photo of a cloud before the moon


The nearly-full moon was eclipsed in the night sky by a large cloud and time stopped.

Near the edge of town, a freight train came full stop without so much as screeching its steel wheels on the tracks. The control arm in a road crossing up ahead seized half-way to the down position. And that was okay because the car approaching the crossing also came to a halt.

The jukebox inside Mabel’s Country Kitchen ceased midway through an old Marty Robbins tune. A waitress in the diner froze dead in her tracks carrying a plate of food and fountain drinks to her only customers, four teenagers with more attitude than cash to support it.

The clock behind the diner’s counter stopped.

It was 8:14 p.m.

But something was moving. It moved quietly from it’s hiding place in the overgrown bushes next to Sam’s Automotive. It had been living in the place where “Sam” dumped the unused motor oil from customer’s serviced cars. He was supposed to recycle it, but that cost money.

It might be said that the thing was half-human because it had limbs and what could be considered a head. The face was powder white and drawn tightly the skull. It had not moved from its dirty petroleum pool in a very long time. It had always been cautious. Its eyes were black pools. There were no teeth in the gaping mouth-hole from which a thick mucus oozed.

It knew something had changed. All the normal night noises had stopped. Even the frogs were quiet.

It slid by the back of the garage and moved into the alley that passed by the rear of all commercial buildings on this side of the street. The further it ventured from its grubby home the more adventurous it became. It crawled between the hardware store and the local newspaper office and came to the main street. The street lights were on but they illuminated mostly empty sidewalks. A man wearing a fedora halfway up the other side of the street had come to a standstill mid-stride and one raised foot remained comically suspended in the night air.

The creature peered in through the corner of the Brandonville Post. It could see the editor sitting in her office marking up copy for the Friday edition. But her pencil wasn’t moving and she stared at the sheet of copy paper before her as though completely transfixed by what she was reading.

It knew where it would go. The main street eventually led to the docks and there were a lot of hiding places under the wharves and behind the cement pilings that anchored the structures to the seafloor. There would be food down there: crabs, bits of bait and dead fish, dock spiders and other insects.

On its way to its new home, it slipped past downtown to houses further east and it grew bold and crept inside them. There was a family of four watching television on a single sofa. The father was dozing already. The others were transfixed in the glow of the TV. In other homes he came across small children already asleep, big drinkers with the stereo turned up too loud while they stumbled around in what they loosely called dancing. There were lovers and there were fighters.

At the end of the cross-street was the stately old Brandonville Inn, with a large dining room that overlooked the ocean. The room was mostly empty now. Supper service began at five and wound down three hours later. But the lights were on and even from across the lawn it could see candles still burning on linen tablecloths and a busboy starting the clean up as though in a painting. The creature felt new mucus move down its chin.

In the parking lot, it looked as though two adult men were about to get into it. A woman looked on in shock. One of the two men has a knife. It wouldn’t end well.

It moved on. The docks extended east of downtown and they were just a few blocks away. It moved onto them, out onto one of the finger piers that was unoccupied. And something began to happen to the creature, a metamorphosis of sorts, The oily slick that had been his skin sloughed off. Beneath it were scales and a tail fin that absorbed its two rear appendages. With its front legs, it dragged itself to the edge of the pier. The water was black. There was a dull thud and then a splash and the creature disappeared beneath the oily water of the industrial docks.

The large cloud that had moved in front of the moon moved off. Waves began to lap against the concrete pilings, The train passed the town, whose residents resumed their lives with no notice of the period in which time did not exist and no knowledge of the entity that lived beyond the bondage of clocks.