We, the Clock and the Moon Boys
Last night the Moon Boys stole one of us. Had to be thieved away because we're not old enough to disappear.
We were all together last night. That's when we decided not to do the chores. We're fair like that. We tossed the trash out the window into the alley, but that doesn't count as a chore. It's fun to watch the big bag tumble and guess where it's gonna land. But last night the bag just thunked down and it wasn't very fun at all. It didn't even hit a cat or anything so it almost felt like a chore.
We try our hardest to only do fun things because any day we could break a leg or catch a disease. Then we'd die. And our bodies would stink up the whole building. Even if none of that happens, any day could be the day we disappear, so why waste time on grown up chores like washing the windows? We only have one sponge and only so much water, so why waste it? And what are we going to look at through a clean window that we can't see through a dirty window? We see well enough to keep watch on our street corner and make sure no kid's aiming to move into our building.
Dirty's better anyway. If you're dirty, you're less grown up. Maybe then you won't disappear. With dirty windows, no one can peek in. No one can steal you away.
Good night, we say aloud. Good morning, we say aloud. We don't talk aloud much, except before bed in the dark, when we hold fingers to our lips to see if we are each making sound.
The Moon Boys thought they were clever. They thieved the one of us who was the best at racing under leaky bridges without getting scared. The one who was the best at making tricks and traps. The one who laughed loudest playing Tag. We play a lot of Tag. Up the stairs and through the kitchen and over the countertops and around all the apartments on our floor, and even the floors above and below us, now that we got the whole building. Tag helps us run fast across the highways and hop over all the mashed-up cars. Helps us climb rusty fences when the Moon Boys chase us. Our favorite game is Guess When the Electricity Will Be On, but mostly, we watch each other to make sure none of us disappear.
Everyone disappears when they grow up. You stop looking and they're gone. Everyone disappears, but not everyone gets thieved away.
We didn't know one of us was missing until sun-up this morning when the sliver of moon sliced a crooked line in the sky, and we woke up incomplete. We scrambled over each other, kicked through all the dust and double checked our locks and traps on each floor, and all the windows too for break-ins. Nothing. The icy crust on the windows hadn't even been touched.
The Moon Boys'll be angry when they find out their new recruit isn't a boy at all. It's almost funny. Except, it's not.
One. Two. Three. Four. Five. We count the remainder of us, all our lips forming the words. We know how to count even without grownups or the Moon Boys' Schools. We learned to count in the Time When There Was No Moon when the grownups disappeared. We ran out of words but not out of numbers. We counted all the grownups who vanished. We counted real high waiting for them to return. It was like playing hide and seek. Except, the grownups weren't hiding. They didn't fade or drift off like clouds. They didn't return with the sun. They're just gone, like they were never there by the sink washing dishes in the first place. And you begin to wonder if maybe the water was always just gushing.
Some kids ate all the ice cream in the freezer when they realized the adults weren't coming back, but we weren't those kids. Or maybe we were, and we just don't remember it because that was a long time ago, before we were us. Only, we think we'd remember what all that melty mint-chip ice cream tasted like. We'd remember the tip-toeing laughter of leaving every light on in the apartment, wondering when Daddy would reappear on the couch next to his cold coffee and when Mommy would return to finish scrubbing ketchup off the dinner dishes.
We say it was twelve days without the Moon. Day and night and day again and night again and never once did the moon appear.
The Moon Boys say it was fifteen days and teach that in their School but we don't talk to them. We see the grey mud, like masks over their faces and the way they carry guns. We hear them popping bullets at the dogs they can't tame and the squirrels they hand out for food. We've seen them teach the younger boys how to carry bats and slingshots, how to walk with stones swinging in heavy bags at their hips.
At first, when the moon came back but the grownups didn't, we thought we'd wait the Moon Boys out. More and more people disappeared when they got old and the Moon Boys were older than us. They'd age into adults and disappear before we did. But they've been recruiting. Kidnapping younger and younger. More boys for their army and School.
We've thrown cans and stinky tins at these young Moon Boys who call us girls and demand we give up the boy among us for recruitment. We laugh because there is no boy among us, we're all girls and one who is the best at pretend. The young Moon Boys sling stones at us. They swing their bats and pretend they're old enough for guns. But we're fast from so much Tag. We run and leap over fences and scramble up fire escapes all the way back home.
