Leanna knew she was a special little girl, because the moon spoke to her. She knew that it shouldn’t, and that she shouldn’t listen, but none of that stopped it from happening. She drew pictures at school of her talking to a big moon face, and the moon saying things like “try eating those soap suds, Leanna,” or “that dog wants a bite of plasticine, go on,” and in the pictures she would go ahead and do it. The moon, after all, was her friend.
But it wasn’t always so nice.
She was 5 when it told her to kill her little brother. Her little brother was 6 months old. He lay in a cot and gurgled all day, while her parents fussed over him like he was a box of chocolates or something.
“Go on,” said the moon, sidling up to her all smooth as silk one night while she sat on her windowsill and drew his portrait. “Go on, everybody else is doing it.”
“Killing their little brothers, dummy.”
“Because it’s cool,” said the moon. “Everybody will want to be your friend if you kill your little brother.”
“But he makes them happy like a box of chocolates,” said Leanna. “If he’s dead they won’t be happy like they are now.”
“So?” said the moon.
“So everyone likes chocolate,” said Leanna, “and they’re sad when they run out.”
“They’ll buy more chocolate,” said the moon.
“Maybe,” said Leanna, and went to stand next to her baby brother’s bed. He was sleeping. He didn’t smell like chocolate. He smelt like milk. She touched his warm little head.
“Go on,” urged the moon, “try it, just once.”
Leanna’s cat arrived. He jumped up on the bed and looked up at Leanna in that ludicrously curious but I’m-in-control-around-here way he had.
“What are you doing?” he asked. He had a fancy English accent.
“The moon wants me to kill my brother,” she said back.
“Tut tut,” said the cat, whose name was Leonides. He was a cat of few words.
“The moon says it’ll make me cool.”
“Cool? Cool is for trilobites, frozen in the Arctic.”
“Really?” asked Leanna. “What’s a trilobite?”
“Aw, look at him,” said Leonides, patting at the baby with his paw. “How cute.”
“He is kind of cute.”
“So he is,” said Leonides, and went to sleep on the baby’s arm.
Leanna looked up at the moon.
“What do you think?” she asked.
“Talk to your cat friend,” said the moon huffily.
“I try and make you cool, and see what I get.”
“Cool is for trilobites.”
Leonides opened on eye. “You’re not talking to that moon, are you?”
“Um,” said Leanna.
“That’s very rude,” said Leonides, then went back to sleep.
Leanna went to her room, and crawled back into bed.
The turning point came when Leonides got the flu. Her parents said he’d be OK but he had to go to the vets.
“Pip pip,” he said weakly as they carried him away in the cat box. His whiskers were dipped and sad-looking, and that made Leanna sad too.
The moon tried to cheer her up. “Let’s play a game of noughts and crosses,” it said.
“Sure,” said Leanna, so they played.
“Now let’s play hangman,” said the moon.
“Sure,” said Leanna.
“How about tag?”
“Now let’s kill your little brother.”
“Sure,” said Leanna, and went into his room, moon shadows stippling the cot, cartoon nightlight grinning inanely in the gloom. She took the pillow in her hands and leant over the bars.
“That’s good,” said the moon. “Good girl.”
“Hmm,” said Leanna, and put down the pillow. “I don’t think Leonides will be too happy if I do this.”
“Really?” asked the moon, putting on a big show of being surprised. “Why do you think that?”
“I don’t know,” said Leanna, “but he’s poorly and I don’t want him to be sad.”
“I’m sad,” said the moon.
“No you’re not,” said Leanna, “you’re just a chunk of rock in the sky.”
The moon fell silent.
“You’ve hurt my feelings,” he said. “I’m very sad now.”
“I’m sorry,” said Leanna resolutely, “but it’s the truth.”
The moon made a sobbing sound, but Leanna knew that rocks didn’t cry, so she ignored it and went to sleep instead.
The next night the moon was happy. It told her Leonides would be back that day, and she should get a surprise for him. He would love it, said the moon. Leanna was overjoyed with the idea. Her two friends, finally getting along!
“This is the surprise,” said the moon. “Go to the cellar and find one of dad’s mouse traps. Put it in Leonides’ cat litter. Make sure you cover it up.”
“He’ll like that?” asked Leanna.
The moon beamed down at her. “Sure he will. Cats love mice. Give him a mouse in his cat litter tray, he’ll be your bestest friend for ever and ever.”
“Good!” said Leanna, beaming back. “I will! I’ll do it right now!”
“There’s a good girl,” said the moon.
Leonides arrived back the next day. He was a little shaky and weak. “What what?” he said when he saw Leanna, and she ran over and gave him a big hug. He let her stroke him all she wanted, even though he was tired. She wanted so much to tell him about his surprise, and how from now on he and moon would be best friends, but she held back. She wanted him to be really, really surprised.
