She found herself standing on the edge of the sprawling void, utterly alone.
How had she come here?
Where was ‘here’, exactly? The space she stood in was a stark contrast to the vivid colours of her torn body and clothing, grey and lifeless. Her sneaker-clad feet, black against the colourless grass, were perched a little over the bitter edge.
Startled, she jumped back.
A tattered butterfly net brushed the side of her filthy jeans, clipped to her belt loop and dangling the way it always had when she was a child. It was worn and splintery, its cotton strings frayed and coming away from the handle in places. She clenched the long shaft in her fist, hard enough that its splintery wood bit into her skin.
She felt no pain then, only wonder and confusion.
A tiny rivulet of blood snaked its way down the handle of the net, from where the wood bit into her palm. A stiff wind whipped at her from behind, raking its fingers through her mud-crusted red hair and pulling at her ruined clothing. The woman looked down at herself, and pulled at a blood-crusted seam on the side of her jeans. Her brow furrowed for a moment, as she studied her torn pants and shirt.
Weren’t these new, only days ago?
With a sigh of frustration, she absently reached up to run fingers through her hair and found there, embedded in bloody skin… grit.
A rush of frenzied movement caught her eye, just then; fluttering over the gaping hole was a cloud of butterflies. Their brilliant splash of colour against the grey sky was almost a relief. A slight smile crept over her face at the sight of them, causing the wounds on her cheeks to crack open and flow with fresh blood. A trickle of glistening red made its way down her face as she furrowed her brow, confused. Why was she bleeding?
A brief thought flew into her head just then; it teased at the edges of her mind… a flicker of an image, and then no more… and it blew away with the wind.
There was a man… who was that man?
Staring across the void, the woman noticed something she didn’t see at first: differences. Though some of the butterflies were small and tattered-looking, some of them were truly grand. It was as though all the wonder and beauty of the world had been packaged up in each tiny creature. She wept for the beauty of them, and was startled when the tears licked her cheeks like acid. Reaching up to touch her face, her fingers found bruises and open wounds studded with dirt.
The thought that teased her seemed to leave before it had a chance to take hold. She stood in that place, that limbo, uncertain and afraid, and drawn to the edge for reasons she didn’t understand. The wind pushed at her, almost as though it urged her to jump. The woman squatted down, planting her hands on the dead grass and bracing herself against the insistent wind.
The faintest strain of music trickled up to her ears from the depths of the void, just then. It faded in and out, coming to her single notes on the wind. She cocked her head to the side to listen, pursing her cracked lips thoughtfully. The melody was all at once so familiar and yet discordant and strange. She rose again and stepped to the edge of the void, staring down into its depths. Swirls of mist and darkness cluttered the view far below the cloud of butterflies.
Suddenly, a sharp pain stabbed at her left temple. She cried out, her hand rushing up to the source of the pain even as her knees buckled beneath her. Something beneath her palm cut through the skin and bone at her temple like tiny knives. A rivulet of dark blood wound its way down from her head to her elbow. The butterflies over the void seemed to grow agitated, fluttering before her in a frenzied chaos as if they sensed something was amiss.
As her blood-slicked hand covered her temple, something small and delicate emerged from under the skin. The pain eased a little, and whatever it was that had hurt so badly just moments ago seemed to flutter tiny wings against the skin of her palm. When the biting pain finally subsided altogether, the curious-yet-frightened woman bent her fingers into a fleshy cage and brought the thing up to eye level.
She bit her lip.
It was a butterfly, but not like some of the others. Where they were big and bright, this one was rather plain and small. A tiny smile creased her face, and cracked lips ached at the effort. Slowly, she opened her fingers. The butterfly wandered around her hand before settling on the mound of her thumb, where it tasted the air with its tiny antennae and flexed a small pair of powder blue wings. As plain as it first seemed, the butterfly had a delicate sheen on its wings that made them look like two tiny sheets of steel.
Though she was beset by a sense that she was losing something that mattered, a smile grew on her face and stretched the open wounds on her cheeks; it hurt, but in that moment, the pain didn’t matter. In the next instant, the butterfly flexed its wings and tried to lift off her thumb. A flash of momentary panic seized her, and she quickly closed her fingers around the little creature, even as it sought a way free of the cage.
The woman thought to capture it with the net that hung, limp and lifeless, at her side; there were more holes in the mesh than strings holding it together, so the tiny being escaped in spite of her. As it fluttered away, the woman began to feel as though a hole was growing inside her, where something meaningful should be but no longer was. The butterflies over the void gradually fell back into a gentle rhythm as a new member joined their ranks.
It fluttered just out of her reach; she gnawed her lip in frustration.
As it entered the throng, another one wearily made its way toward her. Sometimes it flew, and sometimes it just seemed to fall, but before long it came within her reach. Lightning-quick, the woman curled her fingers and snatched it out of the air. With a flash of understanding, she remembered her little steel-blue butterfly from moments before, and brought her hand to her temple to hold the worn-out butterfly there until it stood on its own.
For many long moments, the dying butterfly just stood there, spent from being too long outside. The woman began to wonder if she’d done the right thing. Worry gnawed at her, the longer it stayed on her skin. The cloud of butterflies seemed to vibrate in anticipation.
Suddenly, it dug into her skin. Tiny feet, like little pickaxes, bit in and pried her skin open. She whimpered and bit her lip until it bled, but she endured. As it pushed its way into her head, a memory began to take shape. It flickered and fluttered, like the wings of a butterfly.
Was there a motorbike…? A man…? Who was that, screaming…?
She leaned forward then, straining to hear the sounds that wafted up from the bottom of the void. Squinting, she thought a pinprick of light appeared in the dark, glittering red and blue and white. There was a man’s voice… a whining sounds… and what was that music?
The wind, already insistent, pushed at her more fiercely.
“Clear!” a man’s voice penetrated the darkness in the void, sharp and loud.
The woman felt herself jerk violently. The grey limbo flickered before her, interspersed with images of a road on a rainy night. She lurched forward, into the void; the black bottom rushed up at her, even as the cloud of butterflies- her memories- slowly followed her down.
She felt her eyes open. It was dark and wet where she was. Two men leaned over her as she lay on the hard pavement, their bright yellow reflective jackets glaring in the headlights of passing cars.
“We got her!” the man above her said. He smiled reassuringly at her. “You’re going to be ok…”
“That’s one of them, at least,” the fellow just behind him muttered. “What a night…”
On the stereo of the broken motorcycle, the Shangri-Las belted out a song…
I felt so helpless, what could I do? Rememberin’ all the things we’d been through. At school they all stop and stare. I can’t hide the tears but I don’t care. I’ll never forget him, the leader of the pack.
Currently living in beautiful Victoria, British Columbia, Cassie has been writing in different capacities for over 20 years. She eventually became an Internet content writer by trade, due in large part to endure a long and tiresome creative block. Cassie is also a mother of two young children.