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A story on moonlight, grief, and a man's thirty-third birthday.

By Mason EdwardsPublished about a year ago 9 min read
(source: unsplash)

The woodland is dense with claustrophobic trees, and the thicket is bestrewn with shiny mildew; it reflects the light of the moon with scintillating glimmers that catch in his peripheral. It makes him feel present, aware. Bestowed with a place within this forest, burdened with an identity and crushed by the concept of merely existing.

Twigs snap beneath his feet, and the crack that resounds from the splintering wood echoes through the oak trees, resounding uncomfortably loud in the deafening silence. He hears a bird's wings as somewhere in the distant, it takes flight and soars, fleeing the disturbance of quiet as it was likely roused from its slumber. But as soon as the brief flurry of sound had started, it finishes, settling down again into eerie silence.

It's almost too quiet.

He doesn't feel much about it, although he's sure he feels eyes on him. There's goosebumps pricking on the back of his neck, like something unknown is looming over him that he can't see, nor can he hear. Is that fear in his chest, or foreboding? Is it knowledge that the unknown may soon be known, or is it anticipation for the finding out?

His name is Matthew, and today is his birthday. Thirty-three years old. It seems insignificant to most, but of the utmost significance to him. You see, he'd always known it would happen today — although what exactly, always was a mystery, like a lifelong omen that waited for this day to roll around. Somehow, he'd found himself here. He didn't ask questions, he didn't stop and think; his feet merely brought him to this place. Apparently, his body knew more of what was to come than his own brain. So here he finds himself, venturing deeper into the woodland in the black of night, with only the obscured moonlight to guide the way.

Some of the trees looked like people, the branches askew in limb-like shapes, fungi blooming from the oak to bring smooth circles to the disjointed angles of wood. As time passes further, and he walks farther, Matthew starts to believe that the trees are, in fact, people. And perhaps they are. Perhaps those are the eyes he can feel boring into his thick skull, burning through his skin and scalp to delve deep into the contents of his aching brain. Perhaps he doesn't care. This forest feels like home in a strange place, and if these anamorphic human silhouettes are to be a part of the furniture, then he can accept that — he can embrace it.

Gradually, the moon ascends higher, and now he's sure there's blood on his hands. His palms ache and the tendons and muscles feel torn. There's something dripping down his forehead, and as it seeps into his eyes, he's pretty certain that's blood too. His vision becomes obscured with red, as if he's donned with rose-tinted glasses. The trees are still visible, the light of the moon still in view, but through the haze of a deep, bloody crimson. Somehow, it makes these cold surroundings feel so much warmer. His head hurts and his hands are seized and now, each step he takes shoots pain deep into the flesh of his bony ankles. He ignores it. Although, he can't afford to acknowledge it it, even if he wanted to. His body is walking in pursuit of an end goal; no amount of pain is getting in the way.

Matthew advances through the underbrush. He walks for what could be minutes, what could be hours. The moon still shines bright, creeping higher and clearer into the thick, black night, forcing through the mass of branches to illuminate the forest path. Something bright glimmers red in the distance; Matthew is drawn towards it.

It's bright. Hypnotic. Gleaming red with a spectral and ominous hue. He's lost in it. It consumes him.

The fire blazes in a clearing that Matthew soon finds himself within, a small pile of dead wood and logs burning bright with the red flame. It's stationed conveniently by a tree stump and naturally, Matthew goes to sit. His ankles and palms sear as his body moves, and he swears his vision is growing thicker with crimson with each passing second. Evidently, however, this is the end destination. His body has found a place and his walking, finally, has ceased.

The warmth of the fire is uncomfortable, and the surface of the tree stump is splintered, poking his flesh like he's perched upon a bed of needles. The fire illuminates Matthew's hands and ankles, and his eyes inevitably cast to them out of curiosity.

Suddenly, his chest feels cold against the heat of the fire, and it drops deep into the pit of his hardening stomach. Wounded deep in each palm is a stigmata, buried deep through the flesh of his ankles too. He feels liquid trickling down his cheeks, but he can't tell if it's from tears or the blood in his eyes.

Mania settles in, and now, he frantically presses his bloody fingers to his cheeks in a panic. Unsteady breaths heave from his chest as his rib cage caves in. Panic. He's been here before.

He's felt this somewhere before...

