The Moon Children

By Wayne Calhoun

Did you ever hear of the Moon Children? no, I suppose you haven’t. Ha! but see, I’m just an old drunk, you smell the whiskey on my breath, don’t you? Of course you do. So here I sit, just the old man to give you a story. Just the old man who tends a farm on the outskirts of town. The farm that is bordered by Morgan’s Woods. A good two-thirds of my property is entangled by that god-forsaken wood. Everything is unnatural about that place. Everything. It just isn’t right… oh, the drink isn’t necessary to loosen my tongue, but I appreciate it all the same. I just don’t know how I ever could have missed it. How I never could have noticed that WRONGNESS when I was growing up. It just looks wrong, smells wrong, the light barely reaches inside it. and…

Well, there were always stories about savage animals that roamed those woods at night. Some folks referred to such things as The wolves of morgan’s woods. Men who took the shape of monsters. Skinwalkers, the Injuns used to call them. As a child the stories of savage beasts roaming the woods at night were more than enough to dissuade us from venturing too close to the boundaries of our own farm in the twilight hours. Just the idea of being ripped to shreds and devoured by hairy monstrosities… little did they know…

Others claimed the woods were haunted by ghosts who were strong enough in the presence of the moonlight to possess those foolish enough to take a walk into the woods. Used as puppets to commit heinous acts. Then there were even older stories told about trolls and talking trees and other such fairy tale creatures. So with our childish imaginations our childrens’ games outside in the field always ended well before dark. But, if I had known then what I know now, I’d have never ventured beyond the back door!

Visitors to our home never stayed past the first tinge of twilight – making rushed goodbyes, leaving us children to watch them go in wonder. My parents were rather vague as to the details, mumbling about wild animals and such things. But, as I got older, my questioning became more determined.

what happens in the woods at night?”
“what animals stalk the darkness that scare everyone so much?”
“Why are there crucifixes in every room of the house?”
“why do the townspeople take the longest route to town when the road that passes our farm is the most direct?

Of course most questions went unanswered and I learned to just stop asking about it. I went to school, and worked the farm, and every night I was indoors by dark.

Every now and then the horses would get spooked by something and start whinnying and kicking their stalls, and it would be with the greatest trepidation that my father would load the shotgun, grab a lantern and cross the wide yard towards the stables. I still have vivid memories of my mother clutching a cross shakily to her bosom on some of those nights and murmuring the Lords Prayer. My father always returned never having fired his gun and if he ever found anything, he never mentioned it. My father was a large man who had done physical labour on the farm his entire life, and was afraid of no man. The only time I ever saw him look scared was on those odd nights when the horses got riled up for seemingly no reason.
I always remembered that.

And for the longest time, my sister and I learned to just accept the seeming inexplicable dread of my parents and the other townspeople. We just chalked it up to superstition. As I grew into early manhood, though, I became a bit more adventurous. I walked along the edges of the woods and even on occasion went in by myself, although during the daylight! My schoolmates and I often tried to see how long we could stay in the woods before our mothers began screaming for us to get out. There was nothing out of the ordinary during the day, so it seemed. We could never find any wolf tracks, nor traces of any other potentially dangerous animals. Only the raccoon and squirrel, woodchucks, rabbit and deer we hunted during the day, there was nothing scary about that. No wolves, no mountain lions, no bears. Nothing. Besides, the area of Morgan’s Woods directly in front of our fields only lasted about 100 yards before terminating in a huge bog. You could barely see across to the other side. you had to venture far to either side to do any real hunting. In my youth I could never see anything to justify the townsfolks claims of ghosts and monsters and the like. As it turned out, I just wasn’t seeing the forest for the trees, so to speak. I was overlooking the horror everytime I stepped foot in those cursed woods.

