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Raised on a commune by a granola-munching ex-hippie mother, ...
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Raised on a commune by a granola-munching ex-hippie mother, fifteen-year-old Moonbeam realizes that nothing is normal in his life and so sets out to change things.
Moonbeam Dawson sat in the old truck watching the rain pound against the windshield. It was getting darker by the minute. The place was giving him the creeps. The ancient trees surrounding the parking lot began to look like monsters with shaggy black arms towering against the steely sky. Weird. It didn't even seem like the same place he'd been with the commune school. That day it had been sunny, and the park glittered a hundred shades of green so beautiful he couldn't believe it. Now he just wanted to get out of here. She better hurry up, he thought. At the rate they were going he wasn't sure they'd ever get anywhere tonight, especially the ferry. That was a joke.
Moonbeam leaned his head back against the seat. Things were going to be different when they got to the gulf islands. Some things were definitely going to change, he promised himself. No matter what she said.
Abby Dawson emerged from the park bathroom, lowered her head to shield her face from the driving rain, and ran to the truck.
"You better go, too." She climbed in on the driver's side.
"You're telling me I should go!"
"I'm just suggesting."
"Fifteen. You won't be sixteen for three months. I happen to know your birthday. I was there when you were born."
Moonbeam rolled his eyes and stared at the forest in front of them. Sometimes she was really not funny. I was there when you were born. Hilarious.
Abby pulled off the hood of her parka, shaking her hair. "It's so phony. It really galls me."
"The way they name this part of the park McMullen Emerald Forest, as if the greedy scum actually give a fig for these old trees. It's all for the tourists. A quarter of a million supposedly come through here every year. They want them to think Mc-Mullen Blundeel is preserving the forests because of this one bloody park!"
"It's a scam," Moonbeam agreed.
"You're darn right it is." Abby turned the key to start the truck. The engine started to turn over, then whined and didn't catch. She looked nervously at the ignition. "Don't do this to me. Please, not now."
"I told you-"
She glared at Moonbeam. "It probably is the battery and don't say it," she threatened, as she pumped the gas and frantically turned the key again. "I don't want to discuss it. Just pray to. The Goddess of Car Engines to help us out."
"She's a 'he,' and it's probably the battery so we should pray to Gob, God of Batteries."
"I don't care who it is, just ask for this truck not to die on us." She crossed her fingers, turned off the key, pumped the gas pedal, looked skyward, mumbled something indistinguishable, and tried the ignition again.
"Voila!" she shouted joyfully as the engine turned over. "Thank you, Gob." She grinned at Moonbeam. Triumphantly, she shifted into reverse but had barely gotten it in gear when the engine died. Panicky, she tried it again. Then again and again, each time growing more frantic.
"Mum, don't! You'll flood it!"
"Don't yell at me!" Abby snapped.
She stared straight ahead, then bit her lip and put her head down on the steering wheel.
Moonbeam didn't look at her, not wanting to know whether she was collecting her thoughts or crying. Hopefully not crying. There'd been enough of that last night. Although he had to admit he really couldn't blame her, the way all her dreams went down the toilet yesterday.
"Look, Mum," Moonbeam said quietly. "We don't have a lot of choices here. We're not walking back to Port Alberni or walking on to Parksville, so the best thing is to just wait here and I'll try and flag somebody down."
"Okay," Abby sniffed. Then after a bit, she lifted her head off the wheel and rummaged in her pocket. She pulled out a Kleenex and blew her nose. "Guess it's you and me against the world, eh?" She gave him a brave smile.
"Sure, Mum." Moonbeam turned away from her and rolled down the window so he could look back at the road. She'd said that his whole life and lately it was beginning to make him cringe. But it was no time to argue. He'd spotted headlights. A pair of small yellow dots rounding the corner at the edge of the park. Moonbeam jumped out of the truck and tore across the parking lot, but by the time he reached the highway the car had passed. British Columbia plates, driving pretty fast. Probably a local who knows the roads well. Moonbeam pulled the hood of his parka down lower over his face and decided he better stay by the edge of the road. If the car was going the speed limit, there was no way he could sprint and make it from the truck in time for a driver to see him. Especially in this rain. He stuck his hands in his pockets and waited.
He knew something like this would happen. Leaving Heather Mountain was a big, disorganized mess. She said she wanted to be up and out of there at the crack of dawn. Right. It was midafternoon before they finally left. He should have stayed in bed. Then when he said they ought to have the truck checked out in Port Alberni, she didn't want to. "We're getting such a late start, Moonbeam. It'll just take too much time, the truck will be fine. This old thing has good karma."
