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Butterfly Wings - Chapter 6 - Raft

by BlackThorne


She'd lost her hot water bottle, and mind-clouds had rushed in where the heat had been, leaving her wandering listlessly through the streets. The shadows were everywhere. They pooled around street lamplight and clotted in her footsteps, with curling black tendrils that whispered in her ears. They were waiting for her to fall, for her footsteps to stop, waiting for her to slide through air with the hours, sinking to her knees and never getting up as those shadows, those clotted, tentacled shadows oozed over her. 

But they hadn't, and it was almost evening.

But her footsteps never seemed to tire. They slowed at times, but did not stop. They bubbled with blisters, wasting their burning pain on numb nerves, lackadaisical. She walked like a flower, a flower lolling in the breeze, blissfully unaware as its petals rotted at its feet. The shadows touched her but could not hold her, not for her determination, but her luck. It was all luck that she lived. Her will was not of iron, but of water, flowing with the inertia of, well, I’m already walking… no matter how the blackness screamed at her to just sit down-

It was all luck that she lived.

Luck, that she didn’t slice her feet open on broken glass, or fall over the side of a hill, or hit her head or drown.

That she found the mall. That she absentmindedly shoved her way through the double doors. That the candle shop was burning.

She stumbled out of the jaws of the crash bar door, shoes clattering onto the polished gray concrete. She could hear something crackling quietly, and blindly wandered towards the sound. The glowing yellow feathers of an unattended flame flickered, from the quagmire of bubbling molten wax dripping from shelves licking with fire. The glass holders sizzled, rippling like crystal soap bubbles in the billows of heat, and popping in drops of broken glass, and a wave of heat washed over her. Her thoughts awoke like insects from frozen earth and began shifting in her skull...She’s lost her water bottle...her feet hurt...her bottle...her feet...the fire…

Tears leaked from her eyes. Her feet felt like they would drop off if she lifted them. She sat down, in front of the popping, crackling fire, and blood rushed into her souls, and the shallower aches began to ebb a little.

The fire was fine. It wouldn’t spread. She was warm now. 

Her feet weren’t fine. The toes were wrinkled like raisins from walking through the water that dripped from the walls, and her blisters had burst with pus and blood. Sore was a weak word.

More tears came. Most of her stuff had fallen out of her cloth bag as she dragged it on the road. Even more when she realized they were useless to her anyway. Even now, the urge to run away floated around her, residue from who she had been, still telling her to gather supplies and leave in the cover of night. The butterfly wings were everywhere.

She could hide, but she couldn’t run.

She wrapped her arms around herself, face orange in the firelight. Her impulses to run would have to wait. She couldn’t outrun the shadows. She’d have to stare them down and play the waiting game.

If she hoped to survive.

Drafts whispered among the plants. The stores were empty and dark, and their light-up signs flickered like static, sending clouded shafts of light diffusing into the glassy floor. It smelled of metal and lint. She could hear the distant rippling grind of an escalator. A few empty carts had rolled into corners, and trash scuttled across the floor like tumbleweeds. Damp air mulled over benches rolled from metal honeycomb.

She wrapped her fingers around the wheel bar of the nearest cart and rolled it towards her. She filled it with her cloth bag, which still had some snack cakes inside, three large, waxen candles, and herself, gripping a broom that she’d found leaning against a wall.

The iron bones of the cart were cold against her legs, as she sat, cradling her feet. Her knees slid against a few candles, of the very large sizes, that hadn’t melted all the way in the fire, which was starting smolder. They were like pillars of wax, big as chopped logs, and sprouted a single wick in the center, which she’d lit to give her heat and a bit of light to see by. One tall white one like soap, a shorter one swirled like a peppermint stick, and a medium square one that was a cream color.

She thrust her broom into the wall, and the car began to roll forward.

Set sail.

creak creak creak creak creak creak

The broom was her paddle as she rowed in lingering strokes, and the cart was her raft It glided across the glossy floor, black in the darkness, like a rowboat sliding over a starlit sea in the midnight, as the candles flickered in the shadows, like sidelights glowing from a cruiser on the ocean. 

Just her and her island, floating across the water. She passed stores, empty and dark as caves, some flickering. The power seemed random, sluggishly flowing to some neon lights, skipping over systems, making light bulbs burst out in sparks.

