Sunday, April 5, 2015

Under the Blood Moon








Chapter One: The Rabbit Drive







Most kids have fun. They laugh and play and hide eggs and gorge on their chocolates. My sister and I, we know the truth. We know the horror of it. We know the savagery and the evil and we wait for it armed with knowledge. We know and we wait for the blood.

Grandma knew because she was there in Oklahoma, Petaluma County, April 1933. She, along with a hundred others, saw the rise of the beast.

What started it was the dust storms. Oklahoma, in the panhandle where Grandma was from, was hit the hardest. They called it the dustbowl. t lasted for about ten years. Drought at first and then huge dust storms from Texas all the way into the Dakotas. Remember that book Grapes of Wrath? It was the dust storms that the Joads were running from.

After so many years of dust and drought, everything that lived on the plains was having a hard time. Including the jack rabbits. Grandma says they weren't like the rabbits we see around here. They were big and raggedy and mean. And they decided to come on up out of the ground and eat up what little wheat and corn farmers could get to grow in that cursed Oklahoma dirt. She said they'd come through by the hundreds and swarm like grasshoppers and clear out a field in just about a half hour. Nothing left. Made staying in Oklahoma just that much harder. As if the lord ain't made it hard enough, my Grandma used to say.

There were some people in Oklahoma that wasn't going to stand for a bunch of mangy rabbits taking what little livelihood they were able to pull out of the earth. They were in a club called the Last Man Standing Club: all the men in the county who had made it their duty not to abandon their homes and their land because the weather turned sour. They said the storms and the drought were a test of God and all the Okies leaving off for California and Tennessee and whatnot were disgracing God and failing the test and they were going to stay and be the lord's chosen people. It was the LMSC chapter in Petaluma County that organized the rabbit drive. They were the ones that strung up the fence out on Hugh Gallant's farm and it was the head of the chapter that took out the ad in the Daily Tribune. It was his idea, Grandma said. If there is a person to blame for what is going to beset the world come the rise of the blood moon, his name it Alexander Dietz. He's buried out in Cassandra Hill Cemetery in Petaluma County.

Boss Granger tore down his barn that winter to shore up his house against the dust after his wife caught the pneumonia and it was with the lumber left over that the boys from the LMSC fashioned little flat bats. Made a whole mess of them. Still the ad in the Tribune asked people to bring a club if they had one.

There were boys out in Gallant's field at the crack of dawn Easter morning pounding the dirt trying to scare up the rabbits. By the time people got out of church and started making their way out there, the poor ragged things were running for their lives, corralled into the fenced off area.

The LMSC boys handed out their clubs to all the kids that needed them. There were grown men out there too. Most of the women stood around the outside of the fence and watched for as long as they could stand it.

Jack rabbits don't hop like most people think. Those suckers flat out run. When they are scared like that, rustled up like that, they could out sprint Jesse Owens; they were too fast to run down. What they had to do was form a wide circle and close it in tight, moving slow and even. Once they were tight enough, thats when it started. There were hundreds of rabbits and they were surrounded. They were falling all over each other. It was like the whole ground was hopping and darting back and forth. The kids just started swinging because thats what the men were doing. Raring back and swatting home runs. You could hear bones cracking like snapped twigs. Skulls splitting wet and sharp. Right there, the rabbits learned to scream for mercy and it was the last thing they learned.

I reckon it was fun for the kids at first. They were just doing what their daddies and granddaddies and uncles and cousins were doing. Swing them clubs and get a good solid hit. Feel the crack of the bat. But before too long, the screeching of those rabbits last moments rose up over all the laughter and giggling and ladies screams and the ground got so slick with blood and brains that it was hard to walk or even stand upright. In just a few minutes, all those folks had cracked the skulls of two or three hundred animals. They were screaming and bleeding and shitting themselves and the stink turned a lot of folks's stomachs. The much and the gore ran across the trampled ground like an oil slick. Blood, shit and vomit and the limp, bashed corpses of what had to be every jack rabbit for a hundred miles.

The children bowed out first. Their mommas beckoned them from across the fence and they waded through the killing field, knee and elbow deep in stink. Their tears cut thin lines through the filth smeared across their reddened, puffy faces. Men slipped out, a child under each arm, puking over their shoes, trying desperately not to fall into the mire. Before too long there was only Dietz and few of his sycophants trolling through the ruddy sludge taking mercy on the merely mounded and unescaped. The slow, singular whop of the clubs making shellshocked farmers flinch and cringe as they clung to their mothers and wives.

