Moths to a Flickering Light
A soft weird Halloween story from the 'burbs
At night we used to walk for hours. After dark, the light was strange on the west side of the city.
The whiff of sulfur came from the streetlamps. They glowed a poisonous orange color that robbed the skin of its beauty and the sky of its stars. A cheap form of lighting, or so they said.
It was the kind of town where they'd steal the stars to pocket an extra nickel.
What if we stole the stars back.
What if I did.
Sunsets were garish. The after sunsets too. The sky on the western side of town burned all night long. Some nights brighter than others, of course.
It all depended on how much flammable gas was released from the refinery complex.
Oh, don't worry about that.
It's what you can't see that kills you.
It made for colorful night walks. Flame-orange in the west. Sickly pools of orange-yellow beneath each street-pole. Everything in shadow a dirty black.
Orange and black, endless Halloween.
One Halloween, or sometime in October anyway, I figured out how to look at a streetlamp, just look at it hard, laser beams shooting from my eyes until it started to flicker and then failed.
There were still nighthawks then. You could see them circling to catch the moths pulled in by the ugly light.
"Watch this," I said.
"Watch what." Danny, thirteen, was the oldest and thus obligated to be cynical.
"Those lights." I pointed at the nearest streetlamp. "They're pollution."
"It's all pollution here," said Jerold. My age, twelve, but more baby-faced beneath his makeup. He painted his fingernails black to compensate.
Honestly, he was a little cynical too. What do you do?
"Watch me turn it off." I walked slowly toward the light. The nighthawks, hunting above me, made a pzzzting noise as they chased around the moths. The light began to flicker.
The birds flew higher but still circled, puzzled. They were darkness in the darkness now, but I could still hear the sound they made.
The light snapped off altogether.
"How did you do that?" Danny asked, suspicious.
"She didn't do that," said Jerold, even more suspicious.
I shrugged. Put up a hand to stop them walking. Went on ahead by myself. They could hang back, they could watch, they could draw their own conclusions.
I passed that light-pole and moved away toward the next. Behind me the light began to flicker on again. Before me, the next light began to flicker off.
I'd not broken the light. I'd somehow… interrupted it.
One by one, lamp by lamp, I walked down the street and around a curve.
"Stop it," Jerold said. "Come back here. You're getting too far away."
It wasn't a good neighborhood, and I was a girl. But, also, I was a girl with laser beams in my eyes. After a minute or two, they hurried to catch up.
A girl could not be left to wander the streets alone. Everyone knew that.
"How are you doing that?" Danny asked again.
"She's not," Jerold said. "Stop it."
"You know how I always win at monopoly?" I asked.
"Cheating," Jerold said.
"Powers of the mind. Telekinesis." I pronounced this last word carefully, every syllable given the same weight since I'd read it in a book and couldn't be sure of how it was pronounced. "I control the dice. I control the lights." I waggled the fingers of my right hand in his direction. "I control your teeny, tiny mind."
"Screw that," said Jerold. "You don't control this mind."
"Try me," I said.
We didn't realize my new talent was a nuisance until we wanted light to see into our bags. In those days, everyone in the neighborhood was still expected to give out treats, but people were beginning to whisper about what the local weirdos might be handing out.
One of the little old ladies thought it was still 1952. She still baked endless trays of fudge brownies that she cut into squares before wrapping them in clear cling wrap tied off with curly holiday ribbon.
"On the news, they said about razor blades," Jerold said.
"She makes the same thing every year," Danny said. "We'd know by now if there were razor blades."
"It's a new idea. People just thought of it."
"Where would she get a new idea? She doesn't get new ideas."
"From the news, that's where. I saw. You're not supposed to eat the homemade stuff, they're not supposed to be giving it out. What if you swallowed it, what if it went down through your pipes and cut up your insides, what if…?"
They could bat this around for hours if I didn't call BS. "Is this like that time when I swallowed the orange seed, and you said it was was going to make me grow an orange tree out of my ass?"
"I just think we need to have more light on what we're eating." Jerold was beginning to look annoyed. "Can you knock it off a minute with the streetlamps?"
"I thought you said I wasn't the one turning off the lights." I smiled a victory smile. "Take smaller bites, that's all you gotta do. Kinda nibble."
"You don't know how to make it stop." Danny turned from me to Jerold. "She doesn't know how make it stop."
He was right about that. "If you're so smart, you make it stop."
"How'm I supposed to know how to make it stop?"
We took teeny tiny bites. It was fudge.
We three walked on together. Each streetlamp switched off in its turn as we went past.
Even in the dark, we could hear the nighthawks pzzzting. What was that sound? Has anyone ever explained it? The mechanical buzz and snap made them sound like those devices that zap mosquitoes in mid-air. But I suppose a nighthawk is itself a device for zapping mosquitoes in mid-air.
In memory, looking back, it feels like there were many nights I walked like that from lamp to blinking lamp, turning them on and off with a look, although it was probably only a few times that Halloween season.
Sometimes alone. Usually with Danny and Jerold.
But weren't there more than a few nights when we dragged along some friend from school, somebody from a different neighborhood? Somebody who didn't believe, who had to see it for themselves?
"Well, all right," they'd say when they saw. "But what good is it?"
"It proves I can control things with my mind," I said. "I win at dice."
And, for a little while, it was true.
But then I lost the knack. And nobody's seen a nighthawk around here for years.
This story was previously published on another platform but is now available here without a paywall for your reading entertainment.
Feature image is a digital painting by the author Amethyst Qu that incorporates two photographs. "Common Nighthawk" by Paul.J.Hurtado licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0. Full moon photo by the author Amethyst Qu.
Like horror fiction? This one, inspired by an experience in Madagascar and a prompt from Vocal Media, is probably my favorite from 2021:
My Halloween playlist, all right, it's all Jason Molina all the time, get over it!
About the Creator
Seeker, traveler, birder, crystal collector, occasional photographer. Author of "The Moldavite Message."
Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!
Original narrative & well developed characters
Compelling and original writing
Creative use of language & vocab
Easy to read and follow
Well-structured & engaging content
Heartfelt and relatable
The story invoked strong personal emotions
On-point and relevant
Writing reflected the title & theme
Good Job, I love your articles
I want to praise you
Really great story
Great writing, I love it!
This comment has been deleted
I enjoyed the story. I grew up in the sixties and seventies. I remember people giving out candied and caramel apples, brownies, fudge, and other goodies. It all ended when razor blades and poisons were found in Halloween treats. We started throwing away perfectly good apples because you just didn't know.
I enjoyed it.
Absolutely loved this! Hearted and subscribed.
I enjoyed it.
Great story and very well written