I shot up from my bed like a rocket in a cold sweat. I ordered my eyes to check the clock. 3:03 AM. I had fallen asleep reading. Frantically, I scrambled to the window and yanked the curtains shut while keeping my eyes fixated on the floor. I whispered reassuring words to myself, urging my heart to slow down. As my breathing steadied, I sunk to the floor with my head in my hands. I was pulled from my thoughts as I heard the faint voice of my five-year-old child in the other room.
Shit, I thought.
I raced to the other room and quick punched in the code for our panic room. I opened it and looked down at my daughter, Emilia. Then my eyes fell upon her princess bed behind her and the small lamp resting beside the bed. It was a small room but it was safe. Emilia looked up at me like a deer in head lights. She looked as though she was at battle with her lower lip, trying to keep it from creeping out. Tears welled in her eyes as she hesitantly stepped towards me, out of the room. Carefully, trying not to alarm her, I ushered her back in and shut the door.
I fought back my own tears as I sat down and pulled her into my lap.
“What is it baby girl?” I asked gently.
“You didn’t hear me.” Her tiny voice began to tremble in a way that clawed at my heart. “I had a bad dream and I couldn’t open the door and you didn’t hear me.” The tears began to fall freely as her words ran together.
I rubbed her back reassuringly. “I’m sorry baby. Mommy was asleep. I’m here now. It’s just a dream. Do you want to talk about it?” I felt like I was on autopilot. Nothing I said held much weight and I knew it wasn’t helping. I knew she wanted to sleep in bed with me or hell just sleep in her own room. I knew she couldn’t understand.
“I had a dream about the windows”
My heart sank. Her voice turned into static in the background.
I held her closer as my eyes bore into the heavy metal door keeping us secluded from the rest of the house. A wave washed over me. I was going to be sick. We didn’t talk about the windows. I explained to her but I didn’t talk about them because I didn’t want her to worry. Lately she’d had trouble staying all night in the room but I needed her to. I slowly shook her off of me.
“Sweetie, Mommy just has to run to the bathroom really quick. I’ll be right back baby I promise.” I gave her a weak smile as I got to my feet. I was in a whirlwind. Emilia began wailing and grabbed my leg.
“Please don’t go. Let me come with. Please Mommy, please. I don’t want to stay here.” Her panicked cries felt like a knife in my gut. I could feel the bile rising in the back of my throat. I couldn’t stand to see her so affected. I couldn’t bear to hear about the nightmares. I kept murmuring that I would be right back as I pried her off my leg. Quickly, I slid out the door and shut it before she could slip out. I heard her tiny hands pounding on the door as her cries turned to screams. She cried and screamed and desperately beg for me to come back. I fell to the floor. Sobs racked my body as I heard my pride and joy begging me to stay. She kept pounding at the metal door but it was not going to budge. I let out a scream in frustration. White noise blocked out her cries of agony. I trudged to the bathroom but I did not get sick. I stood there for a long, hard minute looking in the mirror. Dark circles plagued my under eyes and the long years of stress were prominently engraved in my face. I couldn’t remember when it all started. I couldn’t remember why I had Emilia. Why would I bring her into this world? I passed the boarded up windows in the living room and made my way back to Emilia’s room. Her voice was hoarse but she screamed for me still. She sounded weak. I sat outside the door and whispered that things would be okay. I whispered that it would be morning soon. It was four in the morning and we only had two more hours. She couldn’t hear me over her own shrill voice. I whispered reassuring words more to myself than her. I double checked the lock on the panic room and shuffled to my bedroom. Her cries were audible from the other room. I put in my earbuds and slipped my blindfold on as I tried to fall asleep.
Years before Emilia was born, when me and my love, John, were still newlyweds, we received a letter. It was from the government.
