Short Story: The Effect of a Thousand Butterflies


The Effect of a Thousand Butterflies
By Steve Ince

In my dream I cannot see her face for the cloud of butterflies that surrounds her.  What I’m able to glimpse through the occasional, fleeting gap – her hands, her legs, her hair – suggest a delicacy of form.  Her skin is white, almost devoid of any colour and contrasts sharply with the tangles of dark hair that fall forward, which in turn adds to the difficulty of catching sight of her features.  She raises her hands towards her face and although I cannot be sure I feel she is screaming.  I hear nothing of that sound, yet I hear the beating of the wings of a thousand butterflies, amplified loudly, reverberating like organic helicopters on patrol.

I wake and she’s not there.  Not anywhere, of course, for it is, after all, only a dream.

I rise from my bed to start another painful day on my long road to recovery.

In the bathroom I stand in the shower and run the water tepid, fearful of anything hot touching my sensitive skin that might harm the still pink scars which form a latticework across my body.  I cannot yet remove the pressure mask from my face and I must take care not to get water behind it.  My hair, though patchy, is long and lank – I haven’t been able to wash it for weeks, no months.  Not since I was released from hospital.

I dry my skin ever so carefully with the soft towel, dabbing at the moisture instead of rubbing vigorously.  How I long to scratch myself all over, but if I did so my skin would split and I’d likely bleed to death.  Or at the very least become infected due to my overworked immune system.

The bathroom air is damp and I open the window.  I feel the soothing quality of the cool breeze that blows in and whistles under the bathroom door as it leaves.  I close my eyes and let the gentle wind play about me.  For a moment there is nothing – I am alone in an empty world that consists only of a soothing breeze.

I hear the sound from my dream.  Organic helicopters on patrol.  I open my eyes, unsure if I am dreaming as I stand here.  Did I just fall asleep for a few seconds and have the shortest of momentary dreams?  Surely not, for I still hear the sound.

I look up and see butterflies outside the window – about a dozen – but instead of fluttering by they hover outside as if waiting for something.  I’d slap myself to see if I’m dreaming but I’m afraid I’d wake myself up.

I dress quickly in my special, light cotton clothes, but forgo the medicinal cream I usually spread over my scarred flesh, and move out into the small courtyard behind the house.  I shield my eyes from the brightness of the morning and look around for the butterflies.  They’re still hovering near the bathroom window, but as soon as I cast my gaze upon them they move towards me.  They’re joined by others, arriving from every direction, and as they flutter about my head I estimate there must now be fifty of them.

Then, like some single entity, they move away towards the rear of the courtyard and between two of the outbuildings that form its confines.  Almost without thinking I follow into the shadows, first cast by the buildings and then by the trees that line the path to the harbour.  The sun is always strong at this time of day and I’m glad of the shade.

I smell the brine before I see the blue water or hear the waves lapping gently against the harbour wall.  There are no voices, no sounds of work or play.  The small harbour town is mostly deserted these days, except at weekends when the rich enjoy the use of their holiday homes – converted cottages of the displaced fishermen.

The butterflies still lead me, their numbers increasing almost constantly, like some strange pied piper in reverse.  Although I’m curious what it means, I also feel the mesmeric quality of the fluttering cloud.  The sound of their gently beating wings multiplies and resonates, building into primal patterns and rhythms that entrance me to the point where I find myself on the end of the pier without realising I’ve walked so far.

I turn around and gaze at the effect of a thousand butterflies dancing on all sides of me.  I lift my arms slowly and they swirl about them, about my fingers, but never touch. 

I turn around and marvel at the colours, the flickering rainbow of delight that seems to have been created just for my benefit.

I turn around and find that I have overstepped the end of the harbour and I’m falling towards the rocks below, still surrounded by a thousand butterflies.  How foolish to survive a fire and be killed in a silly accident…

I should have hit the rocks by now, my body wrecked, my life ebbing away, but they approach so slowly.  I wonder what is happening to me.  Now the rocks recede and I realise I’m being borne upwards by a thousand butterflies – an impossible event by any stretch of the imagination, but one which is happening nonetheless.

I’m borne up and transported I know not where…

I cannot see her face for the butterflies and the fact that she holds her hands to her mouth.  She shakes, not in fear but concentration, and I realise that she has not been screaming but calling me to her.  I stand before her amid the butterflies and know her name is Amelia.  I have no need to speak it.

She lowers her hands and the butterflies open up a window on her beautiful face.  She smiles amid the massed curls of black hair, her dark eyes sparkling, mischievous.

“I knew you’d come,” she says and gently removes the pressure mask from my face.

Author: Steve

Artist, game designer and award-nominated writer with many years experience. Author of Writing for games and The Quinton Quads and the Mystery of Malprentice Manor.