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Excerpt

Excerpt

Moonglow

Prologue

Today

I am about to become a very bad person.

The change begins slowly, but not unexpectedly. Not entirely.
There have been warning signs; I just didn’t understand
them. Until now. Now I know an enemy has been
stalking me, watching me, waiting for the perfect moment to
strike. When I scream I know that moment has finally arrived.

My screams tear through my body, gush out of my mouth,
and infest the night air. They’re the last sounds I hear before
my world turns black. The last sounds I hear from when I
was still good.

The first thing I notice when I wake up is that I don’t feel
any more pain. I no longer feel the burning. I no longer feel
as if my limbs are being ripped out of their sockets, as if saws
and teeth and knives are splitting my flesh open from the inside
out. I no longer feel as if my body wants to kill me.
That’s the good news. The bad news is I have no idea what
happened. The space between then and now is empty. One
second I was happy; the next I was feeling worse than I ever
thought humanly possible.

So I’m alive, but where am I? Forcing myself to remain
calm, I take a deep breath, and the smell of grass and dirt and
cold assaults me. I’m definitely outside, but exactly where, I
don’t know. I remember passing out when the pain got too
intense, when I literally thought I was going to break into
separate, unconnected pieces, but for how long? How long
was I unconscious? And what happened to me while I gave in
to the protection of sleep?

Now that I’m awake, I know that something is wrong. I
can feel my body, and yet I can’t; I’m both numb and tingling
at the same time. Even still, I think I’m smiling because I’m
thankful that I’m not dead. The thing is, I just can’t believe
that I’m alive.

I step on the sharp edge of a rock, and it feels like a knife
blade has punctured the underside of my foot. The sting terrifies
me because it reminds me of the original pain; if it starts
again I don’t think I can survive it a second time. How lucky
can one person get?

I try to remember the prayer I used to say with my mother,
but it’s been too long since I’ve said those words, and anyway
I’m distracted by the breathing. Loud, quick breaths, one
after another after another, like panting. I don’t know where
the sound is coming from, but I don’t like it. It sounds like a
wild dog or worse, a coyote or a mountain lion, frightening.
Whatever is making that noise sounds like it’s right in front
of me, staring at me, but I can’t feel the breath on my face; I
can only hear it. Before this change all I heard was laughter,
Jess’s and mine; now all I hear is breathing. But the worst
part is that I can hardly see.

Someone’s wrapped a plastic bag around my head—that’s
what it feels like, clear plastic, tight around my face—and
whoever it is, is trying to suffocate me. I imagine what my
face looks like pressed up against a plastic bag, my mouth
and my eyes wide open, desperate to see and to breathe, and
I shake my head because the image is too ugly; I want it out
of my mind. I can’t feel anything around my neck, and I don’t
feel anyone near me, so that calms me, but I cannot see right.
Nothing is clear. Shadows and blurs, that’s it, swirling
around my head, making me dizzy, so I close my eyes again,
but the blackness makes me even more unsteady. If I’m going
to faint, I’m going to faint, regardless of whether my eyes are
open or not, so I might as well keep them open and try to figure
out where I am.

We were outside near the low hills, Jess and I, on our way
to my house before this started, so maybe that’s where I am
now. But when I try to focus to remember more details, the
breathing sounds faster, like whoever is doing it is hyperventilating.
This anxious feeling, this sense of having no control
grabs hold of me too, and I get dizzy again. I don’t want to
faint, but I don’t know if you can prevent such a thing from
happening. Focus and fight. I need to concentrate on specific
things and not the swirls and the shadows that are making
me unsteady. What do I know? What do I know? Think!
Think of the simplest thing, the stupidest thing. My name. I
know that my name is Dominy Robineau. My mother wanted
to call me Dominique because she’s French, but my father
thought it was too fancy for a Midwestern girl, so they settled
on Dominy.

Good, I feel better. Still a bit dizzy, but still conscious. My
father’s motto has always been “be grateful for what you
have,” and I finally understand what that saying means.

