I was in the hen house collectin' eggs when Toby came running in, shouting my name.
Most of the chickens were out, but a few were brooding and Toby running in like that just got them all worked up. Most stayed sat down and made that angry growling chicken noise, but a few who weren’t all that into brooding got up and started flapping around, all panicked. I’m pretty sure a few eggs I hadn’t gotten to yet broke in the mess.
“Dang it Toby!” I said. We got out of the coop so's not to worry them further. I’d have to go back in later after they’d all calmed down and see if I could get the rest.
“I broke it!” he wailed.
“Broke what?” I said, checkin' the basket. Pretty good today, more than yesterday, but not as many as the day before. I started up to the house, and Toby followed.
“You gotta come help me,” he said. We went up the porch steps. “I broke it and now everyone’s gonna hate me!”
“Quit whinin’ and tell me what you did.” I opened the door and set the eggs onto the table just inside the door without actually going in.
“I didn’t mean to!” he said. He wasn’t cryin' yet, but he had that wide-eyed, red in the face panic that meant he was probably gonna start soon if I didn’t fix him.
“Okay,” I said. “I’ll help. What-?”
“You gotta come see,” he said. He grabbed my shirt hem and started pulling. “It’s at the lake.”
* * * *
The lake isn't really a lake. That’s just what we called it when we were little. It’s actually more like a really big pond. We used to go swimming in it back when we were younger, but ma stopped us after that time our cousin Becky got bit by a snake and got all swoled up.
Dad and Uncle Phil had to go down the the city and bring back a doctor 'cause Becky couldn't be moved, she was so ill. The doc gave her something in a bottle, and she's all better now, but ma was one of the women takin' care of her before the doc got there, and it scared her somethin' awful. So now we aren't supposed to go to the lake.
"I'm tellin' ma you went up to the lake," I said when we were getting close. "You aren't supposed to go up here."
"If you fix this, then I'll tell her myself," he said. He pointed to the water. "Look."
I went over to the very edge of the lake and looked in.
The water was all clear. Clear like I'd never seen it afore. Way down deep at the bottom was this white, round thing that from up here looked like a big old marble or somethin'.
"What is it?" I said.
"The moon." He looked like he was gonna start bawlin'. "You gotta help me pull it out!" he said.
"How'd you get it in there?" I said.
He turned beet red and looked at his feet. "I hit it with a rock."
"I hit it with a rock."
"Good throw." I leaned over to get a better look. "We're gonna need a net."
"Do you have a net?"
He started pacing. "Dad's going to kill me."
"No he isn't," I said. "Ma will."
"I'll need a rope." I got to my feet. "And you'll have to get Meggie for me."
He frowned. "Meggie? Why Meggie?"
"'Cause I'm gonna try and fix your mess."
* * * * *
Ten minutes later, Toby had got Meggie and I had got the rope. Lots of rope. I didn't know how deep the lake actually was, so I decided to play it safe and tie all the rope I could find in the barn end to end.
"Are we going to send Meggie in?" said Toby. Meggie stood next to him, eatin' some grass. She had the harness on already. I was glad to see Toby could think for himself sometimes.
I started tying one end of the rope around my middle.
“What are you going to do?” he said.
I finished tying the rope and went to make sure the other end was attached to Meggie's harness alright. "I'm gonna go in."
He opened his mouth. I thought he was gonna say somethin', but instead he was just staring behind me. I heard splashing from the lake.
A girl was walking out of the water. She stepped out of the lake, sopping wet and covered in mud.
Funny thing: the first thing I noticed was her dress. It was pure silvery-white -like the rest of her, I guess. But I noticed the dress specially 'cause ma was always going on about how it's impossible to keep white dresses clean out here, and that's why I never got one.
The girl wiped her silvery-white hair from her white-silvery face and glared at us. And she was mad. If looks could peel paint then Mr. Gregory - that was our town painter, I 'spose I should say- would have business coverin' the whole year.
So she looked at us and we looked at her and then I started untying the rope on account of it looked like I wouldn't have to go swimmin' after all.
"Well?" she said. "Which one of you knocked me down?"
Toby looked confused and scared and a little ashamed and tried to hide behind me.
"It was him," I said, all honest, "But it was an accident."
"It was a rock! He threw a rock at me!"
"He says it was an accident."
"He's a liar, then."
