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Butterflies: a short story

Six-year-old Cassie Mitchell stepped off of the school bus wearing a t-shirt with a silk-screened monarch butterfly on the front, purple sandals with butterflies on the sides, and her favorite denim jeans with butterfly outlines stitched into the pockets. She carried a butterfly backpack filled with butterfly notebooks, and her pigtails were secured with butterfly hair clips.

“The Obsession,” as her parents called it, was probably harmless enough. It’s normal, other parents assured them, for first graders to fixate. She’d grow out of it. And at least she had picked something harmless, instead of developing a passion for violent video games or something like that.

Even so, they worried a bit. Cassie devoured books about butterflies, could identify the species of any butterfly she saw, and declared that she wanted to be “a lepidopterist” when she grew up. Was that normal?

Cassie walked the short block from the bus stop to her house, where her mother was outside gardening. Her mother, Allison, didn’t see her coming. Cassie quietly snuck up behind her, planning to scare her.

So Cassie had a perfect view when her mother pointed the can of Raid at the tiger swallowtail caterpillar and squeezed the trigger.

Cassie screamed in horror, right in her mother’s ear. Allison jumped.

“Cassie!” she scolded. “Cassie, that’s not funny!”

But now Cassie was crying. “You killed it! You killed the caterpillar!”

Allison quickly assessed the situation. There was really nothing to do but lie.

“Honey, what caterpillar?”

Cassie pointed to the caterpillar, now writhing on the ground in its final moments.

“Cassie, silly goose, that’s bird poop!” her mother exclaimed with far too much cheer.

“That’s its camouflage, Mommy! It’s a tiger swallowtail! You know I love butterflies more than anything—how could you?”

“A tiger swallowtail butterfly?” Allison asked. “Butterflies have wings and are pretty. That’s just an ugly old worm.”

“No, it’s a baby tiger swallowtail! And you killed it!” Cassie was near tears.

Allison’s patience was exhausted. “Okay look. These caterpillars are eating up our sassafras and our front yard looks bad and Mrs. Bailey from the homeowner’s association is starting to complain. I spend a lot of money to keep this house looking nice and I have to keep it safe from pests.”

“Mommy, I’ll take care of it!” Cassie pleaded. “I’ve saved up money in my piggy bank. You can let the caterpillars eat this plant and I’ll buy you a new plant, I promise!”

“Oh, don’t be ridiculous.”

For a brief moment, they stared each other in the eyes. Then Cassie turned away and ran inside.

She ran down the hallway and didn’t stop until she reached her bedroom, slammed the door, and sat on her bed. Her lungs filled with the righteous indignation that is uniquely felt by sensitive, gifted children forced to live at the whims of stupid adults. She never wanted to see or talk to her mother ever again. She realized that her mother would cook dinner that night and Cassie would have to eat it, which was unbearably frustrating. She buried her face in her pillow and thought about running away.

Downstairs, Allison sighed. Nothing had ever come easy for her, least of all parenting. She had been raised in an apartment in a bad part of town. She had worked so hard to give her daughter a picturesque childhood home, and Cassie was just too young to understand. Allison had done everything right, and yet her origins continually nagged at her. She sensed her neighbors’ sideways glances at her, the only renter on a street full of homeowners. Or perhaps it was the lack of a ring that elicited their judgment.

Allison had finished up in the yard and was placing her tools in the garage when her boyfriend Rob arrived.

“Where’s Cassie?” he asked. Allison just nodded toward Cassie’s bedroom.

“So,” he asked, “did you…?”

Allison nodded. “The clinic confirmed it. Six weeks.” She sighed. “Cassie is such a handful. Can we really have another one?”

“Well, you know I’ll support whatever you decide.”


Kelsey Hazzard is the founder and president of Secular Pro-Life. She is also the author of the pro-life novella Cultivating Weeds, available through She is a proud University of Miami Hurricane (B.A. 2009) and University of Virginia Cavalier (J.D. 2012). She welcomes comments and questions at


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