flash fiction (1200 wc) | setting : modern | form : paranormal
She tore them off at the root, before the Hoffer Man told her she should dry them first.
So, she laid them to dry under wax paper. She had nearly a hundred pairs by her birthday, carefully stored in the drawers of the dresser. Her clothes, to her mother’s dismay, were folded and stacked under her bed.
The Hoffer Man taught her how to strengthen them by putting black rocks from the railroad tracks in front of the central air vent in her bedroom.
But, the stones had to be dark dark, so she sucked on them before putting them in their little tray, to make them wet and black.
Her mother had tried to figure out which of her toys the Hoffer Man was supposed to be, but Sabina had been stubborn about it: “He’s not a toy, he’s a boss like Daddy. His job is to go around finding good workers for the angel farms.”
“Honey, why is he doing that?”
“Because that’s what he did in Touch-Land when he was alive.”
“That’s not how he says it.”
“But, Honey, why does he want you to collect butterflies?”
“Because I can see more of the butterfly wings than anyone. I can almost see the colors that birds can see!”
The Hoffer Man insisted that she needed one hundred twenty eight sets of butterfly wings to make her flying cloak.
She had a dozen little brown wood nymphs, twenty or so pearl crescents, a few dozen spring azures, and many others she wasn’t able to identify online, blues, reds, oranges, violets, and ultraviolets. When the sun angled into the open drawer in the afternoon, the shimmering colors reminded her of the flower box in their neighbor’s yard.
Eventually, she’d need to cut them away from the bodies and attach them to a pink sheet the way the Hoffer Man taught her.
“Honey, I want you to tell Dr. Davidson about the Hoffer Man.”
“Why? He didn’t do nothing wrong.”
“Sabina, I know he hasn’t done anything wrong, and you haven’t done anything wrong either. I’m just curious about him.”
“He’s a boss. He’s not a ‘maginary friend.”
“What is he the boss of?”
“An angel farm. He was the boss of real farms when he was alive.”
“He’s not alive now?”
“No, but that’s okay because the angels have jobs for people when they die.”
When the Hoffer Man first started teaching her, Sabina had to talk her mother into buying a large aquarium net and a wicker basket.
“What have you got there, sweetheart?” her mother asked, after a long long afternoon in the back yard.
She smiled a wide, baby-teeth smile. “Butterflies!”
She held them out for her mother to see: a pile of them, lifeless in the bottom of the basket.
“You told your mother that the Hoffer Man was from Touch-Land. What do you mean? Does he touch?”
“That’s not how he says it.”
“How does he say it?”
“He says touch funny. Like toy. But, he’s not a toy, he’s real.”
“And, he tells you to kill butterflies.”
“No. He’s teaching me how to make a flying cloak from butterfly wings.”
“It sounds very pretty. Why does he want you to make a butterfly cloak?”
“So I can fly and help him find workers for the angel farms.”
“Does he tell you to jump from someplace high to make the flying cloak work?”
“No. Why would I hafta jump from someplace high if I have a flying cloak?”
Sabina had been very upset when the Hoffer Man told her that she couldn’t just catch the butterflies in the net.
“Butterflies do not live very long, child. They are soon for the angel farms. You need simply hasten their journey.”
“Make it faster.”
“Why can’t I just wait?”
“You would have them starve and suffer in a jar?”
That made her sad. “No.”
“Let me show you how to make it faster. Get one of the clear butter knives.”
He showed her how, after she had captured them in her net, she could place the plastic knife between the head and thorax, then press until they separated.
“You told your Mommy that the Hoffer Man was a boss, like your Daddy.”
“Daddy is a boss of a distric of Early Burgers.”
“Is your Daddy also from Touch-land, like the Hoffer Man?”
“No-wuh.” She was starting to think Dr. Davidson was not very smart. “Daddy is from here. The Hoffer Man is from the other side of the Alantic Ocean.”
“It’s an elaborate fantasy, but there doesn’t appear to be anything dangerous about it. It seems to be constructed from bits of information anyone could absorb from nature shows or online. Travel shows, maybe.”
“She doesn’t watch a lot of TV.”
The Hoffer Man put his hand on her shoulder. “It’s alright for them to talk, child. It will help them to be farmed.”
The hardest part was attaching each little wing to the sheet like the Hoffer Man taught her, with tiny dabs of her father’s Instaglue from the garage. But first, she cut holes in each corner of the sheet, just inside the seams: two for her ankles and two to grab with her hands.
Finally, the flying cloak was ready. She hung it in her closet, and moved the closet clothes to the dresser. And then, she waited.
The storm didn’t come for seven days.
The squall line scraped across the town, shredding trees and prying up the corners of roofs. People downwind stepped out of their homes to look and point and capture video of the approaching pink shovel of cloud, but quickly decided that it would be safer to watch from inside. Over the groan of the storm, several of them shouted at the young girl standing among the stone ducks in her front yard, arms spread, a sheet of butterfly wings flagging in the rising rush of air, but they did so while easing back into their homes with cellphone cameras trained on her.
When the wall of wind and dust and little broken pieces of the town reached her, the flying cloak ballooned open and snatched her up into the sky.
Her house vanished into the mist below, up up she flew. Exactly how the Hoffer Man promised! Then, her feet slipped from the holes in the sheet, and she began to fall. She gripped the flying cloak tight in her fingers, but it wasn’t flying any more.
The wind slowed, debris paused mid-air, and for a moment she hung in the silence of eternity.
“The flying cloak was not meant to make you fly, child.”
She felt a tear push against her eye, but it was slow coming. “You lied?”
“I did not say the flying cloak was to make you fly. It will make others fly to your story. The angels need ways to plant seed in the mind, to harvest the awareness to mystery.”
He brushed her hair with a dark hand. “A beautiful little girl and the wings of butterflies. I knew this story would farm so many souls, so I gave it to you.”
The air began again to stir, and she sobbed toward the thinning cloud below.
“Will it be hay-send?”
She was alone in the sky.