As published by Post Journal in December, 2020
Mirrah screamed herself awake. She fought back the damp cover that stuck to her sweaty body, terrified by its touch and panicked by the distorted shadows that spread across the fabric.
“Get away! Get away!”
Her screams were shrill as her mind struggled into consciousness. She couldn’t make herself stop. She still saw the nightmare, still felt it surging through her veins.
“No! Stay away!”
Seconds later, her mother, Sergeant Rosario Benitez, stormed the bedroom. Gun raised, dressed in full uniform, Rosario cleared the room in a wide-eyed panic. “¿Qué? ¿Qué pasa?” She hollered as she climbed onto the mattress. She tucked Mirrah into her body while her gun searched for a threat. “What is it, baby? Tell me!”
But there was nothing.
Nothing but Mirrah shaking against her mother and the plain white sheets. Mirrah cried, the emptiness in her chest mirroring the emptiness of the dark room. She sensed her mother’s frayed nerves, felt mamá’s body tighten once she realized it was another nightmare, one of hundreds.
For once, Mirrah thought, please just hold me.
Rosario holstered her gun. She sank against the iron-barred headboard. Mirrah snuck a glance at her face. That thousand-mile stare. It set Mirrah’s teeth on edge.
“I’m sorry.” Mirrah’s fingers tensed around Rosario’s navy and gray, wool coat. “I…I didn’t mean—”
“I can’t take anymore nights like this,” Rosario mumbled. She palmed her bronze face. “I just can’t.”
Mirrah’s brother stumbled into the bedroom half-dressed. His hand was on his weapon too, his dark eyes quickly assessing the situation. Tomás’ shoulders slumped when he came to the same realization Rosario made. Only, Tomás peered at Mirrah with more compassion than their mother could muster.
“It’s nothing,” Rosario confirmed. She tilted her head toward the sound of her niece and nephew also rushing down the hall. She scowled. “Everyone can stand down!”
The running stopped.
“It’s just another dream,” Rosario went on. “Just another goddamn dream.”
Tentative footsteps approached until Paola and Luís were flanking Tomás. The three of them waited for an order. They said nothing as they stood in the dim light of the hallway.
But Rosario gave no orders.
Because she was crying.
The tears were silent as they fell onto Mirrah’s head and shoulders. The girl was dumbfounded. She had never seen her mother cry. Mirrah’s heart sank lower, her dread hitting a fever pitch.
This was going to be one hell of a scolding.
But just as Mirrah managed to suck down her plaintive cries, she found another reason to weep. Rosario wrapped her arms around Mirrah’s small body, kissed Mirrah’s head and rubbed her back.
“I’m the one who’s sorry,” mamá whispered. She squeezed her daughter, buried her face into Mirrah’s heavy, black tresses. “Because no matter what I do, I can’t stop you from being afraid. I love you so much, bebé. We love you so damn much.” Mamá swayed. “Tu familia, we’re right here like we’ve always been.”
Mirrah felt the mattress bob. Her brother and cousins were sitting beside her too. Another set of warm hands rubbed her back. More fingers wiped her cheeks. She was overwhelmed by the affection but saved by it too.
“I don’t want to be afraid,” Mirrah admitted. “But…”
She closed her eyes. The images were still vivid. Seas of green poison that doggedly chased her. Bodies strewn about battlefields. The scarred woman with bloody hands that always stood amidst the chaos and decay, bearing Mirrah’s own face.
“…they aren’t dreams,” the girl whispered.
The things she saw. The things she knew.
“We’ll all stay here tonight,” mamá answered. “Right here with you in this bed. Look.” She raised Mirrah’s face and kissed open her eyes. “Mira, bebé. See that we’ll do anything to keep you safe.”
Rosario crossed and looped her fingers through shapes and connections until her brown hands burned bright with golden electricity. Mirrah admired how gracefully her mother cast the complicated protection spell. The electric energy danced around her palms and wrists.
That golden light shot forth. It streaked across the ceiling like a comet, then glittered down the walls like thousands of falling stars. Tomás joined in. He blew over his fingertips, sending sparks of blue light crackling over the corners of the bed. His blue sank to the creaky floorboards, hovering like an excited fog. Then it rushed up, as if caught by wind, the blue light glimmering as it met Rosario’s yellow stars.
“We won’t be left out, eh?” Luís winked as he reached for Paola’s hands. Mirrah’s cousins intertwined fingers, intently staring into each other’s eyes as they resonated. Their bodies shone like gold.
“Fireworks.” Paola grinned, electricity then springing in rhythmic bursts from Luís and Paola’s joined hands. Blooming, popping flowers…the spell’s fiery petals opened against the swirling blue and twinkling stars.
The once bleak bedroom was swathed in dazzling light. The barren walls glittered, the dead air replete with mist and current. And as Mirrah watched the spells pulse, shimmer and whirl, she felt like she was riding a sliver of moon, her family all around her, surrounding her with their warmth as they traversed the cold outer reaches of the heavens.
Maybe we can stop it from becoming true.
“Rest, bebé,” mamá whispered. “We’ll watch over you.”