Purple Emperor

It’s been a couple of hours since I’ve come across the boy. I found him walking around in my backyard. He seemed to be wandering aimlessly, I don’t know for how long, but he looks tired. He came from out of the woods looking confused. I tried to ask him where his parents were, or where he came from, but he just stared at me. It leaves me to assume that he’s mute, or simply doesn’t want to respond to me. I know he can understand English though. I asked for him to take my hand and he obliged.

He’s pale, very pale. Almost to an unhealthy degree. His hair is short and pitch black, a complete contrast to his skin tone. I don’t how much he’s eaten, or if he’s eaten at all, but he doesn’t seem to want to eat. I can’t force him, but the most I can do is encourage him when he wakes up.

All he’s wearing is a gray tunic and light brown trousers that are riddled with stains. I don’t know why he chose to wander behind this poor woman’s cabin, but now I’m committed to having him in my home. I take a sip of my tea while I pace in front of the bed the child sleeps in. I can put my mind to rest.

A candle sits lit on a dresser beside him, adding a faint flicker to the darkness. He’s lucky I found him when I did. He might’ve gotten lost in the darkness of the woods if otherwise. He needs to get as much rest as he can, he looks like he needs it.

My best course of action is to try to get him to eat tomorrow. I offered him bread and cheese, but he turned his head to both. It’s all that I have, so maybe I can buy some apples from the market tomorrow. If I have enough money to spare. I just hope he isn’t starving himself.

I stop pacing in front of the bed and gaze at the boy. The longer I stare, the more I fail to process what’s really happening.

Butterflies with deep purple wings, painted with white streaks, outlined with black. They’re gathered around the child, resting on his body and on the edges of the bed. They’ve been following him ever since I met him in the woods. I don’t know why they’re so attracted to him, but they are. I tried to shoo them away, but they kept going back to him.

“What am I supposed to do,” I mumble to myself, feeling the weight of my decision hit me. His parents are probably worried sick for their child. Who do I think I am, taking him into my poor excuse of a home? The wood is rotting, windows are scuffed, my tables and chairs prick me with splinters. Who do I think I am? I don’t have the means to take care of this child.

When morning comes, I’ll feed him and ask where his parents are. I need to get him back to where he belongs.

Maybe he ate before I found him, but tomorrow he’ll be hungry for sure.

My eyes lazily trace the black outlines of light, straining to see what’s beyond what the light can’t touch. The butterflies rest themselves with a perfect stillness, some gently flapping their wings. It makes me wonder, are the butterflies asleep, or are they just resting their bodies?

It’s a stupid thing to think about so late, but I can’t help but ponder the thought.

Wait, why am I so worried about them sleeping? What am I going to say if anyone else finds out about this? Who’d even believe I’ve found a boy with a swarm of butterflies that follow him everywhere? I can’t take him to the market like this, I’ll be blamed for an infestation. I hope I can trust him to stay in the house while I’m gone. Maybe I can try and see what else I have to eat here. I know I’ll find nothing, but it wouldn’t hurt to look.

Suddenly, my eyelids grow heavy, and the candle’s light starts to weaken. It’s for the best, I need to go to sleep. I set my cup down and get between the crevice of the dresser and the bed. I pull the end of my dress over as much of my body as I can. The floor is old and creaky wood that’s cold to the touch, but I don’t have anywhere else better to sleep.

With a good huff, I blow out the candle, taking away all my visibility. I snug up in the corner as much as I can, hoping to get warm soon. My dress isn’t made very well, but it covers enough of me so I don’t freeze to death.

I close my eyes and rest my head against my bed frame, with heavy hopes that this child will eat a proper meal tomorrow.

Crystal clear white peers into my eyes, prying them open against my will. I’m surprised to see that it’s morning already. I’d say that it’s sad that I slept so well in my little depression corner, but I’d rather be glad that I was able to sleep at all. Living like this, I have to find the positive in everything that I can.

I look over to my left to see the child sitting on my bed, his knees tucked to his chest, his arms wrapped around them. I don’t know if he slept well last night, but he doesn’t seem to be shivering, but I can’t really tell with this kid.

