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To Catch a Butterfly

Sitting at the bow of the canoe, Dr. Drake snapped several pictures of crocodiles gathered on the muddy river bank. Years of teaching at the university had taught him that traveling all over the world in search of exotic butterflies had to be made to look more exciting than it actually was. He put the camera in his shirt pocket as he watched Manuel at the stern shifting the oar from one side of the boat to the other.

"Are you sure you don't want me to paddle also?" Dr. Drake said.

"Gracias, señior, but no," Manuel said as he sliced the fast moving current with the oar. "We'll travel much faster with just me rowing."

Dr. Drake did another quick mental inventory of the things he had brought along in a small canvas bag that sat in the middle of the canoe: bottled water, clean socks, a can of insect repellent, snake and spider anti-venom, a battery operated lantern, a lighter, granola bars, and a Mason jar with holes punched in the lid. He had laid the rolled up tent and sleeping bag along with his butterfly net beside the bag. Satisfied that everything he needed for an overnight stay in the jungle had been brought along, he said to Manuel, "You're certain you know where these butterflies can be found?"

"Sí señior, but why do you look for these butterflies?"

"Because they have been talked about but no one has captured one to examine it," Dr. Drake said. "To bring one back to add to the university's collection would be an accomplishment. It's said they're the most beautiful butterflies on the planet."

"I've only seen one from a distance," Manuel said. "Indeed, its beauty is like nothing I've ever seen but the tribe that lives in this part of the jungle say those butterflies are very dangerous." 

Dr. Drake chuckled. "What can be dangerous about a butterfly?"

Manuel steered the canoe to the river bank. "Perhaps you'll soon find out."

At the bank, Dr. Drake stepped out of the canoe into thick mud that swallowed his boots up to his ankles. Swarms of gnats and mosquitoes buzzed around his head. The booming, resonating calls of howler monkeys filled the air.

Manuel tossed Dr. Drake's things from the canoe onto a patch of lush grass. "Good luck, señior," he said as he sat down and began to push away from the bank.

"Where are you going?" Dr. Drake said as he freed his boots from the glue-like mud and stepped into the grass.

"I'll return tomorrow at three o'clock to get you." As the current caught the canoe, he said, "You catch a butterfly, don't let it catch you."

Dr. Drake picked up the canvas bag and hoisted his other things onto his shoulder as he watched Manuel paddle up stream, round a bend, and disappear from sight.

Pushing aside ferns and brush with his hands, he stepped into the dimly lit jungle. Hundreds of feet up, beams of sunlight sporadically pierced the canopies. Birds and monkeys were heard, but hidden, in the thick leaves on the tree branches. He walked about a hundred yards into the jungle and set up his tent. He laid out the sleeping bag inside it and threw the canvas bag onto it. He sprayed himself from head to toe with the insect repellent. He then grabbed the Mason jar and stepped out of the tent and picked up the butterfly net and set off to go deeper into the jungle.

A half hour later he entered a small meadow surrounded by kapok trees thick with foliage. He  marveled at the array of orchids, passion flowers, and lobster claws growing in the meadow.  He took his camera from his pocket and opened it up and began taking shots. It was while he had the camera to his eye that he saw a butterfly land on a white orchid. Its wingspan was about eight inches and the color markings on the wings were a swirl of gold, purple and vermillion. He lowered the camera and stared in awe.

As the butterfly was balanced on the petals of the flower, Dr. Drake quietly placed the jar in the grass, raised the net, and walked toward the butterfly. When only a foot from it, the butterfly turned and faced him. It arose from the flower, displaying razor thin claws on the tips of its four legs and a stinger that extended from its abdomen. Its wings began to flutter at the speed of a hummingbird.

Dr. Drake brought the net straight down. Thinking he had caught the butterfly he gathered up the net and looked inside. It wasn't there. Suddenly he felt a searing pain on the back of his neck. He put his hand there, and then looked at his fingers. They were covered in blood.

The butterfly then stung him in the forearm.

Dr. Drake fell to his knees, shrieking with pain. Then he heard it, the high-pitched humming of thousands of vibrating butterfly wings. They flew out of one of the kapok trees, a mélange of brilliant colors, aiming straight toward him. He dropped his net and ran from the meadow and into the jungle, heading for his encampment.  The butterflies chased him through the brush, shredding the back of his shirt with their claws. Several attached themselves to the skin on his back and stung him. Within a few feet from his tent he fell to the ground and they covered him, slashing and stinging.

The next day, Manuel paddled by the spot where Dr. Drake had entered the jungle. He waited for an hour, and when Dr. Drake didn't show up, he shrugged, and then paddled on.

About the Author
Steve Carr, who lives in Richmond, Va., began his writing career as a military journalist and has had over 200 short stories published internationally in print and online magazines, literary journals and anthologies. He has two collections of short stories that have been published; Sand, published by Clarendon House Publications, and Heat, published by Czykmate Productions. His plays have been produced in several states in the U.S. He was a 2017 Pushcart Prize nominee. He is on Twitter @carrsteven960. His website is www.stevecarr960.com.