The clock struck 3.00AM and Casper sighed like a man intending to commit suicide. He felt hopeless studying alone at this hour, a lone lonely man stuck in a pit of shit, a pit of frothing shit accumulated over the previous endless shitty centuries of shitting humanity. He was stooped over his notes like a wicked child hovering over helpless ants with a piece of burning plastic in his hand. His notes looked like disorganized ants skittering bewilderedly to and fro, back and forth, over the pages. It was awful.

He yawned, making a low hollow howling sound and scaring himself in the process so that he groaned aloud. The silence in the Architecture and Design Building was palpable, bordering on ominous. Even the extremely rowdy Architecture and Design students who usually played vulgar hip-hop music aloud at this odd hour had left. A cold breeze seeped through a broken windowpane and stung Casper’s back like a bullet, but he did not wince, for it was the breeze that really kept him awake. Apart from his sheer determination to study through tonight, he also needed the sharp, biting edge of the breeze to frighten sleep off his eyes. Determination stoked by the fear of failing in an examination rather than the desire to meet a solidly set objective could crumble down rapidly to shit like an evil cookie baked by the Vice Chancellor himself, especially in a long, sad, frightful night as this.

The Vice Chancellor was a witch. In the moonlight of quiet vacant nights, he swam stark naked with crocodiles and rode happily on their scaly backs and allowed them to also ride on his fat, meaty back, but they did not eat him. In the dead deadly dark of the night, like tonight, he stuck a rugged bundle of ostrich feathers in his asshole and flew over the university buildings like a bat-spirit, spying on Casper, cursing him, spellbinding him with malevolent charms in order to make him flunk his course.

Not that Casper was that afraid of exams; since his first year in the campus, however, he’d learnt that it was as easy to fail in an examination as it was to tell a lie, whether you were bright or dull, a dux or a dunce, whether you wished to shoot the VC or just hang on to his ass like the crocs and the feathers. There were things that made studying in university so hard, distractions against which one had to fight so badly if one was to achieve anything at all: girls, music, movies, parties, friends, freedom, drugs, etc. Casper thought that it was in university where one actually discovered one’s potential to parry away temptations. He had, however, long since realized that he was rendered weak and disabled when it came to rejecting offers, and that was why he was lucubrating tonight; usually he ignored his work until exams began to make their abominable sinister hooting and honking sounds in the near distance. But there was a little comforting voice at the back of his mind telling him that he wasn’t the only one overpowered by the savage temptations life in university offered with depraved generosity; gazillions of students were worse than him out there, although not all of them were studying Electrical & Electronics Engineering in a department that specialized in murdering dreams and turning students into academic robots, where Engineering was studied in theory, a department ruined by the horrible witch VC who danced with the crocs in the moonlight and stuck ostrich feathers in his ass.

If you studied Electrical & Electronics Engineering it the University of Nairobi, you’d wish to shoot the VC dead in the head, right between his wicked witching eyes! CLICK-CLICK BOOM-KAPOW! Unidentified witch dead on the highway, the newspapers would report.

While he was waiting for admission to the university, Casper had heard incredibly wild and sweet stories about campus life. When he joined first year, he had lived the life described in those stories. The result was that he had flunked nearly half the units in his course, and that was when he began to hate and curse exams for turning an irresistibly enjoyable life into a mean, bitter, poisonous beast. He had yet been in school for nineteen years, and had only one more to acquire his first degree, yet he still did not understand why there ever had to be exams anywhere on earth. They were always so, so brutally inhuman, the real killjoys in life, especially in the UoN, which was the pit of frothing shit in which he was diabolically stuck, where lecturers showed up in class in the last month of the semester, hurried you through the course and then announced they would set exams. The question of moment was: how could you be examined and graded in a course you were never taught? It made you want to shoot the VC, blast his witch head off his croc-screwing body. That witch boasted an ISO 9001:2008 certification while classes rotted wretchedly under his malicious witch-watch and academic levels plunged irreparably into the hellish lightless abyss of mournful illiteracy. The equipment and devices applied for the study of Electrical & Electronics Engineering in the University of Nairobi were left there by the British colonialists in 1963. Unattended, unrepaired, decrepit, they were now deader than any dead thing, which brought to Casper’s mind another momentous question: how much had Electrical & Electronics Engineering changed between 1963 and 2008?

(Interlude)

SHOOT THE WITCH BURN THE WITCH
(A play by Casper Gasper the Ostrich Man)

ACT 1: SCENE I

(The University of Nairobi graduation square looms ominously before the audience. The witch has been captured by soldiers and is being dragged on the ground like a log. He is to be executed by a firing squad. Multitudes of students are chanting “Shoot the witch! Burn the witch! Shoot the witch! Burn the witch! Shoot him dead in the head! Burn him till confirmed dead!”)

Major General Casper (to his second-in-command): Are the troops ready?

Brigadier Fatty (saluting): Yes, sir! Troops ready, sir!

Major General Casper: Fall in! Fall in!

(Soldiers fall in)

Major General Casper (issuing a stern command): Aim! Fire!

(Gunfire erupts suddenly as soldiers begin to shoot: TOOP-TOOP-TOOP! BOOM-KAPOW! BOOM-KAPOW! BOOM-KAPOW! Firing continues until the witch’s head hangs limp as a boiled noodle.)

Major General Casper: Cease fire!

(Soldiers stop firing.)

