The Poison Butterfly was awarded an Honorable Mention in the Mainstream/Literary Short Story category of the 1998

Writer’s Digest Magazine writing competition.

It is presented to you with minimal changes.

To those with a broken heart

The poison butterfly

Chatel gathered up her skirts as she ran through the soft hues of the garden, the wet grass squished between her toes. “Ven, Ven!” she screamed for her husband but he did not come. She was near the outlying woodlands as her dark eyes swept over the limbs for a sturdy, low branch but it was too late. The white pup, thinking the woman was toying with him had given chase and was just a length behind when he charged up to her. In Chatel’s hesitation the pup managed a swift lick at her heel. That was all it took.

The Pyrenees recoiled in agony, eyes bulging as he fell over, dead in seconds from the poison that ran through the woman’s body, from every pore, even the tips of her nails and the short tendrils of her hair. “I’m sorry, little one.” Chatel looked about the grounds but could see nothing of the mother Pyr who had long since learned to stay away. Laying a hand to the soft fur, Chatel gasped as the white coat turned a hideous black beneath her fingertips. “Madam?” Ezabelle, her maid, came from the far corner of the rose garden. She held an apron to her forehead, winded by the exertion of running to meet the cries of her mistress. “What is wrong?” Ezabelle spied the dead puppy, and dropped her shoulders in misery, while a strand of her red hair fell into her face. She dared not step closer. “I tried to get away from him.” Chatel slipped into the arms of a peach tree and set her forehead against the wood. “Please, keep the puppies in the main yard; don’t let them in the garden.” “He must have slipped away from the bitch.” “Yes, of course, curious puppy.” Ezabelle considered the foggy confines of the garden, arms crossed over her chest. She was a lovely young woman with pale skin, her cheeks

flushed with worry. “It’s damp and chilly this evening, Madam, do you want your coat?” “No… thank-you, but where is my husband?” “At business,” Ezabelle’s delicate fingers twisted about her apron. She looked uncomfortable as she continuously looked back to the cottage nestled beyond the trees. She sighed with obvious longing for an escape to its safety and took two steps backward. “He’ll be home late. Do you wish for me to summon him?” “No,” Chatel mopped her brow with the lacy end of her skirt. There was an unsettling silence between them for a moment before the maid spoke. “If I may say so, your hair is longer and rich with curls once again.” “Oh?” Chatel lifted a delicate hand to her head, she had barely noticed, only that her hair curled beneath her ears and distracted her during the humid summer afternoons. How long had it been? She wondered. How many months since the day she had taken the gardener’s sheers and ripped the tresses from her head? “Perhaps you would like me to…” Ezabelle stopped, blushing fiercely as she lowered her head.

Chatel knew what the maid had begun to offer, perhaps a styling, maybe a trim at the ends, or to put seashell combs into the blonde locks. To draw so near would mean Ezabelle’s end. “Please have my husband come to me after supper.” “Yes, Madam.” Ezabelle curtsied, her relief evident as she quickly disappeared into the darkening folds of the trees, leaving Chatel alone. As evening settled around her, Chatel moved into the greenhouse, a skeletal building across from the main house. The oil lamps along the walls burned low as she set towards her tiny bed in the rear. The moon was barely visible above her; the stars but faint orbs as the clouds began to further choke the sky. She lay on the bed, a sleeping gown across her lap, her breasts exposed to the slight breeze of the building. The aroma of greenery and earth lulled her to sleep till she heard her name softly spoken upon the wind. “Chatel?” Immediately, she rose from the bed, the lamps putting a soft glow on her skin. She barely tried to cover herself with the filmy gown. “Yes, Ven?” Her husband was a handsome man, with light hair, almond eyes, and a smile that spoke of the noblest of hearts. He had been a loving, doting, and romantic husband until the unfortunate accident left him floundering in the

wake of his wife’s condition. He knew not how to handle any part of the plague that had come to them less than a year ago. His helplessness evident in the way he stood on the threshold, an arm to his side, the other bent, with the hand clasping his jacket collar. Chatel noted the manner in which his shoulders drooped, as if the weight of the world had suddenly grown too heavy to bear. He was obviously very tired, very lonely. “Ezabelle said that one of the pups died today, I’m sorry.” She stepped further into the light and watched as his eyes swept over her slim, near-naked figure. “I hope that the other pups will be confined to safer areas of the property?” “Of course, I should have realized… the danger.” His body stiffened with the uncomfortable fact that his wife was dangerous, but that was exactly what she was. The hand left his collar and wrapped about the handle of the greenhouse door. “How was your day?” Chatel snickered and dropped the gown an inch to expose the round tops of her breasts. There was nothing to tell of her day. All the days of so many months melted into one long, continuing nightmare. Oh, but she yearned for him! “You’re growing whiskers.”

