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By: Denishea Young

Thanks Ahmad

© Denishea Young

     It’s 11:59 am and where am I? Sleep watching a movie on my laptop while lying on a couch. Why am I doing this, when I know I have to wake up early tomorrow morning you ask? Well... I started this movie... and now I can't sleep without knowing how it ends. So here I am my head nodding and my eyes unwilling to focus on the screen when my body jerks and I am suddenly physically alert. It’s as if my body took a shot of espresso that skipped my brain and went straight to my heart. Looking around I see nothing amiss. Furrowing my brow in confusion I shrug and begin to drift back into my blue light induced fugue when...

     boom! Boom!! BOOM!!!

     Light bulb! Someone is banging on the door. Is it the police? Mildly concerned at the idea of the Popo at the door, I give my head a shake and examine the community lounge. I see members of my family and my neighbors in various states of rest and relaxation. The little ones are asleep while the adults are reading/watching TV on various devices. Even though the TV is blaring, computer screens glaring and children snoring the knocking barges through it like a fire alarm. Yet no one makes a move to answer the door. The knock comes again.

     boom! Boom!! BOOM!!!

     Still no one moves to get up instead they all play a game of keep away with their eyes as they plied silent pressure for someone else to answer the door.  Giving in to the demand I sigh as I set my laptop to the side and begin the arduous task of getting up.


     Climbing carefully over my sleeping sister. I laboriously make my way off the couch, staring enviously down at her as she sleeps, oblivious to my discomfort. I shake my head as I notice the ever-present phone clenched tightly in her hand. The screen flashing brightly in the light saturated room. Rolling my eyes, I stand to my full height stretching side to side as my body adjusts to its now upright status. Giving an all body shiver as I yawn. I begin to make my way to the door walking nimbly to avoid the ever-evolving maze of little hands, toes and children’s toys.


     Reaching the door, I cautiously look through the peephole. Breathing a sigh of relief, I relax as I instantly recognize the person on the other side. It is Ahmad. Briefly I wonder what he is doing there but this thought is soon pushed to the side as I smile and open the door. “Hey Ahmad! How’s it going?” Ahmad and I are not friends. Rather we are casual acquaintances that exchange greetings and passing conversations as he delivers food orders. This is the first time he has come to our door.


     Tonight, he has no food parcels and his features are uncommonly pale. As I look up at him, I see his face holds the look of a guilty man. “Ahmad… what’s going on? Is everything okay?” In the distance I hear screams and shouts and what sounds like evenly spaced out firecrackers. “Ahmad!” I say sharply “What is going on?!” still he says nothing just gazes at me. Seeing this is getting me nowhere, I move back and put on my command voice, the one I have heard too often directed at me from my mother. “Ahmad! Come here!” he jerks as if slapped and moves hurriedly inside. I quickly close the door after him.


     Until now the adults had been pretending badly to be engrossed in their various entertainments while eavesdropping. At my verbal slapping of Ahmad pretense was quickly abandoned for focused observation of our conversation. TVs, laptops, phones and tablets were turned down, off and put to the side. Belatedly I noticed the maniacal laughter of SpongeBob playing in the background but I paid it no attention, my focus on Ahmad. He dazedly looked around the room taking in my mother and her husband reclining together on a couch. My sister curled up asleep on another couch still gripping her phone, her glasses askew on her face. The laptop’s glare alighting her frame giving her an unearthly glow. In the middle of the floor, under covers is the Johnson’s baby boy asleep along with his sister Chelsea on the rug. Their parents reclined on lounge chairs cuddled under their own covers as they stared at us while SpongeBob continued to play on the TV.


     Swallowing Ahmad finally looks back at me. His eyes full of terror, he blurts out, “You Must Hide!”


     “Hide?” I repeat confused my brow furrowing as I try to make sense of his words.


     “You Must Hide! They are coming. They will kill the children and take only one person hostage! You Must HIDE!!!” Agitated, he crosses the room. Looking every person in the face as if to memorize them.


     “Okay, Ohhhkay… hide…" I mutter looking around “… hide where?” I ask. Before I could get a handle on the situation, Ahmad continues,


     “Turn off the devices. They will look for any light. Make sure the volume is off.” he rattles out.

     “Okay, yeah okay.” Turning to look at the Johnson’s I see that they have already turned off the TV and all the adults are now openly gapping at Ahmad. He seems not to notice as he continues.


      “Hide in your rooms. Don’t come out!” With that he gives us all one more look and then leaves.


      As he opens the door, the shouts and screams and what I know has to be gunfire are now closer and louder. I hear him as he runs down the hall his boots thudding heavily on the carpet covered floor. Blending seamlessly into the den of noise as he goes down the stairs. I run behind him, closing and locking the door. I turn around to find the adults now staring at me. A blank look on their faces. I don’t think. I act! I quickly mute and close my laptop. I wrestle the phone from my sister who finally surrenders it with a grunt and rolls over. I quickly turn the volume down to silence and turn the screen saver off leaving it face down on top of the now closed laptop. I turn to see that the other adults have finally snapped out of their stupor and they too are turning their phones to silent the screens laid face down on the floor and nightstands.