Major General Casper (looking at the witch): Is he dead?

Brigadier Fatty: Yes, sir! I think so, sir!

Major General Casper: Confirm, Brigadier!

Brigadier Fatty: Yes, sir! (Moves forwards, views the witch’s limp body, and then looks back at his superior.) His eyes are still open, sir!

Major General Casper: Fuck it! Fire again! Fire until he burns!

(KABOOM-POW! KABOOM-POW! Firing goes on ceaselessly for hours until . . .)

Somebody dragged a chair carelessly in the adjacent room and routed Casper out of his deep thoughts. He jolted, sat upright. So I am not the only student in the building, he thought. The other ones most likely to forgo sleep were medics, although they were no better than the engineers; they were fucked up worse because they killed patients at Kenyatta National Hospital and safely and contentedly got away with it. The next room shut with a bang and footsteps pitapatted randomly toward the room in which Casper was brooding. It turned out to be a night watchman.

“ID yako?” the man asked adamantly in distasteful Kiswahili. He wanted to see Casper’s student identity card.

Casper regarded him coldly and obstinately. The watchman probably thought that he was not a student and had no accommodation in the campus, which was why anybody would choose to mug up in a lifeless deserted building at half past three in the morning.

“What is the worst you can do if I do not have it with me?” Casper asked.

“ID,” the watchman said slowly with contempt. He sounded as if he was talking to a very thick learner. He had obviously decided that Casper was not a student. Don’t I look like a student to this dumb shit? Casper wondered. The university watchmen had problems with their self-esteem. They felt that students despised them, which wasn’t entirely the case. When they had a chance to victimize an unfortunate one, they did it with utter desperation and vile enthusiasm. If they caught a non-student person in the campus premises, especially in the prohibited places like classes and ladies’ halls, they made a field day of torturing him until he became irremediably mad. Deciding instantly to play it rude, Casper said he had no ID.

“Basi toka nje!” the watchman ordered authoritatively. Then get out!

“I won’t!” Casper snapped.

“Nimesema utoke!” I’ve said leave! The watchman started walking confidently towards Casper.

Casper stood up abruptly, so abruptly the man was startled to a halt. He seemed uncertain now. Casper was taller than him. In fact, Casper was taller than most other people. Six feet seven, a broad chest, a small waist, long arms, long legs, a long neck, and a disproportionately small head (a classmate and a friend with whom he often shared a bottle of beer and a roll of weed had once pointed it out to him that he was built like an ostrich), Casper overhung his victims by both stature and attitude; he carried himself with condescending confidence and had a delicately bloated dignity. Pride was in his heart, arrogance aloft in his soul.

“Listen, you piece of shit in a pit of shit! This is not your house, okay?” he spat with venomous disdain. “I am a student here, okay? I have exams next week and that’s why I’m languishing in this pit of shit horror instead of relishing the comfort of my room, okay? I study a very difficult course and I am stressed right now, okay? And you’re here to stress me further, okay? Listen, you can never do the course that I do, not even if Jesus Christ himself adds you a brand new sparkling brain, okay? So you just drive your despicable watch-manning illiterate butt away from me and go on and fuck yourself sour and sore, okay? And don’t you fucking bother me again, okay? Or else, I will cut off your head and shit down your gaping throat! You are an idiotic stupid horrible barrel of frothing shit, okay? You understand, okay?”

Later, after Casper’s inexplicable death, the watchman remembered him vividly and described his voice as high-pitched, grating, and hysterical, like the sound of a hacksaw grinding whiningly against steel.

“Kweeee-kweeee-kweeee-kweeeeee . . .” the watchman had gone on to demonstrate.

Irritated, rendered inferior, defenceless and speechless as well, the watchman clicked his tongue and left. At the door, he turned once and told Casper that he was going to lock the door from outside and report him to the other security guards. They would frogmarch him to the Student Welfare Authority Security Office for discipline.

“Yeah, go the fuck right ahead, okay?” Casper said. “Lock the door and insert your dick in the keyhole, okay? Lock and fuck the keyhole!”

“Okay? Okay? You are very stupid, okay?” the watchman mimicked with a violent sneer and scurried away.

“Fuck you!” Casper cried hysterically after him. “Fuck the keyhole! Fuck the VC! Fuck the VC! Fuck the VC!”

But the watchman did not lock the door; neither did he summon his fellow security guards.

***

Around a quarter to four, Casper dozed off, the biting breeze notwithstanding. He was woken up by a movement so swift he did not comprehend it at all. Somebody must have entered the room and then left too quickly. All a long there had been a big black rucksack at the far corner of the class. It had sat there since six the previous evening when Casper first came in. He had presumed it belonged to one of those mean selfish faggoty-maggoty students who usually left their books behind on their favourite reading tables long before they arrived at the rooms so that nobody else occupied those particular tables. Now the rucksack was gone. Whoever had come in while Casper dozed off had taken it. But how fast! Casper was sure he hadn’t dozed long enough to enable even the most surreptitious thief in the institution to intrude upon him. His first reaction was to confirm if his property was intact. The University of Nairobi bred such slick remorseless diabolical thieves that it was as if it offered a singular excellent course in stealing. It had better thieves than academic professors and doctors. They were so uncouth and heartless and obscenely bold that they stole your wet underwear from the bathroom while you soaped your face with your eyes closed. An institution for thieves, and you wondered why the Vice Chancellor made love to crocodiles in the vulgar moonlight and stuck ostrich feathers in his ass!