It was to this staccato cadence of last deaths that those who had not run away to their cars and homes heard the rumble beneath the slough. Some thought it was another dust storm. There was the slight tremble in the ground and the rumble sounded like it, but there was no darkness on the horizon. The strange warmth was not hanging in the air. It was not a rumble in the distance, but right in front of them. Beneath them. Beneath the victims of their bats.

The first pillar of blood and shit and mangled fur shot up from the sloppy layers of corpses and around it wrapped the thick veins of a hundred dead animals. Up through the middle, a solid column of bone. To a stunned, ragged crowd, a singular, muscular paw formed from the inside out. It swung and cut through the air and struck Dietz in the chest so hard it pushed his skeletal frame through his flesh. His organs dispersed like oily fireworks. His nearby hangers on were washed over in copious blood.

Piece by piece all those bashed corpses, the ripped furry flesh and twisted feet, spilt brains and emptied bowels — all the slick viscera gathered up over the solidified bones. Up rose the beast: wild-fanged and long-eared and fiery-eyed and barely a soul in Petaluma County was spared.









Chapter Two: Easter Sunday







There was no official record of what happened that day in Hugh Gallant's field. The deaths were attributed to dust pneumonia. My grandma says that folks eventually just got tired of telling the story because they were never believed My sister and I believe though. We listened when she told up of the beast's dire warning. The blood moon and Easter Sunday. The ritual. The second coming. And that time had come. The year foretold. This Easter, the blood moon rises and the rabbit returns.

We followed me grandma's recipe. The woodbine. The skullcap. The pinch of fur and the generous helping of ground salt. We used the strange yellow powder she gave us. We mixed it all into the dark chocolate and fashioned it into eggs and let it cool and set in a bed of shadow wart, just as we were told. We fashioned our clubs and set in them the fangs, as long as our own hands, our grandma gave us. And all Saturday, as we mixed out potions and whittled our bats, we watched the moon across the sky, chasing away the sun, and as dusk approached, we heard a rumble in the ground.

My sister, Alberta, set out the ceremonial basket. She set the circle and intoned the words. Klaatu Verata Nikto. Loud and distinct as she gathered the grass to line the basket. I stood watch, the grip on my club tight and sweaty. Despite my vigilance, I didn't see the Cotton Tail, the harbinger foretold, until it was nearly upon us.

Alberta had to stop me in my ignorance. The thought came to me that if I clubbed this Cotton Tail, spilt its blood out onto the ground, would that not save us from the fight that lay ahead? No, Alberta reminded me. It is our responsibility to end this. We are the saviors foretold. It is our destiny to face this furry fury. This clodhopping madness. We must claim our destiny. We must honor our grandma's name.

And so, the Cotton Tail approached, drawn to the circle. It ambled into the he ceremonial basket and we knew, finally, without a doubt, our belief was true. Our faith held the sway of justification.

It was here that we did not know what lay beyond. We knew the ritual. We knew the harbinger. All else was mystery.

The Harbinger drew down into the grass and deep beneath its deceivingly bright fur, the darkness began to brew. Simultaneously, Alberta and I felt the fear rise in us and we both withdrew a potion laced chocolate and gobbled it down and hoped its majick would hold true. The Harbinger shook and twitched more violently now. It seemed to pull back into itself. We gripped tight the hatched handles of our clubs. The Harbinger lurched in the basket and opened its maw and a globular sputum spilled forth into the grass. I rared back my club but Alberta beckoned me to wait. The Harbinger sputtered again and heaved forth another glob of purulence and then another and then it began to heave violently pushing from way back in its guts. Again, Alberta had to steady my club. Then it came forth. The Cotton Tail's jaw came unhinged. Its throat swelled and the cartilage crackled and spasmed and rippled forth ejecting a gleaming white egg slathered in stinking, guttural lubricant. Its body, thus emptied of its purpose, sank, nearly formless, into the grass and on the stilled, spring night we could hear its death knell.

We stood guard over the egg. Again, I was eager to use my club, to end the horror before it began, and Alberta stayed my violence. She was, as always, much more closely tied to fate. For hours there was only the silence of spring until the light of the full moon began to fade, the earth moving between it and the sun. The dawn of the blood moon. As the ruddy light fell on the egg, it cracked. A thin line of blood ran from the fracture.

