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Between the Moon

A story.

By Kevin I. BarkmanPublished 3 years ago 17 min read
Between the Moon
Photo by Siora Photography on Unsplash

There are little interplanetary systems that fill with stars on dark and foggy nights. Those of us with magic call them light-holes. The first light-hole I found was between my house, the field behind Mrs. Karney’s house, and the moon. There was a little spot in that triangle of space where no streetlights hit and the stars made their appearance. I called it the “Empty Space,” for the void there on quiet nights. On perfect nights—the nights when the power went out and a storm chased all the clouds away, I would run off to the Empty Space with a blanket, a thermos of hot chocolate, and a little leather journal that kept all my adventures safely hidden away. I would lay wide awake and draw lines in the sky till my eyelids would droop and the stars drew near. Sometime before sunrise the light-hole always opened up. It was always after my eyes closed and before the sun came back. My dreams would fill suddenly with white light and stairs in every direction. I would climb and climb till eventually my head would poke through the clouds and I would find myself in another world.

In the Outer World, as I called it, I had a little wooden house on a mountainside that overlooked the ocean. It sat next to a river that flowed into a waterfall. At night the rhythm of the tide beat in time with the crashing of the waterfall and the whole jungle would light up in song. During the day the mist from the waterfall would float out over the ocean and turn the whole world into a rainbow.

Before I found the Empty Space the other kids called me Little Bone. I was smaller than the other boys and perhaps less smart, but I liked to pretend I wasn't any less human. I couldn't see things everyone else saw. I could see other things though. I liked to think that made up for my shortcomings in the classroom. The other boys didn't think so of course. That is why I was stuck in the Empty Space that first night, hung by my briefs on an old fence post that stood between Mrs. Kearney’s house, my house, and the moon.

Mr. Peters found me there sometime close to midnight. He lifted me off the post and dusted the dried mud from my pants. He looked me in the eyes and asked if I was alright. After I nodded, he took my hand and sat down, right there in the grass between Mrs. Kearney's house, my house, and the moon. It was dreadfully dark, but I didn’t want to go home. Mr. Peters seemed to sense that. He sat there silently with me till the moon peeked out from behind the clouds.

He started to whisper. “When I was a little boy people said I saw things in too many dimensions. Words were stuck to pages, but I saw them floating among the stars. Where someone saw a fence post in a field, I saw a whole universe circled around one lonely statue. It made me different, just like you.” Mr. Peters reached out and ruffled my hair. “They have all kinds of names for us don't they?" He looked straight at me through the dark with glistening cheeks.

I nodded, but when I opened my mouth, it was dry and no words came out.

"This became my hideout when I was younger. Back when there was an old barn here, and the field was full of corn instead of dead grass. In my own way, I put magic in this place. On dark nights the light will come and take you away if you let it. It isn't a safe place, but it is an escape from this world that is stuck in black and white shapes."

He kept talking, but I didn't hear any more words. I drifted off to sleep and dreamed of stairways that led out of this world.

That night my head peeked through the clouds for the first time and I thought I was in a perfectly safe world. Tall grass rose around me, and a little ways off a clump of trees with little round tops stood awkwardly straight. They looked almost like straightened heads of broccoli, so frightfully green and straight. For a second I thought I was alone. Shortly after, though, Mr. Peters waved from a distance and walked over through tall waving grass.

"You made it!" he exclaimed. "The magic is still alive--I am glad. It is even stronger with you around," He laughed a little in a cheery way that made the tears around his eyes look comically joyful.

I nodded and asked quietly, "Where are we?"

"When you look at a paper full of words and everyone else sees flat words on a flat page, but you see words floating through the universe, you see something no one else does, right?" He asked.

I nodded again, more confused.

"That extra that you see is the rest of the universe. The place where magic lives. That is where we are. Someplace between your house, the field behind Mrs. Kearney's house, and the moon." He laughed again.

We ran around for a while exploring the island we had somehow landed on. It didn't take long until we started to build a house and clear paths. All too soon, though, the sun rose in the real world, and I found myself waking up alone in the field behind Mrs. Kearney's house with the biggest wedgy I had ever had and a long tear in my pants from my day long hanging on the fence post. I knew mom would be upset. More over me being gone all night than my ripped pants. I knew she also couldn’t afford new pants, so these would receive yet another patch. Mr. Peters I was sure had gone to work sometime before the sun rose. He worked at the mill and was always the first one there. That was the beginning of my adventures in the Outer World. It didn't last as long as it could have. People who can't see in straight lines and see too many dimensions are considered sick in this world, and sickness is always treated with pills. The pills they gave me killed the magic inside a person and numbed them to the magical world.

