“Jack O’ Lantern Moon”

Fiction by Peter Bar

“So c-o-o-o-old” is what the voice in Bobby Nyson’s head had screamed after the ice splintered beneath his feet. They’d been coming home from trick-or-treating when they’d come to the pond in the woods, the black layer of surface ice reflecting the rising harvest moon. The autumn freeze had come on early and strong, but the ice wasn’t thick enough and he never should have taken the dare.

He remembered sinking, bits of candy from his bag drifting downward around him. He remembered looking up at the moon through the murky water, a glowing orange orb, a jack-o’-lantern melting away as he sank to the bottom. He remembered thinking how mad his momwas going to be. Then he went to sleep.

It took the divers 35 minutes to find him.

Six years later he opened his eyes. There were lots of blinking machines surrounding his hospital bed. The doctors shined their lights into his eyes but he couldn’t move them, couldn’t even blink. He could hear them though, talking to the nurses about his coma. He wanted to tell them he wasn’t in a coma, he wanted to tell them that sometime during his third year in the hospital, after they’d tried all kinds of new drugs he’d become . . . aware. Yes, he was still lying motionless in a bed, yes his body was still connected to the machines that never seemed to go off, but he wasn’t in a coma. He was quite sure of that.

And he was no longer confined to his room. He could travel now. Inside people’s heads, in their memories and their thoughts. And then, some time within the last year, he discovered he could make people do things. He could make them laugh, or cry, or worry, or get mad.

He’d always made his mother happy when she came to visit, sent her away with a big smile. Right up until the day she died. He knew she was gone the moment Melinda walked into his room. He could feel her sadness. He really liked Melinda, the big fat Jamaican nurse who worked the night shift. He liked the sound of her accent when she talked to him about her children, or her husband, or her cooking — talked at him that is, as she never knew he was listening. He always made her happy when her shift ended, but he realized he probably didn’t need to, she was always smiling, humming and singing to herself, even as she cleaned his bedsores when they flared and festered.

He lost Melinda, however, when his mother died. That’s when they moved him to the creepy facility upstate. Now they’d sometimes forget to clean his feeding tube, or leave him lying in his mess. He’d really missed Melinda, cried for months, but no one could see his tears.

He wasn’t crying any longer though. He could take care of himself. He’d learned. Just last week he made the orderly, the one who did bad things to him late at night, break the mirror with his fist. Then he made him pick up a broken shard of glass and push it into his own throat. He got scared after making that happen, so he made the orderly stand up, only he walked around all jerky-electric like. When the other nurses and doctors rushed in and saw that, he let the orderly fall to the floor. That had really scared them. Created quite a stir.

He’d begun to enjoy scaring the nasty hospital people. Sometimes he made birds crash against the window in his room. Thump. That made them jump. Sometimes he moved things. Sometimes he pushed scary thoughts into their heads. Watched their faces change, like the cartoon characters on TV.

The nurses were now avoiding his room. They came only when they had to, and never at night. He didn’t mind; he’d quietly started wiggling his toes and moving his legs, he knew he’d be walking soon. And lately, when darkness fell, the harvest moon began showing in the sky. His jack-o’-lantern moon. It reminded him of trick-or-treating long ago.  Halloween was just around the corner, and the bad people in the hospital were going to have the scariest night of their lives.

Peter Bar is a web designer who spends summers in Montauk. His fiction has been published previously in The Star.