My mother had always told me to avoid the thief, but she never went into detail. She only offered vague warnings. Only once, when we were sat by the fire late at night, did she speak more. She had guzzled one too many gins and sat cursing him over and over.
‘I never used to be this old.’ She said. ‘The years have been stolen from me. I don’t know where they went.”
To me, it was the ramblings of an old woman, bitter at the hand she had been dealt. The lines had crept over all over her face and her spine had curved forward, but this was to be expected for her age. She had me late in life and never forgave herself. Still, I humoured her when she gripped my hand tight.
‘Don’t you ever speak to him, Isobel. He’s got a charming smile, but he’ll take all your moons in a blink of an eye.’
I just nodded to humour her, ever the obedient daughter. I bit my lip to try and bury my frustration. It was another incomprehensible rule to add to the list. Don’t go out at night, stay in the house as much as possible, always clean up after yourself, never answer back, never be sarcastic etc etc. There were too many to name. It meant I was almost permanently in the wrong.
She had always been protective, but since my dad’s death five years ago she had become controlling. I had been pulled out of school to work at home. Leaving the house was forbidden, so I spent my days making bread, tidying up and generally keeping house. My mum worked as a seamstress, making clothes for the village. It didn’t bring much money in. Once, I suggested I should find some work, but my mum would hear none of it.
‘A precious lamb like you Isobel isn’t going anywhere. The thief might find you. Mark my words.’
So what could I do but bite my tongue and get on with the day to day tasks, dull as they were? I just had to carry on.
One autumn night, I was shivering in my bed, unable to shake thoughts of a new life. I pictured myself running out of the door of the small cottage, down the lane and into the unknown, but the night was cold and I didn’t know where I would go. I glanced around my room for some reason. That’s when I saw him. An outline of a man, tall and handsome. Just standing in the middle of my room as if there was no issue at all. He was silver in the moonlight falling through my window. His eyes sparkled. I gasped and my mouth hung open. I physically couldn’t look away.
‘It’s rude to stare.’ he said, a slight smile creeping round the corner of his mouth.
I didn’t feel like screaming. There was no panic. I was mesmerised. I had never seen anyone so beautiful. The sheet had fallen from me and I realised I was only in my slip, and this man could see me almost naked. I didn’t care, I thought. Let him look.
‘What…What are you doing in my room?’ I managed to stammer out, still staring at the man. He took a step towards me and seemed to shimmer as he moved. His body was made of pure moonlight.
‘You want to escape.’ His voice was a stream gently babbling, taking all worries and cares with it’s current. His words caressed my ears. There was no point asking how he knew, or why he was here. He spoke the truth. I yearned to leave this small flat and find a new life. I nodded. Of course, I wanted to escape.
‘I can help you.’ Another step closer. He was almost at the bed now, so close I could almost touch him. He didn’t seem to breathe. Instead, he was perfectly still, like the moment between seconds. He half smiled again.
A wave of certainty spread over me. I knew he was the thief my mother had warned against so many times. He was dangerous and I shrunk back. Just at that moment though, he smiled fully. It was beautiful. The smile was pure light and I was almost blinded. Tears rolled down my cheeks. In that moment, I decided. Whatever the price, I would pay it.
‘Okay.’ I said. My voice was swallowed up by the darkness.
The beautiful thief put his hand out to me, perfectly still. I reached out and touched the silver light. His fingers felt cold and insubstantial, like mist.
He smiled. With his other hand, he pointed at the moon through the window.
For a long heartbeat, nothing happened at all. Then the moon spun on its axis. It waxed and waned, rising from full moon to nothing in a breath. I never saw anything more beautiful or more terrifying. I felt nausea rising as the moon flickered faster and faster. A sharp tone cut through my head.
‘Stop!’ I found myself screaming ‘STOP!’
The moon stopped its incessant spinning. The tone cut off abruptly. I turned to the beautiful man. He smiled at me, that stunning smile once again. With that, he evaporated like a fine mist before my eyes.
Was I dreaming? I was still in the same room as before. Nothing seemed to have changed. I hadn’t escaped. Had it all been for nothing?
I lifted my hands to the door. They were liver-spotted and knarled. That thief had been here years ago, back when I was a teenager. He had stolen my moons from me and kept them for his own pleasure. I was old now and could never get the years back. I was left withered and broken, cursing the thief of moons.