Blood On The Moon ~ the story

This–Blood On The Moon–was the first story I wrote when I began to write in earnest. I actually scribbled the first part of it down on a legal tablet as Sherry, her friend, Summer, and I were on our way to Houston from Austin one Saturday. I’d written several poems for Sherry, and had just written one for Summer. One of them asked me if I wrote anything besides poetry, and I said, “Sure. I haven’t done it since high school, though.” At their urging, I took out a pad and pen and scratched out a few clumsy paragraphs then handed it to Sherry (Summer was driving). Sherry read, out loud, what I’d written, and when she finished, her and Summer chimed, “Wow!” I finished the story a few days later.

That “wow” was all it took–sixteen years ago–to set me off on the course which I now find consumes most of my time. So… now you know who to blame for me pestering you with all these crazy stories and poems!

I do hope you enjoy this–the first short story of my storied career–and I ask you to please share it on your blogs, on FaceBook, and with all your friends. (I know my writing career isn’t a “storied” one, but that just sounded so cool!)

Blood On the Moon

by

Charles L. Mashburn

The day had gone dark again. It seemed as though someone was constantly playing with the dimmer switch on a lamp. Or, perhaps, heavy clouds were drifting across the sky in front of the sun, casting dark shadows over the land. I looked up—cringing, afraid, knowing what I would see—and stared at a cloudless, purple sky. Purple… blue… I don’t know… colors had changed since the water had gone. “The same thing, only different,” my old man used to say. The sun was high overhead, but seemed to be fading; losing power. Pulsing, maybe, is the best word to describe what it was doing. It had burned too, hot for too, many days—something to do with the blasts maybe—scorching the earth and drying it of its life-giving water. And now it, too—the sun—was dying. Spent… and wasted. I looked down again and stared across the dry cracked earth toward the hills in the distance. They rose into the ugly, throbbing sky like angry blemishes on an adolescent face. It was difficult to tell where the hills ended and the sky began. Everything looked the same in the strange light. The dusky hues ranged from a grayish blue to a deep purple. Jimmy Hendrix shouted two words in my mind, “PURPLE HAZE!” The surreal scene—the world, void of color—only added to my sense of despair and defeat.

The trees had died a while before. Their once leaf-filled limbs now gray, skeletal arms and fingers stretching toward the pulsing sky begging for a taste of the cool, clean water which no longer flowed beneath their roots nor came down from the sky in the form of rain. The ground around the lifeless oaks and cedars, once plush with bluebonnets, Indian paintbrush, and green vegetation was cracked and barren. As I began walking again, small crystal clouds of blue-gray dust puffed at each step, then fell quickly back to the ground, leaving scarcely a sign that I had passed. A few of the particles hung in the still air, then fell so fast they appeared to vanish. If someone were to pick up my trail, even an hour from now, they would believe it to be days, maybe weeks, old. There was but a vague image of a footstep where my bare feet had touched the dusty ground. No matter. There was no one to find the traces of my footsteps.

It was almost too much to fathom. I had spent many sleepless hours trying to make sense of this thing that no sense could be made of. Evil. That was the only explanation. A phrase or title, I don’t remember exactly where it came from, jumped across my thoughts. “Something Wicked This Way Comes.” It had come all right. It… something… had sucked every last drop of moisture from this planet. Water… now more precious than gold, was nowhere. Rivers and lakes had vanished. Plant life had dried to dust. Human and animal remains were indiscernible piles of gray powder. It hadn’t occurred to me before, but everything had contained water. When the water had gone, the structure of all things changed… crumbled… vaporized.

Why me? Why am I the only one left? Or am I? Is this death? Are there others wandering beside me I can’t see? Or… am I truly alone? It seems a lifetime has passed since the last shuddering blast ceased to rock the cave where I had hidden. I’d been hiking alone in the hill country west of Austin, looking for arrowheads, on the day it began.

