‘The secret,’ he said, the moon reflecting like two large silver dollars in his glasses, ‘is to wait. And when the time is right, to edge forward, taking your time, feeling your way, pushing forward until you’re in the moment – the passion – the fury. And then….’ He left the girl to ride on his words. He believed the waiting was the greater pleasure.
She’d seen the sign when he turned off the main drag. They followed the overgrown track that led to the view of the factory estate in the valley below, NO PARKING ON MOONLIGHT HILL. Someone had painted, FREE, between NO and PARKING. He’d felt the little tremor of excitement in her body as they plunged into the darkness. The trees rose on either side, strong, unswerving, unaccountable. The branches, like the arms of great rugby players, packing themselves into a tight scrummage over the heads of the joyriders looking for a quiet, romantic spot where they could allow their passions to come together; shared pleasure.
One day, they’d look back and think, Moonlight Hill? That was where I was young. That was when I grew up, when I learned that passion was a secret bloom inside me and I could tease it to the fore and ride it like a Valkyrie and look down upon the world from a sea of stars with my own personal spotlight, the Moon.
‘Why did you bring this old thing when we could’ve had my Mom’s car? It’s got no back-seat.’ She’s starting to complain already, thought the boy. Smiling, he answered, ‘We need a Jeep where we’re going. Besides, you can sit up higher – better to see what’s going on …got more power, more umph!’
‘You got some umph for me?’ she giggled. ‘I got me plenty of umph – and pushin’ power,’ he added. She seemed satisfied with his answer.
The camouflage green of the snub-nosed vehicle was just perfect. The last thing he wanted was some road-candy that stood out like a teacher on a Prom Night.
Alex knew just where to stop, just where to reverse, just where to park.
Tonight he planned to go all the way. She hadn’t but he had.
What Alex wanted, he usually got. There was something about him that made people let him have his own way. It was more than that innocent cheeky grin, more than the way he knew just a little more about everything than the others. It was probably that air of, ‘I’ve moved around a lot, don’t blame me. It’s my old man’s fault’. Tonight, he wanted to be partly hidden in the tree-line like a cat under a hedge waiting for some small creature to break cover.
Besides, the darkness had a different effect on different girls. Some clutched their seatbelts, some pressed themselves to him and he’d stroke away their fears like wrinkles on a newly made hospital bed. None was keen to open her passenger door and step outside into the darkness, the unknown stillness, where everything living was coiled, ready to pounce at the right moment. To girls, the quiet was too eerie. To Alex, the darkness was a smorgasbord of sensual delights. It made him think of staring into his Dad’s aquarium with the lights turned off. He didn’t know why. He could always hear the sucking sound of a diver in his head; Darth Vader with asthma.
‘Helluva view, right?’ he stated. ‘You’d never guess it was a shit-hole during the day but at night with all the lights…’ He left the rest of the sentence hanging. He’d only said it because, well, you know, chicks expect that sort of stuff.
‘Would you like to get out, walk to the edge? You might even see where the cars went off.’ He knew she wouldn’t want to get out. Inside the car was like being in a space capsule – a bubble of safety. ‘What cars? I thought that was just a myth. A story made up to stop kids coming up here to neck,’ she said.
‘Owls don’t look as if they’ve got necks. Owls have only one occipital articulation with the cervical vertebrae – only one bone at the top not two – here.’ Alex touched Muse’s neck and let his arm drop over her shoulder, close enough to her breast if he wanted to feel it. Only Alex could get away with a line and a move like that.
‘Up there.’ He pointed. Their heads were now touching. ‘You’ll see him when he opens his eyes. He’s seen something poke out its head. He’s waiting for it to feel confident enough to break cover. That’s why he’s got his eyes closed. Timid creatures know when they’re being looked at. They sense it. Haven’t you ever felt eyes on you when there doesn’t seem to be anyone there?’ he asked.
‘Are you kidding? Try walking through the cafeteria passed the football jocks. It feels like God-damn geckos crawling all over your skin. But, perhaps, you have to be a girl to know that.’
‘Only a pretty girl,’ said Alex, knowing that was the compliment she was fishing for. ‘So, you think I’m pretty then?’ she asked, nuzzling under his arm.
‘See it? It’s over there.’
‘Where? What? Do you want to kiss me then?’
‘What? I think it’s a weasel.’
‘A weasel? Do weasels live up here? I’ve never seen a weasel. I thought you wanted to kiss me.’
‘Oh, I do …and then some. But something’s got his attention and it’s forgotten the first law of survival – cover your arse before you stick your neck out.’
‘I thought we came up here to have some fun.’
‘Didn’t you say you wanted to see the lights – the big, fat old moon?
It’s a perfect night to…
There! D’you see it?’
‘I see it! Jeez, it looks like something my Brit-aunt would wear around her neck. But I don’t see no owl.’
‘Neither does he. I can’t see what he’s after – probably a nice plump rabbit. The full moon draws them out and makes them a bit crazy. I bet she breaks cover and the weasel will be on her before she knows what’s happened.’ They watched in silence, their faces almost touching the windscreen.
