The butterfly effect

Pauline Wong

A young boy forms a peculiar friendship and learns about the beauty of nature - but is it too little too late as the world becomes increasingly polluted by its own inhabitants?

Pauline Wong |

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This story was written by Pauline Wong, a 15-year-old student from Maryknoll Convent School.

This story is one of the finalists of Young Post’s 2017 Summer Short Story Competition. Each week during the holidays, we will publish one of the finalists’ stories. The winning entry will appear in Young Post on August 26

The windows blacken and splinter; shards of glass slash through the air as dark smoke fills the room, swallowing everyone in it.

The sky is a filthy shade of grey and the clouds boom triumphantly. Gone are the days you could spend under the nurture of the sun, and nights illuminated by the glimmer of the stars.

The air is dry and suffocating. It’s a heavy strain to breathe on Earth. People’s eyes are blank. Vulnerable lost souls. A fragile man kneels on the cracked cement, eyes glued to the broken sky, his heart torn.

“You promised.”


Lucius was four when he met his best friend. It was the era of perfect innocence, with carefree mornings at the park, and playful afternoons on the beach.

The district he lived in was the only place he knew. He wondered where the clouds went when they left his sight; he didn’t understand why the stars moved every night, or why the moon appeared to follow him wherever he went.

He was young and unfamiliar with the world, and he was surprised when another kid spoke to him at the park.

“Don’t pick the flower, you’ll hurt it,” frowned the boy.

“How do you know?” Lucius asked.

“Because it hurts me, right here,” replied the boy, pointing at his shirt pocket, right by his heart.

Lucius smiled and stood up from the soil, carefully avoiding any flowers.

“You’re funny. I like you,” said Lucius, before he offered his hand. “I’m Lucius.”


Nature’s beauty

Terran was weird but nice. He loved nature, and treated all plants as if they were the last of their kind. Growing up, Lucius would see Terran visit the park a lot, watching the flowers dance in the breeze.

In autumn, Terran would pick up the fallen leaves scattered around the park. He would run his fingers along the veins of the leaves and crack a smile before slipping it into his trusty journal.

Sometimes, Terran would bring Lucius a few leaves. Lucius always thought they were more beautiful than any of the leaves piling up in his own backyard. Every now and then, he would catch Terran sneaking out at night to lie in the garden behind his house. The following day, Lucius would find mushrooms growing in the exact spot where Terran had been sitting.

To Lucius, Terran was magical. He was full of dreams and imagination; he had an air around him that reminded Lucius of a pixie, a real-life Tinker Bell.

With Terran by his side, Lucius’ life was full of pleasant surprises and beautiful moments; cheerful memories engraved deep into his mind. They were companions. Best friends.

Growing up beside you

Puberty was a rocky time, which was to be expected. Lucius experienced his fair share of tear-soaked pillows, of throwing his textbooks across the floor in frustration. He spent days where he did nothing but lie in bed. He had crushes, got into relationships, and suffered heartbreaks.

But adolescence seemed to affect Terran differently. He was easily overwhelmed by the state of the weather. Terran occasionally shed tears when it rained, and Lucius would stay by his side and comfort him until he stopped.

“I can’t believe it,” muttered Terran one day, staring at the ceiling. “How could they cut it down?”

Lucius sighed. “It had to be done, Terran. The tree was harming the school. The roots were breaking the pip–”

“Yeah, but they could have moved it somewhere else instead of completely chopping it down!” he cried, just as the first streak of lightning ripped through the sky.

“It’s not fair! The tree was in so much pain! I could feel it right here,” he said, jabbing his stomach. “I feel sick.”

Terran had never explained to Lucius why the environment was such a concern, but maybe he didn’t need to. He had always wanted to be an environmentalist, and pledged he would solve the world’s environmental problems and end climate change once and for all.

Even when he was younger, Terran would be distraught when he’d see turtles caught in plastic bags, or when a park was being demolished to make way for more housing. He’d be upset whenever he read about the pollution in major cities, so much so that he’d say he felt physically ill.

“Why is pollution still a problem today? With all the advanced technology you humans have invented, how are you not doing something to stop it?” Terran asked.

Lucius tightened his hug and shook his head, as though the physical action could silence the echoes in his mind. What did Terran mean by “you humans”?



“I’m sorry.”

“You should be.”

