St. Morpho’s Isle

©2022 Mel Reynes do not re-publish without permission

“You ever wonder what he uses all the butterflies for?” Kevin asked while we waited in the brush.

I did not respond. Kevin was new to the island, not even at Common Level yet, but should at least know he was forbidden from talking to other levels. I stayed silent, talking would only invite more conversation. If Tom wanted butterflies, then that’s reason enough. 

“Does he use them as a dye?” Kevin pressed on the topic

Tom had always said silence is prosperity. We were here to follow Tom and become our best through his guidance.

Kevin did not take the hint, “I think they must be important. Right, Izzy?” He stood strong and firm in the sunlight. He had started to tan but not yet burn and it suited him. His golden moppish hair hung over his stunning blue eyes, almost the same color as the butterflies.

I looked away. I wasn’t sure if the butterflies would be scared because of our talking or not. 

Sweat trickled down my neck and into the folds of my skin. My only tunic would be soaked by the end of day. I took a quick swipe with my net at a flash of blue out of the corner of my eye. But I overshot and lost my footing in the soft, grassy sand and fell towards the thorny brush. Kevin swiftly grabbed my arm and stopped me. He gave a soft, dulcet laugh at my folly. 

But, I was rewarded by the Graces with a prize! It was a delicate electric blue butterfly about two inches across. It struggled against the net, not ready to give up. I picked it out delicately and placed it into our pouch. 

For the rest of the afternoon, my arm tingled where Kevin grabbed me. His deep and easy laugh reverberated in my head. I tried not to accidentally engage him further. I hadn’t heard someone laugh in a long time and it made my stomach feel both hollow and full. I reminded myself that Tom says laughter is a cheap ambition.

By mid afternoon the air was saturated. The scrub brush and heavy purple hibiscus flowers threw back a moist and sleepy-making heat. Even Kevin had finally stopped talking. It may be a tropical island, but if you wandered even a little away from the coast you only got swampy jungle, scratchy brambles, and bugs. 

As the sun was setting, we headed back. I had hoped to deliver the butterflies and freshen up before evening observances. Perhaps Tom would even reward me with a fresh outfit. 

We approached Tom’s tent, guarded by two Valuable Levels. Big and muscular, they were threatening but held no weapons since these were forbidden. The torches had already been lit—not enough time before observances to clean up. We wait outside the tent. The fire reached up, trying to escape their wooden tethers. My eyes burned and vibrated after a day spent out in the sun and bright sand.

Verreaux, a Rare Level, emerged from the tent.

Kevin spoke up, “We got seven butterflies. We thought we had eight but one of them escaped while I was getting it out of the net.” He looked away. “I didn’t want to crush it,” he added. 

I waited for Verreaux to reprimand Kevin, but he just made a sour face. He never seemed happy even though being that close to Tom must bring an extra alignment to ecstasy. 

His wide eyes judged us as he took our pouch. “It will have to be…”

I turned away and lightly grabbed Kevin by the arm to indicate we should go. Maybe if we’d gotten there earlier, our reward would have been greater. I silently admonished myself for wanting compensation. Tom says grace is the only thing we should clothe ourselves with. 

At observances, Kevin and I departed. He had to be in the outermost ring. I took my place in the sixth ring with the other Authentic Levels, about halfway from the center. My damp shirt clung to my body in the rapidly cooling night. I shivered and wished I was closer to the warmth of the bonfire. 

Fire flickered through the inner rings, making the higher levels look like dark ghosts. I watched embers flick off the bonfire to rejoin the stars while I took deep, regular breaths of the smoky air. I tried to converge my spiritual being with the others. 

The drums beat, signaling nightly observance had begun. Tom always emerged from his tent to lead, to ensure we are on the right path and working toward achieving the Supreme Level.

