catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 11, Num 3 :: 2012.02.03 — 2012.02.16


Looking for lunas

Editor’s Note: The following is an excerpt from Stranger Moon (Moth Wing Press, 2012), a middle grade novel published by catapult contributor Heather Zydek.  It is now available in e-book and paperback formats where books are sold.

“Shhhhhh. Take your flashlight and hold it next to your eyes,” I whispered to my friends. “No, not pointing down. Point it straight ahead, in the line of your eyesight. Now look with your beam at the tree trunks. Like the way Shayna’s doing it.” I was deep inside Firefly Woods after dark, Luna hunting with my friends Shayna and Kieran, and Kieran’s little brother Quinn. We all live on the same block of Cynthia Lane.

“What’s this do?” Kieran had his flashlight at the level of his shoulder instead of at his eye.

“Hold it at your eye level, Kieran. Not mine.” I grabbed his elbow and pushed it up. “I read that if you do this you’ll be able to see your flashlight beam reflect off all the insect eyes on the trees. It’s a way to look for moths.” I helped Shayna direct her flashlight. Then I lifted my own light next to my eyes and looked around.

“Wow!” Quinn gasped. His flashlight was pressed against the side of his glasses. He moved his beam slowly across the trunk. “There’s a big white arachnid over there. No moths though. Oh wait!”

“What is it? What did you see?” I moved my flashlight in the same direction as Quinn’s.

“Never mind.” Quinn said. “I saw something big flying. It was just a June bug.”

“I don’t like this,” Shayna whimpered.

“Don’t worry, Shay. Those spiders are only interested in small prey,” Kieran said. “The thing you need to worry about is hungry mountain lions.”

“Are there mountain lions out here?” Shayna shrieked, grabbing onto my arm.

“There aren’t any mountain lions out here.” I narrowed my eyes at Kieran, but it was so dark I’m sure he couldn’t tell, and probably wouldn’t have cared anyway. “He’s just trying to scare you, Shay. Let’s just keep going. We’re almost there.”

“Yeah, you’re right.” Shayna still gripped me, so tight my arm started to tingle.

“It’s the getting home part I’m worried about,” she said.

Kieran and Quinn were the first to reach the foot of the thick oak that holds our tree house in its arms. The tree marked the farthest into the forest we’d ever wandered. None of us had ever gone beyond the shallow ravine that divides Firefly Woods in half.

The boys climbed up the ladder leading to the dark, lonely fort. The glow of their flashlights from the windows made it look just the tiniest bit cozier. I’m not scared of the dark, mind you, but out in the woods at night, well, even a pretty brave person can start to feel a little vulnerable. I squeezed my flashlight under my arm as I balanced myself on each rung of the ladder, then poked my head through opening in the tree house floor and lifted myself in. Shayna followed, breathing loudly as she heaved herself up. The air inside the house smelled like moldy wood.

Something fluttered from the ceiling of the tree house. It looked like a moth. My heart beat faster. I pointed my flashlight at the flapping wings. They were moths alright — small, grey-brown gypsy moths. Even though I know gypsies don’t mean any harm, I dislike them because they’re one of the reasons Luna and other giant silk moths are getting harder to find. Every spring the Mittleton forestry department sprays this supposedly harmless biochemical over the forests to kill gypsy moths. The stuff doesn’t hurt people, they say, but I read somewhere that it’s hurting Lunas and other giant silk moths, and even butterflies. Funny thing is, the city sprays every year but gypsy moths are still all over the place.

The moths flew out the window.

I sat down on the tree house floor and shrugged out of my backpack. Shayna pulled a chunky candle out of her bag. She set it on the wooden plank floor and lit it with a match. Quinn stretched out his scrawny legs and leaned against Kieran.

“Hey, move over.” Kieran pushed his little brother so hard I thought he’d snap in half. Quinn readjusted and leaned against Shayna instead.

“Ahhh,” Quinn said. “You’re like a big soft pillow.”

