The astronomers used to say that a blood moon is what happens when the sun and the earth and the moon line up in just the right way, so the light from the sun has to pass through the earth’s atmosphere on its way to the surface of the moon. According to the astronomers, it’s the same as when the sky turns red at sunrise or sunset, only the light goes all the way to the moon first, and then it gets reflected back at us, and that’s why the moon looks red.
But we don’t have astronomers anymore, and the mages say that it’s got nothing to do with the atmosphere at all, and really what it is is that the moon turns red when she’s thirsty.
My mama says that we have to stay inside during a blood moon, because when the moon gets thirsty usually she’s angry too, like how I get grumpy when I haven’t had enough to eat. My mum says that the moon’s not angry, that she turns red as a way to tell the mages she’d like to help them be a little bit more powerful tonight, if only they offer her a gift. (She also gives Mama a Look at that point.) Neither Mama nor Mum knows any mages, so we don’t have anybody to ask which one of them is right.
Actually, most times Mum starts by saying, “hush, you’re going to scare her.” So first I always have to tell her that I’m not scared, really, it’s fine, we could go out during the blood moon if she wanted. Usually that’s around the time in the conversation when Mum’s Look comes in, and she says she knows I’m not scared, I’m very brave, but it’s past my bedtime so we have to stay home anyway so I can go to sleep.
She never says the reason why there’s a secret extra bed in the cellar that’s only for the blood moon nights.
Tonight is a blood moon night, and over dinner Mama and Mum had the usual argument about whether the moon is angry or in a giving sort of mood, and I said maybe I could ask my teacher at school tomorrow because my teacher always knows what the mages would say about things. My teacher is the one who told me that the astronomers were wrong, and also that we don’t have astronomers anymore anyway, and also the whole bit about the moon being thirsty. But Mama said I definitely am not allowed to ask my teacher anything about the moon.
After dinner, Mum and Mama took me down to the cellar together, and tucked me into the bed where I only sleep a few times a year. I told them I was wide awake, and anyway the moon wasn’t looking even a little bit red yet, so really there was no reason for me to go to bed. But they both said I had to, and they both gave me a goodnight kiss, and then they locked the door behind them and now I’m here.
It's so boring on blood moon nights.
There’s no light in the cellar, so I can’t read my book, so at first I try counting sheep like Mama always tells me to, but then that gets boring too. So I decide to sit as still as I possibly can and see if I can hear what’s happening outside.
At first there’s nothing. Then I hear a soft thump, like something very far away.
A few minutes pass, then another thump.
I wait a long time, and the thumps keep getting louder and closer. There are other noises, too, and those are the same, far away at first but louder every time. One of the noises is a low shuffling; the other has an up-and-down sort of rhythm to it. None of this is really as interesting as I’d hoped, so I go back to counting sheep.
A couple hundred sheep later, the sounds are the closest and loudest they’ve been, and all of a sudden I can tell what they are. The shuffling is footsteps, a lot of footsteps, like a whole group of people are walking up and down the street. Whoever they are, they’re talking, but it’s quiet and I can’t tell what they’re saying no matter how hard I listen. The thumps turn clear and sharp: they’re knocking on doors.
Then comes a knock so loud it must be right above my head. I hear a voice and I can tell right away that it’s Mum, but she’s talking so quiet I can’t tell what she’s saying. Another voice joins in, and that’s Mama, but I can’t tell what she’s saying either. There’s a third voice, and I don’t know who that is at all. I don’t hear any footsteps. They’re still here, still talking.
I wonder what it’s like for the moon to be thirsty. I wonder what she drinks.
The cellar is dark, and it smells kind of bad. We don’t clean down here very often. Mama and Mum are talking a little louder now, and I can hear a few words: “promised—safety—chosen—daughter.” I wonder if the mages have come to tell us that the moon has chosen us to receive a special gift. Or maybe we have been chosen to present the moon with her special gift, in exchange for making the mages more powerful! That would be really exciting. I’ve never met a mage. Or the moon, for that matter. I’ve only seen her from afar.
I hear footsteps, finally, but it doesn’t sound like they’re moving on to the next house. They’re loud, and they make the ceiling above me shake a little bit.
I hear Mum shout: “No!”
And Mama, at the same time: “Stop!”
I hear footsteps on the cellar stairs.
I hear someone rattling at the lock.