The bed of pine needles under my body were, thankfully, soft and cool. At least I thought they were as I lay on the ground, feeling the forest floor with my hands. The trees here seemed off. They were not like living trees. Their dark, twisted branches reached up like fingers with long, sharp claws toward the night sky as though they looked to skewer the stars. Though the light from most celestial bodies had no chance of reaching the ground, it was the sun’s reflection off of the moon that was my friend, allowing me to find my footing and stand up.
On my feet, I was able to look around a little more. The woods could have hidden all sorts of dark things, and still, I felt more at home than I ever have. Or, at least, more than I have in a very long time. In the air was a welcome frost. Enough to cool the skin but not enough to bite. Then I heard a voice. A voice so smooth and organic, it could have come from the trees themselves. For all I knew, it did.
“Hello Ray-Ray.” It said. A name my closest people called me when I was young.
I wanted to ask who was there. I wanted to ask where I was and why I was here. I’m pretty sure I didn’t utter a word, yet the voice still answered.
“C’mon kiddo’, don’tcha remember me?” Then he stepped out from behind a tree. From within the tree? He was so dark that I could barely see him. I could make out a strange, long overcoat and hair that was obviously not kept clean. His facial features were obscured in shadow. Though I could make out the glimmer in his eyes. Brighter than they should have been.
Still, although his demeanor and the shadowy nature of his form seemed like he could be dangerous, instead, everything about him was inviting. I couldn’t put my finger on it. Like a brother, a father, a mother, even a lover. I could feel that, somehow, we were connected.
I looked at him, still internally asking who he was. Again, as if he’d heard, he chuckled, light reflecting from his perfect teeth. His perfectly sharp teeth.
He said, “You can call me Mister Moonlight.”
That’s when I realized why his eyes seemed brighter than they should. It was like the moon was shining right through them.
And that’s when I woke up.
I’m sure there were bits of the dream that had escaped me, but what hadn’t replayed in my head, over and over again, as I got ready for work. I had to tie my tie a few times because I would space out, picturing the bright eyes, sneaky smile, and soothing voice of he who called himself Mister Moonlight. Or did I call him that? It was, after all, my dream. There was something so familiar about the whole ordeal. Something reaching for the forefront of my mind. Perhaps I’d dreamt of Mister Moonlight before.
I left my perfectly normal apartment, got in my perfectly normal car, and before I arrived at my perfectly normal job, I had stopped thinking about the dream entirely and moved on to the stresses of the day. The bitter coffee, the hours in front of a computer screen and the awful, grating voice of my boss as she stood in front of us at a conference meeting. These meetings were always pretty much useless and always boosted her ego.
It was at this conference meeting when my phone buzzed. Since boss lady was busy breathing fire at a colleague of mine, colleague being a very loose term for “person I see at the office,” I decided to give my phone a peek.
The ID read ‘Marcus Santolouco.’ Son of a b***h. Looking at that name, I realized I hadn’t talked to the man in probably three years. Sure I had liked a few Facebook posts and we may have shared a few comments with one another, but a true conversation hadn’t been held with my childhood best friend since his father passed away. And even that discussion was a glorified “Sorry for your loss” hallmark card.
Suddenly I was transported to my hometown of Glenn Grove, Oregon. The untamable weather, the wishy-washy drug laws, my old stomping grounds. The woods. I remember the woods of Oregon. The house I grew up in with my attached-at-the-hip little sister, Dina. We had our own little group. Our own little Goonies. Marcus, Dina, our dweeby friend Carl and his brother Eric. The five of us were always together after school and on the weekends.
That was until Carl had killed himself. Just ten years old when he threw himself off the old Tucker Bridge, down to the rocks below. I don’t remember every detail about being young, but I remember the crying, the anger, the shock absorbed by our little ragtag gang. One of the things I remember most vividly was Eric’s reaction. He had started skipping school, which at twelve was an accomplishment. He would skip and go down to Tucker Bridge. Every time he went missing, everyone, probably mostly his parents, were terrified he was thinking of following in his little brother’s final footsteps.
I remember going to the bridge one day and seeing him standing on the edge. Marcus slowly walked up to him, his hands in the air as if ready to catch him. “Don’t do it Eric.” Marcus had said. He and Dina were worried. Somehow, I knew he didn’t want to jump. He just wanted to see if he felt the same way his brother might have, standing on that edge in the last few seconds of his life.
“F**k you.” Eric said. He backed away from the edge and walked away. We didn’t see him much after that. I’m not sure why that moment stuck in my head so firmly. Maybe it was the downfall of the remainder of our group, maybe it was because it was one of the first times I’d heard anyone in our group utter the F-Bomb. Mostly, I think it was the look in his eye when he looked directly at me and said it, despite the fact that it was Marcus who was right next to him. I remember that, after that moment, I didn’t want much to do with anyone anymore. Including my closest friend and my clingy sister.
