Elliot Cross is the Butterfly Killer. He targets anyone with dreams and aspirations. In this short story we are introduced to his cunning ways. He stops at nothing to gain his victim's confidence. If you have a dream,he's ready to make sure you don't live to achieve it. It doesn't matter how simple or elaborate. As you see in this introductory short subtitled The Driving Lesson, the dream can be as simple as a teen boy anticipating passing his driver's test. It can be as large and complex as a Mother about to give birth to a baby after many failed attempts. Whatever your hope or ambition, Elliot waits until you're at the threshold and snuffs the dream.
He invokes God as the justification for his crime. In his mind, he says he is doing the work of the Lord. God is jealous because the victims care more about their aspirations than they care about him. God is using him enforce his first commandment: "Thou shall have no other Gods before me" to show his power and how little he cares about people's "foolish follies."
Included is an excerpt from a scene further into the novel. For now relax and enjoy this free short if you can indeed relax.
The Driving Lesson (The Butterfly Killer)
Timmy thought it was odd that Carrie’s Father didn’t want anyone to know about the Sunday driving lesson. He churned it over and over in his head, Mister. Cross’s reasoning for the secrecy.
“Your friends will be as mad as wet hens if they fail to pass and they find out you passed because you had an extra lesson. I can just hear my Carrie, ‘But Dad, you gave Timmy private lessons, but not your own Daughter?’ Whoo! That gal can be jealous. But you know her. You and her are tight like a drum aren’t you?”
That explanation sounded reasonable to Timmy. Kids at South High tended to act like crabs in a barrel. If half of Mister Smith’s Trig Class was failing, they all had to fail. Shining stars weren’t tolerated. And Mister Cross was right about his daughter Carrie. Most kids shied away from Carrie, partly because of him and his crazy love for chasing butterflies all over the neighborhood. But she also had a jealous streak that was about as green as her hair. Girls didn’t stay friends with her very long. Even other lesbian girls fell victim to her rants and arm twisting because she had caught them talking to boys or other girls. But Mr. Cross had put his hand on his shoulder in a most fatherly way. Or was that creepy, Timmy wondered? The hand lingered a moment longer than it should and squeezed harder than it should have, as if it was a massage.
If only he could see better, Timmy thought to himself as he looked deep into his blue eyes while he brushed his teeth. He knew he needed glasses. That’s why he squinted and held books far from his face as he read. He heard his Mother cough. He listened as she hacked and gasped for air. Then there was silence. Timmy’s toothbrush rested against his left molar. He was about to yank the brush out of his mouth and run to his Mother’s room, but she cleared her throat. He continued brushing. “Another false alarm,” he said to himself. He didn’t want to bother her about his eyes. Lord knows she had had enough problems of her own with a breathing disorder so bad it had placed her in a scooter. Money was tight. He had to pass his driving test. She had scrimped and saved the one hundred and seventy-five dollars in a pickle jar for him to take Driver’s Education. He had to do all he could to keep from failing. But as much as he wanted to be a man at that moment, he also knew his Mother insisted on knowing his goings and comings. Even at sixteen, she warned him as if he was six, about getting into stranger’s cars. But Mister Elliot Cross was no stranger and he wasn’t like Mister Slaughter who lived in the pinkish house two doors down from him. Carrie’s dad chased butterflies, not boys.
“Maybe I should tell Mom,” Timmy thought, as he stood in front of her closed door. He had his hand on the knob when he heard her begging his Aunt Peggy for a ride to the grocery store. Timmy turned, grabbed his jacket and cellphone, and headed out the door to meet Mister Cross.
He thought of sneaking a smoke as he stood behind the abandoned shopping plaza where Mister Cross had insisted they meet. It was a windy day and scraps of paper blowing aimlessly about under the azure sky made him feel melancholic. His gum chewing didn’t help his nerves. He thought of getting on his cellphone and texting or calling Carrie. However he was afraid he might open his mouth and say something about the secret driving lesson. His stomach fluttered and growled. As soon as he put his hand on the pack of cigarettes in his back pocket, he saw the car swing around the corner. It was Mister Cross’s big blue Buick. Timmy wished it had been the little green Mustang that was going to be Carrie’s. He thought how much fun it would be to tell her he got to drive her Sweet Sixteen birthday present before she could sit behind the wheel. He knew he would have to dodge her fist, but the look on her face would have been worth the trouble. Mister Cross waved to him as he drove up. When he stopped the car, Timmy opened the door to climb into the passenger seat, but Mr. Cross motioned for him to come around the driver’s side. He opened the door and told Timmy to slide in.