In the warm months, we've staked out at the Moon Boys School. They keep guards at the top of the stairs to let in all the Moon Boys and Moon Boy Girlfriends who've sworn loyalty. We keep a list in our minds of all the kids the Moon Boys won't take: us, girls who come alone, girls who say they're boys, us. We've tried to wait until the Moon Boys leave in rowdy rows for Church, but they just trade off guards, so even then we can't sneak in. They've got guard dogs too at all the other entrances. When we spy, we crawl and huddle behind the bushes the Moon Boys haven't trimmed yet.
When the Moon Boys clean the windows, they have lots of sponges and water. We cupped our hands under a leak in the hose and stole some to drink. We watched when the Moon Boys hung new doors to replace the ones that got busted in. What did they expect when they gave out peanut butter sandwiches, but only to Moon Boys and their families? We weren't the only ones who knew we weren't getting a turn.
The Moon Boys talk a lot about families and the future. Some of the Moon Boy Girlfriends stand on street corners and shout out teachings on the importance of good girl-mothers. The Moon Boys talk about teaching us to read again and opening more Schools. They pass out books to their new boy recruits. They say that soon, we won't have to play Guess When with the electricity and that there'll be more working cars and real food brought in on trucks. Some of the older Moon Boys know how to drive and have been clearing the highways. They say they're figuring out how to pump oil from the ground like grownups used to do. We hear their calls for recruits yelled down the streets.
But the Moon Boys don't want us for this future. And we'd rather stare into the black mouths of empty trucks than go to their School. We've decided. We're fair like that.
To reclaim the stolen one of us, we ready for war. We grab the crusty knives from the kitchen counter. We strap on chipped bike helmets and check that our armor is tight.
Then the Clock chimes. The Clock by the train station which has no hands chimes.
We grip our knives in our mouths and grasp our fingers and run to the train station. Everyone Who's Left would've heard it too and it'll be like a Gathering, only this time not to count who's disappeared.
As we climb through the back window and help the littlest of us off the last rung of the fire escape, we realize the Moon Boys might be planning to sneak attack us. They would know by now that the boy they thieved away is a girl like us. But we can always sneak attack their sneak attack if we're quiet and careful.
Only we're not quiet or careful. We don't really want to be. The quieter you are, the carefuller you are the more like a grown up you are and then you'll disappear next, maybe even before your time. It's only safe to go out if we're noisy like old trucks and puppies. We hold hands and stomp through the last bits of melting snow on the sidewalk even though the cold stabs our feet. We pass our pulse along the line in quick squeezes to keep warm. We squeeze to the chiming of the Clock.
The Clock chimes all the way to twelve. It doesn't tick like we can remember clocks used to, the ones by our beds and on the wall. If we press our tongues to the knives in our mouths, we can mimic the noise of the clocks we remember. But the stomp of running feet buries our clicking.
Some kids trip on the torn-up asphalt, the straggling electrical lines. Some kids just trip, rising out of rotten blankets, stepping away from convenience store stoops. But not us. We watch out for ourselves. We know how to jump the sinkholes on the side of the street and dodge decayed cars, and accordioned busses, crashed when the adult drivers vanished.
We clamber over car skeletons and rusted bones and remember parents singing hymns, singing the blues, singing rhymeless tunes we fell asleep to. We remember the smooth plastic smack of hitting alarm clocks and the way fire trucks screamed in the night. We remember grownups sitting us down with a guitar and teaching us to choke our fingers around its neck.
As we pass the drain pipes out of the Electrical Plant, we remember that hot water used to run from our sinks and plink into metal bowls, pulling the blood from raw meat. Parents placed fingers on faucet handles and radio knobs and sound leaked into our ears. We remember the way soda bubbles sounded coming up our noses and the way parents sang Happy Birthday. We stamp our feet louder so we forget the sound of birthdays. We stop our tongues from clicking.
And still, our heads are full as bowls of plinked water when we arrive with the first crowd to the train station underneath the Clock. Everyone Who's Left overflows from the station's platform and jostles us over the rusting train tracks and into the splintery woodchips and gravel.
