Chapter Six: Moon Light
Michael was lying awake in bed. There was too much on his mind to be able to sleep. There was a full moon, and he went over to his window to stare at the yard. It always surprised him to see the yard lit with that eerie, silver light. He found it hard to believe that full moons brought negative things. There were more murders, he’d heard, crazy people acted up more in mental hospitals. According to his mother, who was an nurse, more babies were born during the full moon. He was a full moon baby, she’d told him.
Suddenly he felt two cold arms slip around his waist, and cold lips planted a kiss in the middle of his back. He turned around to face her, and saw Mariah smiling. She traced the lines of his brow, his lips, and kissed him again.
“Hey lady,” he teased gently, “I was getting ready to go to bed, but I’m not in the mood to sleep. Lie on the top of the covers and I’ll hold you as long as you want to stay.”
Mariah followed him and climbed on top of the covers as he put his arms around her and held her tight. If all they could do was hold each other and kiss deep, long kisses, that was fine with him. He stroked her hair, lifted her chin so he could look into her beautiful eyes, then drew her as close to him as he could, fitting her into the contours of his body.
“Are you going to spend the night with me?” he asked.
“As many nights as you want,” she snuggled closer to him.
Michael kissed her again. “I think I like the sound of that.”
They lay for a while, enveloped in each other. It seemed odd to him that she did not breathe, and that her skin was cold, but there was something delicious about the feel of her in his arms. Minutes, or was it hours, passed—he couldn’t tell. Lying there like that could make him forget about everything, except for the moonlight and the girl in his arms. And then he remembered.
“Mariah, will you let me ask you some questions?”
She turned around to face him. “Why?”
“You know why,” he said fiercely, “If you want something from me, I need you to help me. There are things I need to know before I can help you or Kit, things that only you know the answer to.”
She turned over, putting one cold arm around his waist. “Michael, I was going to talk you into helping me, but now I’m not sure I want to. Before I knew you I didn’t care what kind of danger I was going to put you in, you were just a means to an end.”
“And now?” he prodded.
“ I don’t want him to hurt you Michael, or anyone else. I want to be free of him. I want my parents to have closure—I want them to be able to bury me instead of having a headstone on an empty grave. I want them to be able to stop wondering what happened to me. I know they blame themselves and maybe I can stop it.”
“But that’s what parents do, Mariah,” he kissed her cold forehead, then her lips. “If something ever happened to me or Kit my parents would never quit blaming themselves for what happened.”
“Well, don’t you think if they had my bones, my parents might finally be able to stop blaming themselves?”
“Oh, Mariah,” he held her tightly, “They lost you, they’ll always blame themselves. Why don’t you just pass into the light and let things work themselves out?”
“Because they don’t work themselves out,” she said, anger in her voice, “He took Crazy Girl off the streets in the 1990’s, and he’s still free. He took me in 2001, and still no one has caught him. Who knows how many girls he’s taken that Crazy Girl and I don’t know about? Maybe he has bodies buried all over the place. And you’re going to tell me that things work themselves out?”
“As long as he keeps us hidden like treasures in his basement, no one is going to find us and he’ll never get caught. So how can I pass into this light while things are the way they are? No, I’m not leaving this earth until my parents have me and they can stop wondering.”
She stopped for a moment. “I don’t want to talk about this anymore, Michael. Can’t you just hold me instead?” She looked at him, her eyes pleading.
He smiled as he drew her closer. “Okay, no more for now. I don’t want to upset you Mariah, I just want to hold you and have you be here when I wake up.”
She did not reply, but kissed his chest and rested her head against him.
For the first time in his life, Michael realized, he was in love. He’d made out with girls, but he’d never met a girl that compared to her. While the others had been warm and soft, her flesh was cold; when he looked in her eyes he felt helpless, like he was drowning. All he did was hold her, but that was enough, it would have to be enough. She was like something fragile that he’d been given that he didn’t want to break.
