“Blood Moon” by Elizabeth Fenley
I hate people. So breakable.
The skin under my tattoo starts to itch again. I try not to scratch it. I recite the lyrics to Tool’s “Eulogy” in my head but give up after “You claimed all this time that you would die for me” and dig my chewed up nails across it until it bleeds. I tug my black sleeve down over the blood. I don’t bother looking at the tattoo or the damage. In an hour it will be healed-- again.
Tonight is the blood moon—and the vernal equinox. Intense, in a bad way. And why my tattoo itches.
“Teegen, you’ve been quiet today,” the annoyingly pretty and cheerful therapist across the circle of chairs says. “Is there something you would like to discuss with the group? Maybe you’d like to share what’s on your mind. I thought perhaps you might be feeling troubled.”
“If I wasn’t ‘troubled,’ I’d pretty much be in the wrong place wouldn’t I? I mean, have you looked around?” I gesture at the whack-a-doodles and junkies sitting around me. “Or are you retarded? Cuz I’m not playing the Cuckoo’s Nest version of Duck, Duck, Paranoid Schizophrenic.”
Her pupils contract, and one of her lower eyelids twitches.
Score One for me.
But her stupid smile doesn’t falter. “I think you might sound a little angry or defensive today. Maybe you’d like to talk about it. You don’t have to tell us why, just what emotion you’re feeling at the moment.”
“What am I feeling? Let’s see… bored because this is stupid, frustrated because you are an imbecile, annoyed because group therapy is a complete fucking waste of time—have you actually read anything about the ineffectiveness of forced group therapy? Cognitive behavioral therapy is 90% more effective one on one, and for it work in a group setting it requires similar diagnoses and mutual trust. Try reading the DSM-VI. I feel apathetic because I don’t give a shit about anybody else’s problems, pissed off at the doctor who tossed me in here for having ‘auditory command hallucinations and delusions of supernatural powers’ which I don’t, and my ass is asleep from sitting in this cheap fucking plastic chair. And now that I think about it, fuck this chair.” I stand up and kick the chair, knowing it won’t go anywhere because it—like everything else in here—is bolted to the floor. “And fuck you, bitch, and now while I’m at it, fuck the rest of you too.”
I walk through the circle and toward the door. The “orderlies” at the door step toward me, but I wave them off, “Back off, Thing 1 and Thing 2. I’m out.”
“Teegen, you know that if you skip Group you won’t be allowed in the cafeteria or the commons rooms for the rest of the day, don’t you?” she calls after me.
“So fucking what? Don’t go there anyway.” I’m halfway through the door, and at least the orderlies haven’t grabbed me. I hate it when they put their hands on me. I despise being touched—by anyone.
I walk down the deserted hall. The beige and green speckled tile floors are polished, and the walls are painted a sickeningly sunny yellow. I feel like drawing one of those annoying smiley faces on it—and then drawing bloody bullet holes on it. The ceiling is painted like cheesy summer sky with fluffy cotton ball clouds. They should just add rainbows and red balloons floating cheerfully away.
It doesn’t smell like a hospital or cleaning chemicals or the nurses’ perfume or anything—I can’t stand that. It never smells like anything except in the cafeteria—which is through two locked doors from here. The tvs in the break rooms are turned off so that no one can watch during group, and no one can turn it on or off or change channels without the Secret Passcode. I pass the nurses’ station, ignoring whatever inane questions they are trying to ask me, and get to my room at the end of the hall.
It’s the smallest on the hall, like it used to be a closet or something. But I have it all to myself. I’ve been moved four times for “problems accepting roommates.” They finalized realized they should let me be alone.
The walls are Industrial Depression Grey, unlike my other rooms which were painted a variety of soothing greens, calming blues, and powdery lavenders. Gag.
The only thing I hate about this room is that it doesn’t have a door—none if them do. There’s a little swinging old west saloon half door on the bathroom with privacy in the middle, open at the top and the bottom. Fortunately, only the 15 minute “Wellness Check” orderlies walk by this end of the hall, so there’s not a lot of traffic. The crazy chick in the room next to me screams a lot—in a bunch of different voices. I want to put a pillow over her face to shut her up.
The lady with the grey hair who always wears her nightgown wanders up and down the hall at night, even though the orderlies keep putting her back in her room. She calls them all Paul. She calls everybody Paul. Sometimes I wonder who they hell Paul is—and then I remember I don’t give a fuck.