The rings opened on the left side. Tom was carried out on a small, white draped litter carried by Valuable Levels. Through the thin fabric his Supreme form was exhilarating. He sat so tall and robust. The firelight flared around him. If one was not properly leveled, his form caused blindness and madness. He shroudded himself to protect us all. Luckily, the higher levels communicated silently with him and through them instructions were passed to us all. 

Everyone pressed closer together to be near his Supreme aura. My whole body rushed with a sudden heat and I was aware of how rancid I was. I trembled while holding my breath.

Someone to my right suddenly bumped me. I glanced over, it was Kevin—outside his level! I flinched, but he steadied me with his strong grip. He glanced at me, his eyes wishing that I remain silent. His solid fingers dug into my arm, I wasn’t sure I wanted him to let go. We aren’t allowed to incorporate with others romantically until Bright Level and I hadn’t felt another person’s touch in two years. I felt lightheaded and my cheeks burned. Kevin craned his neck to see.

In his other hand, Kevin had a small gray object held down at his side. I looked closer and saw the glint of fire from between his fingers. Was that a camera lens? My mouth hung open, incredulous. Electronics were forbidden on the island. That’s why we were in such a remote place, to be free from the pollution of 5G and other modern contaminants. 

I fought back at Kevin to escape his grip. I couldn’t allow him to disrupt our sanctuary with his dirty technology, even if his touch was so gratifying. Kevin was not paying attention and I slipped a little too easily out of his grasp, tumbling into another member on my left. 

That person also fell, knocking into two people at once. It seemed none of us were all that steady on our feet after a day of fasting in the sun. The newly stricken also tumbled into other people. I was too shocked to look away as first one ring and then another collided into each other. There were too many of us, too close in the near absolute dark to stop events from unfolding. Each wave of people increased the force of the destruction. The cascade of bodies fell closer and closer to the fire. Closer and closer to Tom. 

I watched awestruck as the surge of people fell into the Valuable Levels carrying the litter. The Valuables fell on their own muscles and launched Tom’s beautiful form soared in a slow arc that crashed down into the bonfire. The fire suspiciously roared with the extra fuel and chaos erupted. Splashes of fire landed on a few of the Inner Levels and they burned too. They run, spreading the blaze further and further. 

Through the discord, I glimpsed our fallen Supreme Tom laying halfway in the fire. What I saw was impossible. It wasn’t a person. It was too white to be a person. There was no face. Just a simple paper mannequin in a white smock. 

But then I realized this means Tom was not lost to the runaway fire. I must find the real Tom. I took off to his tent. He was probably in deep meditation with the Graces, unable to realize the dangers racing towards him. I dodged and crawled over panicked people, away from the fire.

Tom’s larger tent was unguarded. Inside his tent were layers of hanging cloth. I felt my way through the dark, closer to the center, and a stench grew. I kept pushing forward, the gloom and smoke made it hard to find my way. But I trusted the Graces would guide me to saving Tom. 

Abruptly, I was in a clearing. The floor was covered with overlapping carpets. I was momentarily dazzled by a hazy blue light that illuminated everything. It was a television. I don’t dwell on this, I must rescue Tom. 

On a large, plush cushion in the center was a small shape facing away from me. The legs and arms were thin sticks jutting out from a bulbous mass. Was this Tom? I was afraid to get closer, lest I go blind and not be able to rescue him. My only reward for inaction will be death as an imperfect, unascended being. There was no way but forward. 

I approached cautiously, beseeching the Graces to keep me sighted in order to save Tom. I didn’t know if I was hearing my own beating heart or if the drummers had kept beating. I kept my eyes averted from Tom as much as I could. The television was on mute, the screen playing an old comedy of a dairyman manically milking a cow, spraying the milk everywhere. The cow was obviously a prop, but hideously rendered. There was probably a laugh track, but without sound the action seemed cruel. I felt bad for the cow. The smell was gagging and I breathed through my mouth. I must save Tom. 

“Tom? Your Supremity?” I whispered

There was silence. The blue television light flickered off the stains, making them look like screaming faces. Did I dare touch him? 

