- I finished NaNoWriMo a day plus a few hours early! Tattoos and Tiaras is over 50,000 words and is currently sitting on the shelf, airing out.
- My big brother is releasing a music video staring me and our sister in law and him, that'll be out sometime next week.
- My throat and vocal cords ache from all the practicing we've been doing for it.
- It's winter time now!
- I hit a low spell after finishing NaNo, so I finished making and mailed over 130 paper butterflies for a friend's wedding, and then I wrote a short story. Here it is!
Annie Louise Twitchell
It was my wedding day.
I got up and ran to the church, in just my pajamas and robe. I needed to know what color they were. I needed to know.
I needed to know.
I needed to know.
The words in my head pounded along with my running footsteps as I ran through deserted streets and up to the chapel. The doorknob rattled, loose in the setting, as I turned it and thrust open the heavy oak door.
The chapel was cool and musty. The scent of fresh summer flowers could do little to mask the centuries of cold stone and aging wood and ancient papers.
Everywhere in the chapel there was the flash of bright blue. I heaved a sigh of relief and sank to my knees, my lungs aching from running, but my heart relieved. The butterflies had spoken and my marriage would be long, happy, with many children. Though there would be struggles, they would not be enough to break us, my love and I. We would be tall and resolute like the distant blue mountains that the paper wings of the butterflies so closely resembled.
* * *
She wanted to scream, but knew it would do no good. She was trapped and if she screamed, the sound would echo around and around and around in the tiny time bubble she was in, growing slowly weaker and weaker, until after a few weeks it would finally fade out and she could be in silence again. Even speaking was a bit much, as she would hear whispers of the words for minutes afterwards. She had learned a long time ago, ever so long ago, that it was best to only say aloud what you did not mind hearing again and again.
Her fingers trembled like an old woman's might, as she folded the butterfly. The squares of white paper that she used would appear each time an engagement was announced, and she would make the butterflies, changing the color of the paper to match the color she saw in their future. The ache of seeing so much made her head throb and her heart burn. She struggled against it at first, tried to resist the urge to fold and crease the paper into the exquisite forms, but it was no good. There was no sleep until the butterflies were made. No peace until the chore was finished. Better to make them all, and quickly, and then go back to sleep and rest and emptiness.
She ought to be an old woman, by now. Surely. She knew it had been a long time, but her body held no mark of time. She was unable even to end her life. She had slipped up once and given herself a paper cut on the edge of the paper -- it was black paper, that time, and sure enough the husband had died the following year -- and then it was as if nothing had happened, and her skin was back to her usual pale coloring, unmarked.
Sometimes she could see girls come across the field, skittish like the birds that nested in and among the rows of corn and grains. They would bring their own, feeble attempts at the butterflies, and place them on under a tree near her prison. She had tried, at first, to call out to them, begging them to free her, but they never heard her and they always went away again, frightened of something that she could not see.
That, too, frightened her. What danger might there be, lurking in the woods around her prison, that she could neither see nor hear? Would it break open the sphere and eat her? She did not want to be eaten.
Eventually the tree grew old, died away, and fell. There was little left but a stump, and even now, the stump was old and moss covered, rotted low into the ground. A clump of woodland violets grew, nearly in the middle of the stump but a little to one side.
She could see, a little. She could see the girls who came to visit, but only as long as they were there. And she could see enough of their future to know what color the butterflies must be. Sometimes she wanted to change it, but she could not. She tried – and both bride and groom were dead the morning of the wedding.
She never dared to try again after that. Miserable, she went with what it must be, and left fate to its own devices.
* * *
“Mother... Mother...” I sobbed, hearing her familiar footsteps echoing down the chapel walk towards me. I lifted my head from my hands and held out a single, black, butterfly.
She choked and dropped to her knees beside me. “Oh, angel...” She murmured, holding me close, her own hot tears dripping onto my head.
“Janice?” Tom's voice asked fearfully. His eyes darted nervously as he came down the aisle towards us. “Janice, what's wrong?”
“This...” I held the butterfly up to him.
He reached out and took it, his eyes betraying his confusion. “What's this?”
“It's fate... One of us, Tom... One of us will die...”
He took a step back, dropping the butterfly as if it was cursed. His eyes flew around the chapel again and I knew he saw them, now. The hundreds and thousands of black butterflies. Lining the pews, the piano, the grand organ. On the reverend's pulpit.
A sea of black butterflies. Death, misery, unhappiness.
Tom shook his head. “I don't understand, Janice. I don't understand. It's just a bunch of paper.”
“No! No, it's not just that! You don't understand, you didn't grow up here! You don't know what it means!”
“Janey, Janey... Breathe. Tell me what it means. Help me understand it.” His voice was calm and steady, the perfect reflection of the man I loved. “Tell me.”
“The butterfly child, Thomas...” My mother said in a harsh whisper. “You aren't from around here, how could you be expected to know? The butterfly child tells us our destinies.”
“Destiny can be changed, you know that.” Thomas said flatly. “You've said as much before. Destiny is not set in stone.”
“Yes, Thomas, I've told you that... But this is death. This is death. One of you will die within the year.”
Thomas's face went white and he stared at me in horror, then shook his head and set his jaw. “No. I don't believe it. I didn't come home from war to be killed by a paper butterfly.”He crouched again, scooping up the butterfly, crumpling it in his fist and hurling it away.
