Flash fiction: Butterflies by Val Muller

Welcome to the Spot Writers. This month’s topic is “Halloween.” This week’s story comes to you from Val Muller, who, despite loving horror, ended up writing something much more upbeat. For more upbeat fun, check out her middle-grade mystery series, Corgi Capers, at www.corgicapers.com.


By Val Muller

The October sun shone golden and glorious. Seventy-five degrees and sunny. A delightful taste of summer after a week of frost. And what better place to spend such a day than Grandma Lo’s? The huge house was packed with ancient treasures, things from Logan’s parents—two people Jana was too young to have known. The property was beautiful, too: eight apple trees lined the driveway, an acre in the back and a three-acre field next to the house. Grandma Lo kept a garden three quarters of the year, and now it blossomed with kale, carrots, and leeks—and a few straggling tomato plants that refused to succumb to the cold.

Mom and Dad had come to spend the day helping Grandma Lo mend the wooden fence and repair some of the stonework on the wall out back. Grandma was still quite healthy, but there were some tasks an old woman couldn’t handle alone.

But of course, Jana was too young to help. They said if she behaved, she could help paint the boards later. Jana loved any kind of painting, any kind of artwork.

Grandma Lo set Jana up with a plate of cookies and a glass of chocolate milk, as always.

“I can’t believe it’s October already,” Grandma said. “What will you dress as for Halloween?”

Jana smiled and said, through bites of cookie, “I want to be a butterfly. Mom says I’m old enough to make my costume this year, but I’m not sure where to start.”

Grandma Lo smiled. “Follow me to the basement. I’ve got boxes of costumes and clothes from my parents. I haven’t looked through them in years.”

Jana gulped the rest of her milk and grabbed another cookie to eat on the way, then followed Grandma downstairs to the large closet in the corner. Grandma opened a box and laughed. “A dragon costume.” She held up an adult-sized union suit made of fuzzy green material. “I remember the year my dad wore this while parading us around the neighborhood. No trick-or-treating that year, so he dragged us around on a wagon so we could show off our costumes to the neighbors. I was a fairy princess, and my brother was a knight.” She pulled out a plastic knight helmet. It snapped as she opened the visor. “I guess it got brittle with age. Like me.” She laughed. Then she pulled out a sparkly pink fabric square. “This is what my mom made me to match the princess costume.”

“Is that…” Jana asked.

Grandma nodded. “A cloth mask. We all had them. All colors and designs. I remember detesting them at the time—looking forward to when we wouldn’t need them everywhere we went.”

Jana held out her hand, and Grandma dropped the mask into it. “We learned about 2020 in school,” she said. “Our teacher showed us one of these.” Jana demonstrated what she’d learned by donning the mask, pulling the straps behind her ears.

“Crazy the elastic still works.” Grandma shivered. “Funny, seeing you wear that mask brought back so many memories. Time with my parents, my brother.” Grandma wiped a tear. “Who’d think I’d get all nostalgic about it sixty years later?”

She shook her head and smiled apologetically at Jana. “I have to go help your Mom and Dad. Got a couple of boards loose, and those neighbors do like to complain. You can look through all these boxes. Lots of clothes and costumes in here from my parents and from me growing up. Whatever you find, you’re welcome to use. I’m sure you can find a butterfly somewhere in there. There’s glue, yarn, scissors.” She pointed to her art desk along the wall. “Help yourself, my darling.”

Grandma ascended the stairs, still wiping her eyes, and Jana’s skin prickled. The basement was fully finished, but it was still creepy. All basements were. Something in the furnace room creaked, and Jana fought the urge to run upstairs. She was old enough this year to make her own costume, and she wasn’t going to let herself get scared away until she did.

But how to make a butterfly? The costumes here were anything but—a skeleton suit, a monster mask, dragon, pirate, witch hat. All scary stuff. No butterfly.

She tried another box. The rest of the crackling plastic suit of armor. A reaper robe.

Another box. A flowing quilt of a skirt folded neatly on top, and underneath—scraps and scraps of colorful fabric. They seemed to flutter with the rush of air when she removed the skirt. Then, leaning behind the box, a plastic sleeve of thin wooden dowels. A noise in the furnace room jarred Jana again, but this time it didn’t break her smile. She was too old to be scared, she decided.

* * *

With the fence almost finished, Logan wiped sweat from her brow and started back to the house, promising to bring glasses of cold lemonade to her daughter and son-in-law. Despite the beautiful day, the heat of October was oppressive, somehow; and since talking with Jana, her mind had gotten stuck in 2020. The memories felt like shackles, like a weight dragging down her brittle bones. Those had been rough years. She remembered having only wanted to get past them.

But those years were far behind her. She’d been so young. She’d had a full life since then. Why did they bother her now?

Oh, they were beautiful, too, in some ways. So much had changed with the pandemic, though of course life returned to normal after. It always does. Those too young to remember, though—they simply couldn’t appreciate it. Two years of distance learning. A year of cancelled plans. Yet more downtime than Logan had ever experience before or since.

“Look at me,” she whispered to herself. “Crying like the old woman I promised myself I’d never become.” It wasn’t that the memories were so painful. Maybe it was just the lack of closure. There was never any kind of declaration, no celebration of a global vaccine, no declared end, no Armistice Day. Things simply faded back to normal. Slowly.

Logan wiped away sweat and tears with the edge of her shirt as she came to the rock wall at the back of the house. There, in a flutter of color, was Jana. She wore two beautiful five-point wings that looked like they were made from wooden dowels and yarn and…could it be?

Logan stepped behind a tree to enjoy the girl’s dance without disturbing her. Jana had tied the wings to her arms so that they flapped when she moved. They were a tapestry of color, a mosaic of memory. All those masks—her mother’s, her father’s, her brother’s, her own—Paw Patrol and paisley, Spiderman and soccer, snowmen and picnics. Every flutter of the pattern was a rush of memory.

The autumn sun glowed against that fabric with its special light—the magical way it turns everything golden. The breeze kicked up, causing the dry psithurism of aging autumn leaves, a whoosh less pleasing than its summertime counterpart but still soothing nonetheless.

Four dozen colorful masks transformed into wings, the weight of the pandemic completely gone from them. They took flight in front of Logan’s eyes as she stepped out from behind the tree, into that transformative golden sunlight that tickled her face like the kiss of butterfly wings, into the winged arms of her granddaughter.

The Spot Writers—Our Members:

Val Muller: http://valmuller.com/blog/

Catherine A. MacKenzie: https://writingwicket.wordpress.com/wicker-chitter/

Phil Yeats: https://alankemisterauthor.wordpress.com

Chiara De Giorgi: https://chiaradegiorgi.blogspot.ca/


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