The eighteenth Moon Prize goes to Myra King's haunting story "Covering the Moon." This is for the blue moon of January 31, 2018.
Covering the Moon
by Myra King
In the distance we hear a noise like tapping. I stop some feet short of the entrance to the graveyard, my brother Ben snuggled up on my back, his head buried in my parka hood.
“Look Ben,” I say, “it’s not the dead you have to be scared of.”
Our mother tells us this all the time. We live close to the cemetery, actually only a glance away through our front door. Not that we knew instinctively to be frightened, but our friends soon let us know that it wasn’t a normal thing. Aren’t you afraid the ghosts will get you? How can you sleep? Stuff like that. But it’s not the dead that do bad things. It’s the living. Like Dad, he left us soon after Ben was born. And Ben, well he was a rape baby. Everyone knows this, even Ben, although he doesn’t know what it means. And even though everyone always says, “Poor Mrs Anderson”, that’s our mother, I always think: Poor Ben. It’s a lot worse for him.
Yeah, the dead can’t hurt you, but that doesn’t stop us from being scared.
We have done this: visit the graveyard at midnight on every Friday the 13th since Ben turned three. It was a dare set up by my friend Anica. After the first time she chickened out, but we kept it up like a tradition. This is our fourth year. I’m eleven now and Ben is seven but it’s a good thing he’s such a scrawny kid, he doesn’t weigh much. I guess the rapist must have been a small guy ‘cause our mother is nearly five foot eleven and built like a rugby player. Sometimes I wonder how he managed it. There’s this Australian spider called an Orb weaver. She’s so much bigger than her mate who shares her web that he has to be very careful when mating. I think maybe the rapist would’ve had to be careful with Mum. I’ve seen her temper and how hard she uses the strap, especially on Ben, when she’s been drinking. But maybe the rapist had a knife or a gun. Mum’s never told me the details, and you can’t ask about things like that, can you? I mean I’m not supposed to know, but my cousin, Daniela, heard her mum, my aunty, telling a neighbour. Daniela told me and then Ben heard me telling Anica. But we all haven’t told Mum we know.
The tapping noise is getting louder. It sounds like someone with high heels but the paths are all gravel and sand so that can’t be right. I don’t know if it’s coming closer to us, or if we are moving closer to it. The dare is to reach the middle, where the little buildings are. The mini-mansions I call them. They glow sort of in the night but I can’t see that yet, we’re still a way away.
I jump at Ben’s voice, muffled by my parka. “I gotta pee, Sis. Now.”
I lower him down and he goes behind a bush, even though we can’t see anyone and the tapping is still ahead of us.
When he comes out he offers me his hand, which I take with outstretched fingers until I’m sure it’s dry. Then we both walk on in silence. The tapping noise seems to be coming from where we are heading. But I still can’t see the mini-mansions.
Ben pulls on my hand. “Sis,” he says, “what does a rape baby look like?”
My mind can’t find the words to answer him straight away. So he tugs at my hand again, almost pulling me sideways.
Up ahead is an angel statue, I’ve never seen her before, she’s sitting in the centre of a huge plot divided into four, two at the front and two at the back. She looks like she’s about to take off. For a moment I wish I could fly away too.
There’s an iron seat across the path from her. I lead Ben across to it and sit down. He brushes leaves off the seat. He really is a tidy kid, especially for a boy. I have no idea where we are. Which way is home.
I’m gathering my thoughts like someone rounding up sparrows. They keep scattering.
“Well Ben,” I say, “a rape baby isn’t the baby’s fault. It’s still a baby, like any other.”
I can feel Ben’s eyes on me, staring, and when a cloud passes and the moon and stars light up his face, I see he’s been crying.
“Oh, Ben, you’re not that scared are you?”
Ben shakes his head and looks at the angel. “It’s just that Jack said rape is a bad thing and that I was a bad thing, and that’s why Mum hates me. And I was wondering, Sis… Will I go to hell?”
I can’t answer him this time. The trouble is I don’t know exactly how rape works. I know Jack is right, it’s something bad and I know that it’s something to do with mating. And also the girl doesn’t want it. But does that mean the roosters are raping the hens? I see that all the time, the hens running away and the roosters jumping on them and pushing them into the dust. The hens certainly don’t want it. The baby chickens are cute though.
Ben is sucking his thumb and leaning against me. Me and him against the odds.
I realise I can’t hear the tapping anymore and I wonder when it actually stopped, how I missed the moment. I look around, back the way we came, and at the way I think we should be going. I don’t know if I can find the strength to carry Ben much further.
The clouds are covering the moon again. I didn’t think it was possible to get lost in a place we are both so familiar with. But everything looks so different in the dark.
* * * * *
"Covering the Moon" was first published in Fast Forward Press (US). It is also part of Myra King's 2017 collection Uneasy Castles.
Myra King lives along the coast of South Australia with her writer husband, David, and their greyhound, Sparky. Her poems and short stories, some of which have won awards, have been published in the UK, USA, Ireland and Australia in many literary magazines, books and anthologies. Myra has another short story collection, City Paddock, and two YA novels: The Journey of Velvet Brown, and The Diaries of Velvet Brown, all published by Ginninderra Press, Adelaide, Australia. Her novel, Cyber Rules, was published by Certys UK.