CW: Boy jokes about body parts, mention of gun
Moon man lived up the woods out back ‘a the mill. In a old cave from when they was minin,’ folks said. Everybody called him moon man ‘cause he only come out at night. Said he ate out ‘a people’s trash and the dumpsters at McD and SpeedEMart, drank from the creek even though it’s nasty from the mill.
Moon man been there ten, twenty, thirty year dependin’ who you talked to. Donny at the gas station told me he seen him twice, not close up, and the first time he was on the small side. A year ago last winter he got a better look and he was big, wearin’ a raggedy coat and hat, movin’ quick and quiet.
I wondered was he a shapeshifter like on TV. Or the ghost of a miner what died in the big explosion a long time ago. Some of the kids say he ain’t real, no more’n a wampus cat. ‘Course Pawpaw told me he seen a wampus on the mountain, plain as day, back when he was ‘bout my size.
* * * * *
I heard moon man had long black hair all over him. I asked Brandon was he a where-wolf and he said Naw, that ain’t right. But he got his dick shot off in the Army and if he ketch you he’ll cut yours off and stitch it on him. I said no way. Brandon laughed and said, You better hope he don’t come ‘round your house. I didn’t believe it but he’s almost twelve and I’m but nine, so I thought maybe he knew.
I asked my dad why nobody took moon man to the hospital or jail. Deputies can’t be bothered, he said. He ain’t hurtin’ nobody. You just stay out ‘a those woods, understand? All kinds ‘a old junk lyin’ around.
A couple days later Mr. Caine from down the block come to our door with a rifle slung over his shoulder. Get your gun, he said to dad. That guy in the woods is stealin’ tools from my shed. I’m goin’ to get ‘em and I need backup.
Dad said, You sure it’s him, not some kid?
Yeah, I’m sure.
Why don’t you call the sheriff then?
Mr. Caine said, I did call and they said I couldn’t prove it. Only who else’d take a bunch a old hammers and saws and shit? Probly buildin’ a shack. You gonna help me or not?
Dad shook his head. When Mr. Caine was gone he said, That man’s got no sense. But that night I sat by my window long’s I could stay awake, watchin’ for moon man comin’ into our yard with a saw or a kaiser blade.
* * * * *
I stayed up the next night too and he never showed. Thought he prob’ly didn’t want no trouble and I’d be safe if I kept away like dad said. Then one day I was walkin’ home and Debbie Jackson come along, sayin’ her dog Maggy run off in the woods and could I please help find her. I was worried dad’d find out and more worried about moon man, but I said yes.
We went up the path off the dead-end road. You go that way and I’ll try this way, Debbie said. I was sweatin’ even though it was cool in there under the trees. I kept walkin,’ callin’ Maggy, here girl, not too loud for fear he’d hear me. Then I climbed a little hill and went down the other side and there he was.
Moon man was all naked, washin’ in a spring. He was tall and skinny, likely way over six foot, ribs showin’ and arms like sticks. He had hair past his shoulders, and a beard hangin’ down to his chest. He had a dick, too, which I was real glad about.
I dropped behind a bush and sat there froze. Watched as he shook hisself dry and put on overalls and some old boots. Just when he was done dressin’ he looked my way and I jumped up and run and my foot went in a hole. My ankle got turned and my head hit the ground.
* * * * *
I opened my eyes and moon man was kneelin’ over me. His skin was tanned dark and cracked like a old person’s, and his breath was powerful strong. He said hey bud, you alright?
I was dizzy and my ankle hurt bad. No, I said, weak-like, still scared. Can you walk? he said. I shook my head. Got a phone? I said no I ain’t. He grunted, Me neither.
Before I knew it moon man had me off the ground and was carryin’ me over his shoulders. He was stronger than he looked and sure-footed, like he knowed every inch ‘a the place. I didn’t know where we was goin’ but figured he wasn’t gonna hurt me and I wasn’t so ‘fraid.
We come to the SpeedEMart and he set me real gentle on the bench outside, opened the door and hollered, Boy out here needs help. Before the lady come out from behind the counter, he was runnin’ back up the trail.
* * * * *
That was the last anybody seen of moon man. The deputy what came to our house said she found his shack and it wasn’t nothin’ he built, it was real old. She said people called ho-bos used to ride trains, live in the woods a while, and move on. Said she’d ‘a tried to help moon man if he’d stuck around.
My folks and most folks were glad he was gone. But I never got to thank him for helpin’ me. I snuck up the woods to see if he come back, and I still look out the window at night wishin’ I could see him once more, but nobody’s there.
Dave Swan is a former journalist and a lifelong writer. His work has appeared in the Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, the Birmingham Arts Journal, Flora Fiction, and the Red Fez. You can find him at daveswanauthor.wordpress.com and @DavidSwan5.