“Last night I dreamt that I had died.”
“You dreamt that you were dead?”
The patient thought for a moment. “No. I dreamt that I had died.”
The doctor thought about this pensively. “Go on.”
“Well, it was very odd, because I didn’t feel anything.”
“What should you have felt?” The doctor snuffed his cigarette out in the ashtray.
“I don’t know. It was very cold. But I didn’t feel the cold. I didn’t feel anything at all. Not sad, not relieved, not …” The patient thought for a moment, searching for the word. “… concerned. I didn’t miss anything about being alive. I was just… dead.”
“Well, … the other odd thing is that I didn’t see the light.”
“What light?” The doctor made a note on his legal pad.
“The light that you’re supposed to see when you die. The light of heaven, with your family and friends who have preceded you waiting for you in the light.”
The patient furrowed her eyebrows, agitated. “There was no light, no darkness. Only vagueness. I had simply ceased to be.”
“Um-hm,” the doctor repeated.
“It was very a odd dream.”
“It just felt like there was something… missing.” The patient thought, then added, “It felt like I was hollow.” The patient looked pensively out the window.
“Yes. Odd,” the doctor concurred.
And then he lit another cigarette.
The car ran out of gas just a few minutes past eight, about a mile short of the next exit, Cloverdale. We didn’t know if there was a gas station in Cloverdale or not at the time. We assumed there might be. We were on a major freeway, and most of the exits off of major freeways have gas stations fairly close to the exits, but we were also in the boonies.
There were four of us in the car, two couples. Frank was driving; it was his car. It wasn’t entirely his fault that we wound up out of gas in the middle of nowhere, though. The gas gauge was broken, and that gave Frank two options: stop for gas every gallon or so, or push his luck and try to count the miles. Usually, he just went ahead and got gas every morning before work, but for the road trip, he thought he’d try the other route. Tragically, he miscounted the miles.
The car rolled to a stop just past the Cloverdale — Next Exit sign. Frank tried several times to get the ignition to turn over, but we all knew what was wrong with the car. He sat back and ran his fingers through his hair.
Lucille, Frank’s wife, got out of the car. She leaned on the hood of the car, lit a cigarette, and stared out over the cornfields. Lucy and Frank had been having a fight to begin with, and running out of gas did nothing to improve her mood. She took a drag of her smoke, shook her head irritatedly, and flicked the ash onto the side of the road absently.
In response, Frank, who had been losing the fight and fuming about it, got out, slammed the door, kicked the front tire, and walked a few feet up the road. He crouched down and stared absently up the freeway.
After a second, when the reverberations from the slamming door subsided, my own husband started to lose his temper. “Great. Just great. Now what are we supposed to do?”
I shrugged, knowing the question was not particularly meant to be answered. I idly watched Lucy finish her cigarette and grind it out into the asphalt. She got back in the car and sat silent for a minute. An uncomfortable cloud hung over the inside of the car as we all stared vacantly at Frank’s crouching figure.
“So,” Lucille said at last. “Now what are we supposed to do?”
The answer to that was obvious, and so it was pointless to keep asking that question, but I kept silent just the same. Neither Lucille nor my husband seemed much in the mood for obvious answers.
Frank finally got up and walked back to the car. Leaning in the window, he asked, “C’mon, Lucille. Let’s go get some gas.”
Lucille feigned suppressing a laugh. “I’m not walking. Who knows how far it is to the next exit?”
“It’s a mile,” I said helpfully. Lucille glared at me in the rearview mirror.
“And what if there’s not a gas station there? What then?”
Frank sighed and backed away from the car, melodramatically turning away from the car and hanging his head angrily. He turned back. “Look,” he said, “I’m not walking alone. It’s getting dark already.”
“Well,” Lucille responded. “That’s your problem. I’m not going with you.”
Frank sighed heavily and kicked the door. Another uncomfortable silence set in.
“Look, this is stupid,” my husband said at last. “I’ll go with you, Frank.” He got out of the car and walked around to the driver’s side, next to Frank. “Let’s go.”
Frank leaned into the car window again. “You see this, Lucy? At least some people care about helping me out.”
Lucille continued to look out the windshield, avoiding eye contact. “Yeah, whatever.”
Frank pushed himself away from the car, gave the front tire another kick, and started off down the freeway. My husband trotted after him, hands in pockets.
“So,” Lucille said, more to herself than to me. “Now we wait.”