Marcus and me. Our relationship seemed to be highlighted with death. As I looked at the phone with his name on it, I had the sinking feeling that this could be one of those times. Luckily, I was in a meeting and couldn’t take the call. Unluckily, it was the dragon lady that shook me out of my past.
“Raymond Harris!” She bellowed. “Is there something in your lap that’s more important than your job?”
“No. No ma’am.” I said and thought, Christ lady, we’re a risk assessment company, don’t have a damn heart attack.
The day had been terribly long and annoying. Dragon lady decided to lay into me some more after the meeting when she stopped by my “office,” my company’s word for cubicle. Then, after more hours in front of a computer, I drove to the Salty Dog, a regretful name for any business, let alone a bar. However, it was one of the only bars in town where I could get a quiet seat in a corner and not be bothered by drunk college students, drunk sports fans, or drunk war vets, and just get a little drunk by myself.
After the long day and the seemingly longer cab ride home from ye olde Salty Dog, I dropped my jacket and my pants, and fell into the abyss that was my bed. It was maybe seconds before my bed of blankets had again, turned into a bed of soft, cool pine needles.
Mister Moonlight met me in the woods. The tops of the twisted black trees still longing to touch the bright dots in the sky. He chuckled and smiled and made me feel welcome. I don’t remember having a conversation with him, but it felt like we spent hours looking at each other. He leaned toward me from the trees, still not revealing much of his face. His grin grew from cheek to cheek, creating nearly visible lines in his face, and he put his finger up to his lips.
“Ring ring, Ray-Ray.” He said. “Ring ring.”
I woke with a start, my head pounding like something was trying to get out. Ring ring. I thought. Then I heard the buzzing. I sat up and looked around. It buzzed again. It was my phone, still on vibrate. That’s when I had remembered the call from Marcus.
I got out of bed and flicked on the light, an action my pounding head thanked me for by increasing three-fold. I looked around the room and spotted my jacket. By the time I had dug my phone out of the pocket, it was too late. I had missed Marcus’ call again. The time read midnight. Why the hell would he be calling me at midnight?
The phone had a voicemail indicator and I tapped it. Marcus’ voice came through the phone as I laid down on my bed, closing my eyes, willing the ache in my brain to go away.
“Hey Ray. It’s been a long time. I suppose you’re at work, so please, give me a call as soon as you can. It’s important.”
I hated it when people would call and leave a message to call them back. Why not just tell me what was going on? Who died?
The phone buzzed again. Another voice mail. Turned out I was right.
“Ray. I need you to call me back immediately. It’s Dina’s husband. Ray, Jerry killed himself last night. She’s going to need you here. It’s weird. The way he did it was weird. Just give me a call. I can get you a ticket back to Oregon if you need it. Just call me.” It sounded like Marcus, and at the same time, it didn’t. He was scared.
I didn’t call him back that night. I hated talking on the phone. Especially when you were trying to give your condolences. I didn’t really know Jerry very well. I didn’t make it back for his wedding to Dina. The most I knew about him was that he worked for the city in some sort of fire safety regard. He and Marcus had become close. That always struck me as strange since I knew Marcus had, at least at one point, a disgusting hard-on for my little sister.
I flew out the next morning without a word to Marcus or Dina. S****y move on my part, but at least I was coming back for them.
Just a few hours later, the tiny tin-can of a plane I was in began to circle the Medford, Oregon airport, waiting it’s turn to land. Southern Oregon had been just as I remembered it. Bright, green, big cities with a small town feel, and depressing. Maybe that last one was just me. Oh, to be home.
When Dina had married Jerry, they lived in a tiny apartment together. When they learned they were expecting their first kid, Jerry took his savings (quite the gentleman) and dropped it into a large brick house in the hills overlooking Glenn Grove. There were cars parked up and down the drive. They sure got the memorial together quickly. Jerry must have had a large circle of family and friends because I didn’t recognize most of the people walking into the house.
I got out of my rental car and looked up at the big house. A chill ran down my spine as I took it in. The fact that I was back in my hometown. The fact that I was about to talk to my sister for the first time in several months. I hadn’t seen her or Marcus face-to-face in nearly eight years. Then I noticed the trees. Jerry’s hard earned money had bought them a place with plenty of land to space out the neighbors, and in that space, was woods. Woods so dense and deep it could block out most of the sun. Or the moon.
I spun on my heels. There he was. Marcus. The man I grew up with when we were just boys. The man with whom I shared all of my secrets. At least, up until Eric left the group.
“Why didn’t you call me back?” Marcus said. He looked healthy, but tired. He kept his hair neat and filled out the monkey suit he was wearing far better than I thought he would’ve when we were much scrawnier, younger men. “I’ve been explaining to Dina all day that you’re probably just too busy at work.”
