Outside the Manitoba morning sky was an acrylic palette of blended hues; reds, oranges, yellows; all highlighted by golden light. The morning sun lit a world filled with buds and shoots hungering for the caress of the fiery orb rising higher.
Steven sipped his coffee, his kitchen forgotten as he stared out of the picture window. It was best to start long days early, but to forget to stop and see the world was a sin he would no longer commit. Had not Julia accused him of such? The coffee was bitter without sugar. Only the kitchen clock broke the morning silence.
With a sigh he checked his watch. It was time to start; he threw back the last of the bitter aromatic liquid. The garbage bag waiting by the kitchen door brought another sigh. It was the little things you miss, he realized. Not the arguing, the yelling; not the long conversations, but the constant sense of another in the house. The lingering scent in the washroom, flowers on the table, the gentle touch of her hand as she passed him in the hall. The smell of bread, the sound of her breathing at night, her scent on the pillows…
Opening the door he swung the bag up and walked into his yard. It took his mind a moment to register the dark thing that appeared in front of him as a gun. Yes, a gun, he told himself. He turned to the man holding it, mouth opening but no words came out.
“Inside, now.” The Man with the Gun hissed.
Steven stepped back, the bag falling from his hand. He tried to speak but no sounds came from his open mouth; behind the Man with the Gun, two more shapes appeared huddled together. As Steven backed through the open door, they followed him into the house
“Back up Doc! Back!” The Gun rose higher, the barrel a black hole.
“Ento, ent, bugs, bugs,” Steven tried to see around the gun’s muzzle, it consumed his world. An event horizon with its black hole, his death its centre.
“What?” The voice behind the gun was louder as Steven fell into a dinning room chair.
“Bugs! I work on bugs, I’m an entomologist. I work with bugs!” How here? This was a private community! This didn’t happen in Manitoba. Gated! Everything was locked down, secure! What could the Man with the Gun want? Drugs! “I don’t have any drugs!”
The other two shapes had huddled through the door and now the smaller one had flowed into the chair opposite him; while the other’s dirty hands closed the door. Steven jumped at the sound of the first bolt being driven home. He’d never noticed the sound of the other locks being so loud, so final. As the dirty hands touched the last bolt, he tore his eyes away from the black metal, grimy fingers slid the shiny steel home. The room was silent but for distant ticking and clicking. He could read the entire logo of the security company next to the locks.
He saw the shape opposite him now. Not something formless, but a person, a young person.
“She’s hurt!” The Man with the Gun shoved Steven toward her.
A girl, Steven blinked, sliding to his knees. The girl pulled back a grimy sweatshirt. Dirty rags encrusted with dark stains encircled her forearm.
“I have a first aid kit,” Steven looked up at the Man with the Gun. “Under the sink. I’ll need it.”
The Man with the Gun motioned the one who’d locked the door. Steven looked back at the girl. Under the filth and soiled hoody she was what fourteen, fifteen?
Steven looked over at the crouching boy by the sink. The doors were open showing boxes of cleaners, a container of pot scrubbers, a box of garbage bags and attached to the door the white and red first aide kit. The boy looked blankly at all the boxes.
“Where?” the boy repeated. He started pounding the flooring, “Where! Where! Where!”
“David! Shut up!” the Man with the Gun snarled, the gun bouncing about Steven’s head as he watched the hand tighten its grip.
“Please! It’s the white box on the door.” Steven started to stand up but the Man with the Gun pushed him hard.
“He’s not stupid!”
Steven went down hard, cracking his head on the table. He looked into dark eyes, cold dark eyes.
“No, no,” Steven breathed as the gun locked onto him, dead centre on his chest. “No, he’s not stupid.”
“Here,” David put the box on the table. He seemed to loose interest as he strolled to the buffet and looked through the glass doors.
“Get up and help her, now,” the Man with the Gun’s voice was very low, his mouth tight.
Steven got up and moved closer to the girl. He should have done something, he thought, he should have done something when the Man with the Gun was distracted. He motioned to the girl.
“You need to take that off. The bandages.” The girl looked down at her arm. Steven noticed how shiny her eyes were. Touching her hot skin, he started chewing his lip. Undoing the rags released the order of rot. He realized that much of the black on her hand wasn’t dirt. Peeling back the last of the rags he looked away. Steven covered his mouth and tried not to gag.
“It’s infected. Badly, she needs to go to a hospital.”
“Very funny, you’re a comedian. My medical insurance has expired.” The Man with the Gun leaned close. “I know who you are, Doctor Steven Eberius.”
