The tiny yellow butterfly landed on the young man’s single outstretched finger. He dared not move in fear he might frighten it away. He kept his eyes trained on the creature, on its sheer beauty and innocence. It distracted him for a moment from the destruction around him.
His world had gone gray, and this little flash of color was something for him to hold onto…even for just a little while.
The whisper was so slight that at first he wondered if he’d dreamed it.
“Hello, mister.” This time he was sure of what he’d heard.
Careful not to disturb the tiny butterfly, he craned his neck, eyes moving over the field around him searching for some sign of movement, for the source of the whisper.
Nothing. For the first time in months, he was immersed in silence.
Except for that slight whisper. That quiet voice…
A chill ran down his spine as he realized he was completely alone. He looked back at the butterfly and tried to ignore the sensation of being watched.
It wasn’t long until he heard the whisper again, except that this time it was more insistent. “Mister, are you ignoring me?”
He jumped up from his position on the ground. Butterfly be damned. And it did fly away, only to return moments later to flit in front of his face.
Could it be?
He blinked at it, wondered for a moment if he had in fact his lost his mind. Had he waited too late to get out? Had he finally arrived at the doorstep of madness?
“You’re not crazy,” the butterfly said. “You’re just a coward.”
The young man stared as the butterfly landed again on his outstretched hand.
The war had gotten to him, the gunshots and blood, dead comrades and bombing, all of it had finally taken their toll. He’d escaped from it too late; his mind was gone.
“You’re not crazy,” the butterfly repeated, exasperation coloring its tone. “You’re just a coward.”
The insect was so tiny, and its voice matched it perfectly: slight, incredibly quiet, and yet, the words it spoke resounded loudly in the young man’s mind, as if they’d been screamed at him.
His defensiveness kicked in, and he swatted a hand at the pesky insect. “I’m not a coward!”
The butterfly easily dodged the swipe and came back to fly in front of the soldier’s face. “Cowards run away.”
It was true. He had run away, left his friends--his fellow soldiers--behind without a thought. “I’m not a coward.” He repeated quietly. This time his words held less conviction, as if maybe he doubted them.
“Fear does not make anyone a coward, but quitting does.” The butterfly hovered for a moment, then flew silently away towards the sound of a whistling train in the distance, leaving the young man with nothing but his guilt for company.
Somehow he knew without seeing that the train was one full of Jewish people on their way to some horrible fate, a fate in which being able to fight would be a luxury. He knew also that the people on that train were full of fear just like him, but unlike him, they had no means of escape. Quitting and running away weren’t options for them.
It made him ashamed.
Author's Note: This piece of fiction was written in response to The Lightning and the Lightning Bug's Flicker of Inspiration prompt. This week's prompt was the picture below, taken by my lovely and talented friend Whitney: