Sciamachy by Dina Al-Awadhi

Sci·am·a·chy noun [sahy-amuh-kee]an act or instance of fighting a shadow or an imaginary enemy.

Children are always afraid of the dark, and as a child I was no exception. In our old flat, I remember that my room was tucked far, far away from my parents’ bedroom at the opposite end of the apartment. Like clockwork, I would always wake up in the middle of the night, and when the dark was too terrible for me to conquer alone, I would scurry through the darkness across the deserted no man’s land, breathing hitched, heart beating fast; I would slip into my parent’s room, climb on to their warm sanctuary of a bed, and cuddle close into my mother’s back pressing my cold bare feet onto her own deliciously warm ones, wherein my mother would promptly let out a shrill shriek and glare at me with her powerful laser Mama Eyes.  You know the ones. Every mother is equipped with them. They’re on even when your mother has her back turned to you, and let me tell you, Mama Eyes can scorch you with the heat of a thousand burning suns and freeze you in your tracks with a glare of liquid nitrogen. Sometimes, I think mothers and their respective Mama Eyes might just be the scariest things out there, but that’s not what this story’s about.

When I was young, eight years old to be exact, I wanted to be an archeologist. I wanted to go to Egypt, excavate pyramids and discover mummies and explore tombs. I wanted to expand upon all the meticulously studied Egyptian mythology that I had learnt from my library rented books and absorb more and more and more. But truly, what fascinated me the most were the great Egyptian gods. And I knew all of them. Osiris, God of the Underworld! Mother Isis, Goddess of Marriage, Healing, and Magic. Falcon Horus, God of War. Hapi, Hathor, Bastet, Ra the great Sun God, Thoth, Shu, Ammut…

But my favorite was Anubis, God of the Dead. To be honest, I really don’t know why he was my favorite; perhaps it was a foreshadowing of my penchant for the grotesque and the generally morbid. But regardless, Anubis was my chosen one, my beloved man with the head of a jackal. My parents were originally delighted in my fascination with mythologies, gods, and the like. But they soon saw that my obsession was in fact that, an obsession. Looking back, I think they might have been a bit worried with my choice of favored deity, but then we had our summer vacation to Egypt, and needless to say, I was more than a little ecstatic. I saw the pyramids, went into a couple in fact; and I was shocked to find out that they unfortunately smelled like a combination of dust, thick humidity, and an old man who had, to put it delicately, let one rip, cut the cheese, let out a huge raspberry, but I think you’ve got the picture. I bought tiny pyramid statues, papyrus paper with my name written on it in hieroglyphics, and had henna masterfully drawn onto my hands only to grow impatient and peel it off before it had actually set in. We even snorkeled in the Red Sea, and even better, I wasn’t waking up in the middle of the night anymore! To be honest, those were good days, and I thought the trip couldn’t get any better. And then I found it. A statue of Anubis.

I begged, I cried, I whined, and pleaded with my father for this statue of Anubis standing tall and proud, and he, kind-hearted man that he was, or perhaps he was just sick of my eight year old whining, finally bought it; and I was the happiest child in the world.

We came back home, and I placed that statue of Anubis on my nightstand. Body of a man, black head of jackal, scepter in hand and ankh in the other, just and merciless. My Anubis and I were finally home.

Of course, settling back at home was more difficult than I thought it would be. My fear of the dark and midnight awakenings, that had been banished during our summer vacation as I had been sleeping with my older sister, had returned now that I was back in my single and isolated room that was oh so far away from parents. In the dark hours of the night when I would awake, I would shiver and shudder and think up horrible, frightening creatures that would watch me, crawling around in the darkness, waiting to eat me whole; but now my beloved Anubis protected me and banished away all the creatures and ghouls and horrid monsters of the night.

And so, my love for Anubis grew, and my parents slowly began to realize that this perhaps was not the healthiest thing for a child to be preoccupied with. I would, in the way children often do, repeat the same story about Anubis over and over again to my unamused parents at breakfast, in the car, after school, even while I was supposed to be doing my homework. The Weighing of the Heart, how it delighted me, absorbed me totally. Each time I would explain with painstaking detail to my audience, whether they were truly interested or indifferent of course, how Anubis would carefully weigh the heart of the deceased. And if the heart was lighter than an ostrich feather, the good soul would be free to go; if it was weighed down by the soul’s sins and was therefore heavier than the feather however, it would be devoured by a demon. Pretty heavy stuff for an eight year old. I remember often vaguely wondering if my heart was lighter than an ostrich feather. If it wasn’t, would the heart devouring hurt? My obsession seemed to grow and grow with the repetition of that same story as I chanted it to myself over and over again. Until at last, my father sat me down and told me, in much gentler words mind you, that my obsession with Anubis was not healthy and it, all of it, must come to an end.

