Paper Butterfly

Written in response to: Write a story about hope.... view prompt


East Asian Fantasy

Her village was gone, consumed by an inferno. 

Rai was left standing at the village’s edge, staring into the blaze with nothing but her baby sister cradled in her arms. 

Soldiers on horses stood yards away, but she knew they weren’t there to help; they were the ones who had caused the tragedy. 

The soldiers in question turned to look at Rai and the distant screams of the dying village people seemed to grow louder, and louder, and louder!

Rai jolted up from the thin roll-up pallet that served as her bed and placed a hand over her pounding heart as she tried to steady her breathing. 

The rain continued to pour outside the mouth of the cave and it was still night, but luckily, the fire she had lit earlier continued to dimly illuminate the cave’s interior. 

Knowing she wouldn’t be going back to sleep, Rai straightened up and slumped against the uneven, stone wall. Noticing, a rogue twig, the teen picked it up with two of her fingers and fiddled with it, before snapping it in half and throwing it to the fire. 

“Six years,” Rai muttered to herself, rubbing her face. “Six years since the tragedy.” 

She tried to shake the vivid images of her nightmare/memory from her brain, but it proved to be in vain until she heard…rustle, rustle, rustle. 

Perching her temple on her fist, Rai turned her attention toward her sister, who was sleeping with her back towards her. At least, she should have been sleeping; the sound of paper moving about told another story, though. 


The rustling stopped,  and Rai couldn’t help but smile. 

Her younger sister turned her head enough for Rai to see her big, brown eyes that seemed to be ridden with guilt. 

Throwing Hana a tired smirk, the older sister continued, “Whatcha doing?” 


Softly chuckling to herself, Rai rubbed her forehead and replied, “I don’t think you’re sleeping.” 

Hana turned so she was lying on her back, and huffed, knowing she had been caught. “Couldn’t sleep, Rai Rai. Thunder’s too loud.” 

As if on cue, a thunderclap exploded outside causing the little sister to pull her thin blanket over her head. After a few moments though, Hana unveiled herself once again. 

“Did you start on something?” Rai asked, gesturing to the scattered paper, and open book of animal pictures. 

“Mm-hm,” Hana nodded, picking up her newest creation and raising it above her body to show her older sister. 

It was a butterfly made up of brown paper. 

“Here,” Rai patted the spot next to her. “C’mere, so I can have a closer look.” 

Crawling over to her older sister, Hana snuggled underneath Rai’s arm and laid her head on her shoulder as she held the butterfly. With the flames on the other side, the paper animal seemed to be glowing. 

As soon as Hana got her hands on paper for the first time, and learned she could fold it, she had developed a love and skill for Origami–the Japanese art of paper folding–and butterflies were her favorite thing to make. 

“She really takes after Mom,” Rai thought to herself solemnly, and remembered the old Origami butterfly that was buried in her satchel. It had been left within Hana’s baby blankets by her mother and father as a symbol of hope, but the older sister only found sadness whenever she dared look upon it. 

“How much longer?” Hana suddenly asked, her fingertips gingerly running down the edges of the paper. 

Rai glanced down at her for a moment before answering, “Not too much longer. Maybe another day or two.” 

Their destination was a city that many refugees had been going to since sudden invasions had started years prior, and the sisters had been on a trek for the last month to get to the city so they could hopefully make new lives for themselves instead of living on the streets and begging to survive. 

Hana yawned and began to slump lower. “I can’t wait to get there,” she muttered before her eyelids finally shut. 

Plucking the paper butterfly from her younger sister’s hand, so it wouldn’t fall into the fire, Rai kissed her on top of the bed and stroked a strand of her dark hair. “Me too, Hana. Me too.” 


Early the next morning, the sisters continued to traverse through the woodlands. However, Rai found herself unable to shake a dreadful feeling in her gut and assumed maybe another storm was on its way. Either way, the older sister tried to quicken her and her sister’s pace. 

“Come on, Hana!” the older sister called over her shoulder after noticing that Hana had fallen behind a couple of steps while playing with a couple of her Origami creations. 

The little sister skipped in front of Rai but continued playing absent-mindedly. “At least she’s in my sights now.” Rai sighed, adjusting her bag’s placement on her shoulder. 

“Rai Rai,” Hana halted in front of her older sister and stared at her with her big, brown eyes. Holding out her current playthings, the little sister continued to ask, “May I have the butterfly I made last night?” 

“Yes, you may,” Rai replied, taking the paper animals from Hana with care, and picking out the butterfly from her satchel. “But we really must hurry if we want to make good time-” 


Rai’s head shot up and threw a glance over her shoulder. “Was that thunder?” Hana asked, her voice slightly quivering. 