The butterflies are now moving as well, spending seconds in the air, only to land on the edge of the window, or the top of the dresser. They’re making sure to stay close to him but are venturing far enough to explore their surroundings.

“Did you sleep well,” I ask, trying to remove my groggy tone. He turns his head slightly, half of his face buried in his knees. He looks scared. I don’t know why he would be. I asked kindly for his hand yesterday and he gave it to me with no fuss, so why would does he looks so scared now? “Are you cold? I can look around to see if I have some extra clothes that can keep you warm.”

Still, nothing. The most he gives me are slight breaths. Not knowing what else to do, I rise to my feet, reminding myself what I planned yesterday. I walk to the shambles that I’m forced to label as my kitchen, careful not to harm the butterflies that are in the air. I’d ask him what he normally eats, but I know better at this point.

I bend down and open up my cupboard, hoping to find something edible. The only thing I have under here is fresh loaves of bread that I bought yesterday. I should’ve bought more produce, but bread fills me up the quickest. I don’t need much else to live… or maybe I do, but I don’t mind dying off of the power of bread.

What does it matter, he didn’t want them yesterday so why would he want them now? I mean… they’re fresh. Who would be crazy enough to not like fresh bread? Maybe he just needs some convincing.

I take the loaf of bread from under the cupboard and stand up, taking a deep breath. I turn back to the child, the butterflies flying around him with more excitement than before. He still has his face tucked into his knees, so what’s got them so riled up?

Wondering what the fuss could be about, I walk back over to the bed, the few steps feeling like they span for miles.

The butterflies wings look like they’re absorbing the light that comes into contact with their wings. It’s like small bits of space fluttering around inside of my home.

“Here, you must be hungry, have some bread. I’m sorry if you don’t like it, but it’s all that I have at the moment.” His head turns to me, eyes sunken into his knees. “Oh come on, the bread isn’t poisoned. You’re going to have to eat at some point, and if you’re in this house I won’t have you starving.”

The child keeps himself safe in his knees, leaving me with no options. I can’t force him to eat, that’d just be cruel, but I can’t let him never eat either. Is this what mothers go through for years of their lives?

I sit on the bed beside him, determined to achieve my goal. “What’s the matter? Do you really not like bread? I can’t see how anyone living around here can refuse it. Whether they like it or not, it’s cheap, easy to get access to, and is pretty good when it’s well made. I only buy from the best vendor when I go to the market, so I know that this bread is good. You can at least give it a try before you scoff at it.”

Still, his knees protect him from the rest of the world, the butterflies landing on his shoulders and back.

“I don’t have anything else to eat, other than cheese, but I know your taste is too refined for that.” He stares at me, no emotion on his face. “What do you normally eat,” I ask instinctively. I’m never going to learn, am I? He’s not going to…

Suddenly, the child sinks deeper into his knees, his arms wrapping around him with a tighter grip. He looks straight forward and starts to whisper a pained sigh.

“Oh! Is it something I asked? I—I’m sorry,” I apologize, moving away from him. “If there’s something wrong then you can talk to me about it. I’m a trustworthy adult, I can promise you that.” He continues to sink until he puts his head down, his pained sigh ending.

All of the butterflies begin to swarm his body, covering as much of him as they can. I can’t count how many of them there are, but there’s enough to make him look like a mass of purple and white on top of my bed.

“Really? Don’t use your butterflies to hide. If I said something that upset you then just tell me what it was. I can’t read your mind.” What a surprise. No response. “Fine, have it your way, but I’m leaving this on the dresser in case you get hungry. I’ll let no child under my roof starve, no matter how stubborn they are.” I march over to the dresser, trying to look as unbothered as I can, but children can smell weakness in adults. It’s what they’re made to do.

I set the bread down with a thud and march my way back to the kitchen, back straight, heels driving into the floor. “If you need me, I’ll be outside,” I say, turning back to the child. His head is still in his knees. I might as well be talking to a wall.

I put on my slippers, which are hanging on by a thread, and open my door. Bright white takes over my vision until my eyes adjust. The sky is nothing but clouds. The sunlight trying to pierce through makes the world below appear as a bleak gray, but up above is a contrasting white.

