Yesterday, April 14th, was my 23rd birthday. It was actually one of the loveliest times I’ve had on my birthday in a while. I woke up to a super sweet email from my boyfriend, got to spend the day with old and new mates, and then climbed to the roof of my apartment with a couple of my oldest friends to watch the lunar eclipse. A blood moon on my birthday? Why thank you, galaxy. That was an awesome gift.
And that time on the roof, wrapped in a blanket talking about everything and nothing in particular as the moon waned and waxed and became saturated with its bloody hue before us, as the moon took on an oddly placed shadow as the earth passed by the sun in front of it, causing the moon to look almost as if something were eating it – well that, of course, inspired a story.
So thank you, to everyone who made my birthday wonderful with your well-wishes and hugs yesterday. One day after my birthday, this, a story, is my gift to you.
Thank you to Casey Handmer, friend and photographer of this fantastic timelapse photo. Permission to use this photo must be obtained directly from him.
The Night The Moon Was Eaten
Something was eating the moon.
Killey leaned back against the thatched roof and stared up at the sky above her. Bale, her little brother, a mere seven years in this village of ancients, had been the first to see it. He’d run screaming through the town, child that he was, screeching in his sweet little voice the same way he would have if a cow had gotten loose from the fields or a stranger had come visiting or a particularly choice piece of candy had just been given him by one of the elder ladies. Bale had not quite learned the art of tone differentiation yet.
And so he had gone streaking through the streets with his shouts naked of discernible emotion beyond urgency and surprise (what kind of urgency? surprise at what?) repeating those two unassuming words over and over again.
“The moon! The moon!” A chubby little hand with its chubby little fingers stretched up toward the sky, waving in no particular direction round the galaxy. “The moon!”
Eyes had turned skyward. Eyes had widened. Eyes had shut.
Smiles turned to swallowed groans.
The moon – that was no typical waxing. That was no mere shadow. It was in entirely the wrong place for this night of the lunar cycle. No, that darkness – it was no usual momentary lapse of our beloved lunar orb. And – eyes opened only to grow wider once again – it was getting bigger. Right before our eyes, the moon was being swallowed up.
Something was eating the moon.
Within moments, ladders were raised and roofs were climbed. Families sat atop their homes, feeling safer in the height and the open than trapped between a lid and the ground. Whatever it was, if the moon was not enough for it and it came to swallow the earth next… Well, the ground did not seem like a particularly safe place to be.
And so we sat on our roofs and watched as the darkness chewed away at the lunar orb.
Something was eating the moon.
“Papa,” I whispered early in the night, “why aren’t we doing anything? Why are we just sitting here, watching?”
Papa had sighed and pulled me closer at that. “Killey, dear, what can we do? The moon in her fortress is far, and there is no certain way to reach her. The veil between us is vast. We can do nothing.”
Except sit. And wait. And hope that the darkness swallowing the moon would deign to return her to us once again.
There was so little left of her. Just a mere scrap now. Soon, there would be nothing but a hole of where she used to be.
The night blew on. The moon continued to fade as we watched.
And then, suddenly, there was nothing.
For what felt like hours we sat on our roofs with bated breath, hoping to see some sign of return of our moon.
But for so long, nothing.
“Papa!” The entire village turned their heads toward our hut as Bale’s voice pierced the air once again. Around me, I could see the faces of our neighbors blanch. No tone was needed to see what had sparked Bale’s outburst this time. The terror on his face was so thick it dripped into the night and leaked in puddles on the roof around him.
“Papa,” Bale’s voice no more than a whisper this time. “The moon is bleeding.”
Papa’s gaze jerked to the sky. All eyes returned to the moon. Yes, Bale was right. There, up where the moon kept her court, was the tiniest sliver of a moon returning to us. Except she was not waltzing back to us, finally free of whatever monster had tried to imprison her in its jowls.
No, she was being regurgitated.
Up in the sky, the monster hacked up the moon queen, bit by bit,coughing up a pile of ragged flesh. The moon we were seeing returned was no longer the cool, pale glow of the star courtiers that danced around her. No. Now, the moon, she had turned sickly, undeniable blood red. And as we all sat and stared, her white gown was only drenched all the more in that frightening color of dying.
But my father said nothing. I saw his lips move and the knob in this throat slide as he gulped down hard.
I did not like it when Papa was afraid.
