When the moon died Ruth predicted trouble. She told me that there would be trouble. At the time there were other things on everyone's mind, and I think I can be forgiven for not taking her too seriously. I remember the sound. The percussion of the gun, the shockwave rolling the floor, the earth, the walls of the building. Windows shattered and screams erupted, every human voice joining in the cacophony. The dogs howled. Dust rained down. I fell on my knees and felt the sky quake, and when I fled into the street it had already filled with people, standing under the stark and naked sky. Some of them screamed into the eyeless dark, at the cold and distant light that wasn't there. Brave, in that moment, and drunk with victory.
"Things are going to get much worse," Ruth said to me, and I looked at her, and then back at the buildings, hunkered in the shadows, in the cold night air.
"When the angels get wind of this," she went on, biting out the words. "And they will. They've been waiting. Just waiting. When they get wind of this, that's when we'll really be in trouble."
"What are you talking about?" I demanded. "What angels? What in this world, could possibly be worse than that dead, moon-faced bitch?"
Ruth's face darkened. "We're all going to be very, very sorry that she's gone," she told me.
I didn't want to think about that. How could the death of a monster be a bad thing? When we'd worked so, so hard to end her. Well, I didn't, not me personally, I mean—I tried not to get involved. I moved some items, did a little smuggling, but I wasn't involved, exactly. Sometimes I dropped off parts though, and once I got a look at the weapon when it was about half-finished. It had looked a little bit like a catapult, and a little more like a gun.
"C'mon," I said, taking her hand in mine, and I felt the barest flinch before she smiled a grim little smile and tightened her grip. Ruth knew more about the cost in lives than any one of us on the outskirts, anyone outside the underground. She worked the cleanup crew, the graveyard shift, which meant something different here than it did in other cities.
"I'm telling you, Charley. It was a mistake, a bad mistake."
"They shot the moon out of the sky!" I said, grinning and swinging her hand, starting back along the road through a night grown suddenly benign. "That means no more dogs, and no kids disappearing, and no finding bones of people you knew in the living room or under the bed—it's over, Ruth! People can live again and be happy!"
"There are worse things in the world than monsters," she snapped, frowning at me, and took back her hand. She turned away toward her building and fumbled noisily with the security lock.
"You're just used to the way things have been," I said. "It's all going to be okay. You'll see."
She shot me one last, disbelieving glare, wrenched the heavy barred door open, and slammed it in my face. I stood there with the crashing echoes fading around me, then stuffed my hands in my pockets, glanced up at the hole in the sky and trotted along home.
For years the Face in the Moon had been a name, something used to frighten children. Not something to be believed in. No more real than leprechauns or vampires. In those days the only thing we feared were other people, thieves and murderers and thugs and rapists. The press would get hold of a serial killer story and give the guy some nickname, sometimes trot out the old "monster" cliché, but of course the reality was that they were as human as me, or you, or anyone.
"If you're a bad little boy, the face will come out of the moon and gobble you up!" That's what my gran used to tell me. Try to scare me into eating my vegetables, or keep me from reading comics under the covers at night. And I'd like to say it didn't really scare me much, but to be honest when she shut off the light and tucked me in with a kiss, I'd lie there for hours with the white moonlight spilling across my bed and walls, and stare and stare and stare until my eyes burned with it, and tears ran down my face.
I was twenty-five when I saw my first shadow-dog. Well, I didn't actually see it, of course, because no-one sees shadow-dogs. But I heard the sound, a kind of breathy panting coming from between two buildings so close to one another they should have been touching. Should have been, but weren't. A fine crack between the two and a noise that lifted the hairs on the back of my neck, a bone-shivering noise. That's what I remember. But I didn't know what it was. Not until later, weeks later, when the disappearing cats suddenly turned into a missing boy, and then a girl.
SERIAL KILLERS STALKS CITY!! Screamed the headlines, all variations on a theme. And they found bodies, torn into shreds. Wild animals? A gang of baby-killing sickos? What kind of city were we living in, where things like this happened? What the hell was wrong with people?
"It's not that simple," Ruth said to me, over coffee, three weeks after the noise of the dog in the dark. She emptied two sugar packets into her cup and adopted a faraway look as she stirred. "What kind of sense does it make? These kids were from opposite sides of the city, from different demographics. They didn't have anything in common. And why were they so torn up?"
