The moon is round and swollen like a firefly's ass, glowing so brightly through the curtains that I barely need the cheap Ikea lamp sitting on my desk. Its presence in the sky weighs on me like a disappointed mother, tapping her foot and sighing like I forgot to take out the garbage.
Nope. I can't work like this. Another wasted night.
I abandon my laptop and step outside onto the patio, then stand for a moment, scratching one calf with the bare toenails of the other foot. Is it getting hairier? Probably. I run my tongue over my lips and it catches on my teeth, just a tad, and I taste blood bright and singing. I consider shaving my beard, but it'll only grow back.
There are real fireflies out tonight, winking and flashing their morse code. I've never googled it, but I think maybe it's a mating ritual. The fireflies who can wink and flash Shakespeare's collected works get all the dates. The cicadas buzz and sing, and breathing the air is a little like breathing hot syrup, flavoured with exhaust and barbeque from the neighbour's back yard party earlier tonight. Even with the sun long down and the moon risen, the heat is still oppressive.
I'd lie to myself and say that it's the heat that's making it so difficult to concentrate, but I know it's not true. It's the moon, that bitch, and I might as well give in and run, howl, rip off my clothes and join the pack.
Only there's no pack to run with. And besides, like hell if I'd willingly turn furry and go out wild in this neighbourhood. If I didn't eat someone's cat - and who wants to wake up the next morning with a collar tag stuck between two molars, not me - I'd be answering some real awkward questions in the pound the following day.
But on nights like this, when the words absolutely refuse to flow and the loneliness rises up to choke the life out of me, I wish I could allow myself to do it. Unfortunately, I know that it wouldn't solve any problems to run off, and would just create new ones.
Now even the fireflies have up and quit this hot evening, though the cicadas are still jamming. It's dark and the moon turns the too-long grasses in my back yard rippling silver like the fur of a wolf.
A chiming from my computer draws me back inside, and I tap the keyboard as I throw myself back into my chair. A couple of letters appear on the word processor document, which are the only ones I've actually typed all evening. I delete them.
A window is flashing and I select it instead.
Firefly64: Lonely night, huh?
It's him. I draw a breath and let it out, then bring my fingers to the keyboard.
Wolftrap: Oh sorry, I thought I'd turned off my messenger.
I usually do when I'm writing. But maybe I subconsciously knew that I wasn't going to be getting anything done tonight. Or maybe I was just careless.
Wolftrap: How did you know?
Firefly64: Just intuition, I guess. Plus I have a telephoto lens with some sweet range.
Wolftrap: Haha. Stalker.
Firefly64: Come on, talk to me.
I can feel myself smiling like it's a foreign expression on my face, making my lips weirdly tight and my eyes crinkle up. How does this guy always know when I need someone to talk to? I don't even know his real name.
Wolftrap: What do you want me to talk about?
Firefly64: I don't know...
Firefly64: You're a writer, right?
Wolftrap: I try to be
Wolftrap: I mean, yeah, I am.
Wolftrap: I have a couple of books out. It pays the bills.
Firefly64: Best sellers, I'm sure.
Wolftrap: Heh, I wish.
Firefly64: So how about if you tell me what you're writing right now?
I wince and rub the bridge of my nose.
Wolftrap: Nothing, really.
Wolftrap: My editor wants me to start something fresh, to 'capitalize on my success' and move in a different direction.
Wolftrap: But, I don't know, I've got some ideas, I guess, but nothing's really coming.
Firefly64: Writer's block?
Wolftrap: I guess.
Firefly64: Don't worry, okay? I'm sure it'll pass.
This isn't working. I am on the edge of getting up and getting a drink or something. I need distraction, not more brooding about the slowly circling toilet water of my career.
Sure, I can write fairly well when I'm on, but the writer's block hasn't just been tonight - it's been ever since my publisher told me that my numbers were starting to slip, and they didn't want more of the same series I'd been writing, but something fresh and different.
But the beep keeps me in my seat.
Firefly64: I'm sorry, I'm just making things worse, aren't I?
Firefly64: It's not just the moon, is it?
I stare at the words for a few long seconds before I finally put my fingers to the keys again.
Firefly64: Are you still there, Wolf?
Wolftrap: What do you mean, about the moon?
Firefly64: Shit, man, how long have we been chatting? I know you always get morose when the moon is full.
Wolftrap: You TRACK that?
I stand up abruptly and close the laptop lid, moving to pace. That's weird, isn't it? I mean, the guy - I think it's a guy - and I have been chatting off and on for a couple of months now. Not years and years, but for a while. And so far as I know, he doesn't know my real name, though I've nearly told him a couple of times, if only in the vague hope that he would buy a book or two.
