Lunatic

Well, this is my longest story to date. I have plenty of criticisms for it, most of which are concerned with the plot holes that seem to erupt when I write something over 5,000 words. Even with its flaws, though, I enjoyed it, and no one can tell me it’s not at least original. The idea came like this: My muse (he’s the crazy hobo that lives in my mind) ventured over the gigantic trash dump of my mind and found an odd fact: the word ‘Lunatic’ is derived from the word ‘lunar’. Not caring whether it was true or not, I said, ‘cool, go find me more stuff so I can make a story.’ He obliged, but I got a little excited with some of the things he found and tried to include perhaps too many of them. Enjoy!

Lunatic

 

By Ben Pienaar

 

1

The classroom was dark, and so was the day. The only person who seemed not to mind was the Loon. He was actually smiling – smirking, really, and Chris Hoggs was seized with an immediate urge to wipe it from his face. He turned in his chair in time to catch Nick Sowe rolling his eyes, and they chuckled.

 ‘Boys got something you should share with the class, do you?’ Mr. Cane said. Mr. Cane was a rake with a stern face. Even his hair looked rusted and rake like, but despite his ridiculous appearance, even the toughest boys in St. Johns didn’t like to make him mad.

 ‘No, sir, nothing at all,’ Nick said, and Chris smiled politely.

 ‘Alright then.’

 So they held their peace until the final bell echoed through the halls, and Mr. Cane turned to rub out the board.

The Loon knew what was coming. He cast a quick glance behind him as he stood to pick up his books, caught sight of Nick and Chris homing in like sharks to a dying seal, and headed for the door. He was quick, but he only had one way home and they knew it: the cobbled alley that was Church road.

 They let him go and met him there a few minutes later, stepping out of the shadows in front of him, blocking his way. It was already getting dark and Chris imagined what they must look like emerging from the gloom. He felt a familiar thrill churn inside him. The Loon stopped and took two steps back, looking startled but not completely scared. He had his hands thrust deep into the pockets of his heavy black blazer, and tendrils of greasy hair hung over an impossibly pale face. ‘What do you want?’ he said, his voice a scratchy whisper. Ah, there was the fear, thought Chris, and immediately felt reassured.

 ‘You’d have thought he’d get used to it by now, wouldn’t you?’ Nick said, half smiling.

 ‘Then again, he is the Loon. Not right up there, are ya?’ Chris said, tapping his head.

 The Loon backed away a step, but they didn’t mind. The alley to his right was a dead end, and his house was behind them. Loon manor, the kids called it – a colossal structure at the end of a kilometer long gravel driveway at the end of Church road.

 ‘You owe two day’s safety, Loony boy,’ Nick said, flicking his hair off his face.

 ‘I thought it was three, Nick,’ Chris said. ‘He didn’t pay Monday, did he? He gave us the slip and thought he’d get away with it.’

 ‘True, true,’ Nick said. ‘How ‘bout this, Loon? You can pay us Monday, Tuesday, AND Wednesday, or you can pay for two days and take the beating for the last.’

 The Loon was starting to look scared now. His eyes darted into the alley. ‘Don’t have money for you today,’ he said, still in that thick whisper.

 Chris was surprised, but not disappointed. Most kids were so good these days, you barely ever got the chance to let off some steam. He felt his heartbeat spike and a smile spread his lips. He caught the same look on Nick’s face and they stepped forward.

 ‘I got something else instead,’ the Loon said quickly. ‘A deal.’

 They hesitated.

 ‘I’ll give you something else, something real expensive. And then, you leave me alone. For good.’

 ‘Rest of the term, maybe,’ Chris said. ‘Depends on how good it is.’ He realised he wasn’t even joking, either. Who knew what kind of treasures a boy from the Loon manor could get them. And if they kept their end, they could squeeze him for more.

 The Loon looked doubtful.

 Chris turned to Nick. ‘Look, if it’s good, he gets what he wants. Otherwise, we stomp him, yeah?’ Then, almost imperceptibly, he winked.

 Nick shrugged, pretending to be disappointed. ‘Fine.’

 ‘See? We’re good for it. What you got?’

 The Loon took another step back and onto the curb so that he was just on the corner of the narrow alley. Where he planned to go down there, Chris didn’t know: it ended in a dumpster and fifteen feet of wire fence.

 He took his hands out of his pockets and showed them what he had. If he hadn’t taken that last step back, Chris might have been able to snatch the coins out of his hands, but at this distance he knew he wouldn’t make it.

 ‘What’s this junk?’ he said. ‘Two silver coins? That won’t buy you an hour of safety, mate.’

 ‘Not coins,’ the Loon said. Then he let out a bizarre chuckle, an irregular series of semi shrieks that had helped earn him his nickname. He sounded like a sick monkey. ‘Medallions. Pure silver, boys. Worth a hundred pounds each.’

 Nick raised his eyebrows. ‘You for real?’

 ‘Well, if he’s not…’ Chris said, keeping his eyes on the Loon’s – they stared back, so pale the irises almost merged with the whites. ‘We’ll make sure he regrets it. Pretty easy to get these valued, isn’t it?’

 ‘So, it’s a deal? No more for the rest of the term?’ The Loon said. He was breathing fast, his breath coming out in steady puffs of mist.

 Chris stared at those bright circles of metal in the other boy’s palms and nodded. The Loon flicked them the coins and both boys caught them in the air and pocketed them.

 ‘So as I was saying,’ Chris went on. ‘They pay for the rest of the term. Of course, the rest of the term doesn’t really account for the last few days, does it, Nick?’ Nick saw where he was heading and grinned. ‘Which means you still owe us three days’ worth. And since you don’t have any more coins on you…’ They advanced.

 The Loon’s face changed from confusion to terror, and he almost stumbled on the curb as he backed away. If he had, they’d have caught him for sure, but as they lunged after him he turned tail and sprinted into the dark.

 They didn’t chase him, just as they hadn’t chased him out of the school, because once again they knew there was nowhere to go. Instead they rounded the corner, blocking off the only escape, and moved down the alley after him. It wasn’t a long way, and both of them heard his footsteps skid to a stop at the end. Nick chuckled and Chris began to crack his knuckles in his pre beating ritual. What they saw next would haunt them both for the rest of their lives, and though they both saw it, they never mentioned it to each other again.

 At the end of the alley, where it was too dark to see anything at all, two circular lights appeared. It reminded Chris of those documentaries you saw of Hyena feeding at night, and the odd laugh that followed was also not unlike them. Still watching them, the eyes moved to the right, rose, and then went a back to the centre of the alley again. There was the hollow clonk of something landing on top of the dumpster and then the eyes rose again, with frightening speed, until they were looking down from a height of about fifteen feet. Then they disappeared. A sound almost as light as a cat landing on carpet followed this, and then nothing. The Loon was gone.

 They walked home in silence, Nick uttering a shaky goodbye as Chris left him on his street. Only in the safety of his own home did he begin to think properly. His first thought was that he and Nick were going to leave the Loon alone from now on. Nick wouldn’t say anything, he knew. This was the kind of time when you just took your winnings and left, and forget absolutely everything. He thought Nick had seen the same thing as he had. Maybe. But if he tried to talk about it with him, Nick would deny it, make a joke, call him crazy. No, what you did with a thing like that was forget it, and that was all.

2

 That was exactly what Chris did, but even so the school days weren’t the same afterwards. They acted the same, outwardly, even to the Loon kid. They couldn’t let anyone think he’d got the better of them, and he never seemed to mind what they said. If it hadn’t, things might have been different. Once, Nick said something funny (a rare occurrence) about him and everyone laughed. The Loon spun around in his chair and gave Nick a wide grin that sent shivers scuttling all over Chris’s skin and made him grip his desk. No one else, including Nick, saw the grin, but he did.

 They stayed well away from him, and Chris even nursed a hope that things would return to normal. A few days later, he noticed that Nick wasn’t looking so good. He took to walking around all hunched up, barely saying a word and looking like he hadn’t slept in days.

They were hanging behind the Gymnasium, smoking and looking mean like usual, when he said something to Chris for the first time. He glanced around, as if checking for teachers, and then turned to him, exhaling the last drag through his nostrils.

 ‘Hey man. You been having those dreams?’

 Chris raised his eyebrows. ‘What?’

 ‘Nothing.’ He leaned back against the wall. ‘You check out your coin yet?’

 ‘Pretty sweet, yeah? Bet my life those things are pure silver.’

 Nick nodded. He took another drag and stared at the clouds. ‘What do you think they are, then?’

 Chris shrugged. That was something he hadn’t been able to work out. To him, his coin just looked like a flat circle of silver. A bit rough in the middle, but that was all. No patterns or pictures at all. He hadn’t so much as looked at his or touched it since dropping it in his pocket.

 ‘Know what I think?’

 ‘What?’

 ‘I think they’re the moon, man. I think they’re meant to be little silver moons.’

 Chris laughed, and then saw Nick staring at him.

 ‘You alright, mate?’ Chris said.

 Nick nodded and half smiled, looking cool again. Then the smile faltered horribly and he dropped his cigarette. ‘Sure you haven’t had those dreams?’

 ‘No man.’

 Nick hunched over and pulled his hood over his face. ‘Catch ya later, man, I’m going home.’

 Chris watched him go, perplexed, and then pulled his little silver circle out of his jacket pocket and looked at it. It did look like the moon, he thought to himself. In fact, the more he looked, the more he thought that yes, it was the moon. Why hadn’t he seen that before?

3

 The next day Nick wasn’t at morning roll call. The way he’d been looking, Chris supposed he was sick. It was, after all, cold enough to lose skin on metal. Chris decided to hunker down in the library.

 He got bored of the dusty place after about five minutes and hung around near the back, waiting for Mrs. Drum to look the other way so he could sneak into the ‘out of bounds’ section. The ‘out of bounds’ section was where the door to the Teacher’s lounge was, and also where their pigeonholes were, lined up against the wall like safe deposit boxes at the post office. He and Nick had been trying for years to pick the locks. Neither of them was really sure why, but both were equally certain there was mischief to be made inside. He took a copy of Dr. No so he could pretend to be reading it if Mrs. Drum came by, and headed down the aisle.

 When he came close and the general chatter of the library (far louder than usual today, due to the cold) was behind him, he heard Nick’s voice.

 ‘Please man. We’re sorry, alright? Just make it stop, yeah? I’ll even give back your stupid moon.’ The sound of fear in his friends face was even more shocking than hearing his voice in the first place. Nick didn’t get scared. Or if he did, he never showed it, even a little bit.

 ‘Wish I could,’ came that scratchy whisper. Chris felt goose bumps rise on every inch of his skin; there was no fear in that voice. ‘But it’s too late, now. Shouldn’t have pushed me so hard. Shouldn’t have lied, either.’

 ‘I’m sorry, man. I’m sorry. Just take it back and make it stop. Make it go away. Here, take it!’

 ‘Won’t make a difference. You took the coin. You take the consequences. I’ll take it back when it’s over.’

 ‘So… When it’s over, I’ll be alright, right? I’ll be able to give it back?’

 The Loon chuckled. ‘More like, you won’t be able to stop me taking it back.’

 There was silence. ‘If it gets any worse, I’ll kill you,’ Nick said, and for a moment Chris heard the Nick he was used to, the tough guy, but it was a thin veil.

 ‘If it gets any worse… I don’t think you’ll be able to do anything at all.’

 Then there was that dry chuckle again. In the silence that followed, Chris found himself retreating down the aisle and then crouching behind a bookcase. A moment later, the Loon walked past the place he’d just been standing and headed back to the main library. Chris stood and walked around the last two bookcases.

 Nick was standing with his back against the teacher’s lockers, skeleton thin and shaking all over. When he saw Chris he stood up straighter and put on a hard face, but Chris had already seen what was there before. ‘What was that all about?’ he said.

 ‘You’ll see soon enough.’ Nick slipped his coin into a pocket with a shaking hand. ‘And don’t bother throwing it away.’

  He tried to push past him but Chris put a hand out to stop him. ‘What’s going on? Tell me.’

 Nick stared down at the hand that was holding him. Then he looked up at his face, and suddenly his expression was so bitter and horrible that Chris took a step back. ‘Trust me, you’ll see. I can’t just explain it. Promise me one thing, Chris.’

‘What?’

 ‘If I don’t come to school tomorrow… Kill him.’

 This time he did push past, and a minute later he was gone into the blistering cold.

4

The next day, neither Nick nor the Loon came to school. When Chris came back to class after the lunch bell, a solemn mood had come over Mr. Cane and no one dared speak, recognizing his expression. When everyone was seated and silent, he spoke: ‘I regret to inform you, that the staff have just been briefed by the police today and… One of the students in this class has… passed on.’ There was a hush, and everyone’s eyes went to either of the two empty seats in class.

 ‘Mr. Sowe was found dead in his bedroom this morning. He apparently passed in his sleep. I am sorry for those of you who were close friends with him, and that you had to hear it this way.’ Mr. Cane’s eyes drifted to Chris’s. ‘We will have a remembrance day this coming Friday at assembly.’

 ‘What about investigation?’ Chris said.

 ‘Excuse me?’

 ‘How did he die?’

 ‘Died in his sleep, Mr. Hoggs, with unknown cause. It is unfortunately a rare occurrence, but not unheard of. Nicholas Sowe was indeed unlucky.’

 Luck had nothing to do with it, thought Chris, but with the Loon absent from school, he couldn’t take action. And did he really want to? Nick had said to kill the kid, but he hadn’t even told him why. Chris wasn’t sure he could kill someone, and besides, there was the matter of those predator eyes, and that mad, impossible thing that he’d seen.

 Besides, he thought, nothing had happened to him. He’d got off the hook, hadn’t he? As he well knew, he hadn’t got off the hook, and as he lay in bed that night, his mind wandered. How had his friend died? Tough Nick, who’d never flinched in his life. Nick, who didn’t know fear until it stared at him from a dark alleyway.

 The foot of Chris’s bed lay at his window, and as he thought he stared up at the moon – almost full tonight – and wondered what the coins had to do with it. He reached to his bedside table and lifted it up so that it was next to the real moon in the sky. Yes, they were similar. More, they were the same.

 He stared at the dazzling light for a minute, and when he put the coin down again he felt tired despite his worries. He watched it, and slowly drifted into unwelcome sleep.

 He opened his eyes, but did not wake. He knew that he was sleeping because he’d fallen asleep on earth staring at the moon and he was now on the moon, staring up at the earth. It hung in a black sky, partially darkened. The sun burned far away, but though it fell directly on him, it didn’t warm him the slightest.

 That was the worst, noticing that single thing. Because when he’d gone to bed, he’d been warm, and now he was bitter cold, and then there was this: usually when you were in a dream, you didn’t know you were dreaming, but he did. He was aware of this place. He could feel the strange suit he was wearing, see the reflections on the glass of his helmet, smell the artificial oxygen pumping into it – it reminded him of a hospital. When he stood, he felt his limbs moving, and they were certainly awake, if he wasn’t. He could imagine himself getting up out of bed now, standing in his room, fast asleep.

 He stood up too quickly and lifted off the ground almost a foot before sinking back down. Breathing fast, now, he turned a full circle and took in everything. White rocks, mountains and craters and trenches, deadly silent and motionless. It wasn’t the kind of luminous white you’d expect, but more of a dirty colour.

 He took a few tentative hops toward a rock and then realised it was too far away to reach. There were no structures of reference here, no landmarks. There was no way to tell how big the rocks and craters were, or how far away. Everything was near and close at the same time.

 His hands splayed out in front of him like a blind man, he hopped two more steps and leaned up against a man sized rock. He let himself sink to a sitting position there and then he just stared at the sky. It was too real, he thought, far too real. This must be what it was like to be schizophrenic. He shut his eyes and prayed to himself, curling into a ball against the cold, and counted seconds.

 After somewhere near two thousand, he fell asleep again, despite the cold, and when he woke up he was back in his room. In his sleep, he’d thrown his blankets off himself and he snatched them up again.

 When the dream came back to him, it wasn’t all there. He remembered being on the moon, and feeling insane. Then he woke up. The realness of the past few hours was gone and now he saw it for what it was – just a dream. A lucid dream, maybe, but a dream nevertheless. So what had happened to Nick? Why were the dreams important? Did they drive him mad? A strange thought occurred to him then: that the coins had somehow kept him asleep with the dream, and that in the meantime the Loon had crept into his room and murdered him.

 The Loon was at school that day, and Chris watched him closely. What was he supposed to do, kill the kid at school? If it gets bad, I will, he thought. He didn’t know what he meant by ‘bad’ but he also knew that he could kill someone if his life was in danger. Even someone with hyena eyes and a shark’s smile. Even the Loon.

 On the way home, he threw the silver coin into a pond in the park near his house. Ten minutes later, when he walked into his room, he saw it lying on his pillow, completely dry. Don’t bother throwing it away, Nick had said. Now he knew why.

5

 That night, he woke up on the moon again. He wasn’t surprised this time, but he was shocked, once again, at the realness of it. Maybe he’d thrown off the blankets in his sleep again and that was why he felt the cold. He bit his tongue, and it hurt, but maybe he’d bit it in real life, too. It was the clarity of thought that got to him; he was thinking so clearly, could focus so easily. Dreams were vague, inconsistent. They moved, they flowed, and you did things without thinking about them. But here, on the moon, he was completely awake.

 He realised he was in the same place he’d gone to sleep the previous night, and hopped away from the rock. He saw a vast crater some unknowable distance away and decided to head for it. It was something to do, and he needed to think.

 On the entire moon, he thought, he was the only living thing. If he was really here at all. In a strange way, it was comforting, but in another, it was terrifyingly lonely. He was not an astronaut – there were no voices from mission control, or Houston, chattering away in his helmet. He heard only his laboured breathing.

 And it was laboured, wasn’t it? More than what it should have been. It didn’t take much energy to hop from rock to rock in this gravity. He couldn’t find any kind of oxygen gauge on his suit, but in the end he didn’t need one, because it was beginning to dawn on him how Nick had died.

 Suffocation.

 No sooner did the thought arise than his breathing quickened. He tried to will it slower, but it was impossible. It wasn’t too bad, yet; he felt like he’d run a mile or two, maybe, but it wasn’t too serious. Yet.

 Chris hopped on. The further he went, the less he was able to see this place as a real landscape. It was the moon, after all – you couldn’t just travel there in a night. What was happening was all in his mind, and that was all. It wasn’t real.

 He hopped on over the uneven surface, and after a while he found he was enjoying himself. Now he understood: it was the panic that had killed Nick. He’d had a heart attack. He’d given in to his mind, gone insane, and that was why he died. Most likely, the stupid Loon had only meant to scare them, to really mess them up, and he’d done a good job of it, but Chris didn’t think he’d meant to actually kill Nick. That was Nick’s fault. If he’d only been like this, and seen it for the trick it was, he’d have lived.

 He was near to the crater now, but the fatigue set in and he settled down to rest. He lay on his back and stared up at the sky. He listened to his breathing, and tried not to notice how harsh it sounded in his ears, even though he was no longer moving around. He watched the earth, nothing more than a colourful orb in the sky, and thought of the Loon. He realised he didn’t even know the real name of the boy who was trying to kill him, even though Mr. Cane read it out every day during roll call. Well, name or not, he thought, as soon as he got back to earth (no, woke up – it was only a dream, remember), he’d get him. How bad he’d get him, well, that would depend on the Loon. If he could stop the dreams, Chris would make bloody sure he did. And if he couldn’t, then murdering the boy would be his only choice. Then they’d have to go away.

 It was a difficult trick to keep from thinking about his breathing. Every now and again he did, and his heart would skip a beat or two and he’d have to start all over again, thinking of something else, lulling himself into feeling safe. The thought that danced just out of his conscious mind was that if he didn’t manage it – if he couldn’t make himself fall asleep in time… he might run out of oxygen altogether.

 It was hard, but at last, his breathing slowed, his thoughts fogged, and he slept.  The insulated space suit loosened and changed into a softer fabric; the coldness of space became a winter morning; and when he became conscious of his breathing again, he found he no longer had to draw it with such effort into his lungs.

 Before he was properly awake, he’d thrown off his blanket and stood in the middle of his room, bathing in the pitiful sunlight and taking deep breaths of icy air. It felt good.

 After a few minutes, he remembered what he had to do today, and the joy of waking left him. It was replaced by a vision of a dark haired boy with silver eyes that glowed in the dark and a smirking face.

 He didn’t eat breakfast that morning, but got into his school clothes, packed his bag and left, making a point of yelling goodbye to his mother so she knew he’d gone to school.

 The walk to St. Johns was always full of dread, but today Chris would have killed for that kind of dread: the kind that extended to overdue homework and the bleak expectation of six hours of boredom. That kind of dread would have been like heaven. He thought of his dream the night before, and the more he considered it, the more certain he became that he couldn’t let himself sleep until he was sure he’d be safe. Today he’d sort the whole thing out with the Loon, and then he’d sleep. Maybe.

 But the Loon was not in class. He must know, Chris realised. Of course, with Nick already dead, he would know that Chris was out to get him. He must surely know that Chris would be far more desperate than his friend, because he knew what was coming. So he was hiding up in Loon manor.

 At recess, he left and snuck in through his bedroom window. He dumped his bag and changed into some fresh clothes and a hooded jumper. Walking around town during school hours in uniform got you plenty of unwanted attention from strangers, and besides, he wanted darker clothes in case he had to sneak into the manor that night.

 By the time he started on the gravel driveway at the end of Church road, the sun was high in the sky and the morning mist had dissipated. The walk up to the great iron gates had him sweating in his blazer, but he didn’t notice. He was more worried about how he was going to get into this place.

 Loon Manor wasn’t a mansion in the Hollywood sense, but more traditional: it was all stone and ivy, and the iron front gates had a mean looking gargoyle stationed on either side. From here, almost any part of the town was visible.

The gates weren’t closed completely, and Chris pushed through the opening they left. He expected them to creak and groan, but they didn’t make a sound. As he crunched his way up to the front doors, he couldn’t help being reminded of the feel of moon rocks under his boots and he shivered.

6

He hesitated, thought of the smirk on the Loon’s face and then lifted the brass lion doorknocker and banged it shut three times. He waited while the sound echoed through the house. No one came.

 That was when he noticed the tiniest opening between the two front doors. He pushed, and they swung open. ‘Hello?’ He called out, and heard his voice echo just like the doorknocker. There was no answer.

 He took one step inside and then froze. The place was vast – that was one thing – but the vastness of it was only so shocking because of the absence of furniture. He couldn’t see so much as an armchair or table in the surrounding rooms. On his right was a great space with a heavy wooden floor and a fireplace at the far end, and the fireplace was void even of charcoal and ash, let alone wood. To his left an archway led into a kitchen, full of gleaming tiles and vacant countertops. The entrance hall stretched out for quite some way and then a wide flight of stairs led up to the second story.

 Chris paused, and then took off his right shoe, wedging it in place in front of one of the front doors. He’d seen far too many horror movies in which the hero ventured into an apparently harmless place, only to have the door slam behind him and the lights go out.

 He didn’t bother with the ground floor but went straight up, past the second and onto the third. This must be where the Loon’s room was, he thought – if he even had one here. He had to sleep somewhere.

 At the top of the stairs a long wooden hallway ran the length of the house, with heavy doors lining either side and a tiny window at the far end, spilling dim sunlight.

 Chris wondered if the Loon was home. If he was, Chris wasn’t sure he wanted to be here at all, at least not without a weapon. He reached into his pocket and drew out a Swiss army knife which had lived there since sixth grade. He flicked out the knife with practiced ease and for a moment felt a little more secure.

 There was only one door in the hallway that was open – the one at the end, by the window – and it was this one he headed for. He held the knife with both hands now, feeling like a medieval knight with his sword, coming to slay the… Whatever it was. As he approached, he became more and more sure that it really was an it, and not a he. The smell that snaked its way through the half open door was something no human would tolerate. It was the smell of rot, and ancient death. Chris had an image of a booming slaughterhouse suddenly abandoned, all the workers turning off the machines and leaving without a care for the animals inside. This room, he thought, smelled like that place after twenty years or so.

 At the threshold he forced himself to hold his breath and listened. Absolute silence.

 Roaring like a wild beast, he kicked the door open and took two steps in, swinging the knife and connecting with nothing. When he opened his eyes a second later, he found himself alone, and felt incredibly stupid. He sincerely hoped that the Loon wasn’t anywhere in the house, because if he was he’d surely have heard.

 This room was much bigger than any teenager’s bedroom Chris had known, easily three times longer, wider and taller. The floor was probably made of splintery old floorboards, like the walls and ceiling were, but it was impossible to tell because every inch of it was covered in layers and piles of bones. The pile in the middle came up to his waist, and to take a step in any direction meant sweeping through a layer at least shin deep. Every movement caused a rattling landslide.

 The bones at the bottom, Chris saw, were very old and mouldy, and prone to splintering or being crushed to dust beneath his feet. The ones near the top were also old, but much fresher. At the very top of the pile in the middle, some of the bigger ones even had what looked like bits of beef jerky sticking to them.

 Chris closed his eyes for a minute and tried to stop himself from panicking. When he thought he had himself under control, he opened them and looked around the walls, and then he lost it all over again.

 At first he thought the walls were simply crumbling from age, but now he saw the damage done to them was intentional. The Loon had carved notes and messages and bizarre sentences on every inch. Some of it he could make out, some he could not. When he looked up, he saw that the ceiling had a complete lunar calendar engraved in it for that month. Most of it was crossed off and up to date. Today, the eighteenth of June, was crossed off, and the calendar ended in a big carved circle marked: Nineteenth – FULL MOON

 Chris wiped a film of cold sweat from his face and looked around some more. Some things didn’t seem to make any sense, like NEXT AWAKENING: 2023, above the tiny window that was blacked out with duct tape, or RETRIEVE MOONS, scrawled above the door. Nearby the latter, though, his eyes rested on what looked like a very short to do list in the top right corner of the room. That it was there, almost eight meters off the ground, was mad enough, but what was written in it was much, much more terrifying.

