The Hunger of the Waxing Moon

by Charles Huschle

I decided to keep a journal of that week, of hunger and transcendence. Now, some years later, in my small cabin far away, I can feel my stomach growling again.


Day One

Today I woke hungry. I'm not usually hungry in the morning; I eat a muffin or have some cereal mostly as a form of duty. Coffee, yes — I must have my coffee. But this morning I wanted bacon, eggs, sausages, liver and onions. At the cafeteria I pushed past the children standing in line, exerting my authority to be first. It felt exhilarating, in a small way, to use my power, and thrilling to get the freshest food before all the others.  I heaped my tray with what I wanted and sat alone, away from the window where the sun was shining bright on the other teachers. One of them waved in a friendly manner to me, beckoning me over, but I just shook my head and smiled.

At lunch I left the teachers and orphans and went off-campus to the Athenian Diner where I ordered and ate disco fries with cheese and gravy and buffalo wings, extra crispy, a bloody rare hamburger, and a pint of coffee. One the drive back to school, I passed a bright green field of thick, long, succulent grass, it blew and steamed wetly, and red and gold leaves were careening crazily across it driven by the gale, and two Eastern cottontail rabbits, Sylvilagus floridanus, what the kids would call “bunnies,” were sitting there in the wind. I wondered what they might taste like; I wondered if they were the kind of rabbit one would put in a stew. I joked with myself that they were “Welsh rabbit,” and imagined myself telling a fellow teacher or one of the nurses that I'd seen some “rare-bit” by the highway.

 Dinner tonight was steak; again I was at the head of the line, intent on eating. I went back for seconds and then thirds — the slices were thicker and more rare the third time, I noticed, and mentally thanked the cooks for their apparent laziness — and was disappointed when I returned for a fourth time and found that there was no more food. There was dessert though: blood orange pudding. I had a large helping, with whipped cream and a cherry on top.

I have just made my rounds, checking on all the children in their beds. A boy, one of the seven year-olds, was snuffling around in the bathroom and I waited outside, my stomach rumbling, as he finished up. Then I escorted him back to his bunk and tucked him in for the night.

I'm lying in my own bed now, awaiting sleep; the moon is slightly more than half-full and its light breaks across my dark bedclothes. I'm restless; I lick my lips, but there's nothing to eat right now.


Day Two

One of my colleagues is a short man with a bald skull rimmed in grey curly hair that falls in ringlets to his jaw line. The monk's tonsure on Remington the therapist. This morning he stood ahead of me in the breakfast line and I wondered how it would feel to break his neck. He had first dibs at the fried eggs and bacon and a lesser man than I would have smashed him over the head with a tray.

Yes, again the hunger this morning.  I sat with Remington and managed to grunt a few sounds of agreement and curiosity at him as he spoke in that earnest mincing voice of feigned compassion. I devoured the food. My eggs were too good, the yolks runny and yellow and delicious with salt and pepper and the grease from the bacon. “Little Roger,” he was saying. “What a family situation he came from!”

“Mmmph,” I said.

“And Stella — like Roger, only eight years old and already she's seen her family torn apart by drugs and violence. Did you know that both of their parents were shot to death by the police? Such a shame, such a shame.”

I'd read the files; I'd read all the files, staying up late in September the first week the orphans arrived. All 49 of them. Each child delicious in his or her own way. We fed them well here, we gave them food and shelter and some semblance of an education, we performed in loco parentis, until a relative picked them up or they were adopted and disappeared.

After breakfast, I was still hungry. My lips were chapped and raw; I'd chewed at them during the night, when the moonlight had been just bright enough to keep me awake. There were night sounds too, distantly: a toilet flushing, a child crying out in a dream, an owl, a dog that barked from 1:36 AM to 2:52 AM, and two sounds in my thin wall: scratching and slithering.

This morning I supervised an outdoor play session. The weather remains clear after Monday's rain, but it's cold with the wind, which has picked up since yesterday.  I held a large mug of burnt coffee. The children's cheeks like polished apples. They ran after each other despite their stiff little black uniforms and long coats, climbing the jungle gym, pushing each other on swings, and kicking a ball. Dixie, a burly ten year-old boy and the bully of the sandbox, lay face-up on the sand next to the see-saw. The two girls riding it, up and down, up and down, screamed at him to go away; finally he slipped under them in time for the descending end to land on his face. The girls jumped off; Dixie sat up, rubbed his eyes, and ran after them.

