You watch it happen live like everyone else, streaming on Twitter and TikTok back when those things were still permitted. You watch him fall from the art deco spire of LaVeque Tower, his shimmering wings splintered in the beam of Mister Ghastry’s sine ray, and you bite down against the scream and the bile that rise within you. You want to close your eyes and swipe away but you watch it all just to make sure. You see him plummet in the phone camera’s shaky zoom, you see a bare foot where his costume has burned away, and you feel exposed, vulnerable, as if your own foot had fallen limp through the air. Trees block your view of his impact, at least in this stream, but you hear the screams and, even more, the quiet moans from those who can guess what is to come.
You taste acid in the back of your throat.
You have to put the phone down to comfort your son, who is crying, who is asking where Mothman has gone.
Later, you try to find other streams, other vantages on Mothman’s descent, but soon all the streaming sites are shuttered, and the only thing to watch is the news, where grave gray men describe the tragedy of Mothman and the civilian casualties he caused, and here’s a word from GhastryCorp, who remind you that they’re a light for us all in these dark times.
“I miss Mothman,” your son tells you at least seven times a day. He says it more often than “I miss Daddy.” He says it more often than “Why did our home burn down?” He says it just as often as “I miss Miss Kitten.”
Life goes on. There is no real grave for the Incredible Mothman, no body survived that beam (or so the news tells you, airing their carefully curated footage). For a while you see people gathered with masks and rainbow flags and signs around the base of LaVeque Tower, but then that whole area of downtown gets cordoned off (for public safety, the Ghastry spokesman -- now the only newscaster remaining -- reassures you). Your pay gets cut again.
Your son goes to first grade at the end of that summer and you sign him up for soccer on weekends and October brings its moment of sun before the gray Columbus winter settles in. One day he sets his bag down just inside the trailer’s door and stares at you for a long moment, making you sit up straighter and push the empty beer bottles further away from you, as if this could hide them from him. You remember, for a moment, that feeling of wanting to be a better person for his sake.
Maybe he sees this, your son. He sets each foot down as if navigating a minefield of your bottles. He reaches something out to you, and you think it’s another crayon drawing or maybe another crisply worded note from Ghastry’s Department of Heritage Schooling. It’s in crayon, sure, but it’s a map. And to go with the map is a child’s bit of rhyme:
You knew, Mothman, you knew
You showed us when you flew
To your grave we all go
To sing, Mothman, to know
You rub the crust from your eyes, and see the tears welling in his. You fold the map carefully. In your heart you already know where it leads. “I miss Mothman,” you tell your son.
He buries his head in your belly and lets it out, all the months of it, the anger and fear and loss, the nights of empty bellies. You wet his hair with your grief, and you hold him, hold him until nightfall.
You put together everything you still have in the pantry and you feast, you and your boy. You have ramen and Spaghetti-O’s and crackers and Oreos which have gotten a bit stale, but you feast. And then you dress for battle. You make sure he’s dressed warmly. You don’t know what to do about the helicopters and the roving gangs of cops armored with GhastroTek, but either you’ll figure it out, or you won’t. There’s no other way.
You steal out the back door, you and your son. The way he squeezes your hand tells you everything.
You make your way toward the riverside, and you see other folks skulking along the alleyways and back yards along with you. Never many, but also you see flickers of hands at curtains. You wait for it, but the sirens and the helicopters don’t come. No one calls the cops on you, this time.
Your son holds your hand until you reach the shrine, hidden there under sycamores at the river’s edge, as if the rains had receded and revealed it to the faithful. Nothing explicit, just a crude chalk drawing of a lightbulb, and around it flowers, bunches of aster and goldenrod and blue lobelia, flowers that fight against the death of summer, against the failure of sun.
Your son touches his soft fingers to the lightbulb, to the scratchy bark of the flood-worn tree.
You kneel and gently shelter his hand under your own.
Behind you, the believers murmur as they gather. You are a believer now. Somehow the words feel right.
“To sing, Mothman,” you say, and you and your son rise to face the crowd.
Rick Hollon (they/them or fey/fem) is a nonbinary intersex queer author, editor, and parent from the American Midwest. Feir work has appeared in perhappened, Prismatica, (mac)ro(mic), Fahmidan Journal, and other small-press publications. Find them on Twitter @SailorTheia.