Ghost Devlin – Devil Out Of Time: Chapter Five

The butterflies were a problem.

Ghost was sitting on the floor of his apartment. He was surrounded by killing jars. He was pinning butterflies to his wall to study them. He needed to see a lot of them at once. This was temporary. He only wanted to get a good look at them. It was a reasonable decision to make. He wasn’t using his wall for anything else. Might as well be temporary butterfly storage. It was a logical series of steps that led to a floor covered in jars and a wall covered in pinned butterflies. His head was pounding hard enough to hammer his eyes out of their sockets.

He’d filled a sketchbook with diagrams, all different angles and cross-sections, pulling them apart to commit them to paper. All different butterflies. They looked almost the same. Almost identical. All males, the same shape to their wings and size to their bodies. Butterflies traced over each other.

The difference was in the patterns, lines of thin black on red wings. He thought it was interesting. He’d started out trying to record the patterns. They were unusually distinct. Some were plain red, no black at all. Some had duplicates, and those duplicates were identical in every way. But there wasn’t any sense to it. He couldn’t identify camouflage in a stark black line drawn straight across a butterfly’s wings.

This one. He’d found this one. This butterfly. It was a problem. He’d stared, and left it, and stared again. He’d drawn it. He’d tried taking a picture, because sometimes that helped when he saw things that weren’t right. A handy thing about always having a camera in his pocket, now. Helped him figure out what was in his head. His brain couldn’t fool him that way, hadn’t found a way to transpose phantoms onto a flat screen or a photograph. It tried, but he could tell.

This butterfly had a compass rose on its wing.

The problem was that this butterfly put the others into a new context. He looked at stark lines, and he saw borders. He was sorting them now into different jars, drawing out the patterns on them and taping the patterns to the glass to help him sort. He needed to know how many there were. He couldn’t put them together until he knew how many pieces they were.

It was hours later when he finished. He still hadn’t slept. He had pill bottles of homemade capsules filled with powders. He didn’t remember what was in them. He’d written it down, somewhere. They worked, was the important part. He was awake, and there were at least fifty pieces to this puzzle made of insects.

He’d cleared his wall, and was pinning butterflies anew, starting with the compass rose in the bottom left. He didn’t know what the final picture was supposed to look like. How many blank butterflies were duplicates, and how much of this map was only empty?

If it was a map. He didn’t know if it was a map. He felt sure it was a map. He’d drawn so many maps. He was intimately familiar with the iconography of a hand-drawn map. A message in a bottle, a message in a killing jar.

He had a breakthrough when he found a long and continuous line. A coast. He followed the line through butterfly wings, hunting through to find the next that matched the last. He had to move the butterfly with the compass rose. There was more coast than he’d expected, the line kept going. Eventually, he realized it was a ring. He felt a grim satisfaction pinning down the last butterfly, closing the loop.

An irregular circle, a cove to the north. An island. Did he know this island? Did he know this map? Was his certainty born of familiarity? He didn’t know. He forgot too much. He tried to remember so much. All he had was the outlines. There was no clear sign of how anything was supposed to fit inside.

He sat down, opened his journal to an empty page, and started drawing the incomplete map. It might help to see it on paper. Jog things loose. He lit up a cigarette, cross-legged on the floor. He didn’t know what he’d do with the map once he had it. If he had it.

Couldn’t follow it. If this was a message, it said ‘trap’. Couldn’t just leave it. Someone was out there printing maps onto bugs. That had to be a red flag for something.

He thought of Coatimundi, Andi Bravo and the blood under her nails. He pushed the thought away. He knew where the line was drawn. It was well before ‘secret messages from butterflies’. She wouldn’t call him crazy. She never called him crazy. Sometimes he saw pity beneath her eyelashes.

It would be a personal project. A hobby. Like whittling. Hunting down an island that might not exist. Even if it had existed. That never meant anything. Atlantis had existed, for all the good it did him now.

“Do you think there’s a new bug guy?” Andi wondered.

“Bug?” David asked.

“Not Bug, bugs.” She was using the TV to play video games, and David was watching her. “We’ve had two weird bug incidents in the last month. It seems like there might be a new villain trying to foreshadow their arrival. With bugs.”

“Aren’t bugs fake?” he asked. “There’s insects and arachnids, and bugs are a fake idea.”

