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Cocooned

The newspaper articles were all published over the course of a few months, spanning from the summer of 1968 to late autumn the same year. Of course, this was nothing out of the ordinary, considering the

way Anna-May’s disappearance had shaken the small town of Cornfield to its core, but this only made it odder that there was no mention of her after May 1968. Wilma squinted at the grainy black-and-white school photograph of a girl with round glasses and a rather wide smile. 


The girl had what appeared to be a butterfly hair clip. Wilma huffed at the coincidence, touching her head to make sure her own sparkly purple butterfly clips were still in place. 


“I’m telling you, Mum, she probably ran away or something. I would too if I looked like her.” Wilma sat back and sipped her orange juice. 


“That’s a terrible thing to say! Who knows what happened to that poor girl,” chided her mother from the kitchen. 


“So why’d they stop writing about her?” 


“Nothing to go off of.” The sound of a cupboard closing interrupted their conversation for a moment, but then Mrs Embleton continued. “Look at the article from April 1968. They found her shoe in the woods. That was the last clue they ever got.” 


“See, I told you she ran away. I bet she put it there to throw them off her scent,” Wilma commented, her eyes skimming over the article and landing on a tiny photo of what must have been a shoe in one of the columns. 


“Think whatever you want, but I don’t want you to breathe a word of that rubbish to anyone outside this house. Heaps of people in this town still remember her, and the last thing I want is for you to be causing grief for no reason.” 


“Whatever, Mum.” Wilma downed the rest of her juice and picked up her school bag. “The bus’ll be here soon. Have fun with whatever you’re doing.”


Without waiting for her mother’s goodbye, she let herself out. 



“My mum’s wasting her time with some stupid memorial to a dead girl or something,” Wilma told her friends as they waited outside their classroom. The other girls responded blandly. Paige was busy texting someone on her brand-new Nokia, and Carmen was rooting through her bag, hoping she didn’t forget her book at home. It annoyed Wilma that they weren’t paying her any attention so she folded her arms and turned away from them. 


It was then that she saw the poster on the corkboard across the hallway. The same picture of Anna-May she had seen on the dining table in the morning stared back at her, except instead of being on a newspaper clipping, it was on some sort of advertisement. 


She abandoned her friends and walked over to have a look at what it said. 


Needless to say, that had been a disappointment. 


“I don’t know why they’re suddenly dredging all this up now. It’s been so long. I bet she moved to Melbourne and started a bakery or something,” Wilma spoke loudly. She stared expectantly at her friends, waiting for them to agree, but both girls were preoccupied with whatever they had been doing. So she folded her arms and walked away from them. After all, if they didn’t appreciate her, they didn’t deserve her. 



That afternoon, Wilma sat in front of her mirror, carefully taking out the butterfly clips from her hair. However, in her reflection, she could see some sort of white specks between the black strands. Putting down the next clip, she studied her fingers, horrified to find what looked like dandruff. 


“Mum!” she shrieked, standing up and leaning into the mirror to get a better look. 


Heavy footsteps thundered up the stairs as her mother called out to her. “Are you okay?” 


“My hair!” 


Her mother stopped in the doorway, an expression of pure irritation passing across her face. “The way you screamed, I thought someone had broken into the house!” 


“It's dandruff!” Wilma ignored her mother and kept trying to brush the skin flakes out of her hair. 


“Stop doing that!” Her mother swatted her hand away. “It'll only make it worse. Just let it be for now and I'll buy you a special shampoo next time I go to the shops.” 


“But I can't wait that long! How am I supposed to go to school tomorrow?” Wilma wailed. “Can't you go get it now?” 


“It's almost five o'clock. The supermarket will probably close soon. I can go tomorrow before work?” 


“No! You have to go now!” Wilma yelled. There was no way in hell she was going to show up to school looking so utterly disgusting


Her mother sighed. “Let me get my keys. Do you want to come with me?” 


“No!” she snapped. “I just told you - I'm not leaving the house looking like this!”


 # 


A minute later, Wilma looked out of her window as her mother's car pulled out of the driveway. She absent-mindedly scratched at her scalp. How could this have happened? She cared for her hair religiously. She washed it every three days and she had never had a problem like this before. 


As the evening sun set over the roofs of the suburban houses, a beautiful purple butterfly landed on the outside of her window. Its wings were so fragile, so delicate, that Wilma worried that the slightest breeze would sweep it away. Moments passed as she held her breath, waiting to see what the butterfly would do. 


Why did it stop here? There were no flowers, no leaves, nothing that could possibly be of interest to it.


Just as she was about to go back to her desk to find her camera, the butterfly began walking diagonally across the window. It suddenly launched into flight and disappeared into the purplish hues of the sunset. 


Wilma flopped down onto her bed. Now that the distraction was gone, her fingers once again found her scalp and she tried to scratch off as much dandruff as possible. The shedding skin flaked onto her bedsheets, and the more she scratched,

the more came off. There appeared to be no end to it. 


As her frustration grew, she began to dig her nails into her scalp, hoping to purge any and all loose skin. However, when she brought her hand out to see the gunk under her nails, she was horrified to find blood. The pile of skin had grown to the point it was noticeable on the bed from far away, so she got up to put it in the bin and wash her hands. Perhaps she should have listened to her mother? 


