top of page

The Man Who Shot the Moon

Christopher Flakus

The inside of the car is dark. Flurries of aspen trees with their white bodies flash past the passenger window. They look to you like contorted, ghostly figures with jeering, mocking faces. They frighten you, but you don’t dare tell your father whose smells of sweat, cigarettes, and whiskey you’ve come to find comforting. He’s a strong man, entwined in sinew and muscle. His tattoos are shiny in the moonlight, which seems to alight your favorite, an anchor with your name in cursive running through a banner woven through its hooks. The ash from his cigarette cascades down the front of his half-buttoned pearl-snap shirt and he mumbles curses as he wipes it off. Half-whispered, as if he were intoning a prayer or casting a spell.

The trees again. They look as if they are moving. Moving as you move, or in reaction to the car. Unnatural, strange movement. Your father takes another tight corner. He always said you only need one headlight to get anywhere. He knows these roads so well he could drive (and probably has) completely blind, no lights at all. Your mother calls him reckless, a loser, but you think of your father as a brave man. You love your father.

“All you need to see is what’s right in front of ya,” he says, the car’s single beam of light illuminating the road so all that can be seen is the painted lanes on the asphalt and leafless, endless trees and only a hill or two to climb. You shiver with cold and wish you’d brought along something warmer. The truck’s heater is still busted. Your father doesn’t seem to mind the cold so you conceal your chattering teeth by turning away and looking through the passenger window. All else is flat and the night sky above you, swirling with stars, has not a single cloud to block the full moon which hangs blue as a robin’s egg above your head.

You continue to climb until you’ve crossed the state line and the staleness of your father’s car has almost become breathable. He pulls from a bottle held between his knees. It makes everything burn sharp like the fumes of a bug spray can. You don’t like it.

“Here,” he says, pushing the bottle over to you. “You’re old enough, it's time you had a taste. Put some hair on your nuts. Whaddya say? One big pull for your old man?”

“Sure thing pop,” you say, though you’re afraid. Afraid of throwing it up, like the last time he made you do this. He must have forgotten. You’ve had some before. He’s made you drink plenty of it. You bring the bottle to your lips and swallow the way he taught you to; you make your throat slack and let the liquid pour in. Defy that reflex to gag and stop before it fills to your teeth. Then let it all down into your gut, burning like hellfire all the way through you.

“Atta’ boy,” he says. His rough hand caresses the back of your head warmly. Your daddy loves you. Of this, you have no doubt. In his way. You cough and wipe your mouth with the back of your sleeve before handing him back the bottle. He chuckles proudly. Waylon Jennings is playing so low on his tape deck you can barely hear him, but it’s enough to illuminate the deck, embedded in wood grain, with orange lights like the lights of a city seen from very far away or perhaps from up too close. You imagine, one or the other. You’ve never been to a city. Not a real one anyway. All you know is this dark and these ghostly aspens, their branches like spider’s legs in the moonlight. When you think of cities you think of light. White, blinding light. Your daddy turns the tape deck up saying, “This here’s my favorite part,”

“We were wrapped up in the music

That's why we never saw

The cars pull up, the boys get out

And the room fill up with law

They came pounding through the back door

In the middle of my song

They got me for possession

Of something that was long gone”

Your daddy’s wearing a western-cut shirt and his same old wranglers and square-toed work boots. You remember when he used to play his guitar late into the night, picking at it fast and sometimes teaching you a chord or two. Those days were the happiest you remember having. Daddy hasn’t played guitar in a long time. Not since some men he owed money to broke his hand. Later on, you heard whispers in school about your daddy. Kids saying mean things. You gave Petey Munro a black eye and got sent home. Your mother’s eyes burned like coal and she whipped you good with her belt to make you pay for what you’d done.

“You’re just like your no-good father! Is that how you want to end up!?”


Earlier you had heard the crunch of gravel as his car pulled up to your mother’s house — nearly silently. You’d had trouble getting to sleep, so you lay in bed awake staring at a water stain on the ceiling that seemed to hold your gaze like a hypnotist. You heard the familiar sound of your father’s truck door open, but not close again. Or, if he had closed it, had done so very carefully and quietly. He knew he had been forbidden by the law to come by the house. He’d lifted your window from the outside and stuck his head into your room. A whisper for you to come and you obeyed. You got up, dressed, and left your mother’s house and got into his truck. But not before you helped push it out for a while so no one would hear the engine start.

