In which there is a bad moon on the rise.
Merton was not aware of time, but he was aware of pain. It sliced through his chest like an infection, spreading through his veins and burning his chest. He didn’t see things, but he could hear them, and at times blurry images came to him, though he couldn’t distinguish that from his dreams. He dreamed often of a dark forest illuminated by small lights dancing overhead. He dreamed of being back home, looking at the moon through his telescope. He dreamed of graveyard and digging his feet into the soil, which shook with the dead underneath. He dreamed of a girl standing over him, dark eyes covered by dark hair, standing so still it was like time streamed around her. He dreamed of his mom crying at his funeral.
Then he woke up.
He was in a hospital. An unsettling place to wake up with no explanation, but in a chair across from him, his mom slept, and the blinds over the windows had been pulled down, but he could still see that it was night. There was pain in his chest that bloomed across his body, and all of his limbs ached. He was thankful for the dark, because even the low light coming in from the hall stung. A nurse came in, rolling a cart with her, and he tried to speak. That’s when everyone started waking up.
Morning came, and Beverly appeared. She threw herself onto his bed and begged forgiveness. There’d been some attempt to explain what happened to him when he woke, but he was still weak and barely understood what was happening. She babbled out the whole story, starting with the PTA meeting, and then the car ride, and the frenzy to get him to the hospital. She told him Johnny was sorry, and he’d made a joke about returning from the dead. Then she showed him his broken camera and apologized some more.
Johnny did come to visit, which honestly surprised Merton, though the guy was broken up over it. He did some of his own apologizing, but Merton let him know there were no hard feelings. After all, Johnny had died. He knew firsthand how bad of an experience this could be. Merton didn’t get too many more visitors, though in the middle of the night he was woken by the soft sounds of serious men outside. He saw his mom illuminated in the doorway, talking to three men he didn’t recognize. They’d left soon afterwards. Checking more zombies, Merton realized. He was grateful he wasn’t one.
After a few days of recovery, people started to ask questions, and he tried to answer them. The problem was, he didn’t remember anything. He’d rode his bike out to Devon Fields, and then nothing. The bright light of Johnny’s car. Pain. He got told by several doctors and a few nurses how amazing his recovery was. Every bone in his body should’ve been broken, every blood vessel burst, but he’d had a concussion, a few fractures, and a large wound in his chest. It was the only thing that hadn’t healed completely in the two weeks he’d spent in the hospital. The gash was a dark and angry red, and they kept it bandaged for him. The doctor told his mom it would heal normally with stitches. He spent five more days in the hospital after waking. They did tests, made him walk around the hospital every day, and then released him.
His mom made up the house like he had a cold. She put extra pillows in his bed and fed him soup and tea and juice. She went down to the store to buy him magazines to read and played the radio all day. His brain was turning to mush with how little he was doing. It wasn’t the walking. He could get up without much pain and move around all he liked, but he was exhausted still. His limbs felt weak. His chest hurt constantly. But after being trapped indoors for a few days, Beverly visited, and they sat outside together.
“Everything’s starting to settle at school,” she said, showing him the edition of the newsletter he’d missed. “People are still mad, but Johnny’s here to stay.”
“That’s good.” He flipped through the pages, a pang running through his heart at the memory of his camera. “You’ve been busy.”
“I don’t know what to do when stuff like this happens.” She leaned against him. The days were getting colder, but heat flared in his face. “I have to do this or I’ll go bonkers.”
“Bet if I’d died no supercharged lightning would’ve found me. Only Johnny gets that lucky.”
She punched his arm. “Don’t even joke about that. If you died, I’d probably have to, I don’t know, throw myself on your grave or something.”
He grinned at her. “Promise?”
She punched him again, and he leaned back, enjoying the fresh air. It was the first day his mom hadn’t been hovering over him either. Beverly had been right. After all this, what he really wanted was for things to be normal again. For once in his life he missed school.