Without warning, thunder roars from above, trickles of water start to hit the already muddy paths that I’m forced to walk to get to town. Another clap of thunder roars, scaring an immediate downpour out its army of clouds. I shut the door before any water can land itself on me.

“Okay. I won’t be outside. I’ll be in here with you. Which gives me more time to talk to you about the beauty of bread,” I cheer, clapping my hands in excitement. I turn around and spot the most wonderful occurrence.

The child is sitting with his legs hanging off the edge of the bed, with the loaf of bread in his lap. The butterflies are flying around him in excitement, all of them swarming the loaf. I’m going to assume that it’s a good sign for his butterflies to be doing that.

“Oh, look at you! I knew you’d come around eventually. Go on give it a taste.” I hurry over to the bed, crashing down next to the boy. I startle some of the butterflies, but they quickly land back on the bread, flapping their wings in delight. “Your butterflies like it, don’t be scared now.” The boy blinks, not afraid to look me in the eye.

Is it even sanitary to eat off of food that butterflies have touched? They’re beautiful creatures but they’re still bugs that live in the wild. Then again. It’s not every day you see them flocking around one specific person… But just because they’re swarming him doesn’t make them clean now does it…?

I don’t care, as long as he eats the bread then I’ll be happy. Who knows, maybe he’ll start talking to me after he’s finished.

I watch the butterflies begin to flap their wings, all of them seeming to get excited at once. They cover the loaf of bread, making it become a lump of butterfly wings.

“Uh… is there any way for you to get them off so you can eat?” His burning blue eyes are fixated on the butterflies, his focus showing no sign of wavering. I don’t know what to say, so I stare at the butterflies with him.

Their wings brush against each other, each butterfly content with its lack of space. Every single one is existing in its own bubble, perfectly still, until they adjust their wings. It almost makes me forget that he’s supposed to be eating the bread, not watching his butterflies eat it. Wait… There’s no way…

“Hey, are you not eating because you want your butterflies to eat first, cause if that’s the case then that’s very kind of you, but butterflies can’t eat bread. They drink from nectar from flowers and sometimes they drink from fruits. They won’t get the nutrients they need from a loaf of bread.” The child slightly tilts his head to me, but his eyes are still on his butterflies. “I know you can understand me! I don’t care if you have a herd of rats at your beck and call, tell your bugs to get off your food so you can eat it for yourself!”

After forcing my will on the boy with the intensity of my voice, he finally turns his head to me, his eyes pinned onto mine. His eyelids are covering his eyes halfway, his lips pouted. He takes his left-hand points at the herd of butterflies, he then takes both of his hands and sets them onto his stomach, gripping the weak fabric of his tunic.

“Yeah, you’re hungry, I know. Eat the bread.” He points to the butterflies again and pats his stomach twice as hard.

Before I get a chance to yell at him, the butterflies start to fly off of the bread, I glance over and notice large chunks have been taken out of it somehow. Within a second, they all start to scurry into the air, revealing the bread to be ridden with holes and gashes. “Wh—What the!? What happened to the bread!? Since when could butterflies chew!? How’d they even—” The child sets his hand on my knee and offers me a gentle smile. “Y—Yeah, you’re right! I guess butterflies can chew after all. Silly me!”

The rain beats down on my sorry little home, sounding ready to collapse with the impact of each droplet of water. The child sits on the edge of the bed, enjoying the sounds of the patter that grazes against the window, his butterflies gaining the courage to fly further away from him. I stand in the center of my kitchen as still as a statue, my handset in front of my face, my wrist limp.

If I stand like this long enough, one of the butterflies is bound to land on the back of my hand. Their colors are so mysterious, yet beautiful at the same time. Now that I think about it, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a flock of butterflies like this, not even in my youthful days. I used to run in the woods all the time. I never went far though; I’d always get scared of getting lost.

The butterflies hover around me, making sure to keep their distance. I keep my head straight and my breaths quiet. I want them to be as comfortable as possible around me. Maybe they don’t like me because I came on too strong when asking him questions… What relation do these butterflies even have with him?

Is he their master or are they some sort of reminder that he’s cursed, and if he’s cursed, what is the curse for and why? The easiest assumption would be that he’s cursed to never be able to speak again. It’s easy for a child’s mouth to get them into trouble they’ll soon regret. But if eternal silence is his curse, then why the butterflies? He seems very fond of them and I don’t see what butterflies have to do with silence.