I grimaced sympathetically, or as sympathetically as I could, and leaned back into the seat.
After a while, I fell asleep.
“Shit! What time is it?”
I awoke with a start. It was pitch black out, and the moon, a small crescent, was high in the cloudless sky. I rubbed my eyes groggily and looked at my watch, but it was too dark to see.
“Hey,” Lucille said. “You awake? I asked what time it was.” I could tell she’d been sleeping, too. Her voice had softened; whatever anger she’d possessed about the fight she and Frank had been having was gone.
“I can’t see my watch,” I said tiredly.
Lucille reached up and turned on the dome light. “How about now?”
After letting my eyes acclimate to the sudden brightness, I looked at my watch. “Quarter after eleven.”
“What? They’ve been gone three hours?”
“That’s what my watch says.” I looked at it again. The second hand swept defiantly around.
“Jesus, I wonder what could have happened to them?”
“What do you think we should do?” Lucille asked.
“It’s awfully dark. Maybe we should keep waiting.”
“Yeah. I guess so.” She pushed the lighter in and got out a cigarette. The lighter popped out and she lit her cigarette with it. The car started to fill with smoke, but I tried to ignore it.
“But,” she said at last, “it’s been an awful long time. What if something happened to them? I don’t want to be stuck in this car all night.”
I shrugged again. “Maybe we should try to walk to Cloverdale.”
“You think so?” She took a drag of her cigarette and blew smoke out her nostrils. I suppressed a cough. “And what if there is no gas station in Cloverdale? What if they had to walk to the next exit, and we miss them?”
I shrugged a third time. “Look, I don’t know what to do. I just want to get home.”
She put her cigarette out in the ashtray and opened the car door. “You stay here,” she said decisively. “I’ll be back whenever I can.”
“Where are you going?” I asked.
“Cloverdale,” she responded, as if that had been common knowledge already. “And someone has to stay and watch the car.”
“But,” I said, “couldn’t we lock the car and leave a note in case they come back? I don’t want to be in this car all alone. What if you don’t come back?”
Lucille sighed heavily. “Fine. Come with me then. You got paper and pen?”
We left a note on the dashboard that said, “Gone to Cloverdale looking for you” and another one under a windshield wiper that said, “Gone for gas — please don’t tow.”
And then we started off down the road.
We got to Cloverdale about quarter to midnight. It was a boring walk, and dangerous in the dark. Cloverdale, it turned out, was a mile from the exit, down a lonely two-way country road. The night was getting cold, and felt ominous and overbearing. The lack of noises was particularly bothersome—the normal array of crickets and cicadas seemed to be suspiciously quiet.
Once or twice, a car rushed past us, but it was too dark to get their attention, and the nature of the driving indicated that it probably wouldn’t have done much good anyway. These weren’t people who were interested in helping travellers who had run out of gas.
Lucy spent much of the walk complaining about Frank. Their marriage had been strained of late, it seemed. Frank had been working more hours, because of some big project he was working on, and when he did get home, he was too short-tempered to be of much use. They spent the greater part of their time around each other tense and stressed. Plus, she wanted to talk about maybe having a child sometime soon, especially since he was making more money with all the overtime, and he wouldn’t hear of it. I tried to comment on my husbnad once or twice, but in truth, our relationship wasn’t really that bad. It wasn’t that good, either: it had sort of slipped into a certain married mediocrity. In a way, I envied Lucille for her and Frank’s open aggressiveness. Too often, it seemed that our marital problems just slipped into nonexistence through ignoring them.
Cloverdale, it seemed, was a typical small midwestern town. The main part of town seemed to be little more than an intersection, with a gas station on one corner, a clothing store on the second, a non-descript building on the third, and a diner on the fourth. Oddly enough, the gas station, even though it was a major chain, was closed. The diner, on the other hand, was open.
We went into the diner and looked around. There were a few people still there, here and there, sitting at tables and hovering over coffee and pieces of pie. The counterman, who was wiping down the counter with a dingy white rag, looked up surprisedly when he saw us.
“Evening, ladies,” he said. He was an odd choice for a late-night counterman, being in his thirties. I would have expected either the Norman Rockwell kindly old Mr. Jones, who owned and ran the diner now that he had retired from the tool and die shop over in the next town, or some young high school senior waiting out his last two months in high school hell before summer break and then, miracle of miracles, college and escape. “Something I can help you with?”