Ven smiled as he ran a hand along his face. The movement pierced her soul. “Yes, I thought it would make me look more distinguished. What do you think?” Ven needed no beard and mustache to appear distinguished. His voice low and powerful, his demanding eyes, the way his body strongly filled his suits. Chatel closed her eyes and recalled the mass of him on top of her and shuddered. There would be no passion between them for the rest of their lives. “Very distinguished and handsome,” she replied breathlessly. He smiled again and glanced down at his feet, the awkwardness beginning. What were a husband and wife to do when they could neither hold nor kiss one another? “How is your garden?” “Beautiful as always,” the gown barely concealed her body, she yearned for him to approach her, to touch her in the intimate folds of her body. She took a single step forward when he suddenly said. “I went to the lab today.” The effect was instantaneous. Chatel pulled the material quickly over her body to cover herself, blushing at her immodesty and her stupidity. She

could well picture the men at the University, in their long robes, with noses tucked into moldy books, too large for them to hold in their hands. The smell of foreign chemicals would follow the tails of their suits long after they had left the laboratory. They would whisper amongst themselves as Ven stood before them with dim prospects that they had somehow found a cure. Dare she to ask? Oh, but she was going to ask because somewhere deep within her she prayed that there was a miracle that was going to set her free. Free to fall back into her husband’s arms, free to go back to her home, her life… “Did they have anything to say?” “Nothing new I’m afraid, the same old things.” “Then why did you bother going?” The words fell angrily from her mouth. She was not unlike a venomous snake prepared to strike an unknowing trespasser. Ven straightened, his voice rigid and demanding. “Because I love you, Chatel, I love you with all my heart. How I yearn for you, look at you.” The latter was spoken with want and desire. Chatel bit her lower lip as she fought tears of anger and frustration. “I am a powerful man. I have all the treasures any man could possibly desire, except for the caress, the kiss, the love of his wife!”

“As if it were my fault!” She was furious now. “Why do you torment me? You are so like those reporters and gawkers who straggle through the gates to spy on me!” “Who? No one should be allowed passed the gate! Who has been here?” He looked out from the shadowy greenhouse glass to the yards and surrounding gardens to search for the mysterious men as if to spy them he could instantly dispose of them with a single blink of an eye. “Why, everyone who wants to come and set eyes upon the woman of death, the Poison Butterfly!” “Chatel, Chatel, Chatel,” He cooed her name and took a single step forward then stopped. Chatel screamed in agony at his hesitation, his fear. “You see, even you are frightened! Too close and you will die!” The rage was full in her heart. “Even an innocent puppy dies at my feet! Yet the flowers, the trees, the grass beneath me flourish with just the kiss of my breath! Am I to be forever a prisoner of this garden?” “No, we will find some way to fix everything, I promise, I love you, my wife, my dear, my only!” Ven stepped from the doorway and softly, ever so softly closed the door. How he left so soon! His form but a ghostly image behind her closed eyes, the scent of him coughed out the door into the night air.

Chatel cried out again, dropped onto the bed and swallowed back a thundercloud of tears.

In the morning Chatel found the valley bleak and foggy, the sky cheerless. Just beyond the door, on the ground, as every morning it would be, was her breakfast. Neatly covered, the meal would be prepared in the cottage and brought to her in the early peaks of sunrise, when the Poison Butterfly would be sleeping in her cocoon and held no danger. It was a glum, lonely existence, humbling. Chatel sat with the tray square on her knees, the cool concrete of the steps awakening her dull senses. There was an unnerving quietness to the property as she nibbled upon toast lightly spread with jam. Left over dreams from a hectic night’s sleep started to wane into vague, fog-filled memories. Dreams of poison. Memories of the accident, a long and troublesome story, flooded through her mind. The day forever marked in her memory, the day when the poison fell from the greenhouse rafters and soaked her skin, leaving her a monster. They had been but chemicals for the flowers, life saving, life giving, full of enrichment.

How it came to happen, she did not know, but the poison had bathed her skin; the pores alight with a fierce fiery intensity. She had clawed at her arms, her legs and face, and tried to scream in terror but her cries were drowned in the hostile takeover of the vile, poisonous liquid. Three doctors had died as they tried to get near her after the accident. Even Chatel’s own mother had collapsed when she stood but three feet from her own child. It was then that Chatel came to realize something dreadful had indeed happened to her. Soon the valley was encroached with wagons and horses as people from near and far came to see the Poison Butterfly. They wanted to know if people really died from but a single touch, to see for themselves if her hair really was a ball of flaming snakes. Did she spit fire? The rumors and stories were endless, the crowds as well. Ven had been nearly a country away when the accident had occurred, leaving Chatel to suffer the humility of being spied upon like a circus freak. The greenhouse was her only sanctuary, and within time her only home. At first, she feared the maids would abandon the cottage, leaving it for vagrants and thieves. For some unknown reason, two of them, Ezabelle and her

