Cherry Peters, commander of the American Sector’s moon base, was considering disobeying orders. “A Halloween get together?” she raged. “What kind of publicity stunt is that?”
“It’s a secret, UN-sponsored meeting, Ma’am,” replied Peters’ communications officer. “Conducted under a radio blackout, to defuse international tensions, especially after what happened in the South China Sea.”
The US had bombed an uninhabited island that China claimed as hers out of existence to de-escalate a territorial dispute. The rationale? No island, no dispute!
“Do you really think assembling the most visible players on the moon, at Halloween, to tell scary stories and get drunk, will aid in the quest for world peace?”
The Comms Officer shrugged. “Who knows?”
British Lunar Territories was hosting the get together. Vice-Admiral Laurence Cranley, wearing a bandage-swathed mummy costume, was putting the final touches to Shackleton Outpost, a mothballed station in the aptly-named Sea of Crises.
“Fake spiders, done! Fake webs, done!” he enumerated to himself. “We’re a go.”
Chyou Dang, Chairperson of the Chinese Yue Facility, arrived first. Once she had stepped out of her spacesuit and been assigned a cabin, she changed into the orange-red devil fancy dress outfit she had brought, but minus its pitchfork since weapons were prohibited.
Next came Francois Toussaint, President of the EU Moon Colony, who donned a Krampus costume.
Lastly, five minutes overdue, an American shuttlecraft touched down at the designated landing zone, a short distance from the British outpost.
When Commander Peters joined the others in the operations room, her peers commended her fairy outfit, even if the expected wand had also fallen victim to the weapons prohibition.
Soon, however, despite the diplomatic aspect of their mission, the four were quarrelling.
“You scuppered our deal to sell H3-powered shuttlecraft to the newly-arrived Australians,” Toussaint accused the American.
“What about that rare metals mine you said we’d share access to?” Chyou yelled at her British host. “And those odd-looking solar panel fields the EU are building. How do we know you haven’t weaponised them?”
“How do we know you haven’t weaponised yours?” Peters and Cranley countered.
The quartet suddenly stopped bickering, stared long and hard at one another (a devil, a mummy, Krampus and a fairy) and burst out laughing.
Not surprisingly, each member at the get together had brought a bottle. They started off with Francois Toussaint’s vintage Burgundy, then shared shots of Cherry Peters’ Kentucky whiskey and Laurence Cranley’s Scotch before resorting to swigging from Chyou Dang’s bottle of Baijiu once they were too drunk to pour shots without spillage.
“Halloween story, anyone?” asked Cranley. “Any moon monsters? All we have in England vis-à-vis the moon is that it’s made of green cheese. Mind you, if you’ve ever tasted green cheese, it’s pretty horrific.”
“In China,” said Chyou Dang, some still believe a lunar eclipse occurs when a sky dragon is trying to eat the moon.”
Toussaint frowned as if recalling an unpleasant memory. “There’s a story in France about the origins of the Man in the Moon. He was banished to the Moon for the crime of working on the Sabbath. God sentenced him to death by stoning.”
“Somewhat excessive,” said Cranley, causing more hilarity. “What about you Yanks? A Headless Horseman decapitating all and sundry during a full moon, perhaps.”
“I prefer to think of the moon as just a harmless pile of grey old rocks,” said Cherry Peters, her deadpan lack of enthusiasm leading to further laughter.
At 2:00 am UK time, long after they had all gone to bed, the screech of an emergency alarm awoke them.
“Fire in Cabin 4!” shouted Cranley, grabbing a fire extinguisher. He was about to put his hand on the door’s palm reader, but Toussaint stopped him. “Open the door and the blaze will rip through the whole outpost. We’re too late. Chyou Dang’s already dead.”
“Incinerated by her lunar eclipse dragon,” mused Peters, as the halon gas system doused the blaze.
“That’s uncalled for,” said Cranley.
Toussaint eyed the American suspiciously. “I don’t suppose you had anything to do with this.”
Before Peters could answer, a loud clang resonated through the outpost as Cranley dropped the fire extinguisher. His mouth was opening and shutting like an asphyxiating fish and his complexion had turned puce. He clutched at his throat.
“He’s choking,” said Toussaint, as Peters stepped behind Cranley and performed the Heimlich manoeuvre.
On the third attempt, a green chunk of cheesy substance flew out of Cranley’s mouth. Yet before he could recover his breath and thank his good Samaritan, he was choking again.
Five times Peters and Toussaint performed the Heimlich manoeuver, yet each time a hunk of cheese-like material was forced from Cranley’s windpipe, another replaced it.
Finally, the Englishman’s heart failed.
“What the hell’s going on?” said Peters.
“Maybe we’ve invoked a moon spirit that resents trespassers,” Toussaint conjectured. “Or perhaps our Halloween reminiscences have created their own time-space reality.”
“That’s superstitious bull!” said Peters. “Let’s get out of here. Once we’re aboard my shuttlecraft, I’ll have comms with my moon base.”
Suited up, the two surviving lunar-nauts trudged towards the outpost’s landing zone. Less than halfway there however, the moon dust around them started erupting under the impact of a meteorite shower. Francois Toussaint took a direct hit from a meteorite and disintegrated, while Peters was flung up into the tenuous void above the moon’s surface.
Gradually, the moon’s one-sixth earth gravity kicked in, pulling her back towards the surface, towards a crater where the British had set up a ring of solar panels. It looked suspiciously like the weaponized solar-powered booby traps her own science team was secretly developing.
It’s 3:00 am UK time, and 7:00 pm Pacific Time, the time zone Americans utilised on the moon. I must get word back about what’s happened here before our own Halloween celebrations start on the base, thought Peters.
Seconds later though, she triggered a booby trap. A laser beam cut through her spacesuit decapitating her, just as a headless horseman might have done.
Paul A. Freeman lives and writes in Abu Dhabi.