Something horribly is happening to people who look at the night sky... Some are frozen in awe, others aren't so lucky... Lunatics that can hear you bleed!
Moonstruck by Mark “Ferret” Mohlenhoff
Music by Ray Mattis http://raymattispresents.bandcamp.com
Produced by Daniel Wilder
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I groggily get up and reach for my phone on the charger. Having been asleep for about 45 minutes, I was slightly peeved. Thankfully, my boyfriend is still asleep, since he will be up in a couple of hours for work anyway. Looking at my phone, I see an emergency message stating: “ATTENTION: Do Not Look at the Moon for Any Reason!”
My first thought is, Why the HELL is this being sent out as an emergency message? I look down the notification listing on my lock screen. Facebook has blown the fuck up with notifications just in the last 30 minutes. Hundreds of notifications and shares. Even Twitter has been going nuts. I see notifications from FB Messenger, and even text messages, both from numbers known and unknown. Thirty seconds later, my boyfriend’s phone goes off. I move quickly to silence his phone. Free from the burdens of social media, he is missing out on notifications, but he also has numerous text messages from people we collectively know and from unknown senders.
As I am looking back at my phone, Rusty starts to awaken, having heard the piercing screech of the emergency message. He looks over and sees me with a puzzled look on my face, “What’s wrong?”
“I don’t know,” I reply. “My phone woke me up, and there’s this message saying to not look at the moon. I also have notifications from Twitter and Facebook, as well as text messages from over 50 people, prodding me to look outside—'What a beautiful night out!’”
Waking up a little more, Rusty starts to sit up, picking up his phone. He sees that he has a missed call from his brother, Michael, and starts to dial his number. Just as he is about to hit the call button, my phone starts ringing. My sister, Virginia, is calling me. I know she is usually still up, as she is one of the worst night owls I have ever met. I answer, knowing something bad is happening. I say with a hint of worry in my voice, “Virginia, what’s wrong?!”
Anxiety already settled into her voice, Virginia blurts out, “Oh my God, Dean! You picked up… Thank you! Have you heard about what’s going ON? I was playing my game when the power went out. I looked down at my phone and saw a whole bunch of Facebook notifications about the moon, and then got the Emergency Alert demanding we stay inside. I don’t know what’s happening!” She rushes. I can tell she is barely able to contain her panic.
“Okay, sis. Calm down! I just woke up so let me get my bearings. For now, stay away from the windows. Go ahead and wake Mom up, let her know what’s going on, and I’ll call you back as soon as I know anything.” I try to be reassuring, but it’s kind of hard over the phone. Hopefully Mom will be able to calm her down. “Hey, I love you,” I tell her hoping it helps to calm her. “I love you, too,” she nervously mumbles back and hangs up the phone.
Looking over, Rusty is still on the phone, and from the sounds of things, he is talking about the same thing. I start to scroll through social media and news sites trying to figure out what is going on. I am afraid to look outside, not knowing what it is I will see. In that moment, an eerie feeling dawns on me. Where there has always been an underlining calm but consistent buzzing in the air--it was now absent. There are absolutely no noises coming from outside. Not even the sounds of bugs or wildlife are present. I notice that our fan is not on. The low hum of the television and the refrigerator are gone. It is never this quiet in our house at night. We had to have lost power, I think to myself. Looking at my phone screen, I am thankful that my phone reads full battery and that I have charged up my backup battery recently.
I open Google to see if there are any news postings on the home feed. As I am looking, Rusty gets off the phone. “Michael says that something weird is happening outside his neighborhood. There are a whole bunch of people standing there, looking up at the sky.” He reaches for the TV remote, but nothing happens when he hits the power button. “Don’t bother,” I say, “the power’s out.”
I continue looking through the news feeds. Just then, Rusty starts to go for the door. As he unlocks it, I look up and say, “Don’t! Let’s see what we can find out first before we expose ourselves to whatever is out there.” I click on a local news posting. The Post and Courier headline reads, "Killer Skies"...