It happened the next day when she was at school. Her mother drove up and picked her right out of a math’s class. It was very exciting. Then she told her Leonides had gotten stuck in a mousetrap and was in big trouble. He’d gone back to the vets, and they were helping him. Leanna began to cry.
“Is he OK?” she asked. She didn’t understand the connection between the mousetrap she had put in his cat litter tray and the mousetrap that had hurt him so badly.
“We hope so, honey,” said her mother. Her little brother gurgled happily in the back seat.
“Your father thinks he must have dropped one in her cat litter when he was setting them with cheese in the kitchen. He’s so sorry, honey.”
“Mouse trap,” said Leanna, and started to cry.
At the cat hospital a big man with a little stethoscope round his neck was friendly and gave her a sweet, introduced her to Puffy, the big fat white cat that lay slumped in the waiting room. He asked her if she thought he looked like a cream puff, and she said yes, and then cried some more. He said it would be OK.
Her father came out of the operating room, her mother stood up and they whispered something quietly. Her little brother squirmed beside her, tried to eat his fist. Then her mother knelt down and put her hands on Leanna’s knees. She could see sparkly light in her mother’s eyes.
“I’m sorry, honey,” she said. “Leonides won’t come home with us tonight.” She looked up at her father, who nodded. “He’s got to go away for a while.”
“When will he come back?” she asked, catching the feeling of dread though she didn’t understand it.
Her mother shook her sad head. “He won’t come back. He has to go for adventures, now. Adventures in the big wide world.”
“No,” said Leanna. “He likes mouse traps. He wants to stay with us now. He loves me, and he’s friends with the moon too. You’re lying.”
Her father knelt down. “Honey,” he said, “Leonides does love you. He told me, right before he left. But he has to go now. He doesn’t want to, but he has to. It’s something every cat has to do, some time.”
“I don’t want him to go,” said Leanna.
“I know honey,” said her father, and hugged her. Her mother hugged her too. It was a big sandwich hug, but it didn’t make Leanna feel better. She wanted to hug Leonides. But he was leaving her. He hadn’t liked her surprise. She started to cry again.
At home that night the moon tried to comfort her. “There there,” it said. “Don’t cry.”
“He’s gone,” she said.
“He must have been bored with you.”
“He didn’t like the surprise.”
“And after you tried so hard to get it ready for him!” said the moon, putting on its best sympathetic face. “He mustn’t have really loved you then after all.'”
“No,” she said, eyeing the moon fiercely. “He did, that’s not true. He just had to go. My father said he had to go on adventures.”
“Yes, yes,” said the moon effusively. “Of course, yes.”
“He didn’t like the surprise,” said Leanna. “It was your idea.”
“Was it?” said the moon. “Are you sure?”
“Um,” said Leanna.
“You’re not really sure, are you? No. Of course not. Silly little Leanna, always forgetting. You know what you need? A good night’s sleep.”
Leanna yawned. “That’s right,” she said.
“I’ll hum for you,” said the moon, and he hummed the alphabet song, then twinkle twinkle little star. Leanna thought she was about to fall asleep, and she felt quite nice for a while. Then her little brother screamed, and started to cry. She heard her parents fumbling around in the dark.
The moon looked down at her. “I’m so tired,” it said.
“Me too,” she said.
“You know what you have to do, don’t you?” it said.
“Leonides wouldn’t like that.”
“Leonides left you, Leanna. There’s only me now.”
“He’s so noisy,” she said sleepily. “He’s never quiet.”
“I know, I know,” said the moon greedily.
“And they never listen to me anymore. It’s only him. Even for poor Leonides, they brought him along. It isn’t fair.”
“He makes it unfair.”
“I miss Leonides.”
“Tonight,” said the moon. “We do it tonight.”
“OK,” said Leanna sleepily.
Her little brother fell silent an hour later. She watched the glowing hands of her Mickey Mouse clock turn slowly round, unable to sleep. She waited for her parents to go back to bed, then she took a pillow and walked into her brother’s room. The moon shone at her happily through the window.
“Go on,” he said. “It’ll all be better when you do.”
“I know,” said Leanna, stepped up to the crib. Her baby brother was still awake, and looked up at her curiously. His fat fingers balled into fists and screwed into his eyes.
“Hurry,” said the moon.
“Leonides said he was cute,” she said.
“Leonides is dead,” hissed the moon.
“What?” she asked. The room seemed suddenly colder.
“Erm,” said the moon, guilty eyes flashing, “erm, I said, Leonides is in bed.”
“No you didn’t,” she said. “You said he was dead.”
“I did not.”
“You wanted me to put a mouse trap in his litter tray when he was sick because you said he’d like it, but now he’s dead.”
“It was a surprise for him,” whined the moon.
