Archive for the ‘Mystery’ Category

                                                                                                                         I.

On a Wednesday evening in December, I went to my client’s home in Karen to pick up a cheque for the work I had done for him in the course of two years. Earlier, he had called me to arrange the meeting. But I did not find him and I was disappointed. It was not the first time he had lied to me.

The electrical consultants had approved my accounts eleven months before when the work had been completed, which meant that it now was up to the client to acknowledge them and pay my dues, and up to me to chase him like a dog in heat. I had done so, and I was beginning to hate Mr. Malek with a passion.

He had been constructing his home—this very home—and I had been the electrical and telecommunications contractor. The money he owed me was due to variations in the cost of electrical installations. Most of the power and lighting fittings recommended by the electrical engineer had been ignored by the interior designer who had wanted more class and style befitting Mr. Malek’s social and financial position. (He owned an airline operating between Kenya and Ethiopia.) So a new list had been made, and it had been my duty to purchase and install those fittings. When, however, Mr. Malek saw the amount of variation in cost from the original, he had repudiated my claim, arguing that the interior designer had not consulted him in person and had instead worked with his wife.

Such rubbish! She had been very active in choosing the windows and the doors and the tiles and the bathroom and kitchen stuff. Yet I had not heard of any complaints from the contractors involved in those areas. But I knew why Mr. Malek was frustrating me. I did not have enough money to fight him in court. He could buy his way out with only a quarter of what he owed me. Also, when we began the project he had remarked that I was too young—I had been twenty-nine—to be paid so much money, and that I would most likely squander it all on drinking and whoremongery. He had actually said “whoremongery”, which had sort of surprised me since he had not known me well enough to describe me so. I had laughed him off, though, knowing how wrong he was. The job had been the first big break for my company, which had been three years old then. After this, I would be able to tender for even bigger projects.

When I went to his home that Wednesday evening, I found his wife. She was a pleasant person, and so pretty and beautiful you could stare at her until your eyes popped out of your skull and fell at your feet—if you were into staring at people, that was. She knew my situation and so she bid me sit down and wait for her husband, promising me that he would soon be home with the cheque. Meanwhile she engaged me in a conversation.

She was an Ethiopian, light-skinned and with lavish jet-black hair and deep intense eyes that could bore into the most genuine place in a man and render him weak, awakening perhaps the most powerful form of energy in the universe. My university lecturer who had taught Introduction to Philosophy to first-year students including electrical engineers used to advice us not to be carried away by the light-skinned girls in class because they were only deprived of some quantity of melanin and that given enough of the chemical, would eventually darken and become just as black as everyone else.

But some mystery about light-skinned women always had me enslaved. So I ended up chatting away my hours with Mr. Malek’s wife until her maids served us dinner and we were both very animated. Soon afterwards, however, it began to rain. It was a hard rain, relentless and full of thunder and flashes of lightning, and by eleven o’clock it had not shown any signs of abating. Mr. Malek had not returned by then.

When the woman was tired, she asked the maids to arrange the guestroom for my use. My first impulse was to decline her offer, but I saw no logic in it. The storm was getting worse, and with Nairobi roads so poorly drained, it might sweep my car into a ditch and drown me. Besides, the jam was now impenetrable all over the city. I might sleep on the road. So I accepted to sleep in the house that was becoming my enemy’s.

                                                                                                                      II.

I woke up suddenly, thinking that the sun was up already. But it was only 2.37am. I had been dreaming that Mr. Malek and his wife were fighting over my stay.

I did not go back to sleep. The dream had resolved me and I wished to leave. It was one thing to pursue your hard-earned cheque deep into the night, but a totally different one to get all cosy with your client’s wife—especially if the said client despised you—till she could ask you to spend the night in his house with him gone. Mr. Malek might murder me and it would be ruled in court as a crime of passion, for which he would certainly be pardoned, being wealthy, powerful and all. The woman was good-hearted, but good-hearted people almost always ended up with devils for partners.

There was another way to get my money from Mr. Malek, but one which I had been loath to consider. I could bribe the architect, who had also been the project manager, to persuade him. Most clients trusted the architect but not the engineers, especially the electrical engineers who were rather too abstract in their specifications and designs. The contractors, however, were believed to be crooked.

I looked out the window and saw that the storm had reduced to a manageable drizzle. I dressed and left.

