Kingdom of Rain

1- In Which a Butterfly Dies

Elena Lash was driving to school one morning and a butterfly hit her windshield, which made her cry. It probably would not have been that much of a tragedy if it was a moth or any other kind of bug, or something generally unbeautiful. There's something so horrific about a butterfly's wings splattered across the windshield, dead and in pieces, that just brought Elena to tears.

The thing with Elena, though, is that she was not that type of person. She didn't normally get all weepy over something so trivial. In fact, she was really more the type of jovial and funny person. The type who laughs at weird things; for instance, she didn't find handlebar mustaches funny, what she found funny about that situation is the thought of a man with a handlebar mustache buying mustache wax. She normally laughed at the mechanics of a concept, rather than the actual concept.

Certainly not about butterflies splattering against her windshield.

Somehow, though, the flakes and guts of the butterfly were utterly horrific to her so she had to pull over to the side of the road in order to get in her good cry. But, she reasoned, maybe it wasn't the butterfly, not really. Maybe it was the accompanying flashback; the pretty colors coupled with the gooey insides. It was like that day, three months ago, when Mom and Dad were both hit by a car and propelled into another car, pinning them in between the two. When the firemen pulled the two cars apart, Mom and Dad fell into pieces, literally, because the bumpers had chopped them up. All the while, Elena was waiting in the cell phone store, impatiently wondering where they were, because they had promised to buy her a new phone after they finished across the street at the convenience store.

What a surprise that had been when she finally went outside to inspect the commotion and discovered her parents were both dead and in pieces on the road, their blood and guts staining the pavement, littered with the pretty colors of their bright clothes and baseball caps.

Yes, that was probably it. Then again, Elena was prone to random crying spells ever since that day. Not so random: after all, her parents were dead, and she had no brothers or sisters. She did have an aunt and uncle, though, and they were perfectly nice people. They weren't the type who would lock her in a closet or abuse her. In fact, they had two sweet boys of their own, and lived nearby so Elena didn't even have to change schools. The transition was smooth as it could be and, by all accounts, Elena should be eventually getting over her parents' traumatizing deaths and get back into the swing of things.

But, naturally, there were always those moments when butterflies would carelessly flutter out in front of her car where she was dying and splatter against the windshield, mimicking the tragedy of three months ago. Needless to say, Elena did not think about handlebar mustaches very much anymore.

Today was one of those bad days. Recently, most days had been good days, but every once and a while, one of these bad days would creep through in the form of butterflies against the windshield. Bad days usually involved Elena not exactly going to school (not essentially, but entirely).

Elena drove past the school and instead made her way up the hill that overlooked the entire town. She wasn't sure exactly how many people were in the town, but she knew there were only sixty-three students in her eleventh grade class, and the school considered that unusually large. There were only forty-one seniors graduating this year. She wagered there were more cows than people, though she didn't live on one of the many farms in the area. Following the book store's closing, it was officially a thirty-five minute drive to the closest place to buy any form of reading materials. Most people knew each other, so of course everyone knew about her parents' brutal deaths, and therefore treated her like a fragile, breakable creature. Perhaps this was a warranted reaction, however, because realistically speaking, she was rather fragile these days. What else can be said about a small town?

The worst part of Mom and Dad's deaths, Elena contemplated as she drove up to the highest place in town, was that there was no one to hate. The reason the car crashed into them in the first place was because the thirty-four-year-old woman driving came down with a sudden case of exploding heart, and died before the car even careened into two individuals crossing the street. So no one was at fault. There was no one to blame. Elena did not blame herself, but she also couldn't blame anyone else. It became supremely difficult to channel her sadness because of this. She would have thought it would be better if the driver was a forty-year-old drunk driver who was on his way home to beat his wife and kids, but unfortunately, that scenario was a bit too much to hope for.

She stopped at the stop sign and her mind wandered. Uncle Ted spoke to Aunt Jane about Elena a lot, saying things like, "She used to be so creative…" Used to be, Uncle Ted? Really? What sort of thing to say is that?

Admittedly, Uncle Ted maybe had a bit of a point. After all, Elena used to create fanciful stories and ideas. She didn't like poetry, but she absolutely loved stories. In fact, she was one of the loudest protestors following the book store's closing. She always used to envision seeing her own fiction on its walls.

And yes, Uncle Ted's point was further realized because Elena generally wasn't doing very much creating recently. She found herself in a dry spell, which started a few days before Mom and Dad dying and was still fully in effect.

But! Even so! It's a bit rude to say she used to be creative.

Especially because she still had plenty of creative thoughts, but just couldn't put them onto paper anymore.

On an unrelated note, as Elena Lash drove around the last bend of road and found herself at the top of the hill, there was something greeting her there, as if it had been waiting for her.

It was an enormous building of some sort, except it was far from modern; it was almost castle-like with stone walls surrounding it and windows and ledges coming off at every angle and in every direction. There were flags and rooftops slanting down over ledges from the windows, and countless windows at that, let me say. The oddest thing about this enormous castle (odder than it simply being there) was the fact that it was hovering there. A thick mist surrounded it around the base, but Elena could quite clearly see it was at least twenty feet up off the ground, with the exception of a small rope ladder dangling down.

A small rope ladder.

An inviting rope ladder.

Elena slowly climbed out of her car and stared at the castle. For some reason, she didn't find herself surprised that it was even there. It was magnificent, certainly, but somehow she expected it. And that rope ladder was becoming increasingly more inviting, as if it was a handsome stranger from inside a suspicious car, asking her to come a little bit closer.

Normally, you're not supposed to approach handsome strangers in suspicious cars (or anyone in suspicious cars, or any kind of car—just stay away from cars and people, in general) but Elena was feeling rather daring and bold. She jogged right up to the rope ladder and swatted at it to make sure it was still there. Taking a moment to stare up at the bottom of the stone castle hovering above her, she finally gripped onto the ladder and stepped up onto the first swinging wring. It was hard at first to balance, but once she pulled herself up to the first few ropes, it became increasingly easy.

She climbed through the mist so she could no longer see. It got a little colder. She got a little braver. When she reached up for the last wring, she felt a hand close around her wrist to pull her up the rest of the way.