“You’re the chauffer, sport. I’m going to slide in the back so I can see everything you do.” He sensed Timmy’s hesitation. “We can’t be too careful. Those idiots at the DPS watch everything, even the way you’re chewing that gum there.” Timmy spit out the gum and slid behind the wheel, while Elliot propped himself in the back seat. “Make a left by that sign, then make a right,” he instructed.
It had been a pleasant lesson and Timmy felt grateful. Mister Cross had determined it was his bad eyes that made him overshoot or come up short at stop signs.
“You have to learn to use markers and count. Everything in life has a marker marking its spot in relation to other crap. That’s how the blind get along in this world. They constantly count and mark where every footstep goes before their toes hit the table leg or they step off the curb. See that tree right before the stop sign? That’s your marker. When there ain’t no car in front of you, things like trees, bushes, cracks in the road, a house or a bum holding a sign is going to be your marker. Watch your marker and start counting backwards from five to one.”
Timmy had stopped perfectly at the stop signs each time he followed Mister Cross’s advice. He was so happy, he felt dizzy as if he had drank a beer. There was silence in the car and Timmy wasn’t sure if the lesson was over as he drove aimlessly down the long road. A few old tires lay by the side of the road and an empty refrigerator with its door gapped caught his attention. He looked in the rearview mirror and saw Elliot staring at it as they passed.
“A man is a good marker,” Elliot said abruptly enough to startle Timmy. “It’s the way we compare ourselves against other SOB’s. When you’re running a race, the guy in front of you is your marker. He gives you something to strive for. If you open a business when you grow up, your competition is your marker. When I was in sales, all of those guys at desks with phones growing out of their ears, were my markers. ‘Gotta beat Kramer. Gotta get ahead of Schmidt. Gotta make my numbers.’ My heart beat to the ruckus in my head. I had headaches all the time. Almost had a heart attack. Since I’ve been a Hospital Orderly, the headaches are gone. The Ol’ lady is gone too. Couldn’t deal with the dip in my income. But that’s all right. I got my Carrie and I got my butterflies. There’s more to life than pussy.”
Timmy watched in the rearview mirror as Elliot smiled and ran his tongue over his top lip.
“Sometimes it’s okay to do as well as the next man. Sometimes you want to do better. You watch and compare. You find little ways to fuck somebody (excuse my language) to get ahead. But you know who else is a marker?” Timmy shrugged his shoulders. “You’re a marker, Timmy. Somebody got their eye sights on you. They’re measuring themselves against you. Your classmates are expecting you to fail. Carrie told me you’re the worst one in the Driver’s Ed class. You’re the most disadvantaged. Your Ma, she don’t have a car and she’s sickly. So how could you get good practice time? You’re the smallest boy in your class. You could pass for twelve. And them eyes of yours--I bet every day it’s foggy for you. I said to myself, ‘I’m going to make these South High punks out of liars.’ Timmy, unless God’s got other plans, you’re going to get a perfect score on your driving test tomorrow. You’re going to be the marker those punks look up to now.”
Timmy had slowed the car to a crawl. Hearing what the other kids thought of him and hearing Elliot pitying him and his Mother, stiffened his arms and his eyes glazed with bitterness. There was a large rock in the road. The Buick’s front tire brushed it and the car shook and bolted to the left. Timmy jerked the wheel. Elliot slid in the back seat.
“You okay, Sport?” Elliot asked as he readjusted himself behind Timmy.
“Sorry. Yeah, Mister Cross, I’m fine.”
“This is a mighty big machine. Let me know if it’s getting to be too much.”
“I’m really okay, Mister Cross,” Timmy said with a hint of irritation.
“Okay. Cool. We’ll pull over in a minute.”