Four people here are going to die within twelve hours tonight under the blood moon. I don’t know who, and I don’t know if I’m one of them—I don’t think I really care, but I guess I can’t be sure until the moment happens, if it happens. And I sure as hell can’t tell anyone because they’ll think it’s a threat and put me in restraints and sedate me. I made that mistake the first blood moon I was here. Two people died that night, the normal blood moon toll, but they were ruled as unrelated deaths of natural causes. I wonder if I was spared that night because sedated victims are no fun as sacrifices. At least they knew I didn’t kill those people—restraints and video monitoring are excellent alibis.
The death toll will double tonight because of the equinox. Four Blood Demons will come: Kennen, Pyke, Thresh, and Kalista, each choosing their own sacrifice.
And all I can do is lie here on this uncomfortable steel framed, bolted down, excuse for a bed with my feet up on the wall, drawing the curlicues of my tattoo with the black rubber soles of shoes.
I spend the afternoon responding to the “Wellness Checks” question, “How are you?” with animal names in alphabetical order; I developed a pattern of responses after I discovered flipping them off wasn’t a sufficient answer because it wasn’t verbal and saying “Fuck You” ever fifteen minutes seemed to diminish the effect and the fun. Once, I did prime numbers all day. Yesterday was mythological monsters.
I take perverse pleasure in throwing them off, making them feel every bit as much trapped in a surreal world as I am.
I did say thank you to the orderly who brought me dinner since I was banned from the cafeteria. Boo-hoo. A fate worse than waterboarding.
Through the small, heavily metal screened window high on the wall, I watch the daylight fail.
The orderlies are quieter in their rounds after dark—just a bed check and confirming no obvious signs of suicide. The room next door echoes with multiply personality disorder conversation, and everyone’s getting called Paul again. I wonder if they will stand out as targets for the Blood Demons.
They won’t necessarily come down this hall. They might go to the Lockdown Ward, the men’s section, or even the juvenile wing. Or they could choose the staff. Spread the carnage around—who knows what’s in the Blood Demon Playbook. I wonder if Kennen is the Peyton Manning of the team, calling the audibles. “Omaha, Omaha, Omaha, get the tweaker with no eyebrows. Run a slant route for the blonde with the neck scars. Tackle the guy with the teardrop tattoos. Hut-hut-hike!”
Will they figure out the blood moon pattern this time? Will they even try? If I’m not around to point it out, will they check my file and see that I warned them the first time? Will someone else get my room?
I’m leaning against the wall to get the best view of the sky. I can’t see the moon, but I recognize the change in the light. My tattoo stops itching and burns like it’s being branded on my arm. I have to take off my shirt because even the sleeve touching it is unbearable. My tank top is much more revealing than I like, but I won’t get issued more clothes until the morning—theoretically, at least.
The orderly on duty is fiddling with his key chain, his hand shaking, keys scraping together and jingling like he should be pulling a sleigh. His other hand tightens into a fist, flexes, tightens.
“You cool, dude?” I ask, stepping closer to the door, wondering if a Blood Demon is using his body. “You look like you’re jonesing pretty bad.”
His head snaps toward me, like he’s just realized I’m standing there.
“How ‘bought you let me borrow your keys, and you can sleep it off in here? It’s not like anyone will notice.”
He doesn’t answer, continuing down the hall. I step out into the hall to watch him walk straight down the hall and by the nurse’s station without stopping at any rooms. I follow him.
The lady in the nightgown comes to her doorway
“Paul’s dead.” I push her back in her room. “Time to go to sleep.”
MPD lady is mumbling in rounds. Someone’s either having a nightmare or fantastic sex further down the hall.
There’s no one at the nurses’ station. I don’t see any orderlies in the other hallways. I glance at the clock on the wall above the locked door to the cafeteria—the only clock in the whole unit, which annoys the shit out of me. Ten minutes after midnight. That explains it.
I go back to my room. Nothing to do but sit on my bed and wait. I’m certainly not going to sleep.
No more orderlies stop by. No sounds of walking in the hallway.
Eventually the conversation in the next room stops, no one is there to call Paul, and the nightmare/sex is over.
I walk down the hall again. Thirteen minutes after one. That doesn’t bode well.
