I have heard these sounds all night. Bombs on the beach. The night is silent in its darkness and peace until one of them explodes again, sending chills up my spine and terror running through my heart. Just as soon as I close my eyes to search for elusive sleep, the moment I drift into a dreamlike oblivion where the world is as it should be once again, they start up and my eyes are pried open by the cold fingers of fate.
I crawled under this bed nearly three days ago, and I have not dared to emerge since then. I fear what I will find if I do. What kind of grave will I crawl out of, what kind of world will be left? In my heart I fear that it is all gone - that the land I grew up in, the land I loved, has been raped and pillaged to death by the dark men from across the sea. So I stay in my safe abode, my catacomb of relative sanctuary. Maybe one day they will find me and kill me. But that day will not be today.
My family was taken the night before I crawled into this prison of the mind. I watched them go. I watched them struggle and ultimately bow in submission to the encroaching darkness. But I escaped. I wasn't wily or cunning, I just ran. I lowered my head in terror and wiped the blonde curls out of my eyes and took off. I ran until I couldn't run anymore, and I found myself in a strange house with strange walls and strange rooms and a bed that I could hide myself under and not be found.
I am twelve years old, and this has been my story. These past three days have been hell, the kind I would never wish on my worst enemies. Yesterday I felt as if I would be stuck here forever. I envisioned myself losing my mind. I saw the future, colors so dismal and grey in my head that I shrieked loudly in terror and then plugged my mouth for fear that someone would hear. For fear that they would enter this last haven of safety and attack me and destroy the only thing I have left - my solitude.
I don't want to go crazy. So I ripped off a spring from the sagging bedding above my head and started scratching meaningless words in the bedposts. I did this for hours, the rhythm of my hands creating a mesmerizing blend of meaningless nonsense readable only in the scary place that is my subconscious. Who knows what it means? Like all literature, it is the hallucinatory ravings of a diseased mind. Gibberish. Cow fodder. But meaningful for the emotions it represents. The feelings it has turned loose.
I wrote till my hand could write no longer. So now I am reading what I have written, my limp and lifeless hand dangling uselessly at my side. It has no strength left in it. It is good for nothing, not even wiping away the tears that incessantly come running down my cheeks and onto my chest. The tears start again every time another bomb explodes on the beach, and the sky is lit like a mind shattered by the colors of the world's most powerful drug. The switch has been flipped.
Some of the words are names, and some of what I wrote is numerical. The names are names I have never heard before, names banned from the tongues of man since the foundation of time. The dates are nonsense. They have not even come to pass. They are the future.
I can see the future. As time passes my vision grows stronger, and the events grow clearer. Last night, the bombs stopped for a couple of minutes. And I fell into a dreamlike state. I wasn't sleeping, but I also wasn't fully awake. And I saw that which is yet to come.
I stood on the heights of a great mountain, the precipice of human civilization. I stood in the air and watched as the mighty men of our generation fell and the earth turned to rubble beneath the feet of the enslaved. The cities of the world fell in fire and ruin. They turned to dust, and the seas dried up at the shores. Not one brick was left on top of another. The earth was turned into the wasteland of our worst nightmares.
It was not a dream. It was real. I can see the future.
Sometimes I remember that my father used to talk about God. When I was only a little girl he would wrap me in his strong arms and bounce me on his knee, late at night when the city had gone to sleep and the harbor's lights had turned down for the last time. He would tell me stories about a man in the sky who controlled the world and helped people. Sometimes these thoughts comfort me now, and sometimes they terrify me. Is this terror an act of God? Most nights the God of my father seems far away from the dirty bed underneath which I hide. But I still pray and ask that he would hear me. He hasn't answered, but I won't stop trying.
I can't remember my name now. The bombs and the shouts of terror in the streets have numbed my mind. I forget a lot of things. I forget what my mother's touch felt like, the touch she used to give me so gently the summer before she died. I forget my little brothers, what they were called and the things they used to bring home in their pockets, and the girls they used to chase through the streets.
I really have nothing left of my former life to cling to, except for the ragged and browning bed dress that I was wearing the night I ran into the darkness and away from the men who took my family. It is made of a very fine fabric, but it is dirty and torn now and the bottom has frayed so much that it no longer covers my knees. When I can't remember anything about the girl I used to be I curl up a corner of that dress in my hand and try to remember a song. Sometimes I can remember a song that I used to hear the men singing down by the docks while they worked. It was a sad song about going out to sea and never coming back, about drowning and leaving their loves and their babies behind. But if I can't remember the words I make up my own. Or I focus really hard and look into the future, and sing a song that has never been written before.