Michael stroked her hair, but could not stop thinking, “What do I do with this?” He tried, and tried, but could find no clear answer. Eventually he drifted off into an uneasy sleep, Mariah snuggled like a child in his arms.
He was in a dark room that smelled damp—damp soil and the moldy smell of damp concrete. The darkness enveloped him, and he was frightened. It prevented him from knowing how or where he was. If there were only a light or a window, something to help orient himself.
Suddenly at the far end of the room, a spot of light appeared on the wall, accompanied by a humming noise. He looked around trying to find the source of the light, but it eluded him. The light seemed to exist on its own, but where did that noise come from?
Michael was shocked when he saw Kit wander into the room, her blue eyes blinded by the light. She stumbled about helplessly, putting her hands in front of her to shield her eyes from the light. “Where am I? Where am I? What is this place? Someone, please, please, help me, I’m scared,” she cried and tears ran down her face.
He wanted to reach out to her, pull her out of this hole, but he couldn’t seem to reach her. “Kit, Kit, hold on, I’m coming!” He yelled as loud as he could, but he felt bogged down, trapped, paralyzed. No matter how hard he tried, he could not make his legs work.
“Michael!” she screamed, looking around for him but unable to find him. “Help me!”
“Kit!” He sat up with a start, breathing heavily. Mariah was there, holding him tightly.
“Shh, Shh, Michael. You were having a nightmare. Don’t have bad dreams Michael, don’t. I’m here, I won’t go away. I’ll look after you.” She kissed him frantically on his eyes, his cheeks, his lips. Her cool fingers stroked his cheeks.
“It was Kit.” Michael looked at her, wishing the heaviness in his chest would go away. He lay back down, pulling her with him. It was too easy just to lie here with her, to ignore the ugly facts that the dream had revealed to him. “It was Kit, he had her and there was nothing I could do about it.”
“It was a dream. Just a dream. “ She kissed him again. “Go to sleep, I’m here, it’s going to be okay. It was just a bad dream.”
He gently pushed her away; there was a question that he needed to ask, and he was going to ask it now.
“Mariah, will you show me where the house is? Please? I need to know. If something happens and Kit disappears…”
“You think you could do something about it?” There was a hard edge to her voice he hadn’t expected. “What could you do? Do you really think you could save your sister?”
“I stand a better chance if I know where to look than if I don’t,” he tried to reason with her, “The more I know, the more likely it is that I can stop him. Or save her.” Michael looked at her, her face a shadow in the dark.
Mariah collapsed on his chest. “I’m afraid of what could happen to you.”
“Don’t be. We’re not alone in this. You’re not alone. Come on,” he coaxed, “Let me hold you while I go back to sleep. Let your face be the first thing I see when I wake up in the morning. I want to go to school with a big smile on my face and have everyone wonder why.” Michael brushed her hair back from her face, then kissed her.
She tried to smile through eyes that could cry but shed no tears. “When you get off your bus, look for me. I’ll be waiting for you. I’ll show you where he lives.”
He nodded and folded her back in his arms. He slept a deep, dreamless sleep and when he woke, the first thing he saw was her leaning forward to kiss him on his lips. She slowly dissolved away but he could still feel her kiss even after she disappeared.
He almost jumped out of bed, feeling so overwhelmingly, completely in love, that it seemed to make the darkness of his world disappear.. He could feel the memory of her curves against him as he stood in the shower. He whistled as he threw on his clothes and practically ran down the stairs into the kitchen.
He put his arms around his mother’s waist and hugged her tight. “Mmm, morning mom”, he said.
Her eyes grew huge. “This is the best mood I’ve seen you in, oh, it must be months. What’s going on? And what did you do with my son?” she asked suspiciously.
“Oh, I dunno. I just feel good. Guess I just didn’t let myself be food for the moon. Did you see it?” He piled his plate high with scrambled eggs and bacon and sat down to eat.
“Yes, it was lovely. The backyard was like a fairyland, all white and silver against the black of the trees. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything so eerie yet so beautiful at the same time. Just like in the fairy tales I used to read to you and Kit—remember?”
