Does the Moon perceive everything, just as She illuminates everything? Does She know what I am about to do, what Her silvery light is accomplice to tonight? Will She remember what She sees? Or is She just a big, dumb rock? The Boy’s adolescent musings occupied him as he waited, crouched expectantly beside a juniper tree on a hill above the chicken coops.
If the moon saw anything tonight, it would be through half-closed eyes. Its waning silver crescent above the high desert rangeland of New Mexico cast faint shadows of dark on dark. Wisps of spring clouds passed slowly between ground and stars. But the Boy’s keen young eyes let him make out details that other ranch-hands couldn’t. He gripped a shotgun while he watched the fox moving between two junipers, towards the hen houses, towards his own hiding place.
He smiled. How could he blame the fox? He wanted a taste of the chicken just as badly. His father and mother couldn’t bring home enough meat for their family of four.
She probably does more good than harm anyway, he thought. This fox, the Boy believed, had been responsible for keeping a family of kangaroo rats from devouring the rancher’s chicken feed. Deer, mice, voles, raccoons, and other “pests” would soon overrun the ranch if it weren’t for the predators. The further out the people moved, the more wild creatures were forced to move inwards in search of food. If the fox died, a month from now, the Boy would probably be hired to set the mouse traps around the coop. Such a waste.
She was a beautiful creature, too, who moved with a furtive elegance and grace that the Boy admired. He crouched in the dark, sweating despite the cool spring breeze. He held tight to his weapon while his eyes were locked on a gorgeous fox. He felt dirty.
But the rancher had hired him to keep the chickens safe, and that was the job he would do. He raised the shotgun to his shoulder, took careful aim, and fired at the moon. The fox jumped, and scurried away, off toward the bushes, off to easier, less frightening hunting grounds. The Boy had done his job, and both the chickens and the fox were safe. He would have a crisp new $20 bill in his pocket tomorrow morning when he went into town. He could buy his mother some flowers, or he could buy his father a new pair of gloves. He could even buy enough meat to keep his family in hamburgers for a week. But I’ll probably just end up blowing it on soda and magazines I’ll have to hide from Mom.
A second shot rang out, from another gun a long way away, and the fox dropped dead. The Boy shouted, stood up, turned toward the source of the report, and heard a third shot. He looked down and saw a dark spot growing on his plaid shirt, silvery in the moonlight. His head lolled to one side, and he fell over. He couldn’t move. He heard footsteps, smelled sweat. Through half-closed eyelids, paralyzed, numb, he watched a shadow move across the moon. He could not see the face, but he heard a voice curse, and recognized it. He knew his betrayer, even if he didn’t want to believe it.
“Why?” He wanted to ask. If his muscles could have obeyed him, if his lungs could do more than gasp in shock, if he had not lost his voice completely, his last word would have been “Why?”
Instead, his jaw hung open uselessly. Sensation returned as his body was moved, but even the red hot agony that flooded through his nerves was mute. It caught in his throat, and never became sound. Everything was dark. The pain surged, and then he heard a fourth shot, and finally, he was released.
His actual last words, spoken over two hours ago, had been:
“Mom, the toilet won’t flush!”