younger sister took pity upon her and kept care of the house while serving her meals. Chatel’s father came; he too had been away, summoned home by the near death of his wife and the strange stories of his daughter’s tragic turn into the Devil’s child. As he stood on the threshold of the greenhouse, he listened to his daughter’s cries for help, sweaty and teary-eyed, unable to take a step forward after having seen the condition of his wife. “I want Ven, please Father, when will Ven return?” She sobbed, lying on the bed that the maids had dragged from the house for her. “Soon, my dear, soon, we are trying everything we can to fix this, I promise, everything will be all right.” Nothing would ever be the same. Chatel’s mother died eight days later, her skin dark as the night and her father, deep in misery, stayed until Ven appeared at the gate, then left, never to be heard from again. Chatel had found Ven hard to face as he stood in the doorway; and glanced about the greenhouse, the property had taken on a grandiose quality like nothing he had ever seen before. “Chatel, my darling,” His whispered endearments sent Chatel into tears of exhaustion and frustration. “What have you done to your hair?”

Nearly eights months to the day Chatel reached for the hair that was now to her ears and remembered that day her husband returned home to find his wife, the Poison Butterfly, nearly bald. She had hoped it was her long, gold curls that held the poison. It was not to be. The poison was rooted in every fold, every nook and cranny of her body, her very breath was coiled in the likeness of death no matter how sweet it may be. She started to count the months on her fingers. Yes, it had been nearly six months since she cut her hair, eights months since the poison sent her to this hell. The garden was the only thing that thrived beneath her touch. The blooms were twice as large, and the smell of them filled the entire valley in a soft perfume. The grass was an incredible green. The trees grew plump and their leaves rich. The maids delighted in picking the berries from bushes and vines after their mistress had passed. They held none of the toxins but three times the deliciousness of any other berry in the countryside. Chatel had been prepared to end it all. She had reached for the sheers, wanting nothing more than to slide the steel across the soft skin of her

throat, to feel the burn of her poisoned blood as it flowed down her chest and drenched her white skirts before sending her blissfully to heaven. However, the question of whether she would go to heaven or to hell filled her mind. The fear of falling below the ground and into the arms of the Devil himself stopped her. She began to tear at her hair. Not so much cutting as sawing it from her head with the blades. Chatel emerged from the greenhouse to retrieve her supper lying feet from the door that evening. A departing Ezabelle glanced back and saw her mistress nearly bald and tossing to the ground all the beautiful curls that had once adorned her head. Now in the bleak morning hours, her hair grown to her ears, Chatel slipped through the garden, and struggled against the chill which threatened the summer day. Something had caught her attention. A fleeting sight passed her vision and she followed. It was Ezabelle moving further into the arms of the woodlands. The maid’s hair was loose about her shoulders, the white dress she wore incredibly pale. Even in the weak morning light, Chatel could see the outline of the girl’s hips. So intent on her journey Ezabelle never knew she was being followed, moving with a sure step through the trees. Then she stopped, turned to the

east and swung her arms open wide. Chatel ducked behind a shrub, unsure of what or whom Ezabelle was about to embrace. When she felt safe enough to look, Chatel was horrified to see Ven nestling his face into the bosom of their maid. Chatel turned away. It took everything she had not to scream, tears burned at the corner of her eyes, her lips quavered. Her knees shook, and threatened to spill her. The forest, once quiet in the morning hour, was filled with the lover’s cries of passion. She dared to look again, her heart exploding with pain as she glimpsed Ven’s body deep within the young maid’s embrace. Sick, shuddering with anger, Chatel slowly crept away.

Betrayal can do strange things to the kindest of hearts. Chatel’s heart, having been broken in a single moment, turned bitter and ugly. It was one thing for the poison to have destroyed her life but to have been a silent witness to the lusting of her husband with another woman...

The garden seemed to register the darkness that grew in her heart and flourished beyond beauty into a monstrosity that overtook the grounds like a jungle. Within a month’s time, the greenhouse was shrouded in green vines, nearly invisible from the road. Ven called for gardeners to come and control the insanity but no amount of cutting, burning or destroying was able to control the greenery. Only when winter came did peace come to the property, the vines that had swallowed the greenhouse turned brown, an ugly map of dirt roads across the glass. In the spring, Chatel awoke one morning to a terrible sound that filled the air, one to which she would never experience. She could hear the maid’s tortured cries as she gave birth to Ven’s child. Chatel closed her eyes so as to picture the tiny body as it forced its round head, then shoulders, arms, fingers, buttocks and finally its long legs and toes out of the whore’s body. There were no visitors. The doctor silently came and went. Two days later Ezabelle was at the greenhouse doorstep, delivering breakfast. She was ill-prepared for the appearance of her mistress. Startled, the maid clutched the small bundle close to her breast as Chatel moved from the hidden arms of the surrounding gardens.