"Locals are currently baffled by a strange phenomenon in the skies tonight. Current reports state that citizens who have braved the outside are finding people either laying in the streets, seemingly dead or just standing there, gazing into the unknown. Around 2:35 A.M. Eastern Standard Time, people reportedly started sending and receiving messages via text and social media about the “beauty of the moon.” Considering the moon set around 2:08 AM, something else has drawn the attention of the populace. If you find anyone standing outside, it is advised by officials at this time to leave them alone, as they are reportedly becoming agitated and aggressive when moved. They also advise to stay indoors and away from windows. Covering any access to the outside is also advised at this time, blocking any view of the skyline.
This is a developing story and will be updated when information becomes available."
As I finish reading, I look at Rusty and see concern cross his face. "Call your brother and warn him to stay away from the windows. I'll call Virginia and tell her the same." As I punch the next to the last digit, we hear a loud explosion, which sounds like it came from down the road. Thankfully, the windows didn't blow in. "Shit!", yells Rusty. He starts to reach for the door again and I forcefully blurt out, "No! There is nothing we can do right now. If we go outside, even to look, we may become affected. I'll call 911, you call Michael, then call your parents."
I proceed to call 911, and the line is busy. Considering everything that is happening tonight, it's no surprise. Still not a great thought. I can only hope that no one was injured in that explosion.
I call Virginia, and my heart drops. "Mom was asleep, but Dad was not, and he's nowhere in the house. I can't find him!", she tells me frantically. "Don't look outside. Stay away from the windows and doors and try to call him. Make sure Mom stays inside.", I tell her. "I tried that already, but it just goes straight to voicemail." I can tell she is starting to lose it. "VIRGINIA!", I say sharply, "I need you to calm down! Take Mom into the bedroom and stay there. Rusty and I will be there when we can. We'll find Dad, but right now, you and Mom need to stay safe. We will be there shortly!"
Thank the Gods my brain kicks in when something happens. I slip into emergency mode like a professional. After the call, I start to have a little breakdown as plans start to settle into place. I never thought I would be as grateful as I am now.
Rusty finishes his phone call and hugs me as I finish my cry. No words—just love and support. After I clean myself up a bit, he moves to the clothes pile and starts to get dressed. "How are we going to get there without looking at the skyline?", he asks. The thought had crossed my mind when I was having my mini break down. "You have 2 broad brimmed hats. We'll keep the brim low so all we see is the street ahead of us so we can avoid anyone or anything in the road. We'll also take it very slow since we won't be able to see that far ahead. We only need to worry about the one bridge, so if we are lucky, nothing will be on it to get in our way.", I explain. Thinking it over, he nods his head and says, "It's as good a plan as any." After we finish dressing, we look around to make sure we don't need anything else. My eyes wander over to the washer in the corner, where we keep the firearms, Frau and Igor, and the ammo boxes. "Just to be on the safe side, I want to bring them along. With everything going on tonight, I would feel a lot safer having something with a little bite to keep things at bay if things get hairy.", I say to Rusty. He looks at me and replies, "That was happening anyway, but at least we are on the same page."
We load a couple of clips for the rifles and grab our knives from between the mattress and futon. I look over to where Thor and Loki, our ferrets, are in their cage, looking longingly at us. With all the commotion of the last half hour, I'm not surprised we have their attention. Gods, has it only been 30 minutes? Feels like we have been going for hours already, I think to myself. Time moves so much different in moments of stress, turmoil, and chaos. "We'll be back boys.", I say as we walk to the door. I hope…
We grab the hats off the pegs on the wall. They are the type that have the snaps on the sides to give the Aussie look on either side. We make sure they are not snapped, pull the brims as low as we can, allowing ourselves some sort of visual, and leave the apartment. I look around as Rusty locks the door, and the surrealness starts to set in. Across the marsh, there is a fire raging from one of the houses over there. I can only imagine what happened to cause the explosion. I whisper a little prayer to whomever is listening that no one was hurt.