Casper thought he should rush outside and catch whoever had sneaked in on him, but decided it could have been the owner of the rucksack himself or someone else of no consequence to him. He went on with his studies. Sometime into four, he dozed off again, and became alert when a pencil rolled on the table where the rucksack had been. It was a HB pencil, with black and red longitudinal stripes along it, brand new, sharpened once for the first time. It had not been on that table a few minutes before. Casper contemplated it and could not understand where it could possibly have come from. He was thinking only of Miva, his girlfriend, when he picked it up. Miva liked to calculate her rough work in pencils. He would tell her that he had bought this one for her, especially for her. She would be pleased and she would promise him things, sweet things that lived only in women. To test its sharpness and efficiency, he used it to sketch electrical circuit diagrams in his book. What transpired between the circuit sketches and the writings that he saw afterwards among his rough notes, he did not know and could not explain. While holding the pencil, he must have drifted into sleep or lost his consciousness completely, because he could swear with his neck in a noose that he did not write the following words:

RETURNMERET URNME RETUR NME RETURN MEEENOOOOWWW

Return me? Return who? Return what? What is this? Casper asked. This was wrong. He must be exhausted, his memory growing vague, fatigued. He decided to end his studies, go to his room, and catch an hour’s worth of precious sleep.

He met Miva in class at eight and gave her the pencil. She was genuinely pleased in a huge way, and she kissed him in a huge way. She promised to go to his room after classes, where only special, delectable delicious things could be expected to happen, and he had gruellingly slow hours of delightful anticipation the rest of the day.

In the evening, though, she returned the pencil to him.

“What the hell is this thing?” she asked in panic.

“It is a pencil,” Casper replied politely, although his first thought was to tell her that it was a dick, any dick, even the VC’s dick, particularly the VC’s dick.

The VC’s dick must be covered with scales to fuck crocs, he thought hilariously and nearly burst out with terrible laughter. He was checked by Miva’s pained face.

“I bought it especially for you,” he told her, and then considered her puffed face if she would stop grimacing at him and be pleased. Jesus, how he wanted to fuck her!

“It doesn’t write,” she stated.

“What does that even mean?” he asked.

“It doesn’t write,” she repeated.

“I really don’t know what you’re talking about, baby,” he said and lovingly brushed her hair. “Of all the crazy, weird, uncanny, impossible, improbable, supernatural things that can happen in this pit of shit world (like the VC sticking ostrich feathers in his ass and flying like a bat-spirit over the campus, he thought but did not say), a pencil cannot not-write. A pencil writes. That’s what it does. As a matter of fact, I used it before I gave it to you. I tested it.”

His hand had slid stealthily to her neck, from where her breasts were next. He could feel his penis rising steadily like the morning sun.

“See what it did to me!” she exclaimed and raised her skirt. There was a deep wound on her thigh.

“Holy-crapping-Lordy-Jesus-save-us-all!” he cried and jumped back like a missile.

She had stopped bleeding but the wound was frightening. Gaping, red, unhealthy, fat, it shook Casper badly, who usually shuddered almost superstitiously at the sight of blood, to the core. In a quick flash, it crossed his mind that he could not say for sure where the pencil had come from.

“How did that happen?” he asked, pointing at the yawning wound (it yawns like the VC’s ass packed with ostrich feathers, he thought crazily but did not say), pretending to be calm while inside he was near hysterics. He stepped back close to her.

“I was writing a report and this pencil couldn’t draw. So I put it on my reading table and fetched another. When I was done, I started to get off the chair, but I fell instead. I fell on this pencil.”

“How did you fall on it? You said you put it on your reading table. It was on your table, was it not?”

“I don’t know how it got to the floor,” she said uncertainly. “It was on the table all right. I know it was because I put it there myself and I could see it. But when I fell, it was on the floor and pointing upwards. Believe me, it was pointing upwards. And when I fell, I felt like something was pulling me down forcefully to the floor. I was being pulled downwards.”

“I’m sorry,” Casper said, too confused to think of anything else. After some silent seconds, he added, “I’ll take you to Sick Bay,” which was the student dispensary and where you could easily be overdosed to death or treated for gonorrhoea when you had malaria. One of Caspar’s classmates had been treated for brucellosis for three good months while he had been slowly wasting away and dying of tuberculosis, spreading it around the campus in the meantime. Yet the university trained doctors and nurses and pharmacists and the rest of their ilk.

The Vice Chancellor knew this and it pleased him immensely.

“Keep it. After all, it doesn’t write,” Miva said, giving back the evil pencil.

Evil pencil, Casper thought. Holy shit! He took it. “It’s alright. I’ll get you another.”

“I saw some words in my book, but I didn’t write them. RETURN ME RETURN ME RETURN ME NOW . . . Only they were almost misspelt, with bad spacing and all. I didn’t write those things, but they were all over my page. I don’t even understand what they’re about!”

Casper remembered the words he had seen all over his rough page, and was chilled.

“Do you recall them?” Miva asked, studying his reaction, and wincing from the pain in her fat thigh.

“No,” Casper lied; “just thought it’s weird.”

“They were written in a HB-pencil. That much I could tell. The one I had before you gave me this one is a 2B. But this one doesn’t write, so who wrote those words?”

“Let’s take care of your leg first. We’ll sort out the rest when we come back.”