“We ran out of gas—” I started, but Lucille overpowered me with, “Have two guys been in here? They were supposed to come get gas.”
The counterman shook his head. “No, nobody I don’t know’s been in here all night.”
“Is there anyplace in Cloverdale to get gas at this hour?” Lucille asked.
The counterman shook his head again and wrapped the towel around his shoulders. “Not at this hour. Most businesses round here close up at dusk, and open at sunrise. I’m only open in case somebody happens by that doesn’t want to walk all the way home after sunset.”
Lucille laughed aloud. “What a bizarre concept. We walked two miles in the dark. What’s the matter with you people?”
While I was passingly surprised at Lucille’s callousness, I had to admit that I had thought the same thing. Nonetheless, I said, “Lucy, don’t be so rude.”
“Don’t ‘don’t be rude’ me. I’m being told that I can’t get gas and I have to spend the night because some hicks are afraid of the dark?”
The counterman sighed. “We’re not afraid of the dark, ma’am. We’re afraid of what’s in the dark.”
“What? Spooks? Goblins? Ghoulies and vampires?” Lucille turned to me. “C’mon, let’s get out of here. The guys probably walked to the next town.”
She took my wrist and demonstratively pulled me toward the door.
“Please, ladies, don’t go back out there,” the counterman said. “The next town is five miles down the road. By that time, it might be too late. It’s safer to just stay here for the night. I can get you some coffee, free, if you want.”
“We’re not afraid of the dark. We’re not two namby-pamby women who curl up at the sound of a cricket or two.” Lucy squeezed my wrist harder and moved toward the door again.
“You won’t hear crickets tonight. There aren’t any out there to make noise. They’re scared too.” The counterman had moved out from behind the counter and was trying to come between us and the door.
Lucy burst out laughing. “The crickets are scared? What sort of hogwash is that? What in the world do the crickets have to be afraid of?” Lucy’s mock bravado was starting to bother me.
He set his shoulders, trying to make himself look taller and more confident, and looked around the room, trying to gain support. The other patrons were idly watching our exchange, as if they’d tired of the speech long ago but still had to sit through it. “The moonshadow.”
“The moonshadow? What on earth is that?”
The counterman stood up straighter, but visibly felt his composure weakening. This was not the first time he’d engendered ridicule, apparently. “Nobody knows.”
She looked at him long and hard. “It’s no wonder I’ve never heard of Cloverdale,” she said at last. “This town is filled with crazies. Please step aside.” She put her hand on the door and clenched my wrist harder.
The counterman moved to one side, but swallowed hard. “People have died,” he said hesitantly.
Lucille stopped for a second, then moved onward. Her grasp weakened for a second, and I pulled away. “Lucy, stop,” I said. “This is starting to scare me.”
Lucy turned around sharply. “What, you too? Jesus, why me? Why couldn’t Frank have gotten that damn gauge fixed like he was supposed to?”
“This is no laughing matter,” the counterman said. “And we’re not just dumb hicks. Twenty people have died in the last year from being out at night. Fourteen others have seen the Moonshadow.” His words came pouring out like a flood which had been held back by his persistent fear of ridicule. “People have learned, you don’t go out at night. That’s his realm.”
Lucy turned back to the door, pushed it open in frustration, and marched determinedly out into the intersection. She stopped short right in the middle of the crossroads, and stood silently for a long moment. I watched her from behind the screen of the diner’s door.
She looked back at the diner and made eye contact with me. In her eyes, I saw her disappointment in me. I had always been the frightened one. We had known each other since grade school, and she was always the one taking the dares and I was the one who was always hiding in my room when things got sticky. It wasn’t that I was particularly frightened of things I had to do, I just never saw anything noble about getting into dangerous situations just to prove how fearless I was. Lucy, though, revelled in dares.
And Lucille had been dared. The counterman had dared her. The closed gas station had dared her. This whole town, with its intersection’s worth of life, had dared her.
It had double dared her, and she was taking the dare.
Giving me one last burst of ice, she walked off down the road in the direction of the freeway. The other town, Ferrisburg, was five miles away.
I pushed the door open suddenly and stepped into the parking lot. “Lucy, wait—”
She turned back to me. “You coming?” she asked.
“No — I — I just don’t think you should go.”