It was in the deep cold of January, a solid six months since my first encounter with the Outer World, that Mom called Dr. Clinton and asked him to talk to me. They ran me through all sorts of tests. I hardly remember anymore what they were. But at the end of the day, Dr. Clinton went into another room with Mom. When they came out, mom looked solemn. Dr. Clinton left and he came back a few hours later with a bottle of white pills. He said they would help me learn how to put the magic away and focus on real things like reading. I took one every morning with breakfast. Dr. Clinton was right. The pills stopped the words from spinning. They had other side effects though. I soon found I couldn’t sleep. The stars stopped whispering at night. Even the sunrise had no effect on me, as though when I woke I stared at a blank white wall.

Three weeks later, on a Friday after school, I went back to the Empty Space with a hot chocolate to ward off the winter wind. The cold made me hurt on the outside, but I ignored the feeling and sat still in the snow as the sun set. I didn’t like what had happened to me after the pills. I thought maybe Mr. Peters’ magic could make life return to normal. So I sat and I sat, ignoring the cold and the pain, hoping somehow the magic could wake me back up.

The stars came out as they did every other night. This time, though, when my eyes closed there were no lights to greet me. I would have panicked, but I found myself frozen in the black. It was a flat matte dark that stole its way around me in funny little slivers. I should have called out for help, should have quit and woken up. I couldn’t though. I stayed there till I saw that I had reached the island. I stumbled my way up the jungle trail, getting cut by the ordinarily soft grass that now felt like stiff razors jutting up from the ground. I came to the house we had built. It was shrouded in darkness and the mist was colder than normal. I stumbled inside and curled up on the floor shaking from the cold. For the first time I fell asleep in the Outer World.

When I awoke it was not to the cheery sunshine of the Outer World, or even the shadows of the Outer World, but to frantic white lights that flickered in long lines above my head. When I turned my head, I found myself in a white room. The walls were blank, but in the corner a little woman, who must have been a nurse, stood dressed in plain blue that matched the wrapper of the blueberry rumble candies. Next to her was Dr. Clinton with his head buried in a clipboard. He squinted sharply as he held his face too close to the paper and scribbled madly.

I must have taken some of Mr. Peter's magic with me when I left the Empty Place, because when I fell back asleep in the hospital room I went directly back to the trail by the little jungle house near the waterfall. I crawled painfully back into the house. My chest burned with every breath, while every exhale separated the shadows around me as though my breath were white and the air black.

All around in the trees the shadows swept back and forth talking to each other in rustling whispers. It was not quite as terrifying as it should have been.

Two nights in two years--they thought it extremely strange. Apparently, I never came at night.

There, between the stars and the universe, I sat huddled in the corner listening to shadows speak. I felt very dead, but not quite dead enough to be at peace. I lay in silence and clutched at my knees.

"What happened?" I whispered softly, still hugging my knees to my chest and watching my words cut into the darkness. Only silence responded, so I closed my eyes again and returned to listening to the whispering of the shadows.

I woke up to the warm damp of my own blood--my white sheet bed had turned a dark red puddle. I screamed and clutched my hands to my chest, only to find a gaping hole where my ribcage used to be.

Doctor Clinton rushed into the room and started yelling things I couldn't understand, and soon a whole lot of nurses dressed in funny blue outfits were rushing all around me.

They told me afterwards that it appeared someone had taken a knife to my chest. I guess it was the Outer World sunrise. As the shadows said, I couldn't handle it. At the time, though, I simply kept screaming till eventually everything went dark around me.

I woke up back on the floor in the house in the jungle by the beach in the Outer World. Mr. Peters stood beside me looking very stern. "We both have a problem," he said through clenched teeth. I wasn't sure if he was angry or in pain. "In the other world they think you are dead," he said.

"Am I?" I whispered back.

"No. Not yet,"

"Then what is the problem?" I asked.

"We come here to escape the other world don't we?" he asked in reply.

"Yes, I guess so," I said.

