“And the Moon Shimmered”—Behind the Story
It started with a contest.
I was living/teaching in Costa Rica at the time and I had just been accepted into University of Tampa’s MFA program. The first term was about to begin and they had smartly partnered with Creative Loafing, Tampa Bay’s alt weekly newspaper, in offering a creative writing contest. I believe the prompt involved heat or temperature.
While driving from San José to Guanacaste (and Playa Hermosa) for a weekend getaway before returning to Tampa for the MFA’s start, heinous traffic turned a three-hour drive into a nearly six-hour drive. In the backseat, where I may have been more than a little warm from a stagnating, car-crawling lack of air flow, my mind turned toward that prompt. And I imagined a Halloween costume that would be stupid-hot. Over the next few hours, I “wrote” a good chunk of that story in my head, jotted down some notes in Guanacaste so I wouldn’t forget, then, upon returning to Tampa, started writing it out.
As I began adding more flesh to the characters and to the time and place of the rough story, it seemed I also needed to get some 1980’s nostalgia out of my system. That early draft was replete with references to Van Halen, KISS, Happy Days, The Black Hole, Tomb of Dracula (comic books), and various Atari games. But it was the kid’s werewolf Halloween costume that quickly stole the show and drew my attention. It felt like there was too much 1980s and not enough of this kid’s macabre outfit—the references were more distracting than anything—so some of the ’80s got trashed. While this story, like all the others in Mistakes by the Lake, is set in Cleveland, much of the descriptions of the park and its wilderness trails derive from memories of my family’s brief stay in Des Moines, Iowa, where a small group of us would play and explore outside from sunup to sundown.
I finished the first draft of the story too late to submit to that Creative Loafing contest. In retrospect, that was a good thing; the original draft was pretty terrible.
This story originally appeared, in slightly different form, in Bridge Eight Literary Magazine.
“And the Moon Shimmered”—Excerpt
It was unsure of its new form, but it was growing to enjoy it.
Its escape, its transformation, had started in the bathroom. No, earlier than that, it knew, but the bathroom is where things really took hold.
His mom had placed the box between him and the TV. “You ready?” Lawrence ignored her, continued to push the joystick buttons, battled the invaders from space on his Atari even though he couldn’t see the screen.
When he put the joystick down, he opened the box and found hair. A lot of hair. Or was it fur? And, oh, did it smell. He’d had a dog, once, for a few weeks after Leo, his parents, he thought, thinking taking care of something else, showing him love, would help him. It tore up the house, pooped and peed everywhere, seemed to always have a wet dog smell, and was finally taken away when it was clear Lawrence lacked any attachment to it. Lawrence covered his nose and asked, “What is it?”
“A werewolf,” his mom said.
The costume was in one piece, like the pajamas he wore when he was five. But it had paws, a snout and—
“I made it,” she said.
—the head which would flip over to cover his head and face. The eyeholes didn’t seem like they’d line up correctly.
“The hair, the fur, it’s real. I’ve been saving it at the shop.”
Lawrence touched one tooth with his finger. It was sharp.
“The teeth? Those are real, too. From the vet’s. Next door?” Lawrence’s mom sighed. “Leo always wanted to be a werewolf.”
Lawrence didn’t want to wear this thing. It smelled, it was hot outside, hotter than normal for October, he’d look ridiculous, he wasn’t Leo. “I wanted to be The Fonz.” He raised his thumb, began a prolonged, “Aaaay—”
She snatched the costume. “Lawrence, I knew you’d find a way to—” She squeezed her eyes shut. “You just can’t do this one thing, can you.” It wasn’t a question.
Lawrence found himself grabbing the costume, saying how Leo would’ve loved it, how the fangs were scary, and he watched himself, as if separate from the situation, move upstairs and into the bathroom to change. He always did this, it seemed. He always gave in. He gave in to his mom now, he gave in to Leo then. Mostly. And now Kelly and Chas were coming, perhaps to make things right, perhaps to include him, finally, perhaps to forgive him, even though he wasn’t sure he did anything wrong. He needed a costume, he decided, or Kelly and Chas would certainly not let him come along. This, this, this thing, he thought, was better than further isolation.
In a few minutes, in the dim lights of the bathroom, the black-grey fur replaced Lawrence’s skin: first his legs, then his back, arms and chest. For a final moment, he had two heads: his and an eyeless one dangling down his back. He felt different, secure, maybe, or was it a sense of freedom? Finally, Lawrence merged the two heads into one. It twisted its head, fastened its neck, pawed at its fur.
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