The moon shone like a sentinel perfectly framed in the window, a sphere of silvery marble against the obsidian expanse of the sky. The father relished in its haunting glow. The moon was far better than the sun, he was reminded. Whereas the sun beat down, scorched, and burned, the moon softly glimmered. When the moon was out, it was his time.
Rain gently tapped the roof of the shed, leaking in at places, dripping down to the floor where it gathered in a pool. A cardboard sign lay stagnant and decomposing in the puddle, bold words scrawled on it in black marker: Lost job. Anything helps. God bless. The father lacked the energy to discard it, so it remained, growing ever more soaked by rain water.
“Can we eat now?” the son said petulantly, face curling into a frown. He sat next to his father, legs crossed, arms folded, eyebrows raised. The father murmured to himself for a moment, wondering how he raised such an impatient creature.
“Yes, we can—” he said, but as the boy reached for the cooler in front of them, he grabbed his hand. “But we must give thanks first.”
“Come on,” the boy whined, “Can’t that wait? It smells so good!”
“God gave us this meal,” the father said, “We must thank him for it.”
The son groaned. “Fine.” He bowed his head, waiting for his father to begin, but the man remained silent. “Do you want me to do it again?” the boy said, exasperated. When the father didn’t answer, the son huffed, and started to speak.
“Hey, God.” the son began unceremoniously. “Thanks for the food you’ve given us. In Christ’s name, Ame—”
“Thank him for this shelter we’ve been given,” the father interjected firmly.
The son rolled his eyes. “Thanks for this dingy, leaking shed we have to spend the night in. Pretty great, huh? Maybe next time, though, get us a Hampton. In Christ’s name—”
“Remember to bless all of those who stopped to give us money today.”
“Without them, we wouldn’t have our food.”
“Fine. God, please bless the man in the stained suit who stopped his truck on the roadside when he saw our sign.”
The father smiled. The man had been pleasant, eager to offer them relief. He could see that the father was suffering in the heat of the day, his skin peeling and raw, and was eager to help. The father reached inside his pocket, stroking the roll of cash he’d gotten. Bless him, indeed.
“Please bless the woman in the sexy pink tank top who was jogging this afternoon, too.”
The father remembered her vividly. The moment the woman stopped, the son had set down his umbrella, exposing himself to the sun’s brutal rays. He shook the woman’s hand, and started to ask for her number, but the father had interrupted, determined to get what they needed. After she was gone, he demanded his son reopen the umbrella. He didn’t want him to be as disfigured and burnt as his father was.
“Oh yeah, and the fat dude who smelled gross. Him too.”
The father nudged his son, disapproving, but understood his displeasure. The man had only offered a single dollar, hardly enough to get them by. He wouldn’t reprimand his son this time.
“And finally, please bless the annoying soccer mom with the yappy dog. In Christ’s name, Amen.”
The boy smiled, eager for his hunger to be satiated. He threw open the cooler, and the father gazed at their meal. On heaps of ice, four bloody, disembodied hearts laid, their vessels and chambers unmoving, trickles of blood dripping onto the frozen water. The son grabbed two of them eagerly, sinking his fangs into their flesh, blood bursting out onto his cheeks.
The father grasped the others, and carefully, methodically, took a bite. The cool taste of blood filled his mouth once more, and he murmured in pleasure. His stomach had grumbled for days without nourishment, but devouring the tender meat of a human heart was worth the wait. Already he could feel his energy returning, the burn marks on his skin fading.
It had been hard work that day, getting all those hearts, but with his son’s help it was possible. Few could appreciate the difficulty in subduing a thrashing, desperate human. It was particularly serendipitous that the first man had a truck, they had hidden the bodies in the bed of it the entire day, though there was the matter of having to get rid of the vehicle before the police found it. They’d set fire to it (along with the remains they discarded) in a field. Hopefully, the authorities wouldn’t be able to trace the deaths back to them, but the father had learned a long time ago not to bank on hope.
“Dad?” the boy asked, his mouth full of flesh.
“Do the people whose hearts we eat really go to heaven?”
The father paused, setting down his half-finished organ. He considered the question for a moment. It was something he had told the boy when he was young, after he had turned. He had forgotten all about it. After he had sunk his fangs into a young man’s jugular, swiftly ending his life, his son had been traumatized, tears streaming down his face, begging him to make the corpse live again. The boy didn’t understand, not back then, that such a killing was necessary, that the only way they could survive was if another died. He had promised the boy that every passerby they hunted would be saved, if not in this life, then from hellfire. It comforted him enough then, especially after his stomach growled and the smell of spilt blood overtook any sentiment, but the father had not anticipated his recollection of the white lie. The son looked at the father, eyebrows raised, expectant. The father glanced down at the heart in his hands, half gone. It was the smallest one, probably belonging to the mother.
“Their sacrifice saves us, and it saves them. It is their flesh and blood that is our salvation. Yes, son… they will go to heaven.”
The boy, seemingly satisfied, broke from his pensive expression and dug back into his heart, licking his hands as he finished the last morsel. The father set down his meal, no longer finding it appetizing. He turned and looked out the window, the moon still shining in the black sea of night. The moon that did not burn his skin, the moon that did not illuminate his deeds, the moon that did not shine while he was forced to do the killings. Only a stark disc of shining light, gently vengeful, like the eye of God looking down upon them.
All poetry and prose © 2023 by Corey J. Boren