84. I did a quick web search and found that it didn’t – that it was made up for the novel.

I did discover, however, that the story was excerpted from the massive novel and published as a stand-alone story in the New Yorker. That’s cool.

So you can read it if you want a taste of 1Q84 without committing to the 900+ page tome.

And today’s Short Story:

Town of Cats by Haruki Murakami

Short Story of the Day, Flash Fiction, My Mother Was An Upright Piano by Tania Hershman

“Death is not the opposite of life, but a part of it.”

― Haruki Murakami, Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman: 24 Stories

Plano, Texas

From my old journal, The Daily Epiphany, October 13, 1998:

Turn off the porch light

The knife plunges through the firm orange flesh
and slices a circle across the top of the head
It comes out like a plug
and I reach in and pull out
the wet stringy gooey sticky mess

The kids poke the eyes
nose mouth
out with little metal saws
hunched over concentrating
on the horrible task

I take a big spoon
and clean the inside of the orb
scraping
the firm flesh
makes a hollow thumping sound

We build our little fires
inside the hollow heads
Place one on each side
of the front door
turn off the porch light
OOOO! see the yellow glow

smell the burning punkin

On the way to work out at the health club I ran into Candy and the kids coming out of Nick’s piano lessons. I spotted her getting into the MiniVan in front of Poteet High School and pulled in to say hello.

Lee asked me if I had remembered to buy some pumpkins for him and, of course, I had forgotten. After a hard workout I drove to soccer practice and switched with Candy, she went out to eat with some friends. I made a deal with the kids and after practice we went to the grocery store to pick out pumpkins to carve.

They spent forever choosing two from the big bins. Nick searched for the roundest, most perfectly shaped fruit while Lee simply chose the biggest he could find. I also bought two metal knives, dull, with saw edges, designed to be safe for children to carve Jack-O-Lanterns.

We set up in the garage, newspaper on the floor, big bowl to collect pumpkin guts and seeds, big spoons, and a towel to clean slime off our hands as we worked. I helped them get started but Nick and Lee did most of the work themselves, cutting and cleaning.

Nick did fine, his Jack-O-Lantern was good. Lee, though, made his a work of art. He went in the house and produced a drawing he had done earlier with the design he wanted for the face. Lee proceeded to sit there with that knife and sculpt the design faithfully in the firm flesh; working quickly with confident strokes on the 20 pound gourd (Nick’s weighed 11 pounds, they insisted we weigh them on the vegetable scales in the store when we bought them).

I found some candles and matches and illuminated the lanterns, turning off the outside lights for the full effect. My timing was perfect, Candy came driving up right then and we dashed inside so she would be surprised.

And today’s flash fiction:

My Mother Was An Upright Piano by Tania Hershman

from Miramichi Flash

Tania Hershman Twitterhttps://twitter.com/taniahershman

Tania Hershman Home Page

Sunday Snippet, Boca Diablo (part 4 – Quan Kaq) by Bill Chance

“Even bad coffee is better than no coffee at all.”

― David Lynch

Have a drink.

Boca Diablo (part 4, Quan Kaq)

Read Part 1 Here

Read Part 2 Here

Read Part 3 Here

Read Part 5 Here

Flynn was Dwayne’s advisor for his Doctoral Dissertation. Dwayne was worried about that, but he didn’t have any choice – Flynn was the only other Lepidopterist in the entire Entomology Department. Dwayne wanted to write his dissertation on the orange butterflies he had seen years before at Boca Diablo – his preoccupation and passion for those memories was total and nothing else was of importance to him.

But Flynn had continued to doubt the existence of the insects.

He said, many times, “Butterflies, as you well know, for all their panoply of hues, solid or variegated, dull or dazzling, are not colored at random. There has to be a reason for their appearance, something that millennia of natural selection had settled upon. Butterflies in that region, in that climate can be bland or camouflaged, or they can be a brilliant blue, yellow, or green – but not orange. It simply isn’t seen and there is no reason for it.”

Dwayne would reply that it was something that he had seen and it was there, reason or not. He was more than pleasantly surprised when he received the official letter that Flynn had approved his dissertation subject, had sent a request for travel funding to the University Board, and requested a meeting, “to discuss this matter further.”