Timmy drove on. The purple horizon dipped to meet the road far away. He thought of asking if he could turn on the radio. The car’s droning wheels and what Elliot had just told him stirred up his melancholy. He felt so small and powerless in the world. He wanted to be a machine. A powerful machine of iron jaws and steel muscles--a machine like this car. That’s what he needed he told himself. A car would make him a man. A car would put him in the big leagues, ahead of the leagues even. Not too many football players had their own car. They had girls and their parent’s cars. He would have girls and his own car. That’s why he had a morning paper route and an afterschool job at the mall.
He didn’t ask, he quietly reached over and turned the radio knob. He looked in the rearview mirror. Mister Cross appeared to be in deep thought as he stared out the window. He and Carrie’s favorite song played through the speakers. “I kissed a girl and I liked it.” He thought of the few girls he would kiss when he bought a car. He would bring them to this road after dark and park. He wanted a big car like this Buick with its big back seat that held a big man like Elliot Cross. What he could do to a girl in a back seat like that, Timmy imagined. He began to name to himself all of the girls in his homeroom class he could get into a backseat.
His heart thumped when Mister Cross shouted for him to stop up the road a bit. Elliot got out and walked around to the front of the car. Timmy watched as he peered around. His apprehension lifted when he saw him open his pants and prepare to take a leak Elliot looked through the windshield at him. Timmy looked off. When Timmy looked again, Elliot shook vigorously, tucked himself in, and zipped up. He climbed into the back seat and they sat for a moment. Timmy listened as he breathed hard. Timmy twitched and stirred in the driver’s seat. Elliot offered a cigarette. But Timmy refused. Even though he wanted one so bad he bit his fingernails. He watched Elliot peer out the window as if he was looking for someone.
“Should we be heading back home, Mister Cross?”
“Yeah in a minute, let me tie my shoes real good.”
Timmy felt a thump in his back as Elliot’s head brushed the front seat. Then he felt Elliot’s hot breath on his neck as the man suddenly rose, shouted something about a deer in front of the car and pointed. Timmy saw the belt’s shadow slip past his eyes before it gripped his neck like a claw. He raised his buttocks off the seat as he grabbed his throat. His nails tore at Mr. Cross’s hands, but Elliot’s hands were shielded by rough thick gloves. Timmy’s fingernails broke as he clawed. He glanced at the man through the rearview mirror. The massive red face frowned at him, before relaxing into a smile. Timmy felt the belt loosen a little around his neck.
Elliot’s voice droned in Timmy’s right ear. The “yes sirs” that slipped out of Timmy’s mouth came from far away. Mister Cross’s words roared in his ear like a raging river. He caught snatches of talk about boys and God. Was it God who thought boys were liars and killers? Why was God jealous of him driving a car? Elliot made little sense to Timmy. All he knew was that he had to get that belt from around his neck. The ends of it were wrapped around a pipe and held by one of Mister Cross’s stout hands. Elliot’s other hand was balled into a fist and jammed against his neck like a rock. Timmy bucked again. The belt tightened and a calm voice told him to take it easy.
“You’re not fighting me. Timmy. You’re fighting the man upstairs. Your bucking is making him mad. He’s old, bent over, and weary with the troubles of this world. Seeing you buck like this is just making him more mad and more jealous of you young snots. First it was your silly dream of driving a car. Now it’s this boy foolishness of bucking like a young bull. You got a lot of steam in you--all that steam for a young gal’s pussy. God’s jealous of you, boy. Calm down. Don’t make him any madder than he already is.”
Timmy started to cry. Tears and snot ran down his chin. Mister Cross cooed softly in his ear. He switched hands and held the belt in his left fist. With the other hand he grabbed a tissue out of the box between the front seats and wiped Timmy’s eyes and nose. A butterfly floated across the hood of the car. Suddenly Timmy’s eyes bulged as if they were going to pop out of their sockets. The butterfly appeared like a red beast in the windshield. Timmy heard his mother crying softly in the telephone. Everything went black
Elliot Cross got out of the back of the car. He pulled Timmy’s body out of the front seat and kicked it into a ditch. He watched it roll and come to rest with the head near a rusty tin can. A red cigarette pack peeked from the boy’s back pocket. Elliot turned to get back into the car and noticed the cellphone lying on the ground. He picked it up and threw it as far as he could. It hit a tree and splintered. Elliot got back into the car, stuffed the used tissue in his pocket, and turned off the radio. As he drove down the road, a flock of butterflies rose up in front of his car. A stench hit his nostrils. He looked over to his right and butterflies floated near a dead dog.
dog. He referred to the incident in an earlier scene as his “first kill.” He also reconciles with his Grandmother in this excerpt. In an earlier scene, she had accused him of betraying her.
