The Mysterious Moon
It all started when the moon cracked.
Ri had already been having a tough day. Earlier, after school, he’d ridden his bike home, lost in thought. He had forgotten to avoid riding down their small town’s most dangerous street: Star Cactus Lane. When he wasn’t distracted, he could predict the future. Use his superior understanding of the world to anticipate what might come next. Not today.
The three bullies—intent on tormenting him—jumped out of the alley and threw sticks at his tires. He swerved like a maniac and almost crashed. Heart pumping and legs shaking, he biked home in record time. He tossed his bike into the bushes, rushed up the steps, and swung open the door. He flung his backpack across the living room, and it crashed into the couch. He slammed the door with all his strength and opened his mouth to curse the bullies.
His mother jumped and spilled her hot tea on the dining room table. She sat in the dark, her face buried in her right hand. Her dirty blonde hair hung in sweaty strings across her small shoulders. She kept her head down. “Rieden,” she mumbled. “Why are you so loud?”
Still struggling to catch his breath, Ri snapped back, “Sorry, Mom. I thought you were still working at the hospital.”
Ri kicked off his shoes into the corner. Ri’s mom gripped her tea with one hand and rubbed her temple with the other. “How was school?”
“Fine.” Not fine. Never fine. School: a form of torture invented by sick, twisted people with a craving to ruin people’s lives. Wasting his time memorizing dead people’s birthdates was a pathetic use of his superior intellect. But Ri never told his mom the truth. She wanted to pretend life was a carnival. Well, kids get sick at carnivals too, Mom. The rides make them sick. The candy makes them sick. But sure, let’s pretend it’s all fun and games. Still, the urge to protect his mom from his personal problems with bullies trumped his wish to come clean. His mom needed him to be strong, for them both.
His mom sipped her tea. “Probably not fine, mister.”
She used a certain tone that smacked him hard. He rushed over to the kitchen and switched on the light. “Why are you sitting in the dark?”
His mom covered her eyes and blocked the light with her hand. “Stop! I’ve got a headache. Turn it off.”
Ri shrugged his shoulders and shut off the light. “Whatever.” He shuffled toward his bedroom.
His mom rubbed her temples with both hands, hovering over her teacup with her eyes shut. “No video games until you do your schoolwork.”
School. The bullies. His mom acting weird. It all exploded in his head. He shouted way louder than he intended, “Leave me alone! I get straight A’s and always get it done. Why do you tell me what to do? Stop bugging me.” His explosion came out of nowhere, and he regretted it in an instant. He tried to make it to his room before his mom could say anything. Her sigh trailed behind him. He had disappointed her—again.
So, yeah, it hadn’t been a great day. And now, to add to his list of problems, he had lost his knack for sleep.
He tried pulling the covers over his head and counting sheep. The sheep refused to stay in their pen. Those feisty little troublemakers would jump out and scamper in aimless directions. He chased them, but they pretended not to listen. “Ugh!” He grabbed the sides of his pillow and squeezed until his fingers throbbed. Nobody listened to him. Such was the sad life of a thirteen-year-old.
The heat from his blanket layers made him sweat. He used to sneak a light under his blanket at night and read his favorite novels. Not anymore. Now he craved sleep, and the sheep disobeyed. And his mind replayed his argument with his mom. A skipping record. Same argument, same reaction, on repeat.
And then everything got so much worse.
The bed started to shake. He figured the family dog, Bess, was scratching behind her ears. Her vigorous scratching often shook the foot of his bed. Except, the shaking continued. It shook harder and longer.
This is…not normal, he thought.
His bed banging against the wooden floor played in harmony with the pounding of his heart. He swallowed hard and waited; the deafening roar pounded his eardrums. He lay frozen in place, unable to move. The banging refused to stop.
He waited with bated breath for his mom to race into his room and check on him. She would grab his hand. Scoop him from bed and help him escape the shaking.
She never came. Nobody came. He lay there, alone. He tried to yell out for his mom, to check on her—the cry stuck in his throat.
The shaking lasted so long, soon his heartbeat calmed down. He needed to do something. Only weaklings lay in bed and waited to die. He peeled the blanket away from his face and gasped. The light blinded him.
He blinked several times, adjusting to the bright light. The source of the light poured in through his bedroom window. The moon. Brighter than he had ever seen it before. And huge! It filled the window frame from edge to edge. And the blue! The moon never shone so bright. Was he making things up? Was it morning already and this was really the sun?
No. For sure, the moon.
And it vibrated. He dropped the covers to his feet and swung his legs over the side of his bed, gaping at the moon. The cold air tickled his toes. He didn’t bother searching for his slippers. The brilliant moon’s glow reeled in his full attention.
He crept to the window. The cold wood against his feet sent shivers up his spine. When would his mom come running? The moon vibrated! And glowed a bright blue light. The entire house shook, and he imagined the entire planet did too. The end of everything rattled his bones. What a beautifully terrifying way to go.
The moon stopped shaking. And it grew larger, filling the sky. Then it shrank. It reminded him of a star turning supernova. Then it did one more impossible thing.
The moon cracked.