She laughed, not at me, but at the municipality of Cloverdale, and walked off down the road. I watched her disappearing into the night. Part of me wanted to run after her, but I knew that I wouldn’t get her to come back, and I wasn’t sure that I could go with her. So I stood in the parking lot, torn with indecision, and in the meantime she disappeared into the darkness.
And I went back into the diner.
“Henry Parker was the first to die,” Bill was saying as he poured me a mug of coffee. I sat at the counter, alone; the others were sitting at tables, seemingly not aware of each others’ existence. One or two had fallen back asleep; the altercation had provided them minimal entertainment, but now they had faded off again.
Bill was the counterman’s name, incidentally. At least, that was the name embroidered into his shirt. I hadn’t noticed it before, in all the hoopla. Now the diner was becoming strangely comforting, like another home. The night, outside, was evil and dark; this was safety.
I thought about Lucille out there. Even worse, I thought about Frank and my husband. What had become of them? Why hadn’t they even stopped in at the diner?
I supposed that they might have changed their minds, or went the wrong way at the exit. The signs to Cloverdale weren’t very prominent. Four miles the other way, the sign had said, was Ferrisburg. Maybe they’d gone to Ferrisburg.
That was probably it. That would’ve taken them three hours, easy, to walk ten miles. Maybe more. And maybe Ferrisburg was like Cloverdale, and they’d had to go farther.
Or maybe they’d gone off to the next exit, seeing how far Cloverdale and Ferrisburg were from that one. It was only six miles further to the next exit, and there had been signs saying that they had all sorts of gas stations and restaurants at the next exit. Great River, that was the name of the city. A largish city, for these parts, if I remembered correctly.
Or maybe Moonshadow had gotten them.
Whatever Moonshadow was.
“Henry’d been walking home at night once. He’d been real quiet, and that was sort of odd, people said, because he’d just been laid off. Everyone said he was taking it real well. But Henry had always been like that. Life just gave him kick in the crotch after kick in the crotch, and he never seemed to complain. He’d never laugh, either, mind you. He just took it like a man. At least, that’s what he’d say. A man, he said, took whatever garbage life gave him and asked for more. That’s all he’d ever say about it. And he was always so quiet. Not an emotional man at all.”
I sipped my coffee tentatively. Bill wasn’t interesting me all that much, but the drone of his voice made the night seem more distant.
“So, one night, he was walking home alone, and he never did make it. His sister, Betty, called the police looking for him around three in the morning. He was living with his sister and her husband because he’d just gotten divorced, so that’s why she called. They looked for him, but it was a really dark night, and they didn’t turn anything up. In the morning, out by the river, on the bridge next to the Tanner place, they found him. Bits of him, anyway.”
He stopped and looked uncomfortable. I looked up from my coffee, knowing that I probably didn’t want to ask the question I was about to ask, but needing to ask it anyway. “Bits?”
“It was like he’d just… blown up. Something blew up and pieces of him were scattered all over the place. It was… disturbing.”
I looked down into my coffee, feeling suddenly very ill. Why did Lucille have to leave? Why did the car have to run out of gas here, of all places, of all the little hick towns in the world?
A middle-aged man at a nearby table burst out laughing. “I still remember the look on Deputy Parker’s face. He was sick for two weeks.”
“Thanks, Sheriff,” Bill said half-heartedly. “Let’s not try to scare the visitors too much, okay? She just wants to make it to the morning, then she’s gone.”
The Sheriff laughed again, and, shaking his head, took a hearty sip of coffee and looked out the window. “He was the worst one, Bill.”
“Yeah,” Bill concurred. “All the rest have just been like animal attacks. But the survivors don’t see animals. The bodies are torn up, like a mountain cat did it or something, but the people who have escaped just don’t see anything.”
“They see a shadow,” the Sheriff corrected.
Bill shook his head slowly. “That’s what they say. A shadow. In the middle of the night. That’s why we call it the Moonshadow.”
The room grew silent. I didn’t really want to hear any more, but the stories weren’t as bad as listening to the silence, to the eerie lack of crickets. “So, what about the survivors? How did they escape?”
“Mostly, they were with other people. Moonshadow usually strikes people walking alone, but occasionally it catches pairs or even groups of people. It caught a group of five people once, and only two of them got away. Basically, it’s whoever runs the fastest. You find out who your friends are then, sure enough. They’re not back with you, trying to help. Nope, they’re off like nobody’s business.”
I thought about Lucille, out there, alone, and a wave of guilt swept over me. Then I envisioned the Moonshadow catching us both, and me being left behind as Lucille ran off, and the wave of guilt subsided.