My father and sister were both taken by yellow fever the same year I reached My manhood. They were both buried in a small family plot on the far end of the east field. it was now just my mother and I. With this devastating loss, my mother retreated more fervently into her Catholicism, no longer satisfied with the crucifixes in each and every room, she now had the local pastor bless an inordinate amount of holy water which she placed in small bottles and left throughout the rooms of the house and the along the porch. I constantly questioned my mother about this, demanding to know why she was so terrified of seemingly nothing. At first, I thought it was just depression making her overly anxious and paranoid, but no. She was honest-to-God terrified that something was outside watching us. I never saw or heard anything and she never said just what was the matter,

“It’s those damned woods.” she said, clutching her rosary to her chest, “I hate those woods, Joseph. there are things there that have escaped the Lord.” Then she would go back to praying quietly. she would never go into anymore detail no matter how much I pressed.

Day after day I toiled In the fields and my mother soon began to act her old self again, only making vague mentions of the woods from time to time. I still thought it strange to have all the holy water around the house but I decided to just let my mother indulge and in time, I forgot all about the little bottles and my mothers superstitions.

One night in late fall, I was shutting up the barn when I heard the horses neighing uneasily. As I got closer they began making a racket over in their stalls, kicking furiously. It was close to dusk and I had my lantern already lit to make my way back across the field to the house. I reach the nearest stall and held the light on it as I looked in. the horse, Bess seemed to calm when she saw me but continued to make distressed noises along with the other two horses in out stead. I glanced around Bess’ stall but could see nothing save for all the hay she had disturbed with her tantrum. My heart suddenly began to beat faster as I remembered from what seemed like ages ago, the horses freaking out about something. my father had always come to investigate…with a shotgun. Suddenly all those old stories of wolves leapt back into my mind. I tried to calm the horses and eventually succeeded. but I could not locate the source of their disquiet. I searched the entire barn and it was full-on dark by the time I made it back to the house, my mother hysterical, asking where I had been and what I was doing. I wanted so badly to not tell her about the horses. It had been so long since an incident like that had occurred, I did not want to contribute to my mothers growing paranoia. Everything had been going so well for us since Pa and Gale died, I wanted to keep it that way.

I came up with some bullshit excuse, I don’t even remember what it was. it didn’t do any good anyway because three times that month I had to run out to the stables to check on the horses. They were loud enough to alert my mother that something was wrong and she locked herself in her room all but screaming the lord’s pray for over an hour each time.

I never found anything in those stables other than the horses…until, I evertually checked out the horses more closely and noticed that Bess had some strange wounds on her back legs. I figured she had done it from kicking at the stall door and carrying on. Except they looked almost… like bite marks.

******

I didn’t tell my mother about the marks on Bess’ legs, not until things got bad. I wasn’t sure what to think about them myself. I didn’t want to think about it. Rats, I decided. I didn’t believe it but I tried to convince myself that it was rats. small but vicious little nibblings on her ankles, what else could it be? certainly not these big wolves that supposedly stalked the woods at night. Besides, no wolf would have been able to get into the barn or stable. Rats could squirm their way in as they are capable of doing in almost any place. Maybe owls and other birds could come in through the hayloft, but nothing bigger than that. There was never any signs of forced entry, no holes dug around the perimeter. Just the hayloft, and I locked the ladder away inside the barn every night. I remembered my father running to the barn with his shotgun. but he never said why he felt that he needed such protection when there was never any sign of danger. Another thing was that those “barn incidents” were few and far between back in my childhood, but now they were becoming more and more frequent and making my mother more and more hysterical.

I pressed her still:

“What is getting into the barn? will you answer me? Three times this month alone the horses are freaking out. Why?”

“Wild animals.” she answered, distractedly.

“What kind of animals? There’s no signs of any animals in the barn other than the horses!”

“I don’t know, Joseph! something not right! that’s all I know! Its always been like that. everyone knows it!”

I stopped the inquiry there, not wanting to upset her further. My mother went to bed. I couldn’t sleep. I tried, but all I did was toss and turn. I got up and paced back and forth through the house, looking through every window as I passed it. straining my eyes to catch a glimpse of anything that might be moving out there, straining my ears to hear the slightest rustle.

Nothing. It was dead silent. The moon beginning to wane, casting it ghostly pallor onto the east field. I waited and watched and paced all night. The only sounds were my footsteps on the hardwood floors. I didn’t go to bed until well after dawn.

