So We Ran

Embed from Getty Images

I found her lying on the cracked linoleum floor, soaked in a pool of her own blood. The door thrashed on its hinges as the wind whipped through the tiny kitchen to blow the papers she had stacked with painstaking precision around the room. A blizzard of fluttering white swarmed my mother, the rarest of winter roses, who blossomed beneath the papers’ hurried flight, her body blooming in vibrant, rich pools encircling the fragile remains of her broken shell. 

Her eyes were still open, and her pupils dilated until the irises were nothing more than brown rims around fathomless black pools. Fear hung heavy on the air, its metallic tang fueling my own anxiety until an erratic thrum pounded through my veins, urging me to flee.

I knelt beside her and took her hand. Her eyes rolled in her head, but my whispered “Mama?” focused her gaze on me. She squeezed me hand and whispered, “Run,” then took a shuddering breath, a wispy fragment of remembered humanity, and died. 

I took the stairs two at a time, woke my younger sister, grabbed our emergency packs we stored underneath our beds and fled into the enveloping darkness. 

We ran. We ran through the night, past towering pines and over beds of fragrant sweet grass. No one who followed would notice the path of our hurried flight. We were surefooted and silent as does. Even the animals  avoided us, perhaps because we still smelled of fear and grief, so we ran unhindered farther and farther into the forest. The dense foliage hid us from circling helicopters, their angry buzz becoming less incessant the deeper we ran. Even the search dogs’ barking grew fainter, their scenting abilities confused by our masked scent. Day after day, we ran.

At least with our feet in motion flying across the fragrant forest floor, we could pretend for just a little bit longer she hadn’t died. We could imagine a childhood free from paranoia, locked doors, furtive whispers and from hiding in plain sight. We could convince ourselves she had been a normal mother who taught us to bake instead of how to load and shoot a weapon in less than a minute, or that family trips had been to the mall and not survival training deep in the wilderness. That photos on the wall were of family members and loved ones, not a complicated web of key government officials and their biographies she had forced us to remember.  While running, we could pretend her mania had been the over protective instincts of a single mom and not symptoms of a deeper disturbance.

Because to stop running was to give up hope. It was admitting the monsters she had warned us about weren’t real, a truth more frightening than the evil who trailed us even now.

Running held back fear. Running kept us alive. It was the only thing we knew how to do.

So we ran. 

(C) Sara Ackerman, 2017

A Nighttime Poem

To my daughter who is still sometimes, but not always, afraid of the dark.

Embed from Getty Images

“I’m afraid of the dark,” she says, clutching her sheets to her nose.

“There’s a monster in the corner. I can see its hairy toes!”

“What, this?” I say, bending behind the rocking chair,

To grab a pile of fluff. “It’s your favorite teddy bear

Drowning under a pile of your dirty clothes.”


“But what about that shadow?” she points to the wall beyond.

“It has to be a ghost because it’s making a scary sound!”

I pat her on the head and pull back the curtains to let in the feeble light. 

“See? The branches are scraping on your windows. Its shape gave you a fright.

And that sound? Just the wind whistling through the reeds on our small duck pond.”


She’s getting sleepy now, and her eyes begin to close, but she has one last fear

to put to rest before I leave the room. “Don’t leave me, mama. Please, stay with me here.

The darkness is so scary. I don’t want to be alone.” I stroke her hair and kiss her cheeks,

and sing a quiet song. “Nothing here can hurt you. No ghost or monster or nighttime squeaks.

Just hold me in your heart, my child, and I’ll be ever near.”


©Sara Ackerman, 2016