It was still early enough in the evening that Mallory could hear the small bell jingle, announcing someone had entered the bar. She closed her journal and prepared herself to pour a pint or pitcher of Bud, depending on how drunk her new customer was planning to get. But the customer approaching the bar wasn't one of the usual fishermen or lumberjacks. She was a short, middle-aged woman with a hot pink North Face jacket and an expensive backpack. Mallory didn't think she'd ever seen this woman before, which was fairly unusual for Burns.
"What can I get for you?" Mallory asked, aiming for a tone of bland politeness.
"Oh, um, could I get a Cosmo, please?" the woman asked.
Mallory squinted down at the bar. "That's like a vodka cranberry?" she asked.
The woman seemed as surprised by Mallory's confusion as Mallory was confused by the order. "It's vodka, triple sec, cranberry, and a splash of lime."
"Mm. Yeah, I think I can do that." She was pretty sure she'd seen a can of cranberry juice somewhere; she located it and discreetly checked the expiration date. It was basically still good. She poured the drink into a highball glass and slid it across the bar. "That's $5. You want to open a tab or pay cash?"
The woman pulled out a credit card. "After the week I've had, I'm going to need more than one drink."
Mallory glanced at it and put it behind the bar. The woman's name was Karen, and she clearly wanted Mallory to ask about her week. Mallory understood that being a sounding board was generally part of the bartender job description, but here in Burns the clientele usually ignored her unless they were ordering another round or saying gross things about her body. Here in Burns people usually minded their own business, so Mallory said nothing.
Karen sipped her drink and winced. "It's strong!"
Mallory shrugged. She'd never had any complaints in that direction before. Usually it was guys complaining that the beer was watered down, which it was.
"It's so bright in here," Karen continued, which again, was a new complaint to Mallory. The bar was dimly lit by almost anyone's definition.
Sensing that something was off with Karen, Mallory wiped down the counter and avoided eye contact.
But before too long, Karen called out, "Miss, could I get a refill?" Mallory made the drink, and Karen said, "You know, I'm supposed to take your light bulbs."
"Your light bulbs," Karen repeated, enunciating clearly. "I'm supposed to take them."
"For...what? Are we getting that LED kind?"
Karen laughed. "No, you're getting eternal darkness."
Mallory glanced back at Logan's corner. He'd already been there with his bottle of whiskey for an hour. Whenever she started getting a bad feeling about a customer, she'd gotten in the habit of checking in with him. Although he mostly sat in silence, he did seem to have an excellent awareness of what was going on around him. He raised his eyebrows at her, an almost-amused expression on his grizzled face. She gave an infinitesimal shrug in response.
To Karen, she said, "I think we have some spare bulbs in the back office, so I don't think it would be eternal."
"Well, I'm not going to do it, anyway."
"Okay. Thank you."
"There is nothing in Goodnight, Moon about stealing light bulbs."
Mallory debated for a moment before responding, but she found that her curiosity overwhelmed her. "What?"
"Goodnight, Moon. You know, the children's book? By Margaret Wise Brown?"
"Mmm. I think I've heard of it, yeah," Mallory said. Her mom hadn't read to her much, but it sounded familiar.
"It's iconic," Karen insisted. "It's why I'm here."
Mallory furrowed her eyebrows, and Karen clarified, "Here in Burns, I mean. With the Church of the Aurora."
"When I heard about them on the radio, I thought they were following Goodnight, Moon, and I thought...there was something to that, you know? Something pure," Karen said, gesturing with her empty glass. She'd pushed up her sleeves, and Mallory spotted a "goodnight, nobody" tattoo on her wrist.
Mallory poured her another drink; she found that she wanted to hear more. "Okay."
"I moved here from Arizona. I thought--I thought it would be different here."
"Well, it's colder, but--just the same old bull hockey, pardon my French."
"It just doesn't make sense," Karen said. "There's nothing in Goodnight, Moon about taking light bulbs. It's just about going to sleep for the night. Then in the morning, you get up, and you still have all the same things."
"In Goodnight, Moon they live in a house, not a cave," Karen continued.
"You guys live in a cave?" Mallory asked. She didn't know much about the Aurora cult.
"I shouldn't say any more," Karen said, suddenly glancing at the door.
"Everyone here pretty much minds their own business," Mallory said.
"Still...the Aurora watches over all."
"It's not even dark out yet."
"It doesn't matter. They watch over--the telephone, and the red balloon, and the cow jumping over the moon…"
Mallory thought that perhaps she had gotten Karen too drunk to be of interest. Karen glanced at her watch and said, "I really should go. Could--could you call me a cab?"
This, too, was an unusual request--people here usually walked home or just drove drunk--but not unheard of, and Mallory complied. Then she closed out Karen's tab and passed her credit card back.
"Good luck," Mallory said, surprising herself.
"Thank you," Karen said, "But I think you'll need it more than I will." Then she hefted her backpack over her shoulders and went outside, jingling the door bell as she exited. Mallory looked down at the bar and realized that Karen had left not only a sizeable tip, but also a paperback copy of the children's book Goodnight, Moon. She looked back over at Logan, who'd clearly heard every word of their conversation.
"You ever read this?" she asked, holding up the book.
"Don't think so," he said, in his usual gravelly rasp.
She flipped through it, pausing on the blank "Goodnight, nobody," page. She supposed she could see the Aurora cult being drawn to this somehow, though it did seem much more innocuous than what she heard from them on the radio.
At the end of the night, when Logan came to settle his tab, she handed him the book. "You could read it to the Strawberry kids," she said. "They could probably use a bedtime story."
Logan snorted, but he rolled it up and tucked it into his jacket pocket all the same.
"Goodnight, nobody," Mallory whispered to the empty bar, as she locked up and followed Logan out in to the parking lot.