This is chapter 2 of a middle grade fiction story I’m sharing. If you missed chapter 1 and want to catch up, you can read it here. Thanks for reading!—Daisy
A quirk of architecture was responsible for Xanna’s interest in the moon, specifically bad architecture. A slapdash addition by the previous owner of their house resulted in an unconventional roofline which allowed Xanna to step out onto the roof of the first-floor porch from her second-floor bedroom dormer window.
She found this out a few days before Christmas the year she was six years old, which was way too young to be out on the roof. Especially very late at night, which was when she quietly climbed across the built-in desk in front of the window, opened the latch, raised the sash, stepped over the sill, and planted her slippers onto the crunchy asphalt shingles.
This feels like walking on Grape-Nuts, she thought, and she would know, having only recently mastered the skill of cereal-pouring.
Xanna knew she shouldn’t be out of bed that late, so late it was actually early in the morning before dawn. She also knew she absolutely shouldn’t be on the roof, no matter what time it was. So when Xanna turned and looked up into the heavens and saw an ominous red moon glaring down at her, she felt like she’d been caught in the act of something terribly bad, so bad even the universe knew.
Six-year-old Xanna was sure she’d been found out. She stared at the tell-tale moon. The moon stared back at her as she froze in the December air. What started out as a reconnaissance mission to see if the roof was a big enough landing spot for eight tiny reindeer turned into a staring contest between a small girl and a twenty-one-thousand-mile in diameter eyeball.
As Xanna watched, stricken, the spy in the sky began to change, slowly. The red veil was pulling back, leaving a crescent of white light that grew bigger, first a sliver, then a slice; slowly, silently. A ragged gray cloud passed at glacial speed over the surface of the orb. Once the cloud receded, the light had expanded to show half of the moon, and more.
Eventually the moon was whole again. The red color was gone. It was the same beaming face she had seen many times before, lurking above tree lines, peering over distant rooftops, or looming high in the dark. She didn’t know what had just happened, but she knew her wee hours foray was at an end.
Shivering, Xanna stood and climbed back into the still warmth of her room. She slid the sash down until it met the sill, and twisted the latch closed. Before pulling the curtain, Xanna paused and tried to peer through the glass, but it fogged with her breath. She swiped away the condensation with the side of her hand and looked through the smear.
The moon refused to meet her eye, but she knew, it knew.
From that night on, Xanna had a thing about the moon. She kept watch over it, how it changed position in the sky, how it changed shape day after day. Would it change color again? She didn’t dare ask her parents about the red moon because she was afraid they would find out when and where she was when she saw it.
In spite of, or maybe because of what happened the first time, Xanna really wanted to go back out on the roof again. She was pulled into the moon’s one-eyed stare, and it wasn’t the same looking at it from the ground or through a window. She’d only had a small taste, but it lingered in the pouch of her cheek like a sneaked piece of candy.
By the first part of January, the moon that was full the first night she went on the roof had waned and begun to wax again until it was a storybook crescent, a backwards “C.” Xanna wanted to look at it from the roof so badly she couldn’t sleep. She tiptoed back and forth from her bed to the window several times that night until the tug of the moon became too strong. Clutching a blanket over her shoulders, she crawled back across the desk and let herself out of the window and onto the roof a second time.
Outside, the white noises of the house hushed. Being winter there were no insect sounds, and the usually chatty neighborhood dogs were snug inside their warm houses. The constant racket of daytime that sometimes rattled Xanna’s nerves was silent. Here it was pure peace. The cloudless cobalt sky was scattershot with modest pinpricks of stars with the moon at its center. Xanna curled herself into a corner next to the dormer and leaned her head back in awe.
She stared at the tranquil slice of moon until the cold penetrated even her blanket and froze her toes and she was forced to go inside to thaw them out. She lay in bed with the image of the sky imprinted on the inside of her eyelids until sleep came.
Xanna was hooked. She started sneaking out on the roof whenever the moon was out. As soon as her parents tucked her in bed for the night, but before they went to bed themselves, while the busy noises they made in the living part of the house could drown out the sounds she made, she would tug open the stubborn window and step down onto the roof.
As she got older, she read books about the moon and watched videos of the moon. She thumbed through a copy of an old farmer’s Almanac one day and saw it was full of information about gardening by the moon. Xanna had always loved dirt and plants and growing things. Learning that gardening and her new love went hand in hand made sense. It made her feel connected, and it gave her a schedule for when and how to plant things.
And it was the almanac which solved the mystery of the red eye. One entry described something called a total lunar eclipse.
When the sun, the earth, and the moon are lined up in a straight row, the earth’s shadow blocks most of the sun’s light from the moon, leaving it in the dark. What little sunlight is left turns red as it passes through the Earth’s atmosphere.
Xanna looked up December of the year she saw the red moon. Sure enough, she had witnessed a total lunar eclipse that early morning. She felt a little silly thinking it had something to do with her. It wasn’t an ordinary lunar eclipse, either. It was the first time since the year 1638 a total lunar eclipse had happened on the night of the winter solstice.
That was a very long time ago, Xanna thought. She wondered if there was a girl in 1638 who thought the moon caught her sneaking onto her roof, too. She liked to think so.
Ten-going-on-eleven Xanna had her own garden. She’d started it even before school let out for the summer to take advantage of the cool spring weather. She had lettuce, snow peas, radishes and even some cabbage started in a corner section of her mom’s bigger garden.
Now she was out of school and summer was coming on, there was even more gardening to be done. Her mother promised her a trip to the seed store the second day of summer vacation and she was so excited she didn’t even go out on the roof the night before. Instead she made a tent under her bed sheet where she could study the almanac by flashlight and write and revise the list of seeds she wanted. She even took out her journal and scribbled:
Sunday, May 31
Tomorrow we go to the seed store. I’d rather go to the seed store than to the mall. Unless there was a seed mall. I would go to the seed mall, even if there were other kids there. Which would be doubtful. Why isn’t there a seed mall? When I grow up I’m going to invent a seed mall. There would be a lettuce seed store, and a tomato seed store, and a herb seed store, and a flower seed store, and lots of other seed stores. I would definitely go to that mall.
Waxing gibbous moon (still). Full moon in two days.
Copyright 2015 Daisy Siskin