“I don’t think so,” Rai answered honestly, and she nudged her little sister behind her as the pebbles on the dirt path began to tremble. 

Her blood running cold, Rai found herself staring down the path; it was when silhouettes of soldiers on horses came into view from the shadows of the trees that she snapped back to her senses. 

Clutching Hana’s hand, Rai exclaimed, “Go, go, go!” before she broke into a sprint down the path with her terrified sister in tow. 

In the process, though, Hana’s Origami butterfly was flung from the satchel and nimbly floated to the ground. Seeing this, the younger sister tried to pull away from Rai’s grasp, forgetting the danger that was stomping closer with every wasted moment. 

“My butterfly!” Hana cried, but Rai kept a firm grasp on her sister and continued to pull her down the path. 

“We need to run, Hana!” 

The sisters continued to run as quickly as they could, but it was clear that the soldiers would soon overtake them. 

Making a split-second decision, Rai pulled Hana into the brush next to the trail and hid behind a large stone. 

Hana, however, was sobbing now and risked giving away their hiding spot. “Shh, Hana, please.” the older sister pleaded, embracing Hana while on the verge of tears herself. 

She tried to put a hand over the little one’s mouth but the crying was still too loud. Nothing Rai did worked, and for a moment she lost all hope and accepted that this was the end for both of them. 

…Symbol of hope. 

Rai’s eyes lit up as the words echoed in her mind, and she dug through her satchel until her hand brushed against her mother’s Origami butterfly. As the stomping got louder, Rai snatched the butterfly from the bag and placed it into Hana’s hands. 

Immediately, her crying stopped and she caressed the older paper butterfly’s wings. Hana peered up at her sister with her glassy eyes and Rai put a finger up to her own lips and silently mouthed, “Shh.” 

The horses and soldiers were then behind them, and for a moment there was a pause in the stomping, and it was replaced by the soldiers speaking to each other in a foreign language that neither girl could understand. 

Finally, the stomping of hooves returned, but this time they faded away as the men retreated down the path.

Only after the sound of hooves was completely gone did Rai finally relax and release Hana, whose eyes went back and forth between her sister and her mother’s butterfly. After a second of silence, Hana jumped back into Rai’s arms, sobbing again, “I’m sorry! We nearly got caught because of me!” 

Rai stroked Hana’s long, dark hair and muttered gently, “It’s okay, Hana. We’re okay.” 

The two sat there in each other’s arms until the sun began to dip behind the trees on the western horizon before they continued their journey. 

Hana was too tired to play this time, but she did keep the butterfly close to her chest. 

When sundown drew only a couple of hours away, Rai began to look for another shelter but more stomping halted that search. She prepared to run with her sister again but stopped when the soldiers and horses came into view. 

The garb the soldiers were wearing was that of the militia of the city they were headed to. 

The soldiers spotted the girls and carefully approached, sheathing their weapons to show they weren’t a threat. 

The captain lowered himself from his stallion and took in the girls’ tired and dirty appearance. “Where are you two headed?” he asked with a friendly smile. 

Keeping Hana behind her out of instinct, Rai answered, “The refugee city. Our family was killed years ago by invaders, and I heard about it while begging for food.”

The captain nodded out of sympathy, and gestured to the rest of the militia, “Come, our job is to retrieve refugees who may need help. You will be safe with us.”

The sisters exchanged glances but accepted the Captain’s offered help. They were hoisted up onto horses behind two of the higher-up soldiers. 

“Thank you,” Rai tiredly said. She didn’t realize how much her feet needed rest until she sat down in the saddle. 

The militia traveled straight on through the night, and the sisters ended up falling asleep. 

When their assigned soldiers kindly woke them up, they were met with a wonderful sight: the city that the sisters had been trying to get to for so long was sitting on a hill on the horizon, its towering buildings gleaming in the sunrise’s first bit of light. 

As a smile broke on Rai’s face, movement out of the corner of her eye drew her attention away from the city. What she saw next nearly made her break down. 

It was an actual butterfly that was snow-white in color and fluttered past Rai and toward the refugee city gracefully. 

As the horses continued onward down the path, Rai thought to herself, “After all the years of pain, maybe there is hope after all.” 

January 01, 2024 22:08

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.


Shrestaa A
23:24 Feb 07, 2024

This story was actually beautiful! I loved it!


Phoebe DeNeve
05:24 Feb 09, 2024

Thank you! 😊


Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Mary Bendickson
01:01 Jan 02, 2024

Ah, a symbol of hope.


Show 0 replies

Bring your short stories to life

Fuse character, story, and conflict with tools in the Reedsy Book Editor. 100% free.