by Matthew Wilson
“Richard killed his family last night,” Henry Arton said, turning the pages of his newspaper.
“The Benson lad?” Jennie stiffened, accidentally dropping her spoon. She cursed softly and got another from the kitchen drawer. “He was always so nice.”
Henry shrugged. It was old news. “Darn fool looked at the moon. After all the newsflashes, you’d figure some people would learn.”
“But it just seems so unbelievable, that it can make you go crazy like that.”
Henry opened his mouth to moan of youth’s folly, but snapped his lips together when Diana bounded downstairs. The subject was too macabre, and he’d promised not to speak of it around their daughter. He almost screamed when he saw she’d forgotten the golden rule of these dangerous times.
“Where your glasses?” he demanded.
“I can’t see with them on, Daddy.” Diana stopped skipping as she reached the bottom step and realized that a few smiles weren’t going to work. “All the windows are covered up.”
“I don’t care! You don’t open your eyes without those sunglasses on, now go and get them.”
Diana folded her arms as if she had been deprived of chocolate, but followed orders. She hated the things; they strained her eyes and invited headaches. Even though it was doctor’s orders, she still felt a fool for wearing them at night “just in case.”
“You never wear them in the house …”
“What was that, young lady?” Henry called after her, but Diana said nothing. It was nearly Christmas, and she wanted something better than glasses in her stocking.
Jennie sipped her coffee and found the temperature just right. “I wish you wouldn’t worry after her, Henry. You’re going to make her hate you.”
“As long as she’s safe, I don’t care.”
“But she’s 12 now. At that age, we used to sneak off down Ketting Street to catch the horror movies.”
Henry turned his paper to the sports section. Nothing on four legs ran at night, so thank God for indoor sports. “The moon didn’t kill anybody when we were kids. Haven’t I told you it’s those damn chemicals they pump into the atmosphere these days?”
Sighing, Jennie scooped up the food-stained dinner plates before Henry bored her with more conspiracy theories. Of course it was the spacemen, or the French, or NASA’s failed experiments. To her, it didn’t matter; the result was the same: anyone who stared at the moon went insane.
At first, to keep the mood light, she’d laughed. No more moonlit walks in the park like and Henry and I used to take during our courting days, she thought. Then she’d caught the awful images on breaking news, warning epileptics about flashing cameras.
They were fragments of awful scenarios she couldn’t process or collect together into a believable format, scenes of fathers coming home with axes and mother driving into rivers with their sleeping families still in the car. No one did this, certainly not the English!
The mayor begged the baying mob that looted and burned everywhere for calm, explaining that there was a chance of survival, a preventative measure to ensure that the sunglasses-wearing police wouldn’t have to kill you.
Ignore the heavens at night. Do not look at the moon.
Astronomers were fired, and their telescopes were smashed. Even though long-term criminals showed no effects in prison experiments from staring at photos of the moon, the government took no chances and had all images of Diana’s disc water-blasted off movie posters and romance paperback promotions.
Jennie had always liked the moon. It had a cold beauty, and when the prohibition came into effect, she immediately knew that she’d miss it. But didn’t illegal things always appear more attractive to idiots? Of course, there were adrenaline junkies looking to impress first dates, who removed their eye protection as cheering friends recorded it for posterity.
Websites always deleted the five-star rated videos for violating their anti-violence guidelines when the punks worked their fingers into their cheekbones and merrily ate their own faces.
Henry didn’t care that Jennie had suggested tinted motorcycle helmets for getting the takeout. He wasn’t going anywhere after dark, just staying safe inside with the curtains closed, until dawn.
Yes, he was becoming a hermit, and yes, he was boring, but at least he was alive.
Jennie felt she’d done her duty when they buried Henry’s brother. She knew his self-immolation at the drive-in where his burgers were cold had hit Henry hard, but it wasn’t fair that he took such drastic action to control their lives. She hadn’t told her brother-in-law to look at the moon.
No, this was not living. Jennie felt suffocated now that she wasn’t allowed out. She felt that she might do something awful if she were cooped up here any longer, like when her daddy had grounded her as a teen, when he kept her in the house and did terrible things to her. The knives in the sink glittered like stars, like the beauty of a cold, uncaring moon.
Somehow, she managed to stop her hands from shaking and turned on the tap. The noise was good, and it almost drowned out her thoughts of fleeing, of being outside like other normals who hadn’t restricted their lives and hidden like frightened children.
“Don’t you open those bloody curtains,” Henry said, reading her mind. “Your favorite film’s on tonight; that should keep you occupied.”
Jennie drummed her fingernails on the sideboard. She’d watched enough bad TV to last a lifetime. She wanted to go to a nightclub and dance like she and Henry had danced before parenthood. The air wasn’t filled with poison gas, for crying out loud.
But Henry wouldn’t trust a babysitter. What if some airheaded girl let Diana peek out of a window without taking any precautions? What if they came home and found their little princess with a knife in one hand and a severed head in the other? Undoubtedly, Henry would say, “I told you so,” before he brought in the divorce lawyers and stared into the moon to reunite with his daughter.
Jennie had always felt second-best after her daughter, but she wasn’t dead yet. She would be 40 next year, and she intended to see a lot of living before that milestone of decay and sagging breasts. She said nothing when she heard a heavy thud behind her, and turned to see Henry slumped forward, his face resting in a mess of cake.
