In my Idea Store column in the current issue of Writers’ Forum, I’m talking about The Butterfly Effect, which is (in an over-simplified form) how something that seems small and inconsequential at the time can sometimes have huge and unforeseen consequences.
Here, as promised in the article is my short story, The Butterfly Effect, which I wrote on the same theme.
And if you want to find out what Robert Crouch’s unforeseen consequences were and you can’t get hold of a copy of Writers’ Forum, you can find the answer here on his website.
The Butterfly Effect
Abbie stood on the bridge, watching a newly hatched butterfly dry its wings in the late spring sunshine. What was it her science teacher had said, all those years ago? How a butterfly flapping its wings in Asia could cause an earthquake in India?
It hadn’t made sense at the time. But it did now. What Mr Everett had been trying to say, she reckoned, was how the smallest, seemingly insignificant action could have gigantic, unforeseen consequences.
She looked down at the mobile phone – the small, insignificant thing – that Matt had left on her kitchen table last night.
‘What do you think of that, Bryn?’ she’d asked the dog who was never far from her side as she picked it up. ‘Last night Matt’s telling me he’s got this important meeting which is why he can’t see me today. Yet I come down this morning and find he’s left this behind , the one piece of kit he says he can’t do without. Just as well for him I’m not working today. With luck, I’ll catch him before he leaves.’
It was one of the regrets Abbie had about her 18-month relationship with Matt that he and Bryn didn’t get on. Matt thought Bryn was spoilt rotten, badly behaved and should stay in the utility room. Bryn thought Matt was spoilt rotten, badly behaved and should stay away from Abbie.
Matt’s car was still outside his house when Abbie pulled up. She was about to get out of her car when Matt’s front door opened. She froze as she watched him turn to the leggy blonde by his side and give her a long lingering kiss.
It was Carly. Abbie’s so-called best friend.
Abbie started the car, hoping they hadn’t seen her. She wasn’t ready to confront them yet and needed to hang on to her control, at least until she’d got her head straight. She drove back across the moor, where she stopped by North Point bridge, watched the butterfly make its first hesitant flight, then dropped Matt’s phone into the river.
As the weed encrusted water closed over it, she looked out across the flat moorland landscape she’d known and loved all her life and felt a desperate loneliness. Suppose she followed Matt’s phone into that thick green water? Would anyone miss her? Apart from Bryn, of course.
As she peered down at the river, the butterfly, its maiden flight completed, landed back on the stone bridge beside her and gently flapped its wings.
Greg Marchant cursed as the narrow road took yet another right-angled turn. He should have stayed on the main road and waited for the accident to be cleared. What sort of idiot turns off along an unmarked country road in an area he doesn’t know?
The sort who’s running late for a job interview because of an earlier road closure and whose pretty good sense of direction has never let him down – until now.
The willow-fringed road, bounded on both sides by sheer drops into ditches big enough to engulf his car, got narrower the further along it he went, taking him ever deeper into the flat, featureless moorland.
He was running out of time. Best stop in a minute and phone to ask if the interview could be rescheduled. Or say sorry but he’d changed his mind.
When he’d applied, he’d had misgivings about burying himself in the countryside – and that was before seeing it for himself. If you’re going to live in the country, it should at least be scenic, maybe a few rugged hills and wooded valleys. Not mile after mile of featureless moorland.
He was looking for somewhere to turn around when he saw a small yellow car parked alongside a stone bridge. A young woman with glorious copper coloured hair stood there, obviously deep in thought.
‘Excuse me,’ he said. ‘Can you help me, please? I think I’m lost.’
Greg thought she had the saddest – but loveliest – eyes he’d ever seen. They were the colour of the cluster of violets that peeped up at him from the nearby bank.
‘Where are you heading for?’ she asked.
‘Neston Parva. I was on the main road but there was an accident ahead and the road was closed, so I thought I’d take a short cut.’
The girl laughed, banishing the sadness, if only for a moment.
‘I’ll say you’re lost.’ Her voice was as soft as Pan pipes. ‘Did you turn off just after a pub with a big cedar tree in the garden?’
‘That’s it. Did you get caught, too?’
She shook her head and Greg was fascinated by the way her hair colour changed from copper to deep auburn as it moved.
‘The road wouldn’t have been closed by an accident,’ she said, ‘But by George Fairweather’s cows going in for milking. They’ll be well gone now. Best you turn round, take the first left, second right, then when you come to the fork by the burnt down barn….’
But Greg had lost concentration after the first – or was it the second? – turning. All he could think of was the tiny dimple that appeared in her cheek when she smiled.
‘Sorry.’ He forced himself to concentrate. ‘I’m ..not .. quite myself. A bit nervous. I’m on my way to a job interview only I’m late and…’
‘An interview in Neston Parva?’ the girl smiled again and this time, to Greg’s delight, revealed dimples on both sides of her face, ‘That’s where I live. I’m on my way there now, so why don’t you follow me? What time’s your interview?’
‘Nine thirty. But I don’t think I’ll make it.’
‘Course you will. I know these lanes like the back of my hand. I’ve lived around here all my life.’
‘You have?’ Greg looked around him at the landscape that ten minutes earlier he’d dismissed as dull and bleak. ‘Lucky you. It’s beautiful.’
‘Isn’t it ever? I was just thinking the same myself. I was going to leave, you know and move into the town but –’ She shrugged and Greg saw her eyes were sad again. ‘Well, things didn’t work out. Still,’ she gave him a wobbly smile, ‘This won’t get you to that interview, will it? Come on.’