1. Blend

2. Eliminate attention (N.S./C.H.)

3. Capture 11

4. Feasting days 18th – 19th

5. Descend/Sleep

That did make sense to Chris, but not in a good way. It would make more sense if he were watching a horror movie, maybe, but this was real life. The Loon is really crazy, then, he thought to himself. He’s just a crazy person, that’s all. Then he looked down at the mess of bones at his feet, and then back up at number 4: Feasting Day s 18th -19th, and knew he was wrong.

 He wasn’t quite sure what ‘descend and sleep’ meant, but he thought he had a good idea what ‘capture 11’ meant. Those weren’t Kentucky Fried Chicken bones on the floor, after all.

 The sound of the front doors banging open came to him, and in an instant he realised what a fool he’d been. He’d left his shoe to prop the doors open for fear of having them slam behind him, but all the while he should have been worried not about what might be waiting for him in the house, but what might be on its way home.

 He glanced at the duct taped window, considered jumping out of it, and then remembered he was on the third story. Instead he stepped out of the room and was on the point of running down the hallway when he realised how much noise his remaining shoe would make on the wood. Swearing under his breath, he bent and untied the lace. He left it where it was – the Loon already had one, anyway. He padded on socked feet down the hall and started down the stairs.

 The Loon had already reached the second story. He could see its shadow on the stairs beneath him, and hear strange hiccupping noises coming from his throat. By the look of that shadow, it wasn’t in the usual form, the one that Chris saw at school every day.

 He tiptoed back up the stairs and went on down the hallway. He ducked into the first room on the right and closed the door. Once it was shut, he didn’t dare let go of the doorknob or allow it to untwist, because he was sure the tiny creak would be too loud. So he waited.

 The stairs groaned with each step, but the Loon must have been moving quickly because he only counted six groans before it was just outside his door.

 He was holding his breath now, waiting for a heavy hand to rest on the other doorknob and wrench the door open. There was nowhere to go in here – it was just another empty room with a little window.

 It sounded like it was dragging something with it. Something that slid over the floorboards like a sack of sand or… It’s a person, he thought. It had to be. There were only two more days to the full moon, after all, and the Loon still had to ‘capture eleven.’

 He waited until he heard the Loon drag whoever it was down the hallway, and into the room at the end. He began to breathe a sigh of relief and then stopped. A terrible thought had just occurred to him: the Loon had seen the shoe at the front door. It must surely have seen his other shoe at the end of the hallway, too, and realised that there was a boy in the manor. So why hadn’t it come looking yet? Because it needs to put the body away first.

 THUMP, rattle. A body dropped onto a pile of bones.

 Chris burst from the room and threw himself down the stairs. He took them five at a time and knew it wasn’t enough. There was no hideous roar behind him, no thundering footsteps, but he knew it was after him all the same, because he could feel it. And behind the thundering of his heart in his ears, he was sure he heard that terrible hiccupping laughter. The half insane chattering he’d heard when he and Nick had seen it scale the fence in the alleyway.

 When he reached the second floor balcony he jumped it, praying as he fell that he wouldn’t land wrong and snap an ankle. He hit the ground and started sprinting for the front door at the other side of the entrance hall, feeling like he was running on the moon. Of all people, he was most likely to know what that was like.

 As he passed the front doors he had, somehow, the presence of mind to hook them with the tips of his fingers so that they slammed shut behind him as he leapt into the front garden.

 The Loon was so close behind that he was certain he’d hear a colossal crash as it collided with the wood, but there was only silence. He ran through the iron gates, past the beady-eyed gargoyles and down the front drive. He didn’t look behind him, but as he neared the end of Church road he was aware that the Loon had stopped following him. If he’d dared to look behind him, then, he’d have seen nothing unusual: just a dark manor on the hill. Except, that was, up on the third story, where a pair of silver lights shone from a tiny window.

7

 He kept up the pace until he reached home, and then he collapsed to his knees on his front lawn. His feet were burning and stinging in a hundred places where pieces of gravel had embedded themselves. He felt like he’d run ten kilometres instead of one.

 Eventually, he stood up and went around to the side of the house. He climbed up to his second window and into his room, and then he flopped down on his bed, overcome with relief.

That, he thought, he’d never forget as long as he lived. How had he lived? How had he made it out alive? Why hadn’t the Loon chased him outside? Because it knows you’re going to die tonight, some bitter voice told him.

 He pushed himself off his bed and stared at it like a poisonous thing. Of course, it had to be true. If he fell asleep tonight, it would be his last dream.

 Chris slumped down against his dresser and began to shake. He put his hands up to his face and tried to stop the tears of terror from coming, but he couldn’t. He was consumed by his own imminent death: it was unavoidable, was it not? He still had the coin, and couldn’t get rid of it. The only hope of redemption was to kill the Loon and hope… but how could he even begin? How could he even think of fighting that thing?

 He had to stay awake. That was step one. He didn’t even need a step two right now, he realised – that could come later. All he needed for the next hour or so was to make sure he could stay awake until the full moon.

 He went downstairs and saw that his mother hadn’t come home yet. It was getting dark, but she wouldn’t be back until eight. He snuck into her bedroom and went to her bedside table. She had a secret stash of notes and coins there that she thought he didn’t know about. She only thought that because he made sure to take only insignificant amounts each time. This time he took it all – if she wanted to punish him, she could do her worst: he’d be happy just to still be alive to suffer it.

 He headed down to the corner shop, where the keeper knew him well but didn’t know enough English to scorn him for being out of school. He used all of his own money as well as his mother’s stash to buy every one of the fifteen Red Bulls in the fridge, and he lugged them home in a cardboard box.

 When he got home, he took them up into his room and drank one to get him started. If he could ration himself to seven on the first day and eight on the second, he’d last to the full moon, and that was all the time he had, anyway. If he hadn’t killed the Loon by then, it would ‘descend and sleep’, and that would be the end of it.

 So step one was done.

 Eight o’clock came and went. He ate a silent meal of fish and chips while his mother turned on the television and poured her first glass of wine for the night. He went back to his room and continued to think.

 When midnight rolled around, he thought he had almost enough to get started. There were three ways to kill a beast like the Loon. The first was fire. Fire killed everything, in his experience, even in the movies. The second was to shoot it, perhaps with a silver bullet. He couldn’t really afford to think of this, because he had no access to any kind of gun and couldn’t see it in the near future. Nevertheless, if the opportunity arose he wouldn’t mind entering Loon mansion with an AK47. The third was to cut out its eyes. It made rational sense, but for him there was more than that – he felt that it would work. Those big silver eyes, the moon, the coins, they were all connected.

 Chris thought for a good deal longer, but in the end that was all he had. If it didn’t work, he would die. Even if it did work, the Loon might murder him before he could begin to implement the plan. But it was all he had.

