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Death By Moonlight

by Henry F. Tonn

Part 1 appears
in this issue.


One day, when I was eleven, I overheard the old blind lady, Phoebe, from up the road, say to Daddy that somebody was prowling around her house at night. Phoebe was, like, eighty years old, and had been living on a disability check ever since her husband, Horace, passed away five years ago. Now she’d gotten afraid and was locking her door at night. Nobody around here ever locked their door at night. We all knew each other.

“You sure it ain’t raccoons, Phoebe?” Daddy asked. “You know how they get into everything.”

“No, Amos, it’s not raccoons,” Phoebe insisted. She was leaning on her cane and staring off into the distance like she always did when she talked to people. “I can hear footsteps on the porch.”

“You think they’re after something?”

“They might be after my porcelain, Amos. You know Horace bought those porcelain pieces when he was in the military in Japan, and they’re certainly the most valuable thing we have in the house. If I ever needed the money, I could sell them for a pretty penny in New Orleans.”

“How would somebody outside the community know about your porcelain, Phoebe?”

“Plenty of people know about the porcelain, Amos. We used to have a lot of company back in the old days. You remember how Horace used to love company.”

“I reckon. Well, you want me to send one of the boys to stay with you a couple a nights? Make sure you’re all right?”

“Well, thank you, Amos, but I’d rather have Natalie. She’s so sweet, and we’d get along real well, I’m sure.”

“Be all right... She can shoot, you know.”

“Yes, I know. And Horace’s shotgun is still loaded in the closet!”

So, there it was arranged. That night, the Cook prepared pork chops for dinner and then made a plate for Phoebe and me. I was looking forward to staying with Phoebe because she had this big house and I would have a room all to myself instead of having to share one with all my sisters.

Just as I was leaving, Daddy rose from the table and accompanied me outside to talk. Daddy was a real tall, thin man with stooped shoulders, and he got down on one knee to speak to me. “I think there’s nothing to this,” he said, holding my elbow with one of his big hands, “but if somebody tries to break in, you go right out the back door and come get me. I’ll take care of it.”

“Yes, Daddy.”

“And you be good to Phoebe.”

“I will.”

I had seen Phoebe’s porcelain before. It took up an entire glass cabinet in the living room and it was all bright and colorful. There was nothing like it in our whole town and everybody knew it. Phoebe’s house was nice to be in, and I hoped I would get to stay there for several weeks.

But on the fourth night, I woke up suddenly, because I thought I heard something outside. And, sure enough, when I went to the window and looked out, there he was, just a wandering around there in the bright moonlight.

I didn’t recognize him, and he was heavily dressed in a dark coat and raggedy jeans and he was wearing a wide brim hat that covered his face mostly. But I was sure I didn’t know him, and I knew he shouldn’t be out there.

Then I watched him walk up on the porch and twist the knob of the front door and then shake his head when he found it was thoroughly locked. He actually rattled it right softly, but it weren’t going nowhere.

Then he sort of tiptoed over to the very window where I was standing and peered in and looked all around. I got back in the shadows so he couldn’t see me and stood there with my heart just a pounding something terrible and I was shaking all over.

Phoebe was snoring in the next bedroom; she weren’t aware of nothing. But finally I watched the strange man try to push up the living room window and I knowed it had gone far enough and it was time for me to run and get Daddy like he told me.

So there I was, going out the back door when I froze and just stared off into space for a second with my hand right there on the doorknob. That was when the Defender came out. She weren’t frightened at all. In fact, she liked the excitement and was mad at me for being so scared and planning to run down and get my daddy.

I wanted to get my daddy just like he told me but Defender just closed the door again and turned to that little closet there by the side where Phoebe’s husband used to keep his shotgun, and there it was, just where it had always been.

She pulled it off the rack and cocked the trigger and just then she heard glass breaking in the front room. She creeped into the living room and saw that dark arm slipping through the broken pane and reaching down to unlatch the swivel lock.

