A sky blue butterfly floated past Anders’ nose. “Hey, Panda, is the bungalow orange?” Barely visible at the far end of the field, a gaudy orange cottage reflected the late morning sun.
The panda cub didn’t hear him. Its pace had declined midway across the open field, enabling the men to stroll easily on its tender heels. “Pick me up, would you?” It cast them a baleful look. “I’m tired. I need a break. Don’t give me that look, I’ve got tiny legs.”
“It’s been ten minutes, maybe.” Anders blinked away three butterflies bobbing around in his face. “Otherworldly bears should have otherworldly endurance.”
“I’ve got him.” Eirik scooped up the animal as if it was a corgi.
Anders squinted at the distant cottage. Nana wouldn’t own orange clothes, much less live in an orange house, he thought. Maybe it belongs to a friend of hers we’ve never met. Someone with terrible taste in color. With ten butterflies about his head, he flailed when he nearly inhaled one. “Where are they coming from?!”
The bear gasped, happily. “It’s a tornado!”
Anders frowned through a lazy haze of graceful insects. “I’m sorry, what?” Blue sky, sunny day. There are a bunch of butterflies and it’s a little on the cold side, but the weather’s lovely.
“Where?” said Eirik.
“It’s my favorite kind.” The panda beamed. “A butterfly tornado.”
The formerly clear sky teemed with a single species of butterfly, drifting in a circular motion as a single loose cloud over the field. The cloud grew dense, spun tighter. It seemed like nothing more than a tremendous insect gathering until a roar not unlike a chorus of jet engines struck up and the whirling insects pulled together in violent cyclonic mass, touching down and ripping into the earth. Trees bent, grasses blew flat, debris flashed through the air; bugs not a part of the main mass slashed horizontally in tandem with the vortex, gaining speed, becoming organic bullets.
One struck Anders’ cheekbone with a sharp pop, stunning him briefly. Holy crap, that could’ve put my eye out. Turning his back to the wind, he grabbed Eirik’s elbow. “We’ve gotta get low!”
Eirik’s forehead almost touched Anders’ so the wind didn’t snatch away his words before they reached the other’s ears. “There’s no cover!”
Spying a natural depression in the ground at the same time, they jumped into it. With Eirik shielding the bear, they became as flat and small as humanly possible, back to back, and covered their heads as the day turned black, insects thundering against them and the field like driving, potentially fatal rain. In the next moment the violence dissipated as abruptly as it had commenced, leaving behind an alien stillness worthy of a refrigerated, soundproof room.
Satisfied it was over and that he and the cub were uninjured, Eirik glanced back over his shoulder and pat his buddy’s hip. Anders lifted his head to reveal that all exposed portions of his body, including the parts of his head that hadn’t hidden, had been slathered in an uninterrupted coating of deceased insects. No worse for wear, simply filthy.
Eirik forced sincerity. “You look beautiful.”
Anders brushed wings away from his jaw as if sweeping away luxurious, flowing locks. “I wanted to take that bug-smeared look to an epically disgusting level.”
“You nailed it, man. Good job.”
Anders peeled himself free from the layer of liquefied insects and lent a hand to Eirik who, once on his feet, put the bear over his cleaner shoulder like an infant. The entire field bristled with bug guts and baby blue wings.
This feels gross. Anders raked a glob of dead insect remains from his hair, scowling so he wouldn’t gag. Oh. It is.
Despite feeling welts appearing where they’d been pelted, they were in one piece. Eirik called that a win. Until he noticed something. Patting his coat pockets, he cast a furrowed glance around the ground. “My bottle’s gone.”
Anders’ hand went immediately to his own pocket. “I still have the box.” It’s crushed now but I have it.
“You only have one green item between you?” said the panda, alarmed.
While Anders suggested ripping the now flattened Green Tea box in two and the bear insisted it would still count as a single item, Eirik hoped the green bottle would be easy to spot amongst all the blue. However, instead of finding the bottle, he perceived a dark shape sitting hunched at the tree line. Conformed somewhat like a cow but with no light showing between its belly and the ground, it returned his attention.
“That’s a stupid rule,” said Anders. “How does evil know if they’re two halves of the same thing or two halves of different things? Huh? How?”
“It knows,” said the panda.
Eirik nodded in the figure’s direction. “It does know.”
The staring shape slunk forward a few steps and settled again like a creeping neighborhood cat.
“Boys, run.” The bear’s breaths came in gasps, borderline hyperventilation. “Run! NOW! Run to – oh, an orange cottage, what a ghastly color. GO THERE! I don’t know who could possibly live there but we won’t make it to the bungalow if we can’t find or borrow something else that’s green! And certainly not if it catches us!”
With the bear’s claws digging into Eirik’s shoulder, they ran and didn’t look back, or they would’ve seen the cow-shaped shadow rise up like a crocodile under a black silk tablecloth and swim over the earth after them in broad powerful strokes.