Right. Moonbeam glanced back at his mother sitting huddled behind the steering wheel of the old truck. It looked pitiful sitting there in the rain, piled high with all their stuff. It had been tricky packing her loom with bags of rice and beans all around it to protect it, then covering everything with that raggedy brown tarp. The old Toyota pickup was as battered as its faded bumper sticker, arms are made for hugging, but the words were still readable and the truck still ran, at least until now. So much for the good karma.
She was always talking about stuff like that, karma and omens and the way the planets lined up, and also inventing Goddesses for everything. None of it did her much good. Things just never seemed to turn out very well for her. But he didn't have the heart to tell her he was secretly glad things had fallen apart at Heather Mountain.
Moonbeam stared at the empty highway. Where were all those quarter of a million tourists when they needed them? All those cars with the plates from Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, Washington, Oregon, California, and Idaho. Why weren't they here right now, vacationing in British Columbia in this very spot, cruising through Emerald Forest Park?
Amazing how deserted this road was. It was definitely spooky out here. Moonbeam jumped, thinking he heard something on the other side of the road. Clunk…"What's that?" he whispered aloud, trying to see into the forest. He was sure he heard something in there. Sort of a hollow thumping sound…Clunk…There it was again. Probably just the wind, he told himself. A dead branch banging against a…Clunk…tree or something. Was there actually such a thing as a sasquatch? The huge, hairy, manlike creature with long arms that supposedly lives in the mountain forests on the west coast of North America. He felt a knot tightening in his stomach.
Moonbeam tried to think of something to get his mind off the clunking noise. Think about when the school was here, he told himself. Think about the time line we made about the trees to get an idea of how old they were. He had liked making that time line. It was…Clunk…cool. Some of the trees were here in A.D. 1215, over 780 years ago, making them two hundred and three hundred years old when Columbus…Clunk…came to North America…Clunk…And in the winter of 1535, when Jacques Cartier's…Clunk…ship was frozen in the ice at the mouth of the St. Charles at Quebec City, some of…Clunk…the trees were already giants…Clunk.
Moonbeam spotted headlights again, another pair of two small yellow dots. Let's hope this is a good person, he thought. The lights got a little bigger and he forgot about the clunking noise. Actually, a medium person would do, as long as they have jumper cables. But what if? He swallowed hard, feeling his fingers grow numb with fear. What if it was a rotten person? An evil scum. The headlights got larger and he saw the headlines on the Alberni Valley Times. On Victoria's Time Colonist. On the Vancouver Sun. It was a big, big story.
• • •
MOTHER AND TEENAGE SON
BUTCHERED BY BAD GUY
• • •
Abby Dawson, 35, most recently of the Happy Children of the Good Earth Compound near Heather Mountain, and her son Moonbeam, almost 16, were found chopped up in Emerald Forest Park by Constable David Eyre. "It was a real mess," said Eyre, "especially what was left of the kid." The horrible bad guy is still at large.
The lights loomed larger and larger, and Moonbeam saw an old RV coming slowly toward him through the rain. The camper's probably full of body parts he thought, glancing back toward the truck at Abby.
Abby rolled down the truck window and stuck her arm out, wildly waving it. "Flag it, Moonbeam!"
Moonbeam raised his hand tentatively, half hoping the driver would decide he really didn't mean it, that he was just standing by the side of the road exercising, doing tai chi or something, and would drive right by. But the headlights got large, and Moonbeam stood still, caught in the lights like a deer as the RV slowly turned toward him and drove into the parking lot.
Abby leaped out of the truck and ran over to Moonbeam as the driver rolled down his window.
"Need some help?" A sandy-haired guy who looked about forty stuck his head out the window. Clean-shaven, looked okay, very presentable for a serial killer.
"Got cables? We think it's our battery." Abby looked up at the guy like he was the prince himself who'd just galloped up on a white horse.
"Sure, let's see what we can do."
He drove across the lot and pulled in next to the truck while Abby and Moonbeam walked back to meet him.
"I'm Harvey Hattenbach." He held out his hand.
Watch out, you might be shaking the hand of a serial killer.
"And this is my son, Moonbeam."
Not one word about my name, slime bucket.
"Hi." Moonbeam clenched his teeth as he shook the guy's hand, trying not to imagine it dripping with blood.