“Your Supremity, there is a fire, I’m here to help you,” I whispered louder.

I had to wake him. I reached out a trembling hand, hoping that my touch might gently rouse him and pull him back into our sphere so that he could escape. I prepared myself for a shock in case even touching him was dangerous. Oddly, what I felt was dry skin that moved too easily, loose in an almost slimy way. There were a few wiry hairs that felt like insect legs—even though he had always been depicted as having lush, thick hair. I pulled back from the unpleasantness. I stood there and rocked back and forth from indecisiveness. My mouth was drying out from all the smoke. I was having a hard time swallowing. If I was blind and mad, I couldn’t save Tom. But if I let him die we’d lose the only living link to the other realms. 

Perhaps the graces felt my indecisiveness, because there was a rustling from the direction of the tent’s opening. I looked up with renewed hope. But it was only Kevin. He had fought his way through the shrouds towards me. Was he following me or also saving our Supreme? We locked eyes and my heart beat faster, something I didn’t think was possible.  

Kevin ran up towards me. 

“Izzy! I think there’s a way out in the back of this tent!” he said. He was very sweaty and soot streaked. It suited him.

 Kevin moved to look at Tom before I could respond or tell him to avert his eyes. He gasped and grabbed me for a third time, but instead it was Kevin who fell. 

He tumbled onto the tv, tipped it backwards, and blue flickered up to the center of the tent. It lit Tom’s form, and it was my turn to gasp.

Face to face with Tom, the only Supreme Level in the whole world. The reason we had all given up our lives and moved to the island to dedicate our lives to correcting our spiritual selves. I couldn’t believe what I saw. 

Tom was nothing like his reputation. Nearly bald, not even having eyebrows, but he had clearly once been the large and strong man I’d heard of. His pale skin sagged and hung in folds over his thin frame. Except his stomach, which was bloated and spidered with dark veins. His eyes were clouded over blue. Around his toothless mouth were smears of electric-blue dust. Near Tom’s gnarled and scabbed hand was our pouch, empty of butterflies. 

I wished I could go back to believing in the solid, proud mannequin that had tumbled into the fire instead of this distended, sad old man. 

Kevin grabbed me again, “He probably has a boat.” Then he lightly pulled my arm. “I got my boat license last summer,” he added. Too stunned to struggle, I let him pull me away from the smoke and out into the cool night air. 

Tom’s tent emptied onto a cliff that overlooked the dark ocean. While I was still coughing, Kevin dragged me to a wooden staircase that led to the beach. I looked back, the inferno was so big and bright, the tent was a great and terrible moth hovering in front of a light. 

We raced down the stairs. As we got farther from the fire and smoke, my eyes adjusted to the full moon light. I was able to see a dock and boat, sleeping far from the chaos. 

Kevin spoke up, “Well, this will be a hell of a story.” 

I stayed silent, unsure what to say.

“I guess you should know,” he continued, “So much being an objective newspaper reporter. I shouldn’t have become this involved.” He gave another of his lovely velvet chuckles. 

A hot breeze blew towards us as the island burned. I breathed in deeply, the ashes smell smokey and sickly sweet mixed with the native flowers. I felt a sudden rush of euphoria. Lighter than air, Kevin reached out and held my hand as if to hold me down. Was this love? 

“I forgive you,” I blurted out.

He smiled and shook his lovely blonde hair, “That’s not the point.”

I smiled back and decided to risk it, “Nobody’s perfect.” I paused.

Before he could speak, I continued, “You could be an independent journalist that didn’t realize they joined a cult,” I looked away, blushing in the dark. 

Kevin stifled a laugh. This was going to work out. 


Placed as Honorable Mention 2 in the 2022 NYC Midnight Short Story Competition, Group 218. 218 – Genre: Romantic Comedy / Theme: Reputation /
Character to include: A dairyman