“I’m scared.”

“Of what?” asked he with a boldness he did not feel at all. “Of a pencil?” mocked he. “But that is truly absurd, my dear. Don’t be scared. It is only a pencil. Perhaps one of your friends did write those things.”

“I was alone in the room and I had the book all along.”

“You’ll remember. No need to panic.”

Casper remembered and was shaken. He could feel a repulsive mixture of confusion and panic churning within him. Whose pencil was it, and where had it come from? Had it been in the rucksack? But it couldn’t possibly have dropped when the unseen intruder grabbed the rucksack. It had not been there shortly after the intruder was gone. It had not been there. It must have come from somewhere else. Otherwise how long would it take a pencil dropped on a slanting reading table to start rolling across it? It surely would do so immediately. This one had started rolling after some time.

When the stupefied faggoty-maggoty quacks and charlatans at Sick Bay had finished dressing Miva’s wound with hell-knew-what medication and prescribing to her a couple of painkillers, which, for all Casper cared, could easily have been ARVs for treating HIV/AIDS, he escorted Miva to her room in Hall 13, all the while bitterly regretting his forgone opportunity to screw her. He swore sorely at the pencil.

When he got back to his room, he took the pencil and examined it the way he would examine a faulty electrical circuit, with keenness and astounding scrutiny. But it was nothing more than a Staedtler Tradition Graphite HB pencil, made in Germany. Was it evil? Could it be harbouring evil powers? “An evil pencil?” scoffed Casper loudly. “Oh yeah, and next time there will be an evil sharpener or Biro or book or whatever! What a shitload of frothing crap!” There was that US writer who crapped up horrible shitloads of garbage about evil pissed off cars that killed people by their own free will. What was his name? King Kong? Miva had one of his books about an evil car named Christine or Christina or Christ n Tine or Tiny Christ. Aha, fuck him! Casper did not give a mosquito’s balls about him. A malevolent pencil would appeal to his morbidity and diabolism, though.

Casper was an engineer, and not just any engineer but an electrical engineer, which meant that he was categorically in the category of the most intelligent of engineers in the whole world who dealt with physical sciences. Engineers were sane. They made the world go around. They were the backbone of human civilization. So what was this shit about a pencil that hurt people and wrote on its own? He would be damned to admit it. He fetched a clean foolscap and made sketches on it with the pencil. It worked. “Now what was that bitch saying about the pencil not writing?” he asked wonderingly, not minding for a second the reference to his girlfriend as a bitch. “Ah! Women! They all have degrees and Masters and PhD’s in making complaints about anything and everything, even pencils! Which writing instrument is more reliable than a pencil in this pit of frothing shit universe? A pencil cannot just stop writing and can be used anywhere regardless of variations in pressure, temperature, or some other shit.” The pencil was fine, as far as Casper could tell.

The picture of the Pencil

But it was nothing more than a Staedtler Tradition Graphite HB Pencil.

He was still making sketches of complex circuitry when the pencil stopped working altogether. He scratched the paper with it harder and harder but it stubbornly made no more marks on it. And everything he had drawn suddenly disappeared, erased by invisible hands. This was plainly unbelievable. Devoted to make some sense out of this uncanny phenomenon, he decided to break the graphite and re-sharpen it. He tried three times, pressing it down on the tabletop and the bedstead, scratching it hard on the floor and the wall, and finally trying with his teeth, all to no avail. His teeth started to hurt. It was like biting steel. The graphite refused to break. It dug a hole on the wood of the table and the bedstead and left a groove on the floor and the wall. Resolute for once in his campus life, Casper told himself he had to get this one thing done right. Having no sharpeners in the room, he fetched a pocket knife and settled down to business. Holding the pencil in his left hand with its tip protruding between his thumb and forefinger and most of its length folded in his palm, he made a powerful stroke with the knife . . .

But the pencil moved back on its own just in time and he cut off his thumb like a roll of sausage, slashing it off diagonally at the first joint all the way through to the front where it dangled perilously, like a wounded bat, on a thin strand of pale skin. For the first few seconds, Casper was too stunned to feel the pain; hell, he did not even comprehend what had just happened. He stood still in his confining two-by-three metres room, the knife in his right hand, the pencil in his left, and the ugly wound in his thumb. He seemed to have lost his mind; he seemed mechanical as he looked at the knife, then at the pencil, and then at the wound. He dropped the knife, switched the pencil to his right hand, gripped it firmly, and spread his left hand, fingers apart. He did not know it when he raised the pencil and stabbed forcefully his wounded hand, the pencil piercing through the palm to the back and remaining stuck across it. Blood sprayed liberally from the severed thumb.

And now Casper screamed. His thoughts returned at once and he saw what he had done. He made a shrill sharp abrupt metallic squeal, like the sound of a bat. He was bleeding uncontrollably. His thumb was damaged and the artery in it was squirting forth blood disgustingly, frighteningly, in pulsating jets. And there was an ugly hole through his hand. The pencil had made him stab himself. Terrified, enraged and in pain, he yanked out the pencil and carelessly dumped it away. He rushed for tissue from his closet and tremblingly unrolled a handful. As he moved around the room struggling to stanch the blood, he did not see that the pencil had moved from where it had fallen and was now pointing upwards on his path. He stepped on it and it penetrated full length into his right foot.