‘Look over there, there’s two more. You never see rabbits this late at night ‘cept when the moon’s full. I told you, it makes them crazy.’
The girl was getting bored. She wanted him to put on the radio. Perhaps, it would put him in the mood. She stretched her hand towards the Jeep’s stereo unit but the boy was on her before she knew what’d happened. The boy had his hand on her arm. He hadn’t taken his eyes off the creature that was edging forward, closer, closer. She pulled his arm to wrap it around her waist and wriggled deeper under his shoulder, feeling his tense muscles. She gave a little giggle and skilfully turned it into a purr.
‘Look! Look! The weasel’s standing up on his back legs. I think he’s going to go for it!’ The girl was now seeing what the boy was seeing. Her full attention was on what was going to happen, not twenty feet from them.
‘D’you think he’ll get her?’ she whispered. ‘I hope, whatever it is, gets away. I couldn’t bare watching an animal being murdered by that thing.’
‘It’s not murder. It’s Nature. Kill or be killed. Survival of the fittest. It’s only Man who kills for the fun of it.’
The girl watched. She became aware that she was holding her breath but his breath was getting faster and more shallow. She was about to pull away and turn on the radio when suddenly the weasel leapt, the rabbit bolted, the owl opened his eyes and it dropped as if fired from a catapult. Both Alex and Muse could see what was going to happen. The weasel would have the rabbit in its jaws and the talons of the owl would be in the back of the weasel; two meals for the price of one.
It looked like a searchlight had been switched on to track them. A car beam caught the wing-tips of the owl that pulled hard right into the darkness and vanished from sight. The tail of the looping creature disappeared into a clutch of thorns as the light from the approaching car bucked over the uneven ground. The rabbit ran directly down the tunnel of light until it panicked further and took a sudden right angle and all they could see was a silhouette getting rapidly smaller until it seemed to dissolve into a patch of thick shadows.
‘Shit! Shit! Shit!’ shouted the boy. He slapped the steering wheel. ‘That’s so damn unfair!’
‘Who’s coming? D’you know the make of the car? I thought you said nobody knew about this place?’ The car passed in front of them and swung into their line of sight, blocking their view of the lights below.
The girl, Muse, was only interested in the occupants inside the lovingly restored Caddie. ‘It’s Ben with some girl. Can you see which one?’ Alex knew it was Ben and he knew the girl as well but he said nothing.
His date was getting more and more curious. The fun was just starting. ‘It’s Ma’lou.’ he whispered.
‘Marylou? The Marylou? You’re kidding! She’d never go out with a creep like Ben. I thought you and she…’
‘Nah. That was in another lifetime. I’ve moved on to better things.’ Muse snuggled closer. She was better things. She tipped her head back for Alex to kiss her. She moved her hand to a teasing position in his crotch and smiled at the effect she was having on him.
The car in front was silent now. The night had fallen back into emptiness as if nothing had happened. Muse could see two silhouettes join together by the dashboard light. Muse didn’t want the radio on any more. She watched and waited.
Alex watched and waited. If Ma’lou ran true to form, they’d be clambering into the back-seat or her head would go into his lap.
Yeah. It was the tease move.
The window on the driver’s side opened. An elbow appeared as Ben relaxed into his seat. Snatches of music from different local radio stations and white noise drifted across the space between the two vehicles. Ben was sliding the radio dial to find something to suit the mood of the moment. He settled for a Billy Holiday track, ‘What A Little Moonlight Can Do’. Alex approved. He wondered what Ma’lou would make of that. She thought Billy was old-fashioned and whiny. Then he realised that she was probably too preoccupied to notice.
‘An appropriate choice,’ he said and dropped his head to kiss his date tenderly on the lips.
‘That’s more like it,’ purred Muse. ‘D’you think they’ll get into the back-seat?’ The view inside the intruding car was blocked out while the couple clumsily stumbled over the front seats. The music abruptly changed to some tinny local pop. She’d obviously not been that distracted, thought Alex.
He wasn’t annoyed, jealous, put-out or enraged. He’d thought he’d have felt more but now that the moment was here, ‘Fancy a closer look?’ he asked.
Muse looked at Alex to see if she could work out what was on his mind. ‘What? You mean …like get closer? I’m not getting out. D’you think they know we’re here?’
Alex laughed. She felt a thrill of excitement. ‘Should we?’ Alex had already switched on the engine. They both watched to see if there was any reaction from the other car.
‘What was it you said about the first law of survival?’ she asked. ‘Cover your arse before you stick your neck out, right? I bet creepy Ben has more than his neck sticking out.’
Muse was quiet now. Alex could feel an electrical charge building in her. He knew why too. That’s why he’d chosen her.
‘Remember that time?’ he asked as the Jeep inched forward from the tree line.
Muse remembered. Alex knew she was reliving it.
They were closer now. The gap was closing …ever …so …very slowly.
‘In the Girls’ Dressing room, wasn’t it?’ He heard the slightest growl from the girl’s throat. The showers, right?’ Muse’s nails were digging into the dashboard.