Now the trees are contorted bodies that blur by, mile after empty mile. You wonder at first why it makes no real difference to you whether you’re in the car or back at home. In fact, when you think, of course you prefer it in the car. With your father.

Despite it all, you prefer him, even though you think what he’s done will get him in trouble and that worries you.

You don’t want him to go away again. Papa isn’t allowed to take you anywhere in the night like this without telling your mom and her new man. You don’t much like the new man, though he smiles and brings you candy. You’re old enough to know that your daddy’s asking for trouble. Old enough to know that, at least. Yet you say nothing.

“Just wait in the car for a minute here, will you boy?” your father asks, pulling off onto a dirt road that makes the tires first crackle over gravel, then sizzle over dead leaves as if they were on fire. Once the truck gains speed rolling downhill in neutral, your father pilots it expertly until you reach your destination. You pull into a little RV camp and stop in front of a double-wide trailer and the vestiges of a campfire smoking in a stone pit.

“I’ll only be a minute.”

Your father parks and gets out of the car. He closes the door again without making it click. You turn the lights off inside at the same time. This way the car door remains open but the car’s still dark and obfuscated by some bushes. He’d turned off the car headlights just before making the turn and you’d both slipped through that dark outside, with those ghostly aspens all around you and your father, he just steered, slipping through it all like a cottonmouth snake through swamp water. A man afraid of nothing.

You hear your father slide the action of his gun. A familiar sound, like a door lock clicking open and shut. He told you if you wanted to be a real man, you’d have to know how to shoot. He set empty bottles on posts down by White Oak Road, back when the whole family still lived together in Conroe, Texas. Before Mama moved you to the East.

After you shot and shattered one bottle (after many failed attempts) your father told you that one day it would come down to you and another man and if you weren’t ready to do what had to be done you’d be lying dead and the other guy, he’d be laughing. Always shoot first. Before they have a chance to think. This is what your father said to you that day you shot his empty beer bottle off the old cattle post. You’d managed to hit one, though the gun slammed your whole body back like a cannon and if you didn’t hold it right your arm hurt for days after. But you remember the pride you felt when your daddy took off his white, sweat-stained hat and knocked it against his knee singing, “that’s my boy!” when the bullet hit the bottle.

There’s a sound from inside a trailer. Glass shattering. Something heavy being knocked over. Then the sharp, ear-popping flash of a gun illuminates the single square window alongside the trailer and out walks your father, counting a fistful of money in his hand. A big man, the biggest you’ve ever seen, just as big as a whale and covered in green tattoos, lays on the floor screaming, his hands clasped over his backside. A table lamp is knocked over and a Laz-E-Boy has been overturned.

“You shot me in the ass you son of a bitch!”

“Could’ve been worse Gary,” your father tells the fat man. “I could’ve shot you in the face.”


It’s the way he says it that bothers you. He says it so you know that what he’s saying is absolutely true. That mood he gets in, when he says life’s a joke and anything can happen. Sometimes really good things happen in moments like those, magic things like when he showed you how to dive in the lake. You felt like it must really be what flying feels like on the way down. Careful to do as your father said, you jumped off the high spot and hit the water with both your feet together and your arms up. You pierced through the deep like a torpedo. Yes, you knew about the good times. But mostly, mostly around Daddy things turned into times like these. Bad times. Scary things.

He gets back in the car and doesn't bother about lights or engine noises anymore, all that matters is making it out fast now. Your father turns the keys and roars away hooting like a maniac. Once you’re back on the main road, he turns off the tape deck and settles into darkness while reducing the mph to the speed limit.

“Won’t that man call the police?” you dare to ask.

“Naw, he ain’t calling anybody. He’s got more shit in that house…it would take him a day and a half to clean it up enough to have any law up in there. No, he’s going to call his cousins and they’re going to dig that slug out of his enormous ass. Then, sure, they’ll probably come looking for me. But we’ll be long gone by then. Long gone. Needles in the haystack.”

“Where are we going?”

“Canada,” your father says, after a pause. “I got a buddy who has a ranch up there just across from Chinook and he needs workers for the winter. It’s going to be cold. I won’t lie to you about that. But it’ll build character and it’s what a boy your age--hell, it’s what I did when I was your age and there ain’t no judge or your bitch of a mother or her new boyfriend or anyone that’s going to tell me how to raise my own son. Hey, have I steered you wrong yet buddy?”

“No pop.”

“Then trust me on this one. There’s going to be horses, beautiful mountains.”

“Can we play with the horses?”

