Heat releases rivers of sweat from Jonathan, pouring into already soaked sheets that cling to his half-naked body. A recurring nightmare plagues his mind. He tosses back and forth. It’s the third time this week that he has been attacked by nocturnal replays of his own memories. Mosquitos exacerbate the situation, swarming his ears with persistence and jabbing at him in between his violent body shifts.
“Gimme di shoes,” The man in his dream says; the one closest to him. His name is Ryan. Jonathan recalls his face with vivid detail: skin dark and shiny like they lathered him in baby oil, the whites of his eyes contaminated with brown spots and a keloid scar on the side of his face. His companion, Dino, lurks in the background, fidgeting with a rather long knife.
Jonathan looks down at his new shoes, black Reebok Classics with cartoonish doodles on the sides. For the first time in his life, he has a pair of shoes he’d be the first to wear; bought with money he toiled for all summer break.
He weighs the odds; looks back up at the faces of his assailants.
They stare back at him in anticipation.
A split-second decision and he makes a run for it.
A chase ensues through an abandoned dust field behind his old primary school. The more he runs the darker it gets until he’s swallowed by an expanse of nothingness. His chasers grow larger with each stride until two giants—three times their normal size—chase him.
Eventually, Ryan uses his oversized limbs to scoop Jonathan up, then pin him to the ground.
The dream has Jonathan prisoner. He tosses and turns. He pushes at the edges of his invisible cage to regain control of his body and his thoughts. He tears the sheets from his bed and displaces most of them to the ground. Groans escape his lips, growing more and more intense until he is screaming. “No, no, no!”
Dino holds his arms with one hand and the knife to his neck with the other.
“Hold still,” Ryan says. He fights to restrain Jonathan’s legs.
Dino pushes the knife harder against his throat. The sharp blade breaks skin.
Jonathan’s body relaxes and Ryan pulls his shoes off his feet.
But Ryan doesn’t stop there. He pulls off Jonathan’s pants and then makes for his boy briefs. “Fucking sissy boy, ah gonna show yuh something today. Straighten you out.”
Jonathan’s embarrassingly loud screams reverberate through his apartment. Being self-aware in these dreams makes them even more frightful. Try as he might, he cannot free himself. He is never able to free himself until the full memory has played out.
In renewed resistance, Jonathan kicks at Ryan, landing one on his chin.
Ryan hits him hard in the abdomen twice. “Yuh hear me seh you mus’ keep the bwoy steady,” Ryan shouts at Dino in a strong Jamaican accent.
Dino’s face has a look of uncertainty. His grip on Jonathan’s arms and neck loosen.
Jonathan snatches the knife from him and in one swift move plunges the knife into Ryan’s stomach.
Ryan’s eyes show more shock than pain. He falls back into the blanket of darkness. Blood erupts from his wound.
At this point, Dino simply disappears from Jonathan’s dream and Ryan shrinks to half Jonathan’s size.
Jonathan removes the blade from Ryan’s stomach and stands towering over him.
“Help.” Ryan mouths the word.
Jonathan’s nose flares with anger as he looks down at the pitiful sight. It would be so easy to leave Ryan for dead; simply drop the knife and walk away.
He does drop the knife but follows that with a different action. He calls out for help, as loud as he can.
Sirens from an ambulance jolt Jonathan from his sleep, but even a minute later, the imagined sound plays on. Lying awake with his eyes to the ceiling of his apartment, he stays still until his heart rate slows, his breathing calms and his mind can hold a coherent thought.
Don’t fall back asleep. Don’t fall back asleep. Don’t fall back asleep.
The yellow neon light of the digital clock next to his bed blinks insistently, like a ticking bomb. Jonathan is surprised to see the time. Glimpses of a bright morning escape from behind his dark bedroom curtains. There is also the pitter patter of rain on the outside. The odd combination has him discombobulated until he pulls the curtains. What he sees startles him. It is indeed raining, but the sun shines intensely in the sky.
In the dark, his fingers feel for the remote in the pile of sheets tossed to the side of his bed. They discover the remote and he turns the TV on to find National Geographic playing — his favourite channel.
It is a documentary about ants. The TV show host says, “When Megaponera Analis ants are attacked outside of the nest, they cooperate with one another in an attempt to defend themselves. During a battle against termites, some ants get injured. After a battle, injured ants ‘call’ for help with a pheromone in their mandibular gland. This attracts nestmates which then start to investigate the injured nestmate.”
Jonathan watches the TV closely as the camera zooms in on a large column of black ants marching on very arid looking earth The bright lights from the screen dry up his desire for sleep.
The host continues, “This mechanism is a relatively simple two-step process. After an ant is injured, the first step is trying to stand up on its legs again and return to a resting position. Step two then is to call for help and cooperate with the attracted helpers. If step one cannot be achieved step two does not occur. Heavily injured ants are therefore in a constant loop trying to achieve step one, making it a very simple mechanism of only rescuing ants that are still useful for the colony.”
His mind wanders away from the flashing images and soothing voice of the TV show host until there is a loud knock. A few seconds pass before he realises that the noise isn’t coming from inside his head and that there is someone at the door.
The blinking yellow lights show that over half hour has passed. His mind has been in a restless limbo of free thought somewhere between being asleep and wakefulness.
Being it’s a Saturday morning, he doesn’t even have to think twice about who is at the door. “Who dat?” he asks anyway.
The person responds with more knocking.
That confirms it. He must be ‘fraid of hearing his own voice.
To read the complete story please purchase the Sanctuary here.