It did not snap as would have been the normal case in view of the fact that Casper’s sole was hard like carapace and his weight was stupendous. More out of terror than out of pain, Casper opened his mouth widely and yelled like a retarded child. He slumped down on the bed and continued to cry. His roommate absent, there was no one to assist him immediately. He tried to pull the pencil out of his foot but the pain was too unbearable. It had lodged deep into his nerves, and even if he survived this maddening torment, he would limp for the rest of his life.

While he cried and moaned, helpless and tortured, the pencil came out of his foot by itself. It came out fast as if pulled out by something. It was certainly pulled out. There was something else in the room with Casper, something that he could not see, and it was controlling the pencil. This realization drove Casper mad and he got off the bed abruptly and limped towards the door. But he lost balance and fell like a bag, hitting his head on the bedstead and landing on his back hard enough to shake the room. He scrambled up, staggering, befuddled, his vision bleary, his head throbbing. He saw the pencil. It was coated with a profusion of blood. He grabbed it and cursed it and threw it into the trashcan. Let it stay there until he could return it to where he’d found it. Yes, return it. He had to return it. The words that had been scrawled on his rough page and in Miva’s book suddenly made sense to him. The pencil was alive, haunted or bewitched or just fucked up. It was probably a voodoo pencil. The dark forces that roamed the universe every night had trapped him with it. And they were here to torture him to death unless he hastened to return it to them.

Maybe it belonged to the VC! Yes, that made much sense! The pencil belonged to the Vice Chancellor of the University of Nairobi. The witching son of a bitch must have been flying over the campus with his ostrich feathers stuck in his ass when he heard Casper cursing him aloud after the watchman. He must have then sneaked in on a dozing Casper and trapped him in the room with the voodoo pencil. It was the VC, no doubt. Nobody else could have pulled off this much diabolism but that corrupt shit-kicking ghoul who painted walls beautifully and grew costly lawns and flowers around the university while lecturers were severely underpaid and academic levels decayed like corpses and classes were thoroughly empty of knowledge. It was him.

This knowledge gave Casper some hope. He now knew his adversary. It was scarier and more agonizing to deal with an unknown, unseen thing intent on demolishing you, but the fear and the agony became much reduced when the enemy was known and visible. He could call people and inform them of what was happening to him. If he died, at least they would know the truth. And they might be inspired enough to pursue justice. Stepping firmly on a rug with his left leg and grimacing tearfully, he returned to the bed and collapsed down on it. He reached for his cell phone from the reading table and called Miva. He called her three times but she did not answer . . .

. . . because by then she was herself dying horribly: the VC’s whacky-quacky relatives at Sick Bay had given her drugs which suppress colorectal cancer, and not painkillers. In addition, the nurse who’d handled her, after cleaning the wound with hydrogen peroxide, had ended up contaminating it anew with a used cotton wool. Miva’s pain and agony had thus accelerated astronomically. Then the evil, perverted, bewitched pencil had poisoned her with its darkness and paralyzed her entire body. She was now lying mortally on her back, straight as a corpse, her body devoured with a blazing, living, wormy pain. She could not speak or cry, for her throat was stiff. Only her eyes could move in their agonized sockets, rolling, swimming, rotating uselessly this way and that. She was dying and she knew it. What had Casper done to her? she wondered woefully.

Next, Casper called Fatty, the friend who had once told him that he was built like an ostrich. Fatty was obese and perpetually mean-tempered and cantankerous. He had once insulted Casper—over a crate of cheap beer and a roll of second-hand weed, of course—that Miva walked like a pregnant duck. Casper had told him that he was fat like ten people, to which he had reacted by calling Casper a preposterous moron and then went on to adlib a song titled Casper Gasper the Ostrich Man. Casper had then called him a quagga. “What’s a quagga?” he’d asked thickly. “An extinct zebra,” Casper had said, uncertain, yet pretending to be confident. And Fatty, annoyed, had chased Casper upstairs with an empty bottle of beer in his right hand and a thick glowing roll of weed in his left. After five steps he had sat down panting, his overworked heart almost exploding.

Fatty was always drinking or munching something. Like all of Casper’s classmates, he did not know any practical engineering; he thus found consolation in some form of obscure poetry called Haiku about which Casper did not give a cockroach’s ass. Fatty plumed himself on being the only student in the university who knew Haiku, as if it mattered. He had once written one to describe Casper and it had read like this:

Tall ugly shithead
grinning like a fed doggy
over cheap shit food

Casper had retaliated by writing one to describe him:

He a buttsteak
Like a steak of butt
He an asshole
Like a hole of ass
Fat ass

“That’s not a haiku!” Fatty had cried.

“Fuck haiku!” Casper had said.

“And fuck you, Casper! Fuck you! Fuck you till Jesus returns to burn your ass!”

Casper had informed him that he had the lead IQ in a mob. “What does that mean?” he’d asked thickly. “It means that if you join any mob, everybody there will end up with an IQ the size of yours, it being the dumbest in the world,” Casper had explained patiently, and Fatty had sworn that in the future he’d rather die than spare an atom of piss to save Casper if Casper was burning to death.

As he sat on the bed, swathed in insufferable pain and bleeding generously, Casper thought that Fatty should have been the last to call, in light of the fact that he was clumsy and hateful, a humpty-dumpty clodhopper with a bad attitude. But Casper had no other friends in the university; the institution teemed with abused students who also abused themselves while foolishly defining the abuse as life—“that’s life,” they’d say—yet so contemptible that death-row inmates seemed like transcendent angels.

