Bedtime Story by Kashif Choudhry

Kashif Choudhry is 28 and lives in Solihull. He spent parts of his childhood in Saudi Arabia before moving to the UK and fulfilling a life long ambition by qualifying as a doctor. He currently works for the NHS. He began writing two years ago. He is a fan of the short story art form and thinks that it is underappreciated despite being suited to modern lives. Bedtime Story won the Short Story Award at the Muslim Writers Award 2008.

Once upon a time there was a little boy. He lived in a great old house perched on the top of a hill. From afar, the house seemed to balance precariously right on the tip of the hill, held up by a gentle breeze. From near, the house was strong and sturdy, with a few aged cracks to mark its distinguished position. The little boy could look out from any window, and the view was always enchanting. Lush green trees all year round, reflections upon water both still and moving, and gently beckoning hills cascading into the distance. There were no other houses nearby, but this was how it had always been, and how his family wished it would always remain.
He lived with his mother and father, and the memories of someone they had lost. The little boy was entirely normal in every way, but he suffered from problems with sleeping. A long time ago, he used to sleep soundly every night, all the way through. But of late, he had been waking up screaming more and more often. The little boy could never remember what had happened, despite his parents’ frequent attempts to solve the mystery. There was no explanation, no reason, and no apparent cure.
His parents tried everything. They took him to the doctor. First he saw the town doctor, who spent an hour talking to the little boy on his own. When he had finished he shook his head and wrung his hands, unable to diagnose the problem. The little boy then saw a specialist from the big city. He decided to visit the boy at home, and spent the night observing him. In the morning, he thought he knew what the problem was, but shook his head and wrung his hands in discontent. He had no cure. In fact, after letters and phone calls to doctors all over the world, nobody could offer a solution.
So the little boy’s parents tried moving the position of his bed. First they moved it to the other side of the room. Then they tried it in a corner. But the screaming persisted. They tried moving his bedroom to another part of the house. He slept downstairs. Then he slept on the top floor. But the screaming carried on. Then eventually they moved house. They moved to a small house at the bottom of a completely different hill in a completely different town. The boy, the father, the memories of the mother, and the memories of someone they had lost, all moved to the new house. The hill overlooked the house, a forest grew behind it, and fading hopes resided within.
The first night went well. There were still screams, but they were less than they had been in recent times. The little boy had woken up sweating and terrified, but he had not felt the need to go and wake up his father. Nonetheless his father had awoken as soon as he heard the first rumblings of terror, and darted to his son’s room. He watched from the shadows as his son tossed and turned, quivered and shouted. He didn’t wake him, as in the past that had only made things worse. The little boy sat upright, half awake. After a few moments he lay his head back down and slept again. In the early hours after sunrise, the father checked again on the little boy, as always. He was fast asleep in his bed, as always.
The morning brought a new light. As they sat eating their breakfast, the little boy asked his father a question. ‘Father, why is the sun black?’
The boy’s father looked outside trying to steal a glance at the sun. It seemed the same as normal. ‘Are you sure the sun is black? If you look at it you can hurt your eyes, and that can make things seem black.’
‘No, father. The sun is black.’
The father did not want to disappoint his son. ‘Maybe it isn’t the sun you are looking at. It is the sun’s shadow.’
The boy was quiet for a while, then asked, ‘How can the sun have a shadow?’
‘Everything has a shadow when there is light. And there are other lights bigger than the sun, that are too far away for us to see, that give the sun a shadow.’
‘Oh.’
They continued eating their breakfast in silence.
After they had cleaned the few plates and cups that they had used, they went into their garden. The sun was still there, shining brightly. The father shielded his eyes to make sure it was as it had always been. The little boy shielded his eyes, not wanting to look. At the end of the garden was a small wall made of old rocks. It reached up to just over the height of the little boy, so when he stood against it his shadow was no longer visible. ‘Father, look. I don’t have a shadow!’
‘No, you don’t.’ He smiled weakly at his son’s misfortune. No matter what humans did, they would always have their shadows, their inadequacies, their impurities. It worried him that his son was claiming that the sun was black. It didn’t seem like he had damaged his eyes. Could he really be seeing the shadow of the sun? What could it mean? Did it have something to do with the screaming? Perhaps the night would tell.
