I’m playing with the worms coming up through the cool packed dirt floor of my room when Ma calls to me that she and Frankie need help barricading the door. I spot an especially long, pale night crawler near my knee, so I grab it up and slip it into the pocket of my skirt before I make my way to the front room.

The light is pressing and throbbing around the edges of the front door, biting my eyes. Ma and my older brother Frankie each have a shoulder against the door, and they’re leaning hard, so hard their whole bodies are trembling. Just outside is a vicious whine that pierces our eardrums just as surely as the light itself would pierce our skin.

Ma is a woman with a body like a bull, two thick, hairy legs sticking out of her blue dress, muscles of her back bulging and twisting and heaving under the fabric, her square head sitting on her big straining neck. She grunts to Frankie between her teeth to go with me and get the big bookcase from the living room. We ask if she can hold it back by herself, and she says yes, but not for long. Frankie steps away, gives her the full boiling weight, and her jaw clenches so hard her teeth crack like nuts, her large fingers scrape grooves into the white-painted wood of the door.

The canvas blinds drawn down over the windows in the living room glow and hum, bulging inwards tautly. The carpet underfoot is a pattern of green and pink flowers. Just off center, there’s a rectangle of blank flattened corpse white; on the day the sun turned into death, the middle blind was left halfway open. The beams of harshness beat against that one neat patch of rug, blasted out all the green and the pink and the black outlines of the flowers too, before Frankie could pull the blind down and put thick black tape around all of the edges.

The bookcase is dark wood hulking in the corner of the room. Its shelves are empty. Back when rats lived in the walls, we needed fire to cook the ones we trapped and skinned, and our books burned easily. Inky flames seared the meat sterile.

There are no rats left. Nor ants nor termites nor spiders to pop into our mouths and crush between our molars. Nowadays we eat what we found curling and spreading in the dirt under the floorboards back when Frankie pried them all up.

Frankie’s arms are long and strong, but his back is stooped, neck collapsed in halfway, like a withdrawing turtle. His head is shaved, and his arms are lined with the intricate white scars. On the days when the light is at its calmest, when it quiets from a shriek to a hum and gathers its strength before another blast, he sits by himself and carefully carves patterns deep into his skin with a kitchen knife. He steps forwards and takes hold of one end the bookcase. Nods to me. I take the other.

It takes most of the energy our thinning bones still contain to move the bookcase to the front room. It leaves dark bruises and deep cuts in our hands. Halfway there we stop for a break, soaked with our sweat, mute with our exhaustion, and I take the long worm out of my pocket, bite off half and hand the rest to Frankie. Neither of us chew.

Careful timing is required to barricade the door properly; we get the bookcase positioned exactly right, and on the count of three, two, one, Ma lets go of the pulsing, burning door and grabs the bookcase with both hands and gives a bellow and a tug while Frankie and I shove with what of ourselves we have left. There’s a screech of anger from the wooden floorboards underneath but the bookcase grinds into place in time. Its massive, stubborn existence holds shut the door against the white-hot siege.

We hit the floor like bags of bones. The hum is sharp and high and the house creaks, the house moans, trapped in the tight, tight squeeze of the screaming blinding hate all around us.