"Sometimes we run away from the people who hurt us. Sometimes we find solutions. Sometimes we go back more ready to fight. Right?" By now Mr. Peter's face was contorted in what was obviously pain, not anger.

"Yes. You know we see more in the Outer World than anyone could ever see in the real world," I said.

"Yes, but you can't die in the outer world. If you die in the Outer World, you do worse than die in the real world."

"What do you mean?" I asked.

"If you can live so fully in the Outer World, think about how fully you can die here," Mr Peters said. "You need to go back. You stayed in the outer world for a sunrise. Your heart is shattered in pieces, but if you return, maybe they can piece it back together."

I nodded slowly. Not really comprehending what Mr. Peters was saying. "I will go back,” I said. “Will you come back with me?"

"I can't go back, son. If I did I would bring the whole Outer World with me. We can't have that," he forced a smile and almost managed a laugh.

"Can I come back and visit you?" I asked.

"Maybe." He paused for a long time. "Maybe someday when your heart heals, you can come back and take me home." He grabbed my shoulder and smiled, but his eyes were filled with tears. I couldn't answer before the whole world went black again.

I don't know how long I was out, but when I woke up my whole family and what seemed like half the town were in my little hospital room. They were there with their heads bowed and their lips moving. When I first opened my eyes, no one noticed. Then my mom laughed and gave me a big hug.

"We thought you were gone for good," she whispered in my ear. “Welcome home.”

They found Mr. Peters body later that day in the empty space between Mrs. Kearney's house, my house, and the moon. He was laying flat on his back, eyes closed and his hands clutched around a little leather journal that no one ever opened. My mom said that he had finally gone home, because, like me, he was just a little too “magic” for the world.

The little field between my house, Mrs. Karney's house, and the moon, wouldn't grow a thing after Mr. Peters died there.

It took me several months before I visited the Empty Space. By then winter had left and summer had crept in lighting up the whole world in greens, yellows, reds, and brilliant blue. I walked timidly through the grass and peeked from the corner of Mrs. Karney's house. I pulled back in shock. All the colors of summer, the bright yellow flowers, funny green weeds, tall grass, and red ferns all ended in rigid unity in a huge triangle of red dirt that surrounded the fence post where I had been hung by my britches many months before. Right in the center, where they had found Mr. Peter's body, the ground was stained black as night. I turned around the corner and looked once more, then turned and fled towards home. I got there sobbing and waving my arms. "Mom!" I shouted as I slammed the door behind me. "Mom! What happened to Mr. Peters?"

My mom was a tall brown haired woman of few words. She looked at me for a long time before she answered. "Mr. Peters died." She said it matter-of-fact, without a show of emotion, as if her lack of emotion would help me take the news better.

I knew he had died in this world. I wanted to know what had happened to him. What had really happened to him. Last I saw him, he told me I could maybe see him again once my heart had healed. I shouted, "I wanna see him again!"

Mom didn't take my reaction well and made me swallow more of the white pills. She said I was sick and needed to get well. The little white pills killed my fear and my anger, and I relaxed and went upstairs for a nap.

When the pills wore off I found myself once again in the center of the Empty Space, laying on my back in the black circle. I must have wandered there in my stupor. I decided I would find Mr. Peters and bring him back to the real world the same way he sent me back after my heart got broken into a million pieces by the sun in the Outer World. I needed to stop taking the white pills, and I needed to go back to the Outer World. Mr. Peters would know how to bring us both back, he had come and gone many times.

When I decided to do something it isn't the same as when an adult decides to do something. And when I wasn’t on the pills it was even worse. I was not hindered by efficiency or by logical fears. I was patient and driven without fear of failure. Perhaps I was even more eccentric after my time in the Outer World.

The first part of my plan was to get some white pills that didn't affect my magic and swap them for the ones in the kitchen cupboard. I’d get them from the tall kid who called me the little bone. I walked up to him at school the next day, my patched pants still scratching at my behind. I smiled my biggest smile, tapped his big shoulders and said as strongly as I could, "I need some of the white pills you take for your stomach." I never saw his fist coming, I never even saw his shoulders flinch. I just felt his knuckles slam into my face. Something else crashed into my head, and I guessed it was his knee. Everything went black, but I hear tell that he didn't quit kicking when I quit moving.