Beverly curled her chin in her hand and looked at him with that expression she always got. “You’re looking good.”
He made a big show of brushing his hand through his hair. “You know I try.”
“No, I mean, Johnny got hit and died. He looked bad too. But you, you were in a coma for two weeks, and you look fine. I wouldn’t even know.”
“Except for this.” He laid a hand down on his chest. The wound still burned brightly, but they’d given him a number of drugs that were supposed to help with the pain. “I guess it doesn’t really look like a car hit me there.”
“Well that’s what I mean.”
“You think, what? The same voodoo that brought Johnny back magically healed me?”
“Freak accidents,” she murmured. “But you were in the Fields too, and then you were back in the middle of town.”
“That’s all a mystery to me too. Maybe I got bored.”
“You were running, I think. You looked scared.”
Concern bled into her face, and he wondered what it’d been like for her. Seeing him crumpled in the road like that, blood everywhere, thinking she killed him just because she put a hand on Johnny’s knee. Part of him wanted to put an arm around her, but the sane part of him said no.
“Maybe it’ll come back to me,” he said after a while.
“I hope so.” She smiled at him. “Do you know when you’ll come back to school? It’s not the same without you.”
“I think it’ll be soon,” he said. “I’m getting bored hanging around the house.”
They chatted a few more hours, and finally she left, hugging him goodbye. Merton went back up to his room. He sat around for a minute, looking over the homework she’d brought him, and flipping through radio stations. He dug out the broken pieces of his camera. The upstairs bathroom he’d converted into a dark room against his mom’s wishes, but he gathered up his equipment and shut the door behind him. He pulled the film from the camera, setting the prints in their bath and left when he started getting lightheaded. The sun had set, and the sliver of the moon peered at him from his bedroom window. A feeling overtook him, and he climbed up onto his perch on the roof. He’d left his jacket in his room, and he shivered as he adjusted the telescope he’d stationed on the flat ridge of the roof. He focused it on the moon.
His chest began to burn. The pain spread like fire, and he couldn’t breathe, doubling over, knuckles turning white as his hands clenched. Pulling his shirt open, he looked at the mark on his chest. It didn’t look very much like the blunt force of a car. It looked more like claw marks, three long streaks still bright red scratched over his chest and onto his shoulder. He tried to remember what had led him back to town, and if Beverly was right, he’d been running from something. A cold fear dropped down his spine, and he turned the telescope towards Devon Fields. He could make out the little rows of cars, but no lights shone in the trees. Nothing moved in the trees at all, except a few drunk teens and the occasional policeman keeping them out of trouble. He sighed and sat back, shaking his head.
Eventually he returned to his photos and let them dry. The pictures developed into familiar scenes. Images from school, Johnny among his friends, Beverly working on the newsletter, football players running across the field. The last few were different, though. One was on the outside of Devon Fields, looking into the trees, but another showed the forest. Light blurred between the trees, like white ink blots spreading through the photo. The last was a shape outlined by the light, something that could’ve been mistaken for human. It’s body curled over, and the wide shoulders slumped forward. The face was impossible to make out, but there was something wrong about it. The peak of the nose, the pinpoints of light that might be eyes, the halo of hair standing on all ends. It didn’t feel human.
He pressed a palm to his tender chest. The memory of the night was still lost, and only blurry images remained. Had he seen something in the trees, or had he dreamed it? Something had scared him out of the forest. Looking at the picture, he wasn’t sure he wanted to know.
There was no fanfare for Merton when he returned to school. Several of his teachers offered him the chance to make up his homework, and a few people commented on his absence, but no one would be able to beat Johnny’s return for a long time.
Beverly was excited at least. She was jumping up and down as they returned to the newspaper office and presented him with the camera the school was willing to lend out to students. Miss Helim patted him on the back and returned to her lessons. School was more or less the same.
