"The Cocoon, Breaking Up" by Ace Baker — Our December 2019 Silver Medal Winner

by - Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Ace Baker is our second place winner from the contest posted in our December, 2019 issue!

What the judges had to say:

"The various elements of the story are weaved together and flow well to add depth and background to the story."

"Wow. What a great story. Everything hung together, layer upon layer. The writer took chances with form and structure but all the choices became logical and effective. A character to aspire to. Very well done."

"The butterfly metaphor is often used but the author effectively steers clear of clichés and thoughtfully incorporates the comparisons!"

"Really unique approach to a short story, particularly with your formatting and inserts of web addresses. A little strange; a little quirky; but I think that's exactly what you're aiming for. "

Meet Ace:

Ace Baker is a writer, poet and teacher from Vancouver. His short story, "Victory Girl," won the Storyteller Award, and his poetry has won the SIWC, PNWA, and Magpie contests, among others. Both his poetry and prose have been nominated for National Magazine Awards and the Pushcart Prize.

The photo prompt:

  the unedited story:

The Cocoon, Breaking Up

by Ace Baker

Search Web: “Monarch Butterfly”
418,000 results

So I’m standing here with my head down, my hoody pulled over my eyes, and my thumb pointing down the road—kinda up, kinda forward—

Two directions I want to go.

Because where I’ve been is Big Hole Basin, Montana, population 666. And that’s a curse of a number to live with. You’d think I’d have broken the spell since when I popped out, we were 667, but I guess that means I lived with 666, so my hometown is part of the curse too.

My name means “devil,” I lived with 666 others, and I come from a place that means deep hole in the ground (like “Hell” maybe?).

I mean, you can’t make this stuff up.

And if you look up my hometown on city-data.com, you’ll find all kinds of interesting things about that depression.

Things like in the last election, we overwhelmingly voted for Romney (68%), not Obama (28%), and I’m sure it had nothing to do with the fact that we have a “Black race population percentage significantly below state average.”

But that statistic has plenty to do with why I’m on the road presently.

So does Deaven.

Yeah, Deaven, like Heaven, but with a D, so it sounds sorta like Devil in Heaven—you know, like before the fall?

In any case, he was passing through and he was flat broke and he was as black as blindness. Town folk didn’t really take to him, except he had these shoulders big as a Mack truck, and it was harvest time, so his large hands, powerful shoulders and strong back became valuable commodities.

Large hands.

Powerful shoulders

Strong back.

To me, he was black gold, and I followed him around like some lost puppy, but really, I wanted to be even closer. I pictured our hands joined like some ‘70s Coke commercial (you can still see ‘em on Youtube!), and at first, I managed to stay away, but I spent some time with him one day and that sucked me into his world, my own private black hole, and I guess I should tell you what happened:

Courtship for the monarch occurs in two phases. During the aerial phase, a male pursues and often forces a female to the ground. During the ground phase, the butterflies copulate and remain attached.

I planned on kissing him, on letting him touch me even, but I never planned on rape. And when I protested, one of those strong hands held my shoulder to the ground, and the other pulled my jeans to my knees, and those bold shoulders, and that muscled back—well, they were all too much for me.

And thinking about it later, well—it was all too much for me. As I recall, my thinking went something like this:

  1. Daddy’s gonna kill Deaven, or 
  2. Daddy’s gonna kill me, or
  3. I’ll give birth to a black baby, then Daddy’s gonna kill Deaven, then Daddy’s gonna kill me.

Right then, a monarch butterfly landed right on my outstretched hand. It had dark lines and dark spots, but the orange shone through. The brightness overtook the darkness, and it sounds crazy, but that’s what made me decide on flight, not fight.

Hell, I was practically an adult, and people always needed girls to clean and wait tables. I’d have a job before long, somewhere, so here I was, hitching my way west. You’d be surprised how many people will stop for a pretty young thing, even one with a black bruise on her cheek.

Especially one with a black bruise on her cheek.

During the fall migration, monarchs cover thousands of miles. The western North American population of monarchs west of the Rocky Mountains often migrates to sites in California.

At first, I didn’t know where to go, so the first city I got to, I went to the library, which had free access to the world I knew best, the cyber one. I Googled monarchs, and that led me to southwest California.

Monarch flight has been described as “slow and sailing.” However, startled monarchs often fly quickly.

I flew south and buried myself in a city with millions of people, including a manager named Maude, who kind of took me under her wing, you know? She offered me a job and a place to stay if I’d handle cleanup after closing and I was happy to have a new start. I kind of got the feeling that maybe someone had done the same for her once upon a time.

The first night we put the CLOSED sign in the window, I had to clean the tables and clear the tables and push them to the side of the room. What surprised me more were the dozen bodies outside the door who showed up, the ones Maude told me to get the door OPEN for.

And as they hung their coats and slung their purses around the legs of the upturned chairs, I saw dance dresses and leotards and outfits I’d never imagined before. Maude said “Welcome to Modern Dance,” and the music started, and the bodies began to move.

I sucked it all in, the swirl of colors, the blur of bodies, the whispers of long limbs bending in some imaginary breeze.

An adult butterfly emerges after about two weeks as a chyrsalid, and hangs upside-down until its wings are dry.

Weeks later, when I felt life move within me for the first time, I went outside to escape the four walls of the restaurant, and before the sun went down, I stood alone in my new orange dance dress fluttering in the wind.

As I moved, I morphed:

Large hands—big enough to hold a baby.

Powerful shoulders—to bear the pressures of the world.

A strong back—tough enough for the two of us.

Child of mine, one day you too will know this freedom.

[Read the first and third place stories]

Learn how you can participate in one of our Write-Prompt Flash Fiction Contests HERE

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