Ri’s jaw dropped. A jagged lightning mark cracked downward, close to the center, yet veered to the left. And not completely in half—two-thirds of the way down. A left chunk of the moon shifted sideways.
The moon hung there limply in the sky. Broken wide. Defeated. Done.
The shaking stopped. The brilliant blue light disappeared. The moon shrank to normal size.
Ri squinted up at the night sky. The explosion of light had given him temporary night blindness. The moon appeared fuzzy, and he needed a clearer picture of what was happening….
Duh! He raced to his closet for his digital camera. His dad had sent it to him, and it lay buried in the back. The Canon D-30 came with an extra zoom feature. The moonlight reflected from the full-length mirror attached to his closet door. After a moment of digging through his messy closet with scattered broken toys, he found the Canon. He ran back to his window and peered through it. He focused on the moon.
Wait. What? His eyes popped open wide. Was that a…a giant hand coming out? The crack remained.
Ri’s grip trembled, and he almost dropped the camera. He squeezed it so hard his knuckles turned white. He zoomed in for a better inspection. Sure enough, a large hand emerged from the crack in the moon.
His heart hammered and his temples throbbed. His mother had never prepared him for cracking moons and hands crawling out. No, this was fine. Everything was okay. The moon was far away. The hand couldn’t reach him. Correction—the arm and hand couldn’t reach him.
His thoughts raced at full throttle. He stared through the camera lens at what emerged from the broken moon.
The arm became a torso, became two arms, became a head. The head’s features remained hidden. Only a shadow outline of a tall, thin humanoid figure. He had read so many alien-invasion books, enough to believe one might really happen someday—but this challenged his imagination. His rapid thoughts tripped over themselves.
His breathing burst out fast and shallow. Dizziness consumed him. No. No. No falling apart now. He needed to stay strong for his mom. Pay close attention. Find out if the human-shaped shadow crawling out of the moon was a friend or an enemy.
The entire human form pulled itself from the crack in the moon. It sat with careless effort on the edge, its long legs dangling back and forth. Its shadow feet scraped at the nearby stars. The motion blew bits of starlight glowing and fading into charcoal embers. The mystery human figure seemed larger than the moon. Could he be dreaming this? Ri slapped his face three times. The only thing that changed was his stinging left cheek.
The figure bobbed its head around. It hopped down, hanging from the jagged moon crack with its right hand. It swung back and forth—a bored monkey. It leaped to Earth.
Ri’s jaw clamped shut, crushing his teeth. He lost track of the shadow. It blended into the darkness. Where did it go? How far away did this danger loom? This strange night twisted every known fact about size, physical laws, and dimensions. His understanding of the world he thought he knew was crumbling apart. Nothing had prepared him for this moment.
Somebody else might’ve questioned their own sanity. Another thirteen-year-old boy might’ve concluded they were dealing with a fever or even hallucinating. Not Ri. He trusted his brain. His intellect hummed with flawless perfection. The best part of his personality involved his superior cognitive ability. He could always trust his brain—what he saw, what he thought, what he understood.
Yet now, his brain grinded to a halt.
He dropped the camera to his side, squinted into the night, and scanned for the shadow. He needed to warn people. People couldn’t ignore a shadowy figure the size of the moon with the power to crack it. He considered calling 911.
He prided himself on his one positive talent. Predicting the future. Foreseeing events before they happened. His therapist—Esther Evans—had warned him such thought processes created anxiety. They reinforced his fears. Therapists pretended they knew everything. They couldn’t climb inside his cranium, though. His future predictions often came true. If he called 911, they would laugh at him. Adults never believed him even when he told the boring truth. No way would they believe him now. They’d hang right up, call him a liar, tell him to stop wasting their time telling made-up stories.
He had a mission to find evidence. A mission to chase the shadow.
A memory gnawed at him. A reminder. A familiar thought whispering from the back of his mind. The crazy cracking moon took over his thinking. It gripped him and he lost focus.
He shook away the mental cobwebs. Time to act. Time to crush his fear. He channeled his younger nine-year-old self. The version of himself who’d saved his classmate’s life by sprinting to get help. He needed to find proof. A shadow on a picture from a camera proved nothing. Anyone could create a fake pic.
A noise outside his window halted his barefoot pacing. He recognized the familiar noise. Someone had stepped on the old garden hose and pulled on the outdoor hose bib. The hose bib bounced against the watering can.
Someone was creeping through his backyard.
Ri glanced at his Men in Black wall clock above his bed. 11:30 p.m. Bess slept inside the house, tucked into her doggie bed within the soundproof room. She wouldn’t hear it there. No barking.
His pep talk dissolved into a churning sea of bile burning up his throat. The shadow. He sensed the shadow’s presence. His mind told him to look out the window, but his body refused to obey. He didn’t have to look to know for certain.
The shadow human was sneaking around his backyard.
He stepped backward away from the window until his closet door stopped his retreat. The cotton fibers on his pajamas caught on the rough edge and held him in place with the strength of Velcro.
He clamped his mouth shut and held his breath. Be quiet. Don’t draw attention to yourself.
Loud ringing in his ears.
A hand slammed against his window.