“There is a country-wide order for all citizens to remain indoors and away from all windows between the hours of 3:00 AM and 6:00 AM. There are no exceptions. Those who are insubordinate will face severe consequences. All business previously open past these hours will now close at 2:00 AM and no later. All cars must be off of the roads by 2:30 AM and under no circumstances is anyone permitted to look out of their windows during these hours. We thank the lovely citizens of this free nation for cooperating. This is a matter of national security. DO NOT keep children in rooms with easy access to windows. It is advised to block out windows and utilize blindfolds and/or sleep masks for optimal security. This warning is effective indefinitely, beginning on Thursday at 3:00 AM standard pacific time. Thank you for your cooperation.”
How many disobeyed those rules? How many are now gone? I lost count. After John, I couldn’t function. But I have to push through for Emilia. So many people blew off the warning. Sometimes I hear the noises outside; inhuman noises. No one really knows what happens in those three hours. Those that wondered aren’t around to tell us.
I don’t want to lock away my daughter but I can’t lose her too. I don’t want a 2,000-pound door separating her from me. It kills me any night she cries out because I cannot let her out. Things were okay at first but she’s growing more and more scared. I run out of excuses to tell her. What really scares me, though, are her nightmares. She’s waking up almost every night crying because of her dreams about the windows. I didn’t think I told her enough for her to be that scared. I just told her not to look outside at night. I made up any story to keep her curiosity at ease while still getting the point across. It isn’t like she knows about the government letter or the real reason her daddy isn’t here anymore. So why is she haunted by these dreams? It is not way to live – locking your daughter away like an animal. She doesn’t know I let her cry and scream and pound on the door because it’s for her safety. She is too young to grasp that. The excruciating pain of knowing your daughter thinks you’re abandoning her to let her suffer is the worst pain in the world.
My little girl can’t even have a normal childhood. I don’t want that for her. People are starting to go missing. It isn’t just anyone, though. It’s people that I know take all the precautions. I think the noises outside are getting louder. I think the government isn’t telling us something. They don’t want to face the panic they had to deal with when this all first happened. I think there is something they cannot control and it’s getting out of hand. It’s a waking nightmare. I had to start extending the time because I hear the noises begin before 3:00 and sometimes they seem to sound from the distance after 6:00. No one wants to talk about it but I know there is something wrong. My baby girl is waking up every night in hysterics and there are only so many stories I can make up. She doesn’t deserve this torture.
I tiptoed back to the panic room and I heard the faint whimpers of Emilia accompanied by a weak knock on the door every so often. I typed in the passcode and stepped inside. Her eyes were puffy and red and her face was a mess of snot and tears. She whimpered my name and held me tight, her tiny hands digging into my flesh. I got eye level with her and wiped her face.
“Baby, everything is okay.”
She sniffled a response.
“Emilia, you can come with mommy.”
Her eyes lit up a little.
“Really? But isn’t it still bedtime?”
I forced a chuckle. “Oh no, sweetheart. The sun is coming up. Want to watch the sunrise with mommy? You can hear the birds chirping and everything. I think they’re singing to you.” I poked her and she started to giggle.
“Really?” Her growing excitement sent a wave of emotions washing over me.
“Yup. They’re singing just for you.”
“Like Snow White?”
“Yes, sweetie. Just like Snow White. They’re singing Emiliaaa Emiliaaa, we love Princess Emiliaaa”
I picked up the center of my world and spun her around as I sang. She eagerly prodded for us to go out and listen. Pulling her tight against me, I gave her a long kiss on each cheek.
“Baby, you know mommy loves you so much, right? You’re my little princess. Everything is going to be okay. Everything is going to be okay.” Tears welled in my eyes but I blinked them back before she could see.
Her delicate hands took each side of my face and she gave me a kiss on my nose.
“I love you, Mommy. You’re the prettiest mommy in the whole world.”
I averted my eyes as the tears slipped out. With a final embrace, I opened the door and walked out with Emilia.
“Come on, babygirl, let’s go look at the sunrise.”
With a deep breath, I made my way to the window in my bedroom. Emilia eagerly reached out to pull open the curtains. It was always her favorite time of day. I held her tight and gave one last look at the clock. 4:25 AM.