An entire month passed without another incident. things returned to normal. My mother calmed down and became her old self again and after a month of nocturnal pacing I was finally able to sleep at night again. until…Jesus, excuse me. (Loud slurping of liquor)

Ah, So… one night, after things had returned to normal. I was suddenly awoken from a deep sleep. I couldn’t explain it, but it was just this sudden sense of disquiet. Still groggy, I turned my attention to the east field which my bedroom window overlooked. and, God help me…God help me if I didn’t see…if I didn’t see Gale walking across the filed towards the woods. My heart jumped into my throat, I couldn’t move, I couldn’t think, all I could do was just watch my sister, a child who died years ago, in her funeral gown moving with jerky, stiff movements. As if she were a puppet walking on a stage of grass with the moon as a spotlight.

I…I couldn’t move, I couldn’t scream, I couldn’t do anything but sit there and stare at my dead sister as she gradually disappeared into the woods.

I sat there in shock for an unknown time before I finally snapped out of it. I got up and checked in on my mother as quietly as I could to make sure that she was still asleep. I went back to my room and got dressed, went downstairs and lit a lantern and loaded my father’s shotgun and carefully, make my way outside. I crossed the east field to the where the family plot was surrounded by Maple trees and shown my lantern around which wasn’t really necessary considering that the moon was so bright it already illuminated what I wanted to investigate, and which confirmed a by darkest fear.

Gale’s grave had been dug up. I dropped to my knees and turned out the lantern. I looked at the horrible scene. it didn’t look like it had been dug up by men with shovels, no. It looked more like wild animals had dug her up. the wooden coffin had been smashed open and the linen and pillow inside ripped and stained with what I can only assume were bodily fluids. The smell made me retch. working a farm my entire life I was used to bad smells and those of dead animals but this was like nothing I had ever smelled before. This was no dead animal or manure or anything remotely natural. I don’t know how else to describe it. It just was something that didn’t fit with this world…I couldn’t kneel there any longer than to just confirm what I had feared. that somehow, impossibly, Gale had got out of her coffin and with a little help at that.

I ran back to the house to get my mother and get her the hell off of the farm. Because I now knew that the things that had been breaking into the barn with more and more regularity were directly responsible for what I had just seen. I reached the house and ran upstairs and woke my mother up.

“Mom, we have to leave the farm, now!”;

“Wha…what are you talking about?”

“Those things. those things from the woods, they’re here!”

Her eyes widened in terror.

“Joseph, they left the woods again?”

“They’re not after the horses…They dug up Gale, mom. she’s gone from her grave. I saw…I saw her walking across the field…and into the woods.”

“No! No! not my baby!” my mother shrieked, clawing at me, trying to get out of the bed, tears streaming down her face. I tried my best to comfort her…but it was in vain.

“Mom, you need to listen. we need to get off this farm. we need to go in town. it will be dawn soon.”

Mother agreed and we sat up the rest of the night in the kitchen, she made tea and we sat mostly in silence. All she said was that the woods were haunted and had been for as long as she could remember. she really didn’t know anything.

At dawn, mom packed and I sent her off to stay with cousins who owned a farm on the other side of town. I stayed behind, despite her sobbing pleads for me to go with her. I kissed her goodbye and told her that I would be with her as soon as I could be. but not before I got to the bottom of this. Was there some secret pact with these ghosts or whatever they were? What happened to make them start coming out from the woods again to bite the horses? To do whatever they did to Gale? no one had gone into those woods. If there was some kind of age-old pact with these things to never go into the woods, then that pact had not been broken to the best of my knowledge. what had set them off? I had to laugh, I had no idea why I was describing the perpetrator so surely as “they”, but that was just what naturally came to mind. One animal or ghost didn’t do this, it was many. That’s something my gut just told me. and I didn’t care. I was going in the woods and I was bringing back Gale and putting her back to rest. I was never a superstitious person, but damned if recent events hadn’t changed that! I filled a small pack with the bottles of holy water that had been left around the house and put on a small crucifix on a gold chain. I loaded the shot gun and dumped as many shells as I could into the pack and into my pockets. satisfied, I made my way across the east field where I had seen Gale and stepped into the woods from there.