Merton brought her the photos he’d developed but hid the ones he’d taken out in Devon Fields. He was starting to think it was a blessing to forget what had happened. The zombie frenzy had died down as well, and Johnny was more or less integrated into the student population. It was mildly annoying how easy things fell back into their usual rhythm, but there was relief in normality. Merton was willing to count his blessings. He barely felt pain anymore, though the wound in his chest still burned at times. Everyone told him it was normal, so he ignored it.
Then there were the dreams. Like the fragments he’d had in the hospital, some nights it came to him, fractured and the edges hard to make out. Sometimes it felt like a memory, sometimes they were too surreal. Sometimes he was walking through Devon Fields, the moon a large disc overhead, the trees filled with lights, and a howl would sound so deep it would shake him awake. Sometimes he was half-buried in the dirt, Beverly a few feet from him, eyes closed. He would reach for her, and her eyes would open, pouring out yellow light. It woke him up most nights, always with a fever running through his scar, but by morning it was gone. He chalked it up to leftover trauma. He couldn’t really explain it to anyone anyway. Bad dreams were just bad dreams. He had a moment, walking through the hallways with Beverly, where he almost asked Johnny if he still had dreams, but he vetoed it on the basis of being stupid.
Beverly was part of Johnny’s group now, taking up the space that Betty had left vacant without any of the benefits. It couldn’t be better for Beverly, who now stood center circle of the large group of friends, usually to Johnny’s right, laughing and smiling with them. Merton spent most of his time being tired though, and being around too many people made his head hurt. He tried to go along with it as much as possible. It stung a little bit, how easily she fit in with them, and he wondered vaguely if she would’ve taken this spot sooner if she didn’t have him hanging around. Merton started to pass when they invited him out, and Beverly had the decency as a good friend to look hurt every time he did. Still, he didn’t blame her for enjoying the newfound popularity. She tried her darndest to get him to play along.
“You’re such a stiff,” she said as they walked out to the parking lot after school. Johnny’s friends were hanging around their cars, getting ready to make it down to the soda shop. Merton’s eyes burned in the sun.
“I’m too tired to watch you make goo-goo eyes at Johnny,” he said.
Her eyes narrowed at him. “You can’t play the recuperating angle forever.”
“I can try.”
She dragged him forcefully through the parking lot and they climbed into Johnny’s car. The gang of cheerleaders and football players took up two booths in the back, where there was a constant shift in circles and conversations. Merton and Beverly sat across from Johnny, Merton shrinking beneath the attention of Johnny’s friends.
A cheerleader named Linda ribbed Johnny. “You had to show up Billy. At least this one didn’t come back from the dead.”
Bill was sitting in the booth behind them and reached over, tossing a fry at her. Johnny shook his head as she began to retaliate, and he offered a sorry smile to both Merton and Beverly.
“They won’t let up about it,” he said.
Merton waved a hand. “Water under the bridge, John. You’ve suffered enough the last few months to get a pass.”
A redhead named Cheryl leaned over Beverly’s shoulders. “Get any cool scars out of it?”
Beverly started to brush her back, but Merton was willing to be friendly.
“Not really,” he said, ignoring the ache in his chest. “Of the two of us, I got lucky.”
Beverly leaned forward, giving starry eyes to Johnny. “I heard you’re thinking of rejoining the football team.”
A few of the boys in their lettermans whooped at that and slapped Johnny on the back. He just shook his head.
“We’ll see,” he said. “If I can take a tackle without falling apart.”
The group laughed. At least they had a sense of humor about the whole thing. The tables didn’t remain static. People arrived and left, and the never ending train of camaraderie and friendship started to get to Merton. An hour or two spent crammed inside the booth, the loud shouts of people around him, the gentle looks Beverly was giving out to Johnny, he started getting overwhelmed. A pain burst in his forehead, and his chest was throbbing. He slipped out of the booth and into the night air. The windows fogged up as the cold air was starting to blow in. He turned away from the light of the building, leaning into the alley between the soda shop and the pharmacy next door. His scar was burning red hot, and a spike of pain slammed through him, leaving him breathless. He caught himself on the brick wall, hugging his chest and squeezing his eyes shut until the pain passed. It usually took a few minutes, but it passed like hours. He looked up at the clear sky filled with constellations, blurred by the light of the moon.