“That’s what they want you to think,” Andi said. “It’s all fake, anyway. Bugs don’t care what science says they are. Someone with bug powers isn’t going to be limited by a scientist with a well, actually.”

“Maybe,” he said, dubious.

“Two harmless bugs, swarming the city and trying to eat people. That’s suspicious.”

“I’m not saying it’s normal,” David said. “It’s definitely weird. Do you think Ghost’s had the hots for you this whole time?”

Her character fell off a cliff and died. “Dude! Seriously?” She nudged him irritably.

“I’m just wondering,” he said, holding up his hands. “If he could tell the whole time, and the first thing he did was hit on you, I feel like that means something.”

“That doesn’t mean the whole time,” she said, retracing her steps in the game. “Our first fight was pretty intense.”

“Not that intense,” he said. “You barely hurt each other.”

“It felt intense,” she insisted.

“Maybe it was the sex vibes.”

“Oh my god.”

“We’re superheroes,” he added. “We’re kind of fucked up.”

“I don’t need to know that about you.”

“Everyone knows that about me. All I’m saying is, you wouldn’t be the first hero to miss the obvious sexual tension in a fight.”

Andi frowned as she navigated her character over a complex series of platforms. Their first meeting had been nerve-wracking. He was Ghost Devlin. He was the guy who—

He’d done a lot of things.

She was proud of herself for holding her own without hurting him. She was proud of herself for talking him down and convincing him to trust her. He’d flung her a couple of times, which she supposed might have been his idea of taking it easy on her. It hadn’t felt like it at the time. It had felt like getting grabbed and flung, which was always terrifying.

Getting grabbed at by men was always more terrifying than getting punched, now that she was thinking of it.

“I don’t think it was that kind of fight,” she decided. “He chilled out at the end, once we’d got to talking and stuff. He wasn’t weird about it.”

“It’s kind of romantic.”

“Is it?”

“If he’s been quietly pining for you for like, years now.”

She nudged him again. “We didn’t even see each other that often.”

“He’d been showing up more lately,” he reminded her. “And he replies to basically half your posts.”

“I thought he was coming out of his shell.”

David laughed.

It had been two hours, and they’d barely covered a mile.

Andi wasn’t mad about it. She was determinedly not mad. It was good that Ghost was engaged, and she wanted to encourage his interests.

Every few feet, it seemed like, he saw something he wanted to take a picture of. She’d teased him about his drawings, laughed when he said that would take too long.

Considering how long it had taken him to photograph things, she felt retroactive gratitude at his self-awareness. They’d be stuck in the first twenty feet still, surely.

He’d dressed the way he always dressed instead of for a hike, which made a certain amount of sense. He hadn’t exactly wandered the Amazon in comfortable sneakers. His DSLR with the long lens was incongruous with the rest of his outfit. Every time a bird called, he would freeze and listen, waiting to decide if he wanted to look for it.

Andi was getting very little exercise, and learning a lot about patience. She was learning even more about exploring unrecorded wilderness. If it took him this long to record the sights and sounds of a well-trod path, how did he get anywhere in the rainforest? Every three steps he must have been stopping to sketch a frog. This suggested much less adventure than the word ‘explorer’ had always implied to her.

What she wanted was to use this as an opportunity to experience the wonder of nature through his eyes. For the first half hour, it had even worked. Now he was standing stock-still, and had been standing still for five minutes, waiting for a particularly small bird to emerge enough from the leaves for his camera to catch. It was just too… boring.

She wiggled her phone out of her pocket while he was distracted, and started scrolling memes at the level of her waist.

The shutter of his camera closed several times in quick succession. “I got it!” he said, triumphant.

“That’s great!” she said immediately, shoving her phone back into her pants before he could see.

“Thank you for this,” he said. “I would not have done this alone. I’m having a good time.”

She felt pleased and guilty all at once. “Good,” she said.

He looked her over, not for the first time. She’d worn shorts and an athletic tee, a baseball cap and sneakers. It felt like a good hiking uniform, but something about it also felt skimpy when he looked at her legs like that.

“No tail today,” he said finally.

“We’re in public,” she said.

“You are hiding them.”

“Yeah,” she shrugged.

“Does it feel strange?”

