Their pale faces were tilted skyward. Each pair of eyes brimmed with hope. In the moonlight, their skin seemed luminous; a battle of bright flesh against the surrounding darkness. Their mouths were slightly open, as if expecting to receive holy communion. They stood in a circle on the mossy ground, hand in hand. Their open throats drooled blood down their young chests.
Under my bare feet, the moss felt so comforting. So inviting. With the children standing guard, I would curl up on the ground and fall asleep.
That was 25 years ago. It was my nightly ritual. I’d sleepwalk to the clearing in the woods outside our home and sleep next to the five children. No one noticed I came home at dawn. No one would have cared anyway.
After I turned 14, it all stopped. I assumed it had to have been a recurring dream. Yes, I sleepwalked nearly every night. Yes, I spent those nights in the woods. But no children were ever reported missing. There were no slit throats. Just trees and moss. Lots and lots of moss.
I moved away when I turned 19. As the years went by, the memories grew hazy, as they’re wont to do. Certain things trigger them, though. Some more strongly than others. Lately, it’s been open mouths.
The open mouths of the children were always a source of fascination for me. I wasn’t put off by their slit throats. I wasn’t disturbed by their warm, skyward stare. No, their mouths were the source of my inquisitiveness. I would walk around their circle, moss brushing between my toes, and look inside their mouths. They looked warm and soft; pink tongues and small teeth and narrow throats.
When I was eight, I kissed one of the two girls. The redhead. Her lips were full and tasted like pine. I felt my breath collect in her mouth and spill back into mine. She didn’t move. My body sang.
I tasted pine for years afterward. No kiss since has ever been so enthralling. The decades passed with a growing sense unfulfillment.
When my parents died last year, I moved back into their home. It was very much the same. Now I go about my day-to-day business, but the children are still very much in my mind. The softness of the moss against my skin and the sense of protection I had as I slept near them has been impossible to shake. My nostalgia has only grown since returning to the home near where it had all happened.
Some nights, I walk to the mossy clearing. It’s as beautiful as it always had been, especially when the moon is full and I recall it shining against porcelain skin and bright eyes and wet mouths. I’ll curl up on the moss and sob myself to sleep. Alone.
I’ve found some solace in cultivating that same moss. It’s the only tangible remnant of that comforting time in my life. I’ve been able to coax patches of it to grow in my dirt-floor basement, and that’s where I sleep now. There, in the moss, in the comfort of my home, I can dream again. The dreams are a temporary fix, but better than nothing. They’ll be enough until it can happen again. I know it will.
The first child I claimed is a girl with red hair. The bulb in the basement doesn’t look like moonlight. Its yellow hue causes her skin to look sallow and sickly. Her eyes are clouded and difficult to keep open. The gaping throat is the same, though. The throat keeps the memory real. And before I curl up next to her pinned feet and sleep, I make sure to kiss her open mouth. I fantasize about pine as the taste of metal coats my tongue.