“You okay there, pal?”
Merton tried to look, his vision blurred by pain. Someone was standing at the corner of the shop, half hidden in the shadows of the alleyway. A tall gangly figure stepped forward, and a young face peered at him through dark hair. His clothes wrinkled, his hair unkempt, he was a stranger. Whitby didn’t get visitors. The European girl was the most exotic person to walk the halls. This stranger couldn’t have been older than seventeen either, looking like he slept in trash bins.
Merton sucked in a breath and tried to stand straight, one hand still holding the wall. “Fine, thanks.”
The boy walked towards him. “What’s your name, friend?”
He stepped back. The pain was fading, but an alarm was sounding in his head. There wasn’t such thing as a stranger in Whitby. Even the white faced military men were familiar.
“My name’s Jack,” the boy continued. “Jack Kenley. I heard you were in a pretty bad accident.”
“Oh, yeah?” The light from the soda shop seemed distant. Pinpoints of black light filled Merton’s vision. “I don’t think I know you. How’d you hear that?”
His skinny shoulders rose and fell beneath the heavy jacket. It would take a lot of meals for him to fill it out. “I’m always around. Listen right, and you can hear anything.”
“I should get back inside,” Merton said.
Jack nodded. “Get some rest, my man. I’ll be seeing you around.”
Merton ducked his head back inside the diner and quickly returned to the booth. The pain had passed, but his heart still raced. Beverly looked at him as he slumped back down beside her, but he shook his head. The conversations carried on around him like white noise. The glass still fogged outside, and Merton’s eyes drew to the outside. He half expected Jack to be there, watching him, but it was only an empty street, the occasional car passing by.
Beverly and Merton walked home together after the night had grown late. The cold was coming in fast, and Merton’s jacket wasn’t enough. Beverly watched him as they walked.
“Are you sure you’re feeling better?” she asked.
“I’m fine, Bev.” He wasn’t, but he didn’t think it was his injuries that were hurting him. Insomnia, anxiety, and a new friend were doing all the heavy lifting. “You and Johnny seem chummy, huh?”
That got her off the topic. She sighed. “I don’t think he’ll ever get over Betty.”
“It’s been a month.”
“It’s been three years and I’m not over him.” She rubbed her face. “I’m a fool, Merton. I’m in love with a boy who’s a zombie.”
He shrugged. “No one seems all that bothered by it. I wonder how easy it would’ve been to get him back in school if the word ‘segregation’ had come up.”
Her lips became a line, and her eyes went down. He hadn’t meant to bring that up, but sometimes the words slipped away from him.
“Don’t make that face,” he said. He wanted to put an arm around her, but he abstained. “If I died, you’d fight twice as hard for me, yeah?”
“I don’t even want to think about it,” she said mournfully. “Merton, if you’d died, I really would’ve…”
She didn’t finish the statement. When she’d visited him that first time in the hospital, she’d been shaking but still full of smiles, throwing her arms over him and begging forgiveness. He realized until he woke up, she was probably manic with worry.
They came to her house, and she hugged him goodbye. He started the walk to his house a block over, and cut through the alleyways to do it. It’d be a cold winter. Above him, the moon was a large circle, not quite complete. The stars glittered around it. Looking up, he suddenly felt sick and disoriented. He reached a hand up to the scar on his chest. A noise echoed through the alley, a cat running through a bush or a squirrel or something, and he turned around. No one there, he told himself. Who would be?
He hurried home, keeping his head low, and locked the door shut behind him.