 For a minute, he wondered whether he should make his attack tonight. He decided against it. He told himself it was because at this time of night it would be hard to find any supplies he might need to set the mansion on fire and get a decent knife. The truth was in the darkness and cold of the night. The almost-full moon that hung in the sky and the memory of the heavy body it had been dragging down the hall; the smell of an abandoned slaughterhouse.

 So he drank, and thought, and waited for the sun to come up.

8

He skipped breakfast and headed straight out the door – fully dressed in his school clothes and backpack to avoid questions. He went around the side of the house and waited there until he saw his mother’s car pull out and head to work. Then he headed back inside and started raiding the kitchen. When he was done, he had his Swiss army knife in his right shoe and a steak knife tucked into his belt, under his shirt. It was that or the cleaver, and he thought the steak knife had a much sharper point – all the better for plucking eyes. He ducked into the garage and took a three quarters full container of gasoline. He used it to fill a big water bottle, and then took his mother’s lighter from its place on the couch. He was ready.

 His heart was beating wildly when he left the house again – but then it had been going like that since he’d finished the third Red Bull that night. Somehow, despite his determination to stay awake, there had been a terrible moment when he’d closed his eyes and drifted off for a minute or two. He was positive that just before he woke, he’d seen the surface of the moon stretching endlessly to a black horizon, and the thought was enough to scare him into alertness for the rest of the night.

 He went to school again, but only to make sure the Loon was there. He would be, Chris was certain. Tomorrow, no doubt, there’d be more kids missing. Certainty somehow still wasn’t enough, the same way it wasn’t enough for a bungee jumper checking the rope attaching him to the bridge.

 He didn’t go inside, but waited until half past eight, when everyone was just sitting down in class and having their names read off the roll. Then he crept around the side of the big stone building, around to the flowerbed beneath his classroom window, and pressed himself up beside it. He could hear Mr. Cane’s tones half muffled by the thick glass. ‘Pallor, Penders, Rowley…’

 He edged around until he was inches from the window, and then, as quickly as he could, he darted his head around and looked in. The Loon always sat in the same seat, and today was no exception. Chris only caught a glimpse of the greasy black hair and the bored expression before he ducked away, but it was enough. It was time to go.

 He headed around the school and hopped the fence behind the gymnasium, picking up the gasoline bottle he’d left in a clump of bushes there. He was hurrying down Church road and the side streets around it, but even trying to keep a low profile he made it to Loon Manor in under twenty minutes. He stood at the front gates, indecisive. Would the Loon think he was dead, or would he realise something was up? Would he leave class and come looking? Chris pushed through the front gates and glared at the gargoyles as he passed.

 What he really wanted to do was set the whole place alight and watch it burn, but that would end in two kinds of bad. One, the Loon wouldn’t be dead, and he’d be mad. Two, there were people in here. Were they alive, though?

 No.

 A minute later, he was standing in the bone room, one hand pinching his nose shut, staring at a sprinkling of very white bones that hadn’t been there before. There was no meat on any of them, but there was an eyeball still sitting in the socket of a skull in the right corner opposite. The lack of blood was astounding. There was some, he could see splashes of it newly dried here and there, but nowhere near enough. The bones themselves were gleaming white, sucked clean. He got the feeling that a few hours ago they were still steaming from the heat of the living body they’d once inhabited. He wondered who they’d belonged to.

 The outer walls of the manor were heavy grey stone, but almost everything else was wooden. It would burn, alright. The problem was who would be in it when it went down. What if the Loon brought back more victims? Could he save them? No, he told himself. Forget it. You kill the Loon and burn the place. Just killing the Loon was dangerous enough. Playing the hero would only end in fresh bones to add to the pile.

 He had six hours before the final bell rang. He spent the first one trying to get the perfect spread of gasoline over as much of the lower floor and up the first flight of stairs as he could. He left great puddles of it in every room, streaked it up the walls, made sure all the rivers and lakes were connected.

  It didn’t take much longer to decide where he should wait: the bathroom adjoining the kitchen on the ground floor. He didn’t think the Loon even saw most of the rooms, usually. It was all a façade. Chris wandered how long it’d been living here alone. Had it bought the place itself? Judging by the absence of furniture, and its desire to keep a low profile (1. Blend) it must have. He settled in and waited.

 Ten minutes after he’d taken his place behind the bathroom door, he heard the front doors open. The Loon was back. There was a long silence as it took in the gasoline covered floorboards. If it had anyone with it, they were silent. Dead, Chris thought. Would it come looking?

 Heavy, quick footsteps sounded over the boards, and there was the familiar dragging of bodies behind it. Then a rapid thump thumping as it dragged them up the stairs to the bone room. Silence.

 About fifteen or so minutes later, it came back down again, and this time it had nothing with it. Chris squeezed his eyes shut and waited, not daring to breathe. It left the manor. He opened his eyes, and loosened the vice grips he’d had on both the steak knife and the lighter. It had gone back for more, he realised. It had a quota to keep (capture 11) and only one more day to do it in.

 It was recess, now. That meant it’d probably head back to the school, then duck up here with some fresh meat for lunch. Maybe get two or three more after the final bell. And then what? Tonight was a full moon and the end of the ‘feasting days’. Then it would all be over. The Loon would go back to where it came from and Chris would be left behind, one more dream from death.

 He couldn’t burn the place down without the Loon here, and if he did it while it was here, it would surely escape. He recalled the way it had climbed that fence in the alleyway. He couldn’t kill it with fire, in other words. Worse, judging by the way it had passed through the gasoline soaked floor with barely a pause, it knew. At the first spark it would murder him, finish off whoever it had trapped here, and put out the fire. Even if it couldn’t do the latter, who said it needed the mansion anyway? More than likely it was just a hiding place, somewhere convenient to take meals – not essential in the least.

 He’d have to kill it with the steak knife.

9

He held it up, flipped it over in his hands. The blade was sharp and short, the handle metal. It looked really good for slicing potatoes, maybe. Lunatic monsters, though?

 His hands were shaking bad, and it had nothing to do with the caffeine. He wondered if they’d be much use when it came to it. Would he fumble the knife, or fall over like they did in the movies? Would he lose his nerve and run? Whichever it was, he thought, he would find out. Because no matter which was he looked at it, it was do or die. Fight, or face the final dream.

 He put the lighter in his pocket and opened the bathroom door. The front door was closed but he decided it would be a bad idea to wait there since the doors opened inward – it would be too hard to take it by surprise. Instead, he went to the one place it wouldn’t see him coming – the only room in the house it would feel safe and secure and accustomed to: the bone room. He found himself a spot close to the door, in just the right position to right hook the knife into its eyeballs.