The moon was so saturated with blood now that even the glow she cast on our fields reflected the laceration of her veins. A wind rustled through the corn and the cows moaned at the sight of the grass turned the color of rust before them. Around us, the world creaked and cracked and wailed.
I sat down on the thatched roof, bracing my feet against the straw. Boring old blessedly normal straw. My knees were shaking. I pulled them toward me and held my arms around them tight, trying to make the shaking stop. Bale stumbled over the slippery thatching and plopped next to me. He buried his face in my arm.
“Killey, I’m afraid,” he mumbled as best he could with his nose and mouth smushed into my skin.
I swept a hand lightly through his hair, fixing a few of the tousles. “Me too, Bale.” Against my arm, Bale started to sniffle. “Shhh, Bale. Come here.” I pulled him into my arms and rocked back and forth, humming softly. His little sobs quieted. I continue to croon over his tiny form, a lilting strain from nowhere in particular.
Papa came and sat beside me, listening. He’s always told me he likes it when I hum. He says it reminds him of Mama. She used to sing all the time, he says. I just like to hum, but I like it too, that maybe I could be like Mama was.
Papa leaned in so he could catch my notes better. After a while, he nodded and started humming too. It wasn’t quite the notes I was doing, but he played around them, so it sounded nice. His humming was more repetitive than mine was.
The family on the roof next to ours started humming too, something close to what Papa was doing. Soon, the humming had spread through the whole village, and all the thatched roofs were vibrating with the low chant of families sitting on top.
I wanted to laugh in delight but just put the happiness into what I was humming instead. Bale lifted his head, eyes still droopy with sleep, and smiled up at me. He sat up in my lap and craned his head, looking around at all the other families.
Suddenly, Bale’s body went rigid in my arms. His breathing stopped for just a moment. Relief flooded my melody when his body went loose again and he turned to me, his eyes wide again.
“Killey,” he said breathily. “Look.”
My eyes immediately snapped to the sky. The moon! The moon…
The night had long since carried away the torn and bloodied strips the monster had vomited in the moon’s palace. We had watched as the red mess was replaced again by emptiness.
But now, the emptiness was not complete.
Now, there was something else in the emptiness.
I tiny little sliver, a small glow.
The moon. She was coming back.
And she wasn’t bloody anymore.
“Killey! The moon is coming back!” Bale turned his young eyes, nearly as wide as the moon themselves now, towards me. “You’re healing her.”
I glanced at Papa. He shrugged, his face surprised and uncertain. I don’t know, his eyes told me. But his mouth kept humming.
I kept humming too. Just a little louder.
I met eyes with the woman on the roof next to us. I nodded up at the sky, trying to show her. She looked up, saw. Her eyes got wide too. Came back to rest on me. Nodded.
She looked across the way at the roof next to her, to tell her other neighbors too.
Soon, the village moan had turned to a murmur, a resonant melody punctuated by gasps and caught breath as the rest of the families on the roof looked skyward and saw the moon returning to us, growing whole once more. Coming back from the dead.
All around, our humming filled with wondering. Was it because of us? Had our song saved her? Or had it just been the moon herself, always cheating darkness out of death, just like she did every month?
We didn’t know. So we kept singing anyway.
And the moon kept coming back, brighter. Just barely on the edge of waking, Bale giggled from where he was curled in my arms. His eyes fluttered close, some dream finally claiming his tired mind. Around us, the village song slowed and softened to a close. The moon was back. She was safe. The monster in the darkness had not claimed her yet. Our guardian in the sky was still safe at her post. She had not been eaten down to nothing.
Which meant that for now, we would not be eaten down to nothing either.
Gently, I shifted Bale so he was draped across my shoulder and started down the ladder so I could put my little brother properly to bed. Papa smiled at me and nodded, but stayed where he was, stretched out on the roof, looking upward at the sky. At the moon.
Bale only stirred a little as I jostled him on my way down the ladder. “Shh, Bale,” I whispered, willing him to stay safe in dreamland. “It’s alright now.”
Still more asleep than awake, Bale nestled closer to my neck, his head held right in the crook at its nape. His small arms tightened their grasp around me. His eyes fluttered open, searching the sky for a moment before the lids dropped close again. I carried him inside and laid him gently on his bed. His eyes fluttered open one more time, looking up at me. Drowsily, Bale smiled. “Killey,” Bale murmured in his sleep. “Killey, the moon – Mama came back.”