Lunatics: Part 2
“Alright, Grandma. Tell me the scary stories,” Parker said, making sure to use finger air quotes to emphasize the word scary.
Grandma paused and looked off into the sky, watching the sun dip slowly below the mountains. Pink and orange hues painted the horizon. Then, she began. “What I’m about to tell you, your parents would rather I keep to myself. Your little sister is too young for the truth, so I will tell you as long as you promise to keep this information to yourself. Got it?”
Parker raised an eyebrow and smirked. Grandma turned to him and shot him a look that made the hair on the back of his neck stand up. He quickly wiped away his expression and nodded.
“Good. Now, as I have told you before when I was a little girl, I lived in a big white house with blue shutters. Back then, our country was still divided up in something called states. Each state had a name, and mine was called Pennsylvania.”
“Whoa, wait. I know you are lying. That’s that place in that book you made me read,” Parker interjected.
“No, that was Transylvania. And, this is no made-up book about vampires; this is real. Now keep your trap shut.” Parker mimicked locking his mouth with a key and tossed the imaginary key behind him. Grandma rolled her eyes and continued. “Now, by the time I could remember, the moon was already gone. My mother said that when she was pregnant with me, she and my father were sitting out on the back porch enjoying the warm summer night. Summer, I told you was the season right before Fall.
Anyway, my parents were gazing up at the moon, and suddenly there was an explosion. My mother said she couldn’t hear any noise, but the moon suddenly burst in the sky. This, of course, scared the living hell out of her and she jumped up and screamed. She clutched her tummy with me inside, barely able to watch as the Moon disappeared before her eyes. My father said it was almost like the whole thing happened in slow motion.
The next day, the world went into chaos. People from all over the world were posting on Facebook and Twitter, ‘Russians blew up the moon,’ and ‘God is punishing us.’ There were all sorts of crazy rantings. There was even a trending hashtag going around: #Goodnightmoon. No one knew what really happened, and of course, everyone was speculating and making assumptions. President Trump declared that it had to be aliens and that the United States was fully prepared to fight back. This just made things worse in our country.
People took to the streets in manic, terrifying states. Some were convinced the world was going to end, and most were just confused about how this would affect nature. You see, the moon had power over the oceans, the way the earth was tilted, almost everything. The smart people knew that with no more moon our ecosystem would be changed forever. And, they were right.”
“Ok, look, you really haven’t told me anything new. Can we skip to the good stuff?” Parker interrupted, throwing his hands up in exasperation.
Grandma sighed. “Do you know what the word lunatic means, kid?”
“Ya, it means a crazy person,” Parker replied with a shrug.
“Correct. Do you know where that word originates from? A long time ago, people believed that the moon caused certain diseases or mental illnesses. They’d call you a lunatic or say you were ‘moonstruck.’ This was how they explained things that doctors eventually realized were just epilepsy or bipolar disorder. They had nothing to do with the moon. In reality, people were just sick, and back then they had no idea how to fix it.
The irony here, kid, is that when the moon disappeared people went crazy. It was as if all sense of reality and common sense went out the door. Dangerous people with guns and knives rioted in the streets, looted stores, and killed anyone in their way. The police couldn’t contain the chaos, and eventually, the President had to step in and send in the army. The problem was, it wasn’t just some criminal with a handgun holding up a gas station at gunpoint. These were your neighbors, your friends, and even your clergymen…all storming the streets with agendas of their own. Churches and hospitals were set on fire, mass suicides, dead bodies littering the streets. Nothing made sense except violence and destruction.”
“Why would people do that?” Parker asked.
“Who knows? There is something called a ‘mob mentality’ where large groups of people spur each other to do awful things, that a single person wouldn’t normally do. Maybe it was that. Or, it was the fear of what would happen next. Either way, in the midst of all this chaos, parents boarded up their doors and windows and tried to live on canned food. When I was born, my father delivered me himself and took care of my mother. When the food started to get low, my father knew he had to take a risk and leave the house. My mother begged him not to go, but he went, leaving my mother and me alone in the house.
He left my mother with a small handgun, and he told her to board up the door again after he left. He said he would return by nightfall and he would knock three times on the back door, so she knew it was him. Unfortunately, my father did not return as promised.”
“What happened to him?” Parker asked, his eyes wide.
“My mother later found out that he was beaten to death with a tire iron outside of a grocery store. A group of three or four men jumped him, and he didn’t stand a chance. My mother said she waited three days before she went looking for him. She stayed in the house and held me tight as she heard gunshots, women, and children screaming and crying, and worse…laughter. Deep guttural laughter, as if the pain and suffering inflicted was some inside joke to the lunatics running around wreaking havoc.”
“How did she get away?” Parker asked.
“She hopped a train with me and a single suitcase. Her parents lived further out in the country, so she took a chance on going there. They had a small farm and a few acres. The phones no longer worked, and electricity was going out all over the country. But, my mother knew it was her only chance. Luckily for her and me, my grandparents were there. My grandfather had several shotguns and penchant for shooting strangers, so no one bothered them at first.”
Grandma paused and smiled. Then, she spoke again. “The white house with blue shutters. Lord, how I loved that house. Chasing the chickens around and picking wildflowers. I saw my last sunset in that house, right before the Long Day started. At least I thought it would be my last sunset. Turns out this beauty right here–this is it.”
Parker touched his grandmother’s hand, and she squeezed his back. All Parker had known up to this point was sunshine and warmth. There were occasional spouts of rain, but nothing that lasted a few hours or so. As long as he remembered, he and his family lived in the mountains in peace and quiet. There were only two other families he knew living nearby, and he occasionally went with his father on horseback to trade supplies or food with them. There was nothing to fear, nothing to really worry about. Parker always brushed off Grandma’s stories, assuming it was just an old lady rambling about the past. This was the first time he saw the pain in her eyes as she spoke.
“I’m sorry, Grandma,” Parker said quietly.
“That’s alright, kid. Life is about moving forward, always. Don’t you forget it. I can’t tell you what the future will bring, but I can tell you that survivors never give up.”
“Are you worried about the Long Night?”
Grandma looked at Parker with a furrowed brow. “There may be some dangers…things we can only speculate about. Scientists predicted the change in the cycle of day and night, and word got around about flooding and strange weather near the coast. The reason I’m telling you about the moon is that nothing has been the same since. People have been killing each other, the world stopped functioning as a normal society, and after the dust settled there was barely anything left. That’s why we live up in the mountains now, and we dare not leave. After every disaster, there is a fallout…like nuclear weapons that leave radiation behind. Some people are left disfigured…internally. Like their souls were ripped out and their minds mutated into something primal.”
“Is this about what Dad and Mr. Jones were talking about the other day?” Parker asked, his face now serious.
“Eavesdropping, I see?” Grandma chided.
“I heard Mr. Jones tell dad that they found a piece of a body when he was hunting. An arm with nothing but bones and ligaments left on…like something tore off the flesh,” Parker explained.
Grandma pursed her lips. “I see.”
“I heard Dad say something to mom too…about some group of people who…eat other people,” he said, trying to study Grandma’s reaction.
“Listen,” Grandma started, looking at her grandson square in the face. “I’m not going to lie to you, and tell you that’s all nonsense and everything will be fine. With the Long Night, we will all be vulnerable to the things that go bump in the night. But, your parents have taken precautions, and we will all have to suck it up and deal with what comes our way.”
“I’m not afraid,” Parker boasted. He stood up and puffed out his chest. “Dad taught me to shoot. I’ll kill anything that tries to hurt us.”
Grandma gazed out at the purple sky. The last streaks of milky light disappeared, and the dark was coming. She looked up and smiled at the white specs peppering the night sky.
“What the heck are those?” Parker asked, staring up.
“Stars, kid. Stars.”
“Hey, you two! Time to come inside, it’s almost completely dark,” Will beckoned from the front door.
Parker jumped as a wolf howled somewhere far away. He looked back at Grandma. “I’m not scared.”
Grandma stood up and shook her head. She placed her wrinkled hand on Parker’s shoulders and nudged him toward the cabin. “Maybe you should be.”