Haunting in an Open Moon by Eric Nunnally


         Ka-clackity clack… ka-clackity clack… ka-clackity clack… ka-clackity clack…

         He paced his breathing, like he had done back in high school when he practiced with the cross-country team, with the distant sound of the train on the tracks somewhere off in the darkness. His lungs had opened up and the air felt thinner filling up his chest. Each breath wheezed faintly as he inhaled, and in the back of his mind he feared catching pneumonia as his entire body absorbed the pounding taken by his knee and ankle joints.

         "Don’t get tired…" he motivated himself, keeping the rhythm of the train on the tracks with his breathing, rushing through the pussy willows, the toes of his shoes digging into the cold moist earth as he ran toward the hill just under the low bright swollen moon. Moths and other tiny insects smacked his face as he swished through the field, trying not to think about the snakes, frogs and night-crawlers he undoubtedly trampled as he pushed himself harder and faster to get there.

         The midnight air whistled past his ears as he rushed through the tall grasses, his bare arms already itching from the whipping they took from the smack of sticker-bugs and dry stalks. Suddenly he stepped lower, startled by a dip in the ground. He stumbled forward, his shoe flipping off, and screwed up his face as a burst of adrenaline tried desperately to keep him from falling.

         The terror of losing control over his momentum seized his breath, and by the time he regained his balance, his chest was on fire with the stress of it all. The air blew gently over the sweat clinging to his forehead, which was overheated and throbbing with a dull uncomfortable pressure. Electric prickles attacked his entire body with freezing pin points of shock as he reeled his mind back from the idea of almost finding himself prostrate in the grass.

         He focused on the hill to establish how close he was and turned around to look for his shoe in the path he had cut behind him, eyes wide to let in as much light as he could. He had to hurry, though. The moon was full, illuminating the whole field, and the wolves loved a full moon.

         "Don’t wish ‘em, don’t wish ‘em, don’t wish ‘em…." he chanted in his head, eyes darting desperately from side to side of the path he slashed in the grass. Finding his shoe, he frantically slipped it back on and turned to start toward the barn again, but stopped suddenly to re-tie it. He couldn’t afford losing the time if it came off again. Just as he tied the knot, he bolted off like a track star, through the grasses, pushing himself harder and faster to make up for the time he had lost.

         Suddenly he broke into a clearing, which interrupted his concentration. He stuttered, caught off guard by this unexpected and puzzling bewilderment. He looked around and wondered if he was standing in a crop circle. Everything was flattened to the ground in the clearing. He turned to survey the perimeter of the clearing and, as he moved forward, a chill went up his back. He looked up into the clear jet-black sky at the stars that shone like city lights and watched for one to move. The sound of the train chug-a-chugging in the distance kept him from feeling too alone. He listened over his breathing and could still hear the crickets. That was good. He looked back at the hill and clenched his jaws, pushing himself forward again through the pussy willows.

         He was almost there… to the top of the hill just under the moon, when the silhouette of a wolf appeared there. It just walked up and stood there, looking out onto the field. He froze, his heart shrinking into a cold rock, and his eyes widening with fear. He was too late! He wanted so bad for this to be a dream and felt his chest aching as every heart beat felt like a sledgehammer trying to bang a hole out of him. He stood there in the stiff grass and looked as if one might look upon a mirage, hoping the wolf would go away. Instead, two others walked onto the hill, their silhouettes menacing and ready. He knew they were hunting. He knew how big they were and how vicious they were. He wished he could burrow into the earth to hide… there was nowhere else to go.

         He knew that just over the hill was the barn, but he had started too late and now he was in danger of becoming a midnight meal for a small pack of very large wolves. As he tried to collect his senses, the wolves descended into the shadow of the hill and moved into the tall grass. His heart stopped and he stood there, fear bleeding inside of him, covered his throat with his hands and shut his eyes, prayers rising like severed spirits from his terrified soul…


         A full moon hovered silently above the grass, bright as a stark naked light bulb. A mile away the night train sounded its haunting whistle, which blended into the sound of the prairie winds. A dead tree offered itself as a sentry post for a great fat hoot owl, who watched through one aperture every stirring in the field. Night’s umbrella was black as pitch and sprinkled with crushed diamonds except where ghostly wisps of frozen air streaked the sky.

         Mice and other small creatures darted through the grasses along tiny worn paths to favorite feeding grounds, stopping suddenly to feel the air with their whiskers, wary of the shadow of death that spreads its wings every night. Black armored beetles adventured for dunghills and carcasses of small dead rodents. The first frost was weeks away but all creatures were already preparing for the coming winter.

         Somewhere in the tall dry grasses a man’s grunts could be heard, along with a hacking sound, the slicing thud of sharp steel finding fresh bone, slightly muffled by the sound of the wind. A blood and dirt soiled bag lay in the trampled grass at his feet. Strangely, a black crow called out of the darkness and lighted in the dead tree, stirring the owl, whose head seemed to sink lower into its fat body at the intrusion.

         A wind blew around the tree rustling the brown downy feathers of the owl and the knife black feathers of the crow and the leaves that had fallen and dried in the grass at the base of the tree.

         The chill in the air raised hairs on the powerful forearms of the man who chopped away at the body with an old rusty machete. His hands began to sting and itch, cold and sore from holding the machete so tight. Across the distance, in the only house that stood in the field, a warm yellow light came on in an upstairs window, and a dog barked, splitting the air with a sharp echo that curiously seemed in harmony with the crickets' song.


         "Max thinks them wolves is out there again, John." She said, standing in her white sleeping gown, looking out of the window at the dead tree in the field.

         Behind her, wrapped up in the blankets trying to keep warm, John didn’t budge, "Come back to bed, Lucy. It’s cold."

         "They can’t get in the barn, can they?" she asked, worried about the safety of the dog.

         "I locked it before I came in. Now come on back to bed. You done took all your warmth with you." He pleaded.

         She turned away from the window and walked barefoot across the wooden floor to the closet. Opening the door, she reached up on the shelf in the dark and emerged with a heavy quilt and walked back to the bed. Unfolding it, the scent of lemon and garden flowers gently perfumed the room, and she shook it open to spread over the bed. When it settled, she lifted the covers to slide up behind her husband. He shivered when she lifted the blankets and then scooted back when she was snuggled up behind him.

         "That’s better." He mumbled with a smile on his face as he settled back to sleep.

         "Goodnight, John." She said lovingly, wrapping her arms around him.

         "Goodnight, Lu." He breathed, just as a wolf howled in the distance.


         He looked up from what now looked like a badly hacked stump of butchers meat, sweat pouring off his forehead and down his face making his collar sticky against his neck, as his breath condensed in the air in front of his face. It was getting colder and he worried that he could catch pneumonia working so hard out on a night like this. He wiped his forehead with the back of his blood soaked hand and sniffed his runny nose as he tried to figure out how far that howl was from where he stood.

         A moment later another howl sounded, very close to him. He tightened his grip around the machete and looked around for movement in the moonlit grass. They could smell the blood, he thought to himself. He should have just stripped the body and left it in the field for the scavengers to get in the first place.

         He wiped his free blood stained hand on his pants leg and backed away slowly through the grass away from the body, wielding the machete guardedly. He’d come back for the scraps and rags tomorrow night, he thought to himself. They could have it tonight. In the back of his mind he also wondered how their eating human flesh would change their aggressiveness. He had to get back to the stream and wash the scent of death off of him, pneumonia or not. If he didn’t he was sure to be dead before sunrise.


June 3, 2003


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