For lunch I left campus again, offering excuses to my colleagues, and ate at O'Rourke's: a cheeseburger, fried kidneys, and poutine. I took the longer way back to the orphanage along the river and beside the fields of harvested corn, stalks burned low and sharp. I stopped when I found the first road-kill, a possum, and picked it up by the tail and slung it in the back seat. Further along there was a pigeon, its feathers a squawk of red on the pavement. This too I placed in the back seat.  I thought I might ask the cooks to see if there was something they could prepare, a meat pie of bird and mammal. There was one cook who liked to experiment.

But when I returned, I forgot about the possum and the pigeon. The children were gathered in the small court in front of the building, looking up at the third floor dormitory windows. Snell, the skinniest of the eights, stood naked in his window with a rope tied around his neck, the end trailing inside somewhere. “Snell, Snell, Snell!” the children were chanting. Two teachers ran in a hurry across the courtyard, and Remington abruptly appeared beside Snell in the window, smiling and holding out his hands. Snell jumped. We all watched his pale body fall two stories before the rope caught — we heard furniture crashing in his room and saw Remington jump to the side — and we all heard his small neck crack when he reached the end of the rope.

Tonight there was meatloaf. In memory of Snell, the cooks made chocolate cupcakes and decorated them with pink icing, as pink had been Snell's favorite color. The children ate only small portions; the dining hall was quiet, apart from a few sniveling noises from some of the girls.  There was much left over: I took a few slices of meatloaf and ten cupcakes up to my room and am eating them now as I write this. Soon I will undress and get into my bed. The window is open for the night air; somewhere on Route Nine there is a car roaring along and I expect soon I will hear it crash into a tree.


Day Three

This morning, despite my attempt to be first on the breakfast line, I was third.  Given this is the third day of my diary, perhaps to be expected. Ahead of me was Dr. Volpe (first in line), and Amelia Stine, one of the eights.  As the line began to move, she pivoted to face me and said, “Snell knew. That's why.”

“Knew what?” I asked, my body stiffening.

“You know, Mr. Lupica,” she said. “What's coming.” The pupils of her eyes suddenly dilated, completely blackening her irises.

I heaped my plate with sausages and scrambled eggs and looked nervously for bacon: there was none. Cereal and oatmeal and fruit were suddenly unappealing: only a week ago I had been on a diet heavy in fiber and had been enjoying the fall harvest vegetables. The sight of apples, oranges, and raisins  - and the idea of squash and potatoes - now filled me with nausea.

The cooks had decorated the breakfast bar with Halloween ornaments scavenged from the basement and tool shed: a ghost cut from a bedsheet, some tendrils of fake spider web, a plastic jack-o-lantern, bats, mice, snarling rubber cats, gray Styrofoam gravestones, a Dracula puppet, a crucifix with a bloody Christ, some Roman soldiers, an axe, a pair of shears, hedge clippers, a machete (its edge dripping red with ketchup, I assumed), a few skulls, a stuffed rat, a model iceberg.

“You know Snell had shown no signs, no signs at all,” remarked Volpe. I grunted. “And I had had no idea he was circumcised, and had a hernia,” he continued. Volpe ate fastidiously: white toast with margarine, black coffee.

Everything around me was something to be eaten; I could barely stand it. Volpe's dandy breast-pocket handkerchief was puff of egg white that had been whipped into peaks; Amelia Stine's eyes were the suction cups of squid tentacles.

For lunch, once more I fled campus to Jack's BBQ on Route 60. I drove fast and with the windows all rolled down: overnight the possum and pigeon had decayed and left the interior of my car roiling in the metallic potassium stench of the dead. I tossed them from the car once I was off-campus. What had I been thinking yesterday? The day itself was metallic, the sky silvery gray, and the air keening from the high-pressure front moving in. I ate mountains of ribs and washed them down with beer and then coffee, and I ordered steak-and-kidney pie to take out. The ride back took longer than usual and when I was about a half-mile from campus I saw why: a massive tractor-trailer truck had driven over a minivan. From my lane of the road all I could see were a pair of arms and legs sticking out flatly from the squashed minivan, and the truck driver throwing up. No one had stopped to help; the police and usual rescue teams were nowhere to be seen.

Back on campus, I smuggled the pie under my coat and up to my quarters.

I took advantage of a free period this afternoon to nap. When I awoke, I tasted blood. My tongue was swollen. I checked myself in the mirror and saw twin punctures on my lower lip with pinpricks of blood on each. I winked at my reflection and lifted my lips in a fake wide grin. Each of my upper incisors appeared sharper, longer, and whiter than it had before. But before when?