Breaking news

Lucius clutched Terran’s hand tightly as they both stared at the television, unable to allow the breaking news to fully sink in. Even though Lucius’ eyes were glued to the screen, he could tell there were tears streaming down his friend’s face.

“Hey, it’ll be alright. People aren’t stupid, y’know?” Lucius said, trying to sound as casual as possible. “You’re an environmentalist; you can do something to stop this.”

His words of encouragement drew a strained, bitter smile from Terran before he turned away to stare at the weeping sky outside.

“Don’t you know? Rumours only grow. Soon, everyone is going to believe in that nonsense he said. They’ll think climate change is nothing but conspiracies made up by environmentalists. Countries will stop caring and then...” he paused for a big breath. “The underdogs will rise.”

Time passed.

The chaos worsened.

The big promise

The door flew open and Lucius glided in. Terran, who was working on his laptop, looked up at the unreadable expression on Lucius’ face, eyebrow raised.

“We need to talk.”

Terran wrapped a shaky hand around his mug, waiting and shifting uncomfortably as Lucius made a drink for himself. He watched silently as Lucius dropped into the chair opposite him with a heavy sigh.

“I’ve been trying to piece everything together since the day I met you, and ...” he gestured vaguely, as if he was sweeping away the invisible chatter in the air. “When you say it hurts you to see nature suffer, do you mean it like ... literally?”

Terran stared into his mug. He took a sip of his coffee before looking up. “I was wondering when you would realise.”

Lucius’s jaw dropped. He stared at the person in front of him. His friend, whom he had shared so many memories with, was more than just a boy.

“So, are you telling me you’re not human? Are you a spirit or a god or something?”

“That’s one way to look at it,” said Terran. He picked at the wooden splinters of the table.

“I feel pain when something bad is done to the environment. I know when there’s a nuclear leak, or where the air is polluted. All of that happens to me, affects me, directly.”

Lucius felt as though Terran had become weaker in the last few moments; all of a sudden, he appeared tired and fragile, the lines on his forehead darker than usual.

“Lucius, the world is falling apart. We won’t last long –

I won’t last long. You need to promise me: don’t do anything to hurt us again,” said Terran.

“I promise,” Lucius swore and crossed his heart.

The butterfly effect

Terran dropped to his knees, one arm clutched around his waist. He felt his guts warping and tearing apart inside of him, poison seeping into his veins.

But what hurt the most was the heartbreak; the constant stabs of betrayal from Earth. When he looked up, he saw Lucius rushing towards him.

“Terran! What’s going on? What’s wrong?” he blurted, caressing Terran’s face with his shaky hand.

Terran mustered a bitter smile and a painful chuckle.

“Do you realise what you’ve done?”

Lucius stared around him. Flowers in the garden had shrivelled up. Leaves on the trees had turned an ugly shade of yellow. Lucius gaped at the sight, and the knowledge that Terran was experiencing the same pain only made things worse.

He turned to look at his best friend – his youth was withering away, leaving a broken man on the floor.

“What do you mean? It ... that ... it was only a small project to boost the company’s profits. It wouldn’t have hurt this much. It shouldn’t have...”

Terran lowered his head in disagreement.

“Have you heard of the butterfly effect, Lucius? If a butterfly flaps its wings in just the right place at just the right time, it can cause a hurricane thousands of miles away. That ‘small project’ of yours was the flapping of a butterfly’s wings.”

Terran watched the horror unfold on Lucius’ face.

“That’s what you humans do. Damage everything bit by bit until it’s past the point of salvation, and then refuse to take the blame for it,” he muttered.

“Terran, I am so, so sorry.”

He raised his bony finger. “None of that.”

He coughed violently, and blood started to drip from his pale lips.

These last moments

Lucius immediately scooped the broken old man into his arms, cupping the back of his head.

His heart broke when he saw Terran’s eyes dilate, his breathing becoming increasingly laboured and uneven.

“Take these last moments to look at the hellhounds you helped raise. It could have been better. Look at that beautiful sea. It’s coming in, and we don’t have to go down the beach to see it anymore.”

It was, as Terran said, rolling in.

Lucius stuttered and forced himself to choke down all the words he wanted to say. He turned around to look at the world he helped create; the world he had helped to destroy.

He felt the ground rumbling underneath him. The floor began to shake and loosen, and the dust settled into this clothes, clinging onto him like a second layer of skin.

Lucius closed his eyes just as the first colossal wave from the sea struck him.

Edited by Andrew McNicol