Marya flipped through the school newsletter. Even after the excitement with Johnny had finally died down, it was a surprising fount of information. Beverly Jones did her homework, at least, but it still wasn’t enough. Marya’s knuckles tapped against the sheet, and gaze started to blur for how long she’d been staring at it. She’d been wondering where the government men and scientists put their reports, though that was a pipe dream. Half the school already thought she was a Communist spy. She didn’t need to give them more reason.
“I can’t believe you’re still reading that,” Betty said as she hopped up the the bleachers. Beneath them, the boys were going through their sets, with Johnny on the sidelines, a bevy of cheerleaders around him. She didn’t even glance down.
“I don’t know what’s going to top ‘High School Quarterback Returns From Grave,’” she said as she sat.
Marya glanced at her. She still wore black, despite there being no obvious reason for it, but her demeanor had changed. Her cheeks had returned some color, and she’d taken to curling her hair again. It touched her long neck, and Marya forced herself to look back at the football field in front of them.
“I still don’t know much about this town,” Marya said as she folded the newsletter up.
Betty took it from her hands and glanced through it. “I doubt that Jones girl is going to break through with any major secrets. I doubt there are any left, really.”
Marya’s mouth twisted shut, and she shielded her eyes with the newsletter as she looked over the field. It’d been a few months since she’d arrived, and she still had no clue why she was here. Any attempt to contact her father had been unsuccessful. He was always enigmatic. She’d assumed Johnny was the key to what was going on, but since his return, nothing more had happened. He was the only real lead, and there was nothing more to find.
“You look more serious than usual,” Betty said. “No one’s giving you trouble, are they?”
She shook her head. After her initial time at Laemmle High, she’d become common enough that she barely even heard jokes anymore. “I’m concerned is all?”
Betty frowned. “About what?”
“About this whole town. Have you ever found anything strange? Besides the obvious.”
Betty’s eyes drew to the crowd below, and she gave Marya a sheepish glance. “Whitby’s a weird place. Me and Johnny used to go out to Devon Fields on the edge of town. People take their cars and, you know. One night we were out there and we saw these weird lights through the trees. Johnny wanted to investigate, but I didn’t like it.”
“I don’t know. Weird. They looked really far off, but once you get to the fields there’s not much out there, just more trees. Some of the teachers say they’re lights from the highway, but I don’t know. They move weird. And then there’s the cabin out on Lake Green.”
“What about it?” Marya asked.
She shrugged. “There’s this old cabin that no one owns, and we use it all the time, especially in the summer. One year we stumbled on the basement and found these old filing cabinets that were locked up and a bunch of harpoons. I remember going when I was a little kid, and looking out at the water, and there was something there. I just assumed it was an alligator. Then Norma swears up and down that when she went camping for Girl Scouts, some kind of wild animal came after them. But I think if there were something, we would know. People would’ve seen it.”
Marya parsed through the new data. She’d heard rumor, of course. People loved to talk. Slowly she unfolded the newsletter and smoothed it out in her lap. Betty watched her, chin in her palm.
“You like that creepy stuff, huh,” Betty said.
“I have an interest.” Her eyes caught a small section of text, and she started counting backwards.
“Is everyone in Europe like that?”
“Not these days.” She reached the end. Oh, no. “I have to get something from my locker.”
Betty blinked. “What?”
She stood, tucking the newsletter between her books. “I just remembered. It’s important.”
“I’ll come with you.” Betty started to follow, and Marya raised a hand.
“Oh, no. I’ll be back quick.”
Marya was already hopping down the bleacher steps. Her gaze caught Johnny for a moment as she ran past, but she was starting to think her scope had been too narrow. Her father hadn’t sent her here because of a single zombie. There had to be more. Whitby was a town of unusual sites. Even Johnny returning from the dead had been decided with a PTA meeting. Even for Marya, that was strange.
And of course Beverly Jones wrote it all down. She didn’t even know what she was writing. Miracle recovery from a life threatening situation. And that Friday had been a full moon.