The front and back doors had security sensors installed, but the one to the back of the kitchen, which opened into the store and laundry rooms and the servant quarters’ yard, did not. I used it, and as I exited into the yard, I saw someone disappearing around the garage. I saw him very well. A tall dark man with a sort of disconcerting aspect—he seemed to be creeping along from the perimeter wall, hunched somewhat.

I realized after some seconds that I had stopped and was trembling. I looked up at the sky and took in three long, deep breaths until I was calm again. I had intended to enter the servant quarters and awaken the garden boy who also doubled as the gatekeeper at night. I needed him to open the garage and the gate for me. But I decided to see what the tall dark man was up to at three in the morning. It was against my every instinct.

The moon was overhead, though paler than usual, its pathless course obscured with scudding rain clouds. The drizzle was too light to drench me.

As I neared the garage, I heard a movement, as of a hand brushing against the door and hastened my pace. But when I reached the garage, I found nobody there. I was taken aback and even had a moment to wonder if perhaps Mr. Malek had been out for fresh air; but that was unlikely since all the lights were out in the main house. Also, the tall dark man could not have been Mr. Malek.

Something—that quiet voice in the head which knows the truth beforehand and always tries to save us from danger—told me to give it up and get out of there. I began to turn and head back to the servant quarters. But at that very instant, I was struck by a novel idea which motivated me. I thought that if the man was an intruder and if I chanced to catch him myself, Mr. Malek would be happy with me and would write my cheque at once. I realized later on how stupid that idea really was . . . but, as they say, regrets abound in the aftermath.

So I searched around. The whole compound was well lit, so that there was nowhere to hide. The man had to be somewhere. I went round the house once in the clockwise direction, and again in the anticlockwise. He was nowhere. But on coming back to the garage, I found him there. He was just standing there, as if waiting for me. A strange-looking thing, indeed; he was tall and vast; he was enormous. I thought he was taller than he had been when I saw him creeping from the perimeter wall. He dwarfed me by at least five feet, which made him over eleven feet tall. He could look over the perimeter wall like someone looking over a balcony. Yet he was not thin; this man was built for his height, his shoulders, arms, waist, and thighs all proportionate and sturdy. He did not seem to be wearing anything.

                                                                                                                   III.

I stopped abruptly upon coming face to face with him. We were so close he could reach out with his long arms and grab me. But I could not move. Something happened to my stomach which weakened me; my heart moved to my stomach and thudded there like an evil thing, and my knees were not mine.

The man had not been there. He had not been there when I came to the garage the first time. He had not been there when I went round the house twice. As a matter of fact, he had not been there just moments before I reached the garage for the second time. I had been keen, but I had not seen him.

He had just materialized in front of me, resolved himself like a ghost. Yet he was too vast, too tremendous, to just come out of nowhere.

He reached out for me and placed his hand on my head. At the same time, all the lights went out. The switchboard for all the external lights was in the gatehouse. I wanted to turn around to see if there was someone else at the gate but was too paralyzed to do so.

The world turned black. The moon had been devoured by the scudding clouds, the cold gaze of the stars blinded. The man vanished from my view, but his hand remained on my head. It was too rough and too hot and too huge to be a human’s. I jerked back. But his grip was like that of a steel vice and I thought he would squeeze my head till it burst like an egg.

He lifted me. He did so as if I did not weigh anything at all. Then he shook me thoroughly till I thought my neck would snap and pulled me to him. He was hot. The closer I got to him, the more I felt like I was myself afire.

His eyes were ablaze beneath nest-like brows. They shone like deadly evil things; lurid and ghastly, hardened with fury and wrath, and even death; my will broke when I met them and I shut my eyes in great fear and agony. His giant face was all muscle, taut as ropes, hard and jagged like a mountain rock.

In a low, throaty voice, though contemptuous and hateful as well, he said: “Were you looking for me? Here I am, then. Do as you wish.”

He paused. But when I only moaned and kicked feebly and whimpered and wet myself, he added: “Vanish!

Then he cast me down and I fell very hard on my back. The lights came back on just then, and as I scrambled away from him, he turned and opened the garage door. He rolled it up, then doubled up himself—though I thought he shrunk!—and went in. He had what looked like black scales and hair all over his back.

I opened my mouth to scream and awake everyone but stopped when my head caught fire.