They are quiet creatures, but there are plenty of quiet bugs out there. And what’s the sense of making a curse look so pretty? I guess I wouldn’t know, I’m not a witch. They could’ve done it because they’re fond of butterflies too. Now that begs the question, do witches really exist? What if the child just carries a scent that the butterflies like? It’d be a simpler explanation but a more boring one.

Suddenly, a space of purple descends onto the back of my hand. Its wings face me, instantly grabbing my attention. As cautiously as possible, I lower my hand to get a better look at the butterflies wings. At the very bottom of its wings, there are two black spots with yellow surrounding them, making them appear as a soulless set of eyes.

What type of butterfly is this? It’s so mesmerizing from afar but so eerie up close but that’s what makes me even more curious about it. I know it’s nothing more than its wing pattern, but I can’t help but wonder if it can actually see out of this set of eyes. I can’t really say.

Abruptly, thunder booms with a proud roar, scaring the butterfly off of the back of my hand. They all seem startled, picking up the pace in their movements. The child pushes himself back on the bed, coiling himself up in his knees again.

“Oh don’t be scared, it’s only thunder. It couldn’t hurt you even if it tried. The real threat is the lightning that strikes down first. Now if that hits you, then you’ll get burnt to a crisp but the odds of getting struck by lightning are little to none, so don’t worry!” Suddenly, all the butterflies start flying to the boy in perfect sync, covering his body again.

“B—But it’s not going to strike you, I promise! Once the rain clears, the clouds will go away and it’ll be beautiful outside. Rain is made to make the world more beautiful by giving water to plants and people. Afterward, the sun will come out and all the plants will start growing and it’ll be pretty. I’ll show you after the rain clears up. It’ll be great!”

Why am I so bad with children? They’re just smaller adults.

“You and your butterflies will be able to play outside and I’ll even be able to go to the market to get you some food that you’ll like. Doesn’t that sound great?” The butterflies hunch closer together on his body, covering as much of him as they can.

His butterflies have been coddling him for hours now. If there’s one thing I know I can do, it’s scaring children half to death. I wonder if I can find work based on it? I’d do it for free if I was offered to be honest.

This child seems scared of the world around him, but he wants to explore it at the same time. If he really was as scared as he’s acting now then he wouldn’t have taken my offer to come home, he probably wouldn’t have been outside either. He would’ve been cowering in a corner for the rest of his life. I guess that’s the story of any child really. I wish he would talk more though. It’d make things a lot easier for me.

I stand over the child, his body still being protected by his kerfuffle of purple. I don’t know what my goal is with him anymore. What chance is there of me being able to find his parents? I won’t be able to take him outside without scaring people either. If that’s the case then why would I say I’d show him outside?       

Why am I such a dumbass? So many questions, no answers. Speaking of the rain, I don’t hear anything rattling the roof of my house. I turn around and walk to the brittle wooden door that acts as the entrance to my home. I open it and get blinded by bright sunlight and hear the commerce of townsfolk. Once my eyes adjust, I see people walking up and down the muddy road as happy as can be. I don’t even know when the rain stopped.

“Hey, Lana! How’ve you been!? I hear a woman call out to me. A pale woman dressed in a raggedy dress like mine comes running up to me with a small basket in hand.

“Oh, Oria. What’s up?”

“I wanted to come to visit you earlier today to give you this,” Oria smiles, handing me a basket with cloth covering the top. I remove it and it reveals two crepes neatly tucked inside. “I wanted to thank you for helping me sheer the sheep last week. There’s only so much we can do to help each other and I want you to know that I appreciate what you did for me. Thank you. My father got it for me, but I’d rather you have it instead.”

“How’d he get his hands on this? Are you sure you don’t want it? I wouldn’t mind—”

“No, no. You take it. You’ve earned it.”

“Are you sure that you’re sure? You’re as skinny as they come, and you need all the meat fat you can get. You might not survive next winter.”

“Stop teasing and accept your gift,” Oria chuckles. “There’s not a lot that needs to get done today so take the day off and enjoy your crepes. I’ll see you tomorrow.” Before I can say bye, she heads off to do what she needs to.