     We dare not try to move to another room for fear of waking the kids and one of them crying out. Blankets are ripped from beds. Lights turned off in the apartments until one by one we returned back to the common room. Covers are quickly thrown over faces and bodies until nothing can be seen. I look around one last time as I swiftly cross the room to the main light switch. Flipping the switch off the only remaining light winks out as if it never existed, the only reminder being the white dots of light in my eyes. They too quickly fade to blackness as my eyes adjust to the now dark and silent room. The only source of light now comes from the flickering street lamp which is just enough to guide me to the couch. I quickly and stealthily cross to my spot on the couch. Lifting the blanket, I try to slip in without waking my sister. I do so jostling her slightly in the process. I hold my breath as she snorts and rolls into me muttering quietly before settling back down into deep sleep. Her head now resting on my chest as her glasses dig ruthlessly into my flesh I dare not move or make a sound of protest. Instead I listen intently, my body tight with tension.


     Boom! Boom!! BOOM!!!

     Banging on the door. This time I don’t move, nor does anyone else. We say nothing. We do nothing. We collectively hold our breaths. I hope and pray the kids stay asleep but I don’t turn my head to try and see. I don’t so much as twitch a muscle, as my body gives into paralyzing fear.

     Boom! Boom!! Boom!!! 

     Then nothing. I stare eyes wide open yet now even the comforting rays of the street are now absent in the dark void that I inhabit. My eyes bore into the darkness as they try to pierce the encompassing veil of blackness. As hard as I try staring at where I know the ceiling should be, I am unable to make anything out. My attempts are quickly thwarted as my mind is thrown back into fight or flight when the door handle is jiggled. To my horror the door creaks open. All-encompassing terror hurls through my body. I want to run, to hide but I can’t move! I hear footsteps and quiet voices but I can see no one. They don’t shine a light, instead stepping inside their footsteps sounding deafening to my ears. They seem to pause. I imagine that they are looking around. For what I don’t know. I don’t care, I only care that they not find it. That they not find us! I hold my breath. Not daring to breathe. I lay frozen unable to feel my fingers or toes. Just as my body’s demand for air begins to be too much, I hear the almost quiet shuffling of bodies and unconcerned footfalls of the intruders as they begin to recede. I begin to take in air and relax when I see a flash of light in the corner of my eye followed quickly by the familiar and dread inducing sounds of my alarm. I quietly panic OH GAWD! I’m Dead!! DEAD!!!


     As I lie still under the cover, I realize my sister isn’t there. I touch my chest panicked as to where she could’ve gone. I then touch my face and feel around me to find that not only can I move but I…I am in my bed…at home. I am safe…? This knowledge doesn’t make sense and in no way succeeds in convincing my body. Loud gasping permeates the room. I wonder where it is coming from before I realize it’s me. My chest hurts from the strain and my heart thunders in my ears as I try to gain control over my breathing. If only I could see. I stare again at where I know the ceiling should be my eyes peering at the darkness. Nothing, I still see nothing…wait… is that?  Blinking rapidly, I comprehend what is in front of me. I can see! Above me is the ceiling. My… bedroom ceiling? I blink confused until it all clicks. I am in my bed! I am alone, just as it should be. My sister hasn’t slept in the same bed with me in years. Not since we were little. ‘Wait a minute?!?!…have I been sleeping with my eyes open this entire time?!’


     Just then the raucous noise of the phone alarm goes silent and I shake off enough of the last dregs of my dream and attempt moving again. As I push my body up into a sitting position my muscles quiver in protest. All the while I silently repeat the mantra, ‘I am safe! I AM safe!! I AM SAFE!!!’ in my head as I slowly ease out of bed. Pausing to listen as my feet touch gently to the carpeted floor, I hear only the rustling of my guinea pigs in their cage. Still unconvinced I carefully and quietly stand letting my body get use to bearing my weight before creeping over to the light switch. Quickly flipping on the light, I swivel around twisting this way and that as I thoroughly scan my room. Breathing out a sigh of relief, I confirm I am alone. I open the door taking in the welcome questioning squeaks of hunger from my guinea pigs.


      “Wheek? Wheek!?”


      I ignore them for now choosing instead to hurriedly cross to my bathroom. Where sitting on the toilet lid and suffused in light I hug myself and shiver. Uttering my first words of the day, “It’s just a dream. I am safe. It was just a dream. I am safe.” I don’t know how long I sat there rocking back and forth before the ever-growing louder squeaks of the guinea pigs broke through my reverie. Sighing I stood and began my perpetrations for the day. Washing my face and brushing my teeth I still felt a sense of disquiet shadowing my every move. I couldn’t seem to get away from it. Not until I acknowledged my savior did I succeed in shaking off the last of my terror by saying out loud, “Thanks Ahmad!”


Image by Pexels from Pixabay 

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