"No question there. So I guess you live on the moon, then?" The moon never looked big enough to have someone livin' on it before, but I guessed people've lived in stranger things.
"Not on, in. I am the moon. Or I was." She looked at the lake. "The rest of me's still down there."
Toby and me both looked. Yep, sure enough, the white marble that was the moon was still down in the water.
"Well, we can help you pull it out. I'm sure my pa's got some way to get it back into the sky, if that's what you're worried about."
"You don't get it!" she said. "I can't go back! I'm stuck here, and it's all because of him!"
Well, it was Toby's fault, but you can't just expect me to let someone else yell at my little brother, could you?
"I said we'd help you. You don't have to get all snotty about it-"
Her face was starting to go flush red around the cheeks and nose. "Do you even know what this means? Do you? look at me! I'm solid! I'm wet! This isn't supposed to happen!"
She went on like that. Talking about being solid and havin' a body and just generally how terrible it was. Toby kinda looked like he wanted to crawl into a hole and die- which was good because he did throw the rock and needed to feel bad about it. At the same time, though, all this complainin' wasn't gonna get anything done.
It was pretty clear to me that she'd gotten herself into a mood and wasn't going to let go any time soon. I sighed and retied the rope. My sisters sometimes got into moods like that. I wouldn't get any sense out of her for another hour or so. She was still complaining when I jumped into the water.
Normally the water in the lake is pretty murky, but this time it was all crystal clear. The moon was shining and it cleared up all the water. It didn't even hurt to open my eyes underwater like it normally did.
I swam down to the bottom and tried to ignore the few dinky little fish and the weird bottom-feeding crawlers and all the other livin' stuff down there and went straight to the moon.
It was probably about the size of the big mixing bowl ma has in the top shelf in the kitchen cupboard because it won't fit anywhere else, only of course round all the way around and not just in half like the bowl.
The second I touched it things got all weird on me. Like I was me, lookin' at the moon and I could see my hands on it, but then I was the moon lookin' at me and I could see my palms touching it, and then again like I was somewhere really far away where it was dark behind me and light in front and a whole lotta empty space. Then I blinked and I was just me again.
I hefted up the moon and swam back to shore. Moon girl and Toby were arguing, and Meggie was looking bored. I bet none of them even noticed I'd gone.
"I'm back," I said, splashin' my way to shore. "And I got the moon."
She stared. "Oh no!" she wailed.
"What?" I said. "I got it back for you." Toby was staring at me. "What?"
"Your face," he said, lookin' awfully pale.
"What about it?"
The moon girl wasn't looking too good. The silver was going away and her skin was starting to look something like normal. Her hair was changing from pure white to more blonde colored. "Hey," I said. "You're getting colors!"
"And you're losing yours."
I looked at my hands. I thought that they were just lookin' kinda silvery from holding the moon- which was still glowin' pretty strong. But the silverness of them had got up to my arms and was crawling up my elbows.
"Aw hell," I said. I held the moon to her. "Take it back!"
"I can't," she said. "It already picked you. It won't be able to change over until the next time it falls."
I dropped the moon on the ground and kicked it over to her. It vanished and appeared in my hands, even though I wasn't even holdin' them out or anything.
"It has to fall from the sky," she said. "Once it does, you can give it back to me and I can take my spot back. But it's gotta fall from the sky first."
Toby, who'd finally had enough, what after accidentally knocking down the moon and getting worried about ma and pa finding out, and then getting yelled at by some strange girl, and now , finally broke.
"I'm sorry!" he said, bawling his eyes out. "I'm real sorry!"
I wanted to say somethin' mean to him 'cause- dammit! Now I was gonna be stuck up there bein' the moon! But at the same time I knew it would only make him feel bad forever and ever if I said something like 'too bad!' So I looked at him and said,
"Toby, you're kinda stupid sometimes, but I'm not mad and I guess I love you, okay?"
He nodded but was crying too hard to do anything else.
Then everything went all white-hot and the next thing I knew, I was back in that weird empty place that I guess is space.
So now I'm the moon.
It's pretty quiet up here, actually. Sometimes the sun and I get to talkin', but that always ends in a fight because we just don't agree on most things. Every time I happen to be in just the right spot where I'm over the farm, though, there'll always be a bunch of rocks comin' up and tryin' to hit me.
So I know I won't have to be here long: Toby's aim is getting better.