If two Kenyans are picked randomly from across the country with the only difference between them being that one is a high school graduate with an outstanding A and the other is a hard-knocked criminal tough as nails and grim as death; if it further happens that the student is enrolled to study electrical engineering in the University of Nairobi while the criminal is sent to jail, then at the end of five years the two will have equal IQ with the difference being that one of them has papers claiming that he has a degree which he really doesn’t have.

To Casper’s utmost horror, the pencil jumped out of the trashcan and flew towards his face. He cried aloud and wet himself like a baby.

Fatty, despite his worrisomely colossal weight, despite having sworn to rather die than spare an atom of piss to save Casper if Casper was burning to death, responded to the call and arrived at his friend’s room thirty minutes later. It took him that long to climb the stairs from first floor to third floor. He moved like an exceedingly fat worm, seeming to roll onwards rather than walk, his enormous body undulating as if he were an alien maggot, like that monstrosity that sucked out someone’s brain in Starship Troopers. He pushed open Casper’s door. He was starting to sing Casper Gasper the Ostrich Man when he took one look into the room and choked dangerously on the Strawberry yoghurt he had been slurping down his oily throat. He jerked backwards, wobbled, doubled over to cough out the yoghurt but his heart exploded forthwith and he spew forth a copious supply of dark-red blood.

But not before his strangely poetic mind formed a Haiku to describe his dead friend:

Face frozen plastic,
eyes open, dry, unseeing
in eternal still.

The pencil was fixed deeply into Casper’s forehead. His bed was awash with blood. He was dead, with his eyes open, his mouth twisted, gaping.

There was another mysterious death in a different room one floor above Casper’s. A student had been strangled by a black rucksack. It was the thief who had stolen the bag and ruined Casper’s dear life.

In the Architecture and Design Building, the following notice hung askew on the notice board:

IF YOU TOOK A BLACK BAG FROM ONE OF THE CLASSES OR IF YOU TOOK ANY THING THAT WAS IN IT, RETURN IT INSTANTLY OR YOU WILL DIE!

Picture of the warning

Hanging on ADD building notice board.

The pencil had been in the rucksack!

The End.

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Comments
  1. Peter Nena says:

    This story is about the University of Nairobi and the morbid academic failure of which it boasts as an academic achievement.

  2. dweezer19 says:

    Wow! Peter, you do horror very well. Mr. king would be honored by your reference and Im sure, impressed with your style. Good job! When will you be writing your novel? This guy really hated University didn’t he? Lol

    • Peter Nena says:

      One night in 2008 I went to study in the Architecture and Design Building in the University of Nairobi and found a HB pencil left behind on the table. The owner, a second-year girl, came back for it a few minutes later. But this story was birthed then. We went to the university hoping to be intellectually improved, but we were only being made stupid. I can write about the UoN forever, endless stories about it, and I’m not sure I have a lot of good things to say. It was an awful experience, contrary to what you’d expect in an academic institution of higher earning. I started a manuscript about it called American Wing, which in fact is the building that houses the Faculty of Engineering. It was opened by an American politician in the 60’s. You’ll read it when I’m finished. It’s collection of my entire experience there fictionalized in a novel. This Casper character, Miva, and the VC all feature in it as well, along with lots of other people.

      • dweezer19 says:

        I will look forward to it then. I had the feeling this animosity was very real and personal for you. Unfortunately this sad state of apathy goes on in many institutions that are ahppily sucking in the money of hard working, dedicated students who truly believe they are enriching their lives by going there to learn. Im sorry that was the case for you.

    • Peter Nena says:

      It is personal when you don’t get the worth of your money and time invested in the institution. Education in Kenya has gone straight to Hell. Few people remark about it. The majority of us do not seem to care. Even fewer seem to know what education should really involve. I guess decay is inevitable.

      • Cheryl says:

        I believe we could sit and talk all day about many subjects, but education and its fallacy would definitely top the list!

      • Peter Nena says:

        Indeed. It’d top the list. Sometimes I wonder how we could have strayed too far and gone so wrong. When we were in school, there were those guys who were never committed and loved shortcuts. They would come late, leave early, copy assignments, cheat in exams, etc. Teachers said they would not go anywhere. But they won. The system has been bent to favour that lot. If you spoke to a college or university graduate in Kenya you’d not know he’s one until he says he is, which time you become dumbfounded. And newspaper reports say kids who’ve been in public schools for eight years cannot perform simple arithmetic they should have learnt Kindergarten!

      • dweezer19 says:

        Yes, and if you complain about illiteracy in pblic forums or in thr written word on social sites, etc. you are told you are being too harsh, that it does not matter HOW something is siad. It is important for right communication. Here in Louisiana there is always the issue of athletics vs academics in universities.

      • dweezer19 says:

        And look at my typos! Being in a hurry. Sorry.

      • Peter Nena says:

        So schools have failed. And so have churches, marriages, governments, law, medicine, etc. What do we have left? I truly do not know. Humanity, it seems to me, is done with its course.

      • dweezer19 says:

        I personally feel that is why there seems to be so much apathy among the youth. What is their driving force if we do not emphasize the need to improve the world we live in? They are being taught, instead, to abuse one another, take advantage of all they see and to use it up while they can! It was too much, too quickly for our human race. It is the tale of Atlantis, one that I feel was a forewarning rather than an historical legend.

