Luke Holm earned bachelor degrees in English and Philosophy from NIU. He is a middle school teacher and a creative writer.
They came in droves. Seemingly innocent and radiantly beautiful with their auburn highlighted wings that shimmered flecks of gold and bronze in the sunlight. No one knew why they came. They just did.
Calm Before the Storm
I remember sitting on a summer swing looking out across the lush valley grass that hadn’t yet tasted the afternoon shadows of the Tula Vista Mountains. The air was warm and Camper and I sat listen’ to the wind gently brush through the trees, rattling the newborn leaves and sending a sound like running water across the air. At the time, neither of us had a single care in the world and all was fine.
Camper sprung up out of nowhere, with his ears perked toward the east. I looked as far as my eyes would let me see, but could find nothing alarming to settle upon. I sat back down and told him to quiet his old bones before he gave himself a heart attack. Settling into my chair, I realized that the air had cooled a bit and took on a rough, stagnant smell.
Camper continued his stare and started barking like the cows done come home. This time I looked and saw a wide cloud arch over the highest peak of Tula. I was still ignorant at the time and supposed that we were ‘bout to get some rain. I even told Camper so myself. I said, “Doggonit, Camper, calm yourself. We could use some rain ‘round here. It’s not like we’ve had some all season yet.”
The more I looked at the incoming cloud, though, I could tell something was off. It was moving too darn fast to be a cloud comin’ over the mountain. They typically stayed near the top and trickled outward later during the storm. As it grew nearer, I saw that it was somethin’ like a swarm of locusts. I hollered at Camper to get inside and I moved stiffly into the house through the patio door. Aside from whinin’ a bit, Camper kept quiet. I could tell he was as scared as I was.
Within a minute or two, the whole house sounded like it was being sucked up by a tornado. The room went dark and shook in its old foundation. Every now and then a ray of light would sneak through the barrage and I would catch a glimpse of what looked like tiny brown wings flittin’ outside my window. I yelled to Camper, “Damn it old boy, I think we’re bein’ invaded by butterflies!” A billion bangs clanged against my window panes as they bumped off the sides of each other and right into my house. Camper ran into the basement and since it was already dark as night, I was inclined to follow him.
We bunkered down there for ‘bout an hour or so, until I couldn’t hear the chaos upstairs no more. When I opened the basement door and looked out a dusty window, my eyes met me with a mighty strange treat. All around me, like a blanket of brown snow was the pixy dust right off them butterfly’s wings. The air was covered in it too, like a great dust bowl done come out the sky and poured its emptiness all over us.
News Report: Seek Shelter
I creaked into the living room and turned on the television to see what I could see. There on the news, a lady was reporting that vast swarms of caramel colored butterflies where sweeping the nation without cause. No one knew where they were coming from, but everyone could tell where they had been due to tiny filaments of their wings shed all over any place they flew. She said to stay indoors and not breathe in the particles as they might congest the lungs or create even worse symptoms.
I wondered about my neighbor Ned, who had been in the process of re-tinning his roof. I felt like it was my job as a good neighbor to go check on him and see if he was alright. I told Camper to get back down into the basement and be quiet until I returned. I found a pair of thick woodcutter’s goggles and an old face mask that hadn’t been used in twenty years. I put them on and wrapped a sweater or two around my face for good measure.
Outside, the world was shimmerin’ in the light. It was, at the same time, the most beautiful and ghastly thing I ever did see. The ground was an inch thick with the dust and I could see my footsteps just like in the winter. Ned’s was about a mile down the street, which was nearly impossible to distinguish, but I knew the road and made my way as best as I could.
When finally got there, I saw poor Ned lyin’ out by his truck. Shufflin’ up to him, I called out in a muffled tone. “Ned, are you alive old friend?” I hesitated. I had never seen a dead person outside a casket before, but I continued with my neighborly duty. When I got closer, it looked like he was breathin’ and he turned to look at me.
I said, “Damn it, Ned, you look god awful. Did you get caught in that mess?” He didn’t respond. Already, his face was a pale white and he was sweatin’ profusely out his skull. I ran inside his house and called an ambulance, but I knew that it would take awhile for it to arrive. I poured Ned a glass of water, but he couldn’t drink it when I brought it out to him. It was real sad to see him just lyin’ there. He didn’t last much longer. I got a ride back with the paramedics.
I later found out that Ned had gotten what they called the “Spring Fever”. Lots of people got it that year, if they came into contact with that god-awful pixie dust. I’ll never forget that day, nor those beautiful, damned butterflies.
© 2017 JourneyHolm