“I’m so happy that you approved my subject,” Dwayne said to Flynn as they sat down across from each other. “But tell me, you have never thought they existed, what has changed your mind?”

“I still don’t think they exist,” Flynn said, “But I think that there is maybe a slight chance, and it’s a mystery that I don’t think we can ignore.”

“What? Why?”

“Read this.” Flynn passed a thick, elaborately bound leather volume across the table. Dwayne took a look at the title, “Myths and Beliefs of the Tutaconta Indians.”

“What does this have to do with my butterflies?”

“Just read it, as soon as you can, and get back to me,” Flynn said, stood up, and simply walked away.

Dwayne started in that evening, reading from front cover to back. He didn’t stop until he was finished at dawn the next day.

The Tutaconta Indians were a large and successful Pre-Columbian civilization that shared a lot of similarities with the more well-known Toltec and Maya. The history was that they built large elaborate cities that had completely and mysteriously disappeared into the jungles where they had been raised.

Dwayne’s interest became intense when he read of the legendary capital of Protamayo, which was supposedly located on the slopes of the dormant volcano which later became the Boca Diablo.

At the height of the Tutaconta civilization Boca Diablo was a tall conical mountain until a series of violent eruptions and subsequent collapses reduced the mountain to the complex of lava flows and craters that exist today. The Tutaconta capital, Protamayo, was destroyed in this cataclysm with an almost unimaginable loss of life. In a few years after this the entire Tutaconta civilization collapsed, leaving no trace except whispery collections of legend and rumors that had spread through other nearby, luckier tribes.

The book Dwayne had been handed, attributed to the author Lazarus Leon, was written in a lurid style, treating these legends as if they were absolute fact, with almost no archeological evidence to back it up. Still, its style was convincing and Dwayne was caught up in the fervent storytelling.

After chapters detailing the rise and fall of the Tutaconta Empire and the destruction of the Protamayo capital came book sections describing daily life in the civilization, with chapters on the peasant population and the royal class.

While the description of the laboring masses was as grim as could be expected from a primitive society, the upper strata lived a life of incredible privilege and luxury. The book hinted that this ever-widening gap between rich and poor, along with the increasing decadence and depravity of the so-called nobles was responsible for the destruction of the society – that the volcanic eruption was simply a terrible outside event that set the extinction in motion.

To emphasize these points followed a series of chapters on the religious practices of this upper class. They were a collection of warrior priests and practices of mass human sacrifices were the hallmark of their legacy. Page after page of stomach-turning descriptions of death and debauchery in such detail that Dwayne wondered about the source of this text – and how much was from a fevered imagination of the author.

But these royal warrior priests were possessed of immense power and lived what seemed to be preternaturally long lives. They were described as being “Several hands taller than ordinary men,” was would live a number of lifetimes without seeming to grow older.

Dwayne began to read faster and faster as the text began to give tantalizing hints about sacred magical potions that were used to acquire great strength, divine knowledge, and extraordinary long life. Finally, near the end of the book he found the passage that explained why Flynn was so suddenly extremely interested.

“The Royal Priests of Protamayo had developed a number of techniques, most involving sacrifice to the gods, to improve their physical and mental powers, and to extend their lives. More important than anything else, however, was the Brebare Magico, or magic potion that they called Quan Kaq Itzac. The exact formula for this elixir is, of course, unknown – but it was said to be prepared from the crushed bodies of sacred insects, along with a special blend of spices and human blood. These insects were also called Quan Kaq and have been described to be giant, bright orange, butterflies. These were specially bred and cared for by the most learned of priests and destined for no other purpose than the preparation of the sacred drugs that gave great powers and long life.”

Short Story of the Day, Flash Fiction, Pete and Jenny in the Harbour Hotel by Lisette Abrahams

“Why do people have to be this lonely? What’s the point of it all? Millions of people in this world, all of them yearning, looking to others to satisfy them, yet isolating themselves. Why? Was the earth put here just to nourish human loneliness?”

― Haruki Murakami, Sputnik Sweetheart

Magnolia Hotel (Pegasus) and Joule Hotel (pool) Dallas, Texas

From my old journal, The Daily Epiphany, February 19, 2003 – writing about something that happened more than twenty years before that:

Niagara Falls

I wasn’t prepared mentally for the cold or for the snow. We were right in the snow belt that forms from the lake effect in Buffalo and it freaked me out that when I’d walk along the road my feet would actually be above the cars due to the six foot deep snow that piled up there. The building where we worked was right next to the hotel, which was near the airport, and we didn’t get rental cars – which made it tough to find entertainment in the evening.