                                                                                                                    IV.

When I came to, the garden boy was shaking me on the shoulder. I jumped to my feet at once and spun round and round in a disoriented way. I did not know where I was. So I gaped about, and when I could tell that I was still at Mr. Malek’s, I saw that it was 6am and the sun was on its way up. I had still been lying on the same spot on the pavement outside the garage where I had fallen. I was drenched and dishevelled. I could not tell when I had become unconscious and lost three hours.

Mr. Malek, his wife, and all their servants were standing around me, looking at me with a mixture of curiosity and pity. When I turned to them, something about me made them move back with a cringe.

“Jeru,” Mr. Malek was saying. “What is the matter with you?”

“A man,” I said and pointed at the garage. I could not finish. My head . . . Oh, my head! I grabbed my head with both hands and shut my eyes and clenched my teeth. I was that way for some time. My head was exploding and splitting and burning all at once. My body was burning and itching uncontrollably.

“What?” Mr. Malek was asking.

“A man entered the garage,” I shouted. “I caught him and . . . ah!” I stopped to scratch my face, my neck, my stomach. I was drenched, but I was burning.

“You caught a man entering my garage?” Mr. Malek asked.

“Yes! A huge man. Tall, evil-looking. He beat me. He did this to me!”

Mr. Malek sighed. “You caught him?” he repeated with disbelief, and I looked at him.

“Jeru, are you okay?” his wife asked me.

I met her eyes and a pang of embarrassment shot through me. I remembered that I had urinated on myself and stepped farther back from her. I reduced the scratching and the shaking, an almost impossible feat.

“I’m sick,” I told her. “I need to go home.”

“Yes. You need to go home,” her husband said. “You look sick, choosing to remain in the rain all night like this. What were you thinking?”

“The man did something to me,” I told him.

“There was no man,” he said. “I think you hallucinated. If there was anyone, the dogs would have got him. In fact, I don’t understand how they let you lie here for this long. Unless you’re acquainted with them, are you?”

I shook my head. I had forgotten about the dogs. Mr. Malek had the five meanest dogs I had ever seen. Trained murderers, they killed anything that crossed into the compound, even lizards. One contractor had remarked that he thought they could sniff out the Devil himself and scare him back to hell if one day he decided to show up here, and we had all laughed at that. I had not seen them at night. They had been part of the reason I had wanted the garden boy with me. Alone, they could have mauled me to death. How had I forgotten them and followed the man? And why hadn’t they attacked me? Where had they been? I had not heard even a single bark.

“I know all you really want is your cheque,” Mr. Malek was saying. “You didn’t have to be so weird about it. I had it with me. I was delayed by the storm.”

He pulled out a brown A4 envelop from his pocket and handed it to me. I took it with trembling, burning-itching hands.

“There,” he said. “Case closed! Now you’re a rich man!” he added and laughed.

“There was a man,” I told him. “I saw him and he touched me. He was hot!”

“A hot man?” he mocked and they all laughed. I thought there was a tightening in his throat and a hard glitter in his eyes when he laughed. He was forcing.

He was an Ethiopian, too, six-two, robust, healthy, with a lot of curly hair and dulled, sunken, but stern eyes, and a sharp nose. His cheekbones were so high his eyes appeared to have grown where his forehead was supposed to be. As he pretended to laugh, his thick brows bridged over his nose and his eyes seemed somewhat crossed. When I first met him, I had thought that he had a curious air about him, an inexplicable shadow, something forbidding and unsavoury. It made him formidable, the way a rock python is, and because he was excessively wealthy, he was indeed formidable. I feared him.

“Can you drive?” he was asking.

“No, he cannot,” his wife answered. “He is burning. Do you see that? Jeru, what is that smoke coming out of you, my dear?”

I loved to hear her calling me “my dear” and I almost smiled, but I was checked by the subdued hysteria in her voice. I saw that my skin was producing twisting smoky-foggy things. They were not evaporating skywards, though, like smoke or fog is supposed to do; they were blanketing my skin, engulfing me.

“Then Silas will take you home,” Mr. Malek said.

“Silas is planting my flowers. He has to do it now before the sun catches.”

“Well, then. Robi will drive him. Robi, he’s all yours! This burning, smoking delusional man is all yours!”

                                                                                                                      V.

