In the Light of the Moon, by Malcolm Terry

We are pleased to announce that the winner of the 2018 Prescot Festival Short Story Competition is Malcolm Terry, for ‘In the Light of the Moon.’ It is published here for the first time and will also be published in the August 2018 Prescot Parish Magazine. Malcolm receives a cheque for £100.

I love the night.

I love its tranquillity that soothes the soul.

I love the emptiness of the roads, the absence of noisy crowds jostling through the streets, clamouring for attention.

I love the sounds my footsteps make on the pavement, every step coming as clearly and regularly as the beat of my heart.

I like the look of the quiet houses I pass with their curtains closed, soft, amber tinted lights leaking out into the darkness. They make me think of families resting at their ease, and it is then that I like people the best when I only see them in my imagination.

I remain watchful for police cars on patrol; they stopped me once, but I was able to allay their suspicions. If I hear them coming, I step into the shadows and become invisible with my dark clothing and the balaclava hiding my blond hair. They are seldom alert and always gone too quickly to notice me, but to underestimate them would be dangerous.

My mind returns to the room in my house where I keep the records: the noticeboards where I pin recent newspaper cuttings and the filing cabinet containing diaries and clippings of old news, half forgotten events, and information that I once thought useful.

There have been many nights like these. They blur in the memory.

I have seen no-one yet; the streets are empty. It is a town afraid. People no longer want to walk in the darkness. It began two months ago with the two girls walking home from the nightclub. Their bodies were found in the morning so badly torn that they thought it the work of a pack of wild dogs and a half-hearted effort was made to round up strays.

More bodies followed and they found human tooth marks on them and thought that they were dealing with a madman, but of course that was not the truth either.

I crossed the street, went between the big cast iron gates and entered the park. The trees loomed above me, blotting out the stars and the light of the full moon.

I saw no-one, heard nothing but the whisper of breeze through the trees. The dog walkers were gone; few dared risk the lonely spaces of the park at night, but there were always foolhardy souls who thought themselves immune to peril. The spinning wheel of fortune came lucky for some, not for others; innocence was no protection, nor was ignorance. There was good in the world but there was evil too, and there was also me.

I walked past the small lake, heard the rustle of ducks disturbed, moving off their nests. The light of the moon gave everything a ghostly glow, and it made a bright and sparkling sheen on the waters.

The breeze was cool, but I liked the cold. The hot sun was not for me; I was a creature of night.

I left the lake and walked up the rise towards the wood. I needed no torch despite the shadows; my eyes were well-adjusted and moonlight gave a fitful illumination.

I sensed that I was not alone.

This was so often the case that I no longer remarked upon it; I trusted my senses to give me warning. Perhaps it was a dog walker or some evening reveller who had partaken too much. I stepped off the path and into the trees; my tread became silent on the soft earth. I waited.

No-one came. I let the seconds pass, becoming minutes. I was patient as any hunter stalking his kill. The blood began to pulse stronger in my veins. My breathing became shallower. I flexed my fingers.

My gaze fixed on the path winding down between the trees, but no-one came.

A sense of danger became suddenly acute. I stirred, moved, turned.

It hurtled at me out of the trees. Its darkness seemed to absorb all the rays of the moon so that it was only a great black shape. Its presence overwhelmed me with a stink of rotting matter, blood and death.

My sense exploded with the imminent danger. I stepped back, raising my arms. Its body it me and I tumbled backwards to the ground. Its jaws went for my throat but my arm was raised in time and the jaws closed on my forearm. The thick Kevlar protection held against its savage canines. The beast growled in frustration, shifting its jaws but biting only fabric. Its claws raked my shoulders but the armour held.

I took my right hand from my pocket, holding the gun, pressed it to the beast’s chest and squeezed the trigger once, twice, three times. The gun fired with a muted roar, but each shot made the beast shake. It uttered a keening sound; its grip became weaker. I threw it from me and rolled aside. It staggered after me but I scrambled out of reach.

I stood up, warily. These things were hard to kill, but this one was doomed.

It fell moaning, and it was a human moan this time. I stepped forward and placed the gun to its head and fired a bullet into its brain. I’d made mistakes before, not realising what a hold they had on life, how quick they were to recover.

It slumped to the ground, the breath in its lungs escaped in a ragged sigh.

The moonlight shone on its body as I waited, and I saw it shimmer and transform. It became a man again.

He was thickset, naked, his hairy chest matted with blood; his face was brutal, marked with sores.

I gave him a last glance then walked away, replacing the gun in my pocket. There would be another headline in the newspaper tomorrow, another mysterious death, I hoped this would be the last in this town, then I could move on.

I walked away bathed in the light of the moon.

Copyright © Malcolm Terry 2018

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