Steven heart took his ability to speak away. “I don’t understand. I don’t know you, I can’t help her.”
“University of Manitoba. I was in your graduating class of 2008, don’t remember? I must have changed some over the years.” The Man with the Gun took a step back. “But you haven’t changed a bit. That gene therapy’s pretty expensive. How you managing that?”
The Man with the Gun crossed his arms and tapped the gun against his face. “Haven’t seen that pretty wife of yours around, have we David, Emily? No, not a trace. Not even at Services.”
Steven looked from the Man with the Gun to Emily; there was a resemblance there. His sister? His daughter?
“So here’s the joke doc, tell if you’ve heard this one before, Emily was-”
A scream turned them all toward the hall. David let out a second cry as he ran into the kitchen and hugged the Man with the Gun.
“Butterflies! Butterflies!” he pointed toward the living room.
“Shh, David, shhh. The doctor is going to show us,” the Man with the Gun hugged the boy. He motioned Steven to get up and lead the way.
Steven tried to think, to remember. Class of 08’ seemed a lifetime ago. Was a lifetime ago. Had the Man with the Gun been watching him? His house? Where was the security hired to keep him safe?
They stepped into a short hall; to the right was once the family room, now his office. The vaulted ceilings had the height for the cages holding the delicate insects and the vegetation they needed within. Each cage had insects at different life stages.
“Monarchs,” whispered the Man with the Gun. “Monarchs!”
Wonder appeared on his face making the years drop away, still, Steven couldn’t place him. As the Man with the Gun stepped closer, David hugged him again and tried to hold him back.
“David, these are real butterflies, real ones! They can’t hurt you like the ones outside.” He looked down at the boy. “Its okay. Do you remember when you were little and we’d go to the park with Emily and Mom?”
The boy looked up at his father, eyes tearing. “Mom’s gone. The butterflies got her. Will Emily die?”
The Man with the Gun hugged the boy tight. “You’re right, we need to tend to your sister.”
He turned back to Steven. “You save Emily, or you die.”
Steven felt his heart speed up again. “She needs a hospital, the infection is spreading.”
“She was bit by a Pog at around midnight. So if you don’t want to take a walk in Assiniboine Park…” the Man with the Gun waited, letting understanding sink in.
“No,” Steven shuddered. Definitely not the park… “I have some stuff in my desk, anti-venom. It also has a powerful anti-viral and antibiotic dose…it might work.”
“Let’s hope so,” the Man with the Gun’s smile was as hard as his eyes. “Get it.”
Steven opened his desk drawer and was pushed aside. The Man with the Gun looked inside then took out the white and red emergency kit. He stepped back and opened it, quickly reading the instructions.
As he read, Steven leaned onto his computer table and squeezed the buzzer sitting by the mouse pad.
“Okay, give it to her.” The Man with the Gun said, tossing the pack to Steven.
They went back into the kitchen. Steven gulped. The girl was now slumped on the table. The Man with the Gun stood next to her.
“Emily,” he whispered into her hair. “The doctor’s going to give you something. He’s going to help you.”
Emily opened her eyes and smiled faintly. She was quite pretty, Steven realized as he opened the syringe package and taking her clean arm gave her the injection. Her eyes looked at the packaging.
“It says I’ll need probiotics, what’s that?” Emily asked.
“Don’t worry about it right now, Emily,” the Man with the Gun said.
Steven turned to see David pulling a picture from behind the buffet and hutch. The enlargement showed Steven receiving his Lifetime Achievement Award for his Stars and Stripes Butterfly. An inset showed a close-up of the butterfly and across the bottom the embossed words, ‘with love, for my Butterfly Man from your loving wife, Julia.’
Steven felt his chest tighten at the picture…Julia. David had pulled off the bow that had caught his attention, letting the picture drop.
“You bastard!” The Man with the Gun stepped around the table. He picked up the picture, staring at it, his eyes wide, “You! You killed my wife! You killed my brother! You started this…do you realize you’ve killed millions?”
He flung the picture aside, “What gave you the right!”
The Man with the Gun stepped forward, then jerked. He screamed, dropping the weapon, and seemed to be dancing. The door behind Steven burst open and security personnel overran them. The Man with the Gun was grabbed and dragged along with David and Emily out of the house.
“Are you okay, sir?” One of the guards said as he helped Steven up.
“Yes, thank you, I’m fine,” Steven took a deep breath. “What, what will happen now?”
