The Conservatory glittered atop the crest of the only hill in Fallsfell like a glass castle, its gables and spires framed in bronze that once blazed with rich amber tones. Now, their aged fittings looked like the work of a fae artisan, as if the latches that time had tinted with robin’s egg blue might have guarded the bower of Titania. If you listened closely on midsummer night, I imagine you might faintly hear the admonitions of Moth and Mustardseed, whispering “Come not near… come not near our fairy queen.”
But one man did dare to draw near. Every Saturday, in fact. He would carefully tuck a leatherbound journal beneath his arm, grab the hooked handle of his umbrella, which he always brought in case of a cloudburst, and begin his pilgrimage to the top of the hill. His name was Basil Mudge. It was often too early in the morning for him to be noticed by many people, and his return was often too late in the evening, which afforded him the same fate.
But Basil didn’t mind. He had his appointment to keep.
As he reached the top of the hill, he stopped a moment to catch his breath. Twenty years ago, the jaunt wouldn’t have even begun to wind him. But, time has a way of changing such things. Steps grow steeper over the years, and lungs which once gulped the air with ease find it a little harder to expand with each deep breath. He didn’t mind the slight delay, really. It gave him a moment to admire the Conservatory.
There had been a light rain the previous evening. Raindrops clung to the glass panes, sparkling like opalescent jewels at the gentle touch of the rising sun. Basil pulled the collar of his coat up to warm his ears against the morning chill, and made his way inside.
His momentary chill was quickly remedied. The Conservatory held the warmth of a summer breeze. The air was misty, and the rich scent of gardenia and rose hung in the air. Basil took a deep, appreciative breath.
“Ohohoho,” he muttered, raising a finger in the air. “You’ve outdone yourself today!”
He spoke, of course, to The Botanist. He was Basil's oldest and dearest friend. Others knew Him by different names, but to Basil, He would always be The Botanist.
Basil looked out over the east garden, where he regularly made his entry. Everything was flowering, from bulb to bush. He watched the small bodies of bumbles flying in and out of the opening blossoms and smiled.
“They’re getting started early on their honey,” he remarked. “You must be so proud of them, taking that initiative before it’s fully the season.”
He was certain The Botanist was smiling. And he was right.
He continued deeper into the garden, hooking his umbrella over his elbow and removing a pen from his inner coat pocket. “Now, where was I? Oh, yes! The Gladiolus!”
Prodded by his sudden recollection, Basil hurried along the stone pathway, passing through archways that might as well have been crystal, and by fountains artistically covered in moss, and past hedges that were smartly shaped, until he reached the bulb garden. There, he lay his umbrella to the side so that he could kneel unencumbered before a budding, pink perennial.
His fingers reached out to gently touch the folded petals. “I think today is the day,” he said, happily. “Don’t you agree? Just look at her! She’s ready, I’m sure of it.”
The petals rested softly on the tip of his finger, the weight of the bud like unto a feather. But there was something tucked just behind the bud that caught his eye. Something small, and dark, dangling just beyond the awaiting bloom.
Basil gasped, and his eyes widened with delight. “Look at this!” he urged. “Oh! Oh, my!” He tore a single leaf of paper from his journal and used it to cradle the chrysalis so that he could see it more clearly. “No, no, don’t tell me! Let me guess!”
The Botanist watched with amusement, but kept silent.
“A… Brown Elfin!”
He moved closer, bringing his eye right next to the husk.
“No… a FROSTED Elfin! You almost had me fooled,” Basil admitted.
At this, The Botanist chuckled. He found Basil’s fascination endearing. It was this fascination that prompted Him to place the chrysalis where He was certain it would be found.
“I wonder if she can hear me?” Basil mused. The Botanist shook His head. Basil always called the butterflies she. Basil brought his lips near the pod. “Don’t you worry. You’re in good hands, here. The Botanist will take good care of you.”
He lowered the paper, and sat straight down on the pathway, right across from the subject of his attention. His wrinkled hands quickly opened the journal, and the pen that had been clutched between his fingers went to work.
Basil started with the stem. He was linear, that way. If the sketch had been a full study, he would have begun with the roots. But the stem would suffice, this time. The black ink carefully trailed across the paper, overlapping here and there to make the likeness of the creation before him.
“I wonder what’s going on in there,” he said, softly, as his pen began to make the spiral of the chrysalis. “Well, I mean, of course I know what’s going on in there. We both do.” He leaned forward again, his face less than an inch from the pod. “But You’re the only one who can know what’s being felt in there. The diplomas couldn’t help me reveal that. Everyone too busy figuring out how many years You pack into a day to stop and think what a butterfly feels just before the change.”
Basil sat back, scooted to the left, and began the same sketch from a different angle.
“Sleepy, I bet. All that morphing must take the energy right out of it! Do You ever get sleepy? I wouldn’t think so. But then, how did You understand the idea enough to let it happen?” He shook his head a little. “Forgive me, I got distracted.”
He kept at the sketch, sliding himself right and left, standing over the Gladiolus, lying down next to it, capturing every conceivable angle. He paused only a moment to focus on the chrysalis again.
“You know, you and me have a lot in common,” he remarked. “Right now, you’re breaking apart into your most basic cells… slowly releasing enzymes to dissolve away everything that you are.”
Basil looked a moment at his hand, clutching the pen that he pointed as he spoke.
“I’m falling apart, too. But it’s not so bad, right? I mean, you don’t really feel it, or anything, I don’t think…”
“Except, when you’re done being unraveled, you’ll be something beautiful. By all accounts, I’m going to be dirt. Like this.”
He jammed the butt of the pen into the soil at the base of the plant.
“Maybe they will use me for the winter garden,” he laughed to himself. “I suppose that wouldn’t be so bad. But you… do you know that you will be a butterfly in just a few more days? I wonder… when you take that first step, do you know that something else is coming after? Or… does it feel like stepping off into nothing? Into… the unknown?”
He sighed heavily. “Some people think they know what’s next. I’m not so sure about it. Maybe you’re not so sure, either. But you trust the Botanist, I think. That’s why you made your chrysalis here, on His flower… that’s why you’re in there just becoming. Not worrying, like I am.”
Basil sat up, and looked down at the sketches, at that ink that he knew would smudge, ever so slightly when he closed the book. But he did anyway. And he folded his arms around it, so that it rested close to his chest.
“Maybe I shouldn’t spend so much time worrying about what happens after that step. Maybe… maybe there is something more waiting. Something beautiful,” he whispered as his eyes drifted up. “And maybe, if You can weave the undone caterpillar into the butterfly, then there’s nothing to be afraid of.”
The Botanist smiled, and closed His eyes.
His work was done.
And He rested.