Sirens by Alyson Tait

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The war drilled the sound of sirens into my mind. When I began to have nightmares, the mechanical screams dominated them. The sky is always dark, clouds rolling through as if they too are afraid of living in the city. The street lights give off cones of undersaturated yellow that makes the storm look like it’s clinging to the ground.  

The alarms sound, and they follow. Lurching down the street, heads turning left and right; mash-ups of alarms and cameras. No discernible eyes, it’s impossible to tell if they truly see what’s around them. The things are hulking sticks — half a mile high with pelvises grossly attached for the scrawny legs. Infrastructure made of bony limbs. All they do is walk and scream, waiting for one of us to get too close to the wood and wire arms.  

As if it’s inevitable that some of us will meet their gaping plastic mouths, silencing the screeching as well as someone’s life. 

When I woke up, I’d be sweating — paralyzed. 

After the nightmares came enough times, the sirens in my waking hours triggered those same emotions.  When the ships flew across the sky, the warning system bellowed, and I panicked. 

Those around me tried to explain my discomfort, but they never quite nailed it. Someone once told me wide-scale sirens sounded eerie because of the design. Tall poles and squished speakers. They called it “omnidirectional.” 

Omnidirectional, Omni-fucking-terrifying

There is one time, in particular, I dwell on sometimes. I sat on the bed, head between my hands. The edges of my vision were getting blurry, which meant hyperventilating would come soon if I didn’t relax. I remember Marlie’s hand pressed into my back. 

The wailing outside had my heart pounding as I imagined the walking poles; then, my fiancée… the hugger, the lover, the optimist, simply sat there with her hand on my back. A moment later, her lips grazed my ear. Her breath came first; warm, minty breath that swept around my face as if trying to comfort me on its own.  

“It’s okay,” she said. “The bombs are far away.” She meant to send my fears away. 

Of course they are, I thought, shaking my head. The bombs may be far away, but the sirenheads are right outside.

The bombs weren’t the source of my fear. I didn’t name the monsters out loud, had never shared the dreams with her. I didn’t think she’d understand. It wasn’t a part of her reality.

My body shook with every breath. “I — ” a gulp of recycled air. The dust and mildew of the old quarter came with it. “Know.” 

I knew. I knew I’d likely never die of airborne explosions. But that didn’t stop the sirens. It didn’t stop the clouds from rolling overhead. And it never once stopped the nightmares that lingered long after the war.

Alyson lives in Maryland where she got married, had her daughter, and began her writing journey. She has appeared in (mac)ro(mic), Twin Pies Lit, and most recently in Pyre Magazine. You can find her on Amazon, and Twitter @rudexvirus1

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