She was running down the hall that led to the journalism room and then stopped. Ms. Helim was walking out of it, speaking to the brunette editor, and she saw Merton Dewitt leaning against the wall, fiddling with a camera. Marya backed away and let herself be unseen.
“It just seems a little silly,” Beverly was saying. “I don’t think anyone else is going to rise from the grave, and football seems a little mundane in comparison.”
Ms. Helim patted her shoulder. “I have every faith in you, Miss Jones. We should not discount even the small stories.”
The teacher walked off to her own classroom. Beverly turned around, looking at Merton.
“What do you think the chances are of any more zombies?” she asked.
He smiled as he set the camera down. “You’re going to have to find a new angle.”
“I can’t believe I’m going to peak at Johnny Maxwell being undead.”
“It’s a hard story to top.”
He closed the door behind him, and he stuttered, just a moment. Marya saw his fist clench against the metal, a slight stoop to his shoulders. His breath hitched. Beverly noticed as well and placed a hand against his back.
“You okay?” she asked.
“Fine.” His teeth clenched together, but he managed to stand and force a smile. He tugged at his shirt absentmindedly, and the edge of a red scar peeked through his t-shirt. “It still hurts sometimes.”
She pressed a hand against his face, and Marya heard his heartbeat speed up. Beverly’s expression was concerned.
“You’re burning up,” she said. “You’re going to the nurse.”
He removed her hand. “No, Bev.”
“You’re burning up! Come on.” She grabbed his arm. “If you die from infection, I’m going to be the one who has to explain it.”
They walked past Marya, and once they rounded the corner, she peeled away from the wall. She walked up to the club room door and placed a hand on the doorknob. It wouldn’t be much trouble at all to open it, even if they’d locked it, but she didn’t suspect her answer laid within. Her eyes drew to where they’d stood, the warmth of them still hanging in the air. Did he know? She suspected not. Betty said if there was a monster out there, they would’ve caught it, but Marya knew better. There was a lot of space between Devon Fields and the lake. Plenty of space to hide.
She felt relief, a little. There was something else. She’d been grasping for anything since Johnny raised himself from the dead. They shouldn’t be connected, but in this town, she couldn’t be sure.
Marya headed back towards the bleachers, feeling oddly satisfied. She passed a few hallways and paused as she saw Shelley Rathbone leaning into her locker, fiddling with her book bag. The motions were quick as she inventoried, but Marya saw a flashlight and what looked to be a heavy pair of bolt cutters. Quickly, Shelley snapped down the flap and hoisted the bag over her shoulders. She stopped when she saw Marya and quickly turned the other way. Her heart was beating rapidly too, but Marya suspected not for the same reasons.
Marya returned to the bleachers, quiet as she contemplated this new information. It was right in front of her, she could feel it. The answers were right there. There was something wrong with Whitby, and she started to wonder if it was affecting her.
Beverly walked home with Merton. The nurse’s office had no real help for him besides a cold washcloth and a thermometer that told him he was fine. He wasn’t. He was healing, sure, and maybe that was still affecting him, but the rest of him had healed so fast. He’d gotten up and around so easily since waking up, and now he looked like he could barely stand. She could see where the collar of his shirt pulled away the edge of the red scar. It didn’t seem to be healing at all.
“You can’t lie to me, you know,” Beverly said. “You can’t tell me you’re fine.”
“I’m fine, Bev.” He strolled behind her. “It’s just taking some time.”
“You aren’t allowed to have a miracle recovery and then also refuse to heal. You have to choose.”
He shoved her along and opened the door to his house. His mom worked, and the house was still empty. Merton collapsed into a chair in the kitchen while Beverly rummaged for snacks.
“You could be hanging around Johnny and his friends right now,” Merton said.
“I could be.” She poured him a glass of water and set it in front of him. She wondered when she became so comfortable in his house. It was easier than going to her house, where her mom would fuss over her. Her mom didn’t like Merton very much, though she didn’t express it like that. It was easier here.