Robi was the eldest of the maids. She was thirty, two years my junior, plump and with a genial disposition. She had been looking at me with more concern and pity in her eyes than had the others, which must be why Mr. Malek had chosen her. She backed out of the garage and reversed, then stopped and opened the passenger door for me. I entered and we started towards the gate where Silas was already standing by to open it.

Neither of us spoke until we had reached my estate. I lived in Racecourse along Ngong Road. Traffic was thin on the Karen side, and so we were there in no time. I thanked Robi and as I made to open the door, she stopped me and I looked at her.

She uttered a sigh and her bosom fell, shoulders slumped.

“You scare me,” she said. “If I didn’t know you, Jeru, I would not have driven you.”

She was squinting. “Why are you squinting at me?” I demanded.

“What is really wrong with you?” she shot back.

“I am sick.”

“What kind of sickness makes people look like that?”

“Like what?”

She squinted some more and made another emotional sigh. The gesture scared me and I sat up.

She was studying me. I became aware that I had scratched my neck, thighs, arms, and stomach till the skin came off. I also became aware that I may be stinking of urine.

“That thing,” she said and paused. “That smoke issuing from your body is increasing. You are beginning to look vague. Like a person in a fog. It is surrounding you. I have to squint to make you out clearly, although you’re just an arm’s length from me. Then it is like I’m seeing two of you. But that maybe because I’m squinting too much.”

“I don’t know what you mean,” I replied morosely. But even as I did, I recalled how Mr. Malek, his wife and the servants had been looking at me—not symmetrically. It had been as if our faces were not aligned, as if my head had moved to my right shoulder and they were trying to look at me straight in the eyes!

“That man you saw . . .” Robi said.

“What about him?” I riposted before she could finish.

She squinted at me again. “I have to tell you something. You must promise not to repeat it to anyone.”

“Is it something that will endanger my life?” I asked.

“No,” she shook her head. “But I may lose my job.”

“Okay, then. I won’t tell.”

“I have seen that man,” she whispered, leaning towards me. I gaped at her, nonplussed.

“I have seen him twice,” she went on. “The day we moved into the house. Last year. We were all very excited. Mr. Malek threw a house-blessing party and invited his friends. But around three o’clock, when everyone had gone, I lingered in the kitchen soaking things, arranging stuff. Then I came out. I did not want to sleep yet; so sat in the yard and took out my phone to see who was online. But something fell into the compound from outside the fence just then. It fell very hard and startled me.”

“What did you do?” I prompted when she stopped.

“It fell from the wall behind our quarters, you know, the north side. I jumped up and saw a gigantic man crossing towards the main house. I started screaming, but just then I saw that dog called Nubi. It was just lying down by my chair with its head raised but doing nothing about the intruder. So I ran into my room and shut myself inside.”

“Who is he? What is he?” I asked.

“I don’t know. The next time I saw him was almost seven months later. I don’t know if he had returned in between. I don’t care. I just vanished into my room and forgot about him. That first time I almost made the same mistake you made.”

“What mistake?”

“You didn’t follow the dogs,” she said. “That’s what I do. If I think there has been an intrusion, if anything odd is happening at all, I look at what the dogs are doing about it first. The dogs are always right. On those two occasions I was there, they acted as if they couldn’t do anything about the man. I could see they had sensed him but chosen to let him do whatever had brought him. So I thought he might not be dangerous after all.”

“He did this to me,” I reminded her. “You never told anyone about him?”

“No. At first I wanted to, I really wanted to; I woke up thinking only about it. But when neither the boss nor his wife reported anything odd, I just let it go.”

“But how can you be so cautious, Robi?” I wondered.

She chuckled. “I am superstitious,” she said and leered at me, laughed nervously. “It means I’m always watching out for weird stuff: things moving by themselves, invisible people passing by, calling out for help.”

It was my time to laugh. “Calling out for help, huh?” I jeered.

“I’ve seen things, Jeru,” she picked up with a more sombre tone. “Things are not always what we think they are. Nothing is ever so simple. One instant you see something and you think you know what it is, what is going on; the next instant you have no clue. You are flabbergasted, lost. I was born and raised in Mombasa. Sometimes you see a person who is not actually there. You pass them standing somewhere, or you see them walking in front of you or behind you. One blink of your eyes, one bend of the road, one corner of a building, one turn of your neck and they are gone. Like shadows when the clouds cover the sun. The next instant they are back. You can see them so many times when you meet a real person you wonder the difference. When I was twelve, our neighbour’s daughter and my best friend died mysteriously after talking to an unknown man on the road. After she was buried, she sent a dream to her mother that a man had tied her hands and taken off her clothes. She sent the dream every night for three days. On the fourth day her mother called for her body to be exhumed. They found her hands tied behind her with a cord made from her hair. And she was naked. The clothes were never found.”

