Short Fiction: ‘The Moon Waits For No Man’

An obsession, a secret, and the truths we don’t want to face. Stoney decided to release one of his short stories, The Moon Waits For No Man, free on the site!

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So, you see…one of the greatest, most influential works of fiction the world has ever seen arose from a simple dare among friends who were bored on a rainy summer weekend,” Dr. Scott Waterford announced, pacing back and forth across the stage in his lecture hall, making sure every student could hear his message. “Lord Byron challenged Mary Shelley to write a ghost story, and so, Frankenstein was born. If she could create a masterpiece in a few days time, I have the utmost confidence that you all can come up with a thousand-word flash fiction piece before our next course. Have a good weekend, everyone!” With a low murmur of laughter, some forced to flatter the professor and some genuine, Dr. Waterford’s students began packing their bags and filtering out of the room.

Visitors weren’t exactly uncommon since he’d made the move to academia after years spent as a glorified treasure hunter. Truth be told, he was well aware of just how interesting his escapades, experiences, and previous work were. It wasn’t lost on him as to why someone would want to pick his brain. His knees reminded him every day of those adventures, aching from the weight of his large frame. His back still sent shots of pain up his spine every once in a while to remind him of treacherous hikes up mountains and the way a tree trunk feels when you’ve stumbled downhill and wrapped your body around it. The ponytailed professor was happy to be out of the field, teaching literature at the university here in Philadelphia. But, he came to recognize that a visitor’s appearance tipped their hand.

He noticed a man with a manicured beard wearing a black suit and sunglasses at the top of the hall during the lecture. The suit was a dead giveaway, and he knew he’d be hearing from this man at his first chance. Sure enough, once the classroom cleared out, he sauntered down the stairs, taking in the atmosphere. “So, this is it,” the man said, “the very room from which the next generation of great writers mature.

The man smiled and flashed a set of teeth that would signal wayward sailors home in the middle of the night it was so bright. He was the type of man that seemed to just exude money and resources. Feeling an oncoming sense of wasted time and wanting to avoid it, Scott replied, “that’s kind of you – how can I help you?

Forgive my manners – the name’s Henry Sandstone.” He approached the stage, but paused, removing his glasses from his head and polishing them gently. “Dr. Waterford, I’m a longtime admirer of your work…nay, your life. You are quite the interesting man. 17 published books. Counsel to diplomats the world over. The recovery of The Siren of Oakcrest, Merlin’s Beard, and The Nightshade Harp just to name a few…expeditions across oceans. I hope my gushing doesn’t make you uncomfortable, Doctor. I’m a huge fan.

Another fanboy, Scott thought to himself. He couldn’t help but wonder what kind of wild goose chase this man had cooked up, hoping to have his aid for. Was there some relic in a lost world that needed rescuing? Could he have been another Hollywood producer knocking on the door to set up a film franchise based on his life? Who knows? He finally mustered a response. “Pleasure to meet you, Mr. Sandstone. It’s always nice to hear your work is recognized. I appreciate that.”

Please! Call me Henry,” an awkward pause hung in the air before Henry decided to cut right to the chase. “Dr. Waterford…I need your help. There’s something very important to me that I need to find, and I’m running out of time. I feel you are uniquely qualified to aid me in this matter.

Henry, I’m flattered. I really am. But, I’ve left that life behind me. I can put you into contact with some colleagues of mine who are still in the game.

With all due respect, Dr. Waterford. It’s you. I know it’s you. No one else will do. If you’d allow me the pleasure, I’d like to buy you dinner. Could we go somewhere and talk?

Scott knew better than to take the bait, but he also couldn’t turn down a free steak and an Old Fashioned or two. Sensing a bit of desperation in Henry’s voice that piqued his curiosity, he agreed, wanting only one answer before continuing. “Okay, Henry – I’ll tag along. But, tell me…what is it you’re hunting?

The Starborn Sceptre.

With three simple words, Scott felt the color leave his face. “The Starborn Sceptre?!?! The Sceptre that grants eternal life to those who wield it? You plant a stake in the ground and something about the way the light hits reveals a secret language that no one can speak – something like that…Henry, there’s no legitimate evidence that the Starborn Sceptre is even real.

Like I said, Dr. Waterford. I’d like to buy you dinner. Shall we go somewhere and talk?