As we start to walk toward the jeep, the motion sensor light from apartment D comes on and we see someone standing in the front yard. It's our neighbor, Alex. He's just standing there, not moving. It doesn't even look like he's breathing. His head is pointed up, like he's looking at the stars. I'm tall enough, I look at his eyes without looking up. I stagger back from what I see, unbelievingly. Rusty catches me before I trip, "Let's go…" I stammer. Hurriedly jogging towards the jeep, I grab his arm. "You take shotgun, just in case we need to shoot our way through anything on the way over."
I begin to pull out of the lot, keeping my eyes low so I don't see anything of the sky. This early in the morning, traffic is non-existent, but the streets are not empty. There are tons of people standing in the street, looking up at the sky, seemingly oblivious to anything around them--not moving, just standing there. Bodies litter doorways, sidewalks, and parking lots. There are even some hanging out of windows or laying crumpled at the base of some of the buildings, looking as if they jumped or fell from the windows. We must get to my family.
As I navigate around the frozen entities in the road, Rusty asks me what I saw when I looked at Alex. "The impossible.", I nervously mumble. "I don't know what fucking happened, but his eyes…were…um…missing." "WHAT!", he exclaims, incredulously. He grips Frau, as the horror of what is happening really starts to set in. Having seen what I just saw with Alex, I grab my phone, tears in my eyes, and begin calling my other siblings.
“Dean, what the hell, Dude? Do you know what time it is?”, my brother Joseph says irritatingly. “Hold on!”, I say. “I’m going to add Kristin in on this.”, and I start to get our baby sister on the line. Thick with sleep, Kristin answers, “Hello?” I proceed to tell them everything that I’ve seen and read. I tell them I am on my way to Mom and Dad’s, and that they need to make sure everyone at their place is away from the windows and safe inside. I’m thankful that I can get in touch with them and get them all inside and safe. I need to get to Virginia and Mom--that’s all that matters right now. _Where the hell did my father go? _ I think to myself.
Exiting the neighborhood, I see some of the carnage that was missing closer to our house. There are cars that have gone off the road and into businesses and others that have hit the light posts on the side of the road. There are even a few head on collisions, bodies through windshields and hanging out of doors. I feel like I have entered a survival horror game or movie. Only this time, instead of great special effects, I know that I see actual blood and charred flesh.
Some streets are not as packed. The “Moonstruck” haven’t made it out in all areas. I must keep an eye out for the other vehicles that dot the road. Just as we get to the North Bridge, I start to go even slower. There isn’t anyone on the bridge; not now at least. “Remember”, I say to Rusty, “keep your eyes down. The dangerous part is the sides and crest of the bridge. I don’t know if whatever did this is still out there, so we need to make sure our eyes are fixed on the road.” I start to slowly proceed over the bridge.
After we crest the bridge, we see a pile of cars has skidded into the marsh. It’s always been a problem when it rains--now is no exception. There is a car hanging off the edge of the bridge on our side, having breached the guardrail. There was also a collision in the middle of the bridge. I can’t pass without hitting one of the vehicles. I slowly nudge the cars in the middle. It takes a few minutes, but I finally edge my way past.
As I proceed down the other side of the bridge, I find it easier to continue down the road. What normally takes 8 minutes to get to my parent’s house, has turned into a 48-minute crawl, and I am only three quarters of the way there. I am almost grateful that it is so late/early in the morning. This would have been impossible if this happened during daylight hours. I look over at Rusty. He is keeping a watchful, yet careful, eye out. No one else seems to be out and about right now. The only things I must worry about are the “Moonstruck” in the roads, and I have two more areas to go through. Taking the backway, I know I will have to deal with more people but taking the ramp to the highway is too great a risk because of the exposed skyline.
My knuckles are white as I grip the steering wheel, and they are aching. I flex my fingers to get the blood flowing back to them. I get to the light after the bridge and look around carefully. Still no sign of anyone else on the roads. Just the occasional car in a ditch or wrapped around a traffic light. No one seems to be standing in the streets, but I know that’s about to change when I go through the next neighborhood.