She stopped and I goggled at her in suspense.

“That’s what I mean, Jeru,” she went on. “There is a side of things, of this life, that I do not see and cannot explain. But I expect it to be there. I know it’s there. I have resigned to the notion. You can jeer at me for being superstitious. I won’t care a whit. My parents were and they are better parents than some which I have come across. And if it saves my skin, well, like hell I’m proud!” She laughed nervously again.

“Ah, but believe me, Robi! At the moment, the least of my worries is whether you are superstitious or not. But do you have any idea how can I stop this burning and itching? It is killing me!” I said and shifted on the seat. I wanted to scratch the crack of my ass. It hurt like a boil.

Robi considered her answer, shook her head, and said: “You can’t.”

                                                                                                                    VI.

I told her she could go back with the car and I would send one of my employees later on to get it. Then I climbed out.

At the parking lot and on the ground floor stairway, I met with neighbours leaving for work. They paused suddenly to stare at me. All of them, simultaneously fascinated and dumbfounded, alarmed even. Some were frowning, others squinting, and still others goggling and gawking. I waved at them and said hi and good morning, but they did not respond accordingly. It was unlike them. I must look very shocking indeed.

On the third floor landing, I met with the neighbour’s cat, and it swelled suddenly and made a savage sound, and then jumped at me—more like hurled itself, really—with its teeth and claws all exposed. It got hold my cheeks and forehead, and tore and bit me, before I could pull it off and cast it down, whereupon it cried savagely again and raced away as if the Devil himself was after it.

I stood there with my heart pounding, my hands and legs shaking so badly that I had to hold on to the railing to stabilize myself.

Did cats attack people? I wondered. I had never heard of an incident such as that which I had just experienced. A cat launching itself unprovoked at a person! Cats were less friendly than dogs; but dogs attacked people. Cats did not.

“What is wrong with me?” I said to myself, and felt a miserable sinking in my heart.

I careered into the house and started scratching myself openly. And once I was at it, I could not bring myself to stop. The more I scratched the hotter my body became and the worse the itching. I jumped up and down as though I had lost my mind, and I stamped my feet repeatedly to shake off the itching. I took off my clothes and rolled and rubbed myself on the wall and the floor. But it was fruitless.

I flew into the bathroom for the scrubbing brush and applied it single-mindedly in curing the problem. While there, I turned on the cold tap of shower, thinking it would cool me. The first assault of the water was usually exceedingly and repulsively icy. But I did not feel it that day. There was no change in temperature. I just let the water run for a while. The itching and the burning did not go away.

When I looked down on the floor I was staggered by the amount of blood coming out of me. I was bleeding too much and from almost everywhere. I had been hurting myself. I had grazed my skin in some places and cut it deeply in others. I could not distinguish between the pain inflicted by me and that from the touch of the unknown man.

I restrained myself from scratching, although my hands seemed, by instincts, to crave it. I noticed that my body was heating the water to steam. There was so much steam you’d think I was showering with hot water. I nevertheless remained in there until the water flowing out was clear, and then wrapped the towel around me and stepped out.

As I exited, I glanced at the mirror and saw something in it that made me freeze.

I was not in the mirror.

Instead of my image, there was a blurry thing, foggy, obscure, a nebulous smoky form without arms or legs or head on it. There was also what appeared to be a second image near it, as if there was someone with me, although whether behind, beside, or within the smoky form was difficult to tell. It made the entire image much bigger.

I panicked and started crying. I could not take the horror anymore.

Then I thought that perhaps I was seeing the foggy image because of the steam issuing from my body. So I dried myself thoroughly with the towel and looked in the mirror one more time. Still, my image was unrecognizable. A shapeless mass, an amorphous thing, an indistinct cloud. I had been engulfed.

Terror overcame me and I broke down and cried like a child. I sat on the bathroom floor and wailed and moaned and heaved.

