Creating a magical world
How I transformed a favorite local spot into a faerie wonderland
In the latest issue of Story Cauldron, I invite you to come with me on a brief visit to the Climatron, a tropical plant conservatory located in the Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis, MO. It’s both one of my favorite places within the city and the location of a pivotal scene in my Favor Faeries novel The Boy Who Can Taste Color, which I am finishing up here on Story Cauldron for paid members of Story Cauldron.
Last week I made another visit to the Garden, making a beeline to the Climatron as I always do. I adore it because, although it is a tropical garden year-round, somehow it’s always different.
And for my novel, the climactic scene near the end of the story takes place in a faerie version of the dome.
As I wandered through the Climatron this time, I imagined how my characters would feel, combining the familiarity of the space with the unusual elements of magic thrown in.
The real Climatron
In the real-life version of the Climatron, the vast interior hosts every shade of green as a backdrop to the bright pop of red, yellow, and white flowers begging to be pollinated. Rough textures of tree bark are immediately countered by the delicate lace of tiny ferns. Towering over everything are the massive glossy leaves of the banana trees that shade you from the hot sun, and the splash of multiple waterfalls that add to the lushness of the surroundings. But it’s the omnipresent scent of flowers, poking out from every nook and cranny, that turns the ordinary into the magical.
Within the Climatron are a couple of instances of human-made art, the Chihuly glass ‘birds’ in the ponds and a giant cluster of blue Chihuly glass that hangs from the ceiling.
The version of the Climatron featured in my faerie world
In my Favor Faeries novels, people go to certain public locations throughout St. Louis to make wishes in exchange for snacks and trinkets. The faeries eat the snacks, of course, but what do they do with all the trinkets?
In this excerpt from an upcoming chapter of The Boy Who Can Taste Color, you can get a sense of how I’ve honored the real-life garden space while simultaneously transforming it into something… other. I hope you enjoy it!
It was anything but the normal Climatron.
In Holden and Jenny’s world, it was a giant geodesic dome that housed a tropical plant conservatory. In this parallel world, it remained a tropical jungle, filled with banana trees, exotic flowers, and vines of every description. Waterdrops coursed down palm tree fronds, pooling on the walkway or running into duckweed-covered ponds with ferns that grew in the cracks in the rocks. Creamy Brugmansia draped itself over tree branches, its poisonous blooms hanging languidly in the warm, humid space, while perky orchids perched high in the tree branches daring anyone to notice.
Here in the Faerie world, the structure stood just as tall, and was crammed just as full of lush greenery. However, unlike in the human world, there were notable departures from the pretense of a human-curated jungle. No one was doing the painstaking work of tending to the plants, keeping them trimmed and manageable. Vines trailed across the path, and trees remained where they fell. Pale palm fronds, discarded by the trees, carpeted the ground.
And in this faerie version, bits of human artwork and trinkets were woven into the vines and moss, caught up within tree branches, nested among the low-growing plants, or partially submerged in the pools. Overhead many of the glass tiles in the dome, clear in the human world, had been painted shades of blue and gold. Dangling from wires hung from the tallest trees were bits of crystal and mirrored glass that caused the air to sparkle. Alongside the tropical plants, twigs and bent metal formed archways and tunnels, and statues made of cast-off materials—toys, eyeglasses, lamp shades, bicycle parts, and the like—rose nearly to the ceiling.
To further the sensory assault, the space vibrated from drum and flute music played at a frenetic pace, while the aromas of sugary treats, lush flowers, and above all, that tell-tale faerie scent of black licorice, saturated the air.
“What the hell have they done?” Jenny asked as she approached a twisting tree-like structure that stretched across the entryway. Instead of leaves, there were thousands of tiny pendants and charms. “I’ve gone to the Climatron a bunch of times, and this isn’t anything like what I remember.”
“I don’t think it’s supposed to be.” Holden took a step forward. “I was thinking about what Magalie told us, how the two worlds lay on top of each other.” He felt like he had entered a world within a world. “I think the faeries take things from our world and use them, kind of like how a hermit crab chooses a shell. They pick what they like and make it work for them.” The faerie world was foreign and bizarre itself, but here it was downright disconcerting. He couldn’t put a name on what had changed, other than to assume it was the magic, as if the existence of faeries created the need for an entirely new sense, adding to the five senses he already possessed.
Jenny wandered to another structure that reminded Holden of an Easter Island head. When he followed her, he discovered that it had been constructed entirely of small stuffed animals. “I guess this is what they do with the trinkets people bring to the favor faeries,” she muttered. She wandered around, looking at all of the random items covering the ground. “Honestly, this seems kind of sketch to me.”
“Yeah.” Holden picked up a beanbag stuffed dinosaur that was propped up against an iridescent pole. “Who knew the faeries were such hoarders?”
I hope you enjoyed this brief glimpse into my story. If you want to check it out, you can become a paying member of Story Cauldron, and not only have access to my novels as I write them (the first book is already complete and available as an ebook) but you will help support my writing and make it feasible to keep it going.
Also, I invite you to check out my new Substack The Wonderful Books of Oz, where I am serializing The Wizard of Oz and the rest of the works by L. Frank Baum, entirely for free.
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