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The gravity of panic

It was a nightmare, but the familiar one. Keisha perceived that she was in the basement of the house she had lived in between the ages of ten and thirteen, despite the limited visibility in the darkness. She also recognized the screams coming from upstairs as her mother’s, just as she had when she was eleven. They crashed through the floor in waves, the terror from above pulling the weight of everything down onto Keisha and paralyzing her with the gravity of panic. She wanted nothing more than to bury her head into the couch and hide from the clamor until it ceased, but that was no more an option in the dream than it had been twenty-two years ago.

The stairs creaked, especially loudly in the dream, so she pressed her feet into the corners along the baseboards and attempted her best levitation. The wailing was overwhelming as she reached the top of the flight, and she needn’t have worried about the noise she was making in comparison, but of course this was the script of the memory. Her breaths were shallow and taut when she gripped the doorknob, heart jackhammering into her ribcage. Here comes the blood, she knew. That never changed.

Passing the doorframe and rounding the corner, she saw the splattered evidence on the kitchen tiles, but not in the small pools that were typically there. Her mother still cried for help from the room opposite as she always did, but Keisha thought the tone of the shrieks were off this time. She had relived this so many times in her dreams that any alteration was noticeable and often the cause for more alarm, simply because it was different than the expected horror. Keisha hurried toward the next door with grim curiosity, steeled herself and flung open the gateway to hell.

Her daughter. Aisha had died years ago of leukemia, had never seen life beyond six, but there was no disputing the young woman crouching before Keisha was hers. Here were the pools of blood. Here was the pulpy face that had shocked her all that time ago, but it wasn’t the right face. The roles had been cryptically reversed, where she was now the mother yet still hopelessly trapped in a part that could influence nothing. Aisha stared at her desperately, as her mother had done, but Keisha embraced the surge of adrenaline she felt and charged the enraged abuser, unlike any time before. This was uncharted territory in the nightmare, but her instincts offered no other option. She made eye contact with Aisha once more before launching herself at that man, that abhorrent man. Keisha felt weightless as her body soared toward him.

And she awoke. Her body was pulsing with sweat and her heart palpitated as if she were still in that living room from two decades before. Struggling to catch her breath, she sat up sharply and forced back her tears, strictly out of habit. The first of the sunlight had begun to lurk its way into her room. Keisha blinked several times before arising completely and willing herself into the bathroom to wash her face. Upon finishing drying with the towel, she stared into the mirror, wondering why it had been different this time. Why her two deepest tragedies had overlapped to form one, and whether it was better or worse to be awake, where nothing could change either of them.

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