Shoot Down the Moon
I landed with a thud, splash and the snap of my wrist. The pain severe, the stench of the cold, putrid mud repugnant and the darkness so complete that for a moment I believed I’d fallen straight into hell. “Don’t get God mad at ya boy. He’ll bring hell right up to ya. Yes sir, right up to ya.” My mother’s voice echoed through the pain. My face half buried in the muck, each breath brought a wave of nausea. I belched. After several excruciating attempts, I managed to roll on to my back, my knees pulled in, head cocked to the side. I tried to focus on the small circle of gray that hovered above, but it split and rattled to a blur. I closed my eyes. The well, I remembered.
I must have hit my head cause I swear I see stars, not the kind that flicker before ya pass out, the real ones, but it’s still early. It has to be. With my shotgun, I’d been roaming the woods that surround what remains of the orchard. Not that I could actually shoot anything. Coyotes scare me. Our land butts up against the North cemetery. No one comes around, it’s a spooky old place. They won’t find my body, unless I raise such a stink that they figure there’s a carcass too rancid for the coyotes, and set out to burn it. Instead they’ll shine their flashlights down and I’ll climb that beam of light into the next world. I hear they gotta find the body for the soul to rest.
Consciousness left me again. I awoke with my arms flailing, trying to bat away the darkness. I struck something in the blackness, hard and smooth. Slowly I searched the muck. My fingers traced the cold rod of metal. My shotgun. Somehow it made me feel better. Safer of all things. Running my hand gently down the shaft I imagined I was a bullet, willing myself to blast out into space, into freedom. I suppose it’s a good thing the damn thing didn’t shoot its load when we hit. Doesn’t really matter now. I pulled it closer and closed or opened my eyes.
Images from the deepest recesses of my cluttered mind shattered the darkness. Those places we never go unless all other stimuli is removed. The kind of place nightmares breed, and screams are born. Born not from dreams, but memories. Repressed. Hidden for the best. So you can bear it. I felt as though I was in Death’s womb; kicking, crying to be born out of this world, this body, this pain. “Momma. Momma.” I cried like an infant as images of her, dying and dead, replayed over and over. I choked. I sobbed. My life began to reel and loop before my eyes, all the pain, all the joy, all the sorrow, and all the regret, dripping like shards of hot glass. I fainted. Or my mind had had enough and just shut down.
If I had known, if somehow I could have sensed it in the sickeningly sweet, rotting of the orchard. Funny how we obsess over the last step, play it over and over, as though we could find a rewind button. Torture ourselves with all the possibilities missed. If I had paused by that tree? If I had sneezed there? Would it have thrown my timing off enough to have changed things? I doubt it. My whole life led inevitably to this pit. It is all so familiar. The damp, dank texture of the darkness. I know this place. Hell, I’ve lived here all my life.
I have never been a healthy man. I believe that illness stems from the head. Cancer forms from the unexpressed. Dad always said I was the runt of the litter. Ma said sickly, like a scarecrow. My junior high coach said I was an ectomorph body type, to small for the team, and then he sodomized me in the equipment room. The strong take and the weak take it. What could I do? Dad would have just thought I wanted it. Confirmed his suspicions. Ma, she’d have laughed, dribbling Budweiser down her faded, filthy housedress. Besides, it wouldn’t have looked good that I kept going back. I needed to feel his weight on me. To be touched. He was disgusting, but I knew it and that gave me the power. I learned that my power in this world relied upon the deviance of others. I was just sixteen when I ran away. To find my place in this world. I would root out those sordid deeds and hold them. To tell would be to give up the power, but to hold them, to know them was enough.
I can’t tell if my eyes are open or shut, but the blackness is gone, replaced by exploding, strobing colors flashing, filling my sight. I can see the neurons firing in my brain. All my senses magnified. I hear the worms and grubs munching through the dirt. I smell the apples rotting through the stench of the soured mud. I taste the coppery grit of the well walls. I can almost see the pain, like a Fourth of July sparkler, where a jagged bone sticks out from my wrist. I must be bleeding. The mud is cool and packs well around my limp wrist. I can hear Dad laughing up phlegm, “Well, look at the little limp wristed sissy now!”
Dad’s liver finally gave out in June. I came back, not to say goodbye, more just for one last look. I got home two days too late. I found what was left of him at the Harrington Funeral home on Route DD. The receptionist pointed to the door at the end of the hall then disappeared behind a red velour curtain. His body lay naked on a stainless steel table. A flap of abdomen lay open exposing his rotten liver, black and bruised like an over-ripe apple. His face was pale and sunken. I threw up, apologized to the receptionist and went back to the empty house and neglected orchard. Wandering the empty house I could hear the echoes of Ma’s “You’re gonna rot in hell,” sermon. But God doesn’t scare me, not anymore. I’ve seen the insides of a man. I know God’s secret. The little circle of gray is gone. I can’t focus. I’m blind.