“I uh…” I had started, but didn’t really feel like explaining my selfish ways. It didn’t matter. Before I could come up with a lie, Marcus had wrapped his arms around me, squeezing me like he wasn’t going to let me get back on my plane.
“How is she?” I asked when he’d finally released me from his grip.
“She’s not well. She loved him very much. They had the perfect marriage.” He said, then went back to being a little more hostile. “She’s mad at you.”
“I figured she would be.”
“You weren’t here for the wedding. You’ve never met her kids.”
“I came back.” I said, a little more forcefully than I had meant. “I’ve met her kids over video phone calls. I have talked to her and Jerry. I just keep busy back home.”
“Thought this was your home.”
“It was. A long time ago.”
We fell in line with the rest of the black-clad mourners and went inside. The memorial was beautiful and so many people had a lot to say. Marcus got up and said something so moving that I felt a small pang of envy. Look at me, jealous of a guy who just killed himself. The worse part of the entire thing was that Dina couldn’t get up and say anything about her own husband. She was too busy tending to her weeping children.
Corey was their first, now about six, and Natalie followed nearly a year later. I had talked to them several times. Corey seemed to take a liking to me, despite the distant relation.
After the memorial was over, and all the condolences had been given, all the mourners left the widow and her children with a mess of food crumbs, napkins, and empty drink cups to clean up. I never understood having a memorial in your own home.
After everyone was gone, I finally had the chance to see my sister. It was nerve-wracking. But when she saw me standing in the foyer next to Marcus, she seemed to brighten up, even if it was just the tiniest bit. We hugged. It had been so long. Despite my hatred for this place and everything it was, I could never, ever have anything but love for Dina.
“Hey pizza-face.” She said, tears in her eyes.
“Hey onion-breath.” I replied. It was a little awkward using our childhood terms of endearment after mourning the death (or celebrating the life, depending on who you talk to) of her husband. Still, it was tradition.
She may have been mad at me before I arrived, and perhaps she was still upset with how I’ve acted the past eight, or maybe even twenty years, but that night, Marcus, Dina and her kids, and I had a decent time catching up. She told me all about Jerry. So many stories I had missed out on. Marcus joined in, and even if it left me with a bitter taste in my mouth, I was glad to hear he had such a friend in Dina’s husband.
After Corey, who had dozed off in my lap, and Nat had been put to bed, the atmosphere that hung in the air took a turn. Dina was obviously going to have trouble on the lonelier nights. I wondered, fleetingly, if Marcus might eventually be able to comfort her on those nights.
“Marcus.” I said. I’d been wondering since his phone call. “You said that, it was a little… weird. Jerry’s death.”
Marcus took a breath and looked over at Dina, who was staring at the empty glass of wine. Her fourth, if I was keeping count accurately. “I don’t think…” He started.
“No.” Dina said. “It’s okay, I want him to know. In fact, I should be the one to tell him. I was the one who was with him until he did it.”
“Dina, you don’t have to.” I said. The last thing I wanted to do was make her relive it all.
“I want you to know.” She said. We refilled our glasses and settled in like it was some sort of morbid story time. And the story she told was a whopper.
The strangest thing, Dina had said, was that Jerry had never seemed depressed. In fact, he was quite the opposite. All the time. Jerry was a very light-hearted, optimistic individual. Sometimes to the point of annoying Dina. Whenever she was down, or having a hard day, Jerry was the first one to try to cheer her up. Sometimes it worked. Sometimes it hadn’t.
The problem hadn’t really started until the day before he killed himself. When he woke up in the morning, Dina noticed immediately the change in his mood. She had never seen him that way. He took his time getting ready for work, he didn’t smile, he didn’t say good morning. He even skipped the creamer and sugar in his morning coffee. She really knew something was up when he barked at the kids for leaving their toys out. She was usually the disciplinarian, he was always the one to use the phrase “kids will be kids.”
When he had gotten home that night, he was sweating. Dina became worried about him and called the doctor, making him an appointment in the morning. He had argued that he needed to work, not go visit some quack, but he didn’t have much fight in him. By the time she’d gotten the kids into bed that night, he’d began to ramble.
He spoke of moving shadows, things that came out of the corners of the house. They came to get him. Dark, black things, with tendrils for arms and rows of black, slimy, sharp teeth. He had closed all of the windows, shades and curtains, mumbling something about them coming in from the woods. Out of the woods and into the corners of their house.
Dina had called the doctor once again, getting the emergency night nurse. The nurse had told her to keep Jerry under close watch, take his temperature and give him Tylenol if he had a fever. Fevers tend to bring on slight hallucinations.
Once she was off the phone and entered the living room where Jerry had been curled up on the couch, he was fast asleep. Dina figured she would stay up and keep watch. She flicked on a lamp next to the couch and opened a book. Before midnight, she fell asleep with the book on her chest.