Harvey grabbed the handle of the back door of the RV. "Got my cables in here, if I can find them in this mess." He grinned and climbed in the RV. "Say, want a cuppa tea? You both look soaked."
"Sounds good." Abby smiled sweetly. "What do you think, Moonbeam?"
"We don't have time. After we get the jump, the battery's got to get charged and it'll take a couple of hours." Moonbeam picked up a stone and threw it in frustration, wishing he didn't always have to be the one to figure everything out.
"Think we should go back to Port Alberni?"
"Of course." He pulled the hood of his parka down lower over his forehead. "We can camp at China Creek and get the ferry. First thing tomorrow."
"We'll be up at the crack of dawn," Abby said earnestly.
"Yeah, right." Moonbeam lifted the hood of the truck and Harvey attached the cables to their battery. "Get in so you can try it, Mum."
The engine turned over on the third try and Moonbeam took the cables off and handed them to Harvey. "Thanks a lot."
Abby rolled down the window. "I can't tell you how much I appreciate this." She looked up at him, her gray-green eyes sparkling and her voice low and sweet.
"I'll follow you to Port, just in case you have any more problems." He leaned close to the window.
"I'm sure we'll be fine." Moonbeam buckled his seat belt.
"That's really nice of you!" Abby smiled, surprised. "Are you sure?"
"No problem. There's the McDonald's next to the station. I'm about ready for a bite anyway."
Maybe he's a vampire. Moonbeam scowled, folded his arms over his chest, and slumped in the seat.
"See you soon!" Abby waved and backed out of the lot, then waited to get on the highway until Harvey pulled up behind her. "This is so nice of him," she said, looking back in the rearview mirror, her voice gushing with gratitude.
"A lot of people would help out, Mum."
Okay, so he wasn't a serial killer, but we're not talking some kind of hero here. Moonbeam sighed as she pulled out on the highway. Here they were, going backwards! But as he thought about it, he realized they'd only be delayed a day. Knowing the way she went about things, it could have been a lot worse, he decided. A lot worse.
He hadn't hated their life on Heather Mountain. It was better than the crummy apartment they had in Victoria, where people banged on the cheesy walls and you could hear people yelling and TVs blaring. But more and more life in the great outdoors was too small for him. Just like their cabin. She thought it was fine for the two of them, but a couple of years ago Moonbeam felt cramped. He wanted more privacy. (There had one been too many "Oops! Sorry, Moonbeam! "s as she barged in on him.) So he and his friend Meadow MacLaine, who was a good carpenter, built a separate space behind the stove. There was no way it could ever be called a room of his own; the space was tiny, more like a berth on a train. But it had the essential architectural feature: a wall between him and his mother.
The other thing that was too small was the group of people. There weren't enough kids and a lot of them were younger. There weren't enough girls, to be specific. The Happy Children of the Good Earth commune had a drastic shortage of girls his age. The only one even close to his age was Starlight Lewis, and it was embarrassing to call twelve close. So this past year Moonbeam and Meadow, who felt the same way, took every chance they got to go into Port Alberni, town of 20,000, the nearest place of any size. Usually almost every week someone from the commune had to go in for something. Getting teeth fixed, tires patched, and truck parts seemed to be the more common reasons. Moonbeam and Meadow would hang around the video store or McDonald's, or go to the cafe where they had a TV over the lunch counter and watch whatever was on. Didn't matter what. Although the main reason they left Heather Mountain every chance they had wasn't to look at TV. It was to see girls.
• • •
Abby pulled into the station at the corner of Redford Road and the Port Alberni Highway, and Harvey drove up next to her. "I'll meet you at McDonald's." He pointed across the road. |
Abby rolled down the window. "I can't thank you enough," she gushed. "We'll be there in a few minutes." She waved as he pulled out of the station.
The gas station guy had them pull the truck into the garage and told them to come back in about an hour.
"This is working out great. It should be ready just about I the time we're through eating." Abby smiled as they walked over to McDonald's.
Harvey was sitting at a table by the back windows. Abby waved to him, then read the menu over the counter. While she was looking up, Moonbeam was looking around, scanning the place the way he always did when he came here from Heather Mountain. He had gotten very good at knowing where girls hung out, and this McDonald's was one of the prime locations. Moonbeam spotted a table of girls about his age. Good, at least there'd be some decent scenery. Fine looking girls. No, he definitely would not mind living in Port Alberni, he thought as his eyes darted over the girls. Although he didn't dwell on the idea for more than a split second, because there'd never really be a chance of him living here. His mother. She'd hate it. She always complained about the stench of the paper mill and the big black cloud that would billow from its smokestack.
