I was addicted to cigarettes for almost a decade. When I started quitting, I was haunted by these nightmares. This is one of them. This short story was also performed at the Market Theatre in Johannesburg, South Africa. I am now 4 months clean.
My eyes opened.
The air around me felt cool, that’s the first thing I noticed. Then the fact that it was nighttime. Then I noticed that my hands were tinnier. My feet were tinnier too. I also felt immense relief over my shoulders that I hadn’t felt in years. I was at the front porch of my childhood home in Arum Gardens. The porch light was off, but it seemed like every other house in the neighbourhood had their lights off.
A familiar voice yelled my name. The word, my name, echoed in my ears. I saw Alu running towards me, my childhood friend. She was sweating. She wore a green dress that she owned when she was seven. Because we were both born on the same year, I assumed I was seven again. That also explained why I was at my old childhood home.
She lived at the hill of the neighbourhood and she seemed to have been running her way down to my house.
“What’s going on? Why are you running?” My voice echoed in my ears.
“Someone’s coming! Someone’s coming!!” She screamed.
I was instantly overwhelmed with panic and fear. I turned my head and another childhood friend of mine, Michael, who also had turned seven again, was running towards us. Even though he ran in the dark, I could see the evident fear in his eyes.
When he was about to step into my yard, a gunshot fired. Michael’s body collapsed on the tar road and blood spat from his chest. My eyes widened. Alu had grabbed me by the wrist and sprinted away with me. I could only feel myself moving forward, but with absolutely no control over my legs. We ran to the back of the house as I felt thudding footsteps running behind us. It was as if I could feel every step, every vibration, from the bottom of my feet. Like a prey hunted by a predator.
We didn’t stop running. We ran through the backyards of the houses in the neighbourhood, heading up back to Alu’s house. Now there were more gunshots, women screaming and wailing. Through the backyard, we got inside Alu’s house for cover. We sneaked to the lounge, with her walking in front. Where her father usually fell asleep with his glasses on and a bottle of beer next to him, she peeped her head in the lounge. It was as if I could see what she saw.
A tall man attired in a black uniform with a firearm in his hands shot her father. Twice.
She gasped loudly.
The man instantly heard her and pointed the firearm to her direction. I swiftly grabbed her arm and sprinted back to the back door. The man shot multiple times, but missed due to the lack of light. When we finally stepped out, another gunshot fired and I could feel Alu’s pace slowing until she wasn’t running. When I looked behind me, the bullet had penetrated through her face and blood oozed from the wound. Her body collapsed on the floor as I let go of the grip with trembling hands. I didn’t waste another second. I ran through the back as I could feel the tall man catching up to me.
I ran through Alma’s house, another childhood friend of mine. Just when I was about to enter, I heard another gunshot coming from inside his house. I could only gasp as a response. I continued running as I saw my neighbours’ bodies bleeding lifelessly on the floor. I stopped running for a while as I looked around me in awe and sheer horror.
Everyone I knew from the neighbourhood, the mothers that raised us and the fathers that welcomed us with open arms, were now dead. Mrs Beauty’s body, who lived next to Alma’s house, laid lifelessly on her front stairs. Ms Dita’s body, who lived right next to Michael’s house, was sluggishly swimming in blood on her front porch. The houses, outside, had tall men in black uniforms, just like the one at Alu’s house.
The gunshots didn’t stop. They never did.
I heard a boy moaning in pain. He was hiding in one of the many bushes we had in our neighbourhood.
“L…Liso…” He yelled as he saw me.
Kay, another childhood friend of mine. I ran to him at a swift speed. One of the tall men, who literally appeared in thin air, cocked a firearm and brutally shot him multiple times. This time, death felt even closer. I ran past the bushes like a mad man. I tripped and fell. It was supposed to hurt, and in fact the palms of my hands were bleeding, but I continued running. I hid as soon as I saw another tall man.
I noticed the house I was hiding behind. It was the house right in front of mine. I then wondered what had happened to my mom. My cousin, Bonnie. I found it even harder to breathe once the thought settled. I felt the warmth of my tears escape my eyes and scroll down my cheeks. Everyone was dead. It would only be a delusion to believe that they weren’t.
Just when my eyes were about to close and wince to the pain all over my body, a hand pulled me softly, which made me jump. When I turned my head, I was filled with hope again.
“Alma!” I whispered. Because he was extremely light-skinned, I could still see him in the dark.
“My parents. My parents are dead, Liso!” He had been soaking in tears.
“Look, we’re going to make it out of here.”
“How?! Everyone is dead!” He hissed silently.
I didn’t know how. Really, I didn’t. Alma was the only one amongst my friends who was older than me. And that, somehow, made me feel as if I had someone, an adult, around. He was only eight, but seeing him somehow ignited a flicker of hope and faith that made me believe I would make it out alive.