When the time came to sleep, the father stayed awake. He left his door open to make sure he heard even the slightest noise. As he sat up in his bed, he started to drift off to sleep. Many times, as his head started to dip down, he forced his heavy eyes open and pushed his head back. Eventually he could fight no more, and succumbed to the most natural activity. The night brought no disturbance, no screaming, no sweating. The father went to check on his son in the early hours of the morning, as always, and found him fast asleep in his bed. It had been a peaceful night for the little boy, and the morning brought a new glimmer of hope.
As they had their breakfast the little boy told his father that he had seen something he had never seen before. The father asked if it was something to do with the sun.
‘No father. The sun is still black- it hasn’t changed.’
The father sighed. ‘Then what have you seen?’
‘Last night when I was sleeping…’
‘What?’ He was excited but apprehensive. It had been a long, long time since he had asked his son about the problems. There were never any answers, so there never seemed to be any point.
‘Last night, when I was sleeping, I saw these things that weren’t really there. Like, when I woke up, I was in my bed. But when I was asleep I could see other things in a different place, with other people. But when I woke up again, I was still in my bed.’
His father paused for a moment. ‘You mean… like a dream.’
‘Oh.’
There were a few moments where neither of them did anything. They sat in their frozen positions, breakfast half eaten, conversation half finished. Then the little boy spoke. ‘So that’s what a dream is?’
‘I think so. You… haven’t ever had a dream before?’
The little boy looked at his father with the wide eyes of innocence.
‘I think I haven’t.’
They didn’t go outside. They stayed there, at the table, and finished their breakfast. After they finished their breakfast, they moved their plates and cups to one side of the table and stayed sitting at their seats. They looked at the table, they looked at each other, and they looked outside at the sun. They both saw different things, but they both wanted to talk. ‘Father, I had a dream.’
‘What was in your dream?’
‘I don’t know how to describe it. There were lots of people, but they weren’t people. They were different to normal people. They were small and looked funny.’
‘And what were these people doing?’
‘They weren’t proper people. But there were millions and millions of them. And there was this big wall around all the normal people and they were outside the wall. And they were licking the wall, like it was made of ice cream.’
‘Oh. Do you know why they were licking the wall?’
‘I was with them and they were telling me to do the same as them.’
‘What? Lick the wall?’
‘Yes, father. They were telling me to lick the wall.’
‘Did they tell you why?’
‘One of them said that if we licked the wall it would disappear.’
‘And then what?’
The boy slowly pushed himself away from the table, and got up. He went outside, and left his father sitting at the table. For a moment the father chose to relish the conversation, the interaction. It had been so long. The father slowly got up and cleared away the few plates and cups they had used, and then went outside. He couldn’t see his son. He walked to the end of the garden, where the old wall made of rocks still stood. He thought perhaps his son was hiding near the wall, but he was nowhere to be seen. As the father turned away to go back towards the house, something on the ground caught his eye.
He walked towards a strange formation that lay in the shadow of the wall. His son must have made this. There was a pile of twigs, spread out to form a circle. In the middle of the circle was a small pile of dark stones. Around the outside of the circle there were rows of whiter stones. This was his son’s dream. This was his son’s way of explaining the dream. Perhaps he didn’t understand it fully, but this was the only way he could show his father. Perhaps this was the only way the father could attempt to understand the dream.
He went inside and found his son sitting at the table. There were no plates and no cups. It wasn’t even time to eat again. The father sat down in his chair. He asked his son if the sun was still black. The son replied that it was, and that it hadn’t changed. The father asked if the sun had always been black. The son replied, ‘Yes, it has always been black.’ It seemed that they might have been able to talk about things that had never been discussed before. It seemed that they could have talked about themselves, the reasons why the sun was black, the meaning of the son’s dream, and the memories that moved with them into their new house.
But instead they sat in silence. They spent the rest of the day like any other day. They went about their business, saying very little to each other. The father worked upstairs, while the son played outside in the shadows of the wall. They came together to eat at lunchtime. They ate a simple meal prepared by the father. They sat together at the table, and then cleared away the few plates and cups they had used. Again they went about their own works, separately. When it started to get dark the son came in and carried on playing in the house. The father then came downstairs to make a simple dinner, which they both ate heartily, as always. And soon it was time for bed.