“That’s all we’re going to do is play with them! All day from the moment the sun rises until the moment it goes down. And we’ll be tired as hell, but we’ll sleep and wake up ready for coffee. Do it all over again. Of course, we’ll have to teach you how to ride.”

“I’m going to get to ride a horse?”

“You betcha,” your father says, pulling from the bottle. “Can’t steer cattle without a horse and a few good dogs.”

“Dad,” you ask. “What’s a mule?”

“That’s a horse crossed with a donkey. That’s what you use for real farm work. Or, what people used for a long time anyway. You didn’t have a mule to hitch and make rows for your crops, you’d starve. There are men in our family, men like my daddy and his, who hitched it to themselves in times of great need. There weren’t any shame in it. You worked until you could afford a mule. And for wagons and such. I expect during the Civil War times a mule’d have been worth quite a lot considering their hauling power. You can have your cavalry, but who’s going to pull the cannons and mortars and the heavy stuff? Not the horses, I’ll tell ya that much.”

“That’s what I heard someone say. They said: mules do the real work. I didn’t know what they meant.”

“Well whoever it was, son,” your daddy says, “he’s preaching gospel truth.”

Then he gets that grin every time anyone mentions the gospel or church or anything to do with God. He pulls his gun out again and aims it out the passenger window.

“Want to bet I can hit the moon from here?” he asks.

You want to ask him not to do it, but instead you say: “Yeah pop, sure.”

The gun reports three or four times, just muffled pops in the howling wind outside the car. Your father pushes his head out the window and looks up. His face registers a look of surprise. You can see the cracks and the wrinkles of his skin, like that very thin paper you use for packaging presents at Christmas, only after it's been all balled up. His hair reaches his shoulders and is starting to gray. It hangs in greasy strands from beneath his hat. He’s got a mustache and three-days worth of beard stubble. The moonlight turns the gray hairs blue.

“There,” he points at the moon. “You see? I got it.”

You look up through the clear windshield and to your astonishment, the moon has three enormous black holes in it.

“Daddy! You shot the moon! You shot the moon!” you cry.

He laughs the way you only ever get to hear so very rarely. In fact, you can’t remember the last time you heard him laugh like this. Dizzy with happiness. You clap in amazement, but you’re also relieved when he puts the gun back away in its embroidered leather holster.


About an hour down the road you begin to see the spectral forms of illuminated gas stations, most empty at this time of night. Signs for upcoming fast food and residential areas. Further down is the big highway.

“You hungry pal?” your father asks.

“Yeah,” you say, feeling a rumbling in your stomach. “But let’s drive some more first.”

“You worried about that fat man back there? Don’t worry. He ain’t going to bother us at all, he’s got bigger problems right now.”

You want to tell him no, you’re worried he’ll be in trouble for shooting the moon.

“I know pop,” you tell him.

“Up by the highway there’s a 24/7 Waffle House. Whaddya say we stop in for some breakfast? It’ll be sunny around then.”

“Ok pop,” you say.


You choose pancakes, of course. Strawberry. With mountains of whipped cream on top. Your father orders nothing, just sips his black coffee and smiles at the pretty waitress, tips his hat. He smiles in a way that makes you never believe he’d just been the man who shot the moon. Three times no less! You’ve heard of men walking on the moon, but never a man who could aim and shoot right through it. It amazes you how in that moment, your face full to the brim with buttery flapjacks,  how like a normal man he seems. A man like any other. Yet you know he isn’t. Far from it.

He is the man who shot the moon.

Your plate is empty now and you’re so hungry that for a moment you consider licking it, but you restrain yourself. Your father takes out his Zippo and clicks it open with that familiar metal ping, bringing the blue flame to a cigarette (despite the NO SMOKING sign, nobody tells him to put it out) and exhales a cloud of smoke.

“You like your pancakes?”

“Yes, pop. I’m ready to get back on the road now.”

“What’s the rush? We can take it easy for a minute.”

“I’d rather leave now pop.”

Your father leans in with the air of a man who's seen it all and survived, who's been beaten down and gotten up, who has leapt over every hurdle life’s put in his way. A man with no worries. A man who could shoot a fat man in the ass, or plug three bullets into the moon. An extraordinary man. You think to yourself that you’ve never loved him as much as in this moment.

You see the police enter the diner first. Your father has his back to them.

“Daddy…” you begin to say.

“It’s ok,” he says, somehow knowing they’re there without having to turn around. “Everything’s going to be ok, son.”