I must have blacked out again. There’s no light. How many days have passed? My whole body aches. I feel like a turd dropped in some surreal outhouse. Hell, I’m too deep to even make good fertilizer. I’d cry, but you’re only given so many tears in a life, then your heart hardens, freezes up. All I ever wanted was… oh what’s the point. It’s like hearing the music, but you can’t play. Every note dangled ripe before you, just out of reach. I just wanted something beautiful. To make something beautiful. To be beautiful. God, just shut up! I’m making myself sick. My head hurts. My wrist hurts. It’s time to stop. Its time to let go.
Am I awake? Where am I? I see a man, a big man with a big laugh billowing from his barrel chest. He looks like the ghost of Christmas present come to show me the error of my ways. His robe opens revealing bones and decaying flesh. Death laughs. Grapes hang ripe from his grassy lapel. He seems to rise from a patch of golden wheat. His cloak is a weave of writhing bodies. I smell the sex. I hear music that’s both exhilarating and terrifying. He speaks and silver coins fall from his mouth then turn into sparrows. “How much land does one man need?” comes to me on the fluttering of wings. Thousands of birds descend and blacken the sky. I gasp. I can’t speak. His laughter rolls across me like thunder. He mocks me. I need to get to my knees, show respect, but can’t. He hovers over a pit. He knows the secret. He beckons me on. I’m drawn to the edge, to the warmth and silence of the darkness. But I can’t. I won’t! Please! Please! This can’t be all. This can’t be my life. I see nothing. I never had a chance to fill the hole. Please give me more time. I’ll play the game! I’m begging you. I'm begging…
It’s raining. The drops that fall straight are sliding down the side of my cheeks. It’s better than jumping into a cold river on a hot, muggy day. I think I shit myself this last trip into the nether world. It’s hard to tell, with the mud and the smell. I must still be alive. I’ve gotten enough of the wall dug out to stretch my legs and sit straight like a kid in a sandbox. I was happy when I was a kid, before Ma started drinking and the older kids escaped. Even the beatings were easier then, or time has erased the sting. The orchard was alive then. It was tended to. The smell of apple blossoms woke us in the spring and the taste of cider sent us to bed in the fall.
My internal clock was set by the rhythm of the woods. I knew when the May apples reached my knees, the morels would be popping. I knew by the shift in the wind that the Black-eyed Susan’s would bloom and when they faded, the acorns would fall. I knew when the wild grapes would be just ripe for picking and when the sour green apples would fall right into my hands. I could tell you when the tadpoles would sprout their hind legs, when the bucks would drop their antlers and when the cicadas would climb the trunks of trees and shed their hard-shelled skins. I could tell time to the minute by the position of the sun. I’ve forgotten most of those secrets, lost the need for them.
I always figured I wouldn’t live long. I’d always hoped that I would die by falling from some great height, so I could feel my body snag on the earth as my soul is ripped away and sent hurdling into the next world. We need a deeper well. All my life I felt that I would be a part of something big. Don’t know what. I figured I’d be in on the joke. I’d hold the secret, ready to step in if the messiah failed. Wishing they would drop the bomb, just so something would happen! Thunderstorms and tornado warnings had me watching the skies for my deliverance. I expected something historic. Anarchy would surely be my medium.
I’m awake. Blinded by a piercing light. I turned my head but the entire shaft filled with an eerie glow. My eyes adjusted and I realized it was just the moon. I sighed, relieved I was still alive. Then disappointment consumed me, I was still alive. I heard an old song. What was it? “You can’t shoot down the moon. Some things never change. You can build a bridge between us, but the empty space remains.” Regret flowed over me like that moonlight, like nausea. “I did love you.” I called up the well. “I just…, just didn’t know how.” And the moon just stared. Mocking me. Lighting up my pain, the muck, the bone protruding from my wrist, and the shotgun. Then I thought, I can shoot down that infernal moon. Put that eye out. Everyone would see. They would come. I’d be famous. “The man who shot down the moon!” There was one shell left. Only one.
With the effort of an old, old man, I managed to raise and cock the gun. “I’m gonna shoot me a moon, ma. Shoot me a moon.” I raised the gun. I didn’t need to aim. At this close range the shot would surely blow my head clean off. And it did.