The sound of the car engine sent Wilma running down the stairs to the garage door. She eagerly awaited her mother and the promised shampoo. Surely this would fix everything? 


#


Standing under the shower spray, Wilma hurriedly massaged the shampoo into her hair, clenching her teeth each time she touched the raw skin of her scalp. It hurt to have the soap come into contact with the broken skin, but as long as it wouldn't be itchy after, she didn't mind. 


As the soap washed out of her hair, it soothed the incessant itch and she sighed with relief. But the peace was short-lived. The lather ran down her limbs, lighting her skin on fire as it passed. It felt as though something was crawling under her skin, scratching her from the inside. She rushed to clean off all the soap from her body, certain that this would stop whatever reaction she was having. 


Stupid shampoo. I'm probably allergic to it. 


Wilma grabbed her loofah and squirted some of her normal body wash onto it, rubbing the material hard against the skin of her arms. It briefly sated her need to scratch, but the moment she let go, it was back. Forsaking the loofah, she decided to use her nails. 


I won't scratch too hard. I don't want to leave any marks. 


This seemed to work better, but soon it was not enough either. 


She quickly closed the shower and dried herself off. Wrapping herself in her towel and skipping her lotion, she ran out to the staircase to call out for her mother.

“Mum! I think I'm allergic to the shampoo!” she yelled. There was no response. 


Grumbling to herself, Wilma went back to her room to get dressed before she searched for her mother. 


#


Dressed in her purple pyjamas, she stomped down the steps, subconsciously scratching at her skin. Her whole body was itchy now - everything except her head. 


“Mum!” she repeated. Still, there was nothing. 


Reaching the bottom of the stairs, she turned to walk towards the kitchen. A beautiful vase was out on the dining table - one she hadn't seen before - and inside it was a single pink flower. 


Wilma knew those flowers grew out in the woods next to the park, but she had no idea why her mother would have stopped there simply for this flower. She reached out to touch it, but her hand froze in the air. A purple butterfly was resting on the far side of the flower, its wings beating slowly. Of course, she could not see its eyes, but if she could, she wouldn't have been surprised to find that they were staring right at her. 


Something about all these butterflies showing up were starting to creep her out. She took a step back, but that was a terrible mistake. The feeling of something - or perhaps some things - crawling underneath her skin returned, except this time it was infinitely more powerful. The sensation was almost impossible for her to describe, but the best way to put it was that whatever was inside her wanted to be as close to that butterfly as possible. 


Wilma screamed for her mother. The pain and the urge to scratch herself raw was taking over her mind, and she could not think of anything else. She needed help, but help was nowhere to be found. 


The butterfly watched her, unmoving. 


“What do you want with me?” Wilma cried, scraping her nails against her legs. 


In what may have been an answer to her question, the butterfly lifted off once again. It flew to the back door, landing perfectly just above the handle. Wilma wrenched it open, surprised to find it was unlocked. Maybe her mother was outside? That might have been why she couldn't hear her. 


“Mum?” She called out again. 


The butterfly did not wait for her. It fluttered a few metres away into the twilight. Wilma ran after it.



“Mum?” she spun around, continuously scratching her arms and legs. Tears of fear and frustration were rolling down her cheeks as she chased the butterfly. It must have looked crazy to any outsider, but she needed to do everything in her power to keep the crawling sensation to a minimum - even if that meant chasing a stupid butterfly. 


A thought in the back of her mind reminded her that she had left the door unlocked and hadn't left any sort of note for her mother, but it was quickly quashed by a spike in the intensity of the itching. She had lost the butterfly. 


Spinning around, she surveyed her surroundings through a veil of tears and jumbled thoughts. She was somewhere in the woods. In the fading sunlight, she could see bushes after bushes of those same pink flowers, and on each flower at least one purple butterfly. She opened her mouth as wide as possible and shrieked, praying someone would hear her and come. 


She wanted to run. She wanted to run so badly. But her feet were rooted to the ground, afraid that one step in the opposite direction would worsen the itching. As if they could hear her scream, the swarm of butterflies lifted off the flowers and encircled her. 


Wilma fell to the floor, her knees hitting the damp forest floor. Dirt, skin and blood all mixed together under her nails as she sobbed and begged weakly for her mother. She had lost all her energy. There was no way she could keep fighting the pain and the itching. 


She lay down on the ground, unable to see anything more than the silhouette of the tree canopy against the dark sky. She could feel the soft beating of butterfly wings, and a cold gooey liquid being dripped all over her, beginning to wrap her like a cocoon. Or perhaps that was all in her head too?

 

She laughed at the incredulity of the situation. 


As her eyes closed, she imagined herself waking up in her bed at home, her hair free from dandruff, her skin smooth and unblemished. Yet the final thought that lingered in her mind was not her life, nor was it her home, or her mother. It was that one image of Anna-May and her butterfly clip. 


#

Mrs Embleton came in through the garage door carrying her handbag. “Wilma? Was that you? I forgot my handbag in the car-” 


She paused when she saw the back door flying open. “How many times have I told you to close the door properly?” she scolded, sure that her daughter was listening from outside. “Do you know how many bugs can get in? I thought you hated bugs.”


She walked over to the kitchen to get two dinner plates to set the table. That was when she noticed the flower. 


#



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