Unsurprisingly, my younger self reeled at the very thought. My protector, my beloved. How would I fend off the darkness, the creatures without Anubis at my side? Children are always afraid of the darkness, and I was no exception. So, I became stubborn and refused pointblank. My mother tried to introduce new hobbies to turn my attention away from my mythological readings, but I did not care. I was too far gone.

Then, one night, at a family gathering, I found myself hiding in my grandfather’s library looking for any books on Egyptian mythology I could find. And I couldn’t believe my eyes when I found a copy of the Book of the Dead, an ancient Egyptian text filled with spells, directions for funerals and most importantly  the Weighing of the Dead! Of course, I wasn’t allowed to touch the books without my father’s permission, but I pulled out the heavy book and flipped through the pages avidly until I found the story I wanted. But something was off as I read about Anubis and the ostrich feather. Reading the story from the original book didn’t delight me as I always thought it would, in fact it did the exact opposite. And eventually, I put the book back trembling and rushed out of the library pale. For the rest of the gathering, I couldn’t stop dreading the return back home to my dark, dark bedroom, to that unrelenting darkness. And in the car, I was somber, and my sister watched me curiously.

We entered the dark apartment. My parents went into their room and locked the door, the key turning in the lock a resounding “No, you cannot sleep with us tonight.” I turned around to find my sister already closing the door to our shared bathroom, and she had also locked the door. I was alone. Shaking in my shoes, I trembled through the shadowy hallway down to my distant bedroom, opening every single light that I passed by. I entered the room, and there was Anubis standing guard as always by my bed. I let out a sigh of relief and tried to put the strange ordeal behind me. I changed and got into bed with the lights on and quickly fell asleep.

And as always, I awoke in the middle of the night, and it was dark. Too dark. I swallowed loudly and tried to keep my breathing steady. I looked to my nightstand as I always do, but Anubis wasn’t there! Where was my protector? Where was my beloved Anubis? I peered around through the darkness searching, searching, the fear rising in me again. And that is when I saw it. My heart stopped. My mouth went dry and my eyes wide. In front of my bed was a mirror that reflected out into the dark, shadowy hallway, and there was a figure standing there, watching me. A large, black figure, blacker than the blackest night sky, than the deepest hole, than the darkest shadow. It was absurdly tall and had a large head, with pointing ears and a long snout. The terror that filled me was absolute, an endless black hole of fear that my eight-year-old self could not comprehend or control. Anubis, my Anubis, my protector, bringer of peace and sleep was outside, standing at the threshold of my bedroom, and he was not my protector anymore, he was the God of the Dead.

I lay there trembling and experienced one of the lowest moments of my entire life. And more than that, was the shock, the disbelief that my Anubis, my Anubis could become the very object of my terror. He who had protected me and guarded me was now my terrifying monster to defeat. I don’t how I fared that night; but eventually, the terror became too much, and I must have fainted back to sleep.

When I awoke in the morning, I immediately recalled what had transpired the previous night. I quickly turned to my side and there was Anubis at my nightstand, standing as resolute as he ever did, as though the last night had never happened. I watched him carefully, and slowly my disbelief now turned into anger, a rage that was so intense, it burned out any other thought I had in my mind. I wanted to hurl that statue against the wall, throw it out the window, break off every limb and dump them in the trash. He had betrayed me, my protector, my Anubis, and it hurt, it hurt. I gingerly picked him up as though afraid that he would come to life in my very hands, but he did not. And slowly, my fingers gripped the statue tighter and tighter, and quickly, before I could change my mind, I hid him away at the bottom of my drawer out of sight.

That night when I got in bed, my mother tucking me in- and neither my mother nor my father ever said anything about the disappearance of my beloved statue- I was afraid that I would awaken in the middle of the night as always and that my protector would come back to haunt me. But he did not, and for the first time in as long as I could remember, I fell asleep and did not wake up until the morning.

Children are always afraid of the dark. But strangely enough, I was not anymore.

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