Kim Winternheimer’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in Tin House online, The Rumpus, Lightspeed’s Women Destroy Science Fiction Issue, Little Fiction, Necessary Fiction, The Oregonian, and others. She is the founding editor of The Masters Review (www.mastersreview.com), an organization focusing on new and emerging writers.
Borja Cabada is an international writer and illustrator from Spain. His artwork has been featured in several publications (including tNY Press, Flyleaf Journal, TYAUSA, and many more). He has also worked in script development for some of the most successful studio execs in Hollywood. Come take a look at some of his creations at bonesandsmithereens.com!
It started with the butterflies.
Amelia’s uncle gave her a butterfly-hatching kit for her birthday. Five larvae sat like dead lumps at the bottom of a small cup, until one morning, Amelia woke up to five Painted Ladies.
Their slight bodies flickered in the netted cage where she placed them, and at nighttime, in her room, their shadows danced on the walls like a beautiful dream.
Once, when Amelia couldn’t sleep, she sat next to the cage and lifted her hands to the moonlight, making a butterfly of her own. A large shadow fluttered against the wall when she asked, dancing with the Ladies in their cage.
The next morning the butterflies were gone; the cage empty. Amelia cried about losing her new pets, her father making the matter worse with a lecture about responsibility and the trouble her moths would cause had they gotten into his business suits. Red-eyed and sniffling, Amelia walked to school.
At recess, she examined the shadows of the trees in the schoolyard and the faint traces the black birds made as they flew overhead. Her own shadow looked like a grey puddle, fuzzy and shapeless, occasionally changing form when she lifted a leg or took a step. When she raised her hands to make the same butterfly she had made in her bedroom, the day’s light retreated behind a cloud and the whole ground turned to shadow. To Amelia, it felt like she had lost half the world.
That night, when she opened her eyes and faced the net, the big butterfly was back, fluttering against the shadows made by the bars of the cage. Amelia didn’t bother to think about what happened to the real butterflies. Instead she filled the cage with more dancing blacks, and spent the entire night watching her shadow puppets flutter against the wall.
Pleased with her efforts, Amelia checked out a book on shadow puppets from the school library and practiced every night. When she could no longer fit any more butterflies inside the cage, she started making rabbits.
Holland Lops, Jacks, and Dwarfs raced across her bedroom wall, darting from shadow to shadow. Amelia stayed up long hours chasing them through her room. When the moon was low, and there was little light, she used a flashlight to create shadows. Soon, a bounding litter of bunnies dominated the bedroom wall, hopping and bouncing playfully, chewing at the edges of shadows and nibbling the carrots and apples Amelia made for them.
At school, in the playground corners with the most shade, Amelia sent rabbits out of the dark and into the open. The shadows ran for hiding spots, hopping toward the overgrown grass on the football field, until they lost form and faded away. In her bedroom at home Amelia’s rabbits were much better behaved. Immediately she decided to make a more obedient pet.
She had high hopes for the cat.
Its body was sleek and nimble with tall ears and long whiskers that made Amelia proud. She liked the way the cat’s shape filled her bedroom wall, and how its tail flickered even when it appeared to be asleep. However, not long after it came to life, the rabbits stopped playing. Soon, no rabbits could be found on the wall.
Confused, Amelia kept producing her favorite bunny—the one with lop ears and the funny hop—but each time the shadow formed it darted away and wouldn’t reemerge. It wasn’t until the silhouette of the cat grew larger that Amelia realized it was feeding on the rabbits.
Eventually, the butterflies disappeared too.
For several nights Amelia made no animals. She watched the cat pace her walls and sleep for long stretches, as is the way with felines when they’re happy and well fed.
Finally, she tried to love it.
She scratched the cat with the shadow from her palm and created balls of string for it to play with, but her pet was aloof and uninterested. She tried to beckon it to life in the playground but the cat never appeared outside her wall. It was too lazy, or too comfortable, and had no interest in the outside world. Frustrated and missing her rabbits, Amelia turned to the end of the shadow-puppets book. She passed the pony and the hippo, even the mermaid with her flowing black hair—so many promises of endless fun—until she reached the dog.
At first it looked like a puppy, floppy and playful, with a round face and ears that were too big. It nipped at the cat, who batted it away, annoyed with the puppy’s playful bites.
Amelia kept working. She elongated the snout and fixed its proportions, gave the dog a barrel chest and long legs. Late one night, she placed her hands as close to the wall as she dared and with a flashlight shining brightly behind her—a light so much brighter and more precise than the moon—she expertly crafted the fangs.
Amelia slept facing away from the wall that night.
The room was silent. There wasn’t so much as a creak or a rustle.
* * *
Amelia calls the little wolf whenever she can. He belongs to her, and is loyal, but he is a wild thing and Amelia knows this. He hunts the walls for the prey Amelia makes him and grows bigger by the day.
Amelia spends as much time at the wall as she can and is awake most nights. At school she falls asleep at her desk, dreaming of the little wolf and the nighttime, which is ripe for playing. The butterflies, the bunnies, and the cat are long forgotten.
Tonight, in front of a full moon, is a perfect blank wall. Amelia stands at the window watching the shadow of a girl take form. Her body has sharp lines and a clear girlish form; so much more than the grey puddle she saw on the playground weeks ago. As she walks closer, her likeness—round shoulders, nighttime braids, and slender wrists—come into focus.
With each new step Amelia can see more of the world within the wall: rolling hills and sprawling forests, an expanse of hunting grounds perfect for her and the little wolf to roam.
When she reaches the wall, Amelia leans out to touch it, the shadow of her hand appearing more and more lifelike the closer she gets. Amelia finds, as she had hoped, that at the moment when her hand should hit wall there is nothing to touch.
There is no Amelia in the room now, only the book of shadow puppets lying open on the floor. The shadow of a girl moves along the length of the wall looking left then right, as if searching for something. Behind her, a black snout appears in the corner. The shape of a wolf emerges, quiet and quick, its body low to the ground as he prowls closer toward the girl. The same dark fangs Amelia had crafted are there, long and sharp, poised above the hem of the shadow-girl’s nightgown, who is foolishly looking the other way.
The room is silent. There isn’t so much as a creak or a rustle.