One night a small group of us – I was the only one from Dallas, but there were two women and a guy from Atlanta – and another guy from California – sitting around the hotel bar (the hotel bar was actually a Playboy Club – there’s a blast from the past) griping about the fact we didn’t get cars and had nowhere to go. We talked about how none of us had ever seen Niagara Falls and how it wasn’t very far away. At that point I actually had an idea, “Hey, wait, there’s five of us… somebody can take a shuttle over to the airport and rent a car for one day – we’ll split the cost. We all travel a lot and have car discounts – we could get a compact for thirty bucks or so – divided five ways… that’s pretty cheap.” Everyone brightened up and the guy from Atlanta volunteered to go get the car.

One problem was that by the time he was able to actually pick the thing up and drive back it was well after midnight. The other problem was that three was a pretty severe blizzard, even for Buffalo, swirling around that night. We were from Georgia, Texas, and California… what did we know.

We piled in and set off. We didn’t know where we were going and were forced to navigate with the car rental map through a swirling opaque mass of flakes. Somehow, we finally found Niagara Falls, New York – though it took a long time, maybe hours (my memory fails on some details).
“No, not the American side,” I said, “I want to go to the Canadian side!” With that comment our odyssey became international.

We reached the bridge sometime around three AM and I couldn’t help but notice that there was a good two feet of snow on the road and no tire tracks. We were the only ones crossing that night. Traction was good, however, so we headed on across. There was an interesting conversation with the border guard, “Where are you from?” “Well, I’m from Texas, they’re from Georgia…” that sort of thing. She didn’t approve of us being out in the weather, but I don’t think she wanted to hassle with us or get out of her little heated shack so we were allowed to go on. As we entered Canada the blizzard stopped and only a light few snowflakes continued to drift down.

The falls were incredibly beautiful. I had seen many photos of the falls of course, but they were all taken in the summer. I had no idea how it looked at this time of year. The American side was completely frozen into a wall of ice. On the Canadian side the water poured free into enormous fingers of ice pointing upward, thrusting against the power of the water. The river below was solid ice with a white layer of snow covering it. The most amazing thing was the famous whirlpool below the falls. It was invisible beneath the ice but a huge, perfectly round disk of ice was free and rotating slowly in the middle of the river. The whole scene was incredible and beautiful. You don’t see that much ice in Texas.

When we drove up the whole falls was lit with powerful spotlights, making them clearly visible in the dark. While we were watching they were switched off for the night. The falls became even more beautiful at that point. There was so much snow on the ground and the clouds were so low that the whole area became lit as clearly as daylight with that strange city snow-light you see in the winter. I was transfixed.

A few snowflakes still fell as a delicate counterpoint to the awesome power of the rushing water. Everything was quiet with that stillness that a thick layer of snow brings. Quiet except for the roaring of the falls. We had the whole place to ourselves – there were no other tourists or sightseers out at that time or in that weather.

We didn’t stay long – our faces began to freeze and we piled back into the rental and headed back. When we reached the bridge there were no tracks on our side and still a single set going the other way.

And today’s flash fiction:

Pete and Jenny in the Harbour Hotel by Lisette Abrahams

from Reflex Fiction

Short Story of the Day, Flash Fiction, Six Ways to Start Something, and Five to End it by Rachel O’Cleary

““I think you still love me, but we can’t escape the fact that I’m not enough for you. I knew this was going to happen. So I’m not blaming you for falling in love with another woman. I’m not angry, either. I should be, but I’m not. I just feel pain. A lot of pain. I thought I could imagine how much this would hurt, but I was wrong.”

― Haruki Murakami, South of the Border, West of the Sun

Trees reflected in a pond, inverted, with Chihuly, Red Reeds

From my old journal, The Daily Epiphany, August 4, 2002:

I Hate Raymond

In Miami I had to wait forever to get through immigration. In situations where a mass of people run up against the bureaucracy I have this ability to choose the slowest line. The sign said, “US Citizens Only” so I thought it would be quick flash of the passport – but all the people in front of me kept producing documents printed on tanned weasel skin, with a charcoal sketch instead of a photograph – which would cause the immigration agent to frown, walk around his little cube, and one-finger type stuff into his computer keyboard.