Who pays attention to the moon's cycle like that, anyway? Okay, maybe sparkly fru-fru moon goddess pagans, but Firefly never really struck me as the type.
Have I really attracted a stalker?
The problem is, he's cute and funny and cheers me up when I'm down. There isn't much creepy about him.
The blinking light on the front of my laptop turns from green to orange. An accusation. I'd just signed off without saying goodbye - a first since we started talking a lot.
I sit down again, and open my laptop.
--You signed off--
--You signed on--
Wolftrap: Please tell me you're Wiccan.
Firefly64: Listen, don't freak out.
Wolftrap: Oh, that makes me totally calm.
Firefly64: Really! Just listen.
Firefly64: I've been paying attention, yeah. And I know you're a werewolf.
Wolftrap: Oh my god, you are completely an insane stalker.
I close my eyes, heart pounding. He's kidding right? Of course he's kidding. I open my eyes, trying to search my own foolishly sent words for nuance that might actually make this guy think that I actually think I'm a werewolf.
I am a werewolf, but it's not like that's something you just tell people. I've never even met another one of my kind. For all I know, I'm the only one.
No, it's cool. It's cool. There's nothing really weird in what I just said.
Firefly64: I'm not crazy.
Firefly64: Of course, that's what I'd say if I really were crazy!
Haha, very funny.
Firefly64: Look, Wolf, you're not alone.
Wolftrap: I'm going to bed.
Firefly64: Please, at least let me tell you a story before bedtime? Maybe it'll shake something loose for your writing.
I sit for a moment, staring at nothing, then type.
Really, what harm is there in a story? I can always block him later.
Firefly64: There is a carnival at the edge of a town in west Texas.
Firefly64: During the day, of course, it's a normal carnival. The caramel corn is salty sweet, and the rides clank and turn and rise as people shriek happily, and the haunted house is filled with jerky puppets and flashing lights, not real ghosts.
Firefly64: The carnival's pride and joy is their ferris wheel, which rises higher than even the tallest of their roller coasters. From the top you can see the whole town, not that most people are looking, of course. Two people on that ferris wheel have a nice long time to spend alone!
Seriously? This is the story? There really is a carnival on the edge of town, with a big ferris wheel, and that's probably what he's talking about. I haven't been in years, but I know of it. I reach out to touch the keys, but he's already continuing.
Firefly64: But sometimes at night, that ferris wheel is far more than a couples make-out ride.
Firefly64: They say that when the moon is full, it is actually a portal to another time, far from here.
Firefly64: In fact, to ride the special ferris wheel under the full moon on a night just like this, you'll be transported right back to 1847, the year the carnival was founded. It's sure to be an adventure a hell of a lot better than here!
Firefly64: So what do you think?
I sit for a moment, not even knowing what to think, but he's obviously waiting for me.
Wolftrap: Neat story, I guess.
Firefly64: Wow, damned with faint praise.
Firefly64: Wolftrap: Cool story, bro, no actually it sucked but I'm too much of a nice guy to admit it.
Wolftrap: No, really, it needed maybe a bit more to it, but the idea's intriguing.
Wolftrap: You're talking about the Goodman Carnival, right? It's like half an hour from my house.
Firefly64: That's the one.
Firefly64: But listen, forget about the story really, and think about it.
Firefly64: How would it feel to just get away for a bit? Explore another world. Or another time, I guess.
Wasn't I just thinking I wanted to get away? My creeped out feeling has faded away completely now, and I'm starting to smile again. For all the silliness of his story, it has distracted me, and I'm feeling better than I did earlier.
Wolftrap: Pretty damn good, actually.
Firefly64: Great! Meet you in an hour.
--Firefly64 has signed off--
--Firefly64 has signed on--
Firefly64: Wear boots.
Firefly64: And don't forget, jeans weren't invented until 1873.
--Firefly64 has signed off--
I sit there, staring at the screen for a full minute before I accept that this just happened. Apparently Firefly64 really does live nearby - near enough to be able to get to the carnival within an hour, anyway. And he expects me to just go meet him...what? At an empty carnival, long after closing time, to ride the ferris wheel and make out?
Is this some kind of weird game where we pretend we're going to the Wild West for real?
I get up and wander to my closet, not even sure exactly why I'm doing it, except that entertaining this ridiculous notion is better than sitting around with my jaw in my lap. Anyway, now that nothing's distracting me, the moon is starting to huff and tap her foot in my direction again.
Maybe going to the carnival isn't a bad idea, after all.