It was sudden… I suppose; sudden to me at any rate. The cold war was long over, and everything was going along pretty well if you ignored the occasional crap from Hussein or one of those clowns. But they posed no real threat. Did they? Hell, it was probably one of them that blew everything up. Who knows? But still… why me? How, and why, had I alone survived?

The noise from the blasts was horrendous. Unlike anything I’d ever heard. A roaring, almost like the sound of metal being torn apart, followed by a loud rush of hot air as if the world had exhaled a dying breath. I can only assume that it has affected the whole world in the way it has affected the few hundred miles I have seen. The nearest of the blasts was in Austin. I counted ten or so, all the same day, from every direction. The best I can figure, for I’ve not explored all of them yet, the blasts wiped out every major city in Texas, and then the fallout, or whatever it was that made the sun go crazy, did the rest. There was nothing left now… but me… and dust.

I stayed in or near the cave during the blast period. It all happened in one day. A few hours actually. On the second day I had ventured out, but only for a few minutes. The sun had begun its burn, and it was unbearably hot. A few minutes were all I could stand. Even then, I had blisters on my face and arms when I returned to the cool shelter of the cave. The cave was one of many in the granite-filled area west of Austin, and this particular one I had sought shelter in was a few miles east of the small settlement of Smithwick on FM 1431. The mouth of the cave was on the south side of the farm-to-market road and ran under the highway to the north. It became deeper the farther north you went in the dark, granite hollow and ended about a quarter mile from the road. An underground stream provided me with water. I didn’t eat. I haven’t eaten since the blast. The water vanished on the second day, and the cave began to crumble on the third, forcing me closer to the mouth of the cave and the un-Godly heat. I cringed in the shadows and waited for what I thought was certain death.

The lack of an appetite was one of the things that made me wonder what sort of limbo I was in. The desire and need for food had left me almost immediately after the rumbling had faded from the last blast. Thirst was always there, but hunger was no longer a part of me. I vacillated wildly as to my actual state of being. Most of the time I believed that I had died… and was in hell.

The need for water was persistent, a driving force, so I went on. I slept when I could find shelter. I needed very little sleep actually, and I sought cover only out of habit. There was nothing to fear. I was hopelessly and utterly alone. The sky was strange and dark, and the sun appeared to grow weaker with time. I had no real concept of time. It was of no use or consequence. There had been no night or day for weeks, merely different shades of twilight. The temperature appeared to be constant. Cool and dry. Very dry. Sometimes I thought the air I breathed was fine dust. I could feel it as it entered my body and then exited. It had no taste… no smell. I wondered at times if the air was what sustained me, for though I had no need for food, and my need for water had begun to wane, I somehow maintained my strength and was able to go on. I felt no pain, I had no needs, and emotions were becoming things of the past. To be continued…

Days seemed to slide by quickly, and my memory ebbed and pulsed, much like the sun. At times images from the past were clear and vivid in my mind, at other times they were jumbled and confused, even strange and surreal on occasion. I vaguely recalled that I had journeyed to Odessa in search of family as soon as the sun stopped scorching the earth. The scorching lasted for about three and a half days, I think. I lost track of time as I sat in the cave caressed by a never-ending silence that touched my flesh and chilled me to the soul. The sweat poured from my body throughout those days, as the temperature soared. I thought surely I would be roasted within the depths of the granite tomb where I’d hidden from the end of the world. When I emerged, my clothes and body hair were gone. I was as smooth as baby’s skin from head to toe. I remained so in the days that followed.

The lack of clothing quickly proved to be of no consequence. It was immediately obvious that the need for modesty was gone. And everything, without moisture, was powder. Trees would disintegrate at my touch. Asphalt roads were gray strips of dust winding through barren hills. No wind stirred. Stillness and silence were complete. My movements were all. It is dust and ashes. I thought… no… I knew the world was dead.

Dust to dust… ashes to ashes.

