Short Story Of the Day – Chrysalis (flash fiction) by Bill Chance

It is often tragic to see how blatantly a man bungles his own life and the lives of others yet remains totally incapable of seeing how much the whole tragedy originates in himself, and how he continually feeds it and keeps it going. Not consciously, of course—for consciously he is engaged in bewailing and cursing a faithless world that recedes further and further into the distance. Rather, it is an unconscious factor which spins the illusions that veil his world. And what is being spun is a cocoon, which in the end will completely envelop him.”
― C.G. Jung, Aion

Parking Day
Main Street
Dallas, Texas


I have been feeling in a deep hopeless rut lately, and I’m sure a lot of you have too. After writing another Sunday Snippet I decided to set an ambitious goal for myself. I’ll write a short piece of fiction every day and put it up here. Obviously, quality will vary – you get what you get. Length too – I’ll have to write something short on busy days. They will be raw first drafts and full of errors.

I’m not sure how long I can keep it up… I do write quickly, but coming up with an idea every day will be a difficult challenge. So far so good. Maybe a hundred in a row might be a good, achievable, and tough goal.

Here’s another one for today (#59) More than half way there! What do you think? Any comments, criticism, insults, ideas, prompts, abuse … anything is welcome. Feel free to comment or contact me.

Thanks for reading.

 


Chrysalis

Amy McKay’s husband, Barney, always claimed that he had been abducted by aliens. Multiple times.

On their first date, for Pizza and Beer at Bennie’s restaurant, he had said, “I think they keep coming back to me because they are studying me over the course of my life.”

“All your life?”

“Yeah the first time, I was just a little kid, walking around in the park. My parents said it wasn’t safe. They were right, but for the wrong reason.”

“You were abducted?”

“Yeah. I don’t remember much… buzzing, flashing lights, a funny smell. It’s been different every time since, but always the same smell. I think it must be what they smell like.”

Amy decided that that was going to be her last date with Barney. She did not want to deal with a nutcase like that.

She was wrong. He was so nice and her choices so limited… and he didn’t talk about the aliens very often, so she stuck with him.

She learned the places he claimed to have been abducted from and steered him away when others were with them. It was embarrassing, for example, to be in the backseat of a car with another couple and to have Barney say, in a very matter-of-fact voice as they drove past a copse of trees, “Oh, there’s one of the places where I was abducted by aliens. I was taking a pee behind those trees, and a beam came down and grabbed me, lifted me up into the ship. Barely finished in time. Those aliens don’t seem to care much about our daily routines.”

They dated for a year, engaged for another, and were married. Amy came to view his stories of alien abduction as an odd quirk, like a funny laugh, or a strange birthmark. It helped that there didn’t seem to be any new abductions. Barney actually seemed to be a little disappointed, like something fun had gone out of his life.

“Maybe they aren’t interested in married humans – only single ones,” he would say, with a wistful sigh, like an old man pining for his untamed youth. Amy and Barney began to talk about having children.

And then Barney disappeared. Her friends assumed he had developed cold feet and run off.

“You are better off without him.”

“Men nowadays are nothing more than children, they are afraid of commitment.”

“You have more options now than ever before.”

Amy would nod her head in agreement. Once they started talking about children Barney had bailed on her. Still, it was odd that there was no trace of him at all. Panicky husbands don’t disappear completely. Amy talked to the police, and they were sympathetic, but she had the feeling that their investigation was half-hearted. She knew they, like everyone else, assumed he simply left her and skipped town.

As the days dragged on, Amy began to think about his stories of alien abduction. Maybe there was something after all.

Finally, she gave in and admitted to herself that he was really gone, gone for good. She decided to clean out his stuff from the house, and then move on.

He had spent a lot of time in his basement workshop – a small room with rock walls and heavy wooden workbenches that always smelled damp and moldy. It was too claustrophobic for Amy and she rarely descended the steep staircase. She had not been down there in over a year. But she knew that as long as his tools and scraps of metal and wood were down there she would always be reminded of Barney. It all had to go. She gathered a shovel, a broom, and a case of heavy trash bags and lugged it all down the stairs.

Right away she tripped over something on the narrow floor. Reaching down into the cramped space around her feet she picked up a dusty set of clothes. It was Barney’s denim overalls, and the lumberjack shirt he always wore under them. There was his old stained and tattered underwear and his socks worn with holes. She fumbled around his workboots, slathered with dried mud, to find his wallet still stuffed with two hundred dollars. She felt something heavy and jingling and discovered it was his leather tool belt, with his favorite implements still attached.

