Exhaled shadows from the nearby valley tighten about the cottage, merging with the darkness before dawn. Moonlight soaks through a grimy windowpane.
The botanist stirs fitfully in her sleep: the handsome face of a collapsing ghost whispers his final goodbye; he spirals brightly into the sinkhole of her heart.
Suddenly awake, the botanist spies a black orchid on the empty pillow beside her; dew catches against the touch of her trembling hand. Outside, the four-armed goddess Ratri plants several more orchids around the yard. Starlight shines through her silhouette.
Excited tears now lighten the botanist’s heart. A new species! Thanking the gods, she grabs her Rig Veda and presses the orchid between its pages; a specimen she’ll take to the local herbarium and name — taxonomic epithet immortalizing the man she loved.
Ratri smiles, lifts into the cool morning air. There she breaks over the cottage like a startled mass of black moths, and returns to the arena of night.
[Jay Sturner is a writer, poet, and naturalist from the Chicago suburbs. He is the author of several books of poetry and a collection of short stories. His writing has appeared in such publications as Space and Time Magazine, Spectral Realms, and Star*Line, among others. He has been nominated twice for the Rhysling Award. In addition to being a writer, Sturner is also a professional bird walk leader.]