The Butterfly Boy
A short story about a young boy who was targeted because he was different
Credit Image: Mystic Art Design from Pixabay
Hello and welcome. Today is Sunday and Rosy’s Reading Room time.
I don’t know what inspired this short story, in fact, I don’t know where any of my short stories come from. Sometimes a spark of an idea enters my mind and I go from there but most of the time, I don’t know what I’m going to write until I sit down at my laptop and words spill out onto the screen. I think the term for this type of writing is ‘intuitive pantser’, in case you were wondering or flying by the seat of my pants. It works for me. I hope it works for you.
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So, here is today’s short story: The Butterfly Boy
Benji hated his life. He had walked in his brother’s shadow for more years than he cared to remember. Sebastian was the strong one, the tall, handsome one. The brother who got all the great genes. He landed none. He resented him and nobody ever took any notice of him because the spotlight was always on Seb. The cool dude. The guy who got all the pretty girls. The guy who could pick up any instrument and get a tune out of it.
Benji spent most of his time in his room. It was better that way. Then he didn’t have to interact with anybody and that suited him best. When Mum called up the stairs to say dinner was ready he knew that if he didn’t go down she would bring it up for him on a tray and he would eat it when he was ready. Dad was always working so he couldn’t care less whether Benji bothered to eat or not. To say they were a dysfunctional family was an understatement but the trouble was that individually they were all so engrossed in their own lives that they didn’t notice what the others were doing. No one cared about anybody but themselves. Except for Benji. He cared about all sorts of things. He cared about the planet and global warming. The extinction of some species of animals or birds. He thought it was sad when something became extinct, like the Dodo. It meant that it was gone forever. He liked the look of the Dodo and imagined what it would have been like to come face to face with the three feet tall birds on the island of Mauritius. He daydreamed a lot.
When Seb landed a place at Edinburgh University it came as no surprise. He would study medicine and probably end up becoming an eminent doctor or surgeon, depending on which direction he chose to take. Benji had no inclination whatsoever to be cooped up inside. He hated school and couldn’t wait to leave. If he could he would have walked out aged twelve, but the law states that you must remain in education until the age of sixteen. And he swore that on his sixteenth birthday, he would get up, put on his jeans and a tee shirt and go and explore the world. He would go backpacking. He wasn’t going to waste one more day being told what to do, where to go and what he could and couldn’t do. He was a free spirit. He only had four years, three weeks and two days to wait. Then he would be as free as a butterfly to flit away in any direction he wanted.
The small suburban street he lived on in Brighton in a 1960’s semi was much like any other in England. A busy bus route choked his lungs with fumes whenever he walked to the bus stop where he hated waiting because that’s where the bullies hung out. The older boys taunted him and made fun of him because he always walked with his head down looking at his oversized feet. His rucksack wasn’t the latest designer make and they took the micky out of him every time they saw him. He would walk miles sometimes to do a detour to avoid a confrontation with them but they had got wise to his ploy and would run ahead and wait for him, hiding, jumping out at the last minute. He was scared of them and the more scared he was, the more their eyes lit up and their mouths twisted into ghoulish grins. He was the perfect fodder for their gang’s despicable initiation ceremonies but even he had no idea how low they would stoop. Somehow somebody in the gang had heard that he liked butterflies.
In the school holidays, he would catch the No.62 bus up to Ditchling Beacon and take his Observer book of butterflies with him packed neatly in his rucksack along with some cold sausage sandwiches, a can of Coke, a sketch pad, some colouring pencils, and a net, but he had to carry the net because it didn’t fold up and that was when people started calling him the butterfly boy. He loved the way the delicate creatures fluttered around and admired their papery thin wings. On a bright sunny day, he could see right through them. Butterflies like the Cabbage White which always seemed to go around in pairs or a kaleidoscope. He loved learning about them and was happiest when he was up on the Beacons with only Mother Nature for company.
Sometimes, he would lie on his back looking up at the sky and make out different shapes in the clouds - a unicorn, a polar bear, a centaur – all floating above him like some magical picture show. But as quickly as they appeared they would start to dissolve into wispy trails and so it went on until he could make out other shapes. Occasionally, an aeroplane would fly overhead leaving a straight white trail behind it and he would wonder where all the passengers were going and why they were going there. He had never been on an aeroplane and longed to see the world. The first place he was going to visit when he left school was Mauritius. He wanted to see where the Dodo had made its home.
‘Benjamin! Will you stop daydreaming and concentrate please.’ The teacher’s voice spliced into his thoughts as he struggled with the trigonometry class and couldn’t care less about cosines, cotangents, secants, sines or tangents. He was always going off on one. A tangent. He preferred it to being corralled along the school corridors which stank of damp clothes, body odour, and depending on what the canteen was cooking up, boiled cabbage or, on a good day, chicken curry.
‘Hi Benji.’ A girl with blonde hair passed him and smiled. He didn’t know her but she obviously knew him. ‘Hello,’ he responded shyly before hoisting his school bag up onto his shoulder and trudging to his next lesson. God, he hated school.
When the school bell rang at 3:25 pm it couldn’t have come soon enough. The entire class gathered up their books, pens and pencils and made their way noisily and chaotically out of the classroom door, across the playground and out through the school gates. The teacher’s voice could be heard shouting, ‘And don’t forget to do your homework!’
‘Do you mind if I walk with you?’
It was the girl with the blonde hair again.
‘I’m Mabel by the way.’
Benji didn’t know what to say so he didn’t say anything.
‘I live just down the road from you,’ the girl offered. Benji ignored her and wished she would go away.
‘Your brother’s Seb isn’t he?’
‘So,’ he responded.
‘Nothing. Just sayin’. I don’t see him around anymore that’s all.’
‘He’s away,’ and he stuck his AirPods in his ears before Mabel had a chance to respond.
‘Rude,’ she muttered and caught the eye of one of the older boys who’d been following them and smiled at him. He nodded as if to say, job done. She knew the drill and turned off down a side street. She didn’t want to witness what was about to happen.
Before Benji realised what was happening the gang had surrounded him and was herding him towards a dead end of lockups. One of them was waving his arms up and down and running around in a circle as a child would mimick a butterfly. He didn’t even get a chance to reach for his mobile phone. One of them grabbed the AirPods from his ears and stuffed them into his jacket pocket. He heard the screeching of the metal up-and-over door of one of the garages as it opened and felt something slice into him, all the while, conscious of four or five of the bullies circling him, laughing and goading the ringleader. Then somebody kicked him and he fell to the ground. He lost consciousness soon after that.
Mauritius was the most beautiful place Benji had ever seen, the closest thing to paradise. The white sandy beaches and turquoise sea he had seen on Google images kept running through his mind, over and over on a loop. He was lying on a cold hard surface enveloped in darkness with an overpowering stench of stale urine permeating his nostrils. One side of his body was warm and he realised that he was bleeding heavily. Drifting in and out of consciousness he clawed at his rucksack but passed out before he could open the pocket which contained his phone. Nobody would find him. He could die in this cold, dank, filthy garage.
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