Odessa was gone. The entire Permian Basin was gone. Where it should have been, I found a gaping hole in the earth. I stood on the east side of the canyon and stared across its enormity to a sheer wall that stretched as far as I could see to the north and south. The pit appeared to be without bottom, and in the twilight that was both night and day, it was unclear to me where the land stopped and the abyss began. I stood a distance away, not caring to step into a deeper unknown. I don’t know if the wall on my side was as sheer as the one on the east. It didn’t matter really. I said a prayer for my mother and the rest of my family that had lived in the Basin. Their lives had centered on the black crude, which in my mind was the reason for the chasm that now stretched across the whole of west Texas. I theorized that when the moisture was pulled from the underground store of black soup, the rest turned to powder, and somehow the entire landmass was sucked into a dusty black grave. A deep grave. I wondered how deep it was…. and how hot. I don’t know if it was my imagination playing tricks on me, or simply my mind slipping a bit further into the dark loneliness of my situation, but nonetheless I thought I felt a puff of warm air wash across me, coming from the depths of the chasm. With no hesitation, I turned and walked quickly away.

When I’d put some distance between myself and the gaping hole, I began to walk slowly, thinking I should conserve energy. My destination was the once thriving capitol city of Texas, but I wasn’t sure why I wanted to go there. I guess it was home, if there was still such a thing. My thoughts wandered. At times, the want for water would assail my senses. My mouth would suddenly become parched and dry and I would envision rivers of cool, rippling water cascading over shimmering sun-bathed granite boulders. I wondered if things should grow any drier, would my tongue, would I…. turn to dust. I stopped. In my mind I could hear the water splash and gurgle as it rushed toward the Gulf of Mexico. My eyes closed and I dwelt upon on the sound. I seemed to sway side to side—it was as if the world were lolling this way and that—then I drifted into a mindless, thoughtless night…. and slept where I stood.

As I slept, I dreamed; sometimes vivid, often strange, but always, chilling, frightening dreams. Creatures came into my darkness and stood staring at me. A cat, one front leg missing, stood at my feet and looked up at me with dark, questioning eyes. It blinked, and the missing leg was there as if it had never been gone. A gust of hot air blew across my feet then the cat was not there.

Shimmering dust glittered in the moonlight, then fell and mixed in with the dark dirt at my feet. Tiny, green sparks flashed and then the world was dark again. A snake slithered past. I heard a woman’s soft laughter.

A child appeared in the distance. As he grew closer I could see that he wore only a diaper. His skin was dry and old. The look on his face as he came closer was blank except for the eyes. He had the same eyes as the cat, and for a moment I believed that it was the cat. I was convinced that should I remove the diaper I would find a long gold and white striped tail curled behind the young boy. The world, black and silent, void of life save for me and the small child at my feet, began to sway, and yet remained empty of sound. The child began to dance and his mouth, wrinkled by time, opened wide and an angry hiss came from deep inside the baby. He swayed before me in time to a song I could not hear. Another set of eyes appeared deep in his throat, and I felt my own lips part and the beginnings of a scream welled within my heart. Thunderous laughter exploded my silent world and I fell backward as if I’d been shoved.

I fell, flailing my arms and craning my head upward to see the child. He was gone and when I looked to my right, I saw him running across the barren land. The diaper was gone, but there was no striped tail. I awoke, still standing, my shadow stretched out before me. The moon was at my back, and I turned to look up at it. It was large beyond my comprehension, yet its light was dim. The ground before me was gray like ashes.

I stared long at the moon, wondering if I was truly awake. Wondering, too, if the moon were real. I recalled stories I’d heard as a child about the man in the moon, and I smiled. The moon smiled back.

A huge and dark slit opened and curled at both ends, and then blue eyes—the deepest, loveliest blue I’d ever seen opened above the grinning white lips. My mouth fell open, and I gaped at the sight. The earth rumbled beneath me and the ground dropped an inch or two. There was a thump, like a door closing and then a gunshot cracked from somewhere to my left. I ducked reflexively, then turned and looked into the darkness where the shot had come from. A puff of white smoke was curling from the end of a hellishly long rifle and the baby was grinning.

The child was dressed now. He wore a red silk suit, and it shined against the dark curtain of the night that was his backdrop. I thought he had grown, but as I looked him over head to toe I realized that he was not standing on the ground. He was above the earth, hovering a good six inches or more with his feet turned backward. I looked back to his grinning face, and he looked away toward the moon. Where his ear should have been there was a white horn curled forward, then down like a ram’s. When he looked back, the grin had turned downward and in his eyes was a look of utter and complete sadness. I glanced over at the moon and saw a small hole above one of the blue eyes. The eye below the hole was growing dim and turning a paler blue. I looked back to the child.

The boy’s eyes began to widen; his frown turned down even more, and he raised a fist in the air. I watched as his eyes grew until they were covering the top half of his face then he lowered his tiny fist and ran it across his eyes. A voice in my head said, “He sees everything.” The fist went up above his head again and then with strength that belied his size, the aged infant hurled something toward me. A moan, heavy with sorrow, filled the air, and I looked back to the moon. Blood, red and shining, was trickling from the hole above the dimming eye.

There came four quick puffs of sound at my feet then soft warm lips touched my cheek. A voice whispered, “Come with me.”

I turned and saw Jesus walking away, white robes flowing behind him. His hair was long and dark and blended with the night sky. His feet were clad in silver sandals and they shone a bright light before him. I turned and ran toward the moon, then panic stabbed at my chest, and I veered to the right, suddenly fearing the baby behind me. A dreadful knowing enveloped me and I was certain that should I look over my shoulder he would be raising the long rifle and aiming it at my heart. My face was warm where Jesus’ lips had touched it.

Casting my fear aside, I stopped and turned quickly to face the evil child.

There was no one there.

I glanced about, considered my position and knew suddenly that I had not run. Confusion ruled my senses, my feet turned suddenly cold, and the powdered earth undulated and shifted as though something evil were writhing beneath me.

I turned my head slowly and stared wide-eyed at the place where I had last seen the Christ; He was still there, arms outstretched, waiting patiently for me.

I looked down; no longer confused.

Cold shame washed over me, as another low moan filled the night, and the moon began to cry; a mournful, soft wailing.

I stared at the four bloodstained nails lying in the dust at my feet… and I cried with the moon.

End

 Copyright © 1995 C. Mashburn

10 Comments »

  1. dani said

    truly amazing first story! i am terrified of writing prose and that usually comes out in what i write. i must say, your story has an undercurrent of terror that you wove deftly from forefront to background and back again.

    • Awesome comments, Dani! And, yes, there is that undercurrent of terror–intentional–and one I felt while writing the story. When I began writing it, it was simply t illustrate to Sherry what I could do. The, whenI sat down to finish it, the story took on a life of its own. It was a new and wonderful thing for me, and I relish my time at this keyboard every day.
      Thank you very much for reading my story and commenting !
      As for your writing, don’t be afraid. Just let it out, and hold nothing back. Writing, in my opinion, comes from deep within our souls.

  2. Sherry Mashburn said

    very deft weaving of the many emotions we experience . . . terror, confusion, sadness

    • I wonder if these smoking visions are all too familiar to those dealing with wildfires.

  3. Oh, what an amazing story – thank you for sharing!

  4. Kept me enthralled the whole time.
    Very nice,
    Isadora

    • I’m glad you enjoyed it! Thanks for all your great comments today. I certainly appreciate your wonderful visits!

  5. I totally agree, amazing and enthralling. I’m so glad you shared this with us.

    • I’m SO glad you like it! It’s a bit long, so not too many folks take the time to read it, but I think they’re missing out!
      Thanks very much, Sonia, for the reads and awesome comments! Your visits and comments mean a lot to me!

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