“What is happening to me?” I blubbered and heaved harder.

Vanishing pic.6

                                                                                                                 VII.

I was still that way when my phone rang in the living room where I had abandoned it when I came in. I teetered along the wall towards the sound.

“Yes, Robi,” I said.

“You sound like hell, bwana. Have you been crying?” she asked and chuckled.

“Sleeping,” I said.

“How is the burning and the itching, bwana?”

“I don’t know if it is too funny, Robi!” I replied morosely, and the gravity of my voice shook her.

“Are you okay, man?”

“I’m burning to death! Something is happening to me, Robi. It’s bad. Bad!

She fetched a long solicitous sigh. “What are you doing about it?”

“What is there to do about it when I don’t even know what started it?” I yelled. “I think I’m disappearing. I think this smoke is digesting me, Robi. It must be why I’m burning and itching like this. I also feel stretched.”

Stretched?” she wondered.

“Yes. Sort of. Like I am spreading out, you know. Enlarging. Pulled. Thin.”

“Oh,” she said and was quiet for a moment. Then she fetched another sigh. “Look, Jeru! Maybe this is not the right time to tell you but two men are looking for you.”

“What two men?”

“They said they’re cops. Detectives. Plain-clothed. Armed.”

“Wow! But I don’t have any business with cops.”

“I’m telling you because I don’t think they are cops,” Robi said. “When I came back here I found Mr. Malek with them. He said that four brand new tires he brought with him at night are missing from the garage. So the cops want to ask you about the man you saw.”

“Oh, but he said there was no man!” I cried. “What is this?”

“Now you know he knows there was a man. Go somewhere.”

Go where? I asked myself. Armed killers masquerading as police, looking for me! This day was rapidly turning out to be efficiently jinxed.

But why would they want to kill me? What was Mr. Malek afraid of? Who could I tell about the tremendous man who would believe me? An almost twelve feet tall man with scales and hair on his back! Ha! So far, only Robi had, and that was because she herself had seen him too, though with a better sense of judgment than I had shown.

I was tired. I was wretched. Let them come and get me. I would not hide. I was already dying, anyway; I was smouldering to death, cursed to evanesce and vanish completely like smoke. I remembered very well the man’s last exclamation. “Vanish!” he had said.

Jeru!” Robi shouted.

“I’m here,” I said.

“Man! For a moment there, I thought you’d dropped dead.”

“Sorry to disappoint you.”

She chuckled. “I was saying . . . If you want to know what is wrong with you, you will have to go to Mombasa. To Mwembe Tayari. Do you know where that is?”

“What did you tell those men?” I inquired, thinking perhaps they were at this instant on their way to my apartment. Oh, it was so hard, so distressing, to just sit by and wait for death. The very thought of dying sickened my heart. I knew I would die someday, but getting murdered over sinister secrets was not my favourite way to go.

“I told them I dropped you off at the Nairobi Hospital,” Robi was saying.

“Thank you, Robi,” I said.

“I was saying . . .”

“I have heard of Mwembe Tayari,” I interrupted her.

“Then I’m sending you a number to call when you get there. An old-looking man will come to meet you. You go with him and he’ll help you.”

“Is he a witchdoctor?”

“He is not a witchdoctor! He does not do juju or voodoo. He just knows things. He uses water. And he is my uncle.”

“Okay. Thank you again, Robi.”

“Take care, man.”

She sent the number after we had hung up along with a message that she had called my host and he was expecting me.

 

                                                                                                              VIII.

Despite my resolution to sit and wait for the killers, I hastened my preparations and left the house. I did not want them to get me. I had a new hope to pursue, and though small and uncertain, a glimmer nevertheless in vast morbid world.

It was 7.33am and I was not sure I could still catch a bus to Mombasa. I thought they would all be gone by the time I reached the station and bought myself a ticket. And if indeed there would be a late one, it might already have been booked to the very last seat. If I went to the airport, I feared they would not let me through their rigid security, given my condition and considering their morbid paranoia. If I sent for my car from Mr. Malek’s, then the killers would certainly follow it. Furthermore, I could not drive with all the pain I was feeling. I would surely cause an accident. So I had to travel downtown to buy a bus ticket.

