Fiction

Bad Moon

By R. Patrick Murtha

I've been thinking a lot lately about some of the songs that I grew up on and the memories I associate with them. Hearing them frequently used to hawk the wares of mega-corporations, automobiles, sanitary napkins, dish soap and all the rest simply reminds me that nothing is sacred in this society. We are nothing but consumers to be sold products to; we are nothing but the bottom line of the annual reports of corporations that must and do use our generations' music now, not as a means of reminding us of our roots, of our tumultuous times, of the Vietnam War, of the fight for Civil right; no, instead, the music is used in the hope of associating our emotions with their products and to fool us into thinking that the corporations' goals are our goals. One piece of music I hope I NEVER hear in relation to selling products is Creedence Clearwater's "Bad Moon Risin'" because if I do, I'll immediately get choked up and come to the verge of tears. Here is why.

In the late Spring of 1969, when that song was playing on every AM station in America (we hadn't even *heard* of FM in those days), all of us at Mascoutah High School were preparing for graduation just like millions of kids around the country. My friends and I were outcasts from the rest of the class. Being from the Air Force base down the road was bad enough in the eyes of the local natives, mostly farmers. Add to that the high emotions that were associated with the Vietnam War, the onset of the Draft, the Civil rights marches that were so much a part of the nightly news and the fact that a small minority of us openly rebelled against the killing and the prejudice. There was no doubt in anyone's minds that we were the "Them" that the politicians warned against. We wore black arm bands and boldly stood up and walked out of class on the national Day of Protest against the War. We hopped into busses that took us to St. Louis and marched in the Freedom For All parades, protesting the exclusion of African Americans in the mainstream of our society. It was in this atmosphere of exclusion and protest that my friends and I were denied access to our prom night in early June of that summer. Not that any of the local girls would go with us anyway. Compared with kids from NYC or San Francisco, our looks and behavior was very tame indeed. However, it doesn't take much to be labeled "radical" in a small farming community in the middle of Illinois; once officially labeled as "Mid-America" by some agency or another. We laughed about the loss of privilege and decided to go harrass the rest of our classmates as they arrived in the school parking lot prior to the dance. We got an Airman friend to buy the four of us a case of Miller High Life beer, piled into Dad's '66 Impala and drank our way to the high school, 20 miles away from the base. Listening to the pop station in St. Louis as we drove along, taking all the back roads, it was just getting dark as we pulled into Mascoutah Township.

"Hey Jimmy!" I yelled out my window at one of the jocks and well-blessed of the community as he and his cheerleading girlfriend Norma walked towards the school. "You sure do look PURDY!!" and we laughed loudly, clinking beer bottles as he stiffened and turned to the car, insulted by our taunting.

"You FREAKS! Why don't you come over HERE and say that!" he challenged, as his football player buddies rallied around the class hero and most likely to succeed (in farming).

Norma, looking absolutely beautiful in her gown, befitting her nomination of Prom Queen, revealed her true self by yelling, "Go kick their ASSES Jimmy!" screaming like a banshee. As he and his buddies started running to our car, we yelled and hooted and shouted back at them as I stepped on the pedal and peeled out of the parking lot. Just then, one of Mascoutah's finest came around the far corner so I backed off and we very calmly drove the speed limit past the cop as he eyed us critically, but continued to drive on. We immediately whooped and hollered as we drove through town, talking loudly and having a good old time, intent on going out to the country roads, drinking lots of beer and laughing about our "straight" classmates going to the prom. Then, the song came on the radio as darkness fell and we cruised the deserted, moonlit roads Mascoutah.

I see the bad moon arising.
I see trouble on the way.
I see earthquakes and lightnin'.
I see bad times today.

CHORUS:
Don't go around tonight,
Well, it's bound to take your life,
There's a bad moon on the rise.

Hope you got your things together.
Hope you are quite prepared to die.
Looks like we're in for nasty weather.
One eye is taken for an eye.

Don't go around tonight,
Well, it's bound to take your life,
There's a bad moon on the rise.

We were singing loud and raunchy, laughing, drinking beer and getting rowdy. Little did I know how the words of that wonderful John Fogerty song would forever be linked in my memory of that night.

Around midnight, we were pretty drunk and driving along at 30 miles an hour on one of the endless roads outside town. We decided to go back to the school and harrass the Prom People again and as we approached town we came upon a four way stop. I was about to just slow down and cruise on through but Tim (younger brother of Tom, also in the back seat), said loudly, "Whooa! Hold it PAT! That guy's not stopping!" and I slammed on the breaks just as a totally black 68 Chevelle I'd never seen came blowing through the intersection! I didn't see any brake lights come on for even a second. As it passed in front of headlights, the driver slowly turned toward us and we all froze in our seats. We could see that there was a passenger, but he was hidden in shadow. I simply remember long hair flying wildly as they cruised through at 60 miles an hour, both windows down on this particularly hot night. But THE DRIVER!

God, I STILL see that evil face in my worst nightmares. His eyes reflected back a deep red; probably the result of the headlights bouncing off his retina, but the effect was pure demonic. He held a wide smile, looking our way as he passed in front of us, flipping us the bird as if to say "CHICKEN!" almost hoping we'd come through the stop sign....head thrown back and laughing loudly...I STILL hear his cackle as I write this sending gooseflesh all over my arms and neck.

