The Butterfly Plague
Two minutes is all I ask for. If I could have two minutes alone with God, just two minutes, I wouldn’t fuck around. I would not be shy. And I wouldn’t bug him about any unrealistic shit like world harmony. I would ask him to do me a personal favor and tear out my eyes. I have flirted with the notion of taking a spoon to them myself but at the end of the day I don’t have the minerals for that. I know that God is not so spry as he once was and he’s hellish occupied with running the big show, but if ever he wanted to do me a solid, he could send some hired muscle round to my door in the middle of the night and have my eyes plucked for me by proxy. I might holler some but I don’t expect his boys would have to hold me down. I would look on it as an early birthday present. Because then I might be relieved of this hateful talent, this affliction.
I have visions. Though it might be more accurate to say that I suffer them. Because half the time what I see is beyond comprehension or is otherwise fucking useless and so the visions are good for nothing except to irritate the shit out of me, and it seems to me that if God wants to give you a little something extra, or turn you into a freak as you’re rolling down the birth tunnel, maybe he would put his best people on it and shake out the kinks. I am twenty-nine years old and these visions have been coming at me rain or shine regular since I was a kid and only twice have I seen someone actually walk into the light, and both times I failed to save them. I failed to intervene. The first time, I didn’t comprehend what I was seeing, and my youngest brother drowned while I sat staring, mute and helpless. I failed to lift a finger and Death blew me a nasty wet kiss as she left the garden. Death is a woman, by the by. And no wonder. It takes a stony sort of strength that is lacking in men to punch someone’s ticket and ferry them off to their final destination. I failed the second time I came face to face with her, but for a different reason. I failed that second time because it was me who did the killing. I stabbed to death a man I had never met as a favor to a girl I picked up hitchhiking.
I should give you the lowdown on these visions. They don’t come at me without fair warning. The first indication is a powerful wave of nausea, like I might soon cough up my large intestine. Then I heave up whatever my belly has to offer, which never fails to aggravate me. I comprehend that the nausea is no fun and the message therein is that something very unpleasant is coming my way. I get the fucking picture. I could do without the actual vomiting, though. I had to get my teeth capped a few years back and now I have this glittery white freak smile that makes people nervous. I am not overly fond of dentists to begin with. The guy who did my teeth was a weird dwarf named Dr. Jester. He made me listen to public fucking radio while he was poking his mean little tools in my mouth. Then he insisted that I sit through a consultation with a longhaired shrink, because he thought I had an eating disorder. I was too goddamn irritated to laugh. My ribs are poking out over here, man. I would love to put on a few pounds. I would love to eat a cheeseburger and say farewell to that sucker like anybody else. I try not to eat anything too colorful or expensive, as it is. But now and again I catch a break and get a nice violent sneezing fit instead of the vomiting. Then a slow oozing black spot appears in the corner of one eye. To keep things lively, the oozing black spot varies from left to right. Then comes the cloud of yellow streaked with red just beyond the edge of my periphery, as if a swarm of angry butterflies was about to take off my head. After which I have the vision, and come what may.
For the longest time I believed it was some fearsome bird that burst from my skull prior to the visions, as I had an inborn fear of birds. They give me the shivers like nothing else. I had a sparrow in my yard once with a broken wing. This girl I was running around with at the time sent me out to rescue him from the neighbor’s tabby cat. And when I picked that bird up, he was vibrating. I looked him in the eye and realized I had come face to face with the only purely insane creature on the planet, because no man nor beast can be rightly sane when its heart races against time and space like that. But the few times I have turned my head fast enough, I saw the swarm was indeed a plague of butterflies, each of them smaller than my own thumbnail, fragile and translucent, yellow and bringing with them a blood mist, and they were not of this earth. And how I know this red mist to be blood is not something I can qualify exactly in the verbal realm but I tend to think such knowledge must lay along the lines of the colors you see in dreams, never such ordinary colors. They are colors that don’t have proper names and when you wake, you can’t describe them. The plague of butterflies started to come for me when I was eleven or twelve, around the time puberty was kicking in, as if I had nothing else to worry about, what with my gear going haywire all the time and my face turning into hamburger. In those days, I flinched and waved my arms like a spastic because I thought some unholy yellow swarm of locusts were after me. And now I barely turn my head. I cough and spit and gather myself. The butterflies are long gone anyway and if I’m preoccupied with flailing my arms around I might miss out on the vision.
