Just after eleven on a velvet June night, the moon rolls like a pearl dropped from the sky. You and I hurry along Sycamore Street as it kisses down into the dark cornfields, the same place it chooses every month. Then we run, giggling. When you grab my hand, my heart skips a double-dutch rhythm. Cornstalks slap at our arms and skirts, but don’t slow us down. Like nearly every time before, we are first in line when the crystalline moon-gate opens and admits us inside.
I have not asked yet you if this will be the last time.
A cold wind whistles inside the moon. On the great dome overhead, lights glitter, generous and golden. Their warmth never reaches me. You say the temperature doesn’t bother you, so I say the same. You’ve never called me a liar when you squeeze my icy fingers inside your softer, warmer ones. Moon-folk call out to us from stands draped in fern-fronds and guarded by sapphire dragons the length of my arm. A dram of tears for a love-spell; a silver coin for a hallucination to intoxicate and elucidate. My finger brushes the nickel in my apron pocket. One moon-maiden parts the scaled, shifting tentacles of a salon’s doorway with her hand, and bids us to come in and have our fortunes read.
You pause first. “What’s your price?”
But it’s me, not you, who the moon-maiden smiles at. Her skin glows faintly, an incandescence that fills her from within, as if her bones have been painted with captured starlight. “A kiss,” she says. Her eyes are silver, too, and they shine so differently from your chocolate-brown.
You laugh, and pull me after you. “No thanks!” You know your future too well for that. I know your future too, and its weight on my shoulders makes me turn and look back at the moon-maiden. She watches us go. Her smile is small, but it glows too.
We find your favorite place, the food stand where the moon-matron pan-fries beloved memories so that they can be eaten up all over again, so that they taste all at once sweet-fresh-new and bitter-familiar. Her favorite currencies are picture books and earthly spices: you pass her two issues of Journey Into Unknown Worlds while I hand over the McCormick’s black pepper I pilfered from my grandmother’s kitchen. You cry when the first time you met your Jack disappears behind your lips, but they’re happy tears. I marvel that they don’t freeze when I wipe them away.
I don’t tell you what it is I’m eating. You never ask. Maybe you already know, but it’s better if we can both pretend you don’t.
When we’ve had our fill of memories and silver-moon sights, we settle beneath an arbor carved from a turtle’s mighty shell. You lean your head on my shoulder and the friendly yeasty smell of the bakery you live over drifts to me. “Let’s just stay here,” I say, as I always do.
And as ever, you laugh merrily. Then you’re supposed to say, “Maybe we should!” Instead you cluck your tongue. “We wouldn’t be back for a month! I’d miss my own wedding. And you’d miss it too!”
“I would,” I agree, oh, I would. But then it is late, so late, too late, the weary moon-folk shooing us out into cornfields that rustle with blushing dawnlight. Your mother will be waking soon, my grandmother too. We run back up Sycamore, so fast my feet bruise on the pavement. At the corner with Tenth Street you break away with a hasty good-night. No thank you, your footfalls call to me, no thank you, no thank you.
The moon-gate has closed by the time I make it back, and I cry my dismay as the moon gives the ground a farewell caress. But the diamond jaws prize themselves open, and the moon-maiden, the same one from before, stands just inside. She throws me down a braided rope whose scales chafe my palms where I catch it. I grasp the rope, and it grasps me, and the moon-maiden pulls us up as the town grows first close, then small, beneath us. She does not hold my hand when she leads me inside, nor pull me along behind. We walk together side by side.
She leads me back to the salon, whose shadows deepen as the dome-lights dull and fade, and bids me sit on a cushion soft as dreams. The other moon-folk who have come to ply her custom do not stare or ask curious questions. They are lost in one another’s eyes, in their own reflections in drinking-glasses that brim with storm-clouds of gaseous wine. The moon-maiden takes her price softly, kindly, and when I close my eyes, I feel a gentle glow that rises from my bones.
Aimee Ogden is a former science teacher and software tester; now she writes stories about sad astronauts, angry princesses, and dead gods. Her work can be found in Analog, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and Shimmer. She also co-edits Translunar Travelers Lounge, a new zine of fun and optimistic SFF. You can follow @Aimee_Ogden or @TranslunarTL on Twitter for updates.