“Mǣnōn concede to me the quietude to recognize the effects I should not alter; the bravery to transform the conditions I am able to; and the insight to recognize the distinction,” he leaned against the chain link fence, covered in less blood than he first imagined and prayed to the moon.
Not the Moon, not Luna, the other one, Mǣnōn, the illusory moon that sat back and to the left, that was only visible every four years on the twenty-ninth of February.
He had never been so disappointed in himself as he stared at the nubiles sauntering in and out of the afterhours bars and nightclubs that lined the strip. The passersby, those who bothered to toss him a sideward glance, sussed him as an alcoholic, but his problem was far more severe than that.
His affliction stemmed from the fact that everyone had two sides, no matter how open and honest they appeared to be. There was the side they showed the world and the beast side that only revealed its face when they were all alone. And it wasn’t necessarily as evil as it sounded, but it was there nonetheless. And there was no way of really knowing someone’s true nature unless they revealed it to you.
But he saw it. On this night, with the gift he had been granted by the Goddess of a moon visible to no one but he, which wasn’t a present as much as a curse that gnawed at his sanity. He saw the true faces of evil that hunkered down within the tall brush of fashion, cosmetics, and innocence. And sometimes the evil saw him.
He caught sight of a woman as she appeared from one of the clubs, ultraviolet stamp still moist on the back of her hand. Ten years his junior, she was stunningly beautiful in an exotic way that unsettled him. Her auburn hair cascaded over the shoulders of her white satin dress and gave her the appearance of an old-world masterpiece come to life.
She walked past a Chinese take-out joint and the exposed ATM before she realized she was being followed. When she turned, he knew she had seen him for what he was as clearly as he had spotted her. Her countenance shifted from serene beauty to that of a woodland creature frozen in the headlights of a speeding vehicle. But it wasn’t fear that registered in her eyes—she was making a decision, flight or fight.
The moment her face tightened with determination, he knew she would rabbit. And she did. She spun on the balls of her feet, kicked off her heels and bolted out into the street, dodging cars as she ran against the traffic, inhuman toenails ripping into the tarmac.
He grinned as he whipped out past the parked cars; he loved it when they ran. His reflexes, sharp normally, were amped under the light of the illusory moon and hope blazed in his mind as he was about to overtake her easily. In this mode, before what had to happen actually happened, he saw himself as a savior. What he had to do was in everyone’s best interest, even hers. He would not fail this time. He intended to honor his duty. And as he was about to lay his hand on her shoulder and set things right—he heard a wet thumping sound and felt pain down to his marrow as a car bumper made contact with his hip and sent him sprawling into a lamppost.
Nausea and blood mixed in his mouth and as he looked up through blurred vision he could just make out her lithe frame turning down a side street. A voice cried out amidst the murmurs in the background, I’m sorry! it said. You came out of nowhere! I didn’t see you in time!
Voices shouted and people rushed to the scene from both sides of the street. He fought the pain and forced himself to his feet. He had to leave before the police showed up. Too many witnesses. He couldn’t have explained why he was chasing the girl in the first place. Who would have believed him? To bystanders, he surely must have looked like a psycho ex-boyfriend or worse, a perverted sex deviant.
He kept his head low and shielded his face from camera phones as he pushed through a crowd of people asking if he was okay, hobbling towards the side street, hoping against hope that he hadn’t lost her trail.
He still couldn’t fathom why he was chosen. Had he been a cop or any other branch of law enforcement, this might have been so much easier. Easier to pursue, apprehend and deal with a special brand of evil one night every four years. But as a thirty-seven-year-old accountant, what was he supposed to do? How long could this go on before he was caught, or even worse killed? He had no social life and how could he? This thing made him unfit for human consumption. And what if he managed to hook up with a woman only to see, come February twenty-ninth, what sort of demon lurked beneath her cool surface? He knew he had to quit at some point. Maybe tonight, if he was able to resolve this in time he would petition Mǣnōn to find a replacement.