Maybe they’re just here to eat, you hope. Although your mother makes you say grace over the dinner table nightly, you’ve never truly prayed. For the first time you earnestly do so. You pray the police go away, leave you both alone.

They do not. They walk straight over to your table.

“Mr. Childers,” they say to your father.

“Yeah, that’s me. And this is my son, Christopher.”

“Hello,” you say faintly.

“Nice to meet you Christopher,” a lady cop says.

She’s as big as a bull. They all are. Not in shape, not muscular, just slabs of fat in body armor. Your father looks like a toothpick in comparison.

“I guess it doesn’t matter,” your father says, “to you pigs whether or not you arrest a man in front of his child.”

“Come on. You know what this is about. We got you dead to rights.”

“Then maybe you’ll remember to read them to me this time.”

“We don’t have to do that anymore,” a big, balding cop with a pink face shouts. “Not for punks like you who no one gives a damn about.”

“Fuck you pig!” you scream, imitating your father. He smiles proudly, but then gives you a look that says: cool it kid.

He stands up out of the booth.

“We almost made it, huh? Guess I should have listened to you and gotten back on the road.”

“You wouldn’t have gotten far,” the pink-faced cop says. “Let’s go, you know the drill.”

You watch as your father slides out of the booth, his eyes on you the entire time.

“Don’t worry Chrissy,” he says. “Don’t worry son. I’ll be back before my breakfast gets cold.”

“Yeah, we’ll see about that,” the cop says again. The lady cop has remained quiet. She looks at you with eyes that seem sad, as if she were about to cry.

“Just don’t handcuff me in front of the boy. I’m going with you of my own volition.”

“No can do,” the pink-faced cop says. “Put your hands behind your back, now!”

He slams your father over the table and you scream. His face is on your plate and whipping cream is stuck to his beard and nose.

“Gary, goddamnit,” the lady cop says. “You don’t have to do it in front of the kid, he just said he’s coming of his own free will.”

“You ain’t cut out for this job. Women make awful cops. So goddamn sensitive and emotional.”

“Go fuck yourself, Gary.”

“You first sweetheart, you first.”

“Your name is Gary?” your father laughs.

“Yeah, why’s that so funny?”

“Just, the universe has a sense of humor.”

“Shut up!”

They hoist your father up and his face, covered in bits of whipped cream, reminds you of a film you once saw, a very old film about the moon. The moon had a face and a rocket landed right in its eye. Your father’s face reminds you of this. And then you remember.

“The moon belongs to everyone!” you say. “I’d like to see you try and shoot the moon! Bet you couldn’t hit it if your life depended on it, you fat old slob!”

“This kid’s got a real mouth on him. Great father like you, how should I be surprised? Probably be picking him up like this in a couple years.”

“No,” your father says. “You’ll never touch a hair on his head. He’s faster and smarter than I ever was.”

“Ok,” the lady cop says. “Take him to the car Gary, just get him out of here.”

As Gary the pink-faced cop trudges your father outside the diner, every face at every table, especially the pretty waitress, looks on with sad and shocked expressions on their faces.

You watch as your father is led to the cop car and pushed into the back seat. He hits his head against the top and his white hat comes off. The cop slams the door and stamps on the hat with his boots until it’s bent out of shape, flat as one of the flapjacks you just ate. You want to scream. You want to fight back. But there’s nothing you can do. You watch in whimpering horror as the police cruiser pulls away, leaving the lady cop’s police car next to it, dark and locked. It takes you a moment to hear that she’s speaking to you. Her voice is kind, but you don’t trust it.

“What?” you ask her.

“I said, is there anyone we can call to come get you? A family member?”

“No,” you tell her, though the question invokes a flickering image of your mother’s tired, worn face.

“It’s just me and my pa.”

Christopher Miguel Flakus Castillo is a Mexican-American writer currently based in Washington DC. Christopher is a recipient of the InPrint C. Glenn Cambor Fellowship and the Fabiam Worsham Award in Fiction. His work has appeared in numerous anthologies, online publications, print magazines, and chapbooks. His most recent chapbook, Big Country, is available through Bottlecap Press and is the first chapter in his novel which is currently out for consideration with several publishers. Christopher grew up in Mexico City and often writes work centered around the city and its inhabitants. His writing blends elements of gritty realism and fabulism, in keeping with the Latin American tradition of writing which continues to grow into what Christopher believes to be "A Second Boom." Prior to moving to DC, Christopher lived in Houston, Texas for over twenty years and the influence of the Gulf Coast region and the border are an essential part of his worldview.

bottom of page