They were now close enough to see the lovingly restored Caddie rocking rhythmically. Had it not been for the condensation on the windows, they’d have been able to watch from their elevated position. Alex could picture the scene all too clearly; her arms around Ben’s neck, her legs clamped around him, her heels spurring him on to go deeper, deeper, deeper. Soon, she’d be demanding her rider to drive faster, harder – faster, faster – harder, harder.
The Jeep kissed the back of the Caddie. It was so gentle that Muse had to turn to Alex to see if it was true that the couple hadn’t noticed. Then she broke into a wide smile to match Alex’s. ‘Shall we? She asked hungrily, ‘Can we?’ Alex nodded with enthusiasm. ‘Jeez! I’m getting wet,’ she rasped. Her hand flew to Alex’s crotch. He was as hard as a rock.
‘Hold on, Babe,’ he whispered. ‘We’re about to go for the ride of our sweet, young lives.’ Alex pushed gently forward. He was surprised how smoothly the smaller car slid on the grass. He wondered if there was a night dew that lubricated the locked tyres.
‘Do it! Do it!’
Muse sounded like a Macbeth witch. ‘Do it thrice, my Thane!’ he imagined her to say. She cackled when she realised that the couple were too far gone to know that they were moving. She looked at Alex who was nodding feverishly. The silver dollars were again in his eyes. They were flashing like the warning lights at a railway crossing. The train was coming.
‘Too late to stop now, Babe!’
The rocking of the small car began to climb to a crescendo. Muse started to tap on the dashboard, thrusting out her chin and pumping her legs. Alex bit his lip; a series of coarse grunts played counter-balance to Muse’s beat; the cox pushing the Dragon Boat forward inch by inch by inch.
The car, now one hard push away from the edge and a free-fall into nothingness, stopped rocking as if it sensed something. It was the moment when all the huffing and puffing and pushing was teetering on the edge; that moment when two lovers are never so close but always so far apart.
Alex couldn’t resist it.
He slammed the heel of his hand down on the horn and floored the accelerator. The engine screamed. Muse screamed, shaking her head like a mad rag doll and gave a hoot.
Two startled faces, bleached by the headlamps of the Jeep, flattened against the condensation on the back window; eyes the size of blacked-up minstrels in a wild silent movie with white gloved hands wordlessly calling, Mammy! Mammy! For one last brief second, Ma’lou saw Alex’s face and the face of the girl she’d taunted in Fourth Grade in the showers of the Girls’ Changing rooms and wondered, why?
The next second, the small car was falling, falling, falling. It bounced and bucked and bucketed down the long slope before doing a forward roll, a somersault and caught the off-side wing and continued in a spin. A flame appeared, an insistent firework that refused to ignite. The couple in the Jeep watched mesmerised like children eager to see what would happen next.
There was a CRUMPT sound, a ball of fire, a wave of energy that hit the Jeep, a wall of hot air and lifted it like a mechanical hiccup that made Muse and Alex recoil into their seats. They released the breath they’d been holding from the moment the small car began to topple and the realisation by the passengers that this was the final ride of their lives from which there’d be no return. Perhaps, they each had a moment of contemplation if they could’ve chosen a better companion with whom to exit this world. It was too late.
Muse looked across at Alex who raised a finger to his lips to silence her. He kissed two fingers and placed them on her lips. The message was clear. They’d never speak of the events of this night.
Alex calmly reversed and drove towards the track that led past the sign to the main drag.
Alex wondered if he should tell Muse that he’d had a wonderful evening. He watched her out of the corner of his eye as she swivelled in her seat to watch the sign pass. ‘You painted the word, FREE, between NO and PARKING, right?’
‘Uh-huh,’ admitted Alex. ‘There ain’t no free parking on Moonlight Hill.’
‘I don’t think we should see one another again,’ said Muse. ‘First law of survival.’
‘Sure,’ replied Alex. ‘Survival – first law.’
Christian McCulloch started writing short stories for his class of boys with extreme behavioral problems to encourage them to read. It became a popular idea among other schools. He was frequently called upon to talk about his ideas. As the Headmaster of Singapore Prep School, he would often use his own stories at Friday Assemblies. ‘Mr Potter’s Gardening Magic’ (Graham Brash Publications) was one such story.
Now that he has retired he devotes his time to writing full-time; twelve novels, thirteen novellas and a coffin-full of short stories. He has been published in many literary magazines in UK and US, also Runner up of the Kirroughtree House Award for Literature 2016.
If you enjoyed ‘No Parking On Moonlight Hill’ leave a comment and let Christian know.
This is the tale of a town on the fringes of fear, of ordinary people and everyday objects transformed by terror and madness, a microcosm of the world where nothing is ever quite what it seems. This is a world where the unreal is real, where the familiar and friendly lure and deceive. On the outskirts of civilisation sits this solitary town. Home to the unhinged. Oblivion to outsiders.
Shallow Creek contains twenty-one original horror stories by a chilling cast of contemporary writers, including stories by Sarah Lotz, Richard Thomas, Adrian J Walker, and Aliya Whitely. Told through a series of interconnected narratives, Shallow Creek is an epic anthology that exposes the raw human emotion and heart-pounding thrills at the the genre’s core.
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