She dragged her shoe in the dirt. “A little. I trip more. I don’t know if you—”

“I noticed.” He let his camera hang from his neck. “I would like for you to be yourself,” he said.

“I am,” she assured him. “I’m used to this.”

“Still,” he said.

She hummed thoughtfully, looking around them. It wasn’t a popular trail. She pressed her palms together, and shut her eyes, pulling her tail and her ears back from wherever it was they went. When she opened her eyes, he was grinning. Her tail was sticking out of the leg of her shorts, no convenient hole for it to thread through.

“That’s my girl,” he said, taking her hand and pulling her closer.

“Am I?” she asked.

I think that you are,” he admitted. He pulled her hat from her head, which had been hiding her ears. He put it on, and she giggled at how he looked in the floral snapback. He touched one of her ears, and she recoiled with a squeak.

“Careful!” she warned.

“I am always careful,” he said, in spite of all evidence. “You were born with these?”

“Nothing like that,” she said with a shake of her head. “It was a whole rite of passage when I turned thirteen, my parents had to explain it to me. I guess it’s from my mom’s side of the family? It didn’t work for her, but Nana was a jaguar or something. Which I think is pretty cool, personally. Not that coatimundis aren’t cool.”

He had a thoughtful, somewhat faraway look.

“… do you want to get your notebook out to take notes.”

“Little bit,” he admitted. “But I can remember.”

“To write it down later?” she teased.

“Perhaps,” he said. He pressed a sudden kiss to her forehead. “Thank you.”

“I told you,” she said. “I like hiking.”

“No.” He took the hat off and touched his forehead to hers. “For pretending to believe me.”

“I believe you,” she said, not sure if it was true.

“You don’t have to,” he said, putting her hat back on her. “I know how it sounds. I am not so far gone that I do not know.”

“You’ve been through a lot,” she said. “Like, confirmably a lot. It’s on the wiki and everything.” He laughed.

“I have read your wiki,” he said, “It was locked, I noticed.”

She huffed. “It’s whatever,” she said. “Nerds suck sometimes, who cares.”

“Do you think you have ever lost a fight?” he asked.

“Winning and losing is a problematic binary,” she said. “Not everything is a straightforward fight. Sometimes it’s a conversation. Conversations shouldn’t have winners and losers.” She paused. He raised an eyebrow. “But I don’t lose,” she added.

“No,” he agreed. He ran his thumb along her lower lip. “Do you have luck powers?”

She scowled. “Why do people keep saying that?” she said. “I’m not lucky. I’ve—I have solid stats! I can throw a car! I wouldn’t, because that would be inefficient and destructive, but I could.”

“I believe you,” he said. He started to say something, then stopped. “I’m sorry,” he said, and he reached into the bag on his thigh.

“It’s fine,” she said, letting him go.

“I want to write it down,” he said, pulling out his notebook and pencil.

“I understand,” she assured him.

“I’ve…” He trailed off, writing things sideways in the margins next to previous notes. “I’ve been getting headaches.”


“They’re getting worse.”

“That’s not good,” she said, even though she felt like he was signifying more than pain.

“I’ve been taking—a lot of things. It helps, a little. The headaches come back. They get worse.”

She squeezed his elbow in an attempt to be supportive as he wrote.

“This is how it starts,” he said. “The headaches.”

That made her stomach churn. “I’m sure it will be fine,” she said.

He shut his journal and jammed it into his pocket, grabbing her all at once and kissing her with a terrible desperation. She was startled, but she tried to reassure him with arms around his neck. He put his hands on her hips and buried his face in the crook of her shoulder.

“I’ve been happy,” he said.

“I’m glad,” she said, stroking his hair.

“I don’t think I’m allowed to be happy,” he said, muffled.

“That seems like a bit much,” she said, hoping to talk him down. “I don’t think the abstract concept of time has it out for you, specifically.”

He took a deep and shaky breath against her skin. “I loved my wife,” he said, like a knife right through her ribs that made tears prick at her eyes.

“I’m sorry, Ghost,” she said, holding him tighter.

“I won’t let this happen again,” he said.

“I’ll be okay,” she assured him, not sure at all. “Coatimundi can’t lose. Remember?”

He wrapped his arms all around her, made her feel small. His camera pressed uncomfortably into her stomach between them. “Yeah,” he said.