Everyone for themselves, though? Just because Lucy would have left me to perish, I should do the same to her? What kind of friend was I? What kind of person was I?
“I know what you’re thinking, ma’am, and you’re wrong. You’re not the first ones to stop in here. I imagine you figured that out. Five of the twenty, all of the most recent ones, have been strangers, like yourself. Some of them have been pairs of folks that came in, and one of them left. She left because she wanted to, not because you made her. What happens to her is her decision, not yours.”
I looked at Bill and wondered how he could have known what was going through my head, then let it fade.
“On the other hand, others have come in here and left and nothing’s ever happened to them, so far as we know. They get back in their broken down cars and get them towed or get gas and go home, and tell their friends about the weird hicks down in Cloverdale.”
I sighed and looked down into the coffee mug. Despite my fear, a thought had been lingering behind all the others. “No offense, but how do I know this is real? How do I know you’re not just making this all up to scare some female travellers?”
The Sheriff came over to me and slapped a packet down on the counter. “Used to get that question all the time, which is why I took to carrying these.”
He moved his hand, and I saw that it was a pile of photographs. The top photo was of poor Henry Parker, or rather what was left of him. The second one, which was also visible, was of a woman with a scratch mark extending across her face.
I covered my mouth and ran for the bathroom. Behind me, the Sheriff was laughing. “Works every time.”
“Sheriff,” Bill was saying impatiently, “you are such an asshole.”
A snippet of a dream:
I was eight years old again. So was Lucille, for that matter. We were playing truth or dare. We were in the basement at my parents’ house, which at the time was still my house, too.
“Truth or dare?” she asked.
“What’s the dare?” I asked, hesitantly. I never liked to play Truth or Dare with her, but she always insisted, and it was either play Truth or Dare with her or wind up getting wrestled to the ground until I cried.
She smiled and stared me straight in the eyes. “Tongue kiss me.”
I frowned. “I don’t like playing with you. That’s an awful dare, and you keep using it.”
“I’ll keep using it until you take it.” She stuck her tongue out momentarily, half in mockery, half as a dare. “And you never will. Chicken.”
I took the truth. I don’t remember what the truth was; it was embarassing. But I always took the truth with Lucille.
I woke up with a falling sensation. I found myself on the floor, next to the barstool I’d been sitting on. My head hurt from where I’d knocked it against the bar on the way down.
Truth or dare. Lucille had always taken the dare, I had always taken the truth. She’d double-dare and triple-dare and even quadruple-dare with super ultra dare chargers, until I started crying and ran off home. Looking back on it, I don’t know why I put up with it. Mostly, it was because Lucy was one of the only girls who would talk to me, and her parents were friends with my parents, so I just stuck with her a lot whether I wanted to or not.
I took the truth. She knew my innermost secrets, my most embarassing thoughts and fantasies, all my nightmares and all my dreams. I knew nothing about her, and she knew everything about me.
My head ached as I got up. I looked at my watch. 3:15. Late. Real late, and still no sign of either the guys or of Lucille. Everybody else in the diner was asleep; apparently, my fall hadn’t made enough noise to wake them.
I turned and looked out the window. Pitch black, the darkest it had been. Maybe it was just the light contrast inside and out, but it was frighteningly black.
I looked around the diner again. The Sheriff had fallen asleep and was snoring loudly. Bill sat behind the counter, asleep upright on a ratty old director’s chair.
I tried to remember what had happened between when the Sheriff had shown me the pictures and now, and with the exception of the dream, I couldn’t. I had vague recollections of more talking, but it was little more than faded memories. Now, in this silent room, everything had taken on a demonically chilled surrealism. The dream had been painfully real; this now seemed painfully dreamlike.
I looked out into the night again.
Truth or dare. Lucille had taken the dare.
And now it was time for the truth.
I set my jaw with firm resolve and headed out into the night.
“Moonshadow!” I shouted, standing in the middle of the crossroads. The lights of the diner hummed ominously behind me. The sudden fear that I had somehow, in my half-awake state, made a terrible mistake by leaving the diner came over me. But rather than run back, rather than even look back, I set my jaw harder and shouted Moonshadow’s name again.
I was answered by the cricketless silence of the Cloverdale night.
Once, twice, and so a third time: “Moonshadow!” This time, I had mustered every bit of volume I had within me. “I demand your presence.”
