Woo! Hoo! Happy Halloween! Or would Boo! Hoo! be more appropriate? No, that sounds like I'm crying. Whatever.
Anyways, today's the last day of my month long flash fiction journey. It's been super fun and I've gotten great feedback and kind words from a lot of people about the stories. Thanks to everyone who stopped by or helped me promote the posts.
Since today's special I decided to pull out the stops and wrote a longer flash fiction piece. All the others were around a hundred words. This one's closer to a thousand.
Hope you enjoy it!
“Look at my new friend, mommy, he’s funny.”
Janet stopped weeding the row of strawberries she was working on to look at her daughter who thrust out her chubby palm, holding it only inches from the tip of her mother’s nose. A large, violently green and black caterpillar sat in middle of Lana’s hand. The black markings striped its puffy body in swathes like miniature, grinning mouths. Its head (if that’s what she was looking at) had one of the stripes running across its front so that it appeared to be smiling.
“Whoa, well he’s very colorful,” Janet said, guiding Lana’s hand to a comfortable distance. “Where’d you find him?”
“Over there in the bushes,” Lana said, pointing to the edge of their spacious yard where the grass grew higher, giving way to a thicket which became the forest of pine trees that surrounded their home.
“Hmm, he’s different isn’t he?” Janet said.
“Yeah! He’s my friend, I heard him calling and when I picked him up he said we could be best friends.”
“Yep, and I asked him if he was going to be a beautiful butterfly and he said he was going to be something even better.”
“Well, that’s nice, honey.”
“Can I keep him?”
“Sure, just be careful not to squish him,” Janet said, returning to her work. “He looks like he’s full of goo.”
“I’m just saying,” Janet laughed.
“I’ll be careful. He’s my friend.”
“Did you brush your teeth, young lady?” Janet called up the stairs as she wiped her hands dry on the towel near the sink.
“Well do it, it’s time for bed!” Janet said, walking past the dark living room windows to the cartoon that played without an audience on the TV. She snapped the set off and then made her way up the wooden steps to Lana’s room.
She found Lana kneeling beside her bed, gazing into the small, plastic cage filled with grass clippings and wilting leaves that sat on her bedside table. Even from across the room, Janet could see the trundling movement of the fluorescent caterpillar as it climbed the side of its plastic prison.
“Okay, let’s get going, it’s past bedtime and we still need to read a story.”
Lana stared at the cage and didn’t move.
“Lana, did you hear me?”
Lana turned, her eyes glazed. “What?”
“I said, go brush your teeth.”
“Okay. I was just talking to him. He’s saying funny things.” Lana moved past Janet, her small feet padding down the hall in little steps before turning into the bathroom. Janet watched her go.
“Kid’s asleep on her feet.” Janet said to herself as she picked up a discarded gum wrapper and a rumpled t-shirt from the floor. The water ran in the bathroom and the sound of Lana singing something in muted tones floated down the hall. Janet threw the wrapper in the wastebasket near the closet and was about to put the t-shirt in the laundry bin when she heard a short hiss.
She stopped, mid-stride and turned, her brow drawn down as she came closer to Lana’s bed. The clock-radio blinked the red numeral 12 over and over, not having been reset from last night’s power outage. Janet bent over and began to fumble with the clock, sure that the hiss had come from the un-tuned radio. Movement drew her eyes to the right where the caterpillar waved, hanging by its back legs on the side of the cage.
Janet leaned closer to the plastic box and caught a whiff of something foul, there and gone like the breath of a corpse. The caterpillar stopped waving and curled toward her, its head seeming to peer out through the transparent wall.
“You might be what’s stinking,” Janet said. “I’ll have to get rid of you when Lana’s not around.
The black stripe on its head split, revealing a glimmer of needled ivory teeth.
Janet sat back, blinking, her hand coming to her mouth.
Janet pressed her palm hard to her lips, stifling the scream that wanted to spill out. Lana stood in the doorway, her pink nightshirt hanging just below her knees. When she looked back at the caterpillar it was working its way back down the cage’s side, its movement familiar, perfectly normal.
“Yeah honey?” Janet said, trying to shake away what she’d seen. What she thought she’d seen.
“Are you making friends with him?”
Janet smiled, her heart settling back into a normal rhythm. “Sure am, honey, now get in bed.”
Janet woke all at once, flying up from the depths of sleep to break its surface, a high diver in reverse.
“Mama!” Lana’s voice shrill, coming from down the hall.
“Coming!” Janet called, and swung her feet out of bed, not bothering with the fluffy slippers waiting on the floor.
When she entered Lana’s room, her daughter was sitting on the edge of her bed, tears streaming down her face.
“What’s wrong, honey?”
“I’m sick and my friend’s gone.”
Janet crossed the room and sat on the bed beside her daughter, putting an arm around her shoulders. “What do you mean, you’re sick?”
“My tummy hurts.”
“Oh, do you need to go potty?”
“No, I woke up and it hurt.”
“Let’s lie down again, okay?” Janet said, glancing at the plastic cage on the table.
Its lid was open a fraction of an inch, the caterpillar nowhere in sight.
“He got out somehow,” Lana said, clutching her blankets tight over her chest. “My friend ran away.”
“I’m sure we’ll find him, honey. He’s got really short legs, he couldn’t have gotten far,” Janet said, silently thankful Lana hadn’t been careful with locking the lid the night before. Now she wouldn’t have to dispose of the worm herself.
Lana smiled and a little giggle escaped her mouth. “You’re right, he’s probably close by.”
“That’s right. Okay, you rest a little bit and you’ll feel better. I’ll go get you a glass of water.”
Janet made it to the door before Lana’s voice stopped her again.
“Mom, can I be a butterfly when I grow up?”
Janet smiled. “Sure honey, you can be whatever you want.”