When the father awoke in the early hours after sunrise, he went to check on his son, as always. He hadn’t heard any screams at all. He had even slept peacefully himself, until now. He walked across the dim hallway and pushed open the door to his son’s bedroom. He then realised as he looked at the empty bed, that he was now in the house with only the memories of his son, the memories of his wife, and the memories of someone they had lost. There was nothing more for him to do, except open the curtains that kept out the light, and look at the colour of the sun.
Once upon a time there was a little boy. He lived in a great old house perched on the top of a hill. From afar, the house seemed to balance precariously right on the tip of the hill, held up by a gentle breeze. From near, the house was strong and sturdy, with a few aged cracks to mark its distinguished position. The little boy could look out from any window, and the view was always enchanting. Lush green trees all year round, reflections upon water both still and moving, and gently beckoning hills cascading into the distance. There were no other houses nearby, but this was how it had always been, and how his family wished it would always remain.
He lived with his mother and father, and the memories of someone they had lost. The little boy was entirely normal in every way, but he suffered from problems with sleeping. A long time ago, he used to sleep soundly every night, all the way through. But of late, he had been waking up screaming more and more often. The little boy could never remember what had happened, despite his parents’ frequent attempts to solve the mystery. There was no explanation, no reason, and no apparent cure.
His parents tried everything. They took him to the doctor. First he saw the town doctor, who spent an hour talking to the little boy on his own. When he had finished he shook his head and wrung his hands, unable to diagnose the problem. The little boy then saw a specialist from the big city. He decided to visit the boy at home, and spent the night observing him. In the morning, he thought he knew what the problem was, but shook his head and wrung his hands in discontent. He had no cure. In fact, after letters and phone calls to doctors all over the world, nobody could offer a solution.
So the little boy’s parents tried moving the position of his bed. First they moved it to the other side of the room. Then they tried it in a corner. But the screaming persisted. They tried moving his bedroom to another part of the house. He slept downstairs. Then he slept on the top floor. But the screaming carried on. Then eventually they moved house. They moved to a small house at the bottom of a completely different hill in a completely different town. The boy, the father, the memories of the mother, and the memories of someone they had lost, all moved to the new house. The hill overlooked the house, a forest grew behind it, and fading hopes resided within.
The first night went well. There were still screams, but they were less than they had been in recent times. The little boy had woken up sweating and terrified, but he had not felt the need to go and wake up his father. Nonetheless his father had awoken as soon as he heard the first rumblings of terror, and darted to his son’s room. He watched from the shadows as his son tossed and turned, quivered and shouted. He didn’t wake him, as in the past that had only made things worse. The little boy sat upright, half awake. After a few moments he lay his head back down and slept again. In the early hours after sunrise, the father checked again on the little boy, as always. He was fast asleep in his bed, as always.
The morning brought a new light. As they sat eating their breakfast, the little boy asked his father a question. ‘Father, why is the sun black?’
The boy’s father looked outside trying to steal a glance at the sun. It seemed the same as normal. ‘Are you sure the sun is black? If you look at it you can hurt your eyes, and that can make things seem black.’
‘No, father. The sun is black.’
The father did not want to disappoint his son. ‘Maybe it isn’t the sun you are looking at. It is the sun’s shadow.’
The boy was quiet for a while, then asked, ‘How can the sun have a shadow?’
‘Everything has a shadow when there is light. And there are other lights bigger than the sun, that are too far away for us to see, that give the sun a shadow.’
‘Oh.’
They continued eating their breakfast in silence.
After they had cleaned the few plates and cups that they had used, they went into their garden. The sun was still there, shining brightly. The father shielded his eyes to make sure it was as it had always been. The little boy shielded his eyes, not wanting to look. At the end of the garden was a small wall made of old rocks. It reached up to just over the height of the little boy, so when he stood against it his shadow was no longer visible. ‘Father, look. I don’t have a shadow!’
‘No, you don’t.’ He smiled weakly at his son’s misfortune. No matter what humans did, they would always have their shadows, their inadequacies, their impurities. It worried him that his son was claiming that the sun was black. It didn’t seem like he had damaged his eyes. Could he really be seeing the shadow of the sun? What could it mean? Did it have something to do with the screaming? Perhaps the night would tell.
When the time came to sleep, the father stayed awake. He left his door open to make sure he heard even the slightest noise. As he sat up in his bed, he started to drift off to sleep. Many times, as his head started to dip down, he forced his heavy eyes open and pushed his head back. Eventually he could fight no more, and succumbed to the most natural activity. The night brought no disturbance, no screaming, no sweating. The father went to check on his son in the early hours of the morning, as always, and found him fast asleep in his bed. It had been a peaceful night for the little boy, and the morning brought a new glimmer of hope.