 Two hours, though, that was a long time to wait. Eventually he started to get restless. The doubt set in, and the questions. After a while, he left the bone room and went to the top of the staircase. He sat on the very top one, so that if he stood up he’d be able to just see the front doors. If he didn’t like what he saw, he could hide in one of the other rooms up here, maybe revise his plan. It would have to come back after school, anyway – he’d have time.

 And that was exactly what he did, only when the front doors opened fifteen minutes or so after the lunch bell went, and he stood up to catch a glimpse, he realised he wouldn’t have time after all.

 He didn’t see all of it. A glimpse of the top of its head and back, something that looked like a shard of bone sticking out of… He didn’t see that – he’d already ducked into the nearest room and shut the door. He huddled in a ball against the wall with his hands up to his face, trying to keep from shaking. No way would he have enough time. A million years wouldn’t be enough.

 He’d seen enough to know that, and also that it would have to be fire. Nothing that huge – how had it even fit through the front doors? – could be killed with anything but a hurricane of flames. He was going to need more gasoline.

 It finished just as quickly as it had before, and he heard its creaking footsteps coming back down the hallway. The footsteps stopped just outside the door to his room. He held his breath. He heard a noise halfway between a lion clearing its throat and a hyena’s laugh. It was chuckling, laughing at him because it knew he was there.

 Then the footsteps went on down the hall, down the stairs and out of the front door. Chris let out his breath a second before he would have passed out, and wiped the tears of terror from his face.

 He would go mad, he realised, if he actually saw the whole beast. If he set eyes on the thing itself, its body in its entirety (and its mind, too: you couldn’t look into those eyes without seeing something of the mind), he would lose himself. There would be no eye plucking for him, unless it was a last resort.

 Chris got to his feet and opened the door, half leaning on it for support. As he stepped out into the hallway he smelled the fresh blood, sensed the heat of newly demolished bodies. This must be what the entrance to hell was like. Maybe that was even what it was – maybe that was where it ‘descended’ to in the end.

 He left the house at a sprint, although he had a full two hours at least to get back. He took his bottle with him, and stopped by his own house long enough to retrieve ten empty red bull cans, which he stashed in a plastic bag. Then he went to the nearest Shell.

 It was hard to be accurate, and he spilled a lot, but after about ten minutes at the pump he’d filled up every can and the bottle. The cans he taped closed with some duct tape he’d taken from his garage. As he hurried out of the place, he saw the man in the service station on the phone, watching him with dagger eye. It didn’t matter: if he survived long enough to get caught for this he’d be happy. He’d do the community service with a smile, that was for sure.

 Back in the vast empty spaces of Loon manor, he found himself wishing he’d taken more cans. The ten he had were enough to give a decent pour in most parts of the second floor, and the bottle doused the top floor and sent a waterfall down the stairs, joining the floors.

 He knew he should wait on the bottom floor. He should stay in the bathroom until the Loon was in the bone room, then light the place from the front door. It was fear that stopped him. Actually, it was one fear fighting another. If he didn’t see it through, make sure the Loon died, then he’d have to face the moon again. He’d have to wake up on that bleak plane for the last time, and die alone.

10

 He went to wait in the room opposite the bone room. It was risky, sure. Very risky, but that fear nagged at him, the fear of the moon. Through the window, he could see it already, pale in the darkening sky, full and already rising.

 He was resting with his back against the wall by the window, trying to avoid the gasoline fumes that filled the place, when the Loon returned. The red bull was wearing off and he almost – incredibly – fell asleep. At the sound of the front doors he sprang to his feet, his eyes wide open, his heart running double pace.

 He drew the lighter with his right hand and the steak knife with his left. He didn’t really expect to use it, but he might have to. He really just wanted to see, now. It had terrified him before, but he suspected that was just him, his own mind messing with him. Whatever it was, it had to be some kind of animal, in the end. It was something real. Crazy, evil, whatever, that didn’t matter, but it was real. And that meant that when you stabbed your knife into its eyes, it would go blind.

 The Loon thumped and dragged and chuckled its way up the stairs. It splashed down the hall, where Chris had concentrated much of the gasoline, and into the bone room. Once he was sure it was distracted, he twisted the knob of his door and nudged it open.

 This was the first and only time he ever heard it feed. He found that he knew what each sound represented, and he cringed as though it were being done to him. That sound like the tearing of wet card board – that was flesh being peeled from the bone. The crunch of twigs underfoot was bones breaking in its mouth. But the gurgling slurping, the sighs of ecstasy… that was nothing he’d ever heard before.

 He pushed the door open fully, and stepped back into the gasoline soaked hallway. He could see part of the bone room – the door was wide open – but only a portion of the Loon was visible. He could see an alien leg, twisted in an odd way so that it looked like it had been broken in four places. He could see the lower half of the body it was working on, too, and it was jerking and shaking as though the top half was going through an industrial sized blender.

 He took another step up to the threshold, and the whole thing came into view.

 The Loon sensed him and looked up with headlight eyes. Now, in that split second, was the only time he could have had a chance.

 The moment passed, though, and then Chris’s conscious mind caught up with him and he began to comprehend what he was looking at, or rather, the details his mind could deal with: The mouth, without teeth or gums but simply a mess of jagged meat and bone, grinning wide enough to eat his head. The black red skin, torn and shedding and open in random places. The mess of limbs that didn’t seem to have any logical placement or purpose. Legs that were broken and arms that were wrong in undefineable ways. It looked like a monster that had died in the most horrifically violent way imaginable and been brought back to life.

 And the eyes. Chris hadn’t seen them close up yet, and he threw himself from the doorway before he could. What he had seen was enough to glimpse the insanity that awaited him. He dropped the knife and took out the lighter as he sprinted down the hallway.

 It wasn’t chasing him. It was only making that sickening hyena laugh and chewing meat. He made it all the way to the ground floor before he dropped to his knees and flicked the wheel on the lighter. The flame came on the first try, and he pressed it against the floorboards until it caught.

 He caught, too, but he made it out of the front doors before the whoosh of ignition caught up with him. He rolled around in the driveway until he put it out, and then he stood up and stared at the Manor.

 It lit quickly alright, and before long he had to retreat a good twenty steps just to bear the heat. The whole place was alight in under a minute, and he could even see the flames rising above the rooftops. He heard a heavy roar from somewhere in the house and several windows shattered near the back, on the third floor.

 He felt something like relief spread through him as he thought of how much meat the beast had left to go. Full moon was here, it was almost night, and he’d lit the house with a body and a half remaining. It might escape the house, maybe, but it would be unable to sleep without its feasting day complete.

 Chris watched the manor burn, and he listened for sounds other than the crackling of fire. He waited to hear the screaming of the Loon, or even its terrible laughter. When it didn’t come, he reached into his pocket and took out the moon coin it had given him, and threw it as hard as he could through the front doors. It disappeared into the fire.

