Of Butterflies and Hornets

Up a winding bumpy road down a narrow path, in a sunny hollow ringed by maples, birches, oaks, hickory, poplars, pines, spruce, and firs, there lived a mother and her twins; a boy and a girl. Here they spent their days tending to the little part of the world they lived in. When cleaning fallen leaves and branches out of the creek, they took care to leave the decomposing litter at the bottom for that was where the newts made their home. If they found a yellow jacket or hornets’ nest, they left it where it was and gave it a wide berth, returning from time to time to watch the insects fly to and fro. They gathered mushrooms in open baskets and shook them while walking through the woods to scatter the spores from place to place; and each year they were rewarded for their efforts with a new stand of mushrooms. The soil in the garden was turned over by hand and rich with earthworms. Seeds from previous years’ plantings would regrow in the fertile soil and they would move them around, planting vegetables, started from gathered seed, in between. It was a place busy with bees, butterflies, birds, snakes, and toads all doing their dances amidst the flowers, herbs, fruits, and vegetables; where food was aplenty for all. They spoke with the plants and the plants spoke with them. Often they would be called out by a cohosh or poplar to gather some root or flower for medicine making, and along the way they would find little unexpected treasures. It was the same way with the animals that lived in the forest around them. And so they trusted the little part of the world they lived in and were trusted in return.

One day a beautiful woman came up the narrow road they lived on. She claimed that her car had broken down and needed some assistance. The mother and twins greeted her with the curiosity and openness that they approached everything with. They fed her fresh cheese, warm bread, herbs and cucumbers from the garden, and brought her mint tea to drink. Soon it became dark and they invited her to stay the night. The next day they all walked down to the road with her to see to her car, but they were astonished to find it gone! The woman wept and despaired as to what she would do now, but her new friends assured her that they would help her somehow and so they walked back home. When they went to call in the car missing, they found the phone would not work. This was not that unusual, as they often lost electricity and with it the telephone line, so they shrugged it off and went about their days as always.

Now it wasn’t long before the woman became of great help to the mother, for she would tell the twins stories and cook meals, leaving the mother more time to wander about in the forest. If anything nagged at the mothers’ mind about her guest, she brushed it aside and told herself that all looked well. And so she spent less time with the twins than she used to, and they began to stay inside with their visitor more often. If the mother noticed the slightly dull look their eyes had taken on, or the pallor to their skin, she attributed it to the excitement of having a guest, and kept going telling herself all was well. Until one day she noticed that there were fewer butterflies about than before.

She was washing the dishes and looking out the window at the flowers, and it occurred to her that the butterflies weren’t fluttering about on the thistle as they used to. While she was pondering this, she heard voices from outside where the twins were sitting with the woman.

This is what she heard:
“You just killed another butterfly,” the boy was saying.
The woman replied, “It was an accident, I had to scratch myself and it was sitting there.”
“You could have moved it, they’re easy to move when they’re sitting on you,” said the boy.
“Well I never intended to hurt it,” was the response.
“That’s the eleventh time you’ve said that,” the girl piped in.
“Now you hush! It’s rude to interrupt,” the woman scolded.
“It’s even ruder to kill butterflies,” the girl retorted.
“There are hundreds of them! Nobody cares about a few,” said the woman.
“We do!” the twins in chorus, “Besides they carry the spirits of the dead away, when you kill them those spirits get lost.”
“Rubbish! Where have you heard such nonsense?” asked the woman.
“Come on,” the boy said to the girl, “Let’s go play, she just keeps on killing butterflies no matter what we say.”

And suddenly the mother understood where the car had gone, how come the phone did not work, and where the butterflies were, for if her children thought the woman had killed eleven they were mistaken. She had killed many more than that. She was a spirit eater, the mother knew now and would devour whole the spirits of all things alive, innocent, fresh and beautiful in the world to keep her own life extended

In that moment the mother stepped outside and confronted the beautiful woman, who cried and protested at first. But she could not fool the mother any longer and soon transformed into an old giantess of hideous proportions. She opened her mouth to consume the mother, but was terror struck when the mother too transformed: into an enormous golden dragon! The sinewy head coiled back, the honey eyes glinted dangerously, and the dragon opened her mouth and spewed forth a fiery heat that completely enveloped the old giantess. When the flames dissipated there was a pile of ashes left behind, from which uncurled spirit wisps that flittered freely about in the air, and just as the dragon transformed back into the mother, a swarm of butterflies came and carried them all away.

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