Moontide

Moontide

“There’s something wrong with the moon,” Sophie said, staring out the window. “It’s almost green-looking. Apple green. Sweet, delicious green.”
Austin did not bother looking up from the television. He was tired. He was tired because it was nighttime and he was watching a BBC Nature program on Netflix. He always did this on a weekday to put himself in the mood for bed. He inherited the habit from his father, who would follow the same habit on weekdays. Only, his father had watched PBS Nature programs, since that was all that was available to him back then. Since Austin and Sophie lived in the Valley, it was hard to get a signal from any local stations. All of their neighbors in the subdivision used Netflix or satellite tv.
“Its so green,” Sophie said. She stood at the window, with her fingertips planted on the glass. Ever since the birth of their first child, Dallas, she had a hard time losing weight. Where she was once lithe and lean she was now plump around her hips and stomach. Where she once wore tight, contour-conforming blouses and jeans that made her husband hungry for her curves, she now wore loose, curve-flattening hoodies and jogging pants that rendered her a unisex tomboy. She had been trying to lose weight every day, but the only thing she lost was hope. She tried to exercise in the evening, but it was hard to find time when she had to sit at a cubicle for nine hours, juggling HR spreadsheets and payroll accounts, and then had to come home to look after their son.
Austin was an oil rig man who worked on the coast. It was a job his father did, and his grandfather. Three months on, one month off. This was his month off. Coming home made him relieved, but he always felt a bit disappointed, too.
“Maybe I should wake up Dallas,” Sophie said.
“Let the boy sleep,” Austin grumbled, his own eyes dragging heavily up and down in uncertain wakefulness. “And let me sleep.”
“It might be one of those once-in-a-lifetime events,” Sophie said, never once taking her eyes off the moon as it reigned above the Valley. “He might miss out.”
“Let the boy sleep,” Austin repeated, drifting off. His eyes went in and out of focus on a gigantic flock of birds going on migration. He was so tired, and lacked so much concentration, that he could not remember the name of the birds. The Narrator of the program— some Brit with a silken voice that cradled Austin’s mind like a hammock—lilted in a swaying song of syllabic cadence.
“I think I will go get Dallas,” Sophie said. Yet, she did not leave the window.
For Christ’s sake, Sophie,” Austin growled, rousing again. “Leave the boy alone. No wonder he ain’t growing at all. He isn’t getting enough sleep to grow.”
“That’s not true, Austin,” Sophie said, too wonderstruck by the moon to be defensive or even peevish about the assertion. “The doctor said his hormones just haven’t kicked in yet. He’ll have a growth spurt eventually and maybe he’ll be almost as tall as you.”
The thought that Dallas would not be taller than Austin bothered Austin. He took a deep, disgruntled breath and sighed through his nose; noisy with aggravation. He folded his arms across his chest and adjusted himself on the sofa. “Maybe we should put him on some protein drinks,” he said. “At this rate we’ll be lucky if he’s five foot tall. And the kid needs to eat something. Jesus, a strong wind would blow him away.”
“He’ll get better,” Sophie said, still staring out the window. “Just give him time to fill out.”
Austin almost said “Fill out like you have?”, but he knew it was meanness and did not want to say it, however much he thought his wife was now a jelly-belly. His son was a sore spot for him, and often provoked him in ways nothing else could. Dallas was asthmatic. He was sickly. Austin had wanted a son like himself: a rough-and-tough football player always getting high-fived by the guys and handjobbed by the cheerleaders. He wanted a son that was happy. But Dallas was a nerd. He liked computers. He liked looking at the stars. He liked playing videogames. Granted, the videogames had half-naked women strung throughout them, but that was a mere shadow of what Austin enjoyed in highschool. And at this rate Dallas was going to be like those awkward, quiet kids that Austin mocked throughout highschool. He was going to be a loser.
Something flew past the window, faraway. Despite the brightness of the moonlight, the thing flying was too faraway to discern as it floated above the concave neighborhood. It became lost in starlight and distance. Whatever it was, it did not move like a bird. It floated like a balloon on a gradual rise. Austin wondered if it was a birthday party balloon or a bachelor party balloon. Part of him wished to see a stripper dancing in front of him.
“Wow,” Sophie sighed. “Look at all of them. They’re really going…”
Austin inhaled and exhaled laboriously, then settled in again, trying to fall asleep. The Nature program had shifted from birds to some jellyfish in the sea, all gathering under the pull of the moon.
“I need to see better,” Sophie said. “It’s just so…so beautiful.”
As if sleepwalking, she went upstairs.
“Don’t wake the boy up,” Austin muttered, half-asleep. He drifted in and out of sleep. One moment he was watching a group of tentacled lights dancing in dark waters; the next, he saw a small fish chasing a glowing lure in utter void, only to be devoured by a horrific mouth. Then came Canadian Geese flying high above drafty, plummeting depths. Then came salmon swimming upstream, leaping toward breeding grounds. Bears caught them as they passed, and tore them apart with easy demeanors. He was not sure if he was watching a Nature program with ADHD or whether he was simply dreaming about all of the Nature programs he had watched throughout the years.
He roused a little when he heard tapping on the window upstairs.
“Jesus Christ, woman,” he grumbled, more to himself than anyone else. “You never quit, do you?”
He leaned forward on the sofa, rubbing his face with his hands and growl-sighing in annoyance. Standing, he stretched his arms, ready to walk to the master bedroom and crash, hard, upon his bed.
But then something caught his eye. There was a greenish glow upon the Valley. He could not see the moon, but he could see down the sloped neighborhood and over the rooftops that swooped down along the Valley’s crater. There were things floating into the green-tinged air. Hundreds of them. Their bodies were slack, hunched over, and rising slowly as if pulled upward by the shoulders on gentle ziplines. They were not birds or balloons. One flew past the window and he recognized it as Mr. Peterson, his nextdoor neighbor. Austin shook his head and rubbed his eyes, and still he saw them rising— rising into the sky.
Suddenly remembering Sophie, Austin hurried upstairs. He found her in Dallas’s room. She was tapping her forehead against the window. She floated a foot off the ground, as if gravity meant little to her pudgy body anymore.
“Sophie!” he gasped.
She turned around, in mid-air, still hunched over, her body lax. Her eyes were dilated utterly black.
“Time to go home,” she said. She turned away from him and touched their son, Dallas, on the forehead. “Get up, honey,” she said. “It’s time to go. It’s time for all of us to go.”
Dallas looked up at his mom, then toward the window. The little near-sighted boy became gawp-mouthed, like his mother, and floated up from his bed, the blankets and sheets slipping off of him. Austin ran to pull them both back. Pulling on them, he screamed. But then he, too, glimpsed the moon through the window. It was so large and green and close to the earth. It peered so closely at them— at all of them—and Austin finally understood.
It was time to go home.
He felt himself rise, alongside his family, and huddle against the window. He felt, distantly, the window buckle and shatter, falling away, letting the cool air of the Valley caress his face as he and his family rose above their house, and their neighbor’s houses, and felt the whole of the earth dissolve into a dream beneath them, their eyes and their brains and their thoughts full of nothing but that green light. Flying away like a great flock of…something. Words lost meaning. Images lost meaning. Life, as it had been on earth, lost meaning. Nothing mattered but the green light of the moon. Instinct dictated all, and all that mattered was to pass where that great lurking hunger had been waiting for them to come to it, one final time, for the harvest of a million millennia.

 

Author’s Note:  This story came to me in a dream; not all of its particulars, but the main thrust of the story.  I woke up this morning and typed it down in one go.  I doubt I captured the raw horror I felt upon dreaming this story, but I hope I conveyed it in a manner that makes it understandable.  Unfortunately, it was a very image-heavy story and I do not know if such things are “paintable” by words alone.  Vladimir Nabokov said he painted with words, and he certainly did, but I am not the literary virtuoso that Nabokov was.

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