From a distance, hiding, Nikki sneaked out of the bushes. Another childhood friend of mine. She was the youngest out of my friends.
“Nikki.” I whispered to Alma.
He turned his head. “We can’t help her, Liso. We need to be absolutely quiet!”
“We can’t just sit here. We are literally in her backyard!” I hissed furiously at him. “We need to help her!” Alma sighed.
“Nikki…Nikki.” I tried whisper-yelling. I tried multiple times and right when her head was starting to wander, Alma silenced me with his hand. Another tall man heard Nikki’s shuffling. He grabbed her by her braids and dragged her out of the bushes. She screamed with dread in her eyes. I had never seen anyone that terrified in my life! He grabbed a dagger from his waist and stabbed her chest. He did this countless times until she was completely silent.
I felt my breath stutter.
She was only six, I thought.
When the man was done, his head turned in our direction. When the man reached for his firearm situated on the other side of his waist, Alma had grabbed my arm and sprinted upfront. My legs followed. This time, it seemed like more men were after us.
We ran to my house. The door was wide open. We ran inside and our steps slowed as the entire house was filled with darkness. I walked upfront as Alma silently followed behind me.
“Mom?” I whispered through my clenched teeth. “…Bonnie?”
As I stepped into the long passage that divided the rooms, I felt something wet between my feet. I bent down and there was a body. I gasped. One of the men flashed a light through the windows. I quickly hid, but the light had shown Bonnie’s face covered in blood and a bullet wound on his forehead.
“That’s Bonnie.” Alma whispered behind me.
“Michael, Kay and Alu are dead too.” I wept silently.
Alma caressed my shoulder for a while. For a second, I took a breath. A long one. One that actualized my cousin’s death. My first memory of a friend, a brother. I couldn’t waste time, I reminded myself almost instantly. I reluctantly leaped over Bonnie’s body and headed to my mother’s room. My heart started beating even faster than it was. Every second felt suspenseful. I had no idea what to expect. My chest felt hotter and tighter.
“Mom?” I whispered again.
“…Liso?” A voice, a familiar voice, came from the wardrobe.
I slowly walked to the wardrobe. With agitation and anxiety, I slowly opened both doors and I felt an immense weight on the doors. When I had finally opened, my mother’s lifeless body collapsed on me. Her face was completely bitten off and only an eyesore imagery of blood and horror remained of her. Her body thudded on the floor as I released a macabre scream.
“MOOOM!!!” I screamed in paralyzing anguish.
Then I heard stomping from outside. Alma had widened eyes looking back at me. I was now silent. Then I heard a pack of growls, animalistic growls. Angry growls. Like dogs and wolves were waiting for us outside. Alma and I looked outside the window and the tall men, in countless numbers, were standing outside my house.
Their faces didn’t have eyes or noses, just a hole filled with sharp teeth. They were all bald and their skin was as grey as mushroom soup. It was dark outside, but I could see their purple veins on their heads
A growl came from the wardrobe. Alma and I turned our heads simultaneously and stared in anticipation. The growls became even stronger and angrier. Alma pulled my arm gently, as I was closest to the wardrobe. I took cautious steps back until we both were by the door of the room. More lights from outside shone, which seemingly came directly from their mouths.
The growl soared into a full roar.
Alma and I screamed in unison as we sprinted out of the room. Alma leaped over Bonnie’s body and as I was about to do the same, I tripped on the blood and fell again. Alma ran back to me and grabbed my arm and my legs began running behind him. When Alma stepped out first, running at full speed, something FLASHED across the door frame, jumping on him.
“Liso!!! Liso!!! Aaaahh!!”
I froze for a second. For that second, I contemplated not running. I considered submission. But as soon as Alma’s screams silenced, the mysterious creature peeped its head inside the house and saw me. It was as if I was looking into its eyes. I took several steps back as it neared closer.
These things are not men, I thought to myself as I noticed every feature it had.
I thought of the sliding door behind me hidden behind the sitting room’s curtain. I continued walking backward as this creature sneaked towards me, now salivating what looked like thick mucus from its mouth. I finally leaned my back on the sliding door and slowly opened it. When the creature heard the snap of the sliding door opening, it roared furiously and ran towards me.
I screamed again as I ran out. Just as I was about to wander, they, the creatures, had me surrounded. I heard my own gulp, my own terror, going down my throat. Their growls sang in unison around me. One of them, who seemed like their leader, had a dagger in its hands.
When it was close enough, he punctured it through my stomach.
Just when I was about to anticipate the pain…
My eyes opened.
I gasped a large amount of air as I looked around. I was in my bed, sweating profusely. I noticed my room. My room in Fort Grey, where I live now. I looked at my hands. They were big again. Then the reality sank in as I calmed: that it was just a dream.
And wow, what a dream I had!