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Maiden of the Butterflies

Part of a short story duology

By Bri CraigPublished 4 months ago Updated 4 months ago 5 min read
Maiden of the Butterflies
Photo by Samantha Hare on Unsplash

Author's Note - The following story is paired with my other story, Keeper of the Cedar Oak. They are best enjoyed in tandem with each other, but the reader is free to choose the order by which they are read.

My father taught me the laugh of the orange fox, and my mother taught me the songs of the nightshade flower. I think of them both when I press my ear to the weeping willow that grows from the place their bodies were buried.

It is a transcendent experience to listen to the whispering woods, they had promised me once. But I always thought that transcendence was a misnomer. To transcend was to expand above the planes of human existence. But to listen to the whispering woods? Well, I found the words to be irreparably humbling instead.

After the death of my parents, many of the forest spirits had refused to speak to me. But with nothing left, I pushed onwards to earn my role as Speaker.

I charmed the butterflies first; it took me three weeks to learn their dances and echo them in the clearing. After they warmed to my presence, much of the forest poured on their trust like falling dominoes. I coaxed open the buds of the honeysuckle bush. I spent hours among the blackberries. I learned each of the twelve songs of the Elm.

With trust repaired, I could listen to the whispers of nearly every creature that called these woods their home. All except for one – an old tree spirit that watched all territory west of the river.

The Cedar Oak.

The Cedar Oak was said to speak in a garbled language, difficult to hear and more difficult yet to understand. This was said to be because the Cedar Oak was not a single entity, but two spirits, fused together for eternity.

My grandmother had told me that there was once a storm that had ruthlessly lashed through the forest, cutting and destroying all who stood tall in the night. Two trees bore the sorrows of this night, one cedar tree and one oak tree. Close in proximity, the two had huddled together for comfort, and in the process, bark had infused itself to bark. Two trunks twisted and warped into one. They became the Cedar Oak.

Perhaps, this was the reason why I never understood the language. There were two voices competing to be heard, one perpetually swallowing the other.

But here, under the watchful eye of the willow tree, I find my eyebrow twitching. I pinch a leaf of the weeping willow between my thumb and forefinger, rubbing the surface with the tenderness of a mother touching the soft head of her infant son. Then I pluck the leaf from the branch and drop it to the forest floor.

It needed to be pruned.

I touch my own hair, which hangs limply by my side like their own extension of the weeping willow. My limbs too, dangle in wisps at my side and they too, appear to be rustled by the breeze. I roll my head to the side and let my eyes fall softly on the butterfly that lands in the hollow of my hand. Butterflies can purr if you listen to them.

Vain little things.

Attracted to all that was beautiful.

Believing that this was all that was good.

I brushed the branches of the weeping willow off of my shoulder like a lock of hair and gather my basket from it's precarious placement on the river's bank. Gently, I clutch the linen hem of my dress and float it above my knees. When I step into the stream of water, my toes curl around the river rocks. The cold hugs my calves, but I feel a warmth budding in my ribcage, despite it all.

Today is the day I will pay a visit to the Cedar Oak.

Today, I will solidify my role as the Speaker for these whispering woods.

Another sound snares my attention away from my thoughts: the water pulses and splashes as another steps into the river. A gangly boy with hair of thorns and eyes that drank in the water like a beggar in the desert. He smells like blood.

The Keeper of the Cedar Oak.

A vulture among the sparrows and a harbinger of death. I scowl at the boy and straighten my spine. He has the audacity to smile a me, a wicked, lurid smile. His hands are still stained from his last kill. I know he intends for me to be his next.

My stomach throbs against my skin. He is the reason that the Cedar Oak still refuses to listen to me. And now, he is here to kill me. I know because the butterflies like to gossip. But I also know, I've seen that look before.

The boy lurches towards me, brandishing a dark, steel blade. It was the blade my mother once carried. An heirloom. Heat bubbles up into my face and I duck underneath the swing. His eyes widen in an angry, aching way. And I can see the blade shutter in his grip. He is malnourished. Dark circles bud underneath his eyes like the belladonna. His solitude has not been kind to him.

Perhaps it is better this way.

I dive underneath his knife and press him down into the river bank. The greedy stream licks at our legs, begging for a meal. Knowing that there is nourishment in the two bodies fighting for life or death.

I pry the knife from his hands, my mother's knife. I see her eyes glinting underneath the metallic surface, and the vision causes my hand to release it's clutch. The knife burrows itself under the lap of the water.

"You killed them," the boy screeches. And I pause above his writhing figure. I can see the tears welling in his eyes. I know who he means.

Our parents.

But the forest is watching. Even now, the spirits are gathering by the river as he speaks. They are watching us, waiting for a resolution. And I simply cannot afford to lose my progress on their trust.

"The only killer here is you," I say, because I have cataloged the rumors from the butterflies about the boy who plays grim reaper. I have heard the rabbits crying at night. All of my evidence is written on my brother's hands in blood.

He lurches toward me again, thin fingers cutting through the air like throwing knifes. I jump backward, grasping the stones underneath for leverage. The hem of my dress is waterlogged, and I feel it slowing me. He throws his body weight on top of me, but he is still young, and feeble.

And I have come too far and sacrificed too much to die today.

And so, I find the largest river stone I can hold in one hand. I wait until he wraps his fingers around my neck. Once there is a reasonable need to self-defense, I slam the rock into his skull. He shutters and drops into the water. I drop the stone, and I hold his writhing body under the cold stream until he becomes still.

I will bury my brother under the weeping willow.

And then I will convince the Cedar Oak to speak to me, as I am now the last Speaker of the whispering woods.

***

***

Thank you for reading this story! I had a lot of fun with the challenge of writing one story from two different perspectives. If you're interested, you can find the other half of this story down below:

Short StoryFantasy

About the Creator

Bri Craig

Bri Craig (she/her) is a variety pack writer. She enjoys writing poetry, webcomic features, humor, short stories, and personal anecdotes. Basically, neither of us will ever know what will be posted next!

Let's connect! More about me here.

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Comments (1)

  • Randy Wayne Jellison-Knock4 months ago

    Familial tragedy culminating in premeditated self-defense?

Bri CraigWritten by Bri Craig

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