The numbness of sleep had still not completely lifted itself from my mind, and as it continued to do so, two feelings came over me simultaneously: the urge to scream at what I was doing, in confronting the completely unknown, at the risk of my life, and the urge to laugh at the situation, the comedy of it all. I saw myself detached from my body, standing with the dark red glow of the diner to my back, facing into the west. I fought the urge to collapse there, in the middle of the crossroads, tautly curled like a fetus in my own imagined womb, or to run off into the night, or to run back into the diner to hide under the counter. I stood there, on the inside an overflow of emotions, on the outside a cold hard rock of resolve.
And still there was silence.
I felt as if I would burst, and still there was silence.
A cold chill suddenly inched up my spine. What had I just said? My mind ran itself back, and thought of the photos of the dead. Poor old Henry Parker. It looked like he had just blown up. I felt as if I would burst. A feeling I knew well, pushing down what I wanted to express because I was too afraid of drawing attention to myself, too afraid of hurting other people that I just swallowed anger after anger and emotion after emotion.
I screamed then. It wasn’t a scream of tension, it was a scream of release. My chest ached and my heart felt lighter and lighter as I poured out my fear, my ridicule, my anger, my frustration into the Cloverdale night. I could sense that the sleepers in the diner had woken up, and were watching me, but I didn’t care. I screamed until my throat hurt, ached, burned from the scream, until my lungs gasped for air and my heart beat in my ears. At first, my hands were clenched in fists, my arms pulled taut against my sides, but instead I opened my hands, and pushed my arms up into the air, pushing the energy out instead of pulling it back inwards.
I fell to me knees then, and covered my face with my hands as tears streamed down my face. I hadn’t cried in seven years; I had even forgotten that I could cry. I had forgotten that, deep down below the cold detachment, I had emotions.
Why had the car broken down? Why tonight of all nights, why here of all places? Or were all towns like Cloverdale harboring their own Moonshadows, waiting to be discovered?
My chest hurt as I struggled to regain my composure, but my tears, pent up after years of suppression, would not be denied.
I looked back up into the night sky, but it was gone.
The light from the diner was gone.
Even the electric hum was gone.
Another chill, the coldest one so far, swept over me. In my self-rage, in my emotional outburst, I had forgotten where I was and what I had done.
I was enshrouded in darkness, a darkness so thick that I was hardly even aware that my eyes were open. Another scream tried to burst forth, but I was too hoarse to let it. Instead, I took a deep breath and stared out into the darkness.
Moonshadow had come.
My first reaction was to close my eyes, steel myself, and wait for the onslaught. If I’d tried to run, I wouldn’t have been able to. For one thing, I couldn’t see—I didn’t even remember what direction the diner was in. For another, it was too dark to see. For a third, something in me knew that my legs wouldn’t work if I tried to make them; that they would collapse like useless twigs under my weight if I tried to use them.
But this was the moment for truth, not for passively taking whatever came to me. I had not come running out of the diner into certain danger just to sit passively by and be slaughtered like little more than a fly. I had been a fly too long.
I opened my eyes, and it was no longer dark. Moonshadow had moved close enough now that I could see some details, but still it kept a certain distance. It circled around me, but it would not enter into the crossroads with me.
It had no eyes, but I could feel it looking quizzically at me. I had called it here, but it didn’t have to come. Why had it? It wanted to know why I had called it—that’s what I sensed from it. I could feel its thoughts rolling over and over again, angry thoughts, frightened thoughts, as if they were my own thoughts. It had been human once. It had been…
Henry, how was school today? The boys picked on me again, Dad. Oh, Henry, why can’t you be a real man? I don’t know. Where did I go wrong?
Hey, Hank, where’d you get the geeky clothes? Leave me alone. Oh, Hank, and who’s going to stop us? Just leave me alone. What’s the matter, Hank, you want your mommy? Shut up! Shut up! Look at Hank, crying like a sissyboy!
Henry Parker, we got a call from your father a few minutes ago, which is why I had Miss Phelps to send you down here. It’s about your mother. Please sit down. This isn’t going to be easy. From how quiet you’re being, I imagine you might already know.
Henry, what’s the matter? Nothing. Don’t you want to go to the dance with me? No, it’s fine; it’s nothing. Henry, I wish you’d talk to me.