A shriek echoes through the door of the Lockdown Ward. FUCK! I briefly consider hiding under the nurses’ desk, but decide to haul ass back to my room, into the bathroom and wedge myself in between the toilet and the wall.
Just in time for the hall lights to go out. Blood Demons probably don’t need lights.
Maybe they’ll just stay in the Lockdown Ward—by all means, take the criminally insane, take them all, no need to stop at four.
Until now, I didn’t think I would care about dying, but my heart is beating so fast I press on my chest to try to quiet it, sure that Blood Demons can hear it. My tank top is clingy with sweat—under my boobs and running down the grove in my back. I hear the change in my blood pressure ringing in my ears. I’m breathing way too fast, too loud. Afraid I’m going to hyper ventilate and pass out, I hold my breath.
I thought I’d be calm, resigned, fearless when they inevitably came for us. I guess we all want to believe we’ll be strong, brave, spouting witty movie dialogue as we stare down our deaths. Turns out that’s bullshit, like everything else in life.
It’s not like I’d miss my life. Imprisoned with lunatics, junkies, ex-cons, and the “sentenced to a mental health facility” instead of prison is hardly Utopia. More like Hunger Games meets Girl, Interrupted meets Sharp Objects and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Am I Katniss? The Winona Ryder chick? Or Camille in that creepy as fuck book with the victims’ teeth as the floor in the dollhouse? I’m sure as hell I’m Jack Nicholson’s McMurphy—knows the truth, no one will listen, but he ends up dead, so that’s not a good sign. Why am I thinking about this now?
I don’t want to go back to college. That’s where that shrink said I was “a threat to myself and others” and that psychotic breaks statistically occur 80% more frequently during the college years. Bullshit about stress, brain chemistry, homesickness. Not like I had a home to miss since they chuck you out of foster care the day you turn eighteen with some cash and referrals to group homes and therapists. I didn’t have any real friends or a boyfriend in college—just a series of annoyingly immature roommates.
None of that seems to matter right now.
I strain to hear something, anything, over my runaway heart and ringing ears, but I can’t. I don’t know how much time has passed since they got here—or if time is actually passing at all with Blood Demons “in the house.”
I’m tempted to grab the pathetic nightgown lady and my talkative neighbor, to warn them, to pull them in here, like that would protect them. But it would probably attract three times the attention. Plus, and mostly, I’m too scared to go out into the hall. I’m clearly not Hero Material. I hate myself even more than normal.
The cacophony of screeching metal being ripped apart stabs my eardrums. I scream before I remember I have to be quiet and clap my clammy hand over my mouth. The echoing of the rending steel racing down the hall, bouncing off the shiny floors and obnoxious yellow walls forces its way into my teeth so violently I want to rip them all out. I bite my palm until I feel the warm, coppery blood fill my mouth, trying to focus on the taste and block out the reverberating din. Trying to protect my teeth, I press my other hand on top but it’s shaking too much to stay in place.
I realize I’m rocking back in forth in the tiny space by the toilet, like a child trying to soothe itself back to sleep.
The metal racket dies down, but my teeth still ache, and I keep my hands in place in case I make any more noise to attract them.
There’s a slippery, slimy dragging squelching in the hallway and a scratching digging into the wall approaching my room. I inhale something foul, rotten, overtaking the unscented normalcy. Sulfur and decomposition, like the maggot-covered raccoon I found in a trash can when I was five. I gag and have to move my hands to throw up my blood and dinner onto the floor at my bare feet, its steamy chunks splattering my toes.
The racket in the hall halts. It can smell my puke. I’ve drawn it right to me.
The silence is interrupted by “Paul?” and then the nightgown lady’s outcry is overpowered by roaring that shakes the pipes around me and wailing begins.
Dammit! I knew she would come out looking for Paul. I should have done something. Stinging tears wet my cheeks, and I vomit on the floor again.
The tumult in the hall has awakened the inmates, and bedlam erupts as women leave their rooms. Screeching and caterwauling follow, replaced by sepulchral bellowing, splintering crunches and gooey splattering.
My bloody, trembling hands squeezing my ears do nothing to muffle the horrific pandemonium.
Then it stops. Just stops. I tentatively inch my hands off my ears, prepared to replace them when the uproar resumes. It doesn’t.