"Do I look like a detective?" I asked her, and she smirked at me. "You do your job, you'll catch them. Him. Whatever."
There were still police in those days. The city ran, more or less. But then the killings turned into something worse, and we learned how delicate the operation really was.
Back at my apartment, behind barred windows, I turned on the lights. Electricity. The sort of thing you take for granted, up until the moment when you haven't got it. Old Moonface kept the plants running, actually, for the most part, she wasn't really interested in infrastructure. City maintenance is something for people, not monsters. Even human killers don't care much about who keeps the water running, or picks up the trash, or makes sure the trains run on time. And Moonface wanted something more than that.
Blood and sacrifice. We found that out about a year after the first killings. Someone got the idea. Someone always does. The world's full of people who think that way, that to get something you have to pay something, and everything's for sale. Even safety. Protection. Patron saints and angels and gods—gods of the abyss, or whatever. Monsters that come crawling from the pit. Someone built a shrine, in a basement, below a school. An old school, still in use, though not for its original purpose. Rooms rented out to small businesses, doomed to fail. A basket-maker, a house-painter. A roofer. A sacrificial altar.
It sounds pretty silly, like something out of a very bad children's comic from about fifty years back. Blood-drenched altars, random chanting, black cloaks. Actually I don't know if there were cloaks, or chanting. But I know about the blood. I know, because Ruth told me. They found a dump—chicken bones, first, then, cats, dogs, other animals. Someone was trying to do something. Tap into something, maybe. It's kind of a game, for some people.
I wasn't there. I drive a delivery truck. That's all I've ever done. But Ruth is a detective, was, sorry, and very good at her work. And I'd never seen her like that, afterwards sitting on the couch in my apartment with her arms around her shaking body.
"I didn't see," she whispered, "I didn't really see, I mean. I was upstairs when it happened. I'd just—just gotten there. And I heard this noise….no. I don't mean I heard it. I felt it, you know? Like a metal file, scraping on my skin. Like…." she shook herself. "And I heard Mick, and Keisha, and they were screaming and then," she waved a hand as if it had come disconnected from her arm. "Then I went downstairs."
I didn't ask her what she'd found. I didn't know if she'd be able to talk about it. She wasn't. I read about it later, in the paper. I never asked her what had happened to Mick and Keisha and the others, and the reporters didn't seem to have been able to piece together much of anything that made sense. I'd expected blood, and gore, painting the walls or whatever. I really did. Splattered guts and skulls and rats and eyeballs and maybe some oozing viscous liquid of unidentifiable origin.
What I got—what we all got—was only that they'd died. Died like people, not like animals. Their faces were pale, but more or less peaceful. Bodies intact and strangely composed. The altar and the pale corpses. Two things that really had nothing to do with each other.
Ruth, though. Ruth saw something that took the joy from her eyes. Forever.
The next day, the day after the moon fell, the angels came. Bang on time. Just like Ruth said. She was right. God curse her, she was right about it all. No. I don't mean that. It wasn't her fault. It was only that she knew. Knew about the angels, about what they would do. How could she? But of course she did. Knew everything. She was one of the only survivors of the school killings; of course she knew. When the Face in the Moon took her happiness, she gave back something else. A sort of gift, maybe. A fair exchange. Ruth took the graveyard shift because she knew where to find the bones and the bodies, and not because she'd been a detective. She knew because she had no choice, no way not to know.
"I don't even have dreams anymore," she told me, and grimaced.
It was cruel, what was done to her. And she stopped touching me. Stopped coming around, really. I was the one that kept coming back. I brought her things. Flowers, in the beginning, and chocolates. Later, when things got bad, and strange, I brought feathers and bone, glass and broken things. There was nothing I could do about it. But I saw her looking at me, saw the sadness there, knew that she remembered, and understood better than any of us what had gone wrong. We had dreams. All of us. All but Ruth. And in our dreams we saw the Face of the Moon, and her light seared our blood. So we weren't alright.
But Ruth was the one who knew. When the Force more or less disbanded, as was bound to happen, she created the graveyard shift, pulling in her old workmates, buying up trucks and cars from people I knew who were selling. Trying to get out. Only they couldn't get out. No one made it out of the city alive. The shadow-dogs patrolled the borders. And Ruth collected the bones of their killings, and carted them to the graveyards, and tried to bury them with dignity. No one else was trying.