I’ve seen some strange bagboys in my day, Parker, but you’re the strangest. I’m sorry, Mr. Harnish. Well, you’re bothering the customers, so if things don’t improve soon, I’m going to have to let you go.
Henry, when do you want to get married? I don’t care. Well, do you want to get married? I guess so. I’m only asking because my mother wants us to get married soon. Why can’t you talk to me?
I’m leaving, Henry. I can’t take this silence anymore. Just talk, damnit, just talk!
Look at the sissy boy.
Why can’t you be a real man?
Where did I go wrong?
I pushed my fists against my temples to keep the thoughts out, but they fought to find their way in. Henry had been stoic, like me, but a million times more so. I felt like Ebeneezer Scrooge, with the ghost of Marley worming its way into my skull, into my mind.
I wanted Moonshadow to shut up; I wanted Moonshadow to pull back into the self-inflicted hell it had put itself in. A lifetime’s worth of anguish, balled up in a fit of rage, wandered, aimless, throughout my deepest consciousness.
But whose anguish was it? Henry Parker’s, or mine?
Or both of ours?
I opened my eyes again. There was the figure of a human, a smallish man, directly before me. It was just a shadow, nothing else; the body had gone long before. It looked at me, or so I sensed, and I knew that it was more cohesive than it had ever been before. It approached me again, but did not cross over into the center of the intersection.
I held up a hand. My left hand, palm facing towards Moonshadow, pushing against it. “No.” I said. “I know what you need, but it’s too late now. You’re too much for me now. You’re too much for anyone.”
Tears welled up inside me as I looked out at the dark form, hunching over. Moonshadow could not cry; there were no eyes for the tears to come out of. Moonshadow could not scream; it had no mouth anymore to scream with.
I held my hand out more firmly.
The shadow before me waivered for a moment, then dissolved into the night.
Tired and emotional, I collapsed to the ground.
I woke up with the sun hitting me in the face. I had collapsed into a fetal ball, but now I lay out flat, face up, arms outstretched. I couldn’t tell if I was a fallen bird or a grounded swimmer, and wasn’t sure if it much mattered. I was alive: that was all that mattered. I felt more alive now than I ever had before.
Moonshadow would be back; this much I knew. Cloverdale had created Moonshadow, and it was stuck with Moonshadow now. Even if Henry Parker’s ghost went away, they would still fear the Moonshadow. It existed independentally of him now, even though it was still a part of him.
It turned out, ultimately, that the guys had gone to Ferrisburg instead, and finding no gas there, had gone back to the car. A State Patrol car found them there at seven, and had driven them off to Great River, and gave them a big lecture on keeping cars in good repair, and on deserting cars at night, and the dangers of wandering around small towns in the dark, and so on. They finally found me around eight-thirty. I wasn’t quite sure about the time; my watch had been broken when I fell on the ground.
And poor old Lucille? Nobody knows. We never did find her. We drove to Ferrisburg, but apparently, she’d never made it. We read the Great River Journal for a few weeks, and though there were two other “mysterious” cat attacks, there was no report of Lucy. Frank was broken up about it, especially since they’d been fighting when he saw her last, but he wouldn’t talk about it. I tried, but he just didn’t want to talk.
I imagine she’s still out there. Maybe Henry Parker went off to wherever people go when they’re done on this planet and made Lucille take his place. Maybe she just disappeared into the night, into the country. Maybe she’s still there, at night, wandering around Cloverdale, daring Moonshadow to get her. You could always try to find her.
I dare you.
I double-dare you.
“Last night I dreamt that I was dead.”
“Again?” The doctor flipped through his notes to find last week’s scribbles.
“No, not again. Last week I dreamt that I had died, but that I wasn’t dead. This week I dreamt that I was dead, but that I hadn’t died.”
“Oh.” The doctor lit a cigarette. “I see.” Actually, he didn’t. “So, how was that different?”
“It was much nicer. It was like still being alive, only different. It wasn’t a good feeling, it wasn’t a bad feeling, but it was, at least, a feeling.”
The doctor had found his notes from the previous week. “Did you see the light this time?”
The patient rustled. “What light?”
“You said that last week. ‘The light that you’re supposed to see when you die.’ Something about the light of heaven.”
The patient shook her head. “No. But it didn’t matter this time.”
“Because nothing was missing. Everything was as it should be.” She looked out the window pensively. “It was still an odd dream, though.”
“Yes,” the doctor concurred. “Odd.”
And then he snuffed his cigarette out.