It has begun, Alberta whispered.

I don't think the chocolate is working, I said, and we both ate another.

At totality, the egg split wide. Midnight rang deep and loud from within the house. The bloody albumen spilt onto the he ground and in it sat a tar-black yolk that seemed to bubble and boil in its round form. Where the blood spilled, plumes of pastel smoke rose into the air. It smelled of putrance. Burnt fur. Sulphery, sickened bowels. Once smelled, the stench would not fade. I ate another chocolate.

The bubbly pitch of yolk disappeared beneath the sacred grass, and as if the earth itself had swallowed a bitter pill, it began to shake and shutter from its sickness. We could feel the ground heave beneath our feet. We could hear the rumble.

Run, Alberta said.

The ceremonial basket caught fire.

Run.

The basket disbanded into a shower of hot coals, the fiery gravel tumbling across the grass, burning away the earth.

Run!

From the cinders sprouted the ropey sprigs of giant whiskers. The earth pulled away and in the bloody moonlight glinted the wet, black orb of an unlidded eye.

Damnit, Glen, RUN!!

We turned on our heels and sprinted for the house. I tried to fish out more chocolate but only spilled them onto the porch I couldn't stop to pick them up.

The entire house shuddered and shook. Furnishings and accoutrements fell onto the floor. It was hard to keep a steady footing. From outside the very air pulsed with the monstrous bellows of the beast. My ears wanted to bleed.

We pushed through the back door and out into the field. Hugh Gallant's field. Our home for the last ten years, bought and paid for, where we prepared for this night, this confrontation with monstrous evil. Man's own evil. The Rabbit's Revenge.

We made our way tot he spot we had marked out. As best we could tell, this is where they had fenced off the field. Where the innocent blood had been spilled and confused and where this evil had been borne. Were humanity to be saved this night, this hallowed ground is where it would happen.

In the scant light of the eclipsed moon, the gigantic form of the beast towered over the house. Its ears stood erect, higher than the tree tops. Its whiskers whooped through the air. Its gigantic paw raised up, waggled just a bit, and then crashed though the roof of the house. One more step and the entire structure crumbled like a tower of dried kindling. In two steps it was nearly upon us, it's furry form blotting out the sky.




You ready, Glen?




As ready as I'll ever be, I said




The beast opened its mouth, its teeth like black sabers cutting the air. It bellowed out the words: as it is written, I am the second coming. The beast. The Lord and Savior of the world too long under the tyrannical thumb of man. Let your blood be the first blood spilled.




The forepaw, thick as a tree trunk and bejeweled with vicious claws, came for us. Alberta tackled me. We laid low and let it pass over, the titanic claws coming within inches of our trembling bodies. The very heat of its malintent was enough to singe the hair from our heads.

Now or never, I said, and we regained our feet and ran toward the beast. It rared back with its other claw and brought it down upon us. Alberta dove left and I dove right. The claw came down between us, clove the earth and dug out a wide trench. I swung the club as it passed, but I missed.

I ran closer to get to the long, flat thumper before the beast could take another swipe. As I came around the furrow, I saw Alberta had the same idea. Together we raised our clubs, the long fangs attached to them poised for destruction. Together we dove and together we swung and together both hit true. The fangs of our clubs sank deep into the flesh of the beast. It howled out in pain as its cousin's teeth ripped through its feet. Gallons of blood spumed high into the air and spilled over us like a sludgy rain. As its massive heart thudded in its chest, geysers of blood shot out over the earth.

Yours is the first blood, foul beast, my sister yelled up to the rabbit clogging the heavens.

The beast launched itself from the ground showering us even further. It came down hard a quartermile into the field. As it did, the whole earth convulsed.

Remember, Alberta yelled, the eye. We have to take it down so we can take out the eye.

I lost all my eggs, I admitted. Luckily, my sister was not as clumsy as I.

The beast belted the ground with its thumper sending both of us tumbling over.

I know this place, it called out. How appropriate the end of the human race should begin here.

As soon as I began to raise to my feet the beast brought the thumper down again, shuddered the earth, and I was down again.

Too long have the beast of the earth and the fowl of the air been subject to man. You have squandered your domain. You have given up on mercy. You have tarnished your crown. This day, as the seed claims its ground, so too will the beast claim its freedom. Welcome death, you corrupted apes! You shall suffer it greatly!

