What Butterflies Wonder

The prompt for today’s story was, “She was on her way home when it happened. She knew she could never see her family again.”

I decided to set a timer for 15 minutes and write whatever came to mind. I edited a few things for readability, but this was the result.


           She was on her way home when it happened, when she knew she could never see her family again. They wouldn’t understand the transformation. She hadn’t noticed it herself until she caught a glimpse of a stranger in a rain puddle and stared down at the wavering reflection, finally realizing when she reached up to scratch her nose that it was her own. Even if she did go home, they wouldn’t realize it was her. Or maybe she wasn’t her anymore and had somehow become someone else when she wasn’t paying attention. It could happen. Sometimes other people said they weren’t quite feeling themselves. The problem was, she was feeling more herself today than she’d ever felt.

            She stared down at the reflection and wondered what she was supposed to do if she wasn’t quite herself but wasn’t quite anyone else either. She decided to follow a street she’d always wanted to go down—the brick walls looked so inviting—but never had. The windows she passed were full of interesting wares, but her reflection fascinated her more.

            She waved at passersby. Normally she was shy, but she wasn’t herself today, and she hadn’t decided if who she had become was shy or not. There was no reason she had to be. This her had never been told she talked too much or been anxious in a room with strangers, so why wouldn’t she wave cheerily to them in the street? A few waved back, but most just cast a glance in her direction before passing by. It didn’t bother her. Why should it? This her wasn’t worried about what they thought of her.

            The buildings fell away, and the shore stretched out in front of her. She walked onto the pier, the water growing dark and frothy between the boards under her feet. At the end, she gazed down at the face looking back up at her. That face seemed to know who it was even if it wasn’t her face. It didn’t seem distressed by how different it looked despite being attached to her personage or frightened by the dark water churning over her. Maybe that person knew something she didn’t, since it wasn’t her but also had to be her.

            She wondered where she was supposed to go since she couldn’t go home. She could try to go home, try to convince them she was still who she was. Maybe if she adjusted her hair just right, maybe slouched a little, they wouldn’t notice. But then she wouldn’t be her anymore, or whoever this her was she was looking at. She’d just be someone pretending to be her, and that didn’t seem very appealing. She could leave and go far away and then she could be her. They would wonder where she’d gone, what had happened to her, why she had stopped being who she was, but she hadn’t. Staying would have meant not being who she was. They wouldn’t understand she had to leave so she could be who she was.

            She sat on the edge of the pier, swinging her feet lazily, leaning her chin on her folded arms resting on the railing. Maybe caterpillars felt this way, and that was why they locked themselves up in their cocoons, trying to look as much like a caterpillar as possible, but inside they were ripping apart and reforming, breaking and mending until everything was inside out, and when they emerged, all the other caterpillars said, “You’ve changed. You’re not you anymore. We don’t like this new you.”

           And if the caterpillar-turned-butterfly listened to them, it would never spread its wings and fly but spend the rest of its life trying to chew leaves and crawl over twigs. But butterflies didn’t do that. They spread their wings, and soared on the wind, and drank from flowers. Maybe they worried they’d made a mistake, if they thought of their caterpillar families and wondered, but surely, she thought, it must be better to fly.


I’ve been reading Alice in Wonderland. Can you tell?

~ R. E. Rule