THE NIGHTMARE THAT NEVER SLEEPS
By Michael Neary
The nightmare materialized once more when Noor awoke from her dreams.
The yellow walls were shaking and the floors were trembling. Noor sat up quickly and looked desperately around. That’s when the first explosion went off.
Noor was thrown backwards and collided with the back wall. Dazed, her line of vision danced back and forth, and her ears were ringing with a piercing fierceness. Her uncle was standing above, frantically removing pieces of timber and plaster off her body. She thought he was trying to say something, but his voice was muffled.
Noor’s mother ran into the room and saw her child sprawled on the ground.
“Noor…,” her uncle said, the sound still frayed. “Are you…”
It was Noor’s mother who broke past the damaged ear drums. She ran towards Noor as all the surrounding sound suddenly coalesced into a coherent stream of terror.
“Noor!” she called, kneeling down. “Are you okay? Can you hear me?”
“I-I’m fine,” Noor replied, shaking.
“I’ll carry her,” her uncle said.
Her mother circumvented the falling pieces that had been their second home. Her uncle followed closely behind as they made their way to the hallway.
Noor’s state of consciousness returned, and she became fully aware of the horror that was ensuing.
This was the nightmare she could never escape from except occasionally in her dreams. To wake up from a bad dream is usually when you return back to the real world and leave the perceived danger behind. Yet the real world had become her nightmare, and her dreams were a way of waking up.
In the hallway, someone nearby was screaming. It was their neighbor, trapped under a piece of concrete that was crushing his legs.
“We have to do something,” her mother yelled. “We can’t just leave him!”
Another explosion went off on the other side of the building. There was a crumbling noise that grew louder until an entire section of the south wall collapsed.
“We don’t have time!” her uncle replied.
Noor looked back and saw their neighbor trying desperately to shove off the concrete.
Noor’s mother hesitated, her mouth trembling and eyes crestfallen, but then turned away to follow.
“Why are we leaving him there, uncle?” Noor asked.
“He’ll be alright, Noor,” he said.
She looked back as the screaming started again, asking for someone to help. He was still struggling to remove the fallen debris.
There was a loud cracking noise where he was lying. Something was falling near him, no, right above him, and then-
Noor shut her eyes. She quickly turned back around, trembling on the back of her uncle. The screaming had stopped.
They made it to the end of the hallway and started racing down the stairs with seven floors to descend. They went down far into the darkness hopefully to see the light once more.
There were a few other residents clambering down the stairs as the explosions continued around the building. The walls shook every so often, and occasionally some chunks of concrete crashed violently on the steps from the walls and ceiling.
At each floor, there was an empty window that Noor looked out. She saw fires flaring and smoke spiraling far into the sky. It was as if the world was breathing out something terrible, and she didn’t know why it was.
On floor six, Noor saw an explosion in a nearby building. It was her school, which had been shut down two months ago.
On floor five, she noticed a man sprinting out from a ditch, carrying some kind of large weapon.
On floor four, she saw the same man moving backwards, firing the weapon. Her uncle stopped momentarily so that her mother could catch up, and Noor kept looking out the window, watching the man step back. Three others with similar weapons soon joined him. He was shouting something to the others, maybe giving orders, but then suddenly started to wave his arms hysterically as his eyes grew wide.
A bomb exploded right near them, and the sound crashed through the open window as Noor saw the four men disappear.
She shut her eyes and buried her face into her uncle’s back, starting to cry. Her mother had caught up by then, and they continued sprinting down the stairs.
On their way to the second floor, Noor’s mother cried out.
Her uncle stopped and spun around. Noor saw her mother on the ground, buried under a large slab of concrete.
Noor’s field of vision meshed and warped. Her uncle tried holding her back, but it was no use. Noor broke free from his grasp and raced over to where her mother lay.
“Mom?” Noor asked, tears in her eyes from confusion. Yet there was no answer. She knelt down beside her mother and saw that her hair was stained with blood.
“Noor!” her uncle yelled.
Noor tried to elicit a response again, but there was nothing. She started to cry once more as she watched her mother lay motionless.
Her uncle ran over to them and knelt down. He checked for a pulse and then picked up his sister and held her in his arms.
“Get on my back now!” he instructed Noor, who, shocked momentarily out of her confusion, hastily complied.
Noor’s uncle raced down until they reached the lobby. He scanned the room until he found an exit on the side. He burst through the door and ran down the street, secluded behind a wall. He circumvented fallen debris and avoided being seen by anyone as much as he could.
Her uncle made it to the edge of their neighborhood, then their district, and then their city. He kept running and didn’t stop until dusk started to fall.
He slowed down and asked Noor to get on the ground to help his back.
She slid off and brushed the dirt from her clothes. The sun was almost touching the horizon now, and the stars were starting to appear.
Noor looked over at her mother, whom her uncle was still carrying.
The bleeding had stopped, yet there was a huge gash on the side of her head. Noor convulsed and looked away, her eyes bulging out of their sockets and her insides twisting together.
“Noor…,” her uncle began.
“No, but-,” Noor started. “She’ll wake up soon, right uncle?”
“Noor,” her uncle soothed out his voice.
“She’ll be back with us soon,” Noor said. But then she looked again at her mother, and the realness of death hit with full and unforgiving force.
Noor thought it was incredible how beautiful her mother looked even in death and then burst into tears, falling slowly to the ground.
