• Apocalypse Willowherb

    by  • June 30, 2014 • Fiction • 0 Comments

    Letters by Jacob Monroe Grant, as provided by Alter S. Reiss
    Art by Dawn Vogel

    The HMS Courser,
    Latitude 13, 22″ S Longitude 157, 6″ W (approx.)
    January 7th, 1827

    My dearest friend William,

    One might expect that after these long months at sea, my arrival at Toreipi would be an occasion of unmitigated joy, but instead, it is all I can do to keep from wailing and groaning and gnashing my teeth. You are no doubt familiar with the native legends concerning the regular depredations of great monsters from the depths of the seas. Naturally, these were discounted as pagan superstition, but it seems that we missed an attack of this sort by fewer than two days. Would that we had not tarried at the Sandwich Isles, or that the winds had blown a fraction more favorably!

    We are anchored three miles from the island–Captain Stirling will not go any closer, for fear of the reefs–and at this distance I cannot say with any certainty if the disaster was volcanic in origin, as seems likely. In any case, the destruction along the southern slope of the island is extensive; there are still fires burning, many with a peculiar greenish glow.

    This is to be the last of my letters from aboard the Courser. I have grown attached to the stout little ship during my time aboard, but at long last, my real work is to begin. Both I and the Reverend Cartwright are to be put ashore in one of the ship’s boats. He, to spread the word of God to the heathen, and I, to attempt a catalog of the flora and fauna of this distant and virtually unknown land. I will leave it to posterity to determine which of us is engaged in the worthier endeavor.

    Your devoted friend and obedient servant,



    The Isle of Toreipi,
    Latitude 13, 22″ S Longitude 157, 6″ W (approx.)
    March 12, 1827

    My dearest friend William,

    My apologies for the delay of this letter; there are few ships indeed who stop by this island, on account of the reefs, and I scarcely had any wish to entrust my communications to passing Frenchmen or Dutch. I hope this letter justifies my confidence in the Anglo-Saxon values still retained by the captain and crew of the American whaling-ship Rachel, in whose care I have entrusted it.

    Investigation of the destruction that we had seen from aboard the ship was necessarily delayed for the better part of a week, as I secured for myself a simple dwelling, with the grudging cooperation of some of the natives. One cannot spend so long a time as I spent with the Reverend Cartwright without forming a solid and unalterable opinion of a man. Despite the change in our circumstance, Cartwright still seems as plodding a fool as ever. All the same, I find myself unquestionably indebted to him in matters regarding the natives.

    But a man may build a shack anywhere; I am sure you are more anxious to hear what I think of the sea-monsters of Toreipi. And I do think there are sea-monsters, or at least, some sort of sea-borne phenomena, rather than simple vulcanism. There is no sign of lava flow, nor of the deposition of volcanic ash, and the destruction was concentrated on the lower slopes of the island, near the shoreline. At the moment, my suspicion is that it is a form of St. Elmo’s fire, abnormally concentrated and destructive. There were some prints that the natives imagine to be the traces of the sea-monster, but I am far from convinced that a creature as large as is purported by those traces would be able to stand on land. As the natives swear that attacks of this sort happen but once a century, it seems I will not have a chance to make a proper observation, unless they are mistaken.

    Which is not to say that I am without phenomena to observe. As we had surmised, there is enough life on this island to keep a team of naturalists busy until the sea-monster returns. In my first night here, I brought down specimens from two entirely new species of bat, one of whom is clearly a member of the Nyctimones, and the other shares so many characteristics with the Phyllostoma, I cannot help but be irritated at its insistence on having a leaf-nose. To say nothing of the plant life! This island is a treasure trove–an absolute and unspoiled jewel.

    One species in particular has excited my interest. In the area denuded by the fires that I have already mentioned, a thick growth of flowers has developed. They are of a bright red color, and make a striking picture in the open space cleared from the jungle. For the moment, I am calling them Epilobium apocalypticus, as they seem closely allied with the willowherbs of our own fair isle.

    Given how striking these flowers appear, and their association with destruction, the natives naturally consider them to be tapu. In deference to the local customs, I have confined my observations to hours when the natives are snug in their hammocks, though I fear I may have been observed. No doubt this species will swiftly be supplanted with the more normal jungle flora, and I shall be less tempted to transgress against local custom.

    Your devoted friend and obedient servant,


    Apocalypse Willowherb

    To read the rest of this story, check out the Mad Scientist Journal: Spring 2014 collection.

    Jacob Monroe Grant is a naturalist from Devon, and an associate member of the Linnean Society of London. He hopes that his work in the islands of the Pacific will be of some benefit to future researchers.

    Alter S. Reiss is a field archaeologist and scientific editor whose fiction has appeared in F&SF, Strange Horizons, and elsewhere. While he does occasionally do science in real life, it seldom reaches the level of irritable science, let alone mad science.

    Dawn Vogel has been published as a short fiction author and an editor of both fiction and non-fiction. Although art is not her strongest suit, she’s happy to contribute occasional art to Mad Scientist Journal. By day, she edits reports for and manages an office of historians and archaeologists. In her alleged spare time, she runs a craft business and tries to find time for writing. She lives in Seattle with her awesome husband (and fellow author), Jeremy Zimmerman, and their herd of cats. For more of Dawn’s work visit http://historythatneverwas.com/

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