The woods were no different from when I was younger. although the noon sun provided very little light through the thick tangle of branches. It was early fall, the hell-fog of mosquitoes had gone, although, in retrospect, I would have preferred those tiny bloodsuckers as opposed to the horror I witnessed. I passed a clump of mushrooms so white that they appeared to be glowing. I don’t know why but I took that as a marker to where the normal woods ended and the… supernatural began. 100 yards in, the ground was becoming softer and wetter and the underbrush more and more tangled. the chatter of birds and other sounds seemed muted somehow. Walking between semicircle of boulders I came as far as I could go; the bog. This morass of foul water, sticky mud and twisted trees stretched off in all directions. It was like a… boundary to a new, forbidden land. But I decided that it wasn’t going to stop me. For a while I walked back and forth along its length. trying to find its end; but to no avail. One end eventually had it dumping into the Racoon Gorge, no luck there. The other end tapered off into such a tangled mess of underbrush and downed trees that it would have taken a year to hack your way through it. No, the only way to the other side was to go through it. Raising my pack and shotgun over my head I slipped in to my knees and then my hips. the mud sucked my boots with each step, every break I made in the gloppy surface freed a cloud of bugs to assail me. I pressed on, and on, and on. after what seemed like ages, the ground began to get more solid and started to rise, I climbed up onto a small island and adjusted myself. I don’t know why, but at that point I opened my pack and poured one of the bottles of holy water over myself. I put the bottle back and continued back down into the slop and towards the next island.

Finally, the bog receded and I came to relatively dry land. It was now late afternoon and I found myself on a rocky patch of earth surrounded by moss-covered trees. Half a dozen smooth rocks were settled here and there but they were in a pattern that looked too deliberate to have fallen there naturally. I walked between them and stooped to examine them.

Cairns. Headstones. I thought. And that paralyzing fear gripped me again. The dead live at night. Thoughts of old stories raced through my head as I dropped my pack and opened it. Grabbing the bottles of holywater. I set down the shotgun and opened one of the bottles. I had no shovel with me, no way to dig efficiently but the ground was very spongy once the stones of each Cairn had been removed. I had enough of the little bottles to empty two onto each of the graves. I did so. nothing happened. of course, I don’t really know what I was expecting but there was no sign that the holy water had any effect on what was underneath the ground. Unsure of myself and aware of the fading light I decided to quickly explore the rest of the island. I pushed through the thick underbrush behind the furthest grave and froze.

There were six more headstones on the other end of the island, practically buried in vines and roots, the underbrush camouflaging them perfectly. shot gun or no, I didn’t want to be here when these things woke up. I would get back to the house and face them on my own turf. And I knew they would come. All of them would come for me this time. I gave them all the reason to. I broke the secret pact. now horses would not sate their appetite. And one of these things would look like my sister…

******

It was time to leave this unholy place. I had no idea if the holy water had any effect on whatever horrors dwelled just below the surface of this ancient burial ground, but I wasn’t going to wait to find out. I had broken the old pact, I had set foot on this cursed land and provoked the wrath of these creatures who occasionally has sucked the blood of my horses.

But no. it was they who had come onto my property and not only defiled my sister’s grave, and turned her into one of them. Needless to say, I had quite an amount of anger welling inside me, but I knew that I couldn’t let that blind me. not here, not now. I needed to focus. I had to make it back to my farm and prepare myself. I knew there was going to be a fight, but it was going to be on my turf. I was going to put a stop to this.

The sun was fading as I slipped back into the murky sludge, holding my shotgun and pack over my head. The sticky muck clung to my boots as if it were alive, trying to drag me down into the depths. But I would not be swayed, not here, not with night fast approaching. Every time that I lifted my head the sky was darker and my heart beat faster in my chest. I had my loaded Remington and yet I was as scared as if I had nothing more than a slingshot.

As I reached solid earth it was full dark. I ripped my foot free of the last clinging glob of muck and swept my gun around the forest. It was dead silent. My breathing sounded like the chugging of a freight train compared to the unnatural stillness and deathly silence the enveloped me. It was as if the entire world was waiting with bated breath.