It was nearly four o’clock in the morning when Dina woke up. She began to panic when she saw Jerry was no longer sleeping on the couch. She stood quickly and went for the stairs to check their bed, but she didn’t have to go up. Dina noticed the back door, by the kitchen, was left open. She grabbed a flashlight and took off out into their yard.
After looking for nearly half an hour, Dina found her husband, his body twisted and broken, at the base of a large tree, a good thirty yards into the woods. Blood was still draining from his body, mixing with the pine needles on the forest floor. Dina remembered screaming at the woods for what seemed like hours before the cops showed up. Apparently, Corey had heard her screams and called the police when he couldn’t find her or his Dad.
The coroner said that Jerry had climbed the tree he was next to, probably at least twenty or thirty feet up, then jumped. When Dina asked if it was possible that her husband just fell, the coroner said that it was possible but unlikely. At the base of the tree, Jerry had carved the words: They got in.
“They got in?” I asked. “What do you think it meant?”
Dina said, “I’m not sure. Whatever he was afraid of getting into the house maybe?”
“He was sick.” Marcus chimed in. “He was sick and seeing things, and something got into his head. And told him to jump.”
The three of us sat in silence for a while. I’m not sure what either of them had been thinking at the time, but all I could think of was the woods. Jerry was afraid of something in those woods and in the end, decided to take his life there. What scared me most, was that I’d already been dreaming of the woods. Except that my dreams didn’t come with monsters in the shadows. My dreams came with him. Mister Moonlight.
That night, I had told Dina I was going to find a hotel, but she wouldn’t have it. I wound up sleeping on the couch, and it was a good thing I did. Considering what would happen to Dina later that night.
I tried reading before I went to sleep, but I only got a few pages in before I returned to the woods. I returned to Mister Moonlight. He still had a smile on his face despite the memorial and the terrible story Dina had told me earlier. Apparently, it had no effect on my psyche. He was a little closer to me this time. Still not close enough to see his face. Though, I felt, even if he was nose to nose with me, I probably still wouldn’t be able to make him out. He was also a bit chattier.
“Figure it out yet?” He asked in his smooth, welcoming voice.
I put my book down on the bed of pine needles. Figure what out? I had thought.
“Why I’m here, of course. Why you’re here. Where you know me from.”
I couldn’t remember. And he laughed. He put his finger to his lips again, then cupped his ear. I listened. I heard a raspy, airy voice say my name.
“Raymond.” It said.
I turned and gasped. Jerry was laying at the base of the tree, body twisted and broken, and blood draining from his mouth and eyes. I froze as Jerry’s corpse opened his eyes, shining like Mister Moonlight’s did. My feet failed me as his bones cracked and popped and began to shuffle his lively lifeless body slowly toward me. As he got closer, out of the corner of my eye, I could see what looked like tendrils reached out lazily from the tree trunks.
Suddenly, cold hands slowly grasped my shoulders. I knew I should have been terrified but the physical contact put me slightly at ease. Then Mister Moonlight whispered in my ear. “They got in Ray-ray. They got in, and they’re coming again.” Followed by his trademark chuckle.
Then, just as the woods began to fade around me, Jerry’s dead head opened its mouth and let out a shrieking scream.
Jerry’s scream lingered in my ears after I woke up like the ringing after a rock concert. Not that I’d ever been to one. The screaming was still so clear. And the more I thought about it in the first few seconds of my waking, I realized Jerry screamed very much like a woman would. Then I realized it wasn’t Jerry screaming at all. It was Dina.
I leapt from the couch and within seconds I was upstairs. I could feel my chest beginning to burn from what I expected to be asthma, or maybe it was a case of me getting a bit fat. I hit the upstairs hallway which made Corey and Nat jump, who were standing in the hall, looking half-asleep, half scared shitless.
“Get back to your room kids, I’ll help.” I said. It was as calm and cool as I could as not to scare them further.
Once they’d disappeared, both of them going to Corey’s room, I got to Dina’s room and tried to open it. The door wouldn’t budge. “Dina!” I shouted. She responded only by screaming. “Dina! Open the door!” I tried again. Finally, it was too much. I slammed my shoulder into the door. Pain seared and spread through my arm and collar. I did it again. The door finally gave on my third try, sending me into the room.
Dina had only a low wattage bed lamp on and she was standing on her bed screaming. Then I saw why. Out of the corners of the room, and nearing her bed were three large, black, creatures. They had sharp tendrils reaching out toward her, wanting her. They seemed to fade in and out of reality, like leftovers from a bad dream. Around them were items that came from Dina and Jerry’s bedside tables. She had tried throwing stuff at them.
I smacked the light switch, filling the room with light and ran over to the bed, my back turned to Dina, ready to fend off the things. Dina’s screams began to subside, as the creatures must have retreated back to the nightmares they came from.