What else do I know? It’s almost winter. Yes, that’s right!
But the air is more dry than cold, which is odd for Nebraska
at this time of year, since it should be frigid and the ground
should be invisible underneath the snow. However, the past
few weeks have felt different, more like early fall, and I remember hearing people say that it was a relief and they
wished it could last forever. That’s a wasted wish because
nothing lasts forever. Trust me.

One moment I was in control of my body, and now it’s
fighting against me. My head is spinning, my mind wants to
shut down, and the only thing I can hear is the sound of that
breathing! It’s closer now, like someone’s mouth is right up
against my ear. My arms shoot up to feel if someone’s next to
me, but I only feel the swoosh of air. Vaguely, I see my arms
moving in front of me, in slow motion so they look bigger,
darker, but even though they’re moving slowly, I can’t get a
clear look. Plus, I know I wasn’t wearing a red jacket. I feel
like I’m floating, wrapped tightly in a grass-scented plastic
bag and floating, and it feels incredibly wrong. So wrong that
my body rebels.

I fall, and the sound of my body crashing to the ground
echoes in my ears, replacing the sound of the breathing for a
few seconds. I taste dirt. Not that it matters, but I don’t know
if I’m lying facedown on the ground or if I’m kneeling, and I
made dirt rise up in a little cloud and fill my mouth because I
fell so hard. I give in to a strange impulse and start to claw at
the earth, really dig in, and I can feel the coolness of the dirt
underneath my nails. The sensation is calming, inviting, and I
want to stretch out and roll in it, cover my entire body with
cool dirt, but I hear a voice and freeze.

The voice isn’t Jess’s; it’s coming from inside my head.
Even more calming than the dirt, the voice belongs to my
mother. Her slight French accent makes her words sound
pretty, makes her sound as if she’s singing.

Remember, Dominy, you are blessed.

The first time she said that to me was on my fifth birthday.
Later, she wrote those words down in my card so I would
never forget them. Yes! Now I remember! Today is November
Today is my birthday.

Slowly, instinctively, I lift my head to look up toward the
sky and watch as the clouds separate to reveal a full moon.
Magnificent. As welcoming as the unexpected return of a
long-lost friend, as reassuring as a parent checking in on you
as you pretend to sleep. Why have I never noticed how beautiful
the moon can look until tonight? Round and radiant
and perfect. But the moon is so much more than physical perfection.
It has powers. Its glow is like a lifeline that connects
my past to my present to my future. Every secret ever buried
will be revealed when trapped within the light of the moon.
All I need to do is accept the moon as my teacher, my guide,
my master, and I can become powerful too.

A bright flash of light flickers on the ground like a lonely,
restless flame, and I’m drawn to it. Scurrying closer to the
light-dance, I almost laugh when I see what’s creating such a
commotion on the flat, dry land: my watch reflecting the
glow of the moon. It’s already begun. The moon is calling to
me, offering a clue.

The powder-blue band is scuffed and smeared with dirt,
the face is smudged and cracked, but I can see the numbers,
and I can see that it’s still working. The second hand ticks
along, one second, two seconds, three, until it dawns on me
that I can see clearly, no more shadows. Once again I know,
somehow, that this change is the moon’s doing.

I keep looking at my watch, waiting for it to do something
special, and realize that it already has. The last thing I remember
is standing next to Jess, her shoulder pressing into
mine, her hair fragrant with the scent of cherry blossoms,
and we were watching the second hand on my watch tick
away until it reached 6:22 p.m. That’s when I officially
turned sixteen. Almost fifteen minutes ago. Why can’t I remember
what happened during that lost time?

I look up at the moon again because deep inside me, I
know it’s responsible. All the answers to my questions, even

those I haven’t yet asked, can be found in its glow, in its perfection.
A large gray cloud with coarse edges slides across the
face of the moon, changing its appearance. Radiance turns
into something ominous. Could this be another clue? Or perhaps
a warning that something even worse is about to happen?
The revelation frightens me and, along with a renewed
sense of fear come the shadows.

The world changes in front of my eyes, and sketchy blackand-
white images return, but this time they’re not alone. Accompanying
them are noises, grunts and groans, sounds I
can’t recognize, but sounds that I can’t ignore. Until I hear
the screams.