The nines begged me for a game of Twister after dinner (a fairly miserable beef stew, of which I had three helpings) and so I complied, allowing myself to be crawled over, twisted under, and otherwise manipulated by their small hands. They were unusually playful tonight and one or two even laughed. After they were tucked in to bed, I went back to my car and drove down to the coast where I found a place that was serving oysters and clams and other raw seafood. As I ate a plateful, I watched myself in the mirror above the bar, my teeth working, ripping at the octopus rings and slicing through the muscular scallop bodies, and I could see that my two incisors were indeed longer and sharper than they should have been.

Is it odd that this sight didn't disquiet me? Now, back in my room at the school, I am dipping my left hand into the steak and kidney pie and scooping fingerfulls of the rare meat into my mouth. I am determined not to go to bed hungry tonight. The moon is glowing behind a bed of cloud. Just before I turn out the light I hear a child scream on the floor below me. There is a soft thud on the ground outside; a rattle at the window; the same scratching noise in the wall. And then, an owl. I am as sleepy as I have been all day, in a dream of eating. I wonder what will come next, what new desire will arise tomorrow? Today was a good day, all things considered.


Day Four

A sleepy day, despite the hunger. My mind has become slow, and heavy, and bored with the food available. As usual, I was at the head of the line for breakfast, and piled my plate high with bacon. The server I like, Mona, smirked. A child behind me, a new one, said, “That's a lot of bacon, Mr. Lupica.” When he saw the expression on my face, he stepped back, jiggling his bowl of cereal so that the milk slopped over onto his little black shoes and the floor. “I'll clean it up!” he said quickly.

If this was a school, we would have closed it for the day and sent the children home. But this is their home, for now. The hurricane coming has whipped all the leaves from the trees, which now bend black and slick in the rain. It was my job to check the basement and indeed it was a foot deep in water and floating dead mice. I detailed three of the tens to bail it out, to carry bucket after bucket of water up the stone steps and dump them in the yard.

Despite the weather I was drawn to leave campus at lunch and drove all the way to Rein's. I made good time, as there were few cars on the road, most people heeding the weathermen's advice to stay indoors. Rein's was empty; I had roast beef, pastrami, a turkey reuben, chicken soup, ketchup. On the way back I stopped at a grocery store where the disheveled butcher sold me offal for the haggis I told him I intended to make. As I drove I chewed on a piece of raw liver.

My teeth appeared definitely more triangular today — all of them! — and the incisors longer, pointier. I kept my lips drawn tightly across my mouth and spoke in monosyllables as if I was a ventriloquist.

The children grew irritable and impatient at being kept indoors all day until finally I decided to allow my cohort of nines outside to run around in the rain. They chased each other around the jungle gym, through the muddy sandbox, around the swings and see-saw, slipping and falling full-length, some of them, in puddles. I watched from under the hooded eye of my umbrella, dry in my boots and oilskin coat; my skin itched at the heat and damp; the hair on my arms and chest seemed fuller, adding insulation I didn't want. I had the fleeting desire to rip off my clothes and to chase the children naked in the rain the way the groundskeeper chased Lady Chatterley. One child, ignored by the others and trying to get their attention, lay face down in a deep puddle so long I thought he might drown. I picked him up by the scruff of the neck and shook him until he coughed.

Their coats and leggings were soaking wet and clung to their little bodies tight; they looked like seals, and I was reminded of the harp seal pup hunts I used to take in Greenland. Slick and wet, they crowded before me steaming in the foyer of the building before one of the scolding nurses arrived and herded them all together to the group showers upstairs, boys and girls together — “It doesn't matter, does it! You're just children!” she shrilled at their nervous complaints.

Dinner was haddock, breaded and fried. The three servers were dressed in Halloween outfits; two nights away, I thought the preparations were excessive. Still, I admired Mona, dressed in the French maid costume. It went well with her nose piercing and black lipstick. She winked at me as she served me the fish and mouthed something, some signal.

After dinner, I sat in the lounge, scratching myself. The hair on my chest was thicker, more luxuriant, and blacker than I thought it had been a few days ago. I opened my shirt and ran my fingers through it, burying my fingers in the hair; I scratched my nails across the nipples of my chest, and gasped as I noted I had drawn blood: I examined my nails and saw that they, like my teeth, were pointier, longer, more defined than before; the knuckles on each finger were bolder, rounder; the phalanges longer, harder.