The stairway came back. I wasn't between Mrs. Karney's house, my house, and the moon, but I climbed till my head peeked through the clouds. I found the little house on the mountain by the waterfall that Mr. Peters and I had built. Instead of being in color everything was dark in shadow and there was no mist from the waterfall. The air tasted like acid and the jungle trails were grown over with thorns. I wandered a long time, thinking maybe the shadows would whisper some clue as to what happened, but they remained silent. I returned to the house sobbing, but even my cries were muffled in the thick air. "Mr. Peters," I called over and over again through my tears. I went into the house and into the bedroom we had made for Mr. Peters. It overlooked the ocean with a big desk in front of the window. I didn't expect to see Mr. Peters there. His body sat there in the desk chair, leaned over the desk as if he had fallen asleep reading. He looked just the same as I had remembered him, with his hair swept back and his shirt tucked in. His collar was almost straight, and his face had that three day scruff he seemed to always live with.

I walked over, carefully wiping my tears away with the sleeve of my shirt. I touched Mr. Peters on the shoulder. I almost expected him to sit up, turn around, and smile at me. He didn't though. Instead, his body shriveled up and disappeared like smoke drifting through the room leaving nothing but a letter on the desk that was brown with blood stains. My hands started shaking as I picked it up. It read as follows.

"Son (Can I call you that?), If you are here I am guessing you came to finally take me home. I died here in the Outer World, which means I died back in the real world too. I hope they bury me next to my wife and my only son.

“I want you to know what happened when I sent you back to the real world last time. This world has some strange rules. Every sunrise in this world is fueled by the blood of some dying soul. Normally, you see, the person is dying in the real world, and they just stop here on their way to heaven to fuel the next sunrise for the next soul that needs the sun on some dark night. It is the gift of the dead to leave hope for the living. You didn't die though. You came and watched the sunrise. Without knowing it, you gave your heart on a dark night so the sun would rise again. It wasn’t enough though, because you left back to the real world. I came to give just a little blood to finish the sunrise, but there isn't enough blood in me to finish what you started. So I died here in the Outer World, but not close to the sun. No living soul is supposed to die here. The blood that keeps the world going is the blood of those who are dead in the real world. You and I both broke the rules: you, because you left, and I, because I died here.

“I asked you once to take me home. Please, if you read this, take this letter, soaked in my blood, and throw it into the sun. I want my own sunrise to light this world just once so my soul can leave in peace.

“Please, bring me home."

I sat there stunned, holding the bloody letter and breathing in the acid air. I finally folded it carefully, stuck it in my pocket and walked out of the room. I didn't know what happened to souls between the real world, the Outer World, and the afterlife. I walked all day till I was on the farthest side of the beach. Then I closed my eyes and held my breath till the world started to light up. As I approached the hiding sun on the edge of the earth I pulled the letter out of my pocket and threw it as hard as I could into the center of the flames. It didn't burn right away. First, it just floated, caught up in the heat. Then it began to burn slowly, then all at once, and then it was gone. As I stared through the flames, I saw the field between Mrs. Karney's house, my house, and the moon. There, in the center of the dry red triangle, was the black patch of earth where they had found Mr. Peters' body, and right in the middle of that circle grew a small oak sapling. The flames leapt up higher and higher as the sun rose. The flames overtook me till I saw nothing at all. When the world refocused it was the chipped white ceiling of my room that came into view.

The little bone bully was charged with assault. I was put on little white pills for the rest of my life, but I didn't mind too much. Every night, I go outside to look at the moon. I guess Mr. Peters finally made it home, and so did I.

I have a boy of my own now, and he has a treehouse in the oak tree between Mrs. Karney's house, my house, and the moon. He told me today that it is a spaceship. When the stars come out, he takes a blanket, his leather journal, a thermos of hot chocolate, and a telescope I gave him for Christmas, and he spends the night watching the stars and writing down his stories.

The doctor told me he needs little white pills too, but I swapped his out for some pills I take for my stomach. As long as there is a sunrise in the Outer World there will be little boys who need to see it. I think that magic sunrises are more helpful than little white pills anyway.


copyright Kevin Barkman 2021


About the Creator

Kevin I. Barkman

A wandering soul who feels at home anywhere in the world, but doesn't have a home anywhere.

A professional Athlete who travels the world.

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    Kevin I. BarkmanWritten by Kevin I. Barkman

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