She rolled over to the sign, and read the names of the department stores on this floor. None of them sounded like places where she could find salve for her blisters. She’d have to go up at least a level.

clunk

clunk

clunk

The slotted steps of the escalator shunted up the track, like silver fish swimming upstream. The rubbery railing looped around the conveyor like a rubber band, turning and turning in an endless ellipse, as the black-bristled brushes at the edges crinkled, brushing the steps as they bubbled from the floor and flowed skyward. Glowing green flashes filled the gaps between them at the bottom like pools of mountain dew, foaming with charges of silent static.

clunk

clunk

clunk

Time to get out of cart for a minute, no matter what the sizzling in her feet said as they touched the floor. She bent down to grab the lower bar of the cart, and faced opposite to the foot of the escalator, striped with yellow and black paint and flashing with lime green.

UMPH

She pushed back with the cracked heels of her feet, and landed on one of the steps on the rising escalator, her cart rattling in tow.

clunk

clunk

clunk

Her fingers and feet burned as she held onto the cart so it wouldn’t roll back down. It swayed back and forth, the candles sliding against the back of the cart, her bag dangerously close to falling into the slots.

hah

She reached the top, and scrambled out of the way of the steps sinking back into the floor, her feet throbbing with pain. The cart rolled a few feet before stopping. She pulled herself with her hands and clambered back in, again taking hold of the broom and rowing. 

creak creak creak creak creak

Daffodil looked out from the balcony. The light-up signs flickered like colored stars, sending gleams of light onto the leaves of indoor plants, the escalators clacked as the steps rose like bubbles, against the underlying hum of the sporadic electricity singing through wires, the polished concrete floor gleamed. 

She needed to find something. A salve, maybe. A store with salves that could help her.

creak creak creak creak creak

A clothing store, with racks of clothes whispering in the drafts.

creak creak creak creak creak

A makeup salon, with shelves of lip gloss lipstick.

creak creak creak creak creak

A dollar store, with crackly candy and foam toys. A few of the fluorescent lights were working, but flickering wildly, like strobe lights.

creak creak creak creak creak

A soap and lotions store.

creak

Thick white letters glowed over a dimly lit store of soaps and perfumes, cylindrical wooden displays like layered cakes stacked with pastel soaps, round ones like aged cheese wheels and square ones piled like bricks like waxy blocks of fudge. Bottles of flowery perfume gleamed next to pucks of soothing balms and face cream.

Soothing balms. She could remember that balms were waxen, slippery, like lip gloss, and were applied to skin. Maybe it would help her blisters.

creak creak creak creak creak

She pushed with the broom, rolling the cart into the store. Colors blushed from the shelves of skin care products, in warm pastels and creams. Perfumed scents floated from the sample cards next to aromatic bottles of liquid, soft florals mixed with sparks of tart citrus, sour limes and pink grapefruits. Aromatic woods and nectar. The balms would probably be next to the chapstick.

creak creak creak creak creak

Herbal cleansing balms. Lip balms flavored with fruit and honey. Smooth body lotions.

A natural all-purpose balm, allegedly, in a silver metal tin. 

She cracked open the lid. It was waxy and yellowish. She pulled some papery band-aids from her pockets and peeled them onto the worst blisters, and rubbed the balm onto her feat. It was slippery and soothing, like greasy yellow butter, and made them feel a little better. Hopefully they would heal soon.

creak creak creak creak creak

She needed to find somewhere to put down roots. Somewhere without shadows. Her home was gone, swallowed by the shadows. Maybe her mind would rest a little easier.

It was getting dark. It would be good if she had some food there, maybe some more balm, or some water. She didn’t know. If she kept on collecting things maybe she didn’t have to think about how she had no idea who she was, what had happened or what she was doing. In any case, she had to find somewhere, instead of drifting like a dandelion seed, the whispers of the shadows in her ears.