And she knew about the angels. Knew what would happen. Told me, but never expected me to believe her. And I didn't. Angels? In a place like this, abandoned to its fate, devoured by sickness, given to the monsters? City of decaying walls, blasted windows, children standing on street corners, waiting to die?
There'd been no angels before Moonface. Why would things be different now? No, I thought. Things would go back to normal. The city would come alive again. No more fear in the dark, unless it was ordinary fear of ordinary violence. But the city would live, and breathe, again. Schools would reopen. Markets too. Food would be shipped in from all over the world. Strawberries in spring. Apricots in summer. Ruth would go back to work, a real job, a normal job. I would hold her in my arms again. And maybe we could save some money, move away, uptown. Where things used to be nice. Buy a house, maybe, with a garden. More clichés. Raise a family. Get a dog. All the good things.
So I was thinking about this the morning after they shot the moon out of the sky. Thinking about infrastructures, and sewage, and electricity and mayors and governors and shipping lanes and the joy in Ruth's eyes, and looking out the window and drinking my coffee and I was nearly blinded by the awful light.
I dropped my coffee and spun away from the window and clapped my hands over my eyes and the light blasted me, burst over my skin and tore at my hands, fingers clawing at my eyes. Not light like sunlight, earthlight, electric light. Not even moonlight, sick and hideous. Not bright or radiant, not beautiful, not the light of love. Another kind of light, the unforgiving radiance of truth. What is. Oh God. Curses and blessings, dreams and ideals. No. This was worse. The difference between an altar and a dead man, a dead woman. Old dried blood and makeup and chanting and cheap black cloaks. And the truth, punching through the universe, through walls and barriers, categories and names and words and patron saints and incense and sacred words. The Truth. The Angels.
It was Ruth who caught me, grabbed my shoulders and dragged me across the floor, into the bathroom, slamming the door shut and leaning her weight on it. I gasped, scrabbled at my eyes, and she slapped me on the back of the head and said, "You're fine."
"No," she said again. "Fine. You're fine. For now."
"What's going on?"
She pulled a blindfold from her pocket and held it out to me. When I stared at it, gaping and uncomprehending, she made an exasperated noise and a 'turn around' gesture, and tied it across my face.
"I told you," she hissed into my ear, "Told you, didn't I? When the angels come, we'll all be in trouble."
"They're here now," she spat, yanking the blindfold a little tighter than it needed to be. I winced.
"Oh, grow up," she snapped. "You can't go out there as you are."
"What about you?" I asked, getting to my feet with minimal assistance. "Won't you be blinded too?"
"I won't be blind for the rest of my life," she said grimly, catching hold of my elbow.
"What's going on?"
"I told you." A click, a rush of hot air. The door opening. "The Face in the Moon. She didn't belong here. And the angels are here to fix it. Set things right. Clear away her mess. They just didn't dare get involved while she was still around. She's too powerful."
I followed her lead, nearly stumbling over my feet, as she moved briskly through the apartment.
"What do you mean, 'clear away'? And could you slow down?"
"No," flatly. "And you can guess what I mean. Those that died, and those of us who lived. We're all complicit in this mess. Surviving is the same as killing those people ourselves."
"What?" I burst out, "That's—"
"Shut your eyes. We're going outside."
I felt her body against the front door, pushing it open gently. Cautiously. Not like Ruth at all. But I obediently shut my eyes and I heard a sound, like the tone of a clear glass, a hum moving in circles. I gasped and clapped my hands to my blindfolded eyes and, and—
"Oh God," I breathed, "I can see."
A light that wasn’t light. And I saw them, far away, a curtain of gold. Radiance. A sound: the harmony of glass. As far away as the surface of the sun, as near as water collecting on my skin. Forms, bodies. Not humans, how could they be humans? With legs and arms, ribcages and hearts and lungs and spinal cords and skulls and eyes and lips and fingers. Tendons and bones, viscera and fluid. Not living, never dead. Beauty like a headache, radiance like gongs and crashing and destruction, burning, burning, the city burning, the pavement boiling, sidewalks running like liquid lead.