      • Peter Nena says:

        You are very right. We have nothing left to offer the youth. Everything that was once good about us has been turned against us. Gender, freedom, race, tribe, religion, education, etc! We have corrupted and perverted them to become tools for violence, war, and murder. In our pursuit of power, we have left nothing untouched. We now have children with no values, hence apathy. What is there to care about anymore?

      • dweezer19 says:

        Exactly and we have become too sophistocated for mere religious theologies to drive us into fearful submission. But we dont use our new level of intelligence as I believe it was intended. We have used to for all manner of perversion to our souls and the demise of our physical world.

    • Peter Nena says:

      Relationships, love, especially LOVE, have been more than abused. What can we teach anybody about them now? The good stories sound like fairy tales, farfetched and unbelievable. Perhaps the worst thing is that after we have corrupted something we begin to refer to the corrupted version as the reality. It is not the reality.

      • dweezer19 says:

        What bothers me is that people seem to want only to share stories of suffering even in fiction without any thought for how to see a better way. Or they go the opposite way into some cotton candy unrealistic place. I refuse to write books just to sell something. If only one person finds comfort or a reason to think more deeply I am happy. .

      • Peter Nena says:

        We have fixed ourselves in a state where only bad things attract our attention absolutely. Things that do with death, suffering, accidents, breakups, rebellion, etc. I really don’t know how we got here. Even the Bible has these same themes recurring endlessly in it. It baffles me. But like we agreed with you sometime back, a newborn child can be trained differently, has the absolute capacity to be different from us. First, the parents, especially the parents, must be made to understand this. Then the babies can be made different. Otherwise, the instant the babies are taken to school for a better future all this madness will reign forever. They are recruited into a diabolically unchanging mentality, a terrible Hell, that extinguishes all life from us and everything else around us. I’d like to raise my children differently. There is that South African philosophy of Ubuntu–do you know of it? A man named Michael Tellinger advocates for it. You can look him up on YouTube. He has a good philosophy. I support him. I hope he succeeds and maintains his belief.

      • dweezer19 says:

        That sounds vaguely familiar but I will look it up to refresh my memory. My oldest son teaches at a Montessori school which is a lovely teaching philosophy. Sadly, it is a private venture and most people cannot afford it. It also must be implemented beginning very early for it to be effective. He works with 9-18 mos old children. My third son’s favorite John Lennon song is “Working Class Hero”. I like it too. My favorite line is, “they send you to school for 20 odd years and then they expect you to pick a career.” My favorite Lennon song is Imagine. Imagine that! :))

  3. dweezer19 says:

    Oh, and your description of VC id classic! LMAO!

    • Peter Nena says:

      That one just popped up when I began the story. I don’t know where it came from. If King approves of my story I should be exceedingly exhilarated. I admired that man like I’d done no other author. Pet Sematary chilled me to the bones and I didn’t want to go outside alone for a week! Thank you, Cheryl, for being here, and for just being you–so supportive and ever too kind.

  4. Damyanti says:

    This works on the level of satire as well as horror! 🙂

    • Peter Nena says:

      Satire must have just put itself there. One of those unplanned things which happen to writers. I intended to depict the university as I saw it in those days. And of course a little dose of horror is never so bad. Thanks for your comment, Damyanti. By the way, you are doing great with the A to Z Challenge.

      • Damyanti says:

        I think the unintended works very well in this case.

        The only tip for this story is trying to reduce its word count by another 10-20 % to further strengthen the story.

      • Peter Nena says:

        I have a weakness for words. I want to use all the words I know in a single story. I read a story and I realize I love all the words in it, whether its mine or someone else’s. I always need somebody to identify and correct redundancies. I have a friend, Paul, who does, though he’s presently committed to other things. Otherwise, for myself, all words are great. In the preface to The Stand, Stephen King said he has the same problem, which is why The Stand was too long and voluminous. When I read that, I said, “Ah, so it’s not just me!” and I became comfortable. But I really need to observe my word count seriously. Thank you for this helpful tip.

  5. Dan Antion says:

    I am glad that I read this first thing in the morning than last at night. Vivid imagery and I like how you included the girlfriend in the process. I was unable to get ahead of you as I read this. I don’t usually read horror because it is somewhat predictable. This was not.

    • Peter Nena says:

      If a reader can predict a story, then the writer has an enormous problem. I read Sydney Sheldon in high school. He always tricked me. I remember one of his titles–I think it was Windmills of the Gods–with a terrorist character named Neusa Munez or Angel. That was the best he pulled off on me. I had to read the book twice. Agatha Christie is still my favourite plot-twister, though. Thanks, Dan, for taking time to visit. I appreciate it hugely. Happy Easter!

  6. mr. hyde says:

    Evil pencil… humorous horror. The vc with feathers in his xxx. Nice style and poise, I can’t wait for the AW manuscript

  7. Wow! I really enjoyed this, quite possibly your best yet in my opinion. The mix of horror and satire worked extremely well for me, whether intentional or otherwise. I also enjoyed the raw and gritty imagery, as I’ve done in all your stories; I imagine part of its originality comes from writing in and from a different cultural perspective, but whatever the reason, it gives your writing a real sense or originality and a style that’s immediately recognizable as yours. Great story!!!

    • Peter Nena says:

      Actually, I didn’t know I was writing satire until I saw the comments here. I reread the story and discovered there was indeed some satire in it. I am glad you think this is my best yet. I always try to improve over the last. Thank you, Paul, for visiting as you’d promised. I’m happy you had fun.