But where was Barney? Amy began to panic – there is no way he would leave without these prized possessions. Maybe the aliens had grabbed him after all – swooped him up and spirited away, leaving his clothes and personal belongings behind.

Then she saw it.

It was about four feet long, maybe two feet across, and a rough oblong shape… the form of a big, thick cigar. It was a light beige, and a little fuzzy, like newly dead moss. The surface looked layered, as if it was made of thick paper, wrapped around itself in random directions – loose in some places, solid in others.

Barney. Amy wasn’t sure how she knew, but it was. The aliens had finally done it – they had transformed him into this… thing. She stared at it and after what seemed to be a long, long, time, she touched it. It seemed to respond to her touch, quivering a little. Instead of being slimy or unpleasant, it felt solid and warm, and not frightening at all.

Amy fetched her biggest, strongest quilt. She brought it down the steep stairs and wrapped the thing in it and then wedged it over to the stairs. It was a lot heavier that it looked – Amy decided that although it was quite a bit smaller than Barney – it weighed about the same thing that he did… or had.

Taking gulps of air, she managed to haul the thing, step by step, protected by the quilt, up the steep stairs into the kitchen. She levered it up onto a chair, then onto the kitchen table and removed the quilt.

The thing seemed to glow in the light and Amy thought it quivered in a happy way, glad to be out of that moldy basement and into the light. She hoped that it was glad for her company too.

As the days went by, Amy became more used to the thing actually being her husband, Barney, and would look forward to talking to it as it sat on the kitchen table. She would go out in the day and save up some story to tell the thing as she sat at home with dinner and a cup of hot chocolate.

“You know, everybody thinks you’re gone now. And I don’t tell them any different,” she would say.

“Jimmy Dresden, the packer at the Piggly Wiggly, was sure making the eyes at me. He kept asking about the dance down at the City Building this weekend but I put him straight right away. ‘You know Jimmy, I already got me a husband.’ ‘But he’s gone some six months now, Amy, don’t you think it’s time you got to steppin’ out a little.’ I told him, ‘It seems like he’s here with me ever’ day.’ And that’s the truth,” Amy said, “You’re here with me ever’ day and we have these nice talks.”

Barney was never one for a lot of words before, so it didn’t seem different now. Instead of a grunt or a bored sigh the thing would quiver and that was good enough.

As the weeks went by the thing began to change. It became smoother, sleeker and darker. It went from the light beige to an uneven honey color. Then on to a dark copper shade and finally to a glossy black.

Amy realized she had seen this before. When she was a little girl, her brother, who was always messing around with bugs and animals and whatnot had put a caterpillar in a jar with some sticks and leaves.

“Come Look!” he had called her. The worm had spun a cocoon and over a period of weeks it had changed in the same way that this thing was. She looked up cocoon in a dictionary and then shouted out, “Chrysalis! That’s what it is!”

“Them aliens have gone and made my Barney into something else.” She stared at the chrysalis for a long time and then shouted at it, “Barney? I wonder what they are going to make you into?”

As the chrysalis became darker and larger and more stretched she began to spend more time staring at it and talking to it. It did look like something inside was growing and was going to start to try and break out.

There was also this smell. An odd odor began wafting around the chrysalis, getting stronger and stronger every day. Amy didn’t think it smelled bad so much as… just different. It smelled alien. She dug an old box fan out of the back closet and set it up to try and get some air on the thing.

“You always said that those aliens, when they abducted you, had a crazy smell ‘bout themselves. I guess this is it,” she said, speaking directly to the chrysalis. It quivered a little.

Amy fell into a comfortable routine with the chrysalis. The only problem was that she couldn’t have anybody, not her sisters, nor her mom, nor her cousins, nor especially Jimmy Dresden from the Piggly Wiggly who had kept up his relentless pursuit, from ever coming over to the house.

She told herself that it was to keep from raising suspicion, but she had even gone to the movies with Jimmy Dresden a couple times and even consented to driving down to the lake late for some cold beers from the cooler Jimmy always kept in the back of his convertible.

Amy was fighting in her mind whether to tell the chrysalis about this while she was driving home one afternoon. She had decided to put it off a little longer and come up with a more innocuous story to help keep the chrysalis entertained.

“Hey, honey, she shouted as she came through the back screen door, “You’ll never guess what happened down in the church parking lot last Sunday after services….”

When she reached the kitchen she dropped her grocery bag on the floor. The chrysalis was gone. In its place was a small loose pile of dark brown thin papery remnants. Amy gasped and then heard someone moving around in the back bedroom.

Before she could find her bearings Barney walked out of the bedroom, right up to her, placed his hands on her shoulder and a bright kiss on her cheek.