After several minutes with no sign of anything living…or dead, I began to make my way back through the woods and towards the east field. At that moment the moon came out from behind a cloud that’s when I heard it. A “popping” sound. I didn’t want to look, God knows that I just wanted to turn tail and run full speed back to my house but I looked. And I saw it burst from the bog I had just pulled myself out of. it popped straight up like a jack-in-the-box. A creature that looked like a little boy maybe eight or ten years old, despite the mud clinging to him, I could see he was wearing a very old-fashioned attire. I gripped my shotgun and trained it on him. He didn’t move for the longest time, he just stood there in the water, staring up at the sky. And then slowly, slowly lowered his head and turned to face me. eyes of the palest blue stared at me and into me. It was almost hypnotizing. With a yell I raised the shotgun and fired at it. I hit the thing square in the chest, but it didn’t even flinch. there was a groan, though. But then I realized with horror that it wasn’t coming from the thing I had just shot (that one still continued to look at me with those unholy pale eyes) , the noise was coming from behind him. Two more had popped up out of the sludge and were just finishing up basking in the moonlight. They slowly turned to face me. and they also, just stood there, staring at me. Were they like some kind of bizarre reptiles, having to bask in the moonlight before they could get moving? They were farther back but one looked like a little girl and the other a boy. I didn’t waste my ammo. I ran. I ran as fast as I could thorugh the trees and over fallen logs, I tripped over exposed root and was snagged by vines and creepers, I acknowledged no pain at that point, my only focus was to get out of the woods.

I reached the east field. in the moonlight I must have looked like a mad man; covered in mud, barely able to stand and clutching a shotgun taking ragged breathes. I was a man in his prime, but at that moment I felt as if I was a hundred years old.

Vampires. The word passed through my brain. they had to be, what the hell else could they be? I almost laughed. The wolves of Morgan’s woods, huh? The wild animals that stalked the woods at night. No one ever mentioned them by name, but they existed. And my farm was right on the border of their domain. I stood there catching my breath and another thought occurred to me. Those things rose up from the swamp. they weren’t coming out from under those little headstones. Shock hit me, my extremities went numb. There was nothing under the stones. no bodies. That island was the last remnant of an old burial ground. But all the bodies of that forsaken cemetary had been moved away by the crawling swamp over decades and decades. I had emptied all of my holy water on earth and nothing more.

The sound of my horses in the stable broke my concentration. they were screaming this time and making such a racket I thought the barn might collapse. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard a horse scream but it is a disturbing sound to say the least. I ran around the side of the barn to the stables and took a deep breath and pushed open the door. I immediately through myself to the side as I was almost trampled by two of my horses, covered in blood and whinnying in terror as they ran off into the night. They had actually broken through their stalls in their desperation to get away. I got shakily to my feet and heard the unmistakable sound of chewing and slurping. I began thinking of the old stories of vampires. didn’t you have to cut off their head or burn them? I couldn’t remember, and every story you heard was different.

The sounds coming from the last stall were disgusting and produced ugly images. but I made my way to the stall and slowly pushed the gate open. What I saw will haunt me for the rest of my life.

A lone figure was crouched down in front of Bess, her face buried in the horses innards, pulled out handfuls of ropey intestines and shoveled them indiscriminately into her mouth. She hadn’t noticed me. I cocked the shotgun and trained it on her….it. She stopped what she was doing and slowly turned to face me. I went cold. I almost dropped my gun and ran screaming from the stable. But the shock of it, kept me rooted to the spot, unable to make a sound, let alone take any action.

Gale had turned to face me, her mouth still chewing autonomously, her eyes were now a glazed-over, pale blue. And her mouth was no longer filled with teeth that could be considered human. They were more like long, bony spikes and they were chewing off as much flesh from the horse as from her own bottom lip. She just crouched there, staring at me. I finally managed to muster the needed strength and I raise my shotgun. My voice was a shakey whisper, but I spoke.

“You’re not Gale.”

The thing that used to be my sister blinked as if pondering my words and then opened her mouth as if to respond, but the only sound that emerged was a reverberating groan in a voice that was too deep for a little girl and far too loud for any human being to produce. She stood up and I broke from my frozen state. I took aim and fired.

