“Full Moon Harmony” Fiction by Rachel Searcey

"Full Moon Harmony" Fiction by Rachel Searcey

“You sure you want to be dropped off here?” the man asked, his forehead creased with concern.

I nodded and opened the car door, dry grass crunching underfoot on the side of the road.

“I’ll return at sunset,” he said.

“Thanks for the ride,” I said, but he drove off as soon as I closed the door.

The blazing sun beat down on my black hair and sweat prickled on the back of my neck. I needed to get into the shade. The wind spun howling dust devils across the dead field, spitting up grit that clogged my throat. It ground against my teeth, putting me on edge.

The locals at the diner had looked at me funny when I asked about Tara, my only daughter. We look nothing alike since she takes after her father. I’m dark and short; she’s tall and pale.

“What you want to go out there fer?” a toothless old woman asked. She exchanged a glance with the waitress who remained silent when I showed her the photo of Tara and I.

“She’s been missing for six months.” I was desperate. The police were no help so my mother and I had been searching on our own.

The woman seemed to take pity on me, drawing a crude map on the back of a napkin, volunteering her husband to drive me out. I called my mother from the pay phone; she was staying at a motel on the other side of the state, following a lead.

Sweat beaded between my shoulder blades, evaporating almost immediately in the broiling heat of the afternoon sun. Shading my eyes, I walked towards a rusty shack—the only building on the property. There was nothing else out here for miles. The horizon was dead flat, marked by the occasional mesquite tree or stray cloud.

Dust kicked up as I walked through dead planting rows; the locals had told me it hadn’t rained here in weeks. As I got nearer to the shack, an eerie wind whistled through gaps in the walls, carrying the scent of a distant wildfire. The rough door, held closed only by a simple latch, opened with a screech. I hesitated, afraid of what I might find inside.

There was a distinct smell—not of rot, thank God, but something fragrant—incense? Rags were piled in one corner and against the back wall, an altar with candles and crude figurines. Under the wind I heard a deep sigh, as if a spirit had blown through. The pile of rags moved.

Tara’s blond head raised up from the shadowy pile, banded with sunlight coming through the rafters. I cried out with relief and ran to her, pulling her into my arms. My tears had dried up long ago and none came, even as I hugged my baby girl.

“Oh God, Tara. I finally found you.”

She was groggy and seemed confused by my appearance. In my arms, her bones felt like sticks—collarbones and shoulder blades sticking out beneath a thin cotton dress. She smiled up at me, recognition registering behind her glazed eyes. Her cheeks were ruddy with dried, flaking skin and her hair felt like matted straw. She hadn’t bathed and her body stunk, layered in weeks of grime.

“Mom?” She clutched at me, shivering despite the stifling heat.

I examined her body for track marks but she was clean. “Who did this to you?” She pushed me away with feeble arms, so I took her by the shoulders.

She resisted my attempts to get her to her feet, falling back to the pile of rags. My mind rattled with panic. I needed to get Tara to a hospital. I hadn’t thought to ask the woman’s husband to stick around, figuring he would return before dark.

I forced Tara to drink some of the water from my canteen but she refused the protein bar. She slept, her eyes flitting back and forth under dark lids. There were no lights in the shack and it quickly grew dark as the sun set.

In the fading dusk, I saw bowls with food still in them around the altar; evidence that Tara had been eating something at least. There was also an empty milk jug that must have held water at some point.

When I went outside to escape the strange atmosphere in the shack, the sky was banded in ribbons of red and orange. Under the hiss of the wind, cicadas shrilled.

Mosquitoes pricked at my skin, drawn to exposed flesh. Slapping them, they burst, filled with my own blood, leaving red streaks on my arms and legs. Welts raised where they’d landed and I resisted the urge to scratch them with anxious hands. There was no sign of my ride in either direction.

What was that sound, under the wind?

Then I saw the lights. They came towards the shack in waves, kicking up a dusty haze lit by hundreds of candles. They were humming, the tune carried by the wind. I hurried inside to find my daughter already awake, sitting in front of the altar on her knees. She hummed the same song, low and deep.

“Tara, what’s going on?”

She didn’t answer me; glassy eyes rolled back in her head as she entered a trance. The first of the procession opened the door and they filed in, forcing me against the altar. When I tried to push my way out, they collectively surged forward, preventing escape. I put my arms around Tara, in some feeble effort to protect her. Each person held a candle raised reverently towards Tara. I recognized the man who dropped me off and his wife, along with the waitress from the diner. I could hear more people outside the shack, pressing against the walls. The humming rose to a crescendo before dying out.

A young girl lit fragrant incense and set the sticks on either side of us. The smoke made my eyes and nose itch as it filled the shack. A little boy placed a flower crown on Tara’s golden hair and she shook my arm free to thank him with a kiss on each cheek.

Between the press of the people and the narrow space, it felt like the walls were closing in on me. I fought down the panic that roiled in my stomach. We had to get out of here.

The people stood, silent as the dead, swaying back and forth as if they were in church. Someone touched my hand and I jumped, but it was Tara. She held her hand in mine.

Every nerve in my body was telling me to flee. But I couldn’t leave her behind with these people who had obviously harmed her, making her live in this desolate place.

The waitress bowed down before Tara, her forehead on the ground. She offered Tara a bowl of what smelled like pungent tequila that made my nose burn—moonshine.

“To bring the rain, my goddess,” the waitress announced, loud enough for those outside to hear. Before I could stop her, Tara drank the liquor then offered it to me. The locals turned, waiting. I had no choice. I swallowed a small amount, coughing as it burned my throat. Anything to get us out of here. A murmuring approval went through the crowd.

The liquor was potent, making my head swim; the candle light smearing into gashes of light across my vision.

I tried to get to my feet and was held down by several pairs of hands—including Tara’s, whose iron grip kept me by her side.

“Mother, be welcome.” Tara’s voice rang clear in my head even though she hadn’t opened her mouth. They held me down and poured the moonshine down my throat. My daughter floated above me, her corn-silk hair waving in the wind blowing through the shack. Thunder rumbled in the distance and I could smell dry earth dampened by falling rain. Tears pricked at the corners of my eyes, streaming down my cheeks.

The crowd pulled back as Tara positioned us in front of the altar. Locals brought us homemade fruit pies, sumptuous kolaches, and other rich foods that we gorged on. The incense smoke filled the shack, wreathing the crowd in haze as the humidity rose. Sweet smelling rain pelted the roof, dripping through the loose slats onto our overheated skin.

My daughter’s face was no longer pale and wan, but radiant with life—glowing by an inner power that had awakened. It echoed within myself and we held hands until dawn, when the celebration of the rain finally stopped. We slept entwined on the bed of rags, until the next night when it would begin again. I hoped my mother would join us soon, following the directions I had given her over the phone.

 Rachel is a filmmaker and writer living in the Florida panhandle with her husband, two children, and two black cats. Her work can be found in PulpCult’s Unspeakable Vol II and Suburban Witch Magazine. To view Rachel’s films and news on published works, visit agirlandhergoldfish.com

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