It doesn’t take long before the “Moonstruck” are littered everywhere. Entering the residential area, I was expecting to see more. I only hope I can get around them without seriously injuring anyone. Flashing back to Alex’s gaping eye sockets, I shudder. I continue down the road slowly until I get to Harrison Ave. It’s the straightest possible course to my parent’s neighborhood. I approach Harrison and see a line of people in the road, just before the tree cover. To avoid them, I must drive into someone’s yard to avoid hitting them. Darker under the trees, it is harder to avoid obstacles on the ground. I begin to feel some resistance as I try to drive forward. After a few seconds, it gives way, almost as if I am driving through mud. I look out the driver side window at the ground and feel bile rising in the back of my throat. A small, child-like body, maybe 12-years old, is now behind my front tire. I had just run over somebody’s baby. My hands start to shake on the steering wheel. Rusty grabs my arm, scaring the hell out of me. "What's wrong?", he asks. I just shake my head and press down on the gas to continue moving forward, ignoring the second bounce, silently crying.
The canopy of trees overhead calms me down a little, and I take a moment to breath. Navigating this house of horrors has been exhausting, and I remember that I only had 45 minutes of sleep. Something tells me it will be a while longer before I may find the opportunity to rest. I run into another small clump of people, not nearly as tight as previous streets, but still just as immovable. We pass within a foot of a few of them, and still get no response. It is truly an eerie sight, seeing these people in numerous states of dress or undress--some even naked--and no reaction to our presence. I am reminded of watching The Night of the Living Dead, and the only difference is that these people, very zombie-like, are not moving. It’s almost creepier, because it’s almost like they are waiting for something. We exit the neighborhood.
The entrance to my parent’s neighborhood is just five hundred feet down the road. There are no cars here, but there are a few more “Moonstruck.” My curiosity runs amok at what their eyeless faces could possibly be looking at or for, but I throttle down the urge. I need to get home. Quite a few more of them are littered throughout the area. Bodies are laying everywhere, just like around our place. It seems that a small percentage of people are just straight up killed outright. Maybe the stress of losing their eyes is the cause. I am 5 minutes from the house at my current speed. I want to go faster, but I don’t want to hurt anyone in the way. Rusty is keeping an eye out, but thankfully, it is just people standing there, doing nothing but staring without the tools to see anything.
I turn onto my parent’s street. There are only a couple of easily avoidable people here. My heart begins to beat, as I see a familiar figure standing in the middle of the road. I pull into the driveway and run up to my father, tears in my eyes. I know that I can't touch him, but I call his name, to see if he registers anything around him. “Jonathan!”, I plead, “Wake up!” There is no response. Rusty grabs me by the wrist just before I touch him. He reminds me, “They become aggressive.” I nod and turn to walk to the house. Where is the neighbor’s dog? Did they bring him in for the night? I notice that my sister’s and mother’s dogs don’t bark as I open the gate. Something has them spooked, which means we are still in danger. Or does this thing affect animals as well?
As I climb the stairs to get to the porch, something in the air changes. It’s almost as if the world was holding its breath and slowly let it out in a gentle sigh. I reach for the door and open it. I start to close the door and look down at my phone. It’s 4:59 AM. It has taken us an hour and a half to drive 8 minutes up the street. Just as I shut the door and call out to Mom and Virginia, all hell breaks loose.
A blood curdling shriek pierces the eerie morning silence. I hurriedly lock the front door and tell everyone to get upstairs. Considering the narrow staircase, it’s the most easily defensible position in the house. Virginia has Molly, her Pomeranian, in her arms and Mom’s chow mix, Flip-Flop, is right on their heels as they start heading up the stairs. Rusty follows them with me right behind him. Time does not permit me to worry about Dad. He is a part of this, and I WILL protect Mom and Virginia from him. Please don’t come back in here. My foot hits the first step and I hear a slam from the back of the house and a shatter of glass. Fuck! I didn’t check the back door! With my heart in my throat, I listen for other sounds, malicious and benign. There is a shuffling coming from the rear of the house, along with a wet, snorting sound. Something is sniffing the air and it sounds stuck in their throat. Rusty, Virginia, and Mom are only halfway up the stairs. The sound of feet meeting metal draws the staggering thing closer. Through the light of the kitchen, I see the source of the snorting. The once clean, empty eye socketed creature appears, now with blood pouring from those same sockets. What was once a horrible sight becoming even more grotesque. The snorting was this macabre creature sniffing something out through its own blood. I raise Igor and take aim. The sound of the others going up the stairs becomes a beacon. With a bloody bark, it springs forward with incredible speed. The .22 caliber bullet finds its target in the open mouth of its moonstruck victim. Its howl is cut short as the bang from the rifle in a tiny space makes my ears ring. Now deafened, I quickly run to the back and close the door, locking it so we don’t receive another unwanted visitor—at least from that direction.
