by Darlene Holt
It was April of ’86 when the blood moon murders began in Madison, Georgia. Before I met my wife, Charlene—hell, before I could even legally drink—back when life was simple. Or so I thought.
My buddy, Chris Higgins, and I were taking some “easy A” elective on the history of religion at Madison University. It was the week before the murders, and our soft speaking, slow talking professor said something that, for once, didn’t make us fall asleep.
“Next week will begin a tetrad lunar eclipse for the first time in three decades,” he said, eyes widening behind rectangular frames. “They call it the blood moon—four consecutive eclipses that turn the moon and surrounding sky red. But that’s not where the name ‘blood’ comes from.” His voice fell into a low, drawn-out rasp, as if telling a ghost story at a campfire.
I stopped doodling in my notebook and glanced over at Chris. He was rubbing the sleep from his eyes to get a better look at Professor Sherman. For the first time that semester, the class seemed to hang on Sherman’s every word.
“There was a prophecy, you see,” he continued, stroking the graying whiskers lining his jawline. “The blood moon prophecy was an event predicted centuries ago. The end of mankind, according to several religious groups. It was believed that when the moon turned red and the sky emitted a crimson mist, madness would fall upon us. It was an apocalypse where man would be consumed by insanity, and mankind would perish at its own hands.”
“But none of that’s true, right, Professor?” asked Greg Mueller two seats in front of me.
“Obviously, moron, we’re all still here,” blurted out Chris. Several students sniggered.
“Ah. Mr. Mueller, excellent question,” Professor Sherman said as he picked up some chalk and began jotting names on the blackboard. “In fact, there were accounts dating back hundreds of years to strange acts of violence from the blood moon. Jack the Ripper, Belle Gunness, H.H. Holmes—murderers whose killing sprees began at the beginning of a blood moon.” He set the chalk down and turned back toward us. There was a fierceness in his weathered face I had never seen before. “There are, perhaps, thousands of unreported cases,” he went on, “those who fell victim to the moon but are clueless to what brought on such urges. Some claim to have no recollection of their attacks, returning to normal once the eclipse passes. For others, it ignites something in them, fuels their need to become cold-blooded murderers long after the blood moon’s end.” He cocked an eyebrow at Chris. “The prophecy may not have been completely fulfilled, Mr. Higgins, but that isn’t to say there’s no truth to the matter.”
Professor Sherman glanced at the wall clock behind him. It was five past seven. “Looks like time has escaped us again. You may all go, but do be cautious when the moon falls red.”
“Can you believe that crap Sherman was spewing?” said Chris later that night in our dorm room.
“Seems pretty farfetched,” I said.
And it did. But one week later, it became much more real.
It was spring break, and a bunch of us decided to celebrate at MacMillan’s, a dive bar just blocks away from school. They had a lenient “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy when it came to our ages, so we were frequent customers. Everyone was in good spirits that night with cheap booze and a decent cover band. Hell, Jerry Evans even snuck in a bit of pot. After a few rounds of pool and belting out lyrics to Metallica and Guns N’ Roses covers, we all stepped outside for a smoke. That was the first time we saw the moon’s red hue.
“Look, dude,” Chris said with a bit of a slur as he pointed to the sky. “Hope no one loses their shit tonight!” He mimed choking Jerry to death as a few of our classmates burst into fits of laughter.
One girl named Janine Wilkins was the giddiest of them all. She actually toppled over from a combination of giggling so hard and drinking too much that I had to catch her from face-planting on the asphalt.
“You good?” I asked, pulling her up. Her smile faded from her freckled face as she contemplated me, her dark eyes shifting left to right and left again until her lips met mine. As we kissed, I felt the warmth of her breath bursting with remnants of peach schnapps and Grey Goose until she released her vodka-laden tongue from my mouth.
“I’m good now,” she said, her giddy laughter returning. I laughed and took a hit of Jerry’s joint as we all sat down on the curb behind MacMillan’s. We stayed there for another hour or so, paying no heed to the reddening sky.