They moved forward without walking, shimmering and shaking, legs arms bodies heads, darker flames in the blasting light. Paint blistered, dead trees exploded. They were a wall, moving forward, searing away the old, the corrupted city of the moon. Washing away the sickness, and the darkness, and the horror.
I heard people, screaming.
"Come on!" Ruth was hauling at my arm and I realized I'd crashed to my knees. With difficulty I got to my feet, clutching at her shoulder, her arms, and turning away from the light stumbled in her wake, into darkness. I couldn't see anything with my head turned away and in frustration I shoved at the blindfold, pushing it up my face, and felt where my skin had scorched in the distant heat.
"Where are they now?" I asked, panting.
"Far. But not that far. They're moving in from the outside, swallowing everything up. Burning out the sickness."
"Where are we going?" I gasped.
I tried to pull up, and Ruth jerked at my sleeve, yanking me off-balance.
"I work the graveyard shift," she said, tone soft but words hard. "I know where they buried her."
Ashes and lye. We knew she was a monster, but that wasn't the reason for killing her. It was a reason, I guess, but probably not the most important one. Someone, maybe several someones, must have gone and collected her body from where she'd fallen, gathered up her limbs, her lolling head. Scrubbed up the blood, if there was any, though I don't imagine how there could be. Her form was never clear to me, or to any of us, I think. I suppose maybe Ruth knew, might even have seen her once, but for the rest of us she was all shadows and light, dust and dryness.
When Ruth came to collect the first truck, back when she was just starting the cleanup crew, she walked around it while I stood to one side kicking listlessly at the concrete. That was the first time. When I saw, really saw. And it wasn't a shadow-dog or the sound of something hidden, or even blood on the pavement. It was simple, and fast, and clean.
There was a woman, on the corner, with a boy of about seven or eight. Old enough to be in school, at least, but after the situation with the altar the schools had closed indefinitely, and both the woman and the boy stood there with matching expressions, a kind of glazed-over emptiness. I saw the woman's free hand clench spasmodically, and her eyes flicker, once, briefly.
Ruth paced around the truck and slammed the door and I jumped a little, because I'd been watching the woman and boy with my head to one side, hands in my pockets, foot tapping slightly.
"What is it?" she asked, sidling up to me, murmuring in my ear. I shook my head.
"How long have they been standing there?" She asked, and this time I shrugged.
"Charley." Her voice was soft. I looked at her. And back.
"Charley," she said again.
I know I opened my mouth. I said something, but for the life of me I can't remember what it was. Only for a moment the sky opened up, or maybe the whole world just dropped away. And the woman pushed the boy, who was probably her son, into the path of an oncoming car.
I remember Ruth, screaming. And that woman can scream. Just because she used to be a cop doesn't mean she has no feelings.
I tried to make it up to her later. When she'd run off somewhere to try to find a doctor. I collected the boy's body from the sidewalk, because the mother had left and no one else seemed to care what happened to it. I took it back to her apartment, and arranged it as gently as I could on her bed. There wasn't much else to be done, and I didn't ask her about it later, when I saw her again. She didn't bring it up. I let it go. It could be that the boy was her first burial. I don't know. I don't suppose it matters.
Keeping up with her, staying ahead of the angels, was more difficult than I'd thought it would be. I've never been all that strong, and I'm definitely not much of a runner. All skin and bones. But I did my best, because I could feel the heat behind me, and the light streamed past and lit the world before me, blazing like a mirror.
When we reached the school I realized I had no business being surprised. Of course. Where would they take her? And who had taken her there? Who else had the authority?
"Come on!" Ruth hissed at me, yanking brutally on my arm. "Move!"
I thought we'd have to break in, go down into the basement, and I had visions of the altar and chicken bones and stage blood. But Ruth was dragging me around the side of the building, toward the old sports field. I saw dry tangled grass and, to one side, a shovel. And a section of freshly turned earth, with a great slab of concrete flung across it.
"What are we doing here?"
"She's the only one who can fight them! Help me!"
"But—" Fight? That light? That sound and that…burning?
"This was her city for the five years! Everything here is hers!"
"But wouldn't it be…better? For them, for all of us? I mean—"
She was in my face, suddenly, cheeks flushed, eyes wide, so wide the whites showed all around the irises. She grabbed the front of my coat with a small strong hand and yanked me down.
