Back in print, a major fantasy novel from the author of The Land of Laughs and The Wooden Sea
“Bones of the Moon is chilling and no one has ever written a book quite like it...Jonathan Carroll is a cult waiting to be born.” Pat Conroy
“A gorgeous, frightening, imaginative, loving, unsettling, funny, gruesome, thought-provoking novel. This grand book is a triumph.” Stephen King
“Amazing, perplexing, and unforgettable. A magical world that forces the reader to put aside his own and live only in wonder.” Stanislaw Lem
- HarperCollins Publishers
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Bones of the Moon
By Jonathan Carroll
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 1987 Jonathan Carroll
All rights reserved.
The Axe Boy lived downstairs. We were friendly because he was forever walking an ugly little dog I patted when I bumped into them in the hall.
As you've seen from the pictures, he was nothing special to look at. The only odd thing I noticed was his eyeglasses: they were almost always dirty — that foggy, smudged look which makes you want to take out your own hanky and give them a good cleaning.
"A good boy." Why do newspapers always use terms like that? "Everyone who knew him thought of the murderer as a good boy who loved his parents, was a member of the Eagle Scouts and spent his spare time collecting Asian stamps."
Even my wonderful husband Danny said that after most of the grisly details came out. "He seemed like a good kid, didn't he, Cullen? 'Axe Boy'? Jesus, what a thing to call someone!"
"Danny, our young friend 'Axe Boy' Alvin Williams chopped his mother and sister into pieces exactly one floor below our apartment. A good boy he is not."
Danny had that quality and most of the time I loved him very much for it: the world is to be forgiven. Axe Boys, dogs that shit in the middle of the sidewalk, dangerous drivers ... they know not what they do.
I forgive nothing. If you stole my orange crayon in the fifth grade, you're still on my hit list, buster.
We were eating breakfast and Danny was reading the story to me from the paper. The thought of that murderous creep snoozing below us not long before still made my fanny tingle.
"He says he didn't know what came over him."
"Oh, really? Well, I hope the next thing that comes over him is a noose!"
"Cullen, you've interrupted me four times since I began reading this article to you. Would you like me to go on, or would you rather do a monologue?"
But he smiled when he said this because he wasn't really angry. When Danny got angry, he became quiet. Then you ran and hid under the bed for a very long time until he spoke again.
"You can go on, but he doesn't deserve any sympathy."
Danny ruffled the paper and cleared his throat. "He said he didn't know what came over him because he loved his mother and sister very much." He shook his head. "My God, what would it be like if that was your kid?" He looked at me as if I had the answer. "Whenever you see the parents of a kid like this on television, being interviewed, they always look so hurt and confused. All that time and effort they've put in over the years. The new bicycles they bought, trips to the doctor, packages from Grandma ... So what ends up happening? Mom borrows his pen and for some reason he goes totally berserk. I wonder if it was this bad in the old days?"
"Danny, please don't start. 'The old days' were probably just as bad as now; people just use them as an excuse to condemn things."
"I'm not going to 'start'. It's just that whenever I read about something like this, I get all guilty. You know what I mean? Why should we be so lucky? We still love each other, the baby's great, I make good money...."
He shrugged and drank his coffee. There wasn't anything I could say because he was right — we were lucky people, and if I could do anything about it, it would stay that way for the next fifty years.
I fell in love with Danny James when it was unfashionable to fall in love with anything but causes. Spell that with a capital "C," please. That was back in the 1970s when everybody hated the war in Vietnam and stores sold only incense and tacky Indian clothes by the million. I shouldn't be so snotty, because I wore too much patchouli perfume and carried my very own copy of The Prophet with me wherever I went. Thank God things change. Is there anyone around whose past doesn't make them cringe?
We met in college in New Jersey and were introduced by the girl Danny later married — Evelyn Hernuss, who was my roommate in freshman year.
He was in love with her. But at the time I was in love with Jim Vanderberg, so I didn't pay much attention to Danny James. Jim and I were convinced we were destined to get married and go off to a Peace Corps posting in some ravaged section of the world, where they would desperately need us and we would go around feeling like little saints for a couple of years. But the worm turns!
Jim and I later broke up over an advanced case of apathy. And three months after their marriage in junior year, Evelyn Hernuss James died in a car crash with her mother and father on their way home from one of Danny's basketball games.
I had taken the semester off to campaign for a Presidential peace candidate and was in Chicago when I heard about her death. There was little I could do besides write Danny a letter telling him how sorry I was. Evelyn was one of the good ones — all the way down the line.
In what seemed a week, I received a thick letter back from Danny, spilling every gut he had on to the page. I wrote back and he wrote back and I wrote back. ... And when I returned in the winter, he met me at Newark Airport looking like someone who had barely survived Dachau. He looked so bad he scared me.
All of my "Earth Mother" instincts woke right up. Believe me, I had no intention of loving him — I was there to be his friend in need. I had also decided I was going to be "off" love that semester. I was going to be serious, chaste, industrious, unapproachable ... and eat only whole-grain foods.
