Eating the Moon
Jane clutched her stomach and slumped against the wall outside the kitchen door. The sheriff had not agreed with her. Big meals on the last day of the full moon were always a bad idea.
Now the moon was waning again, floating high over the dripping trees in their dark corner of the Wisconsin woods. The sound of a footfall on damp pine needles pulled Jane’s attention back to Earth. Meredith stood halfway between Jane and the outhouse, hair and face lit orange by the flicker of a hurricane lamp.
“Hello,” Meredith said. It was the first word she’d spoken to Jane or, as far as Jane knew, to anyone else at the commune. Her voice was low and sweet.
“Hi,” Jane replied.
“Not that much.”
“You shouldn’t stand out in the rain.”
Meredith came to stand beside her, and the rain fell on both of them. She looked like the ghost of a cheerleader, wide blue eyes and breasts stretching out her T-shirt and flowing golden hair, but so pale. She smelled good. Not like perfume. Like skin and muscle and salty blood.
“You were looking at the moon,” Meredith said.
“You think there were really people up there?” The moon landing had been last July. It was January now, and Jane still hadn’t seen so much as a picture. She was avoiding it, maybe. It seemed wrong that this force that ruled her life could be just a lump of rock for some man to stick a flag in.
“Maybe,” Meredith said. “Lots of people say they lied, that all those pictures were faked.” She paused. “My father thought the Earth was flat.”
“Huh.” Another stomach cramp hit her, and Jane bent over, forehead pressed to her knees.
“You feel sick,” Meredith said.
“Give that girl a cigar.”
“I don’t like cigars.” Meredith sucked on her bottom lip. She stroked a hand over Jane’s hair. “You know Sheriff Galtry wanted to bust the boys for growing weed?”
Jane nodded, tensing from her knotted stomach out to her fingers and toes. She could feel the fur under her skin.
“And you know how you disappear three days out of every month into the woods?”
“I explained that.”
“Yes, goddess rituals. I don’t believe you.” Meredith held out her hand. “Let’s go inside. I’ll make you some tea.”
Jane hesitated. “It better not have herbs in it.”
The kitchen was spotless now, thanks to Meredith. She had taken over with quiet practicality. No more hallucinogenic mushroom casserole, no more centipedes breeding in the dark corners. She cooked well and stretched their almost nonexistent budget like she had it strapped to a medieval torture rack.
Jane heaved herself up to sit on the counter and watched Meredith polish the exterior of the kettle before she filled it. She lit the gas stove with a match and set the kettle to boil and then she glided across the room to stand between Jane’s legs, hands on her knees, expression grave.
“I’ve been watching you,” Meredith said, which was a phrase to strike fear into any monster’s heart.
“Why?” Jane asked. Meredith’s hands were warm through Jane’s damp jeans. Jane found herself reaching for Meredith’s wrists, touching the pulse of her blood.
“Because I like you,” Meredith said. “And I’ve decided to tell you something.”
“Not yet. First you should tell me about the sheriff. That’s how secrets stay secret. You don’t give them away. You exchange them, like gifts.”
The kettle started to shriek in time with the internal siren of Jane’s heart.
Meredith smiled at her and drifted away to pour the tea. She added milk and sugar and stood waiting in the kitchen doorway. “Come on,” she said. “You should be in bed.”
Jane followed Meredith and let herself be tucked into bed – in Meredith’s room. She slid between clean sheets. A hot water bottle wrapped in flannel warmed her feet. The tea was strong. Jane cupped her hands around the mug and let the heat sting her palms.
Meredith sat on the edge of the bed and looked at Jane. “The sheriff’s been coming by every day, sometimes twice. Until yesterday.”
“So I think you ate him.”
“Sorry, what?” Tea slopped over the edge of the mug with the jerk of Jane’s hands. Her heart thumped against the inner wall of her chest. She could hear Meredith’s heart too. It beat steady and slow.
“I followed you last month. You’re too sensible to spend three days in the woods in the middle of winter for rituals. I saw you turn into a wolf. It looked like it hurt.”
She had seen Jane change. She thought Jane had eaten someone. And she still sat on the edge of the bed with her pulse calm like water. Jane reached for her wrist again. She needed to feel that steady throb. Meredith smiled at her and let her do it, even when Jane gripped her more tightly than she should have, even when she dug her nails into soft human flesh.
“Does it hurt?” Meredith asked.
“It hurts. A lot.”
Meredith nodded. She stole Jane’s tea and took a sip.
“The sheriff was dirty,” Jane said. “He didn’t want to bust the boys. He wanted them to give him the stuff so he could sell it. And then bust them, probably.”
“It’s not a very good reason to kill someone.”
“No, it’s not. But sometimes I get tired of restraining myself. I think it comes of being a monster.”
“Yes, I know just what you mean,” Meredith said, and kissed her.
Her lips were very hot from the tea, and she tasted like sugar.
Jane let go of her wrist and held her shoulders instead. Her skin was smooth and soft. She felt breakable. “Uh. I don’t think that makes you a monster.”
“My father disagreed. You don’t taste like you ate someone.”
“I floss a lot.”
They looked at each other.
“No one ever kissed me before,” Jane said.
“I’m pregnant,” Meredith said.
“Oh. So. I guess you – there must have been kissing. What with the, you know, sex.”
“No, he didn’t bother with kissing. Or getting my name.”
“He doesn’t sound very nice.”
“Do you want me to eat him?”
“You already have. He’s been in the stew for the past month. You remember Bobby?”
“Oh. Yes.” Bobby Crafton, a large, awkward boy, oddly violent for a draft dodger and supposed pacifist.
“I hit him over the head with a shovel.”
“Now I know why I like your stew so much.”
Meredith smiled at her and pushed back the covers to climb into bed. Jane slid an arm around her shoulders and shifted over to make room. Meredith kissed her cheek and lips and lay close in the small bed while the wind howled and rattled the windows.
“If we moved to the city, there would be more bad people you could eat,” Meredith said. “And I could go to secretarial school.”
“I like the woods. That’s why I came here. Do you want to be a secretary?”
“Not really, but it seems practical. I couldn’t do much about his bones, so I put them in a bag in the deep freeze. I was going to make stock out of them.”
Jane’s muscles tensed up again so fast she thought she heard her own bones creak. “Are you crazy? Someone’s going to find them.”
“His head’s in there, too. That’s why I thought we should leave. I don’t know how to cook brains.”
Meredith’s eyes were untroubled water, blue and calm. She stroked Jane’s arm slowly, and her other hand curled over her own stomach.
After a long moment, Jane offered, “My mother used to do lamb’s brains fried in butter.”
Meredith smiled again. “Oh, yes. That does sound good.”
She put her head down on Jane’s chest and closed her eyes, as if that settled everything. Jane waited as her body grew still warmer and heavier, and then lifted the gold mass of her hair out of the back of her overalls. It was as soft as the baby chicks Jane’s mother had raised before they lost the farm, before Jane got bitten, before everything. She wove her fingers through it and tried to think where to bury Bobby Crafton’s bones.