Abby got a large salad, soup, a roll, and coffee.
"I'll have a Big Mac." Moonbeam put in his order, bracing himself.
"Meat!" His mother hissed through clenched teeth.
"It's my stomach." He hissed back at her. He'd been eating meat whenever he left Heather Mountain. It was about time she knew.
"I can't believe you ordered that." Abby glared at his tray. "What about the cow's stomach?"
"So, what about the fish's stomach? You eat fish sometimes." Moonbeam looked at the girls out of the corner of his eye as they passed their table.
"We'll talk about this later," she said in a low voice as they got to Harvey's table. Then she smiled at the guy and slid into the seat across from him. "Thanks again for your help. Things are sure looking better," she said, taking her salad off her tray. "The rain's even let up."
Moonbeam sat next to Harvey where he had the best view of the table of girls.
"Glad I came by. Where you heading?"
"Maybe the Gulf Islands," Abby told him.
"Definitely the Gulf Islands." Moonbeam took a big bite of the hamburger. Abby clenched her teeth and wouldn't look at him. "The only thing we're not sure about is which one."
"You from around here?" Harvey sipped his coffee.
"We lived on Heather Mountain for the last five years." She took a bite of her salad. "Before that, Victoria for a while, before that, Heather Mountain."
"Heather Mountain? Not much up there."
"It was a commune."
"Didn't work out, eh?"
"They took a vow of nonviolence and said the place was a nuclear free zone," Moonbeam explained. "But then there was this big fight and some people started bashing each other with shovels."
"The land was owned by a man who inherited it from his father. He told everyone to clear out." Abby looked sad. "The first time we lived off the land like that, the weather got us. The crops froze and we couldn't make it. But I never thought it would end because the people couldn't get along." Abby stared out the window for a moment, lost in thought.
Moonbeam gazed at the girls, wondering what it would be like to go to school with a bunch of them like that.
Abby sighed, then looked at Harvey. "What about you? Where you from?"
Moonbeam chewed slowly, trying to enjoy each bite. Meat tasted better when his mother wasn't sitting right there clenching her teeth. Then he looked over at the girls again. The one with the curly brown hair was really fine.
"Toronto originally. But I got sick of the rat race. Been in Tofino the past two years."
Abby nodded. "I don't think I could go back to a city. I'm from Seattle originally."
Weird. She hardly ever tells anybody she's from the states. Moonbeam looked at the girls. The one at the end with the blue sweatshirt was really something.
"I just claim Canadian now. You used to be able to have dual citizenship even if you weren't born in Canada, if one parent was Canadian. My father's American, my mother was from Vancouver."
"Been up here long?"
What is he, a reporter or something? What a nosy guy. Moonbeam sipped his Coke. The one in the middle in the tight sweater wasn't bad either.
"What do you do in Tofino?" she asked.
"I'm with the Clayoquot Biosphere Project."
"Part of Friends of Clayoquot Sound?" Abby broke off a little piece of the roll and popped it in her mouth. "We were there in ninety-three for the protests."
"The biosphere project's strictly scientific. But I was in the protests in ninety-three. Most everyone in town was."
Abby smiled at him. "Maybe we already met, but didn't remember."
"No." He smiled, leaning across the table. "I wouldn't have forgotten if I met you."
Abby laughed, flattered.
"I was there, too." Moonbeam piped up, then took another big bite, chewing noisily. "Only they didn't arrest me, just Mum."
"Actually, I was considering heading to the coast to Tofino, but I thought we'd have a better chance of finding work in the Gulf Islands. I want to work outdoors, but we'll take whatever we can get."
"There's a new lodge opening on Stere Island."
"Where's that?" Abby seemed interested.
"We're going to the Gulf Islands, Mum," Moonbeam reminded her.
"It's west of Tofino. The land's being leased from the Clayoquot band. It's part of the Nuu-chah-nulth efforts to develop economically. I think indigenous people get priority in hiring, but the jobs are open to non Native people, too."
"Moonbeam might get priority. He's half Haida."
Fine. Just tell him our whole life story why don't you? And NOT ONE WORD about my name, buddy. Moonbeam looked over at the girls. The first thing he was going to do when they got to the gulf islands was change his name. He'd been thinking about it for a long time and now that they were leaving Heather Mountain it was the perfect time to do it. He'd have some good regular name, so when he met girls his age at least he wouldn't have that to worry about.