Along with his heightened abilities came the urge. He needed to scour the streets and rid the city of pestilence on this very special of nights. It was a basic bodily function to him, as much a part of his continued existence as breathing.
He limped around the corner, his pace picking up as his fractured bones knitted themselves back together and his muscles and internal organs returned to their optimal state. The neighborhood wasn’t the safest to begin with and those with sense stayed on the strip in crowded well-lit areas. The side street was dark, streetlamps busted on both sides, which was probably why she chose it to escape into, to hide in.
He moved into the street and swiped a finger across a bit of dug up tarmac, touched it to his tongue, and smacked his lips, processing the taste of her. Motionless, twilight settled on him as he cleared his mind—then he picked up her trail.
“You don’t have to do this,” the woman called out from somewhere in the dark.
“Yes, I do,” he stood at the mouth of the alley and scanned the blackness as his eyes adjusted to the starlight. She was well hidden.
“I haven’t hurt anyone.”
“Yet,” he spat. “You should come out, you really should. It’ll be so much easier for you than if I have to tear this alley apart to find you.”
The woman eased herself to her feet, stepping from a darker shadow within the shadows, shaking off the alley debris like an octopus coming out of hiding.
“Please, let me go,” her voice, as soft as a butterfly’s footfall, was the sincerest plea he had ever heard from one of these demons. She stared at him, eyes watering, lips pursed into a small quivering bow. It was clear she wanted to live.
“That isn’t the way this works. The earth must be cleansed of all unnatural beasts.”
“W-wait…” her shaky hand reached down to fumble at the clasp of the handbag slung across her shoulder.
He thought she was going for some sort of weapon but what could she have been carrying in such a tiny purse that could hurt him when he was like this, at the zenith of human abilities? Although he wasn’t afraid, his body tensed reflexively, ready to pounce. And he was hit with that thought again, of how incredibly stunning his prey was even in her beastly form. Her hair, slimy from alley gunge, hung in her face like a tangle of dead eels but it couldn’t hide her eyes which were larger than he had ever seen on a living creature.
“All beasts must be cleansed? No exception?” she asked.
“Have you seen yourself?” the woman pulled a compact mirror from her bag and held it up, catching the faintest bit of night light.
His expression shifted from predator to absolute horror. His jaw clenched, clamping down upon a shriek, and the grip loosened on his anger. He dropped down on his haunches. She was right. In the reflection, he could see that he was a beast, no different than she. It took a beast to catch a beast, he supposed. And he did the only sensible thing he could have thought to do.
Up against the chain link fence, he dug his claws into his own chest and tore out his heart, marveling at how little blood there was.
“Living one moon at a time; enjoying one solstice at a time; tolerating adversity as the conduit to tranquility; acquiring, as you do, this aberrant humanity as it is, not as I would wish it; believing that you will set all things right if I submit to your command; that I may be satisfied in this life and rewarded with you forever in the next,” his guttural voice trailed off to a whisper. And when he had completed his prayer, Mǣnōn, the illusory moon, embraced his spirit with open arms.
Text and Audio ©2014 – 2021 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys
About Beast of The Illusory Moon:
Ideas, or story inspirations, come from the unlikeliest of places and often strike when you least expect it. This one came about while I was viewing a trailer for the Kevin Costner movie, Mr. Brooks, that begins with him reciting the Serenity Prayer while staring at bottles of liquor on a shelf, so the logical assumption is that he’s an alcoholic but his actual problem runs along a different, darker line—if you’re interested in the true nature of his problem, view the trailer, the movie isn’t the subject of this introduction, the thought that it inspired is.
The trailer made me think about the dichotomy, the two mostly equal parts of peace and war, love and hate, and the black and white delineation of so-called good and evil that exist within us all.
The story itself doesn’t really tackle or explore the characteristics of duality but that’s the nature of an idea, isn’t it? It never ends up on the page the way it began life in your grey matter before being put through the meat grinder process of dramatic structure.
C’est la narration.