By Tehreem Fatima

The girl's eyes opened up to the sight of the dark forest, engulfing her into the midst of tall rainforest trees. Confusion and panic invaded her senses as she struggled to break free of the subterranean world, the highly dim moonlight being her only aid in her journey. So dense was the air that her ears felt clogged with cotton-wool, and her feet trod slippery over the ground strewn with moss-filled mud. This dense silence was her holding her breath, conscious of malevolent eyes present in the dark, watching. She managed to reach a clearing within the place, where the forest was - oddly - generous enough to block less moonlight. Her eyes automatically landed on a rather mysterious creature crouched in front of man-sized mass of flesh. On further curious investigation, she recognized the creature to bear semblance to The Devil, along with the nagging feeling of a motherly instinct radiating from the mass of flesh which The Devil seemed to be mutilating. A gasp left her mouth, audible enough to attract The Devil's attention, who noticed her presence and smiled without friendship, chilling her bones. Panic-driven, she picked up all the remaining strength in her legs and made off in their direction to aid the mass of flesh, but was unable to move. Instead, she ended up standing senselessly inside the labyrinths comprising of a thick brown claustrophobia, feeling trapped. She knew then that if she could not open her eyes she would never find her way back. She concentrated on opening her eyes, counting one two three, pitching her muscles for the effort, but it was a long time before she succeeded. The black night walked up and pressed into her eyes, making her head spin.

The loud cries of her mother could be heard in the background, shaking her body vigorously in attempts to help her escape from the labyrinthine world. She was jolted awake then as she blinked away the sunbeams dancing across the room and into her sleepy, somewhat-horrified eyes still containing the glimpses of her nightmare which had trapped her body within itself. She looked at the angelic face in front of her, the familiarity of it driving away the fear in her mind as she jumped out of bed and walked  into the next room, where she saw her three enviable younger siblings wandering about the small, over-crowded yet clean living room with some toys in hand, which her mother had herself fixed yet again after continuous breakage. The baby lay asleep soundlessly on the floor mat. Her mother followed her out into the living room; the strong, big-boned mother who was always there for them. She could hear her father in the next room with his friends, squatting on the chairs and throwing dice, now and again spitting out an expletive in slurred voices. It was already noon; she would have to leave in less than an hour for her first day to the town's grocery store, where she was going to work as a sales-girl. Her mother had kept food for her; the salty soup was a bit watery, but warm.

The girl walked home from her hectic first day at work. She was glad to leave a bit earlier than was asked of her; the customer's daunting gazes and drab company had left an impact on her mind as their eyes questioned her frail presence. The night seemed blacker than dream twilight. Stars and moon had not yet shown themselves, perhaps would not appear tonight. All around her, there were numerous houses sitting under fat protective trees, hiding behind fences and shut gates. Windows frames squares of light, curtains drawn to keep them in. Voices called out in murmur of music. Whole families were surrounded by their fenced-in gardens and their walls, unaware of her as much as though they and she were apart in separate worlds.

She pulled down the heavy doorknob of the main door and entered her house. The deafening yells coming from the kitchen broke through the lifeless calm of the atmosphere like a storm, though she did not seem much disturbed by it; it was not seldom when the father caused a loud quarrel with her mother on some matter. However, the loud banging and a high-pitched, blood-curdling scream jolted the girl out of her tired state as her weak legs rushed her towards the kitchen. She was petrified once her wide eyes met the gruesome sight of her mother crouching on the ground, holding her bloody head, whereas the father held onto a kitchen utensil, dyed with the blackened substance dripping from it. He wore an incomprehensible expression on his face, though his posture and reaction made her fathom that he was clearly drunk. He stumbled his way out of the kitchen past the girl, making slurry noises and exiting the house without any evident concern. The girl gazed at her mother; dark messes were splattered on the floor, her mother's clothes were blood red with a flow from the wound. This woman was now unrecognizable as her mother, who groaned and clutched her head, writhing. She was repulsed by the pain and blood. They lay beyond her experience, yet some instinctive sympathy, a habit of sex, made her arms and legs move to aid that body.

When finally the woman lay asleep, she still moved about the little kitchen, scrubbing the clothes on the blackened floor while they stained the icy water with a dark dye. Her mother, that strong, protective woman who had hugged her whenever she woke up from a nightmare. Tonight she was gone. She could not comfort her in this frightening thing she was doing. As she cleaned the cloth with water, she thought of her hands immersed in the water; thought of the dye penetrating her skin pores. She shuddered in the cold air, shuddered at the shock of the cold water, and, shuddering as she washed, the girl cried.

She managed to reach a clearing within the place, where the forest was - oddly - generous enough to block less moonlight. Her eyes automatically landed on a rather mysterious creature crouched in front of man-sized mass of flesh. On further curious investigation, she recognized the creature to bear semblance to The Devil, along with the nagging feeling of a motherly instinct radiating from the mass of flesh which The Devil seemed to be mutilating. A gasp left her mouth, audible enough to attract The Devil's attention, who noticed her presence and smiled without friendship, chilling her bones. Panic-driven, she picked up all the remaining strength in her legs and made off in their direction to aid the mass of flesh, but was unable to move. Instead, she ended up standing senselessly inside the labyrinths comprising of a thick brown claustrophobia, feeling trapped. She knew then that if she could not open her eyes she would never find her way back.

Published in Young Nation magazine on February 18-19, 2017