Is it over? Whichever Blood Demon chose this hallway got at least a dozen sacrifices. Maybe they’re done. Maybe they met their Blood Moon and Equinox quota and will disappear until the next cycle. Maybe it’s just moved to a different hall for other victims. Or maybe one of them has gone back wherever it is the come from, Hell I guess.
And what if the other three have remained here?
I wait in the stillness. I have no idea how long the eerily hushed inactivity has lasted. My tattoo burns so badly I can barely smother the sobbing in my throat. That must mean this is just a lull. Eye of the storm deceptive tranquility.
All I can do is wait.
It’s still night, I can tell by the darkness flooding my room. I have to wait for sunrise. If I can make it until the light---
Then a glow appears in front of me—not the sun’s morning rays— but blazing, pulsating crimson.
All the skin on my body burns like my tattoo as the swinging bathroom doors splinter against the wall.
I see three outlined forms—giant, horned, with too many limbs and tails.
“Hello, Teegen. We’ve been looking for you.”
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“If I wasn’t ‘troubled,’ I’d pretty much be in the wrong place wouldn’t I? I mean, have you looked around?” I gesture at the whack-a-doodles and junkies sitting around me. “Or are you retarded? Cuz I’m not playing the Cuckoo’s Nest version of Duck, Duck, Paranoid Schizophrenic.” I love this line. Sarcasm is humanity’s greatest invention. The other people in therapy should have given a standing round of applause right there. “ I feel like drawing one of those annoying smiley faces on it—and then drawing bloody bullet holes on it.” Is this a ...
Thank you. I have to admit the Duck, Duck, Paranoid Schizophrenic line is one of my favorites. It's odd how disparate worlds converge in the writing process. I'm a nanny (I know, odd given what I write), and while I was writing this piece, the four year old discovered duck, duck, goose, and was playing it when I picked him up from preschool every day. The group therapy circle and the tiny creatures on the fall grass somehow converged in my mind. I vividly remember refusing to play duck, duck, goose as a child because the outcome was a forego...
It appears you know something of what you write. I know enough to recognize, at least the location has some basis in reality. I don't usually seek out such dark stuff. But you are obviously talented. I'll read more, but I can't promise I'll like it.
It's a dark, scary place in my head. Yes, I spent a lovely long weekend in the Cuckoo's Nest on a 72 hour psych hold following a suicide attempt 11 years ago. I can't say I recommend the experience. The food was good, I was very clear that I would NOT have a roommate. The cafeteria was like a prison movie, so I figured I needed an ally in case a brawl broke out; I made friends with a young man with tattoos on his face and neck-- including the tear drops from his eyes indicating his body count. But what rich writing material it has provided!...
Thanks for the response. As far as recommendations go, when you consider the alternative, a 5150 might be the ticket. You obviously have bragging rights on that score. I don't envy you. Your attention to detail is startling and chilling. But since we're on the subject, I'd be interested in your reaction to my 'Midnight Hunger.' I'll check out your other work, which is amazing. I hope you can use writing to purge your demons. The world needs your talent. For what it is worth, I have found that finding what needs changing is preferable to ...
Agreed. It was such a long time ago, it almost feels like it wasn't me-- some sort of surreal dream. It was such a valuable experience on so many levels (not mental health-wise, but in so many other ways). I wouldn't trade that weekend for another. So much to write, and I like to think it shows when a writer writes what she knows. (I didn't mean that to rhyme. That was such horrific Dr. Seuss.) I will definitely read "Midnight Hunger" and your other work. I like to bring my demons out and play with them, move them like chess pieces. (Insert ...
Yes, our past is rich with reference and depth, if we dare. 'Hobos and Stuff' revisits my childhood - several lives ago. Having the distance of time is useful in many ways. Chess pieces is a good analogy. Good for you. I'll read more.
Thank you. I enjoyed venturing into this genre. Thanks for reading and commenting!
I need more!! It's so good!!
Fantastic horror story. Lots of suspense, and plenty of gory, vivid detail. I'm intrigued by the question of whether Teegen is actually insane and this is her psychosis - or whether she is herself one of the Blood Demons - or that she has some dark relationship with them. Gripping action and solid character building. Nice work!
Thank you. It's my first attempt at writing actual, intentional horror. It was a great process for me to work through-- and I'll definitely keep exploring it as a genre. Thanks for your encouragment!