These screams sound different than the ones I let loose into
the air. These drip not only with the fear of the unknown, but
also with the desperation and horror of knowing what lies
ahead. They’re unlike any sound I’ve ever heard before, and
it’s as if they’re tainting the air with their fear. The screams
are all around me, but I can’t tell where they’re coming from.
Could be miles away, could be right next to me. It’s like I’m
in a sealed room, no doors or windows, but the sound is so
loud that it can penetrate the walls. What makes it totally unbearable
is that I can hear enough to know whoever is
screaming is in serious trouble.

My heart pounds in my chest, and I hear the breathing
again, wild panting, uncontrollable. Then I feel my stomach
push out, contract, push out, contract, and I know that I’m
the one making those sounds. I’m the one whose breathing is
out of control. Fear grips every inch of my body and my
mind; it has taken complete control of me, and I’m helpless. I
can’t even control my own breathing!

Another sound cuts right through the screams and the
breathing, and it silences them both. The fear inside of me intensifies,
because I’ve heard this sound before. It’s a growl.
And when you’re outside near the hills, away from people

and closer to the animals, hearing a growl is never a good
thing.

Finally, my body starts to move. I feel the ground shift underneath
me as I run toward the screams. My vision starts to come
back, maybe because I’m reclaiming control of my body, so I
push ahead. Even though the moon resembles the midday
sun, spreading light from its rocky, barren surface, I still can’t
see very well, and when I hear another growl, I turn my head
too quickly, causing my eyes to glaze over, and I trip on some
rocks. The ground shakes, or maybe it’s just my body; I can’t
tell. But this time I know that my face is pressed against the
ground. I taste the dirt, I can smell it, it’s all over me, and I
can feel filth burrow deep inside of me.

The growl is deafening, and I’ve got to move on. But when
I push into the ground to stand up, the earth feels even more
invigorating, and I can’t, I need to stay right here, holding on
to dirt and rocks, feeling connected to the soil. Suddenly, the
fear is gone. I’m not scared anymore; I’m confident, vengeful.
I look up at the moon and hear my voice turn into a howl.
The sound is odd, but I know that it’s mine. I howl again, this
time holding the sound longer and letting it grow, so it becomes
louder, more powerful, more like my mother’s.

Remember, Dominy, you are blessed.

All I want is for our voices to join together and become
one, but we’re interrupted. A louder scream erupts near me,
and I recognize the voice. It belongs to Jess.

I’ve never heard her scream like this, and I’ve known her
my entire life. She screams again. This time the sound pierces
my ear; it’s like she’s right next to me, and her scream turned
into a knife. Before I can touch my ear to feel if I’m bleeding,
the growls start again, louder and more ferocious. Another
surge of terror rips through me, grabbing my insides, and I
feel my body shake violently; something’s on me or in me, attacking
me or Jess or both of us, I don’t know, but I have to
break free! This time when I fall I land on something softer,
maybe some grass instead of the flat ground. I’m about to
look down to find out what it is when an unfamiliar taste fills
my mouth.

It’s new, and it’s bitter, and I like it. It tastes good, and
when I swallow I don’t even hear the growls anymore; it’s
like every sound has stopped, every part of my world has
ceased to exist, and nothing has any importance except this
new taste. It’s heaven, and I have got to have more of it.

There’s another scream, higher pitched, like Jess’s voice is
being strangled and made to disappear. I only want to concentrate
on the taste in my mouth, but I have to find her; I
have to figure out a way to help her. Despite the fact that I
can taste and hear and even smell extremely well, better than
ever before, my sight isn’t good. I still feel like I’m inside a
box or a sack. Like the plastic bag that I thought was around
my head is now wrapped around my entire body. I can see
outside, but it’s all hazy and vague and warped. The world
around me is filled with shadows, fast-moving shadows, and
I wonder if it’s the same for Jess. Or does she see everything
clearly? Is the moon acting like a spotlight illuminating her
whole world?

Oh my God. Maybe that’s why she’s screaming. Because
she can see what’s out there.