“You don’t have to sound so bitter,” she said as she sat beside him.
He gave her a hurt expression. “I’m not bitter.”
She pulled the bowl of apples closer and started peeling one. “You are. You don’t have to pretend. I know you don’t really like them.”
“That’s not entirely true.”
She smiled. “I said you don’t have to pretend. You’re still my best friend, Merton. I don’t mind hanging around with you.”
“Alright, alright.” He lifted a hand. “You’re swell too.”
She bit the knife in to cut out a slice and chewed on it. “This year’s been too strange.”
“I thought you were happy about it,” he said. “All your college applications are made by this point.”
“It feels odd, though, doesn’t it?” She handed him a slice as well. “Whitby’s always been unusual, but never like this.”
“The number of car accidents are certainly going up.”
She looked at him. “Do you think we’re not as prepared for the real world as we think we are?”
He snapped the apple piece in half but didn’t eat it. “Where’s this coming from?”
“I don’t know. Aren’t you worried? To go outside of Whitby? To be a normal human being?”
“I think,” he said slowly, not looking at her as he wiped his hand on a napkin, “you’d be fine wherever you go. You got a zombie re-enrolled in class. That’s pretty major. You’re smart. You’ll get wherever you’re going.”
She didn’t look at him either. He didn’t usually go for sincerity. “I’m not the only one who got Johnny back in school.”
“It was basically all you.”
She smiled. “I just think sometimes about how it’s about to be 1960. It still feels like this town is stuck in 1942.”
He laughed. “You’re a real beacon of progress, Bev.”
They ended up in the living room, Beverly on the floor as she flipped through her textbooks and Merton flipping through radio stations. His mom came home, a soft looking woman with red hair that was already turning grey. It was Beverly’s cue to run home for dinner. She gathered up her things and stuffed them into her book bag. She pulled the canvas strap over her chest and considered saying something right there, with his mom taking the pins out of her hair.
“I’ll see you tomorrow, Merton,” she said instead.
He turned off the radio and walked her to the door. “See ya, Bev.”
Beverly slumped forward as she crossed the street to her neighborhood. Her mom was waiting for her by the door, always a good sign.
“It’s getting darker earlier,” her mom said by way of benign comment, but it dripped with disapproval. “And it’ll be snowing by Thanksgiving.”
“It’s only Merton’s.” Beverly hung her coat up on the rack and slipped off her shoes. “He’s still feeling sick, I think.”
“It’s what happens when you get run over by a car,” her dad said from the sofa.
Her mom gave her a look, and Beverly shifted her books on her shoulder. “I’m going to put my stuff away.”
She closed the door to her room and breathed out. Six months ago, her mom probably would’ve been thrilled to know she was going out with Johnny, but now he was a zombie. Hearing she’d been driving front seat with him all alone–which of course led to the injury of her best friend, mom couldn’t let that go–had made her mom’s face go purple. Merton probably would’ve laughed if he’d seen it.
It’d made her parents put her on a tighter leash. Curfews on the weekends. Home by dinner on school nights. She’d tried paying Merton back for the accident by inviting him out with her every chance, but she knew he didn’t like it. He was antsier since getting out of the hospital, but maybe he had a lot of pent up energy from being in a two week coma. He hadn’t been talking to her as much either, which also hurt. It was her fault, though. It didn’t seem like he was mad at her, but he probably wasn’t happy either. It was hard to tell with Merton.
Her mom knocked on her door, calling her for dinner. She’d figure something out tomorrow. She didn’t know if she could live without her best friend.
Merton barely ate at dinner, pushing meatloaf around the plate until his mom finished hers, and then he helped her scrape the leftovers into the trash.
“You’re not hungry?” she asked as she looked at him.
He didn’t look a lot like his mom. Light, like her, and with her dash of sprinkles, but his hair was dark, and his eyes were brown. But Beverly pointed out all the time how they made the exact same expressions, down to the slightly raised eyebrow when they didn’t believe what they were being told.
