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The Butterfly Girl (Chapter 1 of 10)

This work is also available as an eBook and a paperback on Amazon. Originally, I posted it in its entirety here, but have decided to break it into single chapter installments. 

Chapter One

“A soul’s paying you a visit from heaven.” Mrs. Webley’s nod, slow and grave, accentuated her knowing expression. A wisdom belied by the retina-searing fuchsia ensemble she’d chosen to wear for the trip to her mailbox this morning. Sweatshirts with shoulder pads and rhinestone clusters hadn’t been in style longer than I’d been alive.

I echoed her first words, careful to infuse my tone with just the right amount of polite incredulity while trying hard to avoid any facial expression she might interpret as disdainful or disrespectful. You never knew what would set her off from day to day. “I’ve never heard that saying before, Mrs. Webley,” I began. Butterflies and souls. Who came up with this stuff?

My elderly neighbor had a platitude for every occasion. An arsenal of unsolicited sentiments—pith on the half-shell—and she was only too happy to unleash these upon whatever unlucky individual was within earshot at the time. Wouldn’t you know it, this morning, that would be me. All because of the flowers someone left on the doorstep: white lilies and carnations, surrounded by froths of baby’s breath, and bracketed by leatherleaf ferns.

Did I mention, Mrs. Webley was also an unrepentant busybody? Although she looked every inch the harmless grandmother type in her oversized leisure suit and gold-rimmed glasses on a beaded lanyard, this woman could’ve given the CIA lessons in interrogation.

The subject of today’s interrogation: the damned bouquet! In its white wicker basket, the arrangement looked like leftovers from a funeral, although no one I knew had died. They’d been sitting on the doorstep for some time, too. The ferns were drooping and the knife-like petals of the lilies had started to curl, despite their spot in the sun on the front stoop.

“It’s not a saying, dear,” She corrected, jutting her chin at the insect in question. As it alighted on one of the carnations, flexing wings so pale they appeared almost translucent, she fingered the gold crucifix beneath the pointelle collar on her fuchsia sweatshirt. “You never see them out this early, not when the snow’s still on the ground. No, that’s a soul, Kat. Someone’s watching out for you.” She pointed skyward, rheumy eyes following the trajectory of a gnarled finger. “Whatever happens, they want you to know you’re not alone.”

I lifted the basket, pinching its handle between two fingers, and turned it in mid-air, the way one might appraise a potential bomb. The slow half-turn raised a slight wing twitch from my “heavenly visitor,” but nothing more. It clung to the carnation for dear life, or breakfast, or both. Careful not to disturb it—I didn’t know what curse agitating a visitor from heaven might provoke and didn’t care to—I peered at the arrangement. “There’s no card. That’s weird,” I murmured, immediately regretting it. She probably had a saying for that, too.

The statement produced an unintended effect, shaking her from reverie. Moira dropped her hand and tottered back. For a moment, I thought she was going to keel over. A mental image of her swam into focus: five feet and ninety pounds of sinewy wrinkled flesh crashing into hydrangeas twice her size, and being impaled on branches bare as spindles.

She caught herself before I could react. Rock-solid: feet apart, shoulders back, pocketbook soldiered against her midsection. Moira looked every inch the Queen of England ready to engage in a walkabout, although younger than her by at least a decade.

“I’m sorry. Did you say something, dear?”

“The card, Mrs. Webley. Is that it?” I didn’t want to sound rude by pinpointing the location of the smallish object (in her hand) or rushing her along, but I still had some errands, packing, and last-minute second-guessing to do before I left for the cabin. Logan’s haunting parties were always legendary and this weekend’s promised to be no exception. If not for the nightmares I’d been having—fiery terrors that cleaved my usual five and six-hour nights in half—and the fact that because we’d been on a few dates, Logan might have something more than the paranormal on his mind, I’d have been more thrilled with the prospect.

“Oh, this? Yes, yes! You’ll forgive an old lady’s curiosity, won’t you, Kat? I couldn’t resist.” She tittered, her laugh coquettish as a debutante’s. But her cheeks were curiously devoid of an embarrassed flush and her liver-spotted hand steady when she proffered the tiny white envelope back to me.

The sudden thrust, an intrusion perhaps too reminiscent of a predator’s strike, unmoored the butterfly from its perch. It flitted between us, up and away, disappearing in a shaft of sunlight.

If Mrs. Webley, self-proclaimed butterfly laureate, noticed, she reserved commentary. Her interest, like the butterfly (if it had been a butterfly) had also flitted elsewhere. In her case, elsewhere being a target with my face at its center. Head cocked forward, she leaned in, whispering in that conspiratorial tone, gorged with knowing, that’s common to all women who’ve reached their eighth decade with frame and faculties intact, “If you don’t mind me saying, Kat, this new young man of yours seems a bit of an odd duck.”

Mind? Like I had a choice. “They must have been delivered by mistake, Mrs. Webley.”

“That’s your name there, isn’t it?” A fingernail, shell pink, its French tip tapered to a rapier point, tapped the envelope. “Well, I’ll leave you to it. But it’s a damned funny sentiment if you ask me.” Still huffing, she wobbled away on stiff, bowed legs.

The card, plain as its outer covering, contained four lines, each written in block letters with a permanent black marker. Its ink, determined to outdo the flowers in funereal reek, had bled through the thin card stock, leaving an incomplete phantom alter-image on its opposite side. An image eroded in the places where the marker’s fine point had pushed through, its sentiment punctuated by a series of small yet intentional punctures.

As I read those words, a tremor juddered through me. The ground seemed to evaporate beneath my feet, my mouth turned to sand, and my tongue, to ash.

I know where you go when you think you’re asleep.

I’ll never leave, never let you keep

Your secrets. Buds, coffins, chrysalises

All open with a scream.

Next Chapter: https://simily.co/all-stories/fantasy/antoinettemccormick/the-butterfly-girl-chapter-2/

Recommend0 Simily SnapsPublished in Contemporary Fiction, Fantasy, Horror, LGBTQ+, Paranormal