I see things before they happen, like your average clairvoyant. And sometimes I see people who aren’t there. I might be standing in line at the grocery store with beer and frozen pizza in hand, and I start sneezing and the butterflies swarm past in the blood mist and when I look around there is a pale thin barefoot girl in a red swimsuit standing behind me with eyes like black glass. Her swimsuit is torn in places, as if the fish have been nibbling it. Her skin is white and rippled from being underwater too long and her hair is wet, streaked with mud and I gather that she has drowned, or will drown soon. And again I reckon this comes with the territory. But who the hell can say what’s average and what’s not. I had five long years of college and never learned a thing about extrasensory perception, and I have never ever had the pleasure of speaking to another genuine seer. The nearest was a hippie girl I slept with once. In the morning she gave me a monster bong hit and fed me vegan pancakes, which were about as tasty as eating my own hair. Then she offered to throw her Tarot cards for me and the Hanged Man fell front and center three times in a row, after which she muttered some hippie voodoo about me being trapped between heaven and earth, between the physical and mystic planes. I was high and therefore agreeable so this made perfect sense to me. But the last thing she said was plain creepy and sad, and not at all a nice thing to say to somebody who spent half the night eating your pussy like it was a pocketful of sunshine and who just choked down your nasty Deadhead pancakes without an unkind word.
You will be lonely, she said.
These four words out of the mouth of a stoned nineteen-year-old girl stuck in my head like the fragments of a bullet. And what tortures me to this day was that she was just a tiny bit unspecific.
I will be lonely?
The hippie girl nodded solemnly.
Interesting, said I.
Vague, mournful silence.
Forever, you mean?
At which point she had an inappropriate giggling fit.
The butterflies most often come for me whenever and wherever the light is failing. They don’t come around at high noon, and they rarely torment me after dark. They come in the slow pink moments of first light if I have the misfortune to be awake. They come without warning in the rain and the blood mist swells fast and furious when a storm is on the horizon. And once in a blue moon they come for me when I am in the bathroom. I don’t have any reasonable explanation for that twist, except that bathrooms are just naturally spooky chambers from which the sun is banished. I have pissed away more than a few days all told, staring into the mirror like I have a goddamn crush on myself with the notion that I might get a proper skim at the butterflies as they turn the air yellow around me, and perhaps snatch a handful out of the mist and crush their wings like wildflowers.
And that’s about the long and short. I lived with my affliction as best I could and long before I killed that stranger in east Texas, I had drifted along a career path that was more crooked than not, and for the most part unremarkable. Then comes a day like any other. The sun hanging low and swollen, pink. The sun is just about to crash into the Mississippi and the light is getting funky. I am parked outside a movie theater in midtown Memphis in my rebuilt Firebird smoking a cigarette and tapping the wheel with one finger listening to Skynyrd soft and mellow on the Alpine stereo I installed myself when the blood mist flares so thick before my eyes I might think a red plum had shattered inside the car and before I can say boo my own private butterfly plague swarms yellow from the heating vents in the dash to form a cloud around my head. I crank the window down and after hurling everything I’ve got onto the black tar of the parking lot, I suffer a vision clear as crystal in which I strangle my twin brother Fred with an extension cord. I don’t know how or when it will come to pass but I’ve little doubt that it will. The blood mist is so thick that for a heartbeat I can’t tell if it’s night or day. I hold my breath and when I exhale the butterflies disappear back into the vents along the dash. My brother is safe for the time being, sleeping peaceful in the passenger seat beside me, the white slits of his marble eyes rolled back. His skin is washed gray, his skin is the color of lost memory and he’s got crumbs and unknown shit in his tangled gray and brown beard. His hands are folded long and graceful across his chest and his crippled left leg hangs off the edge of the seat useless as an empty sleeve.
After the plague, I return to the business at hand. I have a job to do this night, one that will constitute an uneasy leap up the criminal food chain. I was contracted by a father estranged from his family to snatch a twelve-year old girl with brown hair and brown eyes named Maggie Lee Polly who at this very moment is enjoying a tasteful family film with her mother. The father swore up and down that the mother was a junkie, a sexual deviant, a lapsed Scientologist, and worse. I had tuned him out by then because I didn’t give a rat’s ass. I have seen my sorry share of divorce and I’m sure both parents had a claim, and if the mother hires me next week I’ll step up and snatch the kid again. Nausea and dead morals aside, the payday is nothing to sneeze at and Fred has staggering medical bills to pay, so I accepted the job and tonight we have come to this parking lot to hunt. The movie won’t let out for another half hour or so and I would prefer to gather my strength by taking a lizard nap, breathing through my eyelids and listening for the theater exodus but the butterflies have pissed me off and like the Lord himself, sometimes when angered I take it out on the meek and I lunge sideways unexpected, stabbing Fred in the neck hard with my fuck finger. He jerks awake and gouges the sleep from his sockets and looks at me with too trusting eyes.