We spent a lot of time together. He needed someone he could cry in front of; I needed someone who would make me feel a little less self-involved. Things worked out fine.
That was the year he set a school record for scoring and, hate sports as much as I did, I went to as many games as possible. At the beginning I sat in the stands and did my homework, but I couldn't help admiring how smooth and graceful he looked on the court. Soon I stopped doing my homework, became a great fan and knew more about basketball than a serious girl should.
When college was over, Danny was offered two tryouts with professional teams, but true to his Marco Polo nature, he decided to play for a team in Milan instead. I thought it was a nice idea but nuts at the same time — and had no hesitation in telling him that. He shrugged and said he didn't want to play basketball for the rest of his life anyway, so here was a way he could play and see things at the same time without the pressure and worry of big-time American pro sports.
European pro basketball turned out to be rough and often about as subtle as a brick over the head. The finesse and ballet of the game at its best in the United States is lost. American players who come over are often appalled at the steamroller way they go at it in the "elegant" part of the world.
Danny's letters to me that first year abroad were full of wonderful descriptions of games played in youth centers, military bases, gymnasiums that doubled as town halls. The team gave him a car that blew up, and just enough money to keep his elephant's appetite at bay.
I was working for a magazine in New York as a researcher and feeling lonely most of the time. Live in New York when you're rich or in love, but avoid it when all you have is a job, a smelly apartment on Tenth Street and an empty dance card. That was the year I spent devouring all the books you're only supposed to read at the beach in the summer. I learned how to cook, and thanked God someone had had the compassion to invent television.
During the day I would call places like Alaska and ask distant-voiced scientists about the mating habits of the musk-ox. I was good at my job because I had too much time on my hands and didn't mind putting in extra hours, asking a million extra questions and making perfect copies of my research reports.
I dated a bunch of men with names like Richard and Christopher (multisyllable names were "in" again) who, when taken together, didn't add up to one Danny James. His letters from Italy were full of freshness and life. The guys I was seeing were trying their damnedest to be cool and wise and infallible. They took me to grim Bulgarian movies (in the original language) and then explained the story to me afterward in lousy coffeehouses. Danny liked to talk about the funny mistakes he'd made and how silly he'd looked or felt as a result. He would write a whole letter about a meal of bad pasta that would make me laugh out loud. So many of the sentences had his face. Unfortunately for the Richards and Christophers, I would inevitably receive one of these treasured letters a few hours before a date with one of them and, as a result, I'd be a grump all night.
Yet, just before summer arrived that year, I did something incredibly stupid. Tired of being efficient by day and lonely by night, I went to bed with a beautiful German photographer named Peter (pronounced "Pay-ter") who made me swoon in my seat the first time he entered the office. Casual affairs had always repelled me, but I had never really experienced lust at first sight. I slept with him on our second date. He took me out for dinner in a very tall building that had a view over all of Manhattan. We ate the most delicious things on the menu and he talked about the ruins of Petra, the game the Afghanis play called bushkhazi, an evening he'd spent at a café in Alexandria with Lawrence Durrell.
He never looked me in the eye once in all the times we went to bed in the next months. He preferred to rest his handsome chin on my shoulder every time we "made love." He wasn't good and he wasn't bad: he was just "Pay-ter" who told wonderful stories and expected you to do more than he did once you were in bed. Since there was little else in my life then besides letters from the distant Danny James, I convinced myself I was in love with Peter.
Psychologists say you should never go food shopping when you're hungry, because at that point everything you see looks delicious and you buy strictly on impulse. Popcorn, oysters ... it doesn't make any sense because your stomach is saying yes to everything, whether it's logical or nutritious or just junk. I met Peter when I was hungry and everything he was looked like a feast.
When I found out I was pregnant, it took me three days to get up the nerve to tell Peter. He told me I was lovely and a wonder, but it wasn't love; he said he had a friend who knew a good abortionist. I said I would do my own shopping around and did. I was too young and sure of my wonderful future to think about losing the child. Somewhere far-off in my mind I knew I wanted to have children later in life, but not now. Not with a man who didn't love me — and not with my mind full of fear and anger and blinking red lights.
What I remember most about the whole experience was the serene sense of comfort and soft calm I felt when I woke up in a hospital bed late one August afternoon, childless again. I never wanted to leave that bed with its crunchy-white sheets and buttery light pouring in through the window.
I went back to my small apartment and opened a magazine. The first thing I saw was a photograph of a family having a picnic in a bright green meadow. I think I looked at that picture for ten minutes. I had left a child in that hospital. I didn't want the child, even with that photograph in my aching lap, but that didn't matter. I felt like there was nothing left — not someone I loved, not a child of that love, nothing.
I didn't go mad or anything so dramatic, but I did fall into a depression as deep and dark as the sea at night. I became even more efficient at my job and started reading books on advanced mathematics and architecture when I went home at night. I wanted to keep my mind filled with things that were clean and sharp and logical: pictures of buildings that rose straight off the earth like rockets.