I’m holding something in my hand. I don’t know what it
is, but it’s soft and hard at the same time. I think it might be
a branch, thick and caked with dirt and mud that you find
near the riverbanks. But I don’t smell fresh water, and I don’t
hear the gentle flow of the current, so I know I’m not near the
river. I must still be near the low hills, where I was when I
passed out. Jess and I were running in the dried-up fields at
the base of the hills, because I was going to be late and my father
had told me to be home before the moon changes everything.

No, that isn’t what he said. He didn’t say anything about
the moon. I shake my head from side to side to trick my body
into remembering. Now I remember; he told me to get home
before it got too dark.

Once again, Jess screams my name, and I forget about my
father. I want to scream back; I want to tell her that I’m here,
that I can hear her and that I’m trying to help her, but I can’t
find my voice. It’s gone. Furious, I squeeze the branch or
whatever I’m holding in my hand tighter, squishing it, and
the thing starts to move like it’s trying to break free from my
hold.

Jess screams my name, frantically, over and over again.
My body trembles because I recognize something in her
voice, something that horrifies me even more than not being
able to see clearly. It’s the way she said my name, shouted it,
like she was afraid of me, like she was begging. She screams
my name again, a sound that rises high and gets swallowed
up by the night, the darkness, the moon, and then there’s
nothing. No sound, no Jess. It’s silent and it’s dark, but I’m
warm and I feel good. Better than I have in months.

When I wake up I can see perfectly again. I don’t need a
watch to know that it’s morning, very early because the sun
is just starting to rise above the horizon. The air is chilly, but
my body is still warm from sleep, so I don’t shiver. I look
down at myself, and the good feeling is gone, ripped from
me, because I see that I’m covered in dirt and blood and I’m
naked. Naked?!

My clothes are next to me in a heap, ripped and torn, even
my sneakers. Quickly, I get dressed, pissed off that there’s a
huge tear in my good pair of school khakis from the middle
of my thigh to just under my knee. Even my retro Pumas are
ruined; the soles are practically torn off. Fear slowly coils
around my heart and my mind as I contemplate what could
have created such damage.
I collect the strips of material of my shirt to bring them together
in an attempt to cover my exposed skin. When I look
over to the left, all thoughts of my clothes and myself are
gone. The horror and the shock and the agony in my screams
remind me of the sounds I made last night. But these screams
aren’t made because I’m in pain; I scream because I see Jess
staring at me. Her eyes are still wide open, but instinctively I
know that she’s dead.

I can’t turn away, even though pieces of flesh on her arms
and legs are ripped off and I can see her bones, smooth and
pure white. I never knew my friend had marble underneath
her skin. A breeze stirs her hair and makes her eyelashes flutter.
Hope makes me gasp when I realize I could be wrong;
maybe she isn’t dead!

Reaching out to touch her, I gently shake her body. I desperately
want to witness a miracle and see that she’s still
alive. Even if I knew the words, I don’t think my prayers
would be answered, because no one is listening and Jess
doesn’t wake up. I shake her harder, then let go as I watch
her body move back and forth, back and forth until the momentum
subsides and she’s still again. I was right the first
time; she’s dead.

Her body’s cold and hard, nothing like mine. I stare at my
hand, not because I’m repulsed by having just touched a dead
body, but because I see something. Pieces of someone else’s
flesh are wedged underneath my fingernails, and I know
those pieces used to be part of Jess’s body. I don’t remember
how this happened; it’s just another instinct.

I clutch my stomach, and my knees fall onto the ground;
the palm of my right hand slams into the dirt and digs into
the earth to keep me upright as I vomit. I watch the rancid
liquid spill out of my mouth to drench a cluster of rocks, and
I feel the warmth finally start to flee my body, wanting no
part of me. The stench burns my nostrils, and I turn away
from the poison to look at Jess or what’s left of her. I can’t
support myself any longer, and I collapse flat onto the
ground.

Lying on my side I look over at Jess and I’m consumed by
two thoughts that I believe to be facts: My best friend is
dead, and I’m the one who killed her.

Moonglow
by by Michael Griffo