by Morgan Demm
12th grade, Mount Olive High School
Teacher: Mr. Christopher Murphy
Honorable-mention prize: $50
Rory’s Saturday morning started early as he had to prepare signs for the school’s fall festival later that night. He sat in a chair on the patio in his backyard, procrastinating. Just his luck, to be stuck with last-minute additions to the biology club’s booth without any warning. But Rory was complacent, for he was an underclassman, and therefore outranked when it came to the biology club’s decisions. The short end of the stick, the only end that Rory had seen in his freshman year of high school, had led him to hand-making cutouts of common insects. And while he appreciated the sentiment from his seniors to allow him to indulge in his love for entomology, he would rather have been stung by a thousand bees than make these forsaken signs.
Rory blew a short breath from his nose as he sat up from his seat to begin sketching a cartoonish bee onto a large piece of scrap cardboard. And after erasing a few lines, and getting a good curve on the abdomen, he decided it was time to cut these darn bugs loose from their cardboard confines. Rory grabbed the sharp boxcutter that his father told him to use, as it would “work better than those crappy old scissors in the kitchen drawer.” With a reckless move, as he was eager to be done with these signs and to have time to himself, he swiftly began cutting away at the cardboard.
Rory was successful with his bee, ladybug, and dragonfly signs before his luck ran out. His hand was placed a little too close to where he was cutting, and as a result he cut open the meaty part of his left thumb, near his palm. Rory yanked the boxcutter away from his hand after cutting it, but it was already bleeding from its shallow opening. Startled, Rory dropped the sign to the ground and pressed his right hand over his left, fingers wrapped around his wounded thumb. He sucked air through his teeth, a stinging pain coming too soon, and he let the blood drip from his hand to the concrete pavers of his patio.
To Rory it wasn’t a serious cut, so he decided to wait for the pain to subside. While he sat gripping his bleeding thumb, he caught the familiar flutter of a bug in his peripheral vision. He zeroed in on a red butterfly lazily gliding around the yard, near the flower planters. Curiously, the species was one Rory had never seen before in the area. In fact, Rory didn’t have any recollection of a butterfly like this existing. He was fascinated by it as it swooped and landed on the ground near him. It crawled closer, and to Rory’s horror, closer to the blood spots he’d left on the pavement. Rory could not take his eyes off of this gorgeously crimson butterfly, its wings a span of scarlet to a light rosy tint, the veins glowing a vibrant red. He watched, amazed, as the butterfly’s proboscis uncurled to sip the blood. Its wings fluttered before it took off and flapped away from him, leaving a blood stain on his patio. And Rory sat there with his thumb pulsing in pain, wondering how he was lucky enough to witness this strange butterfly. Unfortunately, the signs weren’t going to make themselves, so he pushed himself to his feet and went inside to treat his cut before he continued his sign-making.
Just before the hour of the festival rolled around and before the sun began to set, Rory finished taping up his bug cutouts to the outer parts of the biology club’s booth. He pressed down on the bugs with his bandaged left hand and stepped back to view his handiwork. For a last-minute craft, he thought the bugs looked great! With a small smile, Rory hid the tape in his bag under the table and sat in one of the metal folding chairs, by himself, to wait for the start of the event. A small stream of people walked through the aisles of booths; he saw mothers pushing babies in their strollers and fathers lifting their children high up to their shoulders. The sound of a dog barking drew his eyes to the left, where a yellow lab was barking at…? Rory was not sure, but from his seat, it looked like the butterfly he’d seen before. The dog swatted its paw at the bug, and after squinting, Rory was sure it was the same butterfly. Rory saw another to the side of him but he lost sight of the bug before another crawled on the sign of the book club’s booth. It seemed that every time he shifted his eyes, there was a person swatting at the butterflies, like they were pesky flies. He frowned. Rory didn’t like seeing any bug, let alone these new butterflies, being hurt in front of him. Rory watched a teenager step on one that had landed on the ground, and when their sneaker lifted up, a blood-red stain and its mangled corpse was left behind.
What drew Rory’s eyes next was the sunset, the sky was red. A red that stopped game booths from declaring winners and paused any worker from handing out prizes. It was a red that sucked the joyous mood from the festival. A red that glowed, it seeped into the air and froze everyone, everything, in their place. Through the lines of trees and from the skies, Rory heard them first. Others all around him turned their heads too. It was the flapping of hundreds of wings, and then he saw red approaching from within the forest. He became enraptured in the red beauty surrounding him, eyes staring unblinking in a state of awe. And then he, and all those around him, were overwhelmed by the Swarm. The crowd’s eyes and the screams from their lungs, it was all so gorgeously red.
Linda L. Hellstrom, Founder
Wendy Supron, Chair
Elizabeth K. Parker
Diane Naughton Washburne