I went to a woman analyst who told me I was beautiful and witty and absolutely right to abort because my body was my own. But her feminist pep-talks only made me sadder and less sure of myself than before. I didn't want to be independent; I wanted to love someone and feel comfortable with my life.
One night I realized that the only person I knew who could come close to understanding my confusion was Danny. So I sat down and wrote him a ten-page, single-spaced letter telling him about my relationship with Peter and the abortion and how it was affecting me. I so vividly remember going to the post office the next day to mail it. After I'd slipped it into the box, I closed my eyes very tightly and said, "Please, please, please."
A week later I received a telegram from Milan saying:
WHY DID YOU WAIT TO TELL ME? THE FIRST THING I'M GOING TO DO IS PUNCH YOU IN THE NOSE. ARRIVING TUESDAY FLIGHT 60/TWA/KENNEDY.
I spent the entire weekend rushing around shopping, cleaning my apartment (twice), shaking my head in disbelief that Danny was actually arriving in a few days. What was even more unbelievable was that from all accounts, his trip was in response to my confused letter. Did people still rush to another's side to help and comfort? My whole spirit clapped its hands at the thought.
Riding out to the airport on the bus, I kept smoothing the wrinkles in my new dress and said again and again under my breath, "Flight 60 TWA. Flight 60 TWA."
The plane was forty-five minutes late in arriving and by the time people started emerging through the gate, I think I'd gone to the bathroom three times. I waited and waited; had gone up and down on my tiptoes a hundred times before I saw this wonderful, familiar giant emerge behind all the other pygmy passengers.
He bent down and gave me a big kiss on the lips. His smile was like sitting by a warm fire with the best book you've ever read.
"That's the first time I ever kissed you like that, isn't it? How come I waited so long?"
"And how come you're so tall? I forgot, sort of."
We walked toward the exit and I had to take two steps to match his every one. I kept looking up at him to make sure he was really there and not just in my best dreams. I envied no one else in the world.
Outside, waiting for a cab to take us back to the city, he towered over everyone with both his height and his pure calm. People screeched and ran by, buses blatted smoke thick as lead, planes carved the air overhead. Danny stood there and smiled at it all.
"You know, it's nice to be back in horrible old New York, Cullen."
I got up on tiptoes and gave him a big smooch on his sandy cheek. "Only you would get a kick out of this mess."
A shabby Checker cab rambled up and the driver came out so fast I thought he'd been catapulted.
"The city? You goin' inna city? Hah?"
"We go the meter! What, you think I'm a crook or somethin'?"
Cabdrivers in New York are either autistic or philosophers; there's rarely an in-between. We'd happened on a philosopher-complainer who kept yakking the whole forty minutes into town. That was nothing new, but Danny yakked right back. The driver's name was Milton Stiller and by the time we were shimmying over the Tri- Borough Bridge, Danny was calling him "Milt" and asking pertinent questions about his wife, Sylvia.
There are people who will talk to anyone and find something interesting in them. I'm not one of them, but I learned fast that Danny was. People felt comfortable and at home with him, innately sensing he'd neither judge nor betray their confidences, no matter what they were. Our new friend Milton had probably been griping his woes at captive customers for twenty years. But Danny listened and talked and was the kind of human being we all want to kidnap and take home forever and never share with anyone else. Milt invited us over to dinner just before we got out in front of our apartment house. He said he knew Sylvia would love us.
Danny paid and overtipped so much my eyes bulged out of my head. He picked up his bags and moved toward the sidewalk.
"Hey, Colon. Come here a minute."
I'd never been called "Colon" before. Colin, usually. Even Collar once, but Colon was a new one.
"You take care of that big boy, you hear me? Christ, I wish my son was like him."
Fast tears came to my eyes and I had to turn away quickly or else he would have seen me with a very wet face.
"I will. I promise."
Danny stood at the door with his suitcases and his smile. He was waiting for me: Colon.
The table was set. I brought out the only pièce de resistance I knew how to make well — spinach lasagne. As I walked to the table, I suddenly realized something and would have smacked myself on the forehead if I'd had another hand.
Danny lowered his glass of beer from his lips, leaving a white foam mustache. "What's the matter? Did you forget something?"
"Oh Danny, I made lasagne! I completely forgot about what you eat in Italy. You must have this three times a day there!"
He shook his head and gestured for me to put it down. Then he bent his head over like a long-necked bird and scrutinized it.
"Cullen it's ... green." He smiled beatifically.
"Of course it is! It's spinach lasagne."
"Yes, spinach. I'm a vegetarian. That doesn't mean it's not good."
"Uh ... oh." He was about to take a sip of beer, but put the glass back on the table very gently.
Excerpted from Bones of the Moon by Jonathan Carroll. Copyright © 1987 Jonathan Carroll. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Meet the Author
Jonathan Carroll has written 13 novels, a short story collection, and a number of film scripts. He has won the World Fantasy award, British Fantasy award, French Fantasy award (twice), and the Bram Stoker award. He has lived in Vienna, Austria for three decades with his wife Beverly and immortal bullterrier, Jack the Idiot.
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