Phoenix Rising


As we roamed off path through the park I came upon some lovely white toadstools sprung among the lovely languid emerald blades of grass beneath a copse of trees.

“Hold up!” I told Leon, and turned on my camera, switching the setting to Close-Up to take mugshots of each individual specimen. He tried staying out of the way as I dropped to the ground, bracing on my right hip to frame my shot at the first forest fungus near me–one unlike all the others, flat, like a table with the edges curling upward and inward. Then I swung my lens to the next and the next, most standing long and lean like one of the Guards at Buckingham Palace, some with a fat, bulbous head and others more tapered at the top. I moved from one to another, framing, focusing, shooting.

Leon moved into the circle, nibbling at some grass among the fungal arc. “You’re photobombing, again,” and he backed out of the way. I finished shooting and stood. That’s when I realized we had stumbled across a nascent faery ring.

“Hold up.”

“I thought you wanted to walk?”

“Was that a Faery Ring?”

“You tell me.”

“Does it have to be a complete, uninterrupted circle of mushrooms?”

“Don’t be ridiculous. Who ever heard of such a thing?”

“I’m just asking.”

“You’re the one with all the books.”

We walked to one of the black, metal park benches that wait along the concrete parkway that ribbons through the park. It was the furthest south we had ever come together. It was near where Col. James McGhee’s Arkansas horsemen charged up Wornall to disrupt a battery of Colorado cannons laying fire against Shelby’s flank. Captain Curtis Johnson’s E Company of Kansas cavalry, counterattacked to save the guns and the centaurs of war crashed against each other. Bang, bang. Shoot, shoot. Johnson and McGhee each recognized the others’ office and drew their sidearms, aiming the notoriously inaccurate revolvers from a charging horse toward a charging horseman. Officers and Gentlemen, it was the purest form of chivalric combat that side of the Great War aces in their Folkers and Sopwiths. They unhorsed one another with a single shot apiece, and some said the Rebel knight had died, but ‘tweren’t so.

Sometimes events like that shimmer through the Veil of the Temporal that obscures the truth that past, present, and future are illusions, but not everyone can see it without a lot of practice. Sometimes events like that shine through the veil of time, but not this afternoon. Maybe some other Time. Inside joke.

I made a note there was a curtain I need to peek inside.

“We have to get back to the koi pond.”

“Okay,” I replied. “Let me stop by the faery ring.”

“Don’t dawdle.”

We strolled through the grass, returning to the place it thinned beneath wide, deciduous canopies and I made my way to the center of the Circle, which I could see as plain as day, though the toadstools were mere whispers.

I stood inside the ring, wondering how long it had been there, wondering how long it would remain, realizing I was nowhere near centered enough to tap into any axis mundi. Not today.

He only let me stay a moment, calling up St Elmo tingle from the energy of time and space, before insisting, “We have to get to the koi pond.”

The whole, man-made pond is a koi pond, and Leon knows that as well as I do. There was no water here that day those soldiers crissed and crossed the fallow cornfields and stomped their hoarfrost surfaces to bloody mud. Sometimes their shades still march across the surface, walking where dirt was so long ago. Sometimes it’s just ducks.

When we talk about the koi pond we mean the island on the north end of the pond, over a gently arched wooden footbridge where the goldfish and the waterfowl panhandle for daily bread.

So he dragged me from the majik circle and led me over the first of the bridges between us and our goal. He walked past a father and son bonding over ice cream and Sporting KC. The father said, “Good looking dog,” which Leon and I both take with however many grains of salt. We know we look like hell but it only means we’re survivors.

As I thought thus I caught a glimpse from the corner of my eye of some small bird. At first I thought she was a robin. I saw red. Not robin red. Not cardinal red. The way the light hit her when she moved made her seem a Phoenix, made of burnished copper that flashed red light each time she raised her wings to fly.

She flitted, short spurts, to catch my eye. First she landed atop the low stone wall that bermed a hillside once cut to make the pond and fountain. Then she flitted with another flash of red to a spindly young tree some arborist added to the landscape with wooden stakes and guy lines. Then she flitted red to a low evergreen hedge, then again to the earth beneath as I approached.

We stopped. She jumped into the heart of the hedge, out of sight.

“Do you have a message for me?” I asked, perhaps a bit loud for a public park. I looked around. No one was within hearing distance.

High above Brother Raven started laughing. “What makes you think you’re the only wizard in the park?” he asked.

“I never claimed to be a wizard.”

“If you weren’t a wizard you wouldn’t understand me.”

“What about Dr. Dolittle?”

“Case in point!” Raven screamed. “You don’t think Polynesia was a medium?”

Leon tugged on me to go. The cardinal, for that’s what she was, ascended from her hedge into the golden boughs where Raven waited.

“I see you,” she said.

“I’ve heard about you.” Raven sounded dismissive.

“Come on!” Leon tugged.

“What if she was supposed to give me a message?” I asked. “I mean, why else did that just happen?”

“”If it’s meant for you she’ll find you.”

We walked toward the car.

“I should go back,”

“It’s time to go.”

We drove home, south on Wornall, east on 55th, following a trail a century old and more though it has changed a thousand times in that hundred years and not necessarily for the better.

Later, after we ate and the afternoon was fast waning, I stood on the back landing, watching the sun set through the treetops and Victorian gables of Rockhill Ridge.  A lady cardinal swooped in, the low slung sun glaring off her feathers like burnished copper.

“Oh, there you are,” she said. “I’m Sinead. I’ve been looking for you.”

About Mark Matzeder

By education a filmmaker, by trade an electrician, by avocation a writer and sometime scholar. Occasionally I wring an essay out of some observation I have made or experience I've had and share them here. Sometimes I'll share short fiction. Sometimes a poem. But mostly it's just my spin on this strange trip.
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