The Mary Shelley bit was a bout of genius,” Henry said with a chuckle as the clanking of silverware echoed throughout the restaurant. “What an impressive feat, mind you. We always think of these pillars of literature as having come from some place of grand inspiration…some masterpiece…and yet, this beastly tale just falls out of her brain during some shenanigans.

Sure. It’s a testament to how we are merely vessels for our art,” Scott replied. Swallowing his whiskey, he added, “there’s always some kind of monster within us. The trick lies in how we channel it. This well within us…we take from it when we need it, but it’s always there…just below the surface. How she drew from that is what impressed me most. She was something else.

Indeed.” Henry sighed. With plates cleaned, he wanted to guide the conversation towards what he wanted from Scott. “Dr. Waterford…I believe I know, in general, where to find the Starborn Sceptre. I know that you know of its…rumored…powers. Endless life. Immortality. I know you can certainly understand how the bug of a good hunt can bite you, too.” He paused, recognizing the gravity of what he was about to say would determine where the conversation went from here. “It’s South America. We traced it from the Amazon River up to the Japurá River before our lead ran dry. This ‘stake’ you spoke of back at the university…think of it more as a token. I have it. But, I don’t know how to decipher the code and it will only illuminate through the light of a full moon…

And, the next full moon is in two days,” Scott interjected.

Not just any full moon. It is only once every hundred years that the moon is in the position it will be in two nights from now. I’m close, but considering I am already 56 years old, I will not have another chance to find it. I can make you an incredibly rich man if you guide me, Dr. Waterford.

There it was. Scott couldn’t believe the audacity. “Are you asking me to completely uproot my life to go to South America with you? A man who I quite literally just met because he walked into my classroom?!?!” And, you’re offering me wealth?!

I am,” Henry stated simply.

The answer’s no, Henry. You’re chasing a fairy tale, and I’m not even sure why you think I’m the one to help you anyway.

Very well,” Henry said, defeated. “I didn’t mean to offend you. I am a desperate man, and as the cliché goes, you can imagine the lengths I’d go to in order to see this through.” He picked up the check and paid it.

Scott let out a sigh, once again remembering his background and how that might entice someone to reach out to him for such a mission. “Maybe in a different life.

Once the meal had been squared away, the two arose from their table and approached the exit. Upon exit, Scott turned and said, “I appreciate the evening, Henry. I wish you nothing but luck on your journey.

Dr. Waterford, let’s lose the illusions here. I know you have a secret. I know that you can help me. I had hoped that it wouldn’t come to this. Unfortunately, time is running out. The moon waits for no man.” With that, Scott felt a pinch on the side of his neck. Disoriented, he saw Henry stand calmly as his vision was shrouded in total darkness.

The rattling of a vehicle traversing a rocky road awoke Scott. He could feel the heat of a thick humid air permeating the van, but he could see nothing. From the sounds of life happening all around him, he guessed it was night. Great, he thought to himself, I’ve been masked. His hands and feet were tied. Sweat had clearly been rolling down his back given the dampness of his shirt. How long had he been out? Whatever he was riding in, it was either some beat up old van ready to burst at the axle, or they were somewhere remote, where the roads are little more than a few scoops of gravel spread across some dirt. “Where am I?

Dr. Waterford,” a familiar voice…Henry’s. “I gave you the option to come freely in exchange for a price you could’ve named. Truthfully, you were going to accompany me one way or another. You chose ‘another’ it would seem.

Why are you doing this? I can’t help you.” As his senses came back to him, Scott was beginning to panic. His medication was left behind in Philadelphia, and he was terrified of what would happen without it. He had no idea of his exact whereabouts. He had no phone. All he could gather was that he was likely on some road traveling deep into the South American jungle.

“Ah, but I know better. Relax. Your secret is safe with me.” Henry was speaking in such a smug tone, his charm giving way to arrogance. It was harmless enough as they were getting to know each other over a steak dinner. Given how far he had proven he was willing to go to get what he wanted, right or wrong, it was far more than an annoyance.

Panic gave way to anger. Scott was certain that no one could possibly know of his condition, and Henry’s tone was beginning to piss him off. With a little bass in his voice, he fired off “what secret? What are you talking about?

Dr. Waterford…I know. You’ve written a lot of stories. You’ve sold a lot of books, fiction or not. You’ve been on expeditions to find timeless objects that others have quite literally died seeking out. You have legitimate fans out there, myself included. And, do you know what they all seem to be saying about your work? That you write about history as if you were there. You bring it to life through a perspective that no one else seems to have.” Scott couldn’t see it, but a brief pause allowed a cocky smirk to spread across Henry’s face. “I wonder why that is. Maybe you’re not a man about town. Maybe you’re a man about time – have I figured you out, my good man? Or, have I not?

Scott’s stomach turned as he realized something – he thinks I’ve found and used the Starborn Sceptre. What’s worse, he had to admit to himself, was that Henry Sandstone’s instincts weren’t too far off.

Scott was beginning to lose track of time. He figured that hours had passed since he first came to with the heat and the sweat of the jungle bearing down on him. When the vehicle finally came to a stop, leaving the gentle hum of steam radiating from an engine that had just been shut off, Henry pulled the mask off of Scott’s face. The bright sunshine of an early morning beaming down on him, Scott took a look around to gather his bearings. A fishing village, it would seem. Out here on the brink of civilization. He felt as though he was on the verge of blindness, but he could make out seven silhouettes. The middle stepped forth, reminding Scott, “I do have resources, Dr. Waterford. I don’t know what happens if I push you too far here, but I promise that we will find out if you do not help me.”

It’s not what you think, Henry. You have to let me go.” Scott didn’t have an exact window between now and the last time he’d taken his medication. But, he knew from the way that he felt that it had been too long. A rush to his heart reminded him of what was to come if he couldn’t take it, but the uneasiness bubbling up within him was interrupted by Henry’s voice.

You know…I heard it during your lecture. You spoke of Mary Shelley as if you knew her. I’ve pieced this together through studying your work for years, but seeing you in action just brought it all home. There’s only one reasonable explanation here. It must be – the treasure hunter who is credited with over a dozen historical finds, and writes as if he’s lived throughout human history….chances are, he found the historical relic that grants everlasting life.” Scott didn’t budge. Henry was bringing it up again. It was killing him inside not to hear Scott confirm his suspicions. Ultimately, there was still a task at hand. If this was the game Scott was going to play, he thought, they’d square it away later if Scott survived the night. Beginning to lose his patience a bit, Henry said, “all I’m asking from you is that you share the power. Guide me to where you found it, so that I may have your gift too.

I can’t,” Scott said defeatedly.

Very well then, Dr. Waterford. We have a hike ahead of us that should last eight hours, and I want to get there early. There is no time for this. You will help me, or you will die.” Two of Henry’s henchmen grab Scott, each taking an arm and dragging him forward. Scott feels something that hadn’t stirred within him in a long time – a sort of primal rage. How could he be so foolish to end up in such a situation? Could he have not passed on a perfectly-cooked steak just once? How fucking long had it been since he’d taken his meds?

The rage boils over and without thinking, Scott finds himself squirming, hands cuffed behind his back. He manages to break free of one of the goon’s grip, and he delivers a headbutt to the other that sprays the nearby trees with the blood of a broken nose. He turns to kick the other square in the chest, and the velocity is so great that the guard is driven back 10 feet through the air before he collides with the ground, sending up a cloud of dirt. The other four were on Scott before he knew it, each subduing a limb.

I had no idea you were so strong,” Henry says. “No one who has ever made it to this point in our journey has returned to society to tell the tale. It will serve us well to have some real strength.

Scott looks around. A mother stopped from hanging her laundry out to dry to watch what was happening. Two young boys had ceased their roughhousing, looking on in fright. There is innocent life here, thought Scott. Whatever they were to bring into the light tonight, he didn’t want it to spread to these people. Exasperated, Scott caves in. “You have no idea of the danger in front of you. But, we don’t need to bring it to this village. I’ll show you how to use the token. Get me to the spot.

Deep in the jungle and away from society, the sun begins to set. Henry is still ranting about this token and the Starborn Sceptre. His obsession is clear. “They say the code summons a spirit…that you’re not so much granted immortality as you are consumed with the spirit of a being who can preserve every cell in your body.

What if it’s all legend, Henry? Or, what if you die tonight? What if there’s a good damn reason that no one’s ever returned from this journey? Will you die happy?” Scott was content to push it. He was beginning to feel unwell, and if he was going down, he was going to go down swinging. Henry fell silent for a few moments.

Dr. Waterford, I regret that I had to bring you here. I am sure you’ve written the code down somewhere if you haven’t memorized it. But, I could not risk startling you into running…or…destroying what evidence you have of this place. This has not been ideal, but it’s been necessary for me. I am desperate, and I would hope you’d understand that.” If Henry was looking for solace in Scott’s empathy, he would not receive it.

After hours of chopping through the thick jungle, the group happened upon a clearing..a place that had clearly been touched by the sands of time. As they walked into the middle of the opening, Scott noticed a collection of ruins circling them, overgrown with vines, chipped by the weathering of decay. Henry retrieves the token from his bag and places it in a groove in one of the stones. “Now we wait – once the full moon of this cycle hits this token, light will reflect upon the stones before us, illuminating characters that, with the help of a skilled translator or more simply, someone who has done this before, we will chant the archaic words that will summon the sceptre. You will translate the code for me, Dr. Waterford, or you will die.

I will die?” The tone in Scott’s voice was growing a little more manic as darkness began to swallow the sky. “You’re all going to die in this jungle tonight. I don’t know this code you’ve been raving about. It’s all bullshit that you bought because you’re so terribly and insanely obsessed with this chase for immortality. I lied to you.” Scott felt a crick in his neck. His bones began to shake and he was on the verge of completely losing his temper. “Henry, I have to remind you of something you told me at our dinner: the moon waits for no man.”

Clouds separate as the beaming moonlight hits the token. It scatters light across the clearing, but nothing is illuminated as Henry had predicted. The Starborn Sceptre? A myth? It couldn’t be. It was a truth that Henry was not ready to face. He began to fidget with the token, turning it, pointing it in different directions. He was shouting orders at his men to rid the stones of debris. He was so preoccupied with his destiny that he failed to see what else was happening in front of him.

Scott’s stomach begins to grumble. He vomits. His knuckles crack. Joints pop and contort. His eyes glow a searing orange. His teeth lengthen and sharpen, hair sprouting uncontrollably all over his body. Where fingers protruded from a hand, razor sharp claws now sit menacingly. The beast has consumed all that was left of him, and without a will to fight it, he takes control in the light of the full moon. With a feral howl, the wolf announces his presence.

Henry jolts to attention. He’s trying to process that his grand ambition was for nothing more than a farce. And, he’s trying to process that there’s a literal werewolf staring him down. The wolf takes a step towards Henry that he would’ve sworn made the ground shake. “HELP!” Henry screams. His security detail turns to face the creature. They draw their weapons and begin to fire away at the being that was once Dr. Scott Waterford. Their bullets simply bounce off of the wolf, thumping on the ground one by one.

The wolf dashes to his left, and with one swipe, slices the first guard’s throat wide open. The next poor soul freezes and the wolf makes short work of him, grabbing his shoulders and sinking his teeth into the man’s face. His skull caved in under the bite of the wolf. A third guard reloads – he hasn’t abandoned his firearm yet. It’s the only thing he trusts in this situation. He can’t believe what he saw, and so he doesn’t. Surely the shots were just off. He fires away again to no avail. The wolf picks up one of the stones that were rumored to have held some ancient secret, and he heaves it across the clearing, crushing the guard under its weight.

Just three guards remain, standing between the wolf and Henry Sandstone. They have drawn their machetes and aligned side by side. The wolf backhands one of the men on the end, breaking his neck upon impact. But, when he does this, the man on the other end swings his sword into the wolf’s ribs. The numbers game isn’t much more effective. The wolf slices the guard’s hand off, the sword clanking upon colliding with the stone at their feet. The final guard drops to his knees, crying, he begins to beg the wolf to spare him. His pleas are met with a kick to the face, claws piercing his skin and dislodging his jaw from his face.

Henry Sandstone stands defiant. “You liar! You fraud! You brought me here to die!” The wolf cocked his head to the side. Whether Henry knew it or not, he was right. Scott hadn’t taken his medicine. He knew what would come, and he didn’t want to unleash it upon innocent lives. If it meant that seven men go missing, so be it. It only feeds into the legend of the Starborn Sceptre. No one returns from this journey.

Not another word from Henry’s mouth. The wolf grabbed him by the throat, raised him into the air a full foot off the ground. It was a struggle to breathe, and Henry sounded as if he was choking on air. A hearty growl emitted from the wolf’s throat. For a split second, Henry would’ve sworn he saw a smile. The wolf took his other hand and stuffed it into Henry’s mouth. The cries of a dying man rang through the jungle. With one simple move, the wolf drove his fist completely through the back of Henry’s head. He let go, and Henry’s body hit the ground with a wet thud.

Another howl hangs in the night air, unusual for the South American jungle. Dr. Scott Waterford had his immortality alright…but it wasn’t achieved the way Henry Sandstone had so confidently asserted.

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