11

 When he heard the sirens approaching a minute later, he turned and headed down the hill. The third floor had already collapsed onto the second and it was only a matter of time before the whole thing went down. If there was anything left in there, Chris thought, it wasn’t alive.

 He took side streets until he hit Warner Street, and then it didn’t matter because everyone was up at Loon manor anyway. He crept back into his room and lay on his bed, smelling like gasoline and covered in sweat and burns. It felt like one or two in the morning, but it was only five thirty. Of course, he hadn’t slept.

 He could hear the sirens in the distance. He was still full of adrenaline, his mind was rushing, and he was cold. None of these things were the reason he couldn’t sleep. He couldn’t sleep because of the coin.

 He’d thrown it into the fire, sure. But then, hadn’t he tried to throw it away before? His eyes moved to his top desk drawer, but he didn’t get up to open it.

 He wondered how long the Loon had been at it, here. Maybe fifty years, he thought. He didn’t think Loon manor had even been built more than sixty or seventy years ago, anyway. That was probably how it all worked: the Loon took a place, stayed around for a century or so, had a feasting day every now and again, then disappeared, slept, went somewhere else. He tried to forget what he’d seen again, and half succeeded. Why had it been so happy?

He pondered this while he looked at his top desk drawer.

 Eventually, he couldn’t bear it any longer and he opened it. The coin glowed back at him atop a stack of exercise books. It was almost three dimensional in the twilight, like an orb instead of a coin.

 He took it from the drawer and stared at it, hypnotised. It didn’t have to mean anything, he told himself, as his eyes tried to close. It’s just a remnant, like the giant pile of charcoal on top of Church Hill.

 ‘I beat it, Nick,’ he whispered. ‘I swear I did.’ But he didn’t believe it himself, and he knew he wouldn’t until he went to sleep.

 He fought it for as long as he could. The next three days were a blur. He only left his room to make pots of coffee with mud-like viscosity. His mother didn’t care, and neither did the school – they were still dealing with the disappearance of eleven other students. He was truly alone.

 The sugar and coffee he consumed kept him wide awake for a while, but at the dawn of the third day the effect had mostly worn out. He looked like someone had draped a tent over a boy shaped sculpture of coat hangers. His eyes were sunken in his skull and dark around the edges. It hurt to blink.

 The worst part was, he knew it only amounted to procrastination. The final dream was yet to come, but somehow he knew it would. He’d overheard the news reports about four times while he made coffee downstairs. Bones found, possibly from the students who’d recently gone missing from St. Johns. No furniture recovered. Prime suspect of arson was Chris Hoggs, who had been spotted stealing large amounts of gasoline and is currently missing (his mother didn’t know he was home, and he’d hid in the back garden while the police searched his room). There were no reports of the Loon.

 Was he alive, or was he dead? They’d showed the pictures of the missing students on television, and his had been included, but that didn’t mean much. It didn’t really matter in the end, because the moon coin was still in his desk drawer, and it wasn’t going anywhere. He was just procrastinating.

 It was dusk on the third day when Chris Hoggs fell asleep. He already knew it was coming: every now and again he’d blink and wake up five minutes later, with a vision of the moon clear in his mind’s eye. When he finally went, he was sitting on his bed, staring out of the window at the rising moon. His eyes flickered open and closed, and sleep weighed on him like a mountain.

12

 He blinked and woke up on the moon.

 For a minute, he felt only relief: the weight of sleep was gone – he was not tired any more. He stood up and looked around, feeling the cold, seeing the black sky and knowing what it meant, but for now not caring.

 He made for the crater. It was very close now, and he was sure he’d make it before he ran out of oxygen. Who knew, maybe he’d wake up first, and then he’d have three or four more days before he had to dream again.

 The strangeness of the whole place hit him as if for the first time, and he marvelled at the silence and desolation. The isolation was the best part, though, and he felt it whenever he looked up at the earth. The Loon was still down there, he thought, but I’m not.

 As the crater drew near, he thought he could accept his death. Not like it, not embrace it, but accept it: it was going to happen and there was nothing he could do.

 The ground rose as he approached the crater, so he couldn’t see what was in the crater until he was right at the tip. He realised very quickly that it wasn’t a significant place, not like the sea of tranquillity or anything like that. This crater was much too small, just a minor dent in the pale face of the moon man. It was full of bodies.

 Nick’s was surely in there somewhere, and if it wasn’t, then it was somewhere close. The place had, after all, drawn Chris, if for no other reason than that it was the closest landmark. And now he’d found the others.

 Chunky white suits piled on top of each other or scattered randomly. They’d all made it here on their dying dream. There were probably others littered all over the moon. Maybe one day someone would find them, if it was real.

 He knew that it wasn’t, though, because Nick’s body had been found. Chris’s body was probably in his bed, now, tossing and turning. Up here, he felt every part of him just as he did when he was awake – this was no kind of dream at all.

 He walked among the bodies and tried to see their faces through their helmets, but he couldn’t. All he could see was the black reflection of empty space, and the earth.

 His air was running out fast, now. Every breath had to be sucked in, and pretty soon he felt like he was trying to suck cement through a straw.

 He stood in the middle of the crater and stared at the sky, willing himself to sleep. Even a day, he thought, even an hour, would be enough. He could say goodbye to the world. Eat a meal, tell his mother he still loved her, breathe the air, that precious air. Even thirty minutes would be alright.

 There was no oxygen left in him now, and he was just breathing recycled air. He saw black patches appear in the corners of his eyes, and sunk to his knees. He kept his eyes on the sky, on the floating earth above, the colourful place.

 Wake up! He shouted at himself. You’re on earth, so wake up! But he didn’t, because he wasn’t really on earth, he was on the moon, and would remain here forever. Whether the Loon was dead or not, it didn’t matter.

 Chris put his white gloved hands to his face and wept into his helmet, while the black patches grew larger and larger.

 After a time, he did feel tired again, very tired, but it wasn’t from lack of sleep. The rushing sound in his ears disappeared as though someone had shoved cotton balls into them. His face was warm and his body was weak. He flopped onto his back.

 In the absolute silence, he lay there and watched the earth floating in the black sky. It was a peaceful way to go. He wondered if anyone else would come here, to this white place, and die with him, and he didn’t think so. The Loon was gone for good, and he was its last victim.

 Finally, he surrendered his eyes to the dark and listened to his breathing through muffled ears. It slowed, and slowed, and softened, until he heard nothing at all.

 Chris Hoggs died with a smile on his face, and a bright silver coin in his fist. His mother was the first to touch it, but while she wondered over it for months and kept it well, she never dreamed of the moon.

 Not once.

Liked it? Take a second to support Ben Pienaar on Patreon!

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: