As promised, here’s another short story. I hope you enjoy!
Under the Shadow of the Moon
By R.R. Wolfgang
The girl stepped out from under the canvas shelter, pulling her cloak tight around her shoulders and tucking her hood against the heavy downpour. A quick survey of the mud-covered street told her there was not much to see here. Rust-colored shacks, doors closed tight against the wind, and only the dimmest of light seeping from behind closed shutters and doors. Each shack looked nearly indistinguishable from the shack next to it.
The girl was lost. There was nothing familiar about this place. Try as she might, not a single memory came forward about this place or about anything from more than the moment before. She did not know where she was. She did not know who she was. She remembered nothing. The more she tried to pinpoint any single memory, the more it flitted just out of reach.
Perhaps this should have been unsettling, but it wasn’t. It wasn’t anything.
The girl was cold and her boots were wet through and through. She looked down at her pale hands, stark against the boring brown of the mud, and back up into the clouded skies. In that moment, a knowing seeped into her being. This was a desolate and unkind place. It reeked of unfriendliness. Anger. She had to get away. Far away.
Instead, the girl was caught in the middle of the lonely road, not sure which direction to go. Until something caught her eye. There, rising into the night’s sky along the Eastern road stood a tree like nothing she could have imagined. Even on a dismal day like this, it defied the bland grayness of its surroundings.
The contrast of its full branches against the dark skyline behind it should have been ominous, but somehow it wasn’t. The shimmer of the rain on its leaves somehow made the tree shine against the dark gray of the clouds. It seemed surreal. Otherworldly.
With great resolve, she set her jaw and made for the tree. Its thick branches would certainly provide a safer cover than any hut in this town, if her gut was to be trusted.
As the girl slogged through the ankle-deep mud, she was surprised that she had no desire or inclination to knock at any of the passing doors. Perhaps there may have been a friendly face behind one of those doors – but she doubted it. There was no laughter in this place. Even when she strained to hear, there was nothing. Under the sound of the heavy rain, there was only an equally heavy silence.
No, behind each door, something grim waited. Not for the rain to stop, but for the last shades of light to disappear beyond the horizon. Only then would the doors open. A chill shook her small frame then. She did not want to be near this place when true night fell. So she walked.
After what felt like hours, the girl finally left the town behind her. The road to the tree still stretched far ahead. While the tree itself had grown against the horizon, it still seemed so far away. And although she could barely feel her feet, the girl forged ahead, forcing one foot in front of the other until the monotony of it was mindless.
As she walked, a numbness seeped into her being. Each step became increasingly difficult and the girl felt those little memories dance further and further out of her reach. Daylight was all but gone and some unknown fear tickled at the back of her mind. She glanced back over her shoulder. The town was now a good distance behind her, but something seemed profoundly wrong about it. It stirred. For a moment, it seemed as if each building rose from the ground and shook the rain and mud from its wooden frame. Could that be possible?
No, it must have been her imagination. She shook her head and looked again. There. A ripple that spread from one house to the next until each building seemed taller. And then they moved.
The girl tucked her hood back over her hair firmly and tried to run. It was like moving through honey. The tree continued to stretch farther and farther into the sky. At some point, the rain stopped and the sun set, but the tree still shone in the night. Its branches bent and twisted to some unseen and unfelt breeze, reflecting the glow of the moon.
The closer she drew, the brighter the tree grew. Bathed in its light, the girl forgot how numb she felt. She forgot the nagging fear of the monstrous town that shambled behind her. The tree stretched out ahead of her, above her, and spanned wider than the road by more than ten times. She could smell it now – a clean smell of earth, leaves, and grass. It smelled alive.
The girl approached the magnificent trunk and now, underneath the thick foliage of its branches, she felt safe. Just then, the ground vibrated beneath her feet. She did not have to look behind her to know that the monstrous shacks were closing in around the tree. She felt them, all those rambling shacks, their anger and rage pulling at her. They wanted her to give in. To give up. She dared not turn and look, for fear of what she would see. In seeing, she knew, to her very core, she would cease to be. So the girl did not turn – she did not look behind her.
Instead, the tree drew her to it. Some soft melody sang to her from its branches and leaves. Although her ears still felt a roar of silence, she heard the music.
Finally, the girl was close enough to touch the tree. Only then did she see its true form. It was breathtaking. The bark was of a silver hue that, even lacking her memory, she believed she had never seen before. It glowed – not the glittering of rain in the fading daylight – it was the tree itself that shed light. Veins of silvery light traced their way intricately down the tree’s form. It was as if the tree had captured the very essence of the moon.
Again, somewhere in the distance, she heard that whisper of a haunting melody.
The ground shook again and this time the tree shook with it, a brace of its silver leaves falling towards her. Lost, the girl felt sad. She had led the town here, to this beautiful tree. It could protect her, she knew it, but at what cost?
The girl raised her hand and gingerly touched the tree’s bark, she closed her eyes and she fell…
…into the nothingness.
The girl heard something and her eyes shot open. Her neck and back ached. She could feel that. In many ways, her body still felt numb. She blinked and sat up, stretching her arms and yawning. She was still under the tree, but the world around her had changed. In fact, the tree had changed. It was still as majestic as it had been a few moments ago, but everything was different.
It was a few moments, wasn’t it?
The tree… She touched the tree. That was the last thing she remembered. Yes, it was all she remembered.
The bark was no longer silver and gray, but a rich brown and gold. The leaves were a brilliant red, shining a coppery glow in the bright rays of the sun. The girl leaned back into the soft wood and felt immediately at home. She had been afraid of something, but she couldn’t quite remember it. Much like she couldn’t remember anything else. She looked up into the thick net of branches and foliage and reveled in the soft bark at her back.
She heard that music again. Yes, she had heard it before, if she could just remember where. The tree shook, and she felt a rhythmic thumping. A fear rose in her throat. Something was so familiar about that rhythm, that melody. She just couldn’t quite place it.
The tree hummed then. She felt it. In its wordless song, it told her not to be afraid. It would protect her. She leaned back and felts its roots embrace her. She felt warm for the first time as she closed her eyes and fell once more into the nothingness.
The girl woke again feeling profoundly unsettled. Something was different. Something was wrong. The tree rattled and shook, and in the night’s sky, the branches were nearly devoid of its once brilliant foliage. The bark was silver again and she felt the cold seeping back into her skin.
“Please,” she screamed at it, even as she realized no words left her mouth. Her fingers sank into the bark, pieces falling away at her fingertips. She felt nothing. “Please, tell me what I must do.”
The song came back to her again, closer, with its haunting sadness. She fell against the tree, eyes swimming with tears, she tried to speak again.
“Please, tell me what I must do to save you.”
She thought it answered her, but she did not understand. It breathed the word into her soul, a word etched with sadness and hopefulness.
That didn’t make sense. Did it want her to run? Where to? She didn’t know where to go. She closed her eyes against the tears, feeling the soft, brittle branches embrace her as she held its glowing silver bark in her hands. She felt the ground shake again, and the tree shook with it, just as she fell into the bright light of the moon.
That sound it was familiar. She heard it getting closer and closer, louder and louder. Yes, and the music, that drum beat, so familiar. So loud. It was so shrill. Her head swam and she tried to push her eyes open but just couldn’t.
It was too hard. She tried to open her mouth to scream, but again, no sound came out.
The girl opened her eyes, and, as the world sped up around her, she remembered.
“Oh, my baby, thank god,” a woman cried as she wrapped her arms around Selena’s shoulders. The ambulance hit a bump, and the whole vehicle shook slightly.
“It’s okay, Mom,” she said, stroking her mother’s silver-red hair. “Everything’s going to be okay.”
Through the small shaded windows of the ambulance, Selena could see the warm glow of the moonlight. And she felt safe.