Her uncle went to lay her mother’s body down on nearby grass. He turned back around and grabbed hold of Noor, wrapping his arms around her and rocking her back and forth.
“Can we bury her?” Noor asked.
“Of course,” her uncle answered. “I think we should.”
Noor continued crying as the tears flowed onto her uncle’s skin and clothes. She wrapped her arms tightly around his neck as he too started to cry.
“It’s alright,” he whispered, his voice shaking. “Everything will be alright.”
They sat on an empty dirt path, holding each other, crying over their lost mother and lost sister. The sun had set, and all the stars in the sky glimmered back to life throughout that endlessly magnificent dome of wonder.
Noor’s uncle wiped his eyes with the back of his hand. Noor had stopped crying as well.
“We should bury her tonight,” he said, to which Noor nodded.
At the site, Noor helped her uncle dig out a grave as best she could with her small hands. They pulled back the dirt and dug into the earth that had brought all of them life.
Her uncle placed their mother and sister into the grave. He closed his eyes, and Noor did likewise. It was only once she felt a tap on the shoulder and heard the dirt being put back into the grave that she opened her eyes again and helped.
Her uncle started a fire further away, and the two tried to sleep.
As her eyes eventually fluttered closed, Noor started to wake up from her nightmare. As she fell back to sleep, the world faded away into the darkness of the night.
In her dream, Noor found herself in her old room. Her stuffed animals were grouped neatly together in her bed. Mr. Snuffles liked being near his friend, Mrs. Frog. But Miss Elephant was having some issues with Miss Lion lately, so Noor thought it was best to keep them further apart for the time being.
Light was shining through the open window as the sun’s rays reflected off her dresser mirror. There was a slight breeze flowing that moved in graceful pools. It was spring.
Noor walked across the room to look outside. It was market day, and customers and shop owners were bustling along the street not too far away. She waited patiently and hopefully to see her father. He worked there as one of the head officials, of which Noor was so proud. Her dad, such an important person out in the market, doing wonderful things, she thought.
Noor was about to give up before she sighted a blue garment. Was that him? Then, stepping into full view, she saw it was.
He seemed busy, doing important things and all. He signed off a paper and handed it back. Then he looked over in her direction and, upon realizing his daughter was in the window, smiled and waved, to which Noor did the same.
“Noor, your lunch is ready!” her mother called from downstairs.
“Okay, mom!” Noor replied. She ran down the stairs and jumped onto the tiled floor. She sprinted into the other room and saw her mother standing at the kitchen counter.
Her mother looked up and then knelt down in front of her daughter. She didn’t seem happy.
“Noor, what did I tell you about running in the house?”
Noor stumbled, feeling a nervous flutter in her chest. “But I thought it was okay.”
“Is it?” her mother countered, eyebrows raised.
They looked into each other’s eyes, her mother sternly and Noor with worry. But then, a smile slid across her mother’s lips. She quickly tried to recover and return to a serious expression, but the damage was already done.
Noor starting giggling, and then her mother’s smile returned. They played off each other’s happiness until they were both laughing from deep within.
Her mother picked Noor up and held her close in her arms.
“You know why I don’t want you to run so much?” she asked.
“Because daddy’s coming home later, and we’re all going to walk in the park together.”
“That’s right. And can you go for a walk when you’re too tired?” her mother asked before starting to tickle Noor, who then lost all control of her excitement.
“No! You can’t!”
Noor’s mother pulled her closer, holding her as if nothing would ever make her let go. Noor’s laughter eased as she folded into her mother’s arms and felt the warmth radiate.
“I love you, mommy,” Noor said, her eyes closed and her breathing calmed.
“I love you too, sweetie,” her mother replied. “I won’t ever let anything happen to you. I promise. You’re my little girl and always will be.”
And Noor believed her with all her heart.
After a span of time, Noor realized that her mother’s body was becoming cold to the touch. The warmth was fading with each passing moment.
“Mom?” Noor said, looking up.
Noor climbed out of her mother’s arms and stood on the floor, looking up at her mother who was frozen in time.
“Mom, what’s wrong?”
The walls started shaking and the floor began trembling in a terrifying symphony of chaos.
Noor stepped backwards, glancing frantically around the room. Pieces of plaster started detaching from the walls.
“Mom!” Noor pleaded.
But she didn’t move. She remained motionless, her head bowed with her arms still wrapped around her body from when she held her daughter. Her skin had become pale with a bluish hue.
Noor started to sob, confused and terrified that her mother might never wake up.
The walls started collapsing while her mother stood perfectly still. Noor tried to call out one more time, but someone grabbed her arm and pulled her out of the dream.
Noor opened her eyes. She saw her uncle shaking her gently.
“We have to leave, Noor.”
She sat up and rubbed her eyes, squinting at the rising sun.
“Where are we going?”
He paused. “I don’t know yet. But we can’t stay here.”
He held out his hand and helped her stand up. Together, they walked over to where their mother and sister was buried and said one last goodbye. They gazed over in the distance at where they had grown up and where they had loved and laughed and cried and sang. With nothing but each other and the clothes on their backs, they turned around and started leaving from where they called home.
About the Author:
Michael Neary is currently a junior seeking a degree in English at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. He was born in New Jersey and has lived there his whole life, and along with his parents and two older sisters, he has been deeply grateful for all the friends and extended family members that have been a part of his life. For writing, he constantly used to create stories and worlds in his head when he was younger, and then as time passed, he started putting them on the page.