“And now he’s dead. I miss him so much! And now you want me to kill my little brother too. What if I miss him as well? What if I miss these fat little hands? He’s the box of chocolates. He is. What if I miss that?”
The moon’s face turned dark. Clouds blossomed around it. “Do it,” it said, its voice rough and scary. “You silly little girl, do it now!”
“No,” said Leanna, “I won’t,” and she threw the pillow on the floor, stormed out of the room.
Behind her the moon watched over the baby in the crib. “Then I will,” it said, and reached out a silver finger, slender beam of moonlight, and stroked the baby on the lips.
The baby started to turn blue. It coughed a little. It choked. The moon watched.
Leanna heard the noise from her room, burrowed under the blankets so the moon’s voice wouldn’t reach her. But she heard her little brother’s little wet cough. She threw the covers free and ran back into his room. The moon was grinning over the head of the cot.
“I’ve done it for you,” he said. “You can thank me later.”
Leanna looked from her baby brother turning blue to the pale smug moon and for the first time in her life felt hatred. “I’ll kill you,” she hissed, and the moon flinched, bobbing in the sky. “I’ll kill you.” Then she screamed.
Her parents were in the room in less than a minute. She pointed to her brother and screamed. Her father picked up the baby while her mother cried out mad directions. Pinch his throat. Pat his back. Clear his airways. Hang him upside down.
Within 5 minutes they were in the car and racing along through the night, Leanna in her nightgown and her parents in their pajamas. There was no traffic and the world seemed different to Leanna like that. Everything was dark and zipping by outside.
After they reached the hospital it was a blur of emergency rooms and doctors and attendants, all shuttling them with barked directions and violent urgency from room to room. Finally, they were seated in a waiting room, harsh white lights glaring down, and Leanna fell asleep in her orange plastic seat.
When she woke up she was a hero. Her brother was alive. She was happy. Her parents hugged her and hugged her and thanked her and thanked her. She was just happy her brother was still alive. She went in to see him, and he gurgled at her. His face was slimy with baby food but she kissed him anyway. He smelt like milk. It was the happiest day of her life, but there was one thing she couldn’t forget, and that stayed in the back of her mind throughout all the happiness and hugging.
She didn’t go to school that day, and it was cloudy that night so she didn’t see the moon. She knew he was hiding. He was afraid of her.
The next day at school she gathered up all the pictures of the moon she had drawn. She even took down the ones from the walls that the teacher had proudly posted. She took them home, and put them with a pile of all the others, countless sheaves and scraps of paper she’d covered over with the moon while doodling late at night.
She put the pile next to the windowsill with a pair of scissors, and she waited there after her parents had put her to bed. She heard them fussing with her brother, who they’d moved into their room. She felt alone, but she knew there was something she had to do. So she waited.
She must have fallen asleep because she woke to the whispering of the moon over her shoulder. “Leanna,” he sang. “Leanna, my baby girl.”
“I’m not a baby,” she said.
“Of course not,” said the moon. “I missed you last night. We need each other, don’t we? Where would be, if we didn’t have each other?”
“I don’t need you,” she said.
The moon tutted. “Of course you do. Who will comfort you when he cries next door? Who will sing you to sleep while he bawls? Who will love you when all they care about is him.”
“Not you,” said Leanna, took the scissors to the first piece of paper, and started cutting out the moon.
The moon screamed as the silver blades touched its image. “What are you doing?” it cried. “Stop it! It hurts!”
Leanna cut the tiny moon free and screwed it up in her hand. The moon in the sky crumpled for a second, paled, then looked down on her with fog-washed eyes. “Why are you hurting me?” it asked. “I love you. I need you.”
“I’m sorry,” said Leanna, “but I have to.”
She cut on. With every moon sliced free and crumpled or torn or chopped, the moon in the sky shook and dwindled, and its glimmer faded and its voice grew softer and softer until Leanna could barely hear it.
“You’ll never forget me,” it whispered, as she cut the last circle free, tore it into little pieces. Then it was silent. Leanna’s room was silent. She let out a sob, briefly, then stifled it, crawled into her bed, and fell asleep.
Later that night Leanna’s mother looked in on her. She saw the pile of paper cuttings by the windowsill, and the rumpled form of her daughter splayed in her bed covers. She walked over, tidied up the mess and dropped it in the trash. Then she sat by Leanna and stroked her sleeping face.
“Oh honey,” she said, softly. Leanna whimpered in her sleep. A silent tear rolled down her mother’s face. “My baby,” she said, then kissed Leanna’s forehead, left the room.
Leanna dreamed of Leonides. He was an explorer. He had such amazing adventures, and he told her about them all. She drew the pictures when she woke up. Soon her little brother joined them on their adventures, then her mother and father too. She drew them all, led by the fearless Leonides, marching through glaring white mazes and empty lands at night.
She never drew the moon again.
You can see all MJG’s stories here: [album id=6 template=compact]