Crammed into this giant, crowded room were maybe fifty different lines and some crept while others (the ones that you aren’t in) seemed to leap. Everybody kept cutting through the lines. One group of teenaged missionaries from our plane cut through – moving in a giant, red-tee-shirted group from one line to another.
Somebody shouted out, “Hey, go to the back of the line.”
Their leader replied, “Excuse us, we’ve been helping the poor people in Nicaragua.”
“Good for you – now go to the back of the fucking line,” was the reply.
Finally, I reached the frowning immigration agent. He glanced at my passport and waved me through in less than two seconds.

And today’s flash fiction:

Six Ways to Start Something, and Five to End it by Rachel O’Cleary

from Ellipsis Zine

Rachel O’Cleary Twitter

Sunday Snippet, Boca Diablo (part 3 – Lepidopterist) by Bill Chance

“As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect.”

― Franz Kafka, The Metamorphosis

The crater of Masaya Volcano taken from the rim of the active crater. It is a lot larger than this photo suggests. The molten lava is hidden in the inner crater – if you look closely you can see a bit of red.

Boca Diablo (part 3, Lepidopterist)

Read Part 1 Here

Read Part 2 Here

Read Part 4 Here

After Dwayne returned to the mission group from working at the volcano with Chaix he felt he had come back from an alien planet – a different world… and he felt that he never fully returned. Everything had a surreal aura around it. Colors were sharper, smells were stronger, yet his fellow travelers seemed unsubstantial and blurred – their speech almost unintelligible and completely uninteresting. He began to worry, would the rest of his life be like this?

He felt that he was living a half-life, that something had been revealed to him that he not only didn’t understand – he couldn’t even comprehend what it was.

At night, beside his hammock in their last few days on the mission trip, he tried to explain how he felt to Suzanna.

“But I don’t understand,” she said, “You climbed a volcano, you saw some butterflies. What’s the big deal?”

“That’s what I’ve been trying to explain, I don’t know. Something’s changed and I can’t figure out what it is, or what I should do about it.”

“I think that maybe you breathed a few too many fumes from that volcano,” Suzanna said.

Of course, these feelings faded over time, especially after they returned home. Still, it was always there, the small knot of surrealistic doubt that remained like a stone in the pit of Dwayne’s stomach.

He graduated and went off to school like everyone had always expected him to. He floundered around, changing majors every semester or two, until he ended up in biology. It felt like an accident, someplace random, until he sneaked away from a particularly boring lecture and, following some little-used dim passageway, ended up in a storage area in the bowels of the Natural History Museum, where his class had been held.

He wandered into a large, open room, lined with what looked like miles of identical shallow metal cases with hinged glass lids.. These were filled with specimens of butterflies. Thousands of them, dead, dried, pinned and labeled. Rank upon ran of bright fluorescent tubes burned down overhead. The walls of the room were mirrored, which gave the illusion that the room was endless.

He looked down at the specimens in the cases and their little tags perched on thin steel pins next to the specimens. There was the mysterious latin name in bold lettering – Colias eurytheme, Phyciodes campestris montana, Polygonia satyrus, Vanessa virginiensis… on and one. Under the Latin Name was the common, or English name: Crown Fritillary, Nevada Silverspot, Milbert’s Tortoiseshell, Queen Alexandra’s Sulphur, Boisduval’s Marble.

Beneath the name there was a date, a country of origin (and there were lots of these) and finally a person’s name – next to the word collector. These too were widely varied, but as he moved down the row he noticed that one name kept reappearing with regularity, one person seemed to be primarily responsible for the collection – Haiden Flynn.

He wasn’t sure why, but he felt a kinship with this Flynn.

Dwayne thought he was alone in that vast and strange place, until he was gazing at the mirrored end of the room, trying to figure out exactly where the boundaries were, when he caught a glimpse of motion down at the other end. Turning, he followed his eyes to where the movement must have been and noticed a man in a white lab coat, bending over a case. In total silence, the man’s arms worked at something and then Dwayne saw the case’s lid rise. He immediately moved to where the man was.

