The Monarch

Leoric hadn’t sold a tombstone in over a month. There have been weeks before where he could work uninterrupted on his intricate tombstone designs, but those times had long since passed. Despite or because of the often sad nature of his work, he had built himself a reputation as an artist who could carve the most beautiful tombstones, turning the grave into a place worth visiting for the beauty of the inscribed and carved stone alone. Given how unpopular dying was amongst humans, he had become quite popular himself.

Knowing that they would admire his work for decades, if not centuries, filled him with a deep satisfaction. But satisfaction was not enough to pay the bills and put food on his table. Leoric lived a frugal life in a small two-story home with an old, mossy roof right next to his substantial workshop, filled with a large variety of stone slabs and worn down tools. The only real expenses he had aside his little shop were his animal friends, who he at most times treated better than himself. Leoric would have rather starved himself than to deny one of his furry and feathered friends to go hungry.

Maybe someone would come to his workshop tomorrow. Maybe a widow or a daughter, wearing the customary black clothes that would inevitably be covered in the white dust of his other sad projects.

They would spend some time talking about the loved ones they had lost. The people that came to him had cared deeply about the recently passed, he knew. If you did not care about the person when they were alive, you certainly didn’t start caring once they were dead. Commissioning a custom project to adorn a grave is not something you bother with if you have no interest in visiting the grave in the first place.

Sometimes their clients had young children with them. Leoric couldn’t help but nervously watch them as they touched his tools and stones. He wouldn’t reprimand him unless the child was about to hurt themselves. Kindness and understanding were part of his success and his heart ached for the children, too. 

As Leoric hung up his apron and stepped out of the workshop into the chilly autumn evening. When he heard Hermes’ wings flap, he put out an arm, and a moment later, a black shadow settled on it. “Hello?” a large crow asked.

“Good evening, Hermes!” Leoric said, put his arm towards his body and the crow eagerly stepped up onto his shoulder. “What have you been up to all day?”

“Hello?” the black crow repeated.

“Oh really? Well, you’ll have to tell me all about it!”

Leoric continued his walk towards his little hut. His bones were chilled from the cold air in his workshop. Tomorrow he would fire up the stove in the corner, but for now he was looking forward to warming up in front of his wood cooking stove, while Hermes would cause mischief. His mouth watered at the thought of the fresh bread and salami that were waiting for him,

Leoric stepped under the small awning in front of the door and took off his dirty boots, while Hermes tried to keep his balance. Then he carefully opened the heavy wooden entry door, careful to not squeeze in one of his cat’s tails. Tobias, the oldest of the feline trio, poked his head through the crack and purred loudly, circling around Leoric’s feet. 

“Yes, yes, you can’t wait for your food.” Leoric said, carefully stepping into his dark home, “Give me a second, will you?”

Hermes loudly meowed into Leoric’s ear and Tobias meowed back loudly, followed by a hiss when he laid eyes on the black corvid.

“Hey, you two, no fighting tonight!” Leoric said, closed the door behind him and flicked on the hallway-light on. In the dim incandescent glow from the ceiling lamp, Leoric’s eye immediately fell onto the large insect resting on the handrail of the staircase: a gorgeous Monarch butterfly was slowly moving its wings up and down. 

Tobias stared up at the insect, his teeth rhythmically chattering in frustration.

“What are you doing here?” Leoric stepped towards the Monarch and gently put his calloused hands towards the butterfly. It was way too cold and late in the season for a monarch butterfly to be anywhere in this region, much less inside his house. How had it gotten in? The butterfly put one leg after the other onto Leoric’s warm hand. 

“This one’s not for dinner,” Leoric said and quickly added, “That goes for both of you.”

He carefully stepped through the hallway into his kitchen, making sure to not startle his unexpected visitor. He had no doubts that once the butterfly fluttered through the rooms, none of his other house mates would share his concern for the well-being of the insect. With the past few weeks being drab and sunless, Leoric himself couldn’t help but just stare at the bright orange colors of the wings. 

Hermes hopped off of Leoric’s shoulder onto an old mahogany coat rack, which had been re-purposed by Hermes. The crow fluffed up and started preening itself, clearly not interested in the new small guest. Leoric put the butterfly on a shelf above the sink and put kindling and fire starter into the wood stove. 

“Let’s get us all warmed up, shall we?” Leoric said, as he carefully lit the fire-starter with a match. The miniscule flames slowly trailed along the firestarters, slowly making their way onto the kindling, releasing a comforting crackle and smell of burnt pine into the small kitchen. Leoric rubbed his stiff hands in front of the open flame before he tossed a larger piece from the small woodpile next to the stove. He almost smothered the budding fire, but then it roared back to life as it feasted on the carefully dried wood. Satisfied with the progress, he took the salami and bread and set his place at the small kitchen table in the middle of the small room, all the while Tobias was loudly meowing for food. Since Hector and Troubadour weren’t here to join, the discordant cries for food meant that they were still prowling around outside. They were excellent hunters and had probably stuffed themselves with the mice and critters that lived all over Leoric’s property.

Leoric grabbed a small tin can from the shelf and opened it into a small clay bowl on the floor. Tobias was already hastily chewing away the wet cat food with a happy growling purr before Leoric emptied the entire can. Some of the falling wet food stuck onto Tobias’ nose. 

“You’re not much of a hunter, hm?” Leoric said as he stroked Tobias’ fur as the cat kept greedily wolfing down its food.

Hermes sat content on his coat rack perch, closing his eyes and letting the warmth from the fire soak into his skin under his iridescent plumage. Finally, Leoric sat himself down at the table and cut the salami and bread into thick slices. He hadn’t realized how hungry he had been and downed several pieces before he slowed down. All the while he watched the Monarch butterfly on sitting high on the shelf, folding up and out his wings. It seemed a little more lively as the temperature in the small kitchen rose. Then suddenly, the butterfly took off. “Oh no,” Leoric said with his mouth full of bread as he tried to get up out of his chair.

Hermes had nodded off and Tobias was licking on of his paws, satisfied by the meal, so luckily they paid no attention to the flying insect. Then the butterfly landed on Leoric’s knee, closest to the fire and spread its wings again, yellow light of the flames made the monarch’s wings look like they were made of fire themselves. Leoric leaned closer to get a better look at the butterfly, maybe seeing something that would explain why it had not migrated with his species weeks prior. 

It almost looked to him that the butterfly was glowing on its own. At first, Leoric didn’t quite understand what he saw, but the butterfly glowed even brighter by the second. Leoric found himself unable to look away from the glowing insect on his knee. Then the light quickly filled the entire room and became unbearably bright. Leoric shielded his eyes and Hermes gave an alarmed, high-pitched scream and flapping his wings.

As quickly as the light had come, it disappeared again, leaving Leoric temporarily blinded. His eyes adjusted back to the dim darkness of the gently burning fire from the woodstove and he could see a large shape sitting on the ground. A few of Hermes’ downy feathers sailed through the air and one of them gently landed on it. A small cry escaped Leoric when he realized that there was now another person sitting on the floor of his kitchen.

Note: This First Draft was part of NaNoWriMo 2021 – 30 First Drafts in 30 Days

🎼 Blank Fashion Mystical by Acetantina

🎼 Time And Place by Adel Akram

📷 Monarch by shell game

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