This had to look right.
“Diana, honey—have you found your sunglasses yet?” Jennie said as she worked. She had to be quick.
There came a moment of silence from upstairs, and then a few rattles and bangs as the smaller pieces of furniture were moved around Diana’s princess bed. “Not yet, Mom.”
As they were currently in Diana’s pocket, Jennie couldn’t see why Diana couldn’t find them, but it was best to keep her daughter busy. It would take a little acting to convince her daughter that daddy was a hypocrite and ignored his own advice.
Honestly, officer, he took one look at the moon and went nuts. I’m glad you came and killed him when you did … my hero. Are you single?
Regretfully, Diana couldn’t kill him herself. After all the misery that Henry had put her through, it would feel wonderful, of course, but it opened up the possibility of failure when the cops asked neighbors about the state of their marriage.
Well, we only have your word that he looked at the moon, Mrs. Arton.
No, it was best that the cops saw how deranged the moon had made him, and blast him on her lawn themselves. She’d envy them for pummeling bullet after bullet into her husband, but all that mattered was he would dead and she would be free.
“Stop making problems, honey,” she said as she started dragging him toward the front door. The drugs that she’d slipped into his dinner would only knock him out for a few minutes before he opened his eyes, confused. The first thing she wanted him to see was the moon.
Police! Hurry, there’s a madman at my door, trying to get in.
She’d tell her friends that she didn’t know that it was Henry until the police had blown his brains out. How was she supposed to tell, when the infected forgot human words, when they reverted to a feral state of feasting and fornicating?
Jennie blinked when the house exploded across the street. “What the hell was that?”
The ground continued quaking as a chimney sailed through the air and crashed into Henry’s ornamental fish pond in the front garden. Jennie groaned when she ran into the living room, squinted out the window, and saw the naked form of her neighbor, Mr. Cartwright, laughing as he danced across the lawn with the still-steaming innards of his dog wound around his neck like a mink scarf.
Talk about bad timing.
“God, can’t anyone keep their family safe from the moon these days?” Jennie moaned, as Mr. Cartwright howled his love at the moon and started biting off his fingers, one by one, for her satisfaction. The noise would attract the police soon. She had to hurry.
She ran back into the kitchen and grabbed Henry by his ankles. No one else would be crazy enough to go out there while Cartwright was whacking his privates with a lawnmower, but she was desperate.
“He couldn’t have gone crazy last night,” Jennie hissed between her teeth as she dragged Henry toward the door. “No, that would have been too easy.”
She stopped talking when Henry gave a moan and tried to lift his head like a patient waking early from an aborted operation.
“Shut up, fatty. I found you a playmate—two psychos in a pod.”
God, she’d told him to lose weight a thousand times, but he never listened. His only goal in life seemed to be making work for her.
“Mommy? What’s going on?”
Jennie stopped at the foot of the stairs. “Don’t come down, Diana.”
She caught her frightened expression in the hallway mirror and gasped when she saw her eyes. God, she’d planned it better than this. Maybe Henry was right, maybe it was a good thing that he was there to look after her.
She’d nearly gone outside without her glasses.
The explosion across the road had shaken her, throwing out her over-rehearsed plans, but she could cope. Swallowing a sob, she rummaged into her pockets and fixed the sunglasses on her head.
“It’s, um, only a dog loose on the lawn. I’ll be up there soon to read you a bedtime story.”
“That’s not a dog!” Diana cried from upstairs. “Mr. Cartwright’s house is on fire.”
Henry moaned, half-conscious, like a child woken for school in winter, as Diana dropped his feet heavily. They cracked the bottom step, and Jennie felt the world begin to turn unpleasantly.
How did she know?
“Diana, are you looking out the window?” She’d always been a curious child.
The answer was a long time coming and small at best. “No.”
Panic gave Jennie wings. She flew upstairs, three steps at a time, half-blind with tears. “Not my baby, not my baby.”
She kicked her daughter’s bedroom open like a fireman, and though her eyes were shielded by her glasses, she still staggered back on seeing the curtains fully open, like a vampire retreating from the sun.
From up here, she clearly saw Cartwright’s home, still burning, the still-living owner trying to saw his feet off with a hacksaw from his toolbox.
Jennie could see the moon; its beauty took her breath, but didn’t slow her heart rate.
“Diana, honey. Where are you?”
Diana yanked the sheets off her daughter’s bed and threw her teddies in anger; she opened her toy cupboard and pushed aside its contents.
“Diana? Answer me, baby.”
Jennie turned when her daughter closed the door which she’d hid behind. Her teeth were so white. Her eyes held nothing. She came at her mommy, laughing.
“Diana, baby, it’s Mommy.”
Diana threw back her head and laughed at the ceiling, finding some joke the moon had whispered into her ear the most amusing thing she’d ever heard. She laughed as Jennie threw her arms around her. A good mommy always protected her daughter.
“Diana, you’re frightening me.”
Diana had forgotten words now, but that was fine. She wasn’t sad anymore that Mommy and Daddy always argued. In fact she was very happy, very, very happy. She laughed to push this point across to Mommy.
She laughed and laughed and laughed.
Copyright © 2014 Matthew Wilson