Dina’s knees gave and she slumped to the bed, and we wrapped our arms around one another. She laid her head on my shoulder, weeping weakly. All I could think was that Mister Moonlight was right. They were coming. Was he trying to help us? To warn us? Or were they sent here by him? Too many questions. I knew just where to get the answers, but it would have to wait.
When Dina finally calmed down after a cup of coffee or two, she was finally able to talk about what had happened. She explained that she had been thinking about Jerry. More specifically, she had been thinking about Jerry’s body in the woods. I squashed the urge to ask her if he attacked her as he did to me. Dina told me that was when she noticed the tendrils coming from the corners of the room. She first thought it was her imagination, thinking of what Jerry must’ve seen, but then it wouldn’t go away, they just kept coming.
The worst part, she said, was the feeling she got. Not the feeling like she was insane, not the worry of a painful death, or even fear for her children. The feeling she got when those things came out of the shadows was cold despair. An empty, soulless feeling, that caused her to bring forth every sad memory. No, not sad, memories where she was to blame. Memories that made her feel like her husband, her kids, her brother, the world, would simply be better off without her.
It took some time, charm, and terrible coffee to convince her that it was all something that came from them. I had to convince my sister that she needed to be around. Finally, she began to feel normal again. She couldn’t believe that she could even think that way.
After seeing those things, I realized that there was a lot more to this than what I had thought. Though Mister Moonlight gave me a comforting feeling in the dreams, I began to see that was just part of his façade. Between Jerry’s death, the dreams in the woods and, now, having seen the shadow things for myself, I knew something had to be done. Since Mister Moonlight had come to me, I knew that I had to be the one to do it. I just wish I knew what it was. The thing I couldn’t quite put my finger on, however, was the feeling that Carl’s death had something to do with it all.
It seemed like the only thing that could be done was to stop these things at the source. I had to figure out a way to stop it. To stop the dreams. I had to kill Mister Moonlight.
Dina agreed to send Corey and Nat to one of her friends’ house for a couple of nights while we figured this out. Her friend, the kids called her “Aunt Kylie,” was very helpful and had a couple kids of her own for them to play with. It felt disgusting to send the kids away from their Mom so soon after they lost their Dad. It hadn’t seemed to hit them too hard just yet, but it will.
We asked Marcus if he would come back over and help us work through some things. When he arrived, Dina got us some beer and we sat in the living room. Dina was brave enough to begin telling him what happened, but just before she got to how the shadow creatures made her feel, I had to finish the story for her.
“That’s insane. That’s exactly what Jerry said he saw, wasn’t it?” Marcus asked.
Dina nodded her response.
“Whatever is going on here, I think it has to do with us. Me, you two, and maybe even Eric and Carl.” I told Marcus. “Have you heard from Eric lately?”
“Not for the last couple of years.” He said. “Last I heard he was doing some DJ work up in Portland.”
“Any chance you have a way to contact him? See if anything strange has happened?”
“I can do that.” Marcus said and stood up. He took out his phone and walked out of the room.
Dina was still spacey from telling what had happened to her. I sat next to her and put my arm around her.
“You think we’re going to die?” She asked.
I looked at her in worry. “Why would you say that? Of course not, we’re going to figure this out.”
She mumbled like she was going to say something, instead, she just started sobbing, putting her head on my shoulder. I didn’t know what I could possibly do to make her feel better.
Marcus entered the room, phone at his side, astonishment in his eyes. He was deep in thought, not looking at either of us.
“Marcus?” I asked, slowly getting his attention.
It took him what seemed like a full minute before responding. “Eric’s dead.”
Dina looked up at him now. Before I could ask how he died, Marcus responded. A little too similar to Mister Moonlight for me.
“He killed himself. Last night.”
It was then that I decided they needed to know at least as much as I did. So I told them about my dreams, about Mister Moonlight and how I thought I might be able to stop him. They had only a few questions about Mister Moonlight, but mostly they were on board.
“So, run it by me again. How are you going to stop this?” Marcus asked.
I knew how crazy it sounded, going mostly off of a hunch. “I think that… if I can stop him, kill him, in my dreams, maybe everything will stop.”
“And how do you plan on killing him in your dream?” Dina asked. She seemed to be a little more back to normal again. As normal as you could be talking about killing a dream man who sent shadow demons to make you commit suicide.
“These dreams are the most real dreams I’ve ever had. When I wake up, I can still feel the pine needles on my feet. I can still feel the cool wind. What I have planned may not work, but it’s worth a shot. I’m going to take a gun into my dream.”
“How?” Marcus asked.
“Earlier I had fallen asleep with a book in my hand. The book was in the dream too. I think if I fall asleep with a gun in my hand, and think about it as I drift off, I can bring it in.”
“And you think that will kill him?”
“I think that, if I truly believe I killed him, he’ll be dead.” I said. What I didn’t tell them was that this really was a shot in the dark. I had a lot of convincing to do to myself before I actually tried this.
