Sunday, June 23, 2013

Tallmadge's Dragons - An Original Short Story

18th August 1869

My Dearest Winifred,

 I write to you now beneath a concert of raindrops beating against the roof of my bedchamber.  While my accommodations have been less than luxurious by any standard, I find the thatch and tin roof more than adequate for my purpose.  These past few months have been torture without you, Dearest, and I fear that the seasons may come and go before we are again together.  For me, there will be no visible signals as Mother Nature flows across time.  No brightening of Autumnal leaves, no nip of cold upon the morning breeze, just the endless tropic heat and ever green bounty of foliage growing to astronomical size and dimension. 

But my purpose to document these marvels of nature is clear, and I have been immersed in an endless array of unbelievable life forms never before seen by European man.  I could write an entire tome on the catastrophic flowers alone.  Would you believe that one such blossom, emerging only in the depths of night, opens petals the size of your favorite parasol?   And another, the size of a shilling, produces a sticky nektar for the sole purpose of capturing and devouring small insects and lizards misfortunate enough to stumble upon it!  I can hear you now, my Darling, aghast that such a thing occurs in nature.  Fear not, I am ever vigilant and take great care whenever I am in the field.  No harm has befallen me…yet.

I hesitate to put to paper these next words, but I feel I must share with you the most recent of my adventures here in this steaming jungle.  Less than a fortnight ago, while in the bush alone, I came upon an amazing sight.  I discovered a clearing, in the centre of which lay a pool of glowing azure blue water.  The pool was surrounded by the tiny carnivorous plants I described above, along with countless other plants and blooms I have never before seen in my 20 years as a botanist.  As you can well imagine, I was atremble with excitement, and set about gathering samples to sketch and diagramme back at camp.  I had just gathered a handful of flowers and leaves when a soft buzzing began amongst the foliage.  The sound was almost musical, like the draw of a bow across the strings of a violin.  Arising from the brush came a cloud of what appeared to be a form of dragonfly, but like none I had ever seen before.  The insects bodies were of brightest blue, just like the waters of the pond!  Each was in length as long as your favorite quill (the one Mother gave you of ostrich feather).  To my eye  they resembled forged metal with four long wings of blazing silver, as if spun by a silversmith!  These amazing creatures formed a cloud about me, seeming to examine me with bright eyes and a manner reflecting the same curiosity with which I examined them!  I know what you are thinking, Dearest, but the heat had not clouded my mind, intense tho it was.  I found myself sitting at the edge of the pool, enveloped in a living cloud of hundreds of flashing blue and silver bodies.  I swear to you, my Darling Dear, that these insects were attempting to communicate with me!  They beat their wings in a distinct rhythm, a rudimentary language if you will!  The sounds they created were so soothing, so enchanting, I began to drowse, right in their midst.  I felt them alight on my body, tiny feet nearly weightless, shining wings caressing my face and hands.  I tell you, I have never felt such peace but for the moments we have spent together in quite reflection amongst your treasured gardens in Cambridge.  I confess, I was nearly hypnotized!  I do not know how long I spent in the company of these otherworldly creatures, but time seemed of no consequence.  The next thing I knew, I awoke to the sound of Reginald and Walter calling my name over and over again.  I looked about me, but the dragonflies were gone and the pool was no longer brilliant blue, but had turned a dark black.  I roused myself, and left the clearing to join the others, who I found had been frantically searching for me for over 12 hours!  Dearest, I had no sense of time passing at all! 

Needless to say, I did not share my discovery with Walt or Reg,  instead I told them I had lost my compass and muddled my directions in the forest.  I think they believe me, but both regard me with some suspicion now and I doubt I will be left to explore alone from this point on.

 But explore I must, for in the days since, the dragonflies have been calling to me.  Yes, I know how mad that sounds, but it is true none the less.  I see them from the corner of my eye, flashing blue and silver amongst the forest greenery.  I turn, and they are gone!  Walt and Reg don’t know what to make of my behaviour, and I simply cannot share this with them.  The dragonflies chose to communicate with only me, and I must keep their confidence until we meet again. 

 Last night, they came to me in my dreams, once again enveloping me in their soft, shining wings and serenading me with their aerial music.  I must find them, I simply must.  So, tonight I set out alone to reunite with these fantastical beings.  I hope I can find the clearing again, for I scratched a crude map upon a forest tree when I first discovered the oasis.  Oh Winnie, if only you could have seen them!  Bluer than even your lovely eyes! 

I shall write again, as soon as I can, and one day I hope to bring you here to witness for yourself the magik in this primordial forest.  Until then, I reach to you across the seas, soul to soul, heart to heart.

Yours Forever, 


This letter was the last communication that Winifred Tallmadge ever received from her husband, the famed explorer and botanist, Professor Matthias Tallmadge.  Enclosed with the letter were a few scraps of paper, believed to be from Prof. Tallmadge’s field notebook.  The notes are unintelligible, and include drawings of unidentified plants and insects.   Also included with the letter was a 3-inch long insect wing resembling a dragonfly wing, but made of fine silver.

Prof. Tallmadge’s research partners, Professors Reginald Moorehaven and Walter LeMoyne, discovered his bunk empty.  After 24 hours with no sign of Tallmadge returning to camp, a search party was dispatched.  The search continued for three weeks before the determination was made that Tallmadge had somehow become lost and perished in the jungle.  The clearing mentioned in Tallmadge’s letter was never found, but his spectacles and part of his field notebook were discovered at the base of a tree carved with Tallmadge’s name alongside his wife’s name.  His body was never recovered.  It was noted that in the days after Tallmadge’s disappearance, the field station was inundated with thousands of insects noted to be a new un-described species of blue dragonfly.   No specimens were ever captured or preserved, and it was recorded by the team and several other witnesses that the insects vanished the same day the search for Tallmadge was suspended. 

Mrs. Tallmadge pledged to fund a continued search for her husband, and did so for the rest of her life until she passed away at the age of 86.  The disappearance of Professor Matthias Tallmadge remains a mystery to this day.

Post Script:

The following transcript was added to this file by Peirce Moorehaven, son of Professor Reginald Moorehaven, the last surviving member of the Tallmadge research team at the time of Winifred Tallmadge’s death.

“My Father was 97 when Mrs. Tallmadge died.  He insisted we attend her funeral, both the church service and the grave side ceremony following.  By this time Father was very crippled with arthritis and other maladies affecting a man  of his great age, but with my help we managed to walk from our carriage to the grave site, along with the rest of the funeral party.  As the minister was speaking beside Mrs. Tallmadge’s coffin, my father became extremely agitated, pointing to the Tallmadge grave marker.  Two large blue dragonflies with silver wings were hovering over the stone, eventually landing on the carved marble.  They remained there until the ceremony was over, then vanished in the blink of an eye.  My father referred to them as “Tallmadge’s Dragons” and insisted they were an omen of some sort.  We left at this point, as Father was near to fainting from exhaustion.  No matter how I pressed him, he refused to speak of the incident ever again and passed away some weeks later.  Whatever secrets he discovered in the jungle with Tallmadge died with him, but I shall never forget those spectacular dragonflies.” 

Library at Oxford, 2013