It was a beautiful night in early August; the sky was an ebony sheet that stretched across the horizon in somber silence. The moon was so full it appeared fat―as if it had swallowed every star in heaven and glowed purely from the pleasure of consumption. Nick Dowling gazed up at the sky through the windshield of his new Jeep Cherokee. His wife, Jenna, had just sent him out for a quart of milk. He was pleased to go, happy to be driving out under the stars on the back roads of New Kingston. Except on this particular night, there were no stars―just the moon, contently serene as it trailed his car like a wayward balloon.
Nick tapped his hands on the steering wheel and started singing along with the radio. "Goodbye Miss American Pie" he sang out. The old nostalgic lyrics filled the evening stillness, mingling with the crickets' song, and the hooting of the owls.
Nick was pleased: clear reception was not always a reliable luxury in the Catskill Mountains of Upstate New York. The road ahead was empty. His beams were high and his speed, slow. The last thing he needed was a startled deer to show up in his headlights. The time off was exhilarating: there were so many things he could get to, like fixing the lawn mower and painting the shed. This was the first of several long weekends he and Jenna were able to steal since they bought their second home in the mountains. He often had to work weekends to get his job done, a job he found boring and unsatisfying, not like doing something creative, but an executive's salary was nothing to scoff at. At least his saved up vacation days provided a perfect opportunity to hit the highway, leaving Manhattan's sweltering concrete behind.
The music changed abruptly, the scratchy sound it made reminded him of an old phonograph needle skipping over a record. Billy Joel's "She's Got A Way About Her" came through the speakers with only a slight static sound, like cackle. This was the first song Nick heard after waking up in a beat up hotel room so many years ago, dead broke. All he owned back then was a pair of jeans and a rusty Gillette.
"I don't know what it is," he sang out, just as his headlights illuminated a barely visible road on his left―almost entirely hidden by trees.
"Looks familiar," he said aloud, smiling, as if someone sat beside him who might have agreed.
"I know that road," he whispered. He hunched over the steering wheel and slowed down for a better look. The road was mysteriously beautiful, framed as it was by pine trees that swayed ever so gently in the summer evening air. The impulse hit him like a spray of cold water and he braked.
"Oh, what the hell," he said as he backed the jeep up. This impulsive action was very unusual for Nick who usually thought things through a thousand times before he did them. But on this particular evening, he barely gave it a thought before he took a sharp left onto the road. Perhaps there was something about the moon that night, close enough to touch, a flirtation he could not refuse.
"Have I lost my mind?" He laughed, looking around, seeing not much of anything that warranted fascination.
The road was narrow and dark but he had just enough light from the moonlit sky to read the barely visible road sign: Fox Hollow.
Nick switched off the radio; he'd lost the clear station right after he made the turn, and the static was irritating. Slowly, he drove up the bumpy road. The night seemed wrapped in mesh, opaque and colorless. He accelerated his speed just a bit, attempting to see beyond his headlights, but there was nothing before him but the adumbration of trees: it seemed like hundreds of them were standing tall against the sky, bending and tipping their branches into the quiet swirl of the evening wind like visions between this world and the next.
The moon hovered at the end of his sightline like a big mysterious white ball, descending into the Earth, as if being swallowed. But the edges of the night were dull. Everything around him looked like a poorly developed print. Nick rubbed his eyes and watched as night's illusionary mist played havoc with his imagination and shadow monsters came out of the darkness, as tall as giants.
Something flashed through Nick's mind with velocious intensity. Was there magic on this road? All of a sudden, he had a childhood memory. It came out of nowhere: a boy fearing dragons in the night and dreaming of mythical sword fights in mystic forests with a moon as elusive as this one. Was he that boy? His memories of childhood didn't exist; his early life was a void. Yet there it was: a vision of sword fighting with a friend so small and light― Sir Lancelot in dungarees with his mother's pot for a shield.
Nick felt a sudden chill. Leaning in to switch off the air conditioning, a flash of light appeared on his hand, swiftly expanding, trapping his body in its glow, a blaze of cold and paralyzing illumination. His body froze. He held his breath. In moments, the light was everywhere, consuming the darkness as if from a hundred headlights.
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