“Okay, so there’s no way you won’t eat this,” I say, shutting my front door. I turn around and see that the child is standing up, his butterflies staying close to him. “Hey look at this! I’ve got a rare desert that a friend dropped off for me. Don’t you want to give it a try?” I don’t expect him to say anything but I expect him to react at least.

He has his eyes fixated on the corner of my “bedroom”, his body remaining perfectly still. “What’s over there? Did you drop something,” I ask, walking over to see for myself. My eyes catch what has his attention.

It’s a rat that isn’t moving, laying down on its side. It probably died earlier today. “Oh, it’s only a rat. They get in sometimes and never figure out how to get out, then they just die. It’s sad but it’s not my fault there’s so dumb. I’m starving just as much they are. I have to take it out before the body starts rotting. I’ll get a rag. Help yourself to a crepe in the meantime.” I set the basket down on the bed and head into my “kitchen”.

I know I have a rag somewhere around here somewhere. Any cloth would do really.

I scan the kitchen counter, hoping to find more than permanent stains and strange divots on the woodwork. It’s sad how accustomed I’ve become to filth; any woman with class would’ve ripped their head off at the sight of a dead rat. Whatever, it just means that I’m not a coward.

I can’t find this damn rag anywhere. Forget it. I take my sleeve and start pulling as hard as I can, ripping the poor threads that were so elegantly woven together. In one good tug, I leave myself without a right sleeve for my dress. I can sew it back on.

I turn around and the child is still staring at the rat corpse. “Hey, did you try a crepe yet? It’s a dessert, you know, full of sugar that I’m offering to you for free.” He doesn’t react at all.

“If you’re going to stay in his house then you need to give me some sort of response. I’m not going to keep dealing with you staring off into space all day. I know you can understand me so…” I put my scolding on hold after I notice a mass of butterflies covering where the carcass was.

 The carcass isn’t that big, but the butterflies cover what they can, some of them crawling on top of each other to get to it. Why are they covering their carcass? What do they have to gain from it? I watch in disgust but with great intrigue helping keep my stomach under control.

“What are they doing,” I ask, hoping for a response from someone. After a couple of heavy seconds of watching the butterflies, they slowly start to fly away from the carcass, revealing blood-red gashes on the rat. Its tail is nowhere to be found. The more butterflies that ascend back into the air, the more gore that’s revealed.         

I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s disgusting but I can’t look away. It’s only been happening for a matter of seconds but it feels like it’s been all day. I won’t stop them but I don’t know-how. Once I’m able to see the rat’s face, I can see half of its skull. I hate the damn things but I never wished such a cruel fate onto one. At least let their bodies rot in the wild.

As I’m about to grab the child’s shoulder, he turns to me, tears flooding down his face. I don’t know why he’s crying and I’m not going to get an answer if I ask.

“W—What’s wrong,” I ask him, ignoring my thoughts. “Do your butterflies do this often? Do they feed on whatever they want?” The child shakes his head yes.

“Well, I guess this is how they feed. The rat was dead, to begin with, so you don’t have anything to cry about. I’ve never seen anything like this, but the rules of nature still apply. Animals will do what they need to do to survive. They’re going to follow their instincts.” Suddenly the boy closes his mouth and starts to gag.

He covers his mouth with both of his hands but his throat continues to roll. With one final gag, he turns around and hunches over, throwing up on the floor. His vomit comes out as a light stream of red with strange gray bundles coming out with it, the butterflies quickly swarm back to the carcass as the child falls to his knees. I try to help him up but he pushes back my arms back, grunting in pain.

“Get off the floor! You’re going to be swimming in your own vomit!” Tears keep rolling down his face. His stomach starts to bubble terribly loud and he grips his stomach with both of his hands. He starts dry heaving hard until he spits out another gray bundle that’s tainted with red.

To my knowledge, he hasn’t eaten anything in a day so why is he throwing up something that’s clearly solid? As much as I resent it, I give the gray bundles a closer look and notice that they have a fuzzy look to them. Almost like fur. If that’s what I think it is, then…

My stomach starts to feel light, my throat starts to churn almost rhythmically.

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