It was an old, old man. He was completely bald on the top of his head, the smooth skin reflecting the light from the fluorescents overhead in curved lines. On the side of his head were thick knots of pure white hair, extending out in on each side.

“Excuse me,” Dwayne said, “I didn’t realize anyone was here.”

The old man hesitated for a second, then raised his head and looked at Dwayne. He was wearing some sort of complex compound glasses and had swung a magnifier over each eye, which made his deep blue irises loom large and buglike in the glass. The old man was holding a gigantic iridescent blue butterfly specimen. He moved it slightly in the bright light, and the wings shed a shower of colors. Dwayne noticed the label on the man’s lab coat, it said Prof. Flynn.

Flynn flicked the magnifier lenses off to the side and his eyes shrank down to small beads of blue. He barely seemed to notice Dwayne until he realized that Dwayne was staring at the iridescence of the specimen’s wings.

“Aha!” Flynn cried in a surprising loud and melodic voice, “Morpho didius, commonly named Giant Blue Morpho.”

“You,” Dwayne stammered, “This is your collection?”

“But of course it is,” Flynn said, “Who else would it belong to? Now this magnificent Morpho here… I collected it on a small village farm in the high Andes of Peru. I love all my… little friends here.” Flynn waved across the room in a sweeping gesture, “of course, but I do have my favorites. And this would be one… one of many.”

Dwayne realized at that time that he had no choice but to become a Lepidopterist.

Flynn was such an odd bird that rarely would an undergraduate stoop to work for him, let alone a graduate assistant, that it was easy for Dwayne to transfer, take as many classes under Flynn as he could, and work for research credit in the dark catacombs of Flynn’s collections.

His parents were concerned, especially as he laid out his plans for continuing his studies in graduate school.

“Now, these butterflies are all nice and good,” his mother told him as they sat around the kitchen table, drinking coffee over spring break. “But we’re concerned for your future.”

“We’re not rich, you know,” his father continued. “We want you to be happy, but you’re going to have to earn a living sometime.”

“I can always teach,” Dwayne said.

The only reply from his parents were to compress their lips into a tighter line.

Back at school, he sat down with Suzanna – who had followed Dwayne to the university.

“Don’t worry about it Dwayne,” she said. “I’m about to graduate with an Engineering Degree, I’ll make enough for both of us.”

Dwayne wanted to ask some questions – he didn’t quite understand what she was talking about. Still, if this was a way he could pull it off…

They were married three months after graduation and settled into a nice but spartan apartment a mile off campus. Suzanna, true to her word, found a research position with a petrochemical firm that paid enough for them to live and for Dwayne to continue his work under Professor Flynn.

Dwayne began to settle down, but there was one big problem that continued to bother him, enough to keep him awake at night.

It took almost two years, but finally Dwayne sat down with Flynn and told him the story of the trip to the Boca Diablo volcano and the orange butterflies. Talking about it for the first time in half a decade felt like a giant weight had been lifted from his shoulders.

As the story went on, he became more and more excited, animated, and the memories came flooding back, the details sharp and clear.

Finally he finished, let out a deep breath, and sat back to see what Flynn would say.

“Well, son, that’s quite a tale.”

“And?”

“I’m sorry, but it’s completely impossible.”

“What? Why?”

“You see, son, I know every genus and species of butterfly in the world. Nobody else knows half what I know and while there may be something out there I’ve never seen, there is always more to learn, there couldn’t be something like that.”

“What do you mean ‘Something like that;?”

“Something like a bright orange butterfly living in a volcanic crater. Species of that color are very rare and there are none that size, none close to that size. And, especially, none in that country, or even that part of the world.”

“But… but I saw them, I really did.”

“Maybe what you saw is more related to how long ago it was and the smoke from that crater.”

“That’s what Suzanna said?”

“Who?”

“Suzanna, my wife.”

Dwayne realized that over the years he had worked with Flynn, the old professor had never met his wife, and he had mentioned her so little that Flynn didn’t even remember who she was. And he didn’t seem to care.

“So you are completely sure that there are no bright orange butterflies in that part of the world.”

“Absolutely.”

And Dwayne immediately knew where he had to go and what he had to do.