"Do you want to be purged?" She drove the words out, quiet and brutal. I flinched and shook my head.
"Then help me!" She released me, and I staggered a little, then moved to her side. Together we heaved at the slab with our hands, until my arms and legs screamed. Slowly we edged it away from the grave, and Ruth fell to her knees, disdaining the shovel entirely, and began to dig with her hands.
"Ruth!" I shoved my hands into the soft earth and scrabbled frantically. Soft like moss, loose and strangely warm. In the distant, the rumor of the angels, bells and harmonies. My hand closed on something cold and smooth, and I jerked back with a gasp. Smooth white bone, about the size of a man's. I don't know bones, but I think this was from a leg, or maybe an upper arm. I swallowed and Ruth pushed up next to me and yanked it entirely out of the ground, shoving it behind her as she plunged her hands in the earth again and pulled out a collarbone, part of a spinal column, a skull.
"Oh Jesus!" I jerked back, away from the polished smoothness of it, the teeth and sockets and smooth planes. Ruth gave me a little grin, baring her own teeth. Carefully she set the skull behind her, then made a small noise, and kept staring back. I turned my head, but her hand shot out and clapped over my eyes, thumb digging into my temple. I fumbled at the blindfold.
"Ruth! Ruth!" The light rushed in around us, swallowing up the field, the grave, the school, the bones. I reached for her, grasping, but she wasn't there. In the distance were the forms of the angels, burning darker, the promise of absolution. A moment of terrible pain, and then the void. Salvation. The boy who died.
"Ruth!" Again, my voice hissing and choking in my dry throat, mouth open and panting. But she'd stood up, and was moving forward, arms outstretched.
"Please," I heard her say. "Please."
In front of me, bones. Behind me, bones. Dust-white, cold and inert. Becoming nothing. Moving in no direction, neither forward nor backward.
"It's your city," I hissed at the sad little pile. "Isn't there anything you can do? They'll burn everything."
What was it I said? About blood, and sacrifice. About how everything has a price. Everything's for sale.
I got to my feet. I remember standing. Dirt all over my hands, my wrists, and on my knees. Scratches and blood from shoving at the concrete. And a little ways away a shovel, still caked with last night's dirt, sparks of dust embedded in the metal. Or maybe it was a dream. I couldn't see anything anyway. My hand closed around the haft. Both hands. I held on tight, and took a deep breath, and started to run.
"Ruth!" My voice shouldn't have carried so well, when it was so dry and the world so hot, burning terrible and singing, and the angels so close, and so far away, each one a thousand, each thousand a multitude. Wings and arms, hands and legs, eyes and ribs and clavicles and toes and delicate bones and skin. Fire. Light. Truth so beautiful it burns. I looked, once, into the eyes of an angel, the eyes of all the angels. I saw myself. And it saw me, and looked away.
Ruth turned at the call, and met the shovel coming from the other direction. Her face crunched wetly; her head snapped backwards. Her body reeled, and dropped, but she wasn't dead. Blood and teeth and bone. I hit her again, as hard as I could. Once. Twice. Until her face was completely pulped. Until she stopped moving. Blood on my pants, and all over the shovel.
I stood there, filthy and splattered, Ruth's body at my feet. And the angels hesitated, and there was no sound. The humming had stopped. The fire paused. A cold wind swept past me, and a new sound. A scream, maybe, from a great distance. A woman's voice. Fear, or triumph. My bones shuddered. I dropped the shovel with a clatter. From behind me a cold dry breath. Fingers, hands on my spine. My skin pulled in on me, cold and shifting. My mouth opened. I made a sound. I don't know what it was.
Under the sky there was no altar. I saw the moonlight fall on the grass, all cold and sparkling with dew. Heavy shadows in the distance: buildings, and trees. I heard the panting of the dogs. And I saw her, a body like a marionette, but not so bright that I could see it clearly through the blindfold. Only an impression, shadows and smudges of light. The face in the moon.
She laughed. The fire went out, all in a rush. I pulled off the blindfold and looked up at the morning sky, and the white globe there, and the few twinkling stars. I rubbed at my head. I had a killer headache.
written by Miranda Ciccone