One time, recalls the Moonman, his eyes unfocused over his yard, them aliens scored a direct hit on a troop ship that was skimming the Lunar surface at maximum speed. En route to a battle, the shadows of craters and the pocked warping of the land flitting by underneath the reinforcements. And then: yellow fire, pieces of metal and bodies, the fuel source went up and for some time afterwards the parts of those troopers rained down onto the theater of engagement, organics and fuselage all mixed up in some techno-macabre confetti; faces floating past, wires and name-tapes under the treads of boots and vehicles alike.
My god. The Moonman holds the half-empty beer up to his face to transfer some of its condensation onto his forehead before using its remaining cold to roll some relief into his back. The sun making the skin back there feel tight, as though with each wave of solar energy it were contracting, a tactile sense of being back in the atmosphere, back here; back-yard.
Back-hand: he tosses the now-empty can, and as it lands inside a pocket of the overgrown grass it hits, immediately upon disappearing from sight, what can only be inferred from the resonance therein as another can, previously disposed of thus. Descending the patio steps, the Moonman watches where he places his feet.
Headed for the corner of the yard, slowly, carefully: the shed. His granddad done built that and then the mean old sumbitch died. The Moonman’s daddy died, too, but he wasn’t old, just a drunk. Doc said it was the liver. The Moonman suspected foul play, courtesy of the first wave of them alien ass-holes up above. Standing ankle-deep now in the grass he cranes his neck and searches, his eyes shielded, for that chalky debris that sometimes like the limned prints of some artist’s charcoaled hands are left in an otherwise unmarred quadrant of the canvas. Up above they had briefings where the colonel himself addressed the troops.
“The enemy wants dearly to infiltrate your communities, your homes.” Up on stage at the base theater, pausing as he strides over and again the length of the wood to make a point. “Everything you cherish.” A rare treat for the troops, though only on account of the air-conditioning and the free popcorn, each man instructed to take a single box for himself as they filed into the auditorium and waited for the officers to be seated before likewise taking their seats. In between sitting and standing and clapping for each new speaker they munched, quietly, and even then drew glares from some of the NCOs posted at the aisles.
“They want into your sheds. They want into your homes.” Discrete units of speech delivered as though from the thumb he points forward atop clenched fingers, the colonel sounding more like the owner of a mid-sized car dealership in some Midwestern state, gearing them up for a Labor Day clearance event, than a leader of men into battle; in any event he will be insulated from the wholesale slaughter to come, the imagined glories of which not even the enforced reverence for his rank as witnessed on the hushed miens of the troops can muster any sort of fire, let alone a fever pitch.
“They want each of us dead. They want your homes and your neighborhoods to fly the Lunar flag.” The oratory in service of the conflict, older than time, like the Moon itself, where the aliens lay mines in the craters. And then the lifeless cheers after the bloodless speech, filler peppered with the talk of duty and valor and glory that had been too often trotted out to be any longer effective; and yet immune to these platitudes, and even wont to go so far, long after it was over, to make short work of the day’s speech with scorn for the commanding officer’s words, back in the relative privacy of the barracks, they yet shared one and the same–and would draw upon this same source when inevitably their hearts would falter–an intense desire to engage a truly dangerous enemy if only then to be allowed to go back home.
The Moonman meanwhile sitting at the head of the aisle, munching away with heavy eyelids and providing by way of the occasional turn of his head and the pointed look that followed a warning to some less-than-discrete whispering in his ranks. For him as well, those words from above were all bullshit and fluff, but the difference was this: he’d closed with the enemy, done battle at spitting distance. He knew the truth: the enemy was real.
They want into your sheds.
Shee-it. They ain’t getting near this shed no more, he thinks as he surveys the same, back down on the Earth. He walks across the yard, nearly jumping out of his skin before realizing the hose isn’t a snake, and makes like to open the shed so as to inspect its interior.
Before grandpa upped and kicked the bucket he’d made it a point to make clear in little Moonman’s mind that there building space weren’t for no fooling around.
Grandpappy settin’ in his old rocking chair on the front porch, the drinks staying colder for longer now that it’s dusk: “Don’t you never, ever get to foolin’ in there, boy. No playing grab-ass with none of them neighborhood harlots, nor mixing up chemicals and trying to start fires, neither.” His Southern twang making ‘fires’ come out like ‘fars.’ And even though the old man had been sitting in the shade of the front porch, looking out towards the neighbors’ lawns on this old piece of dead-end street that soon, as with the rest of the neighborhood, would see the grand exodus of its people antecedent the creeping blossom of its weeds, he’d said all this with his finger pointed forward from atop the arm rest, opposite the direction of the structure out back, that bony and weathered arm still strong after a half-century’s worth of physical labor.
Then the Moonman’s daddy: “You hear your grandfather, boy? ‘Yes’? Then what do you say? Boy, I swear to you,” his father shaking his head and leaning forward as though to get up from where he sat on the porch swing, a drink in two hands between his knees.
And little Moonman, wary of a fresh hiding, saying, Yes, Gran-pa-pa. I ain’t never gonna do no bad in that there shed. I ain’t never gonna bring no girls in there until that one time when I did, and then I only used my finger on her, but still there was that scandal afterwards, both sides at the fence line where the stockades give way to a waist-high chain-link, exchanging cuss words and ready to throw fists.
And some time later, we’d start doing it again.
“We got to be more discrete,” he’d whispered, the word as though plucked from the void and coming out almost pleadingly, barely above the sound of a breath. Meanwhile, hardly listening, or at least foregoing any sign that she heard, the neighbor’s girl audibly fighting with the frustration she felt at the speed it took to undo the Moonman’s belt and pants. Eyes on the prize. And him looking up suddenly with squinted eyes at the shed’s ceiling, the dust-coated spiderwebs in the pockets between each joist, not sure whom to thank or what to think regarding these catch-as-catch-can forays that invariably culminated in a pleasure nearly as bracing as the fear that roiled him in their midst.
Says the colonel up on the stage, the slickness of his features offset by the depths of the shadows therein as he points his hand like a blade: “God bless church, Moonman.” The Moonman the only person in the audience, surrounded by empty seats and bathed in red-hued shadow, watching that old colonel up there on the stage, his medals shiny and bright. “Even if you stay home because you’re pretending to be sick, you can still worship all the same.”
They’d worked out a code of signals over the fence, lawn implements and empty bags of potting soil left leaning against certain posts to convey a variety of meanings. There would forever after be a lingering suspicion and dull hostility on the part of both sides, and never again would an invitation to barbecue or drink be extended, but the code was never cracked.
And then high school, and then even less hope, and then the neighbors moved away…
Shaking his head, his hand on the shed door’s handle: No. A better thought, a more soldierly line of thinking: prior to checking in with command inside the shed, it was advisable that he should first take his protein pills. Never knew when an emergency engagement might tie you up for the rest of the day, getting all suited up and loaded out prior to pushing through the green fire and stepping directly onto the Moon…