“Gee, thanks,” Shayna muttered.

“So what do we do now, Gaia?” Quinn asked.

Yes, that’s really my name: Gaia. Pronounced “GUY-uh.” It means earth, or mother earth, or something. I don’t like my name, mostly because it’s so easily mispronounced — especially by people who love intentionally mispronouncing the names of nerdy girls like me.

“We wait, I guess.”

I got up and walked over to one of the windows of the tree house. I read that female Luna moths will sit on the bark of a tree for hours, even days, waiting for a mate. They hardly move at all once they come out of their cocoons. I was hoping to maybe spot one on the bark of the big bough that is right outside the window. All I saw was a hairy brown spider weaving its web between two twigs.

I sat down on the floor next to Shayna.

“Maybe a moth will be attracted to our lights, if we’re lucky. Did you know that male Lunas will fly miles to find a female?”

“Hmm. Well while we’re engaged in the thrilling activity of moth watching,” Kieran said, brushing his long brown hair out of his eyes, “we can play cards.”

“OK, but before we do that, let me get out my field notebook. If anything happens, I’ll need to have it nearby so I can write stuff down.” I dug into my backpack and pulled out the waterproof field notebook I bought at the science surplus store. It’s the kind real naturalists use to take notes during field studies.

“Nice.” Kieran said without looking at the notebook. He was rifling through his backpack for something.

“I’ll help you identify things,” Quinn offered.

“Great,” I said. “But we have to use the scientific names. Real scientists don’t use common names. They aren’t as accurate.”

“Obviously,” Quinn said.

“Hey check out what I made.” Kieran tugged a green rubber band off a deck of cards and splayed the cards in his hands, holding them out for us to see.

“What are those?” Shayna asked.

He passed a few cards to each of us. “It’s a game I invented. It’s called The Evil Emmas. It’s like Old Maid, except that instead of getting the Old Maid there’s a card with The Emmas on it, which is the card you try not to get. I think you have it, Gaia.”

I squinted at the cards Kieran handed to me. The one on top was the dreaded Evil Emmas. I pointed my flashlight beam at the card so I could see every detail of The Emmas, tormentors of all seventh graders at Mittleton North Middle School.

Emma Pratt and Emma Foster were together so often they’d become one entity: The Emmas. They were both loved and feared by all who knew them. They had a way of making their victims feel like worms slithering on concrete after a rainstorm — out of place and easy to smash.

On the card, Emma Pratt’s hair was silky and black, framing her pretty face and piercing black eyes. Her lips were curled into a wicked smile. Kieran captured everything about her, down to the deceptive dimple in her cheek that made her seem sweet and approachable. Emma Foster’s perfectly highlighted strawberry blonde hair swished around her shoulders as she hugged Emma Pratt’s arm like a security blanket. Kieran dotted her nose with just-enough adorable freckles.

“Let me see.” Shayna grabbed The Emmas from my hand.

“Wow — these are great!” Shayna said. “Look at you, Gaia!” she passed a card to me.

Kieran called me “Moth Girl,” The Emmas’ favorite name for me.

“Those are Io moth wings,” Kieran said. “I looked that up.”

“Actually, I looked it up,” Quinn interjected.

“Pipe down, little bro,” Kieran said. “I picked that moth because of the huge eye spots on the lower wings. Aren’t they cool?”

“They’re called hindwings, Kieran. Not lower wings.”

“Oh, you’re so smart, Quinny,” Kieran mocked.

“Moth Girl” wore a cape and had a big “M” printed on the front of her superhero suit. Giant speckled yellow moth wings jutted out of her back. Her long brown hair, along with the cape, flew behind her. Normally I despised being called Moth Girl by The Emmas. It made me feel strange and ugly. But this Moth Girl was a superhero, which was kind of nice.

“Hey!” Shayna shrieked. “You made me look like a fat witch, Kieran.”

“I made you a good witch, though,” Kieran said.           