"It's a really posh place," Harvey continued. "Caters to rich tourists. I'm pretty sure they're hiring now." He took a last sip of his coffee. "Well, got to get on my way."
Harvey stood up and hesitated by the table. "Look me up if you ever get to Tofino. I'm the only Harvey Hattenbach."
"Thanks. And thanks again for everything." Abby smiled, then glared at Moonbeam, kicking him under the table.
"Yeah, thanks," Moonbeam muttered.
"And if you want to check out that new lodge, let me know. The manager's a friend of mine."
"Great. Thanks." Abby looked up at him, smiling gratefully. "I can't tell you how much I appreciate this, Harvey," she said softly.
Oh yuk, gag. Just leave, buddy.
Abby watched him as he walked across the restaurant and out the door. She grinned and gave a thumbs-up to Harvey as he waved to them from the parking lot.
"Guess we better go, too, eh?" Abby sighed, then crunched up her napkin and put it on her tray. "Ready?"
"I've been ready for the past fifteen minutes. You're the one that kept talking to that guy."
"He was very nice."
"The sun's going down. It's going to be a hassle getting the tent up."
"We've put it up before in the dark."
"Yeah. And it's a hassle."
Moonbeam stood up and glanced at the group of girls. He wished he could get up the nerve to smile at one of them as they walked by their table. But instead he just looked at the floor. This is going to change, he told himself. When they got to the Gulf Islands, he wouldn't have to look at the floor. He'd have his new name and he'd get a lot of practice talking to girls. It would be great.
At the gas station, Abby and Moonbeam got the truck and it started without a hitch. As they headed out on the Alberni Highway, Moonbeam began to think seriously about what he wanted his new name to be. He wanted something regular, maybe like Bob, Bill, John, Tom, Jim, or Tim. He'd have to try out each one. Maybe write them down and pick the best.
Abby started to hum. Whenever they drove any distance, she either sang or hummed the same melody. It was "Peace Train," a tune which she considered her exclusive road trip theme song. Usually after about five miles of "Peace Train" Moonbeam was ready to throw himself screaming from the truck and hitchhike. He liked to imagine the wonderful people who would pick him up. People who didn't sing "Peace Train." People with beautiful daughters his age.
The sun was setting by the time they reached China Creek Park. Moonbeam carried the tent to a campsite. "If we'd gotten an early start and the battery checked, we'd be on the ferry now," he grumbled.
"Not necessarily." Abby helped him lay out the tent. "If the battery died on the back road out of Heather Mountain we might have still been there."
"Maybe." He was too tired to argue. She always had an answer for everything. Whatever his mother did, even if it turned out to be totally dumb, she always had some reason why it was okay. Not an excuse, but a reason.
Moonbeam pounded in the last stake, then got their sleeping bags out of the truck.
"I'm glad this park's got a shower. I'll wash this mess in the morning." Abby pulled off the woven scrunchy that held back her hair and ran her hands through the long, brownish-blond strands. "Too tired tonight." She turned up the collar of her flannel shirt and crawled in her sleeping bag, pulling it tight around her. "Night, honey."
"Night, Mum." Moonbeam got in his bag and lay there, looking up at the roof of the tent. It definitely was sagging a bit. He hoped the stupid thing didn't collapse.
His mother started snoring. She was out all right. He edged down in his sleeping bag, but it was a chilly night and he couldn't get warm. Better go to the truck and get a sweatshirt.
Moonbeam stood over the truck bed and dug through his backpack. Yanking out his sweatshirt, he put his arms in the sleeves and lifted it to pull it over his head, then stopped for a minute to look up at the sky. The stars were brilliant. Up above the world so high, like a diamond in the sky. He remembered singing with the little kids the night they all lay in the field on Heather Mountain learning about the planets, huddled together in a heap, like puppies.
He pulled on his sweatshirt and looked across at their tent. It looked so small sitting there alone in the campground dwarfed by the mammoth trees. He rubbed his hands together and blew on them to get warm, then went back to the tent.
Opening the flap, he saw that his mother was sleeping soundly. He took one last look at the stars. He could see Orion's belt and opposite the handle in the bowl of the Big Dipper the pointer stars were shining clearly, pointing the way to Polaris, the north star. Moonbeam stood outside the tent for a minute, wondering which one of the Gulf Islands he'd be living on the next time he looked up at the stars.
Copyright © 1997 by Jean Davies Okimoto