by Ellen Denton
The Claremont Public Library was housed in a venerable, old, stone building, the nicest one in the city. An only child, a nerd, and a friendless reject in general due to walking with a drag-and-lurch limp, I’d spent many a childhood hour reading in the comforting embrace of its inner rooms, or in warm weather, daydreaming on one or another of the benches scattered around the park-like grounds.
I was born with one leg twisted around like a licorice stick—a birth defect, no doubt from the cocaine that flowed like the River Lethe from my mother’s veins as they dreamily intertwined with mine as I grew within her womb. Consequently, I never got to go on the camping trips, hikes, or field outings that other children did. I loved the outdoors though and yearned for it in the way that a moth yearns at a lit window. I would completely lose myself in nature stories, gaze with longing at pictures of enchanted gardens, and went to every movie that had a forest as a backdrop to the tale. There was scarce little of the real thing in the urban area I lived in, so the lush landscaping surrounding the library had been like a fairy tale oasis for me.
At the age of twenty two, I was still a frequent visitor there and wiled away much time in my favorite spot: a hedge-enclosed courtyard with a bubbling fountain at its center.
I was sitting in this miniature Eden one warm spring day, a ham sandwich in one hand, a book about ancient, pagan cultures in the other, when, from the corner of my eye, I caught a rippling movement in the wall of greenery to the right of me. I thought that a person was about to come pushing through the bushes, but there was no sound, and nothing else happened. I shook my head and turned away to look at the fountain.
It occurred again; a vaporous wave surged across a section of shrubbery. I whipped my head around to once more look directly at that spot, and the hair on the back of my neck stood up. There was a ghostly shape sliding across a section of the hedge.
Like a butterfly impaled on a thorn, I was pinioned in time to earlier hurtful incidents so sometimes saw things through the childhood eyes of my pain. In growing up, I was no stranger to mean pranks being played on me; I momentarily thought this was some kind of concocted trickery.
Angry, I pushed myself to my feet and dragged myself to the spot where I had seen the insubstantial, but man-shaped form. There was nothing there now but leaves, so I pushed apart the stiff branches to get a better look inside. Out of nowhere, something grabbed my wrists, and with the force of a vice, yanked me toward the wall of bushes.
I reflexively closed my eyes and yelled in anticipation of having my face smashed into the branches, but instead, tumbled without resistance through empty space and fell. I knew that fronting the hedges on the opposite side was a path of decorative stones, but what I fell on was a mat of springy grass. Even before I opened my eyes, I knew that’s what it was from the intertwining smell of feminine greenness and earth.
When I sat up and looked around, my breath caught in my throat, and I felt like my heart was going to crash through my rib-cage. I was no longer at the Claremont Public Library.
When I saw the flower-laden meadow, lush woods, and rolling hills stretching out for miles in every direction all around me, thoughts flew through my mind like a careening train in an effort to make sense of the dizzying, terrifying situation of being somewhere, and without any sense of loosing consciousness or time, blinking, and finding myself somewhere else.
In a matter of seconds, I covered the gamut of possibilities, from being drugged, dreaming, dead, a victim of amnesia, a blow to the head, a psychotic break, or a terrorist attack with a bio-chemical weapon that deranges mental functions
I felt on the verge of panicky tears, but then three incredible things happened, one right after the other. The first one was the arrival of the butterfly.
As I sat at the dead center of this meadow trying to quash my fright and disorientation, my attention was suddenly yanked onto a single butterfly, which, along with others, drifted here and there across the field. What so riveted me to this particular one was that its wings were over two feet across. They were a highly unusual, vibrant shade of blue, limned in shimmering gold. Its hypnotically beautiful appearance so transfixed me that I forgot to be frightened by its freakish size. And then, I saw its horrible face.
Mid its meandering flight, it made a perfect right-angle turn and flew directly at me. It stopped about a foot away and hovered there. Its large, flat face was human, with blue eyes that looked intently into mine. It started moving its mouth and making a squeaky, buzzing sound like a miniature version of speech, but too high-pitched for me to understand. I was so revolted by this bizarre mutation that I pushed myself backwards, and then up onto my feet to get away from it, and that’s when the second incredible thing happened.
I kept stepping back to get some distance from it, and then turned and ran—on legs that were as straight and strong as an Olympic track and field athlete’s. I stopped so suddenly when I realized this that I almost fell over from my initial forward momentum. How was this possible?
Where was I?
I then took one, strong, conscious step at a time and experienced an awestruck happiness I cannot even put into words. This was the first time in my life I walked normally and without pain. I was able to stand up straight and felt almost giddy with joy. I didn’t know how any of this could be, but for the time being at least, didn’t care. If I was dead, this had to be heaven. If I was sleeping, I wished right then to never wake up.
I walked across the meadow, experiencing the sensations of every step, and came to a forested area on a hill. Then the third amazing thing happened. I met the Green Man.