I get upstairs and Virginia and Mom are hiding in a bedroom on the right. Rusty stands at the top of the stairs, vigilantly watching as I excuse myself past him into the other bedroom. As my hearing starts to return, I am piloted by nausea and vertigo. I barely make it to the back corner of the room before I throw up last night’s dinner. Bile has a tendency of doing that. I have never taken a life before, and I wasn’t sure if this counted, but to me, it was close enough.
I clean off my mouth and head back to the landing with Rusty. Non-stop screaming comes through the windows from outside. It is the ragged screams of the truly terrified, who have awoken into a nightmare they thought they left behind in their dreamscapes. There are occasional pops of a handgun and the bang of something bigger, but the screams are the only constant.
I stand on the landing and keep an eye on the front door and porch window. If someone wanted to get in, it would be the easiest way. The lock would hold, but the window is such a breakable entry point. Who knows if these things that used to be statues have any reasoning capability. I think of those that had no chance. If people slept through the emergency signal that was sent two hours ago…Has it really only been two hours?! It sounded like everyone who had been moonstruck all screamed at the same exact time. So loud, even the deaf could have felt it, if not outright hear it. Cutting through even my own deafening heartbeat, my chest heaves.
Anxiety completely overrides my body. The front door shakes as if a great weight is forced upon it. The door handle rattles showing someone, or something, is trying to use it to get in. The deadbolt holds fast, stopping whomever is on the other side. I see a hand on the window behind my father's chair. The hand turns into a fist, draws back and slams through the glass pane. Attached to the fist is the rest of the arm, torso, and body. The creature ignores any cuts it receives as it comes completely through the double pane window. I can only assume the shot of the rifle grabbed its attention, which means more are on the way, and worse--my father. Looking up, I see my sword my parents got me when I was doing medieval reenactment hanging from the wall. I grab it, slowly drawing it from its scabbard. The good times with my replica of the Sword of Zorro are stripped away. Even without much of an edge, the good point makes a useful weapon.
Rusty is behind me when the window explodes. His touch on my back makes me jump, causing the hilt of the sword to hit the railing. Now inside, the bloody creature below me freezes and, with incredible speed, races toward the stairs. I bring the sword to bear. Luckily, the monstrous body trips on the first couple of stairs, navigating blindly, trying to sense the source of the noises it heard. Gripping the sword in my right hand, I bend over the landing railing and try to stab the creature through the top of its head. I miss the first time and hit the handrail, causing it to pause for a moment. This allows me to adjust my aim. I stab at the top of its head again, but my thrust doesn’t have weight behind it, so I don’t pierce its skull. It flinches back in pain and howls, before scrambling up the stairs again. I wait for it to come into reach before stabbing it through its throat and pinning it to the wall behind it. I pull the sword out of the wall and the corpse slides off the blade and flops down the metal stairs. Each time it lands on a step, a low bell-like tone comes from the stairs that reverberates through my body and can definitely be heard from the road. If we happen to survive this, this will be a scene that will haunt me for days, months, or years to come, if not forever.
I still hear screams from outside, but it has become less intense and harder to hear. Heading for the bedroom, I tell Mom and Virginia “It’s time to go. We have drawn too much attention and it would probably be best to stay moving at this point.” Rusty agrees. We have dealt with two of the moonstruck, and more could be on the way. I give my sword to Mom. She’s not young anymore, but she should still be able to swing it if the occasion calls.