Standing so close we're stepping on each other's toes, we notice how everyone's all thinner and more scabby than the last time someone called us together. There are fewer of us, but also new babies grabbing at their little girl-mothers' hair like they could pick out the lice. The babies cry awful noises out their pink mouths. Other girls are big bellied pregnant with their belly buttons pressed against their mothers' dresses. They're still thin and breakable looking, but more well fed than the rest of us 'cause the Moon Boys take care of them. The Moon Boys stopped kidnapping girls over a year ago. Now they just kidnap boys, especially boys who say they're girls, and now the Missing One of Us.
We pass another pulse along our sweaty hands. One of the girl-mothers glares at us when we step too close and her baby cries louder with its grubby mouth stretched wide. We're not afraid of some girl-mother. But we touch our bellies anyway because we could have hungry babies growing inside us next. We'd rather disappear. We've decided.
More girl-mothers arrive and stand by Moon Boy fathers. We haven't seen many girls outside, other than us. Used to be that a few Moon Boy Girlfriends would trade us food when they tried running away and needed a place to sleep. We kind of liked these girls, but we look and look and can't find them in the crowd.
We see the Moon Boys instead and how they dress funny, serious in their fathers' work clothes from the factories like they're already grownups. At least the girl-mothers wear bright things, flowy things the colors of candy.
They might be more well-fed and have candy. Not fair. We take the knives out of our mouths and spit at them, the girl-mothers and the Moon Boy fathers, whoever we can reach. The girl-mothers we hit spit back, but we spit farther and closer so we've won.
But no one really pays attention to our spit 'cause Everyone Who's Left starts searching the morning sky and all the whirly dawn colors. Maybe the chiming Clock means the grownups are coming back. Or maybe the moon will leave for good this time. We want to thieve the Moon Boys' guns to protect ourselves. The straps of our bike helmets bite into our necks when we look up, but we can't back out of our armor now.
More Moon Boys arrive. If we stand on our tiptoes and hoist the youngest of us on top of our shoulders, we can watch them come, filing in like shadows. They must've come from the far end of the city, herding in any stragglers who might've tried to raid the Moon Boys' School.
Then, there's no more noisy feet.
It almost feels like silence, the shifty sound of too many bodies crunching their toes on gravel. The Moon Boy leaders hop on concrete slabs and break the silence to gather all their recruits into an army in rows, their too-big shoes clomping away. They stare up at the Clock. They stare loudly.
We search among the Moon Boy ranks, but still can't find the missing one of us. She's not dead because as much as the Moon Boys point their guns and throw stones, they've got a No Murder Rule that usually works. So, where'd the Moon Boys stash her?
Then one of the Moon Boys hollers up to the Clock, "How'd you do that?"
And up, up straddling a mossy brick ledge and kicking her feet around the ears of a gargoyle is the Missing One of Us. Her cheek is pressed to the ragged glass face of the window beside the Clock and she smiles like a wagging dog's tail.
Without the rest of us, she looks winged, stretchy and long like chewed gum. We're too far down to see the acne streaked on her forehead or her lumpy knuckles from when she busted her hand open, though we knew every pimple when it was our acne and every lump when it was our knuckles. She has eyes dark as asphalt and hair kept close to her face with a careful careful cut of her knife.
Her big shirt is off, tied around her waist and her bare chest is shades lighter than the rest of her dark body, with funny nipples the color of bruises. We never noticed when she was us.
A different Moon Boy shouts at her. "How'd you do that?"
We barrel and elbow toward that Moon Boy because you don't shout at us!
But then we stop.
The Moon Boy means, how did she get the Clock to tick and chime. And, as much as we want to slice into the Moon Boy's face, we want to know how she did it too. The more we crane our necks to stare at the Handless Clock, the more we realize the Missing One of Us has foraged scraps of car metal, train tracks, and cracked branches to create new hands for the Clock, hands that slide like oil in the sunlight. She was the one who made the traps to keep our building safe.
Clock. Clock. The face goes Clock. We remember parents with their eyes on their watches, rushing us off to the dentist, to the grocery store, to school. But time mattered most to us counting the seconds down to midnight on our birthdays, because back then we wanted to be older. Happy birthday to us! Clock. Happy birthday to us! Clock. Happy birthday dear u-us, CLOCK. Happy birthday to us. CLOCK. CLOCK.