I actually get into it. I have a pair of cowboy boots, of course - I think they issue those along with the birth certificates in Texas - and instead of jeans I find myself a pair of old black dress pants that I hope will look close enough to proper trousers. A white cotton shirt isn't hard to add to the ensemble.
I even have a bandanna I tie around my neck with a laugh, and I find my Stetson stuck in the back of the closet, on the shelf.
I look at myself in the mirror, rub my bearded chin, and decide I look like a cowboy.
Then I bike to the carnival, feeling like an idiot.
By the time I get there, I'm convinced that a locked gate is going to end this adventure and I'll be headed home within five minutes. There's not a soul in sight as I lock my bike to one of the rings out front and approach the ticket booths, though I figured that I might meet Firefly outside the front doors, but even though I'm a couple of minutes late for our date - or whatever it is - I don't see anyone around.
Maybe he was bullshitting from the beginning. He never intended to come.
But to my surprise, the gate is unlocked and hanging open just enough to be visible when I get close. I push on it, and it swings open with a long, drawn out creak like the front door of a haunted house.
A crumpled burger wrapper skips past my feet, skittering along the brickwork path and into the park.
The fireflies are out in force. They light the path ahead like will 'o the wisps, dancing and winking at me as I walk.
I pass the concessions, boarded up for the night, though I can still catch a faint whiff of popcorn and corndogs, and those little doughnuts all covered in white sugar. The scent makes my teeth lengthen, and I hurry along, the moon gazing down at me as if wondering what I'm up to this time.
Beyond that is the haunted house. It's closed up, too, the music and ever-present evil cackling that usually runs through the speakers, now silent. Maybe there are ghosts there at night during the new moon, or maybe if I do a dance on my head maybe I'll summon them. If I run into Firefly, I'll have to ask him.
The rollercoaster rises away on my right like the bones of an enormous dinosaur. And then there's the tilt-a-whirl, the tea cups, the pirate ship.
And ahead, the ferris wheel, seen through a cloud of dancing fireflies.
I reach the ride and look up. Its height is dizzying, but of course there's no swirl of menacing cloud. No black portal to another dimension. No sign saying "This way to 1847". There's just the moon, bloated and hanging as if placed directly above the highest point of the wheel.
And still I don't see a soul, just the rides, and the fireflies, and the moon. All is still and silent, except for a discarded sweater hooked over a railing, and fluttering in the breeze that is finally clearing the worst of the heat from the air.
I'm about to turn and leave when I realize that things aren't quite as quiet as I thought. There's a low thrum, which I suddenly notice is coming from the ferris wheel.
The motor is running.
All of the other rides had been shut down for the night, the stores and buildings closed down and locked, but this ride was warmed up and ready to go.
Curiously, I step up into the operator's booth. I scan the controls.
An idiot could run it. But of course, the truth is that a teenaged boy on summer break could run it, so there you go. I hit the big red button marked 'START'.
The ferris wheel comes to life, coloured lights blooming along all of the rails and around the cars until it's a shining beacon that rivals the moon. I laugh, and step back down, moving towards the first car.
Then I stop, and look around. Still no Firefly.
"Hey," I yell into the darkness, expecting no one to hear me. "Aren't you coming?"
And he answers, but not in words. Not immediately.
There are more fireflies than I had realized. They swirl in from every direction, filling the area with light as they circle in a tight whirlpool. The whirlpool moves faster and faster, and - while I watch with my mouth open and my fingers gripping so tight to the handrail that I'm losing feeling in them - resolves into a vaguely human shape.
And then a not-so-vague human shape.
He looks to be around my age, clean shaven except for a fetching bit of stubble, and a crooked-toothed smile I could see myself kissing.
"Hi Wolf," he says.
"Jesus H. Christ," I say. Not my most eloquent moment.
"Nope," he replies with a laugh, stepping towards me. "Just Firefly."
I force my fingers to let go of the rail. Behind me, the ferris wheel hums a siren song, but I'm not ready, just yet.
"What are you?"
"Does it matter?" I guess it doesn't. He's not a werewolf, but he's something. Something different. Just like me.
He steps up to the platform with me, and suddenly the smile falters, turns shy, and I can't believe that I allowed that to happen. I feel like I'd do anything for that smile. "Do you still want to go?"
"Is it real?" I ask, and his hand slides into mine, warm and soft and slightly calloused.
"Let's find out."
As we ride the wheel up towards the sky, his hip warm against mine and my heart roughly at the level of the stars, I know one thing.
Whether or not this ferris wheel really is a portal to the Old West, I'm pretty sure I'm not going to have to deal with writer's block for a good long while.