I must have sat there for an hour or more; soon the sounds of children being put to bed came down to me, and the rattling of dishes and pots and silverware from the kitchen became more intermittent. I went to the kitchen and saw Mona bent over the sink, still in her outfit, but now wearing long black rubber gloves and scrubbing away at a pot. She saw me and continued scrubbing and I walked carefully up behind her, sidestepping the pools of water on the floor, and when I was just behind her I lifted her skirt and pressed myself against her naked behind. She pushed into me and turned her head nearly all the way around with eyes closed and arched her back, and then she bent completely forward and ducked her head entirely into the deep water of the sink. I held her head under and she bucked against me fully until we were both spent and I lost myself like this until she began to wildly slap at me with her undertaker's gloved hands and I let her head up from the water and she drew ragged breaths.

In my bed now, I have examined my whole body: the black hair that used to lie in matted whorls across my chest and belly has spread over my legs, my biceps, my forearms, my back and my behind. It is quite incredible. The wind is pounding the castle now; I can hear windows flung open on their hinges, tiles on the roof sliding to the ground with a crack, branches whipping against the eaves. The hurricane is here; they say it will last through morning. The clouds utterly occlude the moon, now nearly full.


Day Five

My routine varied little today. Still it rained, yet the weather was warm. South of us yesterday's hurricane rains flooded villages and roads and its wind toppled trees. Here there was the one live oak down in the courtyard. In the morning the children spent an hour trying to tug the dead cat from under it before giving up.

I sorted out an axe from the tool shed and went to the tree myself after breakfast with the intention of chopping enough wood from its sides to remove the cat. All one could see was its hind legs, as if alive and warm, extending from beneath the tree. It was as if the animal had dove into the earth. I chopped wedges from the oak. The tree was nearly two feet thick. I levered the axe against it and was able to roll it slightly and to pull out the dead cat, surprisingly intact, frozen with a startled look in its glassy eye.

Three children appeared with a shoebox and after some bending and folding of the cat's limbs, stuffed it into the box and secured it closed with one of their belts, a leopard-skin strap. During their free period they conducted a funeral; I saw about twenty of them in their solemn outfits and peaked caps march in pairs from the dining hall and through the leaf-strewn and damp muddy foyer to the yard. One of them had a shovel over his shoulder; two of them carried the cat in the box at the head of the line. I heard them singing as they walked — rather, chanting. The words were low and deep: a Byzantine melkite chant, in Aramaic, diatonic. I shied away from the line, and the ones in the end turned their heads in unison at me and I received their shiny black eyes.

Again I left campus to find lunch. The swirling rain made driving frustrating. I was drawn to the river and so I drove to an isolated landing I'd discovered in the first week at school — when the weather had been hot and steamy and I was reconnoitering this new territory — and parked. Outside the car the wind was driving and the rain in sheets. I quickly stripped off my clothes and left them dry in the car and ran my hands over my hairy body. Even my legs were blackening with new fur (this morning, I had shaved twice).

I could see easily through the sheets of rain and I loped to the river and dove in.  My eyes pierced the muddy water and I pushed myself deep and then along the bottom, grabbing rocks to pull me along and pausing when I saw a fish or crab. My lungs were limitless and my feet like wide paddles. The trout and baby sturgeon seemed unaware of my presence and so I was able to seize them and pierce their small brains with my sharp fingertips and then to eat them in several bites: me, a subaquatic hairy beast. It made me laugh and nearly choke.

At dinner tonight Mr. Raghosh, Mr. Kitsune, Mr. Lupin, and  Mr. Bruschsa were sitting together and called me over once I had heaped my plate with the night's offerings of hamburger and frankfurters. The children watched us from their tables, silent. The other men were eating frantically with their hands; grease ran from the corners of their mouths to their chins; they muttered to each other.

I helped the nurses bathe the children tonight; the sevens and eights were especially docile, allowing us to sponge their small bodies and wash their hair. The sevens wanted a story tonight before bed so once they were warm in their nightgowns and pointy red hats, and tucked in up to their chins, I read them “The Juniper Tree,” an old favorite. “Then the mother took the little boy and chopped him in pieces, put him into the pot, and cooked him into stew,” I read. “But his sister stood by crying and crying, and all her tears fell into the pot, and they did not need any salt.” The children's eyes were as round as owls.

Before setting aside this diary tonight I stood naked in front of my window. The moon is so close to full my body is aching, pulling, full of a kind of desire that I am both afraid and frantic to allow.


Day Six

I was awake before dawn this morning and went running in the woods and fields around this place. It seemed I was faster than ever before; I ran barefoot in the moist thick earth, over mattresses of gold and brown leaves, in the soft loam of the fallow cornfield, on beds of pine needles. Even when I ran on the tarmac of Route 9, my feet slapped fleet in the early morning dark. I returned to the school before anyone was up; I could see the children stirring in their rooms, moving like will-o-wisps before the tall glass windows of their quarters.