"My GOD! Did you SEE that??!!!" we all breathed after they passed us by. "Oh man, that's giving me the CREEPS! Who the hell WAS that anyway?" my friend Russ asked and we all agreed we didn't recognize the car or the guys. On the radio, the lyrics were repeating, several hours after the first time we'd heard it:

"Don't go round tonight,
It's bound to take your life,
There's a bad moon on the rise.."

And indeed, there was the full, red moon rising just above the cornstalks, throwing an eerie glow on the world...highlights and deep shadows gave an unearthly affect to our drive as we shook our heads in disbelief at our close call and that evil grin the driver gave us as he flipped us off. I still shiver just thinking about it. Not unlike the grin on the creature adoring my story page at http://www.geocities.com/soho/gallery/3549/stories.htm.

We arrived back at the parking lot just as many of our classmates were coming out and the lights in the gym were coming on, indicating the end of the dance. We found some friends and shared a beer or two to some of our less fortunate mates who'd had to wear tux's for the first time and actually had to act civilized as they danced the waltz. "Hey Pat, did you hear that Jimmy and Norma were voted Prom King and Queen?" one of the guys asked, just as those two came into view, surrounded by their admiring crowd of ass kissers.

"Oh big surprise!" I laughed, noticing that Jimmy had seen my car and was gathering a group of friends together and pointing at us. "Uh oh, time to go guys!" I warned and started the car just as a group of jocks began running over to where I was parked.

"Stop! You Freaks! Stop the damn car!" they were yelling as I floored it and easily headed for the back exit of the parking lot. We were yelling back at them, once we saw we were going to get away easily and again headed out to the back roads, laughing and kidding each other, rather drunk now and quite happy with the way the night was going. We'd totally forgotten about the near collision earlier and the two weird guys we'd never seen before.

After awhile, we decided to cruise some of the popular parking places out in the sticks and see if we couldn't interrupt some of our friends chances of losing their virginity that night. What fun, eh? After all, WE weren't getting laid...why should they? For about the next hour or so, we were pretty successful, finding and harassing several groups of cars and couples as we'd turn on our high beams and yell and laugh, distracting the lovers as they had their fun. Then, as we were all about to call it a successful night and head back to base, we were on a little traveled road when, up ahead, we caught sight of the back end of a Chevelle, THE Chevelle, parked on a small, dirt, irrigation-access road. "Hey, check it out. Is that the same car?" Russ spoke up and I slowed down from 60 to about 30. Just then, "Bad Moon a Risin'" came back on and we all nervously sang along as we pulled past the Chevelle and peered down the dark road. Because of the full moon, we could see another vehicle, a pick up truck, about 50 feet further into the road, lights off, parked along the left side corn row.

"Hey, that's Jimmy's pickup." Tom said from the back seat. "And check that out...look at those lights, what is that, flashlights?" he asked quickly as we all peered into the darkness. Indeed, lights were moving around just beyond the front of Jimmy's pickup truck. Then, we drove on so that our view was blocked by the next field of corn. "I guess he must know those two weird guys...maybe some out of town friends come to party with him and Norma for graduation.

"Yeah, and we're outta hear...if those are friends of his, I don't want him seeing US and sicing them on us because of us yelling at 'em earlier." I said quickly, accelerating away faster than I should have, but honest in my fear of discovery by Jimmy and his friends. We continued singing the song and the next and the next as we drove towards home and I dropped off all the guys. I parked the car, took one last look up at the huge moon staring down at me as I sneaked into my basement bedroom through the back yard access. The room spun wildly for an hour before I finally fell into a restless sleep, dreaming of that evil face of the driver and the attitude he showed as he nearly T-boned us in the intersection. Huh…friends of Jimmy's...that doesn't sound right...was my last waking thought.

The next morning, my Mom called down from the top of the stairs, a sound of fear and uncertainty in her usually steady voice, "Pat! Pat! Wake up and come up here now...Russ is on the phone and he says he's GOT to talk to you now!"

"Ok Mom, I'll be right up!" I called back, bouncing out of bed with a headache, wondering what was so important. I stumbled upstairs and picked up the phone as it lay on the counter, Mom hovering around my back with one ear cocked my way.

"Ahhh, what's going on Russ? What are you doing up so early?" I mumbled, kind of shaky on my feet.

"Pat! Have you heard?" Russ nearly yelled in the receiver.

"Oh come on, stop playing games Russ....heard what?" I shook my head, trying to wake up without my mom realizing I was hung over. God, I hope she couldn't smell the beer.

"I just heard on the radio...Jesus, I can't believe it....they were murdered last night Pat! Murdered and butchered and Norma, she was....oh, god , it's horrible!" Russ was rambling on and on making no sense.

"Slow down Russ! Norma, you mean from the prom? Jimmy's Norma? What are you talking about?!" I demanded, my Mom now standing next to me, all sense of normalcy quickly dropped.

"I just heard on the radio Pat. Jimmy and Norma were found this morning...out in the country where we saw them last night! Jesus, Pat, those guys KILLED them both! Jimmy was tied up, and forced to watch as she was raped and tortured and then killed and then they slit his throat and..oh, Jesus Pat! It was those TWO GUYS!! Those two we saw in the Chevelle! We gotta call the cops!" he was nearly crying now as I stood in total shock.

We had witnessed a torturous rape and murder last night…those lights just beyond Jimmy's truck! God, as the news came out and the details were learned, it was one of the most heinous acts of outright brutality ever committed in Central Illinois. The murderers were never caught, despite our descriptions and to this day the crime remains unsolved. Is there any question why I turn the radio now anytime I hear "Bad Moon Risin?"