“Shit, I gotta get going,” said Janine’s friend, Marie, shortly after ten. “You comin’, Paula? How ‘bout you, Janine?”
“In a minute,” she said, downing a mini vodka bottle. “Gotta finish these last two.”
“My mom’ll kill me if I’m home too late. If you want a ride, let’s go.”
Janine waved her on. “It’s—what . . .? Two blocks? I’ll just walk,” she said, putting the bottle back to her lips.
Two of the girls jumped up and followed Marie around the corner to the parking lot. A few seconds later, they came flying down the alleyway in Marie’s ’83 bug, waving and chucking beer cans at us through the window before speeding out of view. Not long after, the rest of the group stumbled to their feet and started back toward the university.
“Peace out, homey!” Chris yelled to me halfway down the alley. He made a stabbing motion in Jerry’s back as his followers all broke into laughter again.
I settled next to Janine and waited another minute for her to finish the vodka. “Want me to walk you back?” I offered as she swallowed the last drop and lobbed the bottle into the dumpster next to us.
“Don’t you live in the west dorms? I live in the east.” She got to her feet just as Chris and the group were parting ways at the end of the alley.
“Oh, right. Yeah,” I said, standing up to finish my own beer, watching as a light red mist began descending on the bar.
“Thanks for a great time,” she said. Then she broke into a staggering run down the alley to catch up with her friends.
“Alright,” I called out, now fixated on the giant red moon, “catch ya later.”
I didn’t catch her later. But somebody did. She was the first victim of the blood moon. It was all over the news the following morning—how she never made it back that night, how her body was found by patrons leaving MacMillan’s, cuts and marks and slivers of glass all over her body.
The police came to our dorms early that morning, questioning each of us about our activities the previous night.
“Can you believe that shit?” said Chris with a mouthful of Cheerios after the officers left. We were in the common room, watching the news about Madison’s mysterious murder. “Was Sherman really right?”
“I don’t know, man,” I said, slumping over my cereal. “I just don’t know.” I felt so much guilt for not walking Janine home that night and couldn’t help but feel responsible for what happened. “Maybe I could’ve stopped it,” I said, scooping Cheerios in my spoon and dumping them back into the milk. “Could’ve stopped some . . . lunatic from killing an innocent girl.”
I carried that guilt for the next few days. Then I heard the radio announce the arrival of the second blood moon in the tetrad eclipse. Spring break had ended, and classes were back in session. There was a lot of talk in the halls about Janine, the girl who drank too much and got herself killed. People who weren’t with us that night thought she did it herself, fell onto a bunch of glass or something in a drunken stupor. I wasn’t sure what to believe, but I started to wonder if there was some truth to Professor Sherman’s prophecy or if it was just a sad coincidence.
I spent the night of the second blood moon in the library, finishing up a political science paper. By 9:55 p.m., the library was closing, and the few students still there gathered their books and left. After printing my essay, I followed suit and started back toward the dorms. The moon was red again, and the air grew moist as the mist slowly descended. I walked down a grassy path that connected the library and University Hall. Everything fell into a magnificent red haze. The lamp posts lining the path emitted angelic white halos in the mist, and for a moment, I actually found beauty in it all. Ahead of me, I heard an echoing laughter, but everything had now become so muggy, it was getting hard to make out my surroundings. I suddenly got the horrible feeling I was being watched, that the blood moon was entrancing someone, influencing them to murder, just as it had the night of Janine’s death. I looked behind me, around me. What if I was being followed? And who was laughing? Or was it crying? I had to get back to my room. I broke into a jog, making my way through the hazy night air, away from the moon. When I finally got back to the dorm, I felt shaken, like hours had passed or maybe days. I couldn’t think clearly.
“But you’re fine. You made it back fine, man,” said Chris after I walked in with a sweat-soaked T-shirt.
“You’re right,” I said, half laughing. “Sorry, I’m just really tired. I’ve been working on this paper all day. Stupid Mr. Sherman and his stupid stories have me paranoid.”