“We’re checking them for contamination, sir,” the security officer said as Steven followed them out. Lying on his lawn, the man seemed small now, but still not familiar. The girl, Emily, cried out as they handcuffed her wrists. The boy, David, was still kicking and fighting, but a zap took most of the fight out of him.
Behind them the dead maples stood branchless; the crews had already started taking the old trees down. The recycling truck’s chipper shredder ate the branches as fast as they could be fed into it. The workers darted glances at the security guards.
Near him a voice was talking. Steven blinked away the sight of the dead trees and looked at the security guards.
“The boy’s neurally challenged. It’s developmental plus he’s infected,” the man shrugged.
“No! No!” The man who had held Steven hostage screamed until they zapped him. He moaned as the guard next to his son hit the boy with a club across the back of the head.
“You there, we have recycling here,” the Captain called to the tree trimming crew. Four of them walked over and took the boy’s body. Steven looked away, but he heard the chipper shredder’s engine work hard for a moment.
“Don’t worry, Doctor Eberius, we’ll send a clean up crew to make sure your home is disinfected. Do you wish to sponsor any of them, sir?”
Steven turned to the security guard, momentarily confused, “Sponsor?”
“They were seized on your property. They’re not registered persons. Do you want to keep either one? Otherwise we sell them to the lab. Spilt the commission, of course.”
“Right, I’m sorry, I…” Steven focused on Emily a moment. “Yes, the girl. Send me her clean up costs and I’ll keep her.”
“Yes, Doctor. Blessings of fortune on you and happy birthday.”
Steven realized they were waiting for something…right the response. What was it? Right, “Thank you and a blessing of security to you and yours.”
* * *
Steven entered his home, under his arm another award, this time for corporate earnings. The luncheon had been not just to celebrate his birthday, but his long record of biogenetic innovation. He placed the plaque on the kitchen table and allowed himself a sip of his twenty-year-old Canadian Club Whiskey.
The house’s quiet was a welcome relief from the noise and questions of those attending the banquet, too many asking about the incident. The quiet was nice.
Quiet, very quiet. Steven turned; the kitchen clock had stopped. Checking his watch, he headed to his workspace.
Emily sat in the middle of the room. Around her butterflies danced, some landing for a moment on her arms or knees only to flutter off.
“Emily, what are you doing out here?” Steven stepped forward.
Emily turned toward the sound of his voice. Her once dark eyes were milky now and sightless. Her arms and legs had developed red welts from the injections and bites. Steven didn’t doubt that the neurotoxin inhibitors were playing havoc with her immune system. But he was under contract; after all, how many people tried reproduction without the proper permits? Without paying the patent fees?
Steven looked at the Monarch Butterflies. They were his. Without patent protection where would he be?
“Well, lets get you off to bed,” Steven muttered. Perhaps he’d have to take on an assistant, but where would he find someone qualified? Someone who wouldn’t try to steal his work?
Emily didn’t resist him as he pulled her to her feet. She surprised him by reaching up and touching his face.
‘Mmm,’ she said softly. Steven leaned forward.
“I’m sorry, what was that?”
Emily opened her mouth. Steven pulled back but not fast enough. The red, white and blue butterfly launched itself. He struggled to bring up his arms, but she was surprisingly strong. The butterfly’s bite burned his cheek, then his neck.
He kicked out, freeing himself even as the pain flowed from the bites. He tried to scream as he pulled himself to the desk. His right hand spasmed but he managed to open the drawer — it was empty.
He flipped onto his side as he lost control of his body. Emily had crawled to the window. Steven watched her, trying to focus on what she had in her hand. He saw the white and red box drop to the floor as she reached for the clasp.
“No,” he gasped. The open window seemed to draw them. They flew from the room into the darkening sky. Their black and orange wings vanished into the coming night.
“No,” Steven gasped, “No, they’re mine.”
The spasms ended with his heart.
About the Author
T. Masters-Heinrichs has been writing cross genre and regular genre fiction for years. Co-authored the 10 story anthology, ‘Don’t Worry, It’s Just the Wind’ with Eric McKinnon ,which is out this October. First novel, “Blood Is Black In Moonlight” is expected out by or before December 2008. Doesn’t swim too well for someone whose lived their entire life by the shore …
Favourite authors include Neal Stevenson “Snowcrash”, Jim Butcher “Dresden Files”, and the creators and writers of the ‘Firefly’ series, Joss Whedon and ‘Babylon 5’ series, J. Michael Straczynki.