I entered the woods. It was the first time I’d been within a real one. It was all so intense: the colors! The sounds! The smells! It was so third-dimensional! I looked at and touched everything. I was no longer afraid of anything, and it no longer mattered to me how I had gotten there or why. Between this and my ability to now walk painlessly, I myself felt like a butterfly newly emerged from a tight, closed cocoon into spacious springtime, and I was at a fever pitch of excitement.
At one point, I stopped to gaze up at a copse of evergreens when, as though melting out of the trees themselves, the Green Man materialized in front of me. He then stepped off to the side and down onto the path where I stood.
He was mostly like an ordinary man, but very tall and regal looking, with vines and leaves sprouting and encircling him all over. He actually looked quite like the depictions of the Green Man I’d seen in books. I had read about him many times in the past and of the various mythologies surrounding him in different cultures, and had studied with interest the paintings and sculptures of him that abounded throughout the world.
Since I knew there really was no such person, but everything was too real for this to be a dream or just the effect of some accidentally ingested drug, I had vaguely begun to theorize that maybe there were parallel dimensions to earth, and I had somehow gotten into one. I’d been reading about those too since I was a child. Even comic books portrayed them. Maybe all the flights of fancy one encounters in life, the ideas behind science fiction stories, the fantasy worlds splendidly splashed across movie screens, all those gossamer things of dreams—maybe it all had roots in things that, somewhere, at some time, did in fact exist. I didn’t get to dwell on this further at the time, because just then, about three feet of vine, with milk-white flowers, came undulating out of his right ear like a snake and wrapped around his arm. Then, as though by magic, that same vine appeared twisting and twining up all the surrounding tree trunks. I realized I was watching springtime being creating before my very eyes.
“You’re the…Green Man, right?” I felt a little strange talking to something or someone I knew did not actually exist on planet earth, but I had no doubt that he, or something alive, really was standing there before me.
“I’m one of them.”
I paused for a moment before asking my next question, because the petals of a number of red flowers encircling his head unfolded, and there were eyes in the center of each blossom—real eyes with eyeballs and eyelashes.
One of them winked at me. That scared me, and all the confusion and disbelief I had initially felt, but had placed at bay, rushed back in on me.
“How many of you are there? Where do you come from? Where are we right now? How did I get here?”
“Hold on son. One question at a time. I come from right here, just like you do. Where you are right now is the middle of the woods, as should be obvious. In terms of how many like me there are, beats me. I’m personally in charge of about one hundred and twenty of us, but there’s probably millions if I had to take a guess. I mean, you didn’t think only one of us handled the entire springtime rebirth and regeneration thing for the entire planet, did you?
“Well, I didn’t think there were any of you—that such a thing even existed except in books. How come people don’t see you?”
“Are thoughts real?”
“Of course they are.”
“Can you see them?”
“Do you have any doubt at all that they exist?”
“Okay, I see what you’re saying. Then how come I’m able to see you?
“I don’t rightly know son. I tapped a number of people on the shoulder, and you’re the one who turned to me and came. The reasons why one can and one can’t are different for different people. I suppose I can wax poetic and say the kingdom of springtime exists both without and within the heart, and sometimes the lines blur between the two. Perhaps you’re merely here on the strength of your own desires. Either way, you’re here.”
“Why is this happening right now? Why did you tap me on the shoulder?”
“Because I have a proposal for you. See, I’m not just a creator. I have executive responsibilities too.
The Green Man and I spoke at length; we in fact wiled away together the great green afternoon. He explained that, just like in any organization, not everyone wants to keep doing the same job over and over. Life changes, life evolves; sometimes you just need to move on to something new and hand over a torch. It was that way for Green Men too. At the end of our conversation, it was my call to make, and I made it.
I, proudly, have now taken over as the official Green Man of the Claremont Public Library grounds, all two magnificent acres of it. I’m the one who unfolds all that burgeoning beauty within it each spring. I still revel at the joyous sound of water singing out of the courtyard fountain, and it’s still my favorite spot. I just see it through different eyes now, and I can see it through both your eyes and mine. Sometimes, as the lines blur between the inner and outer kingdoms of spring, you may see me ripple by you from the corner of your eye.
I have many friends now, too. One kindred spirit visited me this very day. As though hovering in a dream, she slowly wafted gossamer wings, opened sky-blue eyes, and shared a meaningful look with me before she flew away.
The greatest gift by far though, that came to be bestowed on me that sunny springtime day, was finding that magical place where fantasy meets reality. It’s right on the cross streets of reverie and fact. Just because you haven’t seen something doesn’t mean it isn’t, and it is a fact that what you dream, can be.
Ellen Denton is a freelance writer living in the Rocky Mountains with her husband, three cats, and an extended family of deer and other wildlife that appear now and then outside her house. Her writing has been published in over a hundred magazines and anthologies.