“Hey honey, it’s so good to be back.”

Amy stepped back to get a good look. It was Barney all right, but Barney that was a little smoother, a little more solid, maybe even a little younger.

“Is everything OK honey?” he asked. His voice was deeper than she remembered, more melodious. His voice had always grated on her a bit, especially after years of marriage, but this voice was like liquid silk.

“Umm I guess so,” she stammered. “You just caught be by surprise.”

Barney looked different. And he had never smelled like that. He smelled like the chrysalis… that odd smell that had been growing stronger. She decided she didn’t like that, didn’t like it at all.

“Umm, Honey, you haven’t been out of the house in so long. Why don’t you take a quick shower and we can head to town for the evening,” Amy suggested with a hopeful note in her voice.

Barney simply smiled.

“Sure, Amy. That sounds like a great plan. But… there’s something I want to take care of first.”

Barney turned and pushed open the door to the basement.

“Come on down here honey, there’s something I want you to see. Something important.”

Amy felt a gulp in her throat. Even though she didn’t understand how, she knew what was waiting for her. She thought about turning and making a run for it… but Barney looked so happy, so good, so young… it was probably a change for the better.

“Will I be conscious… will I be aware of the time in the chrysalis?”

Barney just smiled.

Amy decided to go. She only hoped she could get used to the smell.

Black Butterfly

“Hundreds of butterflies flitted in and out of sight like short-lived punctuation marks in a stream of consciousness without beginning or end.”
― Haruki Murakami, 1Q84

Black Butterfly
John T. Scott, Aluminum, 1996
Poydras Street, New Orleans

In the City of New Orleans there is a fantastic arrangement of sculpture along Poydras Street. Walking down and back from my son’s apartment to the Running of the Bulls I took photos of a few of them that I’ll share with you.

“Black Butterfly” is an abstract aluminum sculpture completed four years after John T. Scott was awarded the MacArthur Genius Award. Scott’s work frequently displayed themes related to African-American life, particularly the rich Afro-Caribbean culture and musical heritage of New Orleans. See this sculpture on Poydras Street at O’Keefe.

Camouflage

“She spent an astonishing amount of time in attending lectures and demonstrations, distributing literature for the Junior Anti-Sex League, preparing banners for Hate Week, making collections for the savings campaign, and such-like activities. It paid, she said; it was camouflage. If you kept the small rules you could break the big ones.”
― George Orwell, 1984

Trinity River Park Fort Worth Texas

Trinity River Park
Fort Worth
Texas

LED

I was walking home from somewhere the other night – late at night. Pitch dark. There was this big field – never mind exactly where – but the important thing is that it was between where I was and where I needed to be. So I walked across it, diagonally… which is the straight line, the shortest distance between the two points – where I was and where I needed to be.

It’s odd that there is a field like this, this big, this empty, in the middle of a city. Land is expensive, after all… and there is only so much of it. But if you look closely, there are a lot more of these expanses of empty space, of ragged grass, of nothingness, than you think.

But you don’t look closely. Nobody does. There is nothing so hidden, so mysterious, as a big empty field in the middle of a city.

It is so hidden and mysterious that it feels odd to walk across it in the pitch dark. Very odd.

In the middle of the field, when I was a long way from the nearest streetlight, when the only light was provided by the half-moon overhead, I saw something where I didn’t expect something to be. There was a small but bright red light hovering in space, not too far away.

As I approached, it began to change, and then it was blue. Then it was green. Then it was red again. Interested and confused, I walked toward the little light.

It turns out there was a small, ragged tree there, all alone, separated from the rest of the world of trees. You would really never notice that tree otherwise – it wasn’t much of a tree… more like a big shrub – though of a tree shape. And somebody had put something in the tree.

There was enough moonlight for me to make it out. Someone had firmly planted a solar-powered LED lit plastic butterfly in the tree. They had attached its metal pole to a branch and left it to run. It would hide there all day, soaking up the sun, so that its constantly changing light would stream out all night.

Here… I think this is it. Not too expensive, but not free, either. They did a good job of mounting it in the tree, with some padding to protect the branch and large, thick zip ties.

Who did this? And why?

It is impossible to see this from the street. It is only by sheer accident that I walked near enough to the thing in the night to notice the light. Even in the day, you would never see the thing unless you happened to walk right next to it then look up. I have never seen anyone in that field… ever.

So it’s a little secret between me and the person that put it up. I sort of like that. Don’t tell anybody about it… OK?

I walked back during the day to take a picture of the Solar Powered LED Butterfly in the tree.

I walked back during the day to take a picture of the Solar Powered LED Butterfly in the tree.