Bloom, Chapter 1

Welcome to the first installment of Bloom, a Round Robin Blogvel. Table of contents can be found here. And now, I give you:

Chapter 1

Mom and dad were poor. So, so poor. They couldn’t find jobs in Oregon, so they looked everywhere else. They both found work out of state. They were vague about all the details except one: they couldn’t bring us kids with them.

That’s why they dropped Jamie and me off at Grandma’s house and left for New Mexico. But even Gran can’t explain why we never saw them again. She filed a missing persons report when they’d been out of touch for a week. The police traced them as far as a campground in Albuquerque, and then . . . nothing. They paid for one night of camping, but the camp host couldn’t remember if he’d seen them actually set up camp or not. I said it seemed like they’d been abducted by aliens. Jamie said that was ridiculous. He doesn’t have much of an imagination.

Jamie is my brother. He’s a genius. And before you ask, yeah, it looks like he’s headed in the direction of Evil Genius.

He’s at university right now, studying something evil-genius-ish. He’s kind of closed-mouthed about his plans for the future, actually . . . well, he’s closed-mouthed about everything these days. And he’s not coming home for the summer, either. He didn’t even bother making excuses like “I’m too busy”; he just sent a letter saying “Not coming home. I’ll come for my furniture the last week of August.”

Maybe he’s just a Douchebag Genius?

It wasn’t always this way. Back when mom and dad were still around, he used to be nice to me. Of course, sometimes being nice to me meant things like stealing candy for me–but still, he could have stolen the candy and kept it all to himself.

These days he doesn’t share anything, ill-gotten or otherwise. Not with me, anyway. He doesn’t even email or update his Facebook page anymore.

Wow, this is getting depressing. Anyway . . . I just graduated from high school. I’m no evil genius, but I was in the top ten. I had my name in the paper–Jessica Henley, 3.7 grade point average.

Jamie didn’t make it to graduation.

BUT! Now it’s summer, and I’m working at the flower shop in town, and Gran helped me buy a car, and in the fall I’m going to college (not the same school as Jamie. Who wants to be the less intelligent Henley sibling?).

I guess I’m feeling a little lonely. My friends Sarah and Amy are both away for the summer, camp counselors in the mountains, and I have two days off per week and no one to hang out with. I’m spending a lot of time in the woods taking pictures. I’m going to study botany. Plus, photography is very therapeutic.

Today is the hottest day of summer so far. It’s hard to tell with June: sometimes it rains all month and the temps barely rise above 50 degrees Fahrenheit, other years it’s suffocating by the middle of the month.

This is one of those suffocating years. Another reason to spend a lot of time in the woods–shade. And there’s a creek about a half mile down the trail from Gran’s back yard. It’s mostly fed by snow melt from up the mountain, so it’s freaking cold. It’s shallow, but sticking your feet in ice water will cool you off no matter how hot it is.

Jamie used to splash me mercilessly every time we came to the creek together when we were younger. Once he got into high school, though, he wouldn’t come into the woods anymore. He said there was nothing interesting happening there.

Sometimes evil geniuses are kind of dumb.

Anyway. Hot, muggy, and the mosquitos are swarming. Gran makes me this special insect repellent with essential oils and stuff, because she says she won’t cover her grandchildren with poison just to keep the bugs away. It smells really good, and it works almost as well as the kind in the aerosol can. Sometimes Gran is awesome. Of course she’s really strict, too, but I figure that’s because she’s old.

I’m on the trail (wearing jeans and boots because there’s poison oak), and the trees are creaking and shaking their leaves, and there are about a million crows arguing up in the highest branches. Even though I’m only halfway from the house to the creek, I can already hear the water in spite of the crows. I’ve got my camera in my backpack, and a notebook, and (thanks to gran) two apples, a bottle of water, and a granola bar. Gran is a fervid believer in healthy snacks.

I’m just about to the place where the trail forks–the left fork goes to the creek, and the right fork goes straight through the woods to the elementary school playground–when I hear a sound like aluminum cans clinking together. Maybe it’s just because I’m bored, but righteous indignation at the thought of people trashing my woods with beer cans makes my whole body tingle. I step off the trail and pick my way through the ferns and fringecup toward the noise.

I don’t stop to wonder why I don’t hear any voices or human noises until I step between the trunks of two red cedars and see . . . not an underage drinking party at all.

It’s stunning. It’s . . . a sculpture, I guess. It looks like a stand of flowers–sort of like sunflowers, but not exactly. The flowers are made from metal, I think–but I have no idea how the artist found so many colors of metal, or fused them together so seamlessly to create the dappled petals. The flowers are all in different stages of the bloom cycle–some are tightly closed buds, some half open, some fully opened. One of them is even sculpted to look like it’s wilting, and a petal has fallen off. It lays on the soil at the base of the twisted silver stem.

When the breeze picks up again, I discover the source of the clinking. The flowers sway and knock against each other like any flowers would–but with a lot more noise.

Who would make a piece of art like this and leave it in the middle of the woods? Why isn’t it installed somewhere public?

I put my backpack down and dig for my camera.

I look up again just in time to see another petal fall from the wilting flower.

I clutch my camera and shiver in spite of the heat.

After a few minutes I step forward and touch the fading blossom with one fingertip.

The rest of the petals fall to the ground, clicking against each other as they land. What will I do now? I broke someone’s art project! If that’s what it is. I pick up one of the fallen petals. The metal between my fingers is so thin I could tear it like aluminum foil. Each petal is a deep coppery shade at its base, fading to a pale bronze at the edges. The disk flowers remaining on the stem are pale gold. I run my fingers over them, and a few fall off. I crouch in the soft soil beside the flowers.

I grab my pocket knife and dig at the base of the wilting one: it has roots.

Impossible. Completely freaking impossible.

If this is an art project, the artist is a genius to rival Jamie.

Jamie. He’s the person I would go to about this if I could.

Would he listen to me if I took one of the flowers to him? Would he believe me if I told him I think they’re GROWING here somehow, in defiance of every natural law ever? Or would he tell me not to waste his time, like he did last summer when I wanted him to help me clear garlic mustard out of the back yard because it’s so invasive?

This is definitely a little more exciting than garlic mustard. But I don’t know if Jamie will listen.

And for some reason I don’t feel like I should talk to just anyone about this. I don’t know if it’s because they’re in my woods or what, but I feel sort of protective of these crazy plants. If that’s what they are. I don’t want people crashing through the woods to look at them, trampling the wildflowers.

In the end I take 127 pictures and trudge home.

I load them onto my computer and google “metal flowers,” “metallic flowers,” “copper flowers,” and finally “alien flowers”. By the end of the evening I’ve found a lot of references to The Little Shop of Horrors and expensive steampunk jewelry, but nothing that looks like my flowers.

I dream of carnivorous plants and wake up with a killer headache.

It’s going to be a long day at work.

Chapter 2 will be posted next Monday at Creativity Rebellion. I hope you’ll all follow along!

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