Exhaustion is setting in. The adrenaline that's been coursing through my body is starting to drain from my system, and I didn't get a whole lot of sleep before this nightmare began. Though I can feel a building flood of emotions starting to rise, I quash them, knowing we are not out of the woods yet.
In this moment of calm, Mom asks, "What the HELL is going on? Virginia wakes me up, we can't find your father, I'm told not to look outside, and something came into the house like it was looking for blood? Your sister is two steps from having a nervous breakdown, and you two have the look of being haunted. And where the hell is JONATHON!?!"
I explain to her what I know. How something outside either kills you outright, or your eyes disappear, and you become one of those--Moonstruck. I tell her about the text messages and social media notifications circulating, luring people outside. The emergency message that woke me up, the drive over. Unable to stop myself, I tell her all of it
I stop at Dad. I pause, contemplating what to say to this woman who has been married to my father for over 40 years. She sees the look on my face as I try to find the words. She reaches out a hand and grips my arm. "It's okay. I can see it on your face. You don't need to say anything else," she whispers quietly. "You kids are my only current priority." A single tear rolls down her face.
I want to be a little kid again and crawl into her arms and have her make the monsters go away. I have always known my mother to be strong, mentally and emotionally. In this moment, it reminds me of that strength I have always admired about her. She walks back to Virginia, who is starting to audibly breakdown. Mom takes Virginia into her arms and cradles her, trying her best to comfort her daughter during this time of utter darkness and sadness. Both dogs huddle next to her, leaning on her to give their own form of comfort.
I make my way downstairs to move the body from the bottom landing, dragging it to the other body in the dining room. I find a cover to throw over both bodies. I tell everyone when it’s safe to come down and we start to head for the backroom. It’s been quiet in the back of the house since locking it. I figure these things must have some reasoning ability to think to use a window if the door is locked. Suddenly, I hear a pounding on the door as the others make their way down the stairs and to the backroom. I motion them to hurry as the glass on the door shatters. One or more of them have come to find where the noises are coming from.
Still keeping his eyes down and covered with his hat, Rusty quickly looks around and finds the back yard empty. It is still dark out and we don’t know if whatever did this is still out there. Mom and Virginia keep their eyes down and have a hand on Rusty’s shoulder so he can lead them to the Jeep. Molly is in Virginia’s arms and Flip-Flop is keeping pace with Mom. I shut the back door to keep those things off us for just a few more moments and follow them. As I start to pass through the gates, a loud, guttural scream echoes above me as I feel something heavy fall on me. A blindingly explosive pain spreads between my neck and shoulder. Instantly, nausea and vertigo ravage my body—and something else. I cannot help but cry out as I feel as if my neck is being shredded from my body. Simultaneous fire and ice rush through my face, my lungs, my veins. I cannot stop crying out. As sound and thought start to vacate everything I know, I look up to see my mother, Igor to her shoulder, screaming “JONATHAN!” The tearing at my shoulder—and time, as I know it-- freeze for just a moment when Igor barks. I feel the presence next to my head disappear as bone, blood, and brain simply cease to exist. The body slumps down on top of me, gaining a lifelessness and a serenity that it lacked before. It’s amazing how different 247 lbs. feels when the only difference between the before and after is the spark of “presence” being gone.
I feel arms grab either side of me and rush me to...somewhere?
I feel someone holding my head in their lap, pressing something warm and wet to my neck. I look out the window and realize that predawn has given way to full dawn, and the light around us is gradually brightening. I can hear a female crying, and another female talking with a male, loudly, but I still can’t make out what they are saying. I feel I should know the names attached to those voices, but all I know is the cold seeping into my body, from the tips of my fingers to the bottom on my toes. I look outside, and I see a cloudless sky. Still a hint of star here and there, but it looks to be the start of a beautiful day.
I close my eyes, because I am so, so very tired. I only got 45 minutes of sleep last night. I just wish it wasn’t so cold...
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