Stained glass cast prisms of light onto the pews, dust particles irradiated softly as they dance through rays of warm, glowing light. He was seven, sat in the midst of a Sunday congregation. His mother, sat to his right, and his father, sat to his left.

The day was Easter Sunday, and the pastor spoke with vigour, relaying the verses to the congregation of the death of Christ. "He saved others, they said, but he can’t save himself! He's the king of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him!" His voice rung clear through the open room, and Matthew was listening closely, his hand holding onto his mother's as he paid attention. Her hands were warm. Vividly warm, with wrinkles creasing her knuckles and a wedding ring gleaming on her fourth finger.

"He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now, if he wants him, for he said 'I am the Son of God'..."

His mother's finger twitched. That's when he first noticed, as the muscle spasmed in his clammy clasp. Then, it was her arm. Matthew looked up in worry, his childish naivety blinding him to the gravity of the situation as his mother's whole body suddenly began to jolt and seize. Her body dropped, and the surrounding people broke into a panicked clamour. The pastor stopped speaking, rushing to help.

Matthew was ushered back by a stranger, forcibly standing on the sidelines as frantic cries and an ambulance wailing filled his ears and deafened his thoughts. Unsteady breaths heaved from his chest as his rib cage caved in. Panic.

This is the feeling he's felt before.

His crimson vision blurs thick as the promise of tears threaten his eyes, intermingling with the viscous layer of blood that's seeped into his eyes. Blindly, he reaches his sticky hands up to his forehead, but his fingers are pierced with thorns from a crown of them that lays upon his head. Rapidly, he finds himself consumed entirely by fear, terror gripping him as the red flame burns brighter. These woodlands no longer feel like home. He refutes these human silhouettes instead of embracing them.

The clearing shrinks around him and humanoid branches bare over him, closing in quickly. Rustling leaves, distant disembodied sobbing, fire crackling louder and louder; it reaches a thundering crescendo around Matthew as his body shrinks into a foetal ball to escape the surrounding woods that try to engulf him.

His bloody eyes squeeze shut in desperation, wounded hands clutching his crown of thorns, and he braces himself for impact. Body trembling, his mouth opens to let a scream trapped in his throat escape. Gravelly, gritty, guttural. His vocal chords wobble as everything within battles to escape him one final time, the screeching echoing off the branches that brazenly boulder in around him, humanoid branches grabbing his shoulders, his arms, his body...

Thud. He falls to the ground on his side, curled up like a small child.

The air is quiet. No fire, no trees, no disembodied noises of agony. It's just him, and the ground feels soft and slightly damp. His eyes are still wet, but there's no blood to be seen. These are just tears.

His fingers curl fistfuls of damp blades of grass, coated in mildew in the cool night air, and his tears slip from his face and dribble miserably into the earth. A grave stands before him, the granite slightly weathered but the etchings clear and unobscured. No longer is the sobbing disembodied — it merely comes from Matthew.

Every year, this night is the same. The clock strikes midnight and signals his birthday, and he finds himself coming here, to weep at his mother's grave until dusk breaks and the moon falls from the sky. He should be used to this by now. But each time the delusion breaks and he escapes from the nightmare he's cast into, he still finds himself adrift, confused, struggling to place where he is and how he got there.

Needless to say, he misses her. He's grieved her every day since she died on Easter Sunday, in the middle of the pews of the local church. She was thirty-three when she passed; a shock to everyone who knew her. It was sudden. She was taken mercilessly from Matthew, and he still doesn't let her go.

He doesn't want to try to let her go. That is, after all, why he keeps finding himself here — sobbing into the ground where she's buried only six feet under.

Moonlight shrouds his feeble figure as he mourns, the wet grass incandescent in its silvery, lucent shine. He becomes one with the ground as his aching soul grieves, the wind peacefully rustling through distant bushes and shrubs as a sense of repose finally settles on the man.

He'll no doubt find himself here again next year. Lost in a harrowing nightmare, before gaining consciousness before the granite headstone with his mother's name engraved. He doesn't dwell on this, though — he doesn't dwell on anything. His brain is devoid of any clear thought, wordless and silent, but radiating with a dull and unending anguish that renders him entirely broken.

He simply weeps. It's all he can do. Truly, this is all he has left; the moon in the sky, the crisp, cold grass and the grief that always carries with him. This is what he holds onto.

This is what he has.

Short Story

About the Creator

Mason Edwards

Writing for the sake of writing. I love bizarrely niche essays and fiction. Not a professional - yet.

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