He set his science book next to his plate, not wanting to shut his mother out, but at the same time not wanting to talk. He finished his breakfast, grabbed his pack and his skateboard, and went to catch his bus.
No need to feel fear this time--she wasn’t there; but she’d be there when he got home. He closed his eyes and dreamt of the night before, and the nights still to come. He would gladly have stayed in his dream, but the bus made its stop in front of his school, and he bounced off and jumped on his skateboard. Breaking the rules, he rolled up to the flagpole and slid to a stop. He jumped off his skate skateboard, grinning broadly.
Dewey looked him over, “Dude, what are you on?” He paused a moment, “And can you get some of whatever it is for me?”
“Dewey, go inside,” Short Round looked at Mike and did not take his eyes from him. “I mean it. I have to talk to Mike.”
“Sure man, and maybe you’ll tell me why.” Mike and Short Round watched him disappear into the school.
“What’s so damn important, Short One? You’re going to make us late for class.”
Suddenly Michael found himself pushed hard against the flagpole. Short Round wasn’t tall, but he was compact and powerfully built due to years of Karate.
He shoved his hands against Michael’s chest. “You fell in love with her!” he roared, “What were you thinking? Are you a fool? What made you…” he trailed off. What he left unsaid left no room for doubt.
“You were the one who said she was here for me. You were the one who said she had something to tell me.” Michael countered. This was not what he’d expected.
“Do you know what you’re doing? Mike, she’s a ghost. A ghost. What if she decides she wants to keep you because she’s lonely? She could try to drag you into the spirit world with her. She died young, she wasn’t ready--she may try to find a way to use you to live again. If I ever dreamed that you would be so stupid…” He threw up his hands. “Do you realize you may have placed yourself in a lot of danger; not just you, but anyone close to you?”
“Look dude, all she wants…”
“You don’t know for sure what she wants,” he shouted, “She may be for real, but maybe she’s not. She’s not flesh and blood, she may not be what you think she is. How are you going to feel when you have to let her go? Mike, she has to enter the spirit world, it’s where she belongs. What will you do if she tries to drag you into it with her?”
Mike’s arms dropped to his side. “I don’t know, but we better get to class.”
Short Round picked up his backpack and went into the building, leaving him behind. Michael felt numb as he picked up his things. His best friend had never before turned his back on him. It didn’t matter to him that he was going to get into trouble for being late for first period. What bothered him most was the way Short Round would not meet his eyes.
Michael did not attempt to catch up to him. Part of him felt angry. What did Short Round know of how he felt about Mariah? What right did he have to judge? What did Short Round know about Mariah anyway? All the things he said were “maybe’s”, not certainties. What made him think that Mariah could be something other than a ghost? Or that she had an agenda that he did not know about?
Part of him wondered if he’d let Short Round down, though he wasn’t sure how. He was more sensitive than perhaps even he knew and right now his sense of guilt was fighting with his anger at his friend. He went into class, trying not to notice that Short Round was avoiding his eyes. Dewey glanced at him, raising his eyebrows, but Mike could only shrug his shoulders as if to say, “I don’t get it either.”
When Michael sat down with Dewey and Short Round at lunch, Short Round got up and threw the remains of his lunch in the garbage and stalked off. They both watched him leave and Dewey turned to him and said, “What gives? What’s his problem?”
Michael didn’t know what to say until the title of a Nirvana song suddenly came to him. “It’s about a girl.” Or maybe more than about a girl, he thought.
“Okay Mike, talk. You and Short Round have been putting me off for days. I may not be as smart as the two of you…”
“Dewey, the last thing you are is not smart.”
“Nice try Mikey, now talk. I want to hear it. All of it. Then maybe I can talk some sense into our Kung Fu master.”
Michael sat back and heaved a great sigh. This was not going to be easy. “Okay, here goes. Do you believe in ghosts?”
“Are you serious?” Dewey saw the look in Michael’s eyes. “God, you’re serious. Mike, I know you. You don’t believe in all that crap.”