Under normal circumstances, a twelve gauge at point blank would destroy a persons’ head. But, these were not normal circumstances. Gale… That Thing’s possessing her body… that face was peppered with shot, but causing only superficial damage. The impact knocked her down but, only briefly. She recovered and lunged at me, seeming only to have suffered the most superficial damage and I batted her away with the butt of the shotgun but she got right back on top of me, hissing and grabbing, hissing and clawing. I knocked her down again and went for the work bench and fumbled for something sharp. I got my hands on the hatchet just as Gale… the… THING that looked like Gale grabbed me and latched down on my forearm. I cried out in pain and tried to shrug her off but she held on like grim death. Snarling and chewing down to the bone, I let out another cry and brought the hatchet down on her head but there was no immediate reaction. Again and again I opened large lacerations in the top of her head and she finally let go, staggering backward and falling, now I fell on top of her pulled her head back and hacked at her neck again and again and again until I finally was able to twist it off of her neck. the sound of stretching tendons and skin still haunts my nightmares.

I held my grisly prize and turned toward the door. There in the field, six child-sized creatures stood, with more moving through the shadows of the trees further back. I dropped Gale’s head to the ground and began to walk back to the house, leaving the shotgun where it was as it was a useless defense against these things. They made no move for me. They just stood there, watching me. Things that looked like children dressed in age-old attire and covered in filth. I mended my arm as best as I could and gathered the largest knives I could find along with an ax and the hatchet. I sat in the living room and waited for them to come. I knew how to kill them and I had just proved it with all of them watching. They were perhaps unsure of me as prey at that moment, but regardless, I still expected them to come for me.

They stood there all night. Some came up stiffly onto the porch, staring through the windows at me and I stared right back, unable to move, just waiting for the attack. But the attack never came. And at the first trace of dawn on the horizon they retreated back into the woods. Once the sun was fully up, I reburied Gale, trying to make her look as presentable as possible. I wept long and hard as I buried her. My arm was still aching from the wound but I spent the rest of the day cleaning up the remains of Bess in the stable and trying to track down the other horses… I never found them.

I went and got my mother and when I told her that Gale was at peace she didn’t ask for any details, she just cried a lot. Surprisingly, the wound Gale had inflicted on my arm had healed remarkably well. very little scar tissue actually remains. I’ll admit I was worried about that bite and what it might do to me, but I never got sick or turned into a vampire or werewolf or any other kind of monster. Mother and I had decorated the house with crucifixes and bottles of holy water, we had a priest come and bless the house and barn and stables. The things in Morgan’s Woods showed up every now and then but were more secretive about it. I would see them occasionally walking along the perimeter of the woods with that stiff, puppet-like walk. I never went back in those woods but every night when the light of the moon shines like a spotlight I still keep close my vials of holy water and my axe.

******

I’m well past my prime now, approaching old age. My mother died only a few years after these events and I buried her right next to Pa and Gale. It’s just me on the farm now, as it has been for a long, long time. Those child-like things have not aged. I still see them here and there walking the fields and occasionally coming onto the porch and leaving “presents” for me. I don’t even think about what these bloody bundles of flesh are or who or what they might have come from. Are they warnings? offerings? Treats? I have no idea but they never actively attacked me or anything on the farm since the night with Gale. I don’t know what they want….but I imagine that they are just biding their time. I think that they are still waiting for some, signal. And I think one night they truly come for me. I suppose that when you are as seemingly ageless as things like that, you can afford to wait a very, very long time for revenge…

I took to the drink rather fondly, and can you blame me? Hell, passing out in a drunken stupor is the only way this old man can get any sleep on nights like tonight. Nights when that moon is shining this bright. So the townsfolk will tell you not to listen to me and my stories, That I’m just an old drunk. Just a guy who sees funny things… ha! And yet not a single one of them will go near Morgan’s Woods after dark, but it’s not because they’re afraid that they will become marked for… some sinister and unknown purpose… No, nothing like that. You just don’t go in the woods at night. You might get mauled by a wolf!

(Cackling)

– by “Wayne Calhoun”