Chris and I shared a good laugh at Sherman’s expense, and we both went to bed with no more thought of the blood moon. That is, until morning.
“Dude. You gotta check this out,” said Chris, adjusting the rabbit-eared antenna of the TV. A news report was on. It happened again.
“Nineteen-year-old Travis Thompson was found dead late last night with a broken jaw and several blows to the head. Students say they heard screaming, but there are no suspects at this time . . .”
“That dude was in my bio class last semester,” said Chris. “Guess you were right to be so freaked out last night.”
After word got out about Sherman’s lecture, the entire student population could talk about nothing other than the blood moon prophecy. Hell, with two murders in the span of a week, everyone in Madison was talking about it. The newspapers were having a field day with headlines like “Seeing Red: Madness in Madison!” and “Blood Moon Murders at Mad U!” The next lunar eclipse wasn’t for another month, but every newspaper in town speculated on how many more would fall victim to the moon.
It was May 13th when the sky lit up again, and the moon glowed a vibrant vermillion. A group of us were gathered in Tommy Geist’s room down the hall, inadvertently honoring the school’s new curfew of nine p.m. They wanted to make it six p.m., but with so many night classes, they didn’t have the time or available staff to reschedule. Plus, much of Mad U’s student population had day jobs and could only take classes at night, so they settled for nine and upped security instead.
I had just finished my chem final and was in desperate need of a beer when I got to Tommy’s.
“Yo, Tommy! We need another Coors here!” yelled Chris with a finger pointing down at me as I plunked onto Tommy’s twin bed.
Tommy opened his mini fridge and threw me a cold one. I flipped the tab open and downed half the can within seconds.
“Hey, don’t you have chemistry with my girlfriend, Whitney?” asked Tommy, plopping down beside me.
“Whitney . . . Porter? Yeah. She finished before me. Surprised she’s not here.” I sipped my beer, trying to ignore the strange feeling forming in the pit of my stomach as I watched the red mist materialize outside Tommy’s dorm room window.
Sure enough, it was all over school the next morning, how Whitney Porter mysteriously vanished after class, another victim of the blood moon. No one ever found her body, at least not while I still attended there.
The final blood moon that year came less than a week later, the day of Whitney’s memorial service. I wore my best black suit, just as I had to the other two services that year. Tommy was hunched over Whitney’s empty white casket, his face in his hands. Everyone grieved for Whitney, even those like myself who hardly knew her. The truth was, we were all worried about the final blood moon. We knew, that night, it could happen again.
Dozens of police were stationed around campus for the impending eclipse. But once the moon glowed red and the haze returned, more people went missing. There were two this time. The first was an officer. They found his badge lying near Jack H. Brown Hall along with spackles of blood leading out toward George Madison Bridge. The other victim was a student, a girl named Marley Chenoweth. I didn’t know her, but it makes me sick to this day to think about what happened. A lot of people suspected that the blood moon murderer disposed of the bodies in the nearby river. Chris and I talked about searching near the bridge ourselves a few times, but something about it made me uneasy. Maybe I was scared we would actually find something. Several search parties were dispatched in the area in the subsequent months, but neither of the bodies were ever recovered.
And then, just like that, the murders stopped, exactly as Professor Sherman predicted. The tetrad eclipse had passed, and any lunatics that arose from the red mist had apparently regained their sanity.
It’s been nearly twelve years since then, when everyone I knew dreaded falling victim to the moon. But tonight is the first of the next tetrad eclipse, and as I drive back home, the road glitters with a red sheen from the blood moon overhead. I flick my wipers on to see through the descending mist, but my head feels as foggy as the weather. I remember seeing Charlene and the kids but can’t recall why I left the house, why I drove to the bridge. I stop the car and wonder why I’m so afraid to look in the backseat. Against my better judgment, I turn. Dark red splatters cover the seats where my wife’s stiletto lays on its side, its spikey heel wet with flesh.
Category: Featured, Fiction, Short Story, SNHU Creative Writing, SNHU online creative writing, SNHU Student