The night I ran away was a Sunday, October 18, 11:38 PM. I remember because my little brother gave me his watch before I left, and that’s what it said.
We stood in the field behind the house of the people who pretended to be our parents. The grass chafed at the soles of our feet. A low wind pricked and tingled our skin. Under the glowering red moon we felt small and fragile, like paper dolls stripped of their clothes.
I had a ratty sack slung over my shoulder and a water bottle I’d taken from our foster father’s cabinet. It would last until I got to the next town, maybe longer if I was careful.
“You won’t be angry with me?” I said to my brother.
He shook his head.
“Promise.” He tried to smile, but he looked weak and sickly in the muddy light of the moon.
“You know I’m coming back for you, don’t you?”
I looked up and pointed. “You watch the moon,” I said. “Watch it every night. When it turns red again, come out here and wait for me.”
Suddenly he reached up to hug me, and I held him awkwardly, as if I’d never had to hold anybody before. His shoulders trembled in my arms.
“Hey,” I whispered. “Look at me.”
He pulled his face away from my shirt and drew his hand across his nose.
I pointed again. “Do you know why the moon is that color?”
“Well, I’ve figured it out.”
“Yes,” I said. “You know how they cover up the walls of a store when they’re painting them, and they don’t remove the tarp until the paint is dry?”
“Well, that’s what’s happening tonight. The moon’s been getting dirty and it isn’t really white anymore, so God’s repainting it. But it’s not ready yet, so He’s hiding it until He’s finished. When the paint dries, He’ll take away the red and let us see the new color of the moon.”
My brother looked at the moon for a long time. Then he peeled his watch off his wrist and pressed it into my hand.
“Why?” I said.
“So you can count the days, and you won’t miss the next red moon.”
“I can watch the sky.”
“If you have a window,” said my brother. “But what if you have to stay in a place without windows? Like a basement? What if you can’t see the moon and you forget?”
I drew him into my arms and kissed the top of his head. “I won’t forget,” I said. “Promise.”
After four months of hitching and hiding and begging when I could, I found a job in a town more than a hundred miles away. I was hired at a small hardware store. The owner let me live in the basement, where my only light was the faint green glow of my brother’s watch.
On October 8 of the following year, I hitched a ride with my boss’s cousin to the town where I’d last seen my brother. By the murky red light of the moon, I crept through the fields until I reached the place where he’d given me his watch. A cold yellow light flickered from an upstairs window.
I waited. Minutes passed, then hours. Just as I was about to approach the house, another light flickered on. Shrinking back into the shadows, I watched as the beam of a flashlight shot across the field, bounced from the ground to the side of the house to the darkness beyond, and then disappeared.
I peered at my brother’s watch. Saturday, October 9, 3:22 AM. I listened to the wind, waiting for a hint of my brother’s small voice, and I fixed my eyes on the house, watching for the shape of a boy crawling out through the upstairs window onto the roof. But I heard nothing, saw nothing. My brother never showed.
I stayed in town for a few days, not long enough for my foster father to get wing that I was back but long enough to find out what had happened to my little brother. He’d been shipped off to another home. That much people knew. But nobody knew when exactly, or where he’d been sent. All they could tell me was that he was gone.
My brother’s watch is broken now. The hands stopped ticking a long time ago, and the face no longer glows green. But I keep it because it’s all have left – that, and the memory of a little boy clutching my hand under a red moon.
© J. Grace, 2015