‘That’s very kind. Thanks.’
‘That’s ok. I hope you get the job.’
As Greg waited for her little yellow car to pull out in front of him, he realised he wanted the job in Neston Parva more than he’d wanted anything for a long time and that the black cloud he’d been living under since his divorce was at last beginning to lift.
And as the two cars drove off, the butterfly flapped its wings and flew away.
‘I’m coming,’ Abbie called as she hurried down the hall. ‘No need to knock the door down – Oh. It’s you.’
Matt stood on her doorstep, his face as dark as the rainstorm that had suddenly turned day into night.
‘Let me in, Abbie. I’m getting soaked.’
‘Too bad.’ Abbie went to close the door, but Matt put his foot out to stop her.
‘I just want to talk to you,’ he said, ‘I’ve been trying to do so for the last three weeks. Where have you been? Why aren’t you answering your phone?’
‘If it was any of your business, which it’s not, I’d tell you I’ve been staying with my sister, who’s just had her baby. As you’d know if you’d ever listened to a word I said.’
‘Of course I do –’
‘And I didn’t answer my phone because I saw it was you calling and, as I’ve already said, I don’t want to speak to you or Carly ever again.’
‘That thing with Carly was nothing, honest. Open the door, please.’
‘No. Go away .’
‘I’m coming in,’ he snapped. ‘And you’re damn well going to listen to me.’
Abbie pushed hard against the door but it was hopeless. As Matt forced it open, she heard a low growl and before she could stop him, Bryn barrelled his way through the gap and leapt at Matt, catching him by the sleeve.
There was a tearing noise and a volley of curses from Matt.
‘Look what he’s done.’ Matt was fanatical about his clothes. ‘This jacket cost over £200 and that stupid, hairy waste of space has ruined it.’
Before Abbie realised his intention, Matt drew his foot back and landed Bryn a savage kick in the ribs. The dog yelped then bolted for the open gate.
‘Bryn. No.’ Abbie’s scream was lost in a squeal of brakes and another yelp from Bryn, cut horribly short. She rushed out. A car was slewed across the road, the driver white and shaken.
‘I didn’t see him,’ he said. ‘He came out of nowhere and with the road being so wet… I’m sorry. So very, very sorry.’
Abbie looked down at the dog who’d shared her life these last five years. He’d always been a harum-scarum dog, full of life and energy. Now, he lay still in the road, his eyes closed, a small line of blood trickling from the corner of his mouth. He’d never chase rabbits, autumn leaves or plastic bags ever again.
‘Oh, baby. Poor, poor baby.’ Abbie leaned across to gather his lifeless body into her arms .
‘Don’t.’ The shout from behind shocked her into stillness. ‘Don’t move him.’
Abbie looked up as a man she vaguely recognised pushed her gently aside and knelt down beside Bryn.
The next couple of hours passed in a haze. All she could think of was that Bryn, her beloved, stupid, idiotic, disobedient Bryn whom she’d thought was dead, was being operated on for internal injuries and she could only wait – and pray.
‘Bryn’s in good hands Abbie.’ Janey, the receptionist handed her yet another cup of tea. ‘The new vet’s very good. Here, drink it this time and try not to worry.’
But Abbie didn’t drink the tea because at that moment, the vet came out. She jumped anxiously to her feet, trying to read the expression on his face.
‘Bryn? Is he -?’
‘He’s going to be fine. Stiff and sore for a few days, but he’ll make a full recovery, I promise. He’s one lucky dog.’
It was only then that Abbie let go the tears she’d been holding in for so long go. She’d have fallen had the vet not caught her and helped her to a chair.
‘I’m sorry,’ she hiccupped. ‘B-bursting into tears when I should be thanking you for saving my dog’s life.’ She stopped as she realised why he’d seemed familiar. ‘It’s you, isn’t it? The man who got lost on the moor?’
‘It is indeed. My name’s Greg and, as you can see, I got the job, thanks to you.’
‘I’m so glad you did. If you hadn’t come along at the very moment Bryn rushed out into the road …’
Greg looked down at his hands. ‘I wasn’t exactly just passing,’ he said. ‘I arm-locked poor Janey into telling me where you lived and I’ve been walking up and down that road every day for the last few weeks. I even managed to find that bridge again where I first saw you.’
‘I wanted to thank you. If it hadn’t been for you, I’d have turned around and withdrawn my application.’
‘And if you hadn’t got the job and been there when Bryn was knocked down, he’d have died.’
‘A bit like dominoes, then,’ Greg said. ‘One thing leading to another.’
Or butterflies flapping their wings, Abbie thought as, for the first time she noticed that Greg had nice brown eyes, a warm friendly smile – and no wedding ring.
‘About Bryn,’ Greg said. ‘It’s best he stays in overnight. You can collect him in the morning. On one condition.’
‘That you promise not to spend this evening worrying about him.’
‘I can’t promise that,’ Abbie laughed. ‘But I’ll try.’
‘Then how about having dinner with me – to take your mind off it? And give us the chance to say our respective thank yous again. Janey tells me there’s a very good restaurant in the next village.’
Before she could say yes, he reached across and touched her hair lightly. ‘Don’t move,’ he said softly. ‘There’s a butterfly in your hair. It must have come in here when it rained.’
He opened the window behind her. Slowly, the butterfly stretched its wings, circled around their heads and then flew out through the open window.