“I didn’t. Not until we moved into that house. And now I have my own personal ghost.” Michael outlined everything that had happened to him since Mariah had first appeared to him in his dream, describing the house up the street with the sinister tenant. Since Dewey didn’t seem to suspect, he omitted the fact he’d fallen in love with her.
“Wow.” Dewey’s tone was a mixture of wonder and disbelief. “If I didn’t know you better I’d say you’d lost it. This is so out there. I know you, you don’t lie, and you don’t b.s. Tell you what, I’ll take care of Short Round, or I’ll try. It’s not like he explained all the rules to you. I’ll help in whatever way I can, okay?” They raised their hands in a “high five”.
“To the Band of Brothers,” said Dewey, using the title of a TV series they’d watched on the History Channel.
“The Band of Brothers,” Michael repeated. They threw the rest of their lunches into the garbage and hurried to their next class.
Michael didn’t bother going to the skate park after school. He didn’t want to see that look in Short Round’s eyes. Besides, there was something he had to do this afternoon, and he was in a hurry to get it over with.
He got on the bus, half hoping she’d be there, but not really expecting it. After all, what were people going to think when they saw him carrying on a surreptitious conversation with someone they couldn’t see? Even worse would be fact that he’d want to kiss her and couldn’t. No, it was better that this bus ride should be made alone. She’d be there waiting for him when he got off.
And she was. Standing with a big smile on her face. Both knew she couldn’t run up to him and hug him any more than he could kiss her; but he could stand and smile at her, his heart full with all the things he couldn’t do or say.
“Are you sure you want to do this?” She stood as close to him as she could, her cold fingers lightly brushing his hand.
“I don’t know if I want to, but I need to. He’s gotten away with it this long because no one knows about him. If I can find enough proof that he’s responsible, maybe I can get someone to listen.”
They walked quietly down the street together. Some of the people who were used to seeing him might have wondered why Michael was not on his skateboard, but no one paid attention.
At last they stopped. Another three houses and they would have reached Michael’s. He looked hard at the house they stood in front of, and realized why Kit was so frightened.
The house had to be as old as the neighborhood. It wasn’t quite falling apart—yet--but it looked as if it would not be that many more years before it collapsed in on itself. The yard was overgrown, the gutters were clogged with debris, a lone foxglove growing inside them. The purple of the flower contrasted sharply with grey paint faded and chipped so badly that it was hard to tell just exactly what the color had been. The curtains were tacked up pieces of cloth designed to hide the interior from the outside world. There was an overall air of decay, but there was mail in the mailbox, and fresh tire tracks leading out of the driveway.
Mariah retreated back behind a tree and he followed her. “This is it. You wouldn’t know by looking at it; but inside, he’s fanatical about keeping his house clean. The wallpaper is torn, and the rug is almost bare in a lot of places, but he’s always vacuuming and cleaning.”
Michael stared hard at the house. “Maybe he’s afraid of leaving evidence behind, if he’s ever caught, that is.”
“Don’t say things like that, Michael, it scares me. There’s an old basement with one window in the back of the house. I don’t know why the window isn’t boarded it up, unless he thinks he doesn’t need to.”
“That window in the basement—how high is it?”
“I don’t know. It’s small, and outside it’s at ground level. If you’re thinking, could you get in and out of there using it, I don’t know. I don’t know how high it is from the floor. It’s just a basement with a dirt floor. No one ever did anything to try to finish it. Oh, one more thing. There’s a garage in the back of the house where he keeps an old van. Crazy Girl and I hear him leave every so often. He’ll be gone for a couple of hours or a couple of days, then he comes back. One time he was gone for a week.”
“Mariah,” he asked, “Can you go and see if the van is there right now?”
She vanished, only to return an instant later. “It’s gone! It was there this morning, but now it’s gone.”
“Maybe he just went to the store or something.” Michael took off his cap, smoothed his hair back, and replaced it; a thing he did when he was troubled. “Let’s go back to my house. I’ve got homework to do and I want to think. This place gives me the creeps, I want to get away from here,” he shuddered.