Phoebe woke up and cried, “Natalie?” But the Defender just crouched on one knee and leveled the gun at that man as he was sliding his leg through the window. He was about halfway through, and she could see him clear as day in that bright moonlight, when she pulled the trigger.

I never heard such a loud noise in my life. It blasted him right back through the window and on to the porch and he landed there with a great big thud. And just as cool as a cucumber, Defender stood up and walked to the front door and said, “It’s all right Phoebe.” She unlocked the front door and peered outside and said, “No problem.”

There he lay, in a crumpled heap on his back, his arms stretched out over his head, blood just a-pouring from his chest. Defender walked over just as nonchalant as could be and kicked him one time to make sure he was dead. Then she propped the gun against the railing and commenced to start strolling casually down the road to tell Daddy like it weren’t nothing at all.

“Everything’s fine, Phoebe,” she called out over her shoulder. “I got him.”

We weren’t but just a block away, and she went into Daddy’s bedroom and whispered what had happened. He got up without a word and got dressed and then went next door to get his brother, and then the two of them and Defender proceeded back to Phoebe’s house.

There was already several men there when we arrived, all sort of standing around not knowing quite what to do. They had shooed the womenfolk and children back to their homes and now were just waiting to see what Amos was going to decide. Phoebe was standing there in the doorway wearing her bathrobe, her gray hair sticking out in every direction.

“What happened, Amos?” she said as we approached. She was staring off into the distance with her head cocked to one side like she always did when she asked a question.

“Natalie done shot that critter,” a man standing on the steps observed. He was wearing overalls but no shirt. “He look right daid to me, Amos.”

“Reckon,” Daddy said, shining a flashlight on the man’s face. Daddy didn’t talk much.

“Know ’im?”

“Cain’t say as I do.”

“Whatcha gonna do with ’im?”

“Reckon I’ll take ’im out. Y’all clean up this mess. Get me a sheet, Phoebe,” he ordered.

Daddy and Uncle Ray then wrapped the strange man in the sheet and carried him to the flatboat we kept in the back. I went with them. They put the body carefully in the bottom of the boat and then poled out into the water. The moon was shining on the surface of the water real bright that night, and it was eerie and beautiful. You could hear all kinds of creatures moving around in the dark, and calling out to each other.

We went to a place where everybody knew there were plenty of alligators and just tossed the body overboard and then poled away. We weren’t more than fifty yards gone before we heard them ’gators just a-tearing into his flesh. It was a godawful sound, and they were fighting each other. They were hungry.

“Damn,” Uncle Ray said. He just shook his head.

“Sumbitch shouldn’a been around here,” Daddy said, as his way of explaining the whole thing.

“Damn,” Uncle Ray said again, still shaking his head. He was smaller than my daddy, but real wiry and strong, and he could pole a boat in the swamp better ’n anybody.

When we got back, several of the men had already cleaned up most of the mess. Phoebe was just a-standing there.

“Them ’gators hungry tonight, Amos?” the same man asked. He was picking up tiny glass shards from the porch and gave us a toothless grin.

“Didn’t hear ’em complaining none,” Daddy said.

One of the men went to his house and came back carrying several panes of glass, which he sealed into the place of the shattered ones. Then we all picked up the last of the shards and hosed down the porch completely. By three-thirty we were all done and everybody began to drift back to their homes.

“You be needin’ Natalie to stay with you the rest of the night, Phoebe?” Daddy asked as he was getting ready to walk back down the road.

“That would be nice, Amos,” Phoebe said. “My nerves are a little on edge just at the moment.”

“Be all right then,” he said. “Have a good evening.” And he sorta waved his hand, though Phoebe, of course, couldn’t see him.

The next morning I woke up feeling perfectly good. The Cook fixed Phoebe and me bacon and eggs and cheese grits for breakfast. I didn’t have to go to school because it was Sunday.

Nobody in the community ever talked about the incident. They went about their business like nothing ever happened. But something changed inside of us. You see, the Defender was hard enough for us to control before. Now she’d gotten a taste of blood...

Copyright © 2015 by Henry F. Tonn

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