“Believe it, Thomas. The butterfly child is never wrong.”
“I'm not gonna sit here and watch you all suffer under some delusion of legend! It's just a trick, someone is playing a trick on you! You're all so superstitious that you believe it!”
“Thomas... Don't you think we would change it if we could?” My mother was crying again now. “There is no changing it. The butterfly child is a Time Seeker. She knows. She knows, and there is nothing that can be done...”
Tom grabbed my arm, and drew me towards him. “Please, Janey... Please see that this isn't the case... Please, Janey... I know you, I know you know better.”
“Tom... This has been going on for centuries... I left the butterfly at the Shrine last night, that's all anyone can do to hope for different...”
“Shrine, what shrine? Show me.”
Mother shook her head quickly. “No! No man is allowed there. Women only. Brides, mothers. Mothers in law. But no men!”
“Oh, come on. Seriously? Look, you're telling me that this means death. And now you're telling me that I can't go see what is making you think that?”
Mother nodded earnestly, and Tom let out a string of curses at her that made her cringe. “Thomas! You are in a church!”
“I'd sooner defile a church building with my words than the earth outside. God only knows enough lies are spewed in here every day, might as well have some honest, upfront ugliness instead.” He pulled me to my feet. “Show me the shrine, Janey. I'm not gonna sit here and do nothing, and I'm not gonna have my bride scared witless on our wedding day. I'll show you that there's nothing to fear.”
I stammered helplessly but finally I took a breath and led him through the village and out onto the narrow track that led to the Shrine.
“This doesn't look like much,” he quipped, looking down at the rotten stump. My paper butterfly, a pale green, was perched on the stump, soaked from the dew. Dozens of rotting remains of other paper butterflies hung around, fallen or blown off the stump. Tom knelt and dug his hands into the soil, taking a deep breath. “You know, Janey, you can see God better out here than in that hell hole of a cold stone building.”
“Tom, please... I know your thoughts about it, but please... And even though you don't like it, you needn't disrespect it. It's all the same God, the same story, just different ways of seeing Him. You can see Him better out here... but other people can see Him better in there. It doesn't matter...”
Tom snorted and crumbled the dirt through his fingers before wiping his hand on his jeans and standing up. He went past the stump, and I yelled. “Tom! No, that's not allowed!”
“What's not-- holy sh--!” He yelled, vanishing from sight, and another cry ripped from my throat before I stumbled past the stump after him.
* * *
“What?” The child said, looking up from her tiny nest of blankets. She blinked and stared at the invaders, trembling.
“Hey, hey... Hey...” The male person said softly, crouching down so he was more her size. He reached a hand towards her and she panicked, scrambling backwards and pulling the blanket up to cover herself. She stared at him, her eyes wide.
He smiled a little and stayed where he was, hand still out to her. “You make the butterflies, don't you, little one?” She nodded breathlessly, and he echoed the movement. “Why did you make black ones today?”
She sniffled and rubbed her nose, sad and miserable. “I didn't wanna...”
“I know, sweetheart. It's okay.” He made a soft, comforting sound, like something that she remembered from a long, long, long time ago. She slowly crept towards him and rested her thin white hand in his big, rough, brown one. His eyes were bright and familiar as he searched her face, and she yanked her hand away, scurried back to her nest, and curled up under the blankets. She began to cry, great heaving sobs that echoed around and around the prison.
Then she was being lifted up, and carried, and then there only sound was her sobs and the wind – she remembered the wind – whistling in the treetops. She quieted and for a breathless moment there was silence, and then the two people, the male person and the female person, were yelling at each other in loud voices. The female person was scared, and the male person was angry. She didn't want to be held by an angry person, so she squirmed, trying to get free. He just held her a little tighter and kept talking, and she whimpered softly. She didn't understand what was going on. She just wanted to go home to her mother and be held.
And then there she was, in her mother's arms.
* * *
Tom stared in horrified confusion as he brushed the blanket away to show me the little girl's face, and all that was there was a huge pile of butterflies in every shade imaginable, and, I thought, maybe a few that weren't.
“W-where did she go?” He whispered.
I started to reply but I was drowned out by the sound of the church bells, ringing loudly, summoning. Tom stared at me, then adjusted his hold on the bundle of butterflies and ran for the village. I followed, struggling to keep up with him.
“Janice! Janice!” My mother screamed, as soon as she saw me through the crowds gathered outside the church. “Everyone move and let Janice and Thomas through!”
The crowds parted after a moment, and Tom pushed me towards the church. My mother held out the crumpled butterfly that Tom had thrown away, and stared at me as it slowly changed color from black to pale green.
Tom stared for a moment, then slowly turned and walked away. The crowd parted wordlessly in front of him and he went across the street and stood, looking over the guardrail at the river below. Then he mumbled something and released two corners of the blanket, so the butterflies tumbled out and down towards the water.
A breeze swept up and lifted the butterflies, and as they blew away, I could have sworn they were moving independent of the wind. Tom watched in silence until they couldn't be seen anymore, then slowly turned back towards me, and held his hand out. “Told ya it could be changed, Janey, if we really worked at it...” He gave me a crooked half smile as I slipped my hand in his, then he dragged me towards the church. “Come on, let's get married before anything else comes up.”
Copyright December 2016 by Annie Louise Twitchell