Butterfly of the Apocalypse
By Adam Gaylord
I close my eyes. The warm breeze smells of cut grass and I can hear children playing somewhere nearby. They laugh and scream, chasing one another in some game, unaware that they run headlong into oblivion.
We’d spent the better part of a lifetime studying them, the children, their parents, all peoples of this age. Two lifetimes really. The scope of the work was staggering: thousands of lives interacting in millions of ways. So many times we thought we’d found the pivotal relationship, the key to undoing the future, our future, the one we came from.
Our attempts were subtle at first. A well timed sneeze, a bump on the subway, a brief conversation. When nothing worked we escalated. From one night stands to assaults. In time, we got desperate. Stolen cars, arson, kidnappings, eventually murder. I’d killed so many. Nothing changed. We couldn’t find the pivot point. Our mission continued to fail.
We gave up. We’d certainly done our best. No one could say otherwise. Besides, we were in love. We decided to live our lives and, for a time, we were happy. As long as we kept our heads down and the TV off. But it’s hard to stay completely ignorant. Every once in a while we’d hear about something we’d been taught about as children, an event leading up to the beginning of the end. Ultimately it became too much. She was hardly sleeping and I’d started drinking. We couldn’t sit by and watch the apocalypse. We had to try again.
We approached the situation differently this time around. Rather than working on events from the outside, we got involved. She got political. I got revolutionary. She cajoled, I threatened. She pressed hands, I broke fingers. She drafted legislation, I blackmailed to secure votes. We were active, engaged, and in the end, we were failures. Nothing changed.
But we pressed on, then I pressed on. What choice did I have? She’s gone. It’s been over a year. Cancer. I’m old, although it’s hard to say how old. Older than I should be. I’m dying. I’m out of time. Humanity’s out of time.
Now I stand before the answer. It’s a beautiful day, sunny and calm. The tranquility is lost on me. My focus is solely on my prey.
The tools I’ve chosen to save humanity seem absurdly simple. A homemade net made out of a broom handle, a pillowcase, and a wire clothes hanger. The design straight out of a children’s book.
I approach the patch of flowers slowly. Dandelions. If I flush my prey, I’m too slow to catch up. My knees are terrible.
The web of events is almost impossibly complex. The beat of a wing, a diversion of air, distraction, missed connections, panic, death, a ripple in the fabric of history. It should be enough. It had to be.
I raise the net with a little prayer I don’t believe in and swoop it down over the insect, genuinely surprised in my success. I bundle up the pillowcase and hobble over to my killing station. A quick dump into a glass jar, a moment of panic when I think it’s gotten away, and relief when I realize it hasn’t.
It’s beautiful, orange wings with black edges and white spots. It looks like a monarch but it’s not. A queen butterfly, Danaus gilippus. An imposter, using its resemblance to the toxic monarch to fool predators. Well, not this one.
I ready my things. A jar, a cotton ball soaked in ethyl acetate, and a photo. I have a mustache and her hair is straightened. We both look a little drunk, and a lot happy. I’m ready.
But a familiar paralysis grips me, one I haven’t felt in a long time. It’s the possibility of not existing. I’d faced it hundreds of time but that was years ago. I’ve always known, find the right link in the chain and then break it, the rest of the chain will fall away into nothingness. I am a product of the horrors that await humanity. If I succeed, then those horrors will be avoided and I will cease to be. But more than that, we will cease to be. All that we had been, all that we had over the years, our failures, our successes, our love, will never have been, will never be.
I shudder, then give the jar a shake to stun the creature before quickly cracking the lid and adding the cotton ball.
I’m not sure how long it will take, surely not long. My stomach clenches as the butterfly flitters around its execution chamber. I set it aside. I can’t watch.
I do the only thing I can. I take a deep breath, the photo in both hands, and with a tear on my cheek, I wait.