“Just lay down and rest…”

“Just put out those candles and…”

“Just don’t think…”

“Just give in…”

“Let us swallow you…”

“You don’t have to suffer…”

“Let us swallow you…”

“Let us swallow you…”

“Let us swallow you…”

She shook her head, and warmed her hands over the weak heat of the candle.

creak creak creak creak creak

Her bones hummed as the cart wheeled over the cold floor, and puddles of melted wax glistened in the dips in the candles. It was getting dark, and the drops of flame at the end of the wicks seemed flimsy against the ever-thickening shadows, as the sun was swallowed by the hills, and the sunlight leeched away from the clouds. Their whispers were growing louder. There were lots of them in this part of the mall.

sk sk sk sk sk sk sk sk sk sk

COME WITH US….

sk sk sk sk sk sk sk sk sk sk

YOU’RE GOING TO DIE ANYWAYS…

sk sk sk sk sk sk sk sk sk sk

JUST REST FOR A WHILE…

sk sk sk sk sk sk sk sk sk sk

STOP WASTING YOUR TIME…

sk sk sk sk sk sk sk sk sk sk

She paddled faster with the broom. They swirled at her back and writhed through her hair, reaching for her with cold, damp fingers that wreathed around her neck and whistled through the wires of her cart. They were clogging her candlelight, absorbing the heat with their frigid dampness. She tried to move closer as she pushed the broom along the floor, but the fire was faded, muted by the molasses of shadows that leaked over her surroundings and swallowed her vessel like storm clouds, bleaching her surroundings black. She continued to wheel her shopping cart along. It was an island of weakened light, a firefly in a dark room, flickering. She was so cold. Her fingers were growing numb.

sk sk sk sk sk sk sk sk sk sk

YOU CAN’T KEEP THIS UP FOR MUCH LONGER…

sk sk sk sk sk sk sk sk sk sk

YOUR LUCK’S RUNNING OUT…

sk sk sk sk sk sk sk sk sk sk

Her arms were starting to slow down, like a sluggish fly during the winter. She struggled to keep her thoughts coherent, to keep her head clear. The candles weren’t enough, when the darkness was this dense. Her movements grew slower, and slower, and finally they stopped. The cart rolled on through the void. Frictionless. Directionless.

It seemed this was how it would end.

Until white light flooded her eyes. She looked up.

It was a claw machine. She dimly recognized it. One of those claw machines where you put in a quarter, and jostle the joystick around until you fish out a prize.

Vibrant lights crawled around a gleaming ribbon like beetles, making the machine glow like a colorful christmas tree, or a sky full of rainbow stars. A tray bulged from the front, serving up a joystick topped with a plastic red handle and two labeled coin slots. She put a hand on the glass. Inside was a pile of push toys, brightly colored like highlighter and round like colorful orchid petals. They bulged at the seams with stuffing, like plums with tight black skin pinched around their juices. A mound of colored cotton balls, spongy, squishy cupcakes lathered with pastel frosting and stitch sprinks. The claw floated in the corner like a metal spider, dangling with a coiled cord like black spaghetti.

Vibrant lights crawled around a gleaming ribbon like beetles, making the machine glow like a colorful christmas tree, or a sky full of rainbow stars.

Keeping the shadows at bay.

Slowly, the flames burning in the candles became unstuck, and their feeble warmth began oozing over the air, dissolving the fog that clouded her head.

Ah…

She looked behind her. The black mass of shadows writhed. But the worst was behind her.

creak creak creak creak creak creak

There. There was the escalator down. The slotted steps of the escalator shunted down the track, like silver fish swimming down a waterfall, the rubbery railing looped around the conveyor like a rubber band, turning and turning in an endless ellipse, as the black-bristled brushes at the edges crinkled, brushing the steps as they bubbled from the floor and flowed over the stairwell, and so forth, and so forth.

clunk

clunk

clunk

Finally again on the ground floor. She climbed back into the cart, and again took up the broom, and began paddling.

creak creak creak creak creak creak

She dumped her shopping cart against a bench and stopped to rest for a bit. Her arm muscles were sore.

The bench was like a rolled fruit rollup, dipping into a seat with smooth curves, propped up with two iron poles. It was punched with holes like a metal honeycomb, and sparkled dully like the wax on her candles. She stretched out her legs, resting her feet. The balm had helped but she wouldn’t be able to walk on them for a while. Wrappers crackling, she pushed the snack cakes that’d slid out back into her bag. The inside of the plastic was sticky with frosting. She’d need to find some more food and water. Some clothes, blankets, some soap...she didn’t know. But not to run. To wait it out.

She looked up at the skylight. It sparkled in the fading twilight as it drained from the sky, like a mosaic of broken glass.