Things simmered down a few weeks later. Aunt Beulah had been gone. To say the least, her leaving was very traumatic. She had called me all kinds of evil sons of bitches as she packed her clothes and loaded them into her car.
“You got an evil thing in your house, Ben--an evil thing and a crazy woman. I won’t stay another minute in this devil’s den. Not another minute.”
“Please Little Sister, stay. Don’t go. I’ll get rid of the both of them,” Gramp pleaded with my Grandaunt.
“Ben you cannot get rid of your wife and that thing like they’re stray cats. They’re a yoke around your neck.” Aunt Beulah looked at me crumpled on the floor by Gramp’s heavy boots. “My God, my God. You wasting your time beating him. He’s beyond all of that. But you mark my words, he’s gonna kill you just like he did my dog. You mark my words!” She slammed the door behind her. Her car roared and we heard gravel pinging the metal trash cans as she sped off. Gramp looked down at me. He suddenly seized me by my neck and lifted me off my feet. He squeezed hard. Then a voice spoke.
“Let that boy alone, Ben.” He dropped me and I crawled out of his way. Gram aimed a pistol at him. He stepped toward her. “Take one more step and I’ll blow a hole in you big enough for a cow to walk through.”
“This is a crazy house,” Gramp hollered. He rushed out of the house, hopped in his truck and tore down the road.
Gram helped me to my feet and led me to her bed. She took off my bloodied clothes and wrapped me in her sheets.
“Don’t move until I get back.” She dressed and I heard the door slam behind her. Gram’s bed smelled of sardines and menthol. I snuggled deep into the covers. The thing between my legs stiffened and I went to sleep. I dreamed of Brutus. In my dream he was snow white and he came running toward me over and over. As he got closer I saw he was covered in big red blotches. On his last run, he leaped up at my throat. I jumped and felt a hand on my back.
“Be still Sweet Pee.” Gram pushed me gently down on the bed. She removed the bed covers, laid me on my back and applied the cool Absorbine Jr. to my back and shoulders. I shuddered when the liquid stung the wounds Gramp had inflicted. But I didn’t mind. I was Sweet Pee again.
I didn’t go to school the next day. Too sore. I stood in the door and watched Gram drag Brutus’ body out of the garage. She dragged him to the part of the yard her we burned things, where Gramp had burned my Doctor’s coat. She laid some dried branches across his body, poured some gas over him and the branches threw a lit match at the pile. Brutus’s sparked and his tail curled up. He stunk for a minute. The fire rose and carried bits of him to the sky. Gram grabbed the mop bucket and the bleach. She went to work on the blood stains on the concrete floor.
“When I get through here, I got a mess of work to do in my house.”
Gram spent all the rest of the day, scrubbing and wiping as if she was trying to scrub the house away. That night Gramp come home. He carried a bag from Sears and Roebuck. He smelled like a dirt mound after the rain, Me and Gram was eating my favorite food, salmon croquets and canned “pork n beans.” He stopped at his empty plate on the dinner table and glared at me and Gram. A blood spot that looked like a butterfly was splashed near his heart. He looked at me and he looked at Gram. He made a noise like he had spat, bumped the table as he passed it, and went on into the bathroom and took a bath. When he come out he had on some new blue jeans and a red shirt with pearl buttons. He smelled like cinnamon. He and Gram said nothing to each other. We listened to his truck start up and he went on down the street quietly as if he was riding in a funeral. Me and Gram went back to eating. And it was like this for six years until he died. Aunt Beulah was wrong. I did not ever kill my Granddad. He was not a man who had any kind of dreams to be anything but a butcher and a woman chaser.