Today, no classes. The children roamed freely, but quietly; at times they seemed almost wistful. The dining hall was nearly silent at all meals, save for the sound of the teachers' jaws rapidly crunching their food.

What do I call this place? It seems at once school, castle, monastery, haven and orphanage. The little children have grown paler this past week, but the hearty meals we have been serving have made them fatter as well. Me, today I could eat nothing. My stomach ached and growled but the sight of cooked food made me retch. In the pantry after lunch, after the cooks had left, I rummaged in the garbage cans and found the giblets from the chicken packing thrown out before dinner and chewed them, like gum, and ate.

On this the sixth day, I rested. Before coming up here to bed, I checked the kitchen and made sure the ovens were working. Now I lie here, the full moon streaming in, and I hope to sleep. Tomorrow will no doubt be busy.


Day Seven

Somehow, one of the nines obtained a bottle of peroxide and bleached her hair. It was a bright and platinum blonde, and I loved this so much that she is the one I chose today.

The day is over as I write this; I have stopped in a straggle of piney woods close to where the river empties out to the sound, made a small fire, roasted some meat, and eaten, sparingly. There is enough light from the waning moon, and in my eyes, to see this paper and to write.

 It wasn't this way always, nor this morning, which dawned dark and wet, swirling with snowflakes. At breakfast, the teachers stood behind the serving area, ladling soup into bowls: a clear broth pungent of frogs. The teachers — all besides me, that is — eyed each child carefully, counting heads. I brought up the rear of the line of children, herding them forward to accept their soup. Little monks in their pointy hats and robes, they walked patiently with their bowls to the tables, nodding to each other but not talking. But I could hear the teeth of the teachers, clicking.

My skin has shrunken; my hair has receded. I feel depleted; empty: a little sick.

Around three this afternoon, I heard the ovens fire up with a great roar. I was in the middle of a lesson to the eights on medieval prayer in Latin, and the class shuddered together at the sound of the ovens. A bell rang, a deep gong, three times. My eyes rolled of themselves into my head and I felt immensely sleepy; my hands itched and the tops of my feet felt as if burning spikes had been driven into them. Along my right side, my liver seemed pierced by a spear. I threw myself on the floor of the classroom as if I was trying to evade a fire and rolled right and left and down the aisle between the children, who picked up their feet and stood on their chairs to avoid me. Still they were quiet, watching, until one of them placed fingers in his mouth and whistled, and then they ran from the room.

 I lay on the floor panting, heaving, my clothes expanding and tearing as my body grew taller, wider, thicker, stronger. The fur on my body seemed to pour out of my skin like water: black as night all over, gray on my forehead, reddish brown on my hands: claws, really, whose nails were three inches long now and hard as steel. My nose widened and the nostrils sunk into my head and suddenly it seemed I could smell everything, understand night and day and all languages; my eyes pulsed in my head and I saw all the way to India; my ears twitched and I heard the children thinking downstairs. They were not afraid; they were curious. They knew about the ever changing nature of things, of objects living and inanimate. My teeth bloodied my own lips.

Naked, I stood and watched at the window. In the courtyard below the teachers held long pitchforks. The children gathered in the center and the teachers guided them towards the kitchen. One child looked to the left, to the right, and made a motion as if to dart away, but Mr. Legnier was fast with his pitchfork.

I punched the glass of the tall window and howled, and glass rained below, and everyone looked up to see me screaming. My mouth must have been dark and red with its own blood — my eyes must have sparkled like rubies — the sound of my voice must have sounded like rocks crashing down a mountainside. I leaped from the window and in unison the teachers lined up and directed their pitchforks at me. It would have been easy enough to swat them away and to eat them all, but that thought did not come to me. I jumped to the top of the horse-cart and watched them herd the children towards to the kitchen.

And then the blonde child, the one with the peroxide hair, who was second to last in line, when the line hooked around the door to the kitchen entrance, she fell away to the side and was out of view. I could smell her, though, and hear her, and through the thick walls of the building I could see her. She made her way along the inner wall of the vestibule, across an inner hall, and then into a closet on the first floor. There was a secret door there that she opened, and she crawled into the space between the walls and towards a hatch to the cellar. I heard all this, and laughed.

From the kitchen I heard the sounds of chopping, a big knife rhythmically slicing up and down on a cutting board, and an occasional grunt. 

In the cellar, fast breathing. Then, she found her way to the back of the castle and to the bulkhead leading out. She was a mile into the oak forest, plunging through the new snow, when I found her and ate her.