By John Thomas Tuft

Five young boys set off that summer afternoon. Hours later, only four came back. The five were the McKinley triplets—Kyle, Kenny, and Kearson, Little Johnny Rapson, and Moon Saint, aka Sammy Shune.  How Moon Saint got his nickname is lost in the lure of that time and place, but the legend lives on. Some children are just put together differently, and Moon Saint was one different child, on that most folks agreed. Sometimes it is nature and nurture and other times there are more egregious reasons. Especially when you see a child building a wall around themselves, laboring mightily to create a prison for their own protection. All that was known for certain that day is that all the boys who returned, the triplets and Johnny, said the same thing about Moon Saint. “He ran away to Mars.”

Meanwhile, on Mars, Moon Saint unpacked his brown paper grocery bag. He had his special suit that shielded him from all harmful rays and lack of oxygen. He carefully buttoned it tight and took out the special space food from the airtight plastic containers. While he ate one of the paste sandwiches with space jelly on it, he dug around in the bag and took out a box of sidewalk chalk. The light was growing dim on the rock walls surrounding him, but he had a mission to complete. As he thoughtfully chewed, he selected the yellow chalk and scrawled on the wall: “Here on Mars no child will be hurt or hated.” Satisfied he sat back and tapped a piece of blue chalk on his cheek while thinking. After taking a swig of water, he picked another spot and wrote: “Here on Mars nobody laughs at you when you are sad.”

He hesitated, then added: “Here on Mars no one goes to bed hungry…or scared.”

Down on earth, in the town of the five boys, the parents of the McKinley triplets and Johnny Rapson’s mother put their heads together. Who would go tell Moon Saint’s family that he had run away to Mars? They were known to be difficult, to put it politely. The dad drank heavily, and rumor had it that he hit Mrs. Shune. Mind you, no one asked them about it, but she always wore long sleeves and heavy makeup on her cheeks. But they showed up in church most weeks and helped with the fellowship dinners. She was real quiet-like, always, while Dad Shune was laughing and slapping the men on the shoulder, inviting them to go hunting on his mountain property. Neighborly to a degree, but no one really wanted to get involved. She seemed like a grim mouse to them, and now her boy was on Mars.

Moon Saint thought about getting some rest. Days are different on Mars, you understand. And the nights…the nights are colder, darker. He hoped there was enough oxygen to burn the candle he’d brought. Thankfully, it lit and he took up the pink chalk. Holding the flame in one hand he wrote on the walls: “Here on Mars no one is too slow, too ugly, too stupid to be here.”  The flame danced and shadows flitted across the rockface. Moon Saint thought he heard loud booming in the distance. Did Mars have storms? He couldn’t remember. Before turning in for the night, he took the green chalk and wrote: “Here on Mars pain does not hurt so bad. Here on Mars bruises can be beautiful. Here on Mars no one is worthless.” He hoped the candle would stay lit as he closed his eyes and tried to go to sleep. Outside the thunder came closer and the sound of rain hitting the creek grew insistent.

In the town, adults milled around in disarray while waiting for the authorities to tell them what to do, how everything would be alright. The chief of police interrogated the triplets and Johnny. But all they could get out of them was that Moon Saint ran away to Mars. Why would he do that? Maybe it was a better place to live. You cannot get to Mars, it’s impossible. The boys all shrugged at that nonsense. You can get to Mars anytime you need to, they insisted. Everyone heard the storm brewing up in the hills and debated whether it was a good idea to set out in this kind of weather to find a misguided boy who thought he could run away to Mars. Make his worthless parents go find him if they really wanted to.

Here on Earth, a lot of time can be wasted trying to figure out who is in charge and who is worth saving. That is why it was not until the next morning, after it had stopped raining, that the people set out to look for Moon Saint. Just how far is it to Mars? It was early afternoon before anyone reached Parker’s Creek. The runoff from the storm had it running fast and high. Seeing this, the boys got worried and told their parents about the caves they had found along the banks of the creek. The rocks were orangish red from the clay inside where the rushing water hollowed out spaces. Johnny reluctantly pointed out the old oak that marked the spot for the best one. A sheriff’s deputy stripped down to his shorts and plunged into the water. After precious moments he re-emerged, holding high a flannel shirt and a Tupperware container holding the sacramental remnants of peanut butter and jelly.

Now as we all know, sacraments come with sacred writings. The wet deputy was in stunned silence as he climbed up the bank and sat down trying to collect his thoughts. “Did you find him?” everyone asked. Finally, he shook his head as he said, “That’s all I found. Except on the roof there’s writing.” He choked as they all pressed close. “It says in orange chalk: To anyone who needs to live on Mars, Moon Saint loves you…”

Words are magic and writers are wizards.

*Run Away to Mars, TALK, 2021