The Butterfly of Death by Ambrose McJunkin

Miguel wiped his brow and stared over the valley. Povona lay below, a wedge of white stucco and red-tiled roofs encroached on all sides by forest. The solitary truck puttering up the town’s only paved road winked sunlight off the parts of its body yet succumbed to rust.

The rugged track he’d recently assumed guarding cut across the mountainside through fifteen hundred acres of private land, which had been spot-cleared to support clandestine patches of coca leaf. Beyond the narrow track, the jungle breathed: a chorus of calls and warbles and the drone of crickets. Setting down his AK-47, he removed his cigarettes. He lit up, then extended one to Luca.

To repel the boredom, he asked his guardmate: “What’s the worst thing you saw during your time in Medellín?”

Luca’s features were swallowed in leathery brown skin, the lines on his face seeming to count the many indelible things he must have seen. He took the offered cigarette and gave no preamble, just began talking, as though the story played over and over in his head.

“We left the farm in Fortuna. There were six of us. We drove all day and arrived at one of Don Pablo’s houses by evening. There were two men gagged and on their knees in the driveway, others with automatic weapons standing watch. That was the first and last time I met the man himself, and I’ll never forget the gravity he carried. At one point while giving us instructions, he kneeled to tie his shoe. Not a single man coughed or scratched his nose or shifted his weight.

“Those instructions took us on another journey north into Paramillo. One of the men stunk of shit where he’d soiled himself. At one point, Javier took out their gags—a pittance, to allow them to make their peace with God—and they began to plead incessantly and cry out so he regagged them. In Paramillo, we marched them into the rainforest and strung them up by their wrists in a kapok tree.

“Before that, we stripped their clothes and took machetes to their chests, arms, legs, and feet. The cuts would supposedly attract the Chupacan monkey, which had a taste for blood.

“By that time, the stars were peeking through the canopy. We killed the flashlights and waited for the monkeys to arrive, signaled by a series of rapid chirping more akin to birds. The animals maneuvered cautiously from the branches to the ropes. The men would twist and cry out against their gags, and the monkeys would start and retreat. But they kept coming back, and each time they were less fearful.”

Miguel smiled. “You mean to say those men were eaten by monkeys?”

“It is no joke,” Luca said, the serious expression he wore by default underscoring the story. “The monkeys bit and clawed those men all night, slowly peeling away their flesh. Unlike piranhas, they worked leisurely, knowing the food wasn’t going anywhere. It must have been the worst agony imaginable, and those muffled screams persisted even after the bodies had stilled.

“By morning, they looked like cattle hung in a freezer. Their flesh had vanished, exposing the stark-red sinews underneath. One of the men, still conscious, looked down at me, and in his eyes I saw a truth I couldn’t comprehend. As though he’d glimpsed the place that awaits men like us, and was paralyzed by the thought of it.

“It took the Chupacan monkey five days in total to wear those men down to polished bone, discarding only the stinking intestines, which lay in slimy gray piles gathering flies.”

Miguel exhaled smoke, wondering if Luca was having fun with him. The look on the old man’s face said otherwise. “So what’d they do to deserve such a fate?”

Luca shrugged. “I just heard one of them had looked at Don Pablo’s niece. The girl was only thirteen, but had already the curves of a woman.”

“You’re telling me, that man and his associate died such awful deaths because Don Pablo didn’t approve of the man’s gaze?”

Luca blinked, as though the truth was evident. “I’m telling you, the Butterfly of Death flapped his wings, and their fate was decided.”

Ricochet by Ambrose McJunkin

By 12:30 am, the light in the hotel room had still not gone out. Wayne Thorton had never been a patient man, and the revolver in his coat pocket had turned into a ticking bomb. He should have been drunk for this. Oh well. Time to shit or get off the pot. He exited the truck, bracing himself against the swirling January cold, and tramped through the snow-filled parking lot to the door of room 109.

His hand hovered over the knob. Inside, he could hear a man and a woman talking, but the howling wind turned their conversation into murmurs.

“Fuck it.”

He gripped the knob. It was a hot coal in his bare hand. Some of his lost composure was restored upon finding the door to be unlocked.

At least it was the right room.

Laura and Mr. Darby were in bed. Mr. Darby was on his side, shirtless, the blanket pulled up to his waist, and his hairy back to the door. Laura was sitting against the headboard, her pudgy arms crossed over her enormous black bra. They both recoiled from the cold air that blew in. Wayne judged there would be problems by the fact that she was crying.

Closing the door, Wayne pointed the revolver at Mr. Darby. His eyes darted between Laura and her husband. Not knowing what to say, he said, “What’s going on?”

Mr. Darby got out of bed and stood there naked. His cock looked small and incapable, but the body that owned it was stocky and muscular, despite a sagging belly.

When he found his words, he said, “What the fuck?” His bewilderment eclipsed the anger underneath. “Who the fuck are you?”

Wayne’s heart was dancing the conga. His eyes settled on Laura. “So . . . do I shoot him now?”

“What the fuck?” Mr. Darby repeated, savoring each syllable.

Bewilderment gave way to recognition, and Mr. Darby looked at his wife. “You’ve got to be fucking kidding me. ‘Let’s get a hotel room, let’s spice things up.’ Whole thing was a plan to have me whacked. You fucking bitch.”

The revolver shook in Wayne’s hand. All his mental preparation had gone out the door with the warmth in the room, and the prospect of what lay before him towered like a monolith.

“Shut the fuck up, ok, will you? Laura?” Wayne’s voice went up and down like a skiff in a storm.

Laura looked as prepared as Wayne felt. “I . . . Don’t kill him,” she said finally, her teary face making that monolith grow ever higher.

Fucking women, Wayne thought, changing their minds last minute. “But you said—”

Mr. Darby charged into him.

Wayne lost his balance, stumbled, and fell against the wall. The revolver went off. Mr. Darby was on top of him, trying for the gun. When Wayne’s grip proved resolute, Mr. Darby reconsidered, regained his feet and escaped through the door. Apparently big men could have small courage.

The next thing Wayne saw was Laura inspecting the smoking hole in her neck with tepid fingers. Blood began to pour out of the hole and her hand clasped the wound, her mouth frozen in a gape.

“Oh Jesus Christ,” Wayne said. “Oh Jesus, oh Jesus, oh Jesus.”

He rushed over to the woman he’d been fucking for the past six months. Her face looked anemic in the lamplight. She was breathing rapidly, and shivering.

He had visions of prison, of a life in shambles. The floor dropped out from under him, and he sat down. He felt lightheaded and the world spun. Whatever rationality he had been clinging to abandoned him.

He put the revolver in his mouth.

The next day, Sheriff Bouffant told his deputy about Wayne Thorton while trying not to spit his coffee.

“So, the fellow that the gal convinced to kill her man, he ends up shooting her. It’s a glance shot off the radiator. The guilt proves too much, so this fellow shoots himself. The man, who’d run outside naked, he hears the second shot. Comes back in. He gets the gal to the hospital. She lives. He forgives her. God only knows why.

“Turns out, their marriage just needed a magic bullet.”