Goodnight, Celestial Object
Benny lay in bed, his faded, much-patched blanket pulled up to his chin. He forced his eyes as wide open as they could go, and looked at every object in his room. Even the picture of the cross-eyed duck he didn’t like. Even the toys that were just shapes in the shadowed shelves.
He gave everything a moment of fierce attention. It wasn’t as good as what his mother did, but every little bit helped.
Finally she came, hurrying into the room like a cinnamon-scented whirlwind, trailing beaded necklaces and a soft grey shawl. Her eyes were dark and distracted, but when her gaze fell on him, she smiled.
She soft-stepped to the bed and kissed him on the forehead. “Good night, Benny,” she crooned. She straightened the folds of his blanket and tugged it down to cover his toes. “Good night, blanket. Good night, bed.”
She touched each of his three stuffed animals in turn. “Good night, Bear-Bear,” she said to the one-eyed bear with its worn, shiny nap. “Good night, Bunny,” stroking the velvety blue ears. “Good night, Sunshine.” She tapped the yellow lion on its nose.
Mother rose gracefully to her feet. A feeling of well-being suffused Benny as she walked from object to object, touching each and whispering a good night. “Good night, wardrobe,” she sang, then opened it to call out to his favorite hoodie, his rain boots, and the warm knobby socks she’d knitted him last year.
Benny looked and looked as he always did, but could see no sign of her magic.
But it always worked. Whatever Mother said good night to would still be there in the morning.
Benny’s eyes drooped as Mother crouched by his toy shelf. Her voice was even lower now, at the edge of his hearing. He watched as she moved on in her circuit, stroked the curtains, patted his little chair, paused at his dresser. Her back was to him, but he saw her shoulders and arms move as she crooned to his model dinosaur and half-built airplane.
Her hand was on the door knob, twisting. The door opened silently on carpet. One last glance and a blown kiss, and she was gone.
She’d been quicker than usual tonight. Probably she’d been thinking about the pots and pans, the apple tree, the chickens… Benny was toasty-warm and suddenly very sleepy. Yawning, he turned his head toward his window, toward the gap through which the moon shone silver every night.
Dread punched him in the stomach. Shrieking, Benny threw off his blanket, leaped off the bed, plunged to his window.
“Good night, moon!” he howled. “Good night!” He flung the curtains open, then gasped and shrank back.
It was too late.
His mother had not remembered in time. The Void had got a hold of the moon, was already nibbling at its white edge. Emptiness eating a cookie.
Benny pressed his face against the glass. Distantly, he heard his mother’s footsteps running upstairs. But he couldn’t wrench his gaze away from the outside.
Their yard stretched to the fence, a silvery expanse of grass. His swing set hulked at one end, at the other were rectangles of darker earth where his mother had started digging their vegetable beds. An apple tree and two maples lined the fence.
On the other side of the fence was nothingness. The Void had devoured the world beyond.
It had swallowed up Benny’s school and friends, the park with the big slides, their neighbors’ friendly dog Bandit, his grandparents two states away, his father who had never come home from the office.
And tonight, it had seized the chance for another meal.
Tears streaming down his face, Benny watched the moon disappear, bite by bite.