“It’s kind of hard to tell that from this picture.” Shayna looked down at her legs criss-crossed beneath her on the floor. She pulled at her shirt and put her bag on her lap to hide her waist.

“At least you’re not SuperNerd. That’s how he made me,” Quinn said. He pulled off his glasses for a second, squinted, then put them back on.

“Give the cards back now.” Everyone passed the cards to Kieran. He shuffled them carefully. “I’m working on a comic book with the same characters. If I get it done before school starts, I’m going to make copies of it and spread it around school. Maybe I’ll even sell it, if it’s good enough.”

“Let’s try playing the game,” Quinn said.

“OK.” Kieran re-distributed the cards until we each had a full hand.

We played for a few minutes, occasionally swatting at a few mosquitoes that found their way into the fort. I kept looking up at our flashlight beams on the tree house ceiling. No moths.

“Aaaah!” Shayna said when she drew a card from Kieran’s hand. “I got The Emmas!”

Kieran laughed wildly.

“Oh noooo,” Quinn said. He was sitting on the opposite side of Shayna. “Just when I got rid of them.”

We kept playing. A few minutes later, Quinn perked up. “Hey, look!” he said, pointing out the window.

“What is it?” I jumped to my feet.

Quinn went to the window. I walked up next to him and looked.

“Never mind,” he said. “It was just a leaf blowing in the breeze.”

I sat back down. Quinn stayed by the window.

“It was a leaf, Quinn,” Kieran said. “There’s nothing out there.”

“Ummmm," Quinn’s voice sounded weird.

“What do you see?” I went back over to the window. "If this is another false alarm, I’m gonna — "

“There IS something out there.” He pointed through the window.


“Over there."

Kieran and Shayna came over to the window, too. Kieran grabbed his flashlight and waved the beam of light in the direction of the ravine.

“My flashlight’s pretty weak,” he said. “I don’t see anything.”              

“I’m telling you, there’s something out there,” Quinn whispered.

Somehow I knew it wasn’t a moth that he saw. I could tell by the way his voice scraped out of his throat, like it had just gone dry.

“Let’s go see.” Kieran turned from the window and climbed down the rungs of the ladder.

Shayna, Quinn and I watched as Kieran appeared on the ground below. He crept to the edge of the ravine.

“I’m not going down there. Are you?” I asked Quinn.

“No way! If my brother wants to get himself killed that’s his prerogative.”

“I think I see something!” We heard Kieran hiss down below.

Then I saw it, too. It looked like a human in the shadows across the way. Shayna grabbed my arm.

Next thing I knew, Kieran was flying up the ladder. He collapsed on the floor of the tree house, panting. “We - We -,” he gasped, “We gotta get out of here!”           

“What is it?” Shayna whined. “Tell me what you saw. You’re scaring me!” I was frozen in the window, staring at the unearthly being across the way.

“Do you think it’s — ” Quinn said.

“Think it’s what?” Shayna asked.

“A ghost?”

Shayna squeaked.

I watched in horror as the dark figure moved toward the edge of the ravine. Kieran came up behind me. Shayna wedged between us.

“That can’t be a ghost,” Kieran whispered. “Looks too solid.”           

“It — it does look three dimensional.” Quinn was hanging on to Shayna the way Shayna was hanging on to me.

The strange figure looked like a woman in a black dress. Her long, messy hair was a black river going down her back. I couldn’t make out her face in the darkness.

She stopped at the edge of the other side of the ravine. It was hard to tell, but it looked like she was watching us watch her.

Shayna blew out her candle and stuffed it in her bag while the wax was still soft. “Well, that’s it. I’m leaving.”

“Good idea.” I crammed my field journal into my backpack. Kieran grabbed his Evil Emmas cards. We climbed down from the tree house. Before we ran back, I looked across the ravine again, shining my flashlight into the darkness. That was when I saw the stranger climbing down into the ravine. She was coming closer.

RUN!” I screamed.

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