Dina and Marcus mulled it over in silence for a while, giving me enough time to really start doubting the plan. Then Dina spoke up. “I guess it’s better than any other plan we have. What’s the harm in trying, right?”
Later that night, I prepared for the showdown with Mister Moonlight. Any gun shaped object would probably have done, but as it turned out, Jerry kept a pistol in the house, just in case. Dina took the gun out of the safe and started to load it.
“Keep it unloaded.” I said. She looked at me questioningly. “Just in case I actually pull the trigger while I’m dreaming.”
She took the bullets back out of the six-shooter. “Good idea.” She said, and handed the gun to me.
Suddenly I felt like a gunslinger in an old spaghetti western. Guns really weren’t my thing, but the old revolvers seemed to have an antique charm to them.
“Okay,” I told Marcus and Dina as I laid down on the couch, “don’t wake me up at any time. No matter how much it looks like I’m struggling. I’ll wake up when it’s over. Whether it works or not.”
I had downed a ton of night-time cough medicine to help me doze off. I knew I would probably have one hell of a gut ache later, but I needed to get to sleep quickly. Still, with my nerves firing at full speed, it was still hard to drift off. Eventually, I did.
The pine needles felt a little less cool this time. A little more sharp. The cold air was a little more biting. The stars just a bit dimmer. I had come to kill Mister Moonlight, and he knew it.
I sat up quickly, pointing the gun and looking around the dark trees. As I rose up, his voice came, once again, from the trees themselves.
“I don’t think you’re going to need that pea-shooter Ray-Ray.” He said.
“You’re killing my friends. You’re trying to kill me!” I shouted. I meant to come in a little more collected than I was, but nobody is ever as brave as they set themselves up to be in their heads.
“I don’t want to kill you Ray-Ray. Why would I want to do that? You and I have a deal, remember?” His shadow was visible next to some trees about twenty yards away, but his voice was right in my ear. His animal-like teeth bared with his devilish smile.
“What deal?” I asked. There was something that tied us together, I knew it. I just didn’t know what.
A chill ran up my spine and I may have let out a yelp when I saw someone out of the corner of my eye. I whipped around and aimed the gun. I was ready to pull the trigger when I saw that it was a kid.
“Hey, kid, what are you doing here?” I said. He ignored me and kept walking slowly toward Mister Moonlight. “Hey kid!”
He stopped and slowly turned his head back to me. Then I recognized him. It was me. It was bizarre. Like looking in a backward mirror that showed the past. I lowered the gun and watched in shock as he turned back and began to talk to Mister Moonlight.
A flood of memories began to drown me. Blurry at first, but clearer as their conversation went on. Carl. Carl had killed himself. Not because he was depressed, but because he was influenced by Mister Moonlight’s minions. Great name for a band.
He killed Carl to get my attention. To set up the deal. Twenty years. In twenty years, Mister Moonlight would return. He wasn’t lying about not wanting to kill me. He wanted to take me over. To possess me.
I felt like passing out. But I was already passed out, wasn’t I? The memories went blurry again and mini-me turned to smoke. Did it really happen? Did I really dream him up when I was a child?
“As I said, Ray-Ray, we had a deal. Now it’s your turn to hold up, or your friends die.” He said. Still smiling. Still f*****g smiling.
“And what if I kill you instead?” I asked, bravery boiling up inside my chest.
“With what?” He asked. “That stick?”
I raised the gun, or what used to be the gun. Now, I held a gun shaped stick. He had a lot more power over this dream-world than I had expected. But it was still in my head.
I thought hard. Believed in myself that I could bring back the gun, that it was still in my hand.
“You know what’s happening out there, while you’re in here Ray-Ray?” He asked.
I tried to ignore him, focusing on the gun.
“Take a look!” He said.
He was pointing into the woods and I looked. In the woods, I saw Dina’s living room, with me on the couch. The two of them were both holding knives keeping Moonlight’s creatures at bay. They thought they were protecting me, when really it was them that they wanted dead.
“No!” I shouted and raised the gun. The revolver, now in my hand again, went off easily as I squeezed the trigger, slamming the hammer down. The explosion inside the gun echoed off of the trees in an ethereal way. I missed and hit a tree next to Mister Moonlight. His stupid grin finally fell from his face as he began to run. Not away, but around, trying to avoid my aim.
I shot again, this time, hitting him in the shoulder. Mister Moonlight didn’t bleed like a real person. Instead, light poured out of the new hole in his body, moonlight, spilling out like liquid.
Again and again I fired until the revolver was empty, and Mister Moonlight was spilling light from four holes. He yelled and stumbled toward me. The light coming out of him illuminated his face. There was something so familiar in it. For a moment, I felt sad that he was dying. Like I was losing an old friend.
I looked over to Dina’s living room. The shadow creatures had disappeared and Marcus was now holding her. I sighed with relief and looked down at the now lifeless body of Mister Moonlight, if there ever was any real life in him to begin with. The light coming from him got brighter and brighter until I was awake.
I told them everything that had happened in the dream. Marcus and Dina, and even I wasn’t entirely sure it was over, but there seemed to be some relief in the room. Not nearly as much tension as before.
Dina discussed getting the kids back in the morning, and I told them I would probably leave sometime tomorrow. I assured them that it wouldn’t be nearly as long before I visited again. Marcus said he was going home, but Dina asked him to stay. She wanted both of us there that night. Though Mister Moonlight was gone, she didn’t feel right. I assured her that everything would be alright. That he was gone, those things were gone, and nobody else would die.
That night, the last night I would stay in Dina’s house, I told both Marcus and Dina that I wasn’t tired and that I would keep an eye out for anything weird while they slept, though again, I didn’t think there was anything to look out for anymore.
I read for several hours before deciding to stretch my legs. By this point Dina and Marcus were both fast asleep in the living room. Dina on the couch and Marcus on the floor nearby. I knew Jerry had just died a few days ago, but I found myself hoping that these two would end up together.
Walking around the lower level of the house, I still marveled at what Jerry was able to accomplish at a decently young age. He really was good for my sister. I’d been to every room in the house, mostly, over the weekend, but I hadn’t stepped into Jerry’s office out of respect. Now, it seemed, I’d earned my right to satiate my curiosity about my sister’s late hubby.
His office was distinguished. I wasn’t sure how much he worked at home given his position, but he certainly had a cozy little nook here. Books lined the walls, mostly fiction, some non. There were about three shelves dedicated to city planning, city fire codes, fire safety and the like. He was dedicated. To his job, to his family, he was dedicated.
I suddenly felt a little sick. Here I was standing in the office of a man who made my sister a wife, a mother, and gave her a home to raise her kids in. A dedicated, loving man, who would still be around if I hadn’t made that deal with Mister Moonlight. Of course, I didn’t have much of a choice in the matter, but that didn’t extinguish the guilt any. I had to get out of there, and I had to get out quick.
The sour feeling in my stomach seemed to subside a little as soon as I shut the office doors. I knew, from that point on, the image of Jerry’s broken body in the woods, would haunt me for the rest of my life.
I went back to the living room to check in on the others and to pick up my book again. Dina was still sound asleep on the couch, having stuck her leg out of the blanket. She was exhausted. Marcus, on the other hand, was no longer wrapped up in his blankets. I peered in, he was nowhere in sight.
He probably got up to take a piss or get a drink, I thought, so I headed toward the bathroom. The downstairs one was still empty, so I tried the kitchen. As I’d expected, Marcus was standing in front of the sink.
“Having some trouble sleeping?” I asked. When he turned around, my heart thudded against my ribcage and I couldn’t breathe.
Marcus’ eyes were bloodshot to the point he had a tear of blood streaming out of the right one. His expression was terrified, desperate. Then the silver caught my eye. He had a large kitchen knife against his wrist.
“Ray?” He said, almost a plea for help.
My rubber legs began to move me toward my best friend, but they weren’t fast enough. He plunged the knife into his wrist and pulled it up, spilling his dark red blood onto the tile floor.
“Dina!” I yelled as I caught Marcus before he fell hard into the puddle of his blood. I grabbed a rag from the counter and put it over the cut, holding it there as tightly as I could. “Dina!” I shouted again.
She came around the corner in a hurry and screamed when she saw me and Marcus sitting on the ground, painted red. She grabbed the phone and ran over to us, dialing 911 as she came.
Everything seemed to slow down while ideas spun through my head. Marcus had lost a lot of his color, Dina did her best to hold his head up while she gave the 911 dispatch her address. I saw Mister Moonlight in my head, laughing his a*s off at how he tricked me. There was only one thing to do and I knew it.
Dina hung up the phone and I grabbed her chin, getting her attention. “Dina. I know what I have to do.”
“What are you talking about?” She asked. “We gotta’ get him help.”
“And you will. But I have to stop this before the same thing happens to you.” I started to lose her attention again so I raised my voice. “Dina!” She looked. “I have to leave…”
“What? You can’t!”
“…and I have to finish this. Once and for all. I have to go, but Dina. Dina, if I come back, if I walk back through those doors, whether it’s a moment later or months later, if I come back, it won’t be me. Do you understand?”
She shook her head slowly. “What are you talking about?”
“Just promise me you’ll remember that it won’t be me.” I said.
It took a moment, maybe too long, before she nodded and said, “I promise.”
I hugged her close, feeling the tears coming. “I love you onion-breath.”
She smiled a sorrowful smile. “I love you too pizza-face.”
Without another breath, I stood up and left, walking at first, then running out the back door of the house and into the woods. I ran straight at a tree and knocked myself unconscious.