Chatel raised her head to the bundle. “What is it?” Ezabelle gave a tremulous smile. “A boy.” “Why isn’t your sister delivering my meals as she has for the past few months?” Chatel delighted in the maid’s nervous blinks, she well knew that Ezabelle’s young sister was being bed by Ven as well. “Madam?” Ezabelle blanched as she set the meal down to better hold her child. “Here let me see,” Chatel moved closer, further terrifying the young woman. “Don’t worry, I only want to look.” Not wanting the Poison Butterfly any closer, Ezabelle peeled back the folds of the warm blanket where the babe slept. The child was incredibly small, the skin pink and healthy. Chatel could see Ven in every line. The nearness of her made Ezabelle tremble with fear; the maid stood firm for a moment longer and then took half a dozen steps back. “I must go,” The maid’s eyes were moist with unwept tears and her mouth drawn up in tension. She had gotten a whiff of the poison and it made her unsteady. “Don’t drop the poor little dear.” Chatel watched as the young girl composed herself before she hurried away.

The baby started to cry.

So ensued a strange ritual of Chatel peeking at the babe during every meal. She even dared to venture toward the house, which sent the Pyrenees into fits as they ran away from her. The cottage was as beautiful and elegant as always, dappled white with green shudders. She easily found the nursery window and was pleased to find it open. Day after day, Chatel visited the child. She stood before the nursery window to listen as Ezabelle and her sister cleaned the house and prepared meals. They were none-the-wiser to the Poison Butterfly outside the babe’s room, allowing the wind to carry bits of her poison inside. She stayed just long enough to instill the child to tears and then departed. In time the baby became accustomed to the poison, longer could Chatel stand by the window before he started to cry. A plan, though not quite drawn or clear, was working. By the time he was a toddler, young Jeffrey, as Ezabelle had named him, delighted in seeing the woman at his window. He stepped close to her, incredibly close, with no fear or hesitation. Drawing closer than anyone had

ever done in such a long time that it brought tears to Chatel’s eyes. She brought him gifts of flowers and berries, while his mother and father never guessed the disaster about to enfold. It was on the bleakest of days, so many months later that the day came when Chatel was able to touch the rosy cheeks of the boy and scoop him into her arms. On that day, the sweet smell of the child engulfed her nostrils as she pulled him through the open window. Ezabelle happened into the room. The maid stopped short in bewilderment, shocked to see her child in the arms of the Poison Butterfly. Her cries of terror filled the air. Chatel held the child close to her breast as she ran back to the greenhouse, a smile of delight spread wide across her face. From the cottage, there came the cries of Ven and Ezabelle’s sister, all three raced after her. When they crashed through the doorway of the greenhouse they found Chatel seated on her bed, Jeffrey snug in her arms. Ezabelle wailed as she fell to her knees, while her sister pushed her way back outside. “What are you doing?” Ven eased forward, his eyes fastened on his son. “Don’t worry, my dear, he’s alive. See.” She held the boy up; Jeffrey smiled at the sight of his father and clapped his hands before he reached out.

“How?” Chatel swiped a dark lock of the child’s hair from his small forehead. “He’s immune to my poison, for months I stood before his bedroom window and perfumed the very air he breathed with death till he thrived beneath it.” “Let him go.” “Why should I?” She held Jeffrey to her breast. “He’s mine now.” Ven called for his son but Chatel would not let him go, even when the boy cried out, and tears of rage fell down his baby face. “Let him go!” Her skin crawled beneath her husband’s rage. Chatel released the boy, her eyes full of tears as Ven swept Jeffrey into his arms. No sooner was the boy in his father’s strong arms then did Ven stagger, choking on the venom that was now within his son. He released the boy before he fell. Ezabelle threw herself against the glass walls as Jeffrey toddled toward her. His small arms outstretched in anticipation of his mother’s embrace. Ezabelle would have nothing to do with him; she flung herself out the greenhouse door, and raced into the surrounding trees. Jeffrey, unable to understand, curled against the doorframe, to watch his departing mother, whilst his father lay dying on the gravel floor.

Chatel knelt to her husband and enveloped his head in her arms. As his skin turned black beneath her touch, he whispered, “Poison Butterfly, my butterfly, my wife, my only.”

The fire crackled within the cottage fireplace, enshrouding the room in its warm glow. Slowly the rocker moved back and forth, a soft voice sung a lullaby. Jeffrey’s eyes closed. He was a beautiful child, his lips impossibly red. Chatel kissed the top of his forehead and smoothed back a lock of his hair.

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