We look at each other, grounded, while the One of Us Who Was Not Stolen After All, rises ready to take flight.
The first Moon Boy shouts, "We need you at School! We need your talent to rebuild."
But the Moon Boys army shouts him down. They argue with too many Moon Boy voices crackling over each other. We need her. We can't take her. Girls make us look weak. We can make an exception. How will we cross territories with a girl among us?
The girl-mothers and Moon Boy Girlfriends shout too. They yell at the Missing One of Us, screaming over the cries of babies. Come down. Cover up. Stand tall. Jump, we'll catch you! Jump.
The first Moon Boy shoots his gun into the air. "We'll cover her up!" He declares. "We'll swear her to secrecy."
The Missing One of Us smiles so deep her eyes burrow into her cheeks. She peels down her pants and pees off the ledge, thrusting her hips forward so she doesn't piss on the pants we shared when she was us. A fine stream of piss arcs in the air.
It's a Moon Boy ritual and she's stolen it from them.
The Moon Boys drop their pants too, one after another and out-pee her. It's easier for them with pissers dangling between their legs. We try move our feet away from the steaming flow, but there's no place to go and we're not the only ones cringing.
But up above, the Missing One of Us tilts her head with a laugh. The Moon Boys didn't kidnap her, but they want her and she knows it. They want her if she'll pull her clothes back on and be the best at pretending to be a boy. They want her even without a pisser between her legs because if they can all pretend hard enough, she can be a Moon Boy. She can paint her face with mud, carry a gun, go to School and learn how to make the world shine again, even without the grownups. She can forget she was us.
We scrunch our faces at the Moon Boy's pissers and feel between our legs. We don't have a name for the little lipped mounds we grasp at. The Moon Boys don't want us.
The Missing One of Us speaks. "Castel!" She calls down from the ledge and raises her arms to the sun so her dark skin shines gold. "I am called Castel!" she says with force like a fist.
We try to imagine who she'd been before she was us. A knife-eyed kid with crooked teeth and long braids she sucked on at the tips. While dinner cooked, she burned her fingers on the stove top then sucked away the pain. She talked too loudly in food stores and ran through the candy aisle with fistfuls of Twizzlers. Her parents lashed out with belts and fists when there wasn't company and there usually wasn't company.
Did Castel tell us this story in the Days Without the Moon, or did we imagine it? If we imagine baby Castel will she exist?
"I am called Castel!" She throws her arms back like she means to fly, "And I control time! I bring back time to us all!"
When Castel speaks, we feel our lips, silent and still while her mouth curls and splits around her words. She looks older than even the oldest of us, all hairy armpits and hairy pisser-mound. She wears her authority like the sun on her bare chest and legs.
She's not us anymore. And the more we stare at her, the more we wonder if she was never a girl at all, but something else entirely. Not a boy either, but something else.
"Castel! Castel!" Everyone Who's Left takes up the cry, louder even than the babies. It's a chanting unlike music and more terrifying than Happy Birthday. It runs and spreads and our feet grow soggy in its noise.
The Moon Boys chant too. Slow and hesitant then roaring to drown out the rest of us, like it was their idea. They close their eyes. "Castel! Castel!" Do they see a boy? A girl?
We see Castel. We're staring at Castel.
We do not want time. We want all of us back. We want all of us to be girls again. We do not want to know how long we have before we disappear. We want all of us back!
But that's not what Everyone Who's Left wants.
We look at each other then look away. Castel's name breathes out our mouths. We can't stop. We are chanting at Castel flying in the sun. Castel's name streaming out of our bodies with a release like its own kind of piss.
Castel! Our mouths dance.
Their mouths. I feel my lips and they are still.
is an asexual feminist, whose writing has appeared in Unbuild Walls, Write Like You're Alive Anthology, Polychrome Ink, GNU, Voices and Visions, The Best of Loose Change Anthology
and others. She is a Fiction Reader for Five on the Fifth
, a Literary Magazine Reviewer for New Pages
, the blog managing editor for Luna Station Quarterly
and an editor for Polychrome Ink