The transition was seamless. As soon as I hit my head, I fell into the dream. Instantly, there he was. Mister Moonlight was standing only a few feet away, all good feelings he gave off originally were completely gone. He laughed. He laughed a bully’s laugh that went right through me. Anger rose up in my belly like a pot of water over-boiling.
I stood up and he threw his hands up in the air. “Please sir! Don’t shoot!” Then he laughed again, and I attacked.
I barreled into his stomach, taking him to the ground. I straddled his chest (to which he gave a flirtatious “ooh”), and I hit him. Over and over, I hit him. His face never swelled, never went bloody, I only drove his uninjured head deeper and deeper into the soft dirt. He laughed the entire time and it just pissed me off more.
My fingers wrapped tightly around his neck, even though I knew at this point that there was absolutely no way to kill Mister Moonlight. I would have to accept his offer and hope for the best. I screamed into his face, “Do it! Just get it over with you a*****e!”
He stopped laughing and smiled impossibly bigger. “You know just what to say to me Ray-Ray.”
Then he pulled me in close and pressed his lips against mine. The feeling of how ridiculous his actions were was fleeting. I realized almost immediately that he was transferring himself into me. I was filled with what could only be described as a dark glow. An evil light. Moonlight.
I opened my eyes and I could see. I stood up, but couldn’t feel anything. Then I start walking toward the back door of Dina’s house. I wanted to turn away, I wanted to run in the other direction, but I was no longer in control of my body. He was. I had no sensation other than to see. My hearing was muffled and I could see, all other senses were shut down. Whatever Mister Moonlight had planned, he wanted me to see.
In the kitchen, Dina and Marcus were no longer sitting in the pool of blood. There was a streak heading toward the front of the house. I/he walked into the hallway and then rounded the corner, following the blood.
Dina sat in the living room with Marcus’ head on her lap. He was covered with blankets, his arm wrapped up tight. Mister Moonlight cleared my throat and Dina turned.
“Ray?” She asked. I could see the realization come over her face when it hit her. She was no longer looking at her brother. She stood up quickly, spilling the out-cold Marcus onto the floor. I briefly wondered if he had already died.
The morbid thought was interrupted by Mister Moonlight pouncing at my sister, stretching his fingers out to find purchase. And he did when she turned to flee, his/my fingers grabbed a handful of her hair and pulled her to the ground, her head hitting hard on the rug-covered wooden floor.
I wanted to stop this, I want to scream and I wanted to kill this evil parasite controlling my body. The last thing my sister sees should not be her brother trying to kill her.
Mister Moonlight sat on top of Dina and slapped her twice before wrapping his hand around her neck. She struggled. She twisted and turned. I could hear my own voice saying something disgusting to my sister but couldn’t stop it. Suddenly, I fell to the ground. I couldn’t feel what had happened, but when Mister Moonlight looked up, I filled in the blanks.
A very sick-looking Marcus had gotten up and grabbed the fire poker from the fireplace and struck Mister Moonlight on the back, knocking him over. I/he wasn’t down for long. He sprang up to my feet and kicked Marcus, sending him to the wall and knocking the fire poker out of his hand. Mister Moonlight balled up my fists and began punching Marcus while holding him against the wall. So many times I’d lost count. Marcus’ face became unrecognizable.
Then I heard Dina shout something that sounded like “Moonlight!” He turned to face her. She stood defiantly and egged him on. Challenging him to come at her. I wanted to tell her to run, just get out. But she stood her ground, unable to hear my pleas.
Mister Moonlight flew at her using my feet. A glimpse of brass in the corner of my eye and Mister Moonlight stopped dead in my tracks. The fire poker. She had grabbed it and now stabbed it through the base of my jaw, up into my skull.
I couldn’t feel the pain in my head. I couldn’t feel the hot blood spilling down my chest from my chin. And I couldn’t feel when I fell to my knees, Dina holding me up. What I could feel was the fear, the hatred, and most of all the utter despair in my sister’s eyes as she rammed the fire poker harder through her brother’s head.
“I’m sorry Ray-Ray.” She whispered as clear as day. Her face faded, and my vision went black.
I was in that black, that void, for what seemed like decades. I was terrified that this was all the afterlife had to offer. Was I doomed to this limbo for letting Mister Moonlight take me?
Finally, I began to see again. I could hear again. Smell and feel. I saw the dark, twisted trees, reaching up toward the stars in the black sky. I could smell the fresh air and feel the soft, cool pine needles under my feet.
More and more came into my line of vision, but nothing more surprising than him. My nephew, Corey, was standing out in the open, looking nervous. “Hello Corey.” I said.
He looked around, not seeing me. “Who’s there?” He asked.
I stepped out and I wanted to tell him how much I missed him and Nat and his mother. I wanted to tell him that I loved them. I wanted to ask him how everyone was and if Marcus was okay. I opened my mouth to say all of this, but all that came out was “You can call me Mister Moonlight.”