  8. Esther Lopez says:

    I must confess that at the beginning of this story I was confused. You said “witch” and I have thought that the VC was a woman. So, I simply ask you? Why have you called him bitch and not a warlock? Anyway, I have found some fun on it. I was imagining the VC of my college with the ostrich feathers too… Hahaha. I think all of us could have some anecdotes to share of our student years 🙂

    • Peter Nena says:

      He is a man and a witch. I could indeed have called him a warlock, but that word is unfamiliar. I considered it and then settled for the witch, which does not necessarily have to be female, only mostly. But maybe the VC is a hermaphrodite devil. I’m glad you had fun, Esther. Thanks for coming.

    • Peter Nena says:

      The more menacing the better. He should have been fired. But his bosses are worse than he is. Someday I am going to finish the American Wing book. Then you will understand.

      • Esther Lopez says:

        I have had a crazy idea… If you want to represent him/her/hermaphrodite.. to show him more menacing in your American Wing. Why not to play with the other definitions of the word “vice”? Maybe he would like feathers because he has some kind of sexual identity crisis… but maybe he also like other kind of immoral things… I let this up to you. But I think it would make more interesting this double/triple secret life. What do you think? And thank you dweezer19 to join our debate 🙂

      • dweezer19 says:

        Oh hello there, Esther, I didn’t mean to intrude. I do love the story and can’t wait to see it expounde upon.

      • Esther Lopez says:

        Don’t worry! It is not an intrusion I like the comments that you make in Peter’s page. For me you can join to our conversation when you want 🙂 Have a nice day!

      • dweezer19 says:

        Thank you and may yours be wonderful as well!

    • Peter Nena says:

      Indeed, Esther!

      • Peter Nena says:

        I think it’s fine. But crazy. I like crazy. Him having sexual identity crisis and sticking feathers in ass because of it. Ha! It never crossed my mind. I can make him really twisted.

  9. Stephen Thom says:

    I really enjoyed this. It was twisted, full of invention, interesting word choice, imagery, meaning and dark sparkles. great work 🙂

    • Peter Nena says:

      I’m glad you enjoyed it. It uplifts my heart to know that somebody enjoyed my story. Thanks, man, for visiting, and for your uplifting comment. Happy weekend to you!

  10. that is horrific!! and he didn’t even get to write the exams!! Arggh!! a wicked piece of story writing at which you excel!!!

    • Peter Nena says:

      Are you horrified? I think wicked is good in a story, because something in us says, it’s just a made-up story. It’s like when you watch a bloody movie and you tell yourself, it’s not real blood. Thanks, Cybele. I hope no nightmares come your way.

  11. I’m not one to read horror, but this was great! I love your use of imagery 🙂 Though I will say getting stabbed with a pencil is NOT something I would wish on anyone!

    Well done, glad I read it!

    • Peter Nena says:

      When something as harmless as a pencil gets to kill a man on its own . . . it’s like a well-intended praiseworthy institution like the university destroying him instead. The pencil in this story is symbolic of the university itself.
      Thank you, Meg. I appreciate your time and comment. (Meanwhile all crazy questions seem to have evaporated from my mind. You know how things are when you need them; they take off. But they’ll come back and I shoot one at’cha.) Good day and have happy weekend.

  12. Tish Farrell says:

    Hi Peter. This was covered by Damyanti, but thought I’d stick my oar in too. Your flow of words and wealth of imagery are astounding. I envy your fluency. But it is true, less is always more. Cutting can be really hard though, and painful. Have you tried setting yourself a word limit before you start? If you know you have only so many words to play with, it can help to focus attention both on the structure and on the use of only the most powerful words. After all, you can keep writing more stories to use up all the excess words! I found writing for competitions good practise – trying to make a story work in 2,000 words for instance. In any event, keep writing. You do have real talent

    • Peter Nena says:

      When I write for competition, I struggled more with word count than the story. I’ve been told to cut down on adjectives, adverbs, and redundant descriptions. I am working on it. My subsequent stories will feature less and less of them.
      Thanks, Tish. That post of Elementaita is excellent.

      • Tish Farrell says:

        You have a very visual imagination. Have you tried instead, of word-counting – to plan out your stories in scenes first – storyboarding as film makers do- a couple of sentences describing the scene. That way you start with the bare bones, and it makes it easier to see where you need words, and where you don’t. Just a thought. Glad you liked the Elmenteita piece.

      • Peter Nena says:

        Storyboarding? I have never considered it. I will try it. Thanks again.

  13. judemutuma says:

    This is scary and funny too!
    Totally depicts the nonchalance in our institutions of higher learning, i can relate.
    Big up, Pete

  14. Rajlakshmi says:

    woww I am hiding all my pencils now… that really scared me. Absolutely brilliant story. I am off to read some more of your work.

    • Peter Nena says:

      If you see one moving by itself, run. Ha, ha! But it will probably chase you across town. Thanks for visiting. Appreciated hugely.

  15. Nancy Oyula says:

    Wow! This is a piece I enjoyed reading 🙂

  16. Crimson Quintessence/True Angel says:

    Reblogged this on Angel's Reverie and commented:

    Have you seen Dr. Killpatient’s Pencil????
    Read this Horror ,Fantasy, Fiction Short Story…by Peter Nena

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