Volume 32, Number 4


Ken Barnett


I’m tumbling through my Sailor Moon bed sheets and falling to the floor before the echoes outside fade. I have gotten super good at rolling off my bed really fast when the pop-pops happen at night.


I land on my shoulder with a thud and roll across the carpet to hide in front of the overstuffed bookcase under the window. My eyes open, and the cover of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone stares back at me. Turning over, I gaze across the bedroom, gray and black shrouds of nighttime covering the furniture and toys and books. Past the partially open door, pounding feet drum from the hallway—Mommy and Daddy.

Like always, Mommy bursts into the room first—she sleeps on the side of the bed closest to the door in her and Daddy’s bedroom. She rushes to Darius’ bed and yanks him out of it, his Thomas the Tank Engine bed sheets trailing after them. Darius never wakes up from the pop-pops. Daddy said he got so used to the pop-pops when he was a baby that now he can sleep through them. Daddy seemed sad when he told me that.

A dark form settles over me and Daddy’s big arms squeeze me tight. The sweet smell of his deodorant fills my nose and makes me want to sneeze. “It’s okay, baby girl, it’s okay,” he whispers. “I got you. I got you.”

Using his arm as a pillow, I snuggle into his chest and whisper back, “I know, Daddy.”

Mommy falls to the floor next to us, my brother wrapped in her arms.

Darius asks, “Wha’s going on? Is bangers again?”

“Yes, sweetie, but it’s okay,” Mommy says. “Mommy's here. Just go back to sleep.”


Darius always falls asleep right away, but not me. I wait until I hear the sirens and see the multi-colored lights that always come after the pop-pops. I learned a long time ago that if I go back to sleep too soon the sirens will wake me up, and I won’t be able to fall asleep again.

So I wait, listening to Daddy hum songs and Mommy whisper prayers.

Sometimes the sirens only force me to wait a little while. Other times they take a really, really long time to get here. It didn’t take them too long tonight. The sirens and horns are murmurs at first, but they get louder and louder. Daddy stops humming, and Mommy stops praying. Familiar red and blue lights fill the room, flashing over and over and over again. Yawning, I close my eyes and drift asleep in Daddy’s warm arms.


Daddy and I leave for school early the next morning, saying goodbye to Mommy and Darius as we step out the front door. The sun is just starting to play peek-a-boo over the houses. I crunch over the icy grass of our yard, blowing out large fog-breaths and trying to catch them in my mouth. Daddy adjusts the big For Sale sign the realtor lady put up a few months ago. He does this every morning.

Stepping onto the sidewalk, I glance down the street. A bunch of yellow tape is strung up around the sidewalk near Mr. O’Connor’s house. There is also a parked cop car with its lights silently flashing.

“Is that where the pop-pops happened last night?” I ask when Daddy comes up behind me. “It’s not as close as last time.”

“Close enough,” Daddy whispers while staring down the street. He blows out a long breath and then smiles at me. “Come on, baby girl. Let’s get you to school. You have a math test to ace!”

Using my super serious face, I nod at Daddy and march towards the bus stop. I’m gonna beat you this time, Subtraction!



I’m tumbling off the bed.



I roll over to the bookcase.

Pop-pop… pop.

Pounding feet followed by the slamming of the bedroom door. Mommy rushes to Darius, and Daddy embraces me.

“It’s okay, baby girl, it’s okay. I got you. I got you.”

“I know, Daddy.”

Mommy and Darius fall next to us.

“Tell ’em tuh stop, Mommy,” Darius says.

“I wish I could, sweetie,” Mommy says. “Oh Lord, how I wish I could.”

The sirens take a long time tonight. Daddy hums; Mommy prays.


Stuffed inside our puffy winter jackets, Daddy and I rush out of the house the next morning. I wade through the snow to the For Sale sign. Wiping off the snow and ice reveals a giant SOLD sticker the realtor lady put on it the other day—Mommy had cried and given the lady a big hug. I poke snow out of the two bumblebee-sized holes in the sign.

I giggle when Daddy lifts me up over the large, dirty snow pile on the sidewalk and sets me on the slippery street. Peering at the intersection we cross on the way to the bus stop, I spot three police cars and a bunch of yellow tape surrounding the intersection. At its center are a pair of police officers walking around a gray car with shattered windows.

Snow crashes behind me as Daddy struggles to hop over the snow. Mommy says he’s not very good at jumping. She’s right, like Daddy says she always is.

“Will the pop-pops happen a lot at the new house too?” I ask.

“No, baby girl,” he says, glancing up the street. “They won’t. Not ever.”

“Good.” I start walking towards the intersection, but Daddy gently grabs my shoulders and turns me around.

“How ’bout we go the long way to the bus stop today.”



I’m rolling.


No thud.

No floor.

That’s weird.

I open my eyes, but I see only blackness. It doesn’t feel like I’m lying on the floor. It feels like I’m standing. I scrunch my toes, and they squish around soft carpet. I shouldn’t be standing. Mommy and Daddy told me never to stand when I hear pop-pops. I should be on the floor, hiding in front of the bookcase.

I hear pounding feet and a door slamming open, but the sounds are muffled, as if I’m underwater.

“It’s okay, baby girl, it’s okay. I got you. I got you.”

I spin towards the faint voice. “Daddy?” My voice echoes through the blackness.

“Baby girl?”

“Daddy, where are you?”

“Monica? Moni—oh God no. Please, no. Monica!”

The blackness fades, and I’m in my room, but everything is gray and fuzzy. I’m standing in the corner next to the dresser. Why am I over here?

Daddy huddles over a dark shape next to my bed. Mommy is clutching Darius protectively to her chest and looking over Daddy’s shoulder. Her face is pale and tight. She looks like she’s going to be sick.

“Please no, baby girl,” Daddy says, softly shaking the dark shape. “Please, no.”

I take a step forward and… Daddy gets farther away. I take another step and the same thing happens.

I wave my arms, and shout, “Daddy!”

“Please come back to me, baby girl. Please don’t be gone. Please…. I got you… I got—ou-ou-ou…”

I’ve never seen Daddy cry before. Mommy leans her forehead against Daddy’s back, her eyes squeezed shut, her lips moving but her voice silent.

“Daddy, Mommy, I’m right here!”

I sprint towards them. The walls of my bedroom stretch like taffy. Tears trail after me.

“Daddy! Mommy!”

The more I run, the farther and farther they get. Their tiny shapes merge with the fuzzy, taffy walls.

I stop and shout one more time.

Muffled sirens answer me.

Red and blue lights flash through the gray.

Everything fades away.



And then I smell Daddy’s deodorant.