“Just tired,” he said.
She raised that eyebrow but said nothing at all.
He climbed up the stairs to his room, where he closed the door and looked at his homework that was piling up. His teachers had given him extended due dates and makeup work, and the thought of doing any of it made his head heavy. He laid down in his bed and buried his head in his pillow, breathing out a shaky breath. Pain beat against his ribcage, and the scar on his chest burned. There were some pills in the medicine cabinet in his mom’s bathroom meant to help with the pain, but he’d already taken his daily dose. Outside his window, the streetlights chased away the stars, but the moon was growing fatter.
It was the only thing he dreamed about. He was there, in the forest, the trees surrounding him like soldiers, their tall arms reaching up towards the sky. The moon looked unreal, a wide flat disc of yellow light, and it lit the forest in blues and greens. He stood slowly, aware he had been here before, that he was reliving something. His steps were muted as he walked across the cold, wet ground, and then he saw someone in the distance. They stood still, their face a shadow. For a moment, it looked like Beverly. He sprinted towards the figure, pain spreading across his chest like white hot fire, poisoning his skin and blood and bones, but he ran despite this, chasing the figure so far away. He couldn’t see through the pain, eyes blinded by the moon above, and when he grabbed the figure, it turned, and all he saw were teeth.
When Merton opened his eyes, he thought he was still dreaming. He stood on the corner of his street, four houses away from his bed. Nausea punched him in the gut, and he leaned over, clutching onto a stop sign for support. The waxing moon was curving down towards the horizon. He breathed in, easing the pain in his chest, and he realized as his hands scraped the metal pole, and the cool November breeze spread goosebumps on his skin, this was real. Somehow, he’d wandered from his on bed. Panic overtook him. He’d dealt with the dreams, but this was–this was real life. Sleepwalking. Out of his house, down the street. How far could he go before he woke up?
“Strange night, ain’t it?”
He nearly fell over from surprise. He hadn’t even noticed the clump of rags and jackets that made the shape of a person. Jack Kenley grinned at him, cigarette resting between his fingers.
“For–” Merton swallowed a curse. “What are you doing here? What am I doing here?”
“Just watching the moon, my friend.” Jack took a long drag from his cigarette, letting the end burn, and then released a cloud of smoke.
“You’re stalking me, right?” He rubbed his face and realized his glasses were still on his nightstand at home, which explained why the world was slightly blurry. “Should I call the cops?”
“I got no reason to harm you.” Jack gestured to the concrete beside him. “I lived in Whitby my whole life, you know. You’ve just never seen me.”
Merton wasn’t entirely sure he wasn’t still dreaming. He still held onto the stop sign, which was the only thing keeping him upright.
“You’ve been feeling sick, friend,” Jack said, looking at him with his small, dark eyes. “I know how that is. Walking around at night too. I stopped sleeping. Never know where you’re gonna end up, especially when the moon is full.”
Merton’s eyes drew up to the sky. Only a week until the next full moon, almost exactly a month since the night he got put in a hospital. He felt weak looking at it.
“Why are you here?” Merton asked, his voice hollow.
He smiled at him. “I’m looking out for you. I figure you’d be having trouble.”
Merton wanted to give a snappy response, but his whole body ached, and the reality he’d woken up in felt changed from the reality he went to sleep in. He stepped back, holding his forehead.
“Don’t,” he said. “I’ve got enough problems with you lurking around. Don’t come here again.”
Jack waved at him as he stomped back towards his house. The back door was unlocked, and Merton crept up the stairs. Nothing was disturbed. He’d just walked out of his own house. His door was open, his sheets pushed to the floor, and that was it.
He shut the door and placed a chair in front of it. Looking out his window, he saw no Jack Kenleys or anyone else, but he pulled the curtains and laid back, squeezing his eyes shut. The moon burned a hole into his vision, and he rolled over into a restless slumber.