Flash Fiction

The early sunset plunged the world into a winter chill. Caroline hurried to her car, gripping her keys and hoping to avoid trouble. In the employee parking lot, weak sodium lights filtered down on her trusty Corolla. The paint was chipped, but it was solid under the hood.

The businesses in this part of town strove to be legitimate. Both the real estate agent and the insurance office had professional lettering on their floor-to-ceiling windows to attract customers. The cremation office, the pot emporium, and the dicey tax place did not. Combined with the generous helping of homeless people who haunted the place after hours, it was clear to see who had won.

“Nice car.” Caroline heard an unfamiliar female voice behind her. She’d been the last person out of her office, who could this be? She turned and gasped. She could have been looking at a full-length mirror!

The woman standing before her had long brown hair, a garishly patterned dress, and tall brown boots. She completed the look with a blue plaid coat, the same one Caroline wore right now. Their blue eyes met. “What’s going on here?”

Her doppelganger sighed. “Remember when you sent in your blood and hair samples to lookupyourancestry.com?”

Horror blossomed in Caroline’s mind. Curiosity and a 50% off coupon sealed the deal. It seemed like a steal at the time. She just hadn’t realized what a steal it was.

“That was two years ago! That isn’t enough time for you to…” Caroline gestured at her clone. “You should still be in diapers, shouldn’t you?”

Her clone arched a brow. Caroline remembered how many hours she put into looking at a mirror, holding down one eyebrow, raising the other, just so she could learn how to do that. Her sister could do it naturally, which had driven her mad at the time. “I don’t have the time, and you don’t have the scientific background necessary to explain this. You didn’t read the Terms of Service, or you wouldn’t be so surprised.”

“Nobody reads the Terms and Conditions!” Caroline snapped. She was the last person out of any of the offices in this park. She was on her own.

Still clutching her keys, she backed towards the Corolla. She wanted to grab her phone, but the service in this business lot was terrible.

“I know.” The clone stepped forward, pulling a gun from her pocket. “You’re Caroline Sanders, born September 24th, 1969, in Walla Walla. Your favorite color is purple, you shop at Goodwill for your clothes, and Steve dumped you last night because he caught you cheating on him.”

The memory of their last fight replayed in Caroline’s mind. She had never been so confused, until now. Caroline heard the gun go off, saw the muzzle flash. In her final moment, she wondered what the clone would do with the life she’d just stolen.

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Misbegotten Butterfly

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She couldn’t believe she’d never noticed them before. On her walks, while she passed by the fences and overgrown lots, she’d never looked. She saw her first one in the corner of one of the fences, this tiny, white, web-like growth that clung like a barnacle to the security of the fence. It looked as old as a mummy, and she had no intention of touching it with her bare hands. She looked around and found an old, dry stick to poke at the mummified cocoon.

She wasn’t as gentle as she thought she was. The cocoon ripped, and dust blew out of the shell of it. She was horrified. So much dust! The cocoon should have been empty, evacuated by the occupant at the beginning of the summer. Instead, the cocoon was full of the dessicated remains of a misbegotten butterfly.

The image haunted her for the length of her walk, but then it fled into the recesses of her subconscious, to sit like a gargoyle in the back of her mind, brooding and silent.

The next day when she took her walk, she decided to walk the trail in the opposite direction of her normal travels. She wandered, contemplating nothing. As she reached the fence line, she noticed a ghostly shape out of the corner of her eye. Another cocoon. She wanted to walk past it, to walk beyond, but some driving force inside of her made her stop. She felt as though she was drawn to it. She stepped closer, noticing details she hadn’t noticed the first time. The cocoon, musty and covered in webbing, seemed plump. She felt a shudder of disbelief. Finding two cocoons in two days was odd enough to warrant coincidence, but finding two unhatched cocoons on the same length of fence made her stomach churn.

Did they know? She wondered. Did they know there was a chance they could die, rather than becoming what they were truly meant to be?

She continued forward, and her eyes caught no less than twenty little mummified cocoons along the fence. She broke into a run, and when she finally turned the corner, the fence turned too, but there was a culvert distancing them, and she couldn’t see up into the hidden corners. She kept running, just to leave the vision of unborn butterflies behind her.

Her lunch break over, she walked into the building where she worked. She walked down the familiar hallway, and into the room peppered in cubicles where her coworkers sat. The place was silent, eerily so, with just the hum of machinery to be heard. She didn’t hear any conversation at all.

Wondering where her coworkers were, she walked to her seat. As she walked past the first cubicle, her eyes caught a ghostly shape. There, within the office chair, a white, mummified cocoon the size of a man sat in place of where her coworker Bobby should be.

She didn’t look any further, but turned and ran.