As they had their breakfast the little boy told his father that he had seen something he had never seen before. The father asked if it was something to do with the sun.
‘No father. The sun is still black- it hasn’t changed.’
The father sighed. ‘Then what have you seen?’
‘Last night when I was sleeping…’
‘What?’ He was excited but apprehensive. It had been a long, long time since he had asked his son about the problems. There were never any answers, so there never seemed to be any point.
‘Last night, when I was sleeping, I saw these things that weren’t really there. Like, when I woke up, I was in my bed. But when I was asleep I could see other things in a different place, with other people. But when I woke up again, I was still in my bed.’
His father paused for a moment. ‘You mean… like a dream.’
‘Oh.’
There were a few moments where neither of them did anything. They sat in their frozen positions, breakfast half eaten, conversation half finished. Then the little boy spoke. ‘So that’s what a dream is?’
‘I think so. You… haven’t ever had a dream before?’
The little boy looked at his father with the wide eyes of innocence.
‘I think I haven’t.’
They didn’t go outside. They stayed there, at the table, and finished their breakfast. After they finished their breakfast, they moved their plates and cups to one side of the table and stayed sitting at their seats. They looked at the table, they looked at each other, and they looked outside at the sun. They both saw different things, but they both wanted to talk. ‘Father, I had a dream.’
‘What was in your dream?’
‘I don’t know how to describe it. There were lots of people, but they weren’t people. They were different to normal people. They were small and looked funny.’
‘And what were these people doing?’
‘They weren’t proper people. But there were millions and millions of them. And there was this big wall around all the normal people and they were outside the wall. And they were licking the wall, like it was made of ice cream.’
‘Oh. Do you know why they were licking the wall?’
‘I was with them and they were telling me to do the same as them.’
‘What? Lick the wall?’
‘Yes, father. They were telling me to lick the wall.’
‘Did they tell you why?’
‘One of them said that if we licked the wall it would disappear.’
‘And then what?’
The boy slowly pushed himself away from the table, and got up. He went outside, and left his father sitting at the table. For a moment the father chose to relish the conversation, the interaction. It had been so long. The father slowly got up and cleared away the few plates and cups they had used, and then went outside. He couldn’t see his son. He walked to the end of the garden, where the old wall made of rocks still stood. He thought perhaps his son was hiding near the wall, but he was nowhere to be seen. As the father turned away to go back towards the house, something on the ground caught his eye.
He walked towards a strange formation that lay in the shadow of the wall. His son must have made this. There was a pile of twigs, spread out to form a circle. In the middle of the circle was a small pile of dark stones. Around the outside of the circle there were rows of whiter stones. This was his son’s dream. This was his son’s way of explaining the dream. Perhaps he didn’t understand it fully, but this was the only way he could show his father. Perhaps this was the only way the father could attempt to understand the dream.
He went inside and found his son sitting at the table. There were no plates and no cups. It wasn’t even time to eat again. The father sat down in his chair. He asked his son if the sun was still black. The son replied that it was, and that it hadn’t changed. The father asked if the sun had always been black. The son replied, ‘Yes, it has always been black.’ It seemed that they might have been able to talk about things that had never been discussed before. It seemed that they could have talked about themselves, the reasons why the sun was black, the meaning of the son’s dream, and the memories that moved with them into their new house.
But instead they sat in silence. They spent the rest of the day like any other day. They went about their business, saying very little to each other. The father worked upstairs, while the son played outside in the shadows of the wall. They came together to eat at lunchtime. They ate a simple meal prepared by the father. They sat together at the table, and then cleared away the few plates and cups they had used. Again they went about their own works, separately. When it started to get dark the son came in and carried on playing in the house. The father then came downstairs to make a simple dinner, which they both ate heartily, as always. And soon it was time for bed.
When the father awoke in the early hours after sunrise, he went to check on his son, as always. He hadn’t heard any screams at all. He had even slept peacefully himself, until now. He walked across the dim hallway and pushed open the door to his son’s bedroom. He then realised as he looked at the empty bed, that he was now in the house with only the memories of his son, the memories of his wife, and the memories of someone they had lost. There was nothing more for him to do, except open the curtains that kept out the light, and look at the colour of the sun.