There is a tall bridge near the harbor, the bridge that is the only way into this city. It looms large and terrifying in the night sky, like an iron giant left over from the age of the Titans. Its steely bones stretch out into the blackness and grope around in the sky for something to grab onto and devour. Beneath it is the foamy sea, the water from which rises a ghostly mist. It is said that ships are lost in that mist and never found again. But tonight there are no ships. They have all sailed toward the horizon, toward a place of promised hope and safety. They did not bring me with them.
There is no breeze tonight, nothing to lighten the dead air. I haven't moved from my stalwart post so no windows on the other side of the room have been opened in days. The windows facing the harbor were already open when I arrived, and it is through them that I hear the sounds that I will never forget. The bombs on the beach. The shouts in the streets. The banging of drums in the deep, drums in the recesses of my soul that get nearer and nearer to the surface every hour.
My face is numb to the touch, and my skin is cold. My lips are dry and my eyes are red from crying. Everything hurts. I don't even know if I have moved any part of my body besides my hand in these long days. If I try to move my legs now they cramp and I can't untangle them from where they have been stuffed underneath the wood of the bed. I am hungry. I am thirsty. My head aches. I need help.
My hands are bleeding from dragging them along the rough wood where my words are scarred into the face of time. If I turn my head just a little they make a wheel. I'm losing my mind.
It was quiet for a couple minutes, but the bombs started up again. They are more frequent than ever, and more ferocious then before. A voice in my head is screaming. The shouts are getting louder outside the windows. The curtains are flying in the windless night.
There is a sound behind me, and the door to the room is slowly being opened. I raise my head an imperceptible inch, allowing myself a line of sight out of the tallest window. The sky is red. The bridge is on fire. They are destroying everything.
For just a minute I am back on that high mountain, that last place of comfort surrounded by a generation of death and chaos. From that imperceptibly high peak I see the lights flashing across the sky like electrical wires hooked up to a never ending generator of burning. I am here slightly earlier than I was last time. There is one part of the world that is not yet destroyed. From my dreams of the more distant future I know that it too will fall. But right now, in the moment that I am in, it looks safe and looming high above the chaos down below.
But things fall apart, and I know that this sanctuary in the corner of the world will soon be smashed into submission. And the earth will belong to the new breed of intelligence, the ones capable of surviving in a desert of the real, a wasteland eviscerated by war.
I slowly come back down. The mountain is gone. The world and all its destruction has faded from before my dull blue eyes. The vision is replaced by a single tear, and I feel my heart begin to ache. The bombs continue outside my window. They are coming closer. The door in the room has opened, and could I physically turn around I would see a shape of pure darkness in the frame, searching the abode with beady yellow eyes like evil lasers.
My vision is clouded, but I summon one last ounce of strength and raise my head up slowly. It spins but my tired eyes come to rest below the window on the last bedpost I wrote on. Two words stand out from the rest. They are enwreathed by the drooping red rims of my eyes. They are simple, but my boggled mind does not remember what they mean.
The door has opened to its full capacity, and now I hear footsteps in the room. The bombs have stopped, the only sound is their fading metallic rings carried to my ears by the wind that has only now begun to blow. My eyes can see that outside the window the bridge has disappeared. It has crashed into the sea. The mist envelops its memory. The last remaining exit from this nightmarish dream state is gone. Forever.
That is not the only thing my eyes see. They drop once more to the encircled words. Now they are as bright as day. I can understand them as if they have come to me in a dream, and once again I recognize that I am seeing the future. But this time I am seeing a future mixed with the past. It is a past I would rather forget, a past of shame and fear centered in a circle of confusion. But in this present state of mind I know that the words have come true once, and they will continue to come true for the rest of time. "Forgive Me."
My dead eyes fall back into my head, and I collapse once more onto the cold cement floor where I have spent the last three days. A dark hand lifts the mattress off the bed, and I feel cold breath on my neck as the intruder leans down to see if I am still alive. I am, but only just.
I remember my name now. My name is Paradise, or it was Paradise in a life that is now just a half-remembered dream. I am back on that mountain, that pinnacle. The last high place has fallen. All is lost. All hope is gone. But I am out of that room, out from under that bed where I spent my worst days. That room is my past. And it is a past I hope to never revisit.
I will do what I must to face this world, even if it means going into it alone. Even if it means cutting out my eyes and facing blind the earth that I can no longer bear to see.
Sooner or later I must descend from this mountaintop. Back in the room, his knife is raised.