She was waiting for him in his bedroom before he even set foot there. “Show off,” he muttered. Before he could even empty his pack he felt two cold lips press the back of his neck.
He turned around. “No!” he said firmly, “I need to do my homework. Just be here in the room with me.”
“No?” she queried gently.
“I have to do my homework.”
“Have to?” He could hear a light giggle.
“Yes, have to. This is important to me. If I decide to go to college, I’m going to need all the scholarships I can get.” It’s not like it before, he thought bitterly, his parents had been forced to use his college savings to pay bills and make a down payment on this house he hated so much. “Let me work, okay?”
“Don’t you want me here?” He caught a note of petulance in Mariah’s voice.
“Yeah, I want you here.” Girls, he thought, even when they’re a ghost they’re all the same. “Just be here while I do my homework. Be here when I get back from dinner. Be here while I read. Just don’t distract me until I’m ready to be distracted. I’m happy just having you in my room, just knowing you’re here. Happy?”
“Not as happy as I want to be, but okay,” she sighed, “I never cared about my homework as much as you seem to.”
Michael was so absorbed in his studying that he did not notice that she’d left until his mother called him to dinner. This bothered him and made him wonder if he’d hurt her feelings. She was back, however, when he’d finished eating and resumed his studying.
“He’s still gone, Michael. His car’s gone. He’s nowhere in the house and Crazy Girl says she hasn’t seen or heard anything. It’s been a long time since he’s been gone this long.”
“Is there someplace he just likes to go?” This he asked for the sake of asking. It didn’t seem likely that the house’s tenant left at all, except for necessities. He did not care to speculate on other scenarios.
“Ugh. No. Except for when he disappears, he just stays in that creepy old house, watching his TV and videos.”
“Videos? Michael suddenly turned around in his chair, “Did you say videos?” He sank down. “Wow.”
Mariah put his arms around him. “You’re acting like that’s something important.”
“It could be. Depending on what’s on those videos, they could be evidence. If I could get hold of one….” He shook his head. “God, sometimes I wish that there weren’t so many laws. I don’t know what would happen if I did get hold of one. Maybe they’d think it was my video. Or if I could prove it was his, would I be guilty of breaking and entering? Would it be good enough evidence in court? I don’t think I want to know what’s on his videos, but maybe what’s there would be enough to get him arrested, or at least a search warrant.”
“Michael.” Two cold arms wrapped themselves around him. “For right now, let’s pretend your sister might not be in danger. Finish your homework. Then turn on your TV and come and lay on your bed with me. I’m worrying about what he might be doing and I don’t want to think about it. I just want you to hold me while you fall asleep. I want to watch your face, and hope you’re dreaming of me.”
He smiled at her and kissed her, then went back to working on his trigonometry. For now, a little thing like math homework was enough to make the world seem normal. It helped make Short Round’s words seem nonsense. He had to believe she was what she seemed and that she intended him no harm. If he believed what Short Round told him, it would turn his world upside down, when all he wanted in the midst of this madness was a sense of balance in his life—and this girl.
At last he put his books down and climbed into bed. He found her there with him, holding him through the covers. He drew her to him and began to kiss her, starting with her lips, then her forehead, moving down to her neck. He traced the line of her shoulders with his fingers, wondering at the way he could actually feel her, that she could be so solid. He ran his hands down her hip, feeling how it curved into her thigh.
He sighed. His adolescent hormones wanted much more, but just by being there she made him happy. In spite of his reputation, he was considered a gentleman by the girls at his school and more highly regarded than he realized. Some of the guys he knew bragged about not being virgins, but at fifteen he didn’t feel ready. His parents had instilled values in him that taught him to respect others—and to always treat women with dignity.
When he sheltered her in his arms he felt like he was protecting her from the memories of all that had happened to her before. Holding her, kissing her, touching her, intoxicated him. One look from her beautiful eyes, and he felt helpless. That was all the happiness he needed.