‘You know what I like about the moon?’
Pete sighed and stared at the ceiling, suddenly brought back to earth. His mind had been wondering limitlessly, swirling round and round the black hole in his brain, trying to avoid being sucked in. Pete had a loose grasp on science, he was less than sure how black holes worked. Perhaps it was more like a whirlpool. But regardless, now he was back on earth, away from space and sea. Stranded, flat on his back on Ed’s bed.
‘What do you like about the moon, Ed?’
As if Pete was the one who had started the conversation, Ed shrugged disinterestedly and didn’t look back.
‘I don’t know. It’s just… Cool. You know? Does that make sense, or am I just saying words that aren’t registering in that overactive brain of yours?’
‘Are you high?’
‘What? No. Can’t a guy appreciate the moon in his own home? I’m not always high!’
He’s laughing now. Pete is far away. He feels lost in the shallow waters of the conversation.
‘Isn’t it your mom’s home?’
‘Okay, you can shut up now, smartass.’
Pete considers the uninviting prospect of sleep and silence and he sighs. ‘What do you say we go out and appreciate that moon of yours together? I feel like this is a waste of a perfectly nice night stuck in here.’
Pete knows Ed’s weak points. The kind of person who will drop everything for a midnight adventure is the kind of person he despises. Why would they want to do anything else, when they can sleep and sleep and maybe one day never wake up. He’s never been that lucky so far.
A spark ignites in Ed’s eyes. ‘Oh, you know me too well, Peter. You know me too well.’
‘Yeah, sure. Don’t call me Peter.’
One day Pete will escape this house, this town, this world if it were possible. For tonight, this house is enough.
Ed’s moon is a day away from full, and so bright it makes the frosted grass sparkle. They track through it silently, and Ed tries to take Pete’s hand but Pete rejects it like he always does. Ed doesn’t care, he rarely does. Pete would give anything to have such an innocent carefree existence. He wishes things were as simple and round and bright and beautiful as the moon. He considers how infinite the sky is on the way into the woods.
‘Don’t you get bored, Ed?’
‘Maybe. Bored of what?’
‘Pssh. What’s the point? That would be boring.’ Manic laughter at his own pathetic excuse for a joke. Pete just stares at him.
‘Are you sure you’re not high?’
Ed stands stock still, staring upwards at the branches silhouetted against the sky. The light reflects in his eyes, glittering mischievously.
‘I will be in a minute,’ he says, and Pete says, ‘What?’ though he knows what Ed means.
‘Come on, come up with me.’
‘Nah, I don’t want to.’ Pete folds his arms and shakes his head. ‘You climb the tree. I’ll stand here and watch. Don’t die on me though.’
‘Pssh. Come on. As if I’d do that. You’d crash and burn without me.’
‘No doubt. But it’s getting cold. So get it over with.’
Ed scampers up the tree like a monkey, light and agile. Pete watches him idly, thinking he’ll pause on the biggest branch, the one overhanging the ground he stood on a moment before. He’ll wave and laugh and boast about how skilled he is. Then he’ll jump down, trying to make a grab for Pete’s hand again, and they’ll go back inside. Pete will feel exactly the same as he did when he suggested they go out. But at least they passed ten minutes or so getting some fresh air.
But Ed doesn’t do as predicted. He doesn’t stop. He pauses on the biggest branch, then whoops in excitement and keeps going.
‘Pete, this tree is awesome! I can’t believe I’ve never tried it before, it’s just like a ladder! I could totally get right to the top!’
‘Good for you,’ Pete says dully. ‘Be quick about it.’
‘You can’t rush perfection! I’m going to be so high!’ Another manic howl of laughter. Pete glances down at the wet grass and wonders if it’s worth sitting down. Moments pass. Ed’s head suddenly appears up at the top of the tree, his triumphant expression just visible.
‘Dude, I’m so high up! You should totally join me!’
‘Yeah, no thanks. Now come on, you’ve had your fun. Get down here.’
‘Give me a minute to bathe in my own glory! Oh, you should totally try it! It’s so easy, even you could climb it!’
‘Thanks. Come on, Ed. It’s cold.’
Ed laughs. ‘Look, no hands!’ He waves wildly, and Pete’s heart jumps into his mouth.
‘Quit it, Ed! You’re going to -’
Reckless laughter, a movement too swift. He slips, falls, the tree swallows him and the black hole in Pete’s brain implodes and takes him over completely. He feels nothing, knows nothing, is nothing. He squeezes his eyes tight shut and locks himself in his own head.
The branches shake, there’s a thump. Pete dares open one eye and Ed’s lying lifeless in the frosted grass.
‘Ed?’ Pete’s voice sounds weak. He tiptoes closer and nudges Ed’s side with his foot.
‘Are you dead?’
He’s dead. He’s gone. Pete is gone too. He closes his eyes with the intention of never opening them again. There’s nothing worth opening them for anymore.
A sudden scream of joyous laughter. ‘You thought I was dead?’
Pete opens his eyes again and Ed jumps up and points and hoots with laughter. ‘You fool! Come on, as if I’d die after I promised you!’
‘That’s not funny!’ Pete snaps. He hits Ed’s arm. Then hits it again. ‘Stop laughing at me!’
‘I’m sorry, it’s just so funny. I’ll shut up. Let’s get back in the house before we freeze.’
When Pete wakes up the following morning, he feels hopeful and clear headed. The sun glints through the window, and Pete shakes Ed again, just to double check he isn’t dead.
‘Ed? You know what I like about the sun?’
‘What do you like about the sun, Pete?’ Ed mumbles, face in his pillow. Pete smiles.
‘Everything. It’s just cool, you know? Come on, let’s get out there and climb some trees.’