She got back into the cart and continued paddling.

creak creak creak creak creak creak

The wide hall opened up into the food court. Spidery black chairs lined white quartz tables. Stone hedges lined with white and red tiles curled around booths, sliding out dull leather seats. There were crumbs sprinkling the floor, and greasy napkins scuttled across the floor in the drafts. She thought she heard the faint, residual sounds of swirling chatter and chewing, but when she listened closer all she heard was silence. More flickering signs lined the walls.

creak creak creak creak creak creak

She parked the cart near a table and sat down on a cold, glossy chair, and slid the food she had left out of the bag. She had to eat or she might fade again. Chocolate cupcakes, that stuck to the crackly plastic. Curlicues of frosting looped over the top, that had cracked a bit like delicate porcelain. An energy bar. Cheese and peanut butter cracker sandwiches, bright orange like traffic cones. A small bag with small cookies. It was bright blue and crinkling.

That was all she had, so she ate it, well, most of it. She decided to save the energy bar for later, and abandon the tote bag. It had a hole torn in it and was starting to unravel.

creak creak creak creak creak creak

Before she left she stopped at a pretzel place. A plastic napkin dispenser squeezed next to a deli display case that laid out a spread of their wares. Soft pretzels, shiny swollen ones sprinkled with pale grains of pearl salt, warm ones crusted with a crinkling, amber layer of cinnamon sugar. They stirred the residue of a distant memory, and seemed familiar to her. Lights hung from the ceiling like bluebells.

It had lemonade coolers, perched at the top of the metal dispensers like exotic birds. Glass tanks glowing pink and yellow like jellyfish in deep sea that were cool like a refrigerator door. Lemonade pumped through the glass, running down the sides and over the edge like fire dripping into the air from logs. They bubbled and sparkled like colorful tinsel. She filled a water bottle with strawberry lemonade. It didn’t have to be all bad.

creak creak creak creak creak creak

She pushed open the door with the broom and wheeled the cart out of the mall. It was almost all dark now. But she had to find somewhere.

Somewhere without shadows.


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43 Reviews


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Tue Feb 18, 2020 7:47 pm
jster02 wrote a review...



Hi, I'm back! Sorry I was gone for so long, I only meant to be gone a week, but I got distracted with other things.

Anyways, I enjoyed this chapter. You did a good job illustrating how close your protagonist was to collapsing in the opening paragraphs. I could feel her teetering on the edge, just one wrong step away from succumbing to the shadows. Speaking of which, it's cool, (and a little creepy), how the shadows started actually speaking. If I remember correctly, they haven't done that till now, which gives me the feeling that they're growing stronger. At any rate, they're certainly more prominent than they were before now.

I noticed a few weird things as I was reading through this chapter. For one thing, It occurred to me that there seem to be very few people out and about. It's a little odd that none of the characters have run into anyone else, seeing as this story does take place in what I assume to be a fairly well populated town. What happened to all the other people infected by the butterfly wing virus? Are they dead, stuck in their own houses, or invisible to one another somehow? I'm not sure if this is an oversight or something you plan to explain later, but I figured I'd point it out just in case.

I also thought it was a little weird how the claw machine saved the protagonist from the shadows. So far as I know, those things don't really give off much heat, so I'm guessing it was something else about it that saved her. I feel that this, among other things throughout the story (such as the shadows themselves), needs to be explained a little better at some point.

One last thing I thought I'd bring up is all the creaking and clunking throughout this chapter. I'm not exactly sure what it's supposed to signify. Is she being followed, or is it just the sound of the cart's wheels turning? It's used so much in the chapter that I found myself just glossing over it whenever it came up. I understand that you were trying to hit a word count for NaNoWriMo, but if you go back to edit you may want to simply remove the extra padding entirely. It'd really help the flow of the chapter.


Anyways, that's about all I have to say. Once again, I think the way you portrayed your character's emotions was excellent. I don't have any trouble relating to the utter despair she must be feeling, even though I've never once been stuck in an apocalyptic scenario.

I'll try not to wait so long to review your next chapter this time, have a nice day!

-Jster




BlackThorne says...


thanks for the review! as to your questions, firstly it was the light from the claw machine-while heat is what the mind from the cloudiness of the butterfly wings, it's light that dispels the shadows, and those are what most of the threat. as to the creaking and clunking, the creaking was the cart wheels, and the clunking was the escalator.



jster02 says...


Okay, that makes a little more sense.




Il faut imaginer Sisyphe heureux (One must imagine Sisyphus happy).
— Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus