Stuart’s mind had stayed consumed with thoughts of Issie all day. He halfheartedly filled an order, performed his inventory, and humored some tourists, but all he could think about was Issie. It wasn’t really that she seemed to know he was Temic, but the coincidence of her appearing to be Korean and fixated on butterflies made him relive the memories of his past. The images of Hwa Ja and Haneul became his waking vision for the day. The phone rang.
“Timeless Treasures, this is Stuart,” he said with less enthusiasm than usual.
“Stuart Byrne?” said a shaky male voice on the other end.
“The same, how can I help you, sir?”
“I’m sorry to bother you, Mr. Byrne. But, it’s just…my daughter is missing. My name is Ross Cochran. My sister said that she visited your shop this morning, and she had your business card, so I was wondering if you’ve seen her? She’d look Asian. Short hair, carrying a backpack and chalkboard. Eight years old? Catherine said she’d been in your shop once before.”
Stuart couldn’t believe his luck! If he could help find Issie again, then he could ask her some questions. But, the problem was, she wasn’t in his shop. And, of course, the bigger problem that there was a little child missing.
“Mr. Byrne?” said Ross impatiently on the other end.
“Sorry!” Stuart snapped out of it. “Yes, we’ve met a couple of times. She seems to really like my shop and her aunt says she does like to slip off sometimes. I’ll keep a look out. She may come back. I have your number on my caller ID, so I’ll call if I get her.” He was about to hang up when he had a sudden inspiration.
“Keep an eye out for butterflies!”
And he hung up. Stuart realized, as he grabbed his keys and called Clark to keep an eye on the store, how his words must have sounded to Ross Cochran. He couldn’t really explain it himself. But, he had gotten the sudden idea that if he was a Crow, and she had picked up on that, and she fixated on butterflies, she might be one. It didn’t help that he was constantly being reminded of Hwa Ja and Haneul. It seemed to be that kind of week.
“What a strange thing to say!”Catherine exclaimed to her phone. Ross and Hanna were calling her from the police station. She blew her nose into her handkerchief. She had commandeered the entire Kleenex box from the desk at the administrative offices in the Lincoln Park Conservatory and Zoo. She was devastated. One minute they were standing in line for the hummingbird display, and, the next, Issie was gone. Catherine, fearing the worst, had called the cops and her brother. They still had people out searching and Catherine was having trouble (despite Ross’s assurances that that sort of thing can happen to the best of aunts) staying calm and talking herself out of the idea that her niece was being murdered somewhere.
“That’s what he said. To keep an eye out for the butterflies. Verbatim,” said Ross.
“So massively unhelpful in a plant conservatory. They’re everywhere,” Catherine said.
“Well, he might be as nutty as her, Cat, but he said he’d call me if she went back to his shop.”
“Why would she go back to his shop, anyway?” asked Catherine.
“I don’t know, but the police and garden staff are starting to think that she may have left the conservatory grounds and is out in the city.”
“Oh, God, Ross!” wailed Catherine.
“Now, don’t you start, too. Hanna’s hard to deal with over here, too. I need you to stay sane. Call you when I know something, okay?”
“Okay, but wait! Did anyone think to check the baseball stadium?” Catherine asked.
“She can’t be there. It’s closed for maintenance today.” said Ross, “She can’t even get in the gates.”
“Okay, it’s just that she was insistent that it had to be today.”
“I don’t think so. Besides, we already suggested that to the cops, but the car they sent over there said the stadium was empty. They also seem to think it’s too far for her to have gotten. It’s streets away from the conservatory and she would somehow have to have gotten a bus or walked to the Fullerton line and known how to ask for directions to get to the right stop at Addison-Red, next to the stadium. That’s difficult even for an eight your old who can talk. If that was her motivation, she probably didn’t get there.” The implications of that didn’t help Catherine’s nerves, either.
“Okay, bye. Call me when you hear something,” she said and hung up. At the Chicago Police Department, Hanna’s tear stained face appeared in the doorway.
“Ross, you’ve got to see this! Issie’s been near here!”
“What?” Ross followed his wife down the hall and out the doors of the Chicago Police Department.
“Look!” Ross looked at his feet. On the pavement was one of Issie’s butterflies, drawn in pink and blue chalk, with an arrow pointing towards N. Sheffield Ave and Wrigley Field. The dark clouds were coming in as Ross grabbed Hanna’s hand and they began to run.
Stuart heard the thunder, but decided to walk the couple of blocks from his store to Gill Park anyway. It had been a long time since he spoke to the crows, but he needed to be in open space. He hadn’t called them since he got back from Korea years ago. His grief had been too great. He just made a new life and forgot. But, now, he had only one way to help and he wasn’t sure it would work. He wondered if they would even still listen to him. Can Temics lose their animals? The nagging thoughts were hard to take as he walked. The sense of urgency and despair were on him again and, as the rain started, he began to run.
A white wedding dress, trimmed in many colored butterflies just for Hwa Ja, smeared with water and dirt…
He ran and ran. As the cars and buildings gave way to grass and tree, and surrounded by thunder and pounding rain, he called for them. He begged them.
Help me find her! Please! I can’t lose Haneul again!
In the middle of the grass, surrounded by wind and leaves and rain, he stood and he called. He sent his senses outward, calling in pain and despair. The wind picked up his call and the Crow heard it and called back
The Crow had not forgotten him.
Stuart’s senses shifted and the world narrowed into chromatic color as his sight rose above the treelines and he cawed. Surrounded by his brothers, they flew, his sharp, black eyes looking for something, anything that could lead him to the child. Using his senses to wind his way back into the streets, Stuart began to run again, following his Crow-sight.
The rain was coming down hard now. They had found another chalk drawing on the sidewalk, leading them to the baseball field. But, shortly, anything Issie had drawn would be washed away into the gutters.
“What now, Ross?” Hanna asked.
“We’ll just keep going. We’ve been following butterflies that all seem to lead to Wrigley’s. Let’s just try going there, okay? Maybe she got there after the police did. Let me call Cat to bring the car,” he answered, taking out his phone. And, they kept going.
Stuart stood in the parking lot, staring at Wrigley Field. His spirit was flying above the field, looking, but all seemed bare. But, after a minute or two, his sharp Crow-sight caught a glimmer of color in the grey, dark world.
A butterfly in the rain.
They could barely make out the red sign of Wrigley Field across the street. Ross, seeing the stadium, pulled Hanna behind him as he ran faster.
“How do we get in?” Hanna called loudly, trying to be heard over the rain.
“I don’t know”, he called back. “Maybe we could find a guard?”
“Look!”, Hanna pointed. “The gates been pulled open over on that side. It’s big enough to squeeze through.” Ross went in first and then helped his wife through. Being soaking wet certainly helped. On the inside they got relief from the rain in the concession areas leading to the field itself.
“Oh, my God, Ross, look!” cried Hanna.
Crows had descended en masse onto the stadium seating and the field itself, and in the middle, surround by birds, and standing in the rain, was an old man. He was perfectly still, his back to them. Ross and Hanna walked up to him.
“Sir?” he asked, and then touched the man’s shoulder. “Mister? Are you okay?”
The old man turned, and Hanna and Ross stepped back, shocked. His eyes were not human eyes. They looked like the black beads of the birds’ eyes. The man seemed to be in some kind of trance, cocking his head this way and that, and studying the couple and his surroundings with the alertness of a bird.
“Sir?” Hanna started.
“The butterflies,” the man stated and Ross drew in a sharp breath.
“Sorry? Okay, we’re here looking for our little girl. Have you seen a little girl?” Ross asked.
“The butterflies. Do you see them?” The man said again and he began to run toward one side of the field. Ross and Hanna followed. The rain began to slow down and they could see much more clearly what the man was pointing at.
“Oh, Ross! Look!” said Hanna. There really were butterflies. So many of them, fluttering like a colorful cloud around the construction area.
“The butterflies. Do you think…” she trailed off and ran to the area, calling for her daughter.
“Issie! Issie, sweetie, are you here?” Ross called.
“Issie!” Hanna yelled. She hardly expected to hear an answer. Issie didn’t talk to her on a normal day. But, at that moment, impossibly, she heard the best sound she could ever remember hearing. It was faint, nearly as faint as the butterfly wings, but she heard it.
“Issie? Oh, my God, baby, we’re here!” Hanna yelled.
“I think she’s down that hole, there. In the middle of the construction,” the man said. The man looked completely normal now and unfazed, his eyes now a deep grey. Normal human eyes. It was as if finding Issie had snapped him out of the trance he was in. His eyes were red from crying and he was wiping his nose with a handkerchief. Hanna thought he looked vaguely familiar, but her attention was brought back to her daughter as Ross made his way into the hole. Hanna held her breath.
“I’ve got her!” he called, “And she’s okay!” Very shortly, Issie’s tiny black hand was reaching out of the hole. The man grabbed it and pulled the dusty, scared girl out of the hole.
“Hey, darlin’,” he said, pulling the little girl close. “Nice to see you again, huh?.”
“Again?” asked Ross, climbing out of the hole himself.
“Stuart Byrne. You called my shop. That is…if you’re Ross Cochran, as I suspect.” Stuart gave Issie to Hanna, who was sobbing so hard, she could barely see straight.
“Come on, Mr. Byrne. Let’s get out of here first. We can talk better in warm clothes with coffee.”
“Yep. My shop. I live above it. Come on.” And when they stepped outside of the stadium, Catherine was waiting by the car, looking as if she would pass out with relief.
Up above the shop, Timeless Treasures, Issie was covered in a warm blanket, sipping hot chocolate, and watching cartoons on Stuart’s TV as her parents and aunt talked with Stuart and Clark in the kitchen. Hanna couldn’t quite believe her relief and her joy. Issie had called her. She had said “Mommy”. The thought nearly brought her down with emotion again. She shook her head and tried to focus on the man that they had met at Wrigley Field. He had lit a cigarette and seemed to keep staring at her.
“The question I have,” Ross was saying over his coffee, “is what on Earth were you doing at the baseball stadium? How did you know? And why was she there?”
“She drew a picture of it when I saw her at the shop and your sister said she really wanted to go. I think she was in the hole to hide from the thunder,” Stuart answered.
“And the birds? I know this is going to sound crazy, but…your eyes…were…um…” Ross was trying not to appear to sound like a lunatic. People’s eyes didn’t change like that.
“Need something stronger in your coffee, huh, Ross?” Clark chuckled. “You’re gonna need it.”
“No. Thanks, though,” Ross answered looking at Stuart’s roommate funny.
“It’s okay,” Stuart answered nervously. “I have the ability to see through the birds. Crow-sight. I was searching the city and the stadium looking for signs of butterflies, trying to find Issie.”
“Sorry?” Ross said, confused.
“When Catherine said she was fixated on butterflies and then drew her crows, I realized she somehow knew I was Temic. Temics have the abilities of their animals. Our existence isn’t common knowledge. I didn’t realize she didn’t know what she was. And I really needed to find her because she reminds me of someone I loved a long time ago. She was Butterfly, too, and I failed her by losing her daughter.” Stuart knew he sounded certifiable. These people didn’t know Temics or his past.
“My mother loved butterflies,” Hanna said. “I don’t remember much, but I remember butterflies. She had collections of them.” Stuart nodded.
“There are Temics all over the world. I thought that Issie would be like me. A Temic. Someone who had a special totem animal and abilities. She looks so much like Haneul. Haneul was Korean, too, you know. I was going to marry her mother. A Butterfly Temic. She was so beautiful. Light and graceful. She would just know things. She said the wind would tell her. And I was going to marry her and take her away from the brothels. But, she died first and then I lost her daughter. I searched and searched. I searched the cities with the Crow-sight. But, her daughter wasn’t Temic and I couldn’t find the butterflies. I know none of this makes any damn sense to you folks, but…”
The table had grown silent. Stuart looked up from his coffee.
“What?” he said. He knew Temics and their abilities were a lot to take in, and that the tears were pouring down his face from the years of pent up pain, but he wasn’t expecting shocked silence. Laughter maybe. A referral to a psychiatrist. Or polite brush-offs to a crazy old nut. But, not dead serious silence.
“My name is actually Haneul,” Hanna said in disbelief, “And in the stadium, I thought you looked familiar, but couldn’t figure out why.”
Stuart’s hear flopped in his chest and time itself seemed to focus on Hanna’s face. Breathlessly, he asked, “What is your mother’s name?”
“Hwa Ja. She died when I was around Issie’s age. Issie’s real name is Iseul. I named her the same name I gave a Barbie doll I got for Christmas when I was 7.”
Stuart dropped his coffee mug, not caring about it spilling contents, and sank to the floor.
“You’re here,” he whispered. Haneul, left the table and joined him on the floor. She grabbed his hands.
“You. You’re the one who gave me the Barbie doll? The nice sandy-haired American soldier?” Stuart nodded, crying with relief and love, his stooped, old shouldered heaving with great emotion and Hanna hugged him very hard.
“I tried so hard. I didn’t abandon you, Haneul, I didn’t. I looked everywhere after your grandparents took you and I’m so sorry!” he cried, his eyes pleading with her for forgiveness.
“Stuart, I’ve had a good life. Don’t be so sad! I’m okay, and we’re together now! It’s all okay now,” she said, stroking his grey hair.
Everyone looked at the doorway in surprise, where the little girl, Iseul, now stood, smiling. They had been so wrapped up in Stuart’s words and the emotion of the moment that no one had heard the TV go off. She came to where her mother and Stuart sat on the floor, crawled into his lap and nestled her head in his shoulder.
“You are my Grandpa. The Wind said so.”
Stuart found Haneul and Iseul found her voice.
I apologize to anyone following this story! I meant to get this finished and posted so much earlier, but my house has been beset by two major illnesses, a trip to Seattle and final exams over the last month! I hope you enjoy this conclusion to “The Crow and The Butterfly”. Feedback is welcome! It will help me hone my writing skills and focus the world of the Temics. If you like Issie and Stuart’s story, you’ll see them again, along with many characters from other short stories, as they eventually become a part of the larger story in the novel, “Totem”.