The beast lunged forward setting its hindlegs to the ground with a thunderous upheaval. It bare its teeth and brought its deathly claws for us. Luckily, it was the smallest of them that pierced the meat of my upper thigh. Alberta escaped the blow unharmed. Though it sent deafening waves of excruciating pain through my entire body, I kept my wits as the beast brought its forepaws up, me impaled on its claw. I waited until I was in striking distance before I let my club fly. It flittered and pitched end over end until its attached fangs locked themselves into the sinewy neck of the beast. A dead-on attack. A vein must have been pierced, for hot ropes of blood shot out from the fur. At the same time below, my sister delivered a series of blows to the beast's ankles as if she were chopping down a broad oak tree. The two-pronged attack sent the beast to fits. It wailed and pitched and lost its footing and fell to the earth. The fall ripped its claw from my thigh, the flesh splitting and folding inside out and that the gash exposed the bone beneath before the muscle began to swell up around it. I lost consciousness before I hit the ground.










Chapter Three: My sister, the Death-Dealer




I couldn't worry about my brother. Indeed, I feared him dead, but it was not only his death that was my concern.

The monster had fallen, but it was not immobile. I wasn't sure if or when it would get up again. It was a long sprint to get to its head, and with it thrashing about, its claws swiping in blind panic, it body trying to roll over, I had to move smartly. My brother and I had trained for this. We were fit and sharp and strong, but are training had not anticipated the scale of the beast we were to face. Never, in all Grandmother's stories, had we imagined the beast would have been this huge.

I dipped under its claws as they swung at shadows. I scaled its furry flank as it tried to roll one way and then jumped to a run as it pitched back the other way.

You fowl, despicable bastards, the monster yelled.

Its blood rained all about the field. Each step became trickier to take. Just as I reached its head, having not yet raised my weapon to deliver what I hoped would be the deathblow, its ceased its tantrum. Forepaw and hindleg fell limp to the ground. I moved slow into position. I feared it was a ploy. Coming around to its face, its black eye reflected the brightening moon through a spiderweb of treetops.

Please, the monster whispered. Mercy.

I, too, drenched in blood and caked with dirt, was reflected in that mountainous black globe.

As you would have had mercy on me?

The monster was silent. Its breathing was shallow and wet. Its mouth scooped what little air it could take into it with painful effort.

As you had mercy on my brother?

I had only to fulfill my destiny, the beast managed.

And I mine. We only have fate as our guide. It is the only path we can walk. Tell me what other voice could guide me but the lord's.

The voice of compassion. The voice of justice.

Justice?

I serve only to gain recompense for our enslavement. Countless murder and undo servitude.

We all have our place, you monstrous beast. It is not I or my felled brother that has chosen the place. Nor is it you. It is the lord. The lord who, on this day, rises to take his place at the right hand of God. The very same God that ordained you fall under my hand. Do you propose to circumvent the will of God?

I only beg for mercy.

And in the reflection of that blackest eye, I could see the monster raise, weakly and trembling, its clawed paw, my brother's blood still wet upon it.

Beg for your mercy, foul beast. Beg until your heart is full of it. No matter, you shall not receive it.

And before the monster could run me through I raised up my club and brought it down into that ocular pitch. My victorious smile was the last it reflected. The orb burst under the weight of the club. It sprayed a viscous fluid swirled through with blood. The monster let loose one final, frightful howl and began to choke on its own blood. I plunged my hand into my pocket and pulled out the smashed, wet chocolate eggs we had made to my Grandmother's recipe. As instructed, I pushed the concoction of bravery and faith into the roiling mess of that evil eye. The wet, hot hole swallowed my fist. The beast twitched, the majick fire stoking inside it. It trembled and spasmed, tried to regain a footing as if it could have gotten up and outrun its deathly fate. But, alas, it could not. The only thing left for the beast was succumb, as if the only fate of all animals of the earth.

The majick burned through the monster until the flesh could not contain the power if it and it exploded, showering the field ina rain of hundreds of eggs. Its last salvo in hopes that just one would hatch and this evil treason could afford one more battle.

In the days that followed, as my brother healed, I scoured the field to find every last egg. I even employed the children from neighboring farms to help with the hunt. As we searched and carefully destroyed each egg we found, I was sure to tell the tale exactly as my Grandmother had told it to me so if it was true that one egg may have remained hidden, and on the next blood moon another of these infernal beasts were hatched, the children of Petaluma County, Oklahoma, could be prepared to do the lord's work.









THE END

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