I locked my door and started for Racecourse bus-stop. I had no sooner reached the stairs than bumped into my neighbour’s maid. She took one look at me and jerked back as if to flee, arms flailing madly, and her breath dying with an unfinished shriek. Instead, she stopped and staggered about as if her legs had become suddenly too heavy for her; then she grasped the nearest rail with one hand and sank down on her buttocks, her mouth open in a horrible, wretched rictus of terror, face distorted, and her eyes as wide and blank as if she had gone stone blind. Her left hand was clutching her abdomen, and I paused by just long enough to see a gush of dark red blood rush down her thighs and spill over the stairs. She had miscarried!

I shouted for help and when I heard footsteps approaching from upstairs, I departed before the next person could see me and go through a similar ordeal.

The main road was ten minutes away from the estate. I did not meet anyone to scare or to terrify, and it relieved me. I did, however, meet a stray dog which seemed to lose its mind at once and howl with abject abandon.

There was a crowd at the bus-stop. I hid behind an electric post and waited for it to thin down. But when it seemed only to grow in spite of the many buses coming and going, and I thought I was getting too late for my journey, I waded through it with the intent to scare. The first person I made contact with was a man of about fifty; he screamed like a little boy and fell and crawled away on the ground. The crowd then dispersed without much ado, albeit with ululations, and I was alone at the bust-stop.

I felt eyes on me. Hundreds, thousands of staring eyes! They were goggling, squinting, and popeyed, speechless and in the grip of strange mystery and utter dread. They dared not come near me.

Presently, a bus arrived that had few passengers aboard. When the conductor alighted to let in more passengers, I slipped past him before he could take a good look at me and rushed into the vehicle. I took the very last seat at the rear; the one on the right and near a window. He noticed me only when he came to collect my fare, whereupon he blinked at me several times and then returned to his seat without taking the money. He didn’t seem scared, just curious. Nobody sat with me.

A little relieved, for I had feared a commotion would erupt inside the bus and impede me from reaching downtown in time to buy my ticket, I leaned in my seat and rubbed my wounded body with my palms. But even my palms were burning and itching and in need of rubbing and scratching.

At Dagoretti Corner, more passengers got in and a middle-aged woman sat next to me. She did not take her eyes off me. As soon as saw me, she seemed unable to stop staring. She was curious, her brows knitted, and her lips pulled apart in a dead smile. She made me uneasy and I wanted her to stop. So I raised my left hand and said:

“Is there a problem?”

Vanishing pic.2

“Is there a problem?”

She shrieked and lurched forward from her seat like something propelled by a missile. Then she clutched her chest and wrung her face in agony. She was experiencing a heart attack. Being the closest to her, I grabbed her shoulders and shouted for the conductor to tell the driver to stop the bus.

Instead, the conductor looked back directly at me, and, for an instant, I was face to face with the finest, most distilled form of grotesque terror I had ever seen. He leaped out of the moving bus without pausing to think twice about it. I had been wrong in thinking that he had not been scared; he had only contained his terror, perhaps because he had a job to do.

Panic built up rapidly and the bus plunged into chaos. The rest of the passengers began to scream as well. They got up from their seats and banged their fists against the roof and the windows, shouting for the driver to stop. Five or so did not wait and followed after the conductor. The driver swerved and crashed diagonally against an oncoming bus, hitting three or four other vehicles in the process. The passengers pitched in different directions, crashing into one another, wailing and flailing, while tires squealed outside and glass broke in abundance.

We had hardly stopped when a stampede broke out. Too many people were struggling to simultaneously squeeze through a door that could barely accommodate one. I had an instant to wonder if the acclaimed human intelligence was not but another great illusion of things. They were intelligent only if things went as per some laid out plan, which was no different from animals, even ants.

The woman died and I had scarcely let go of her body when someone trampled it. I did not want to get out last lest it should be determined that they were running from me. So I joined in the flight and made some people faint. There was a profusion of blood on the steps when I flew over them. A child that looked dead was lying just below those steps and a middle-aged man was choking on his own blood and lying on his shattered arm.

                                                                                                                    IX.

I sprinted unnoticed and hid behind a building. I realized there was no way I was going to make it to Mombasa in my present state. How was I ever going to buy a ticket when nobody could glance at me without being seized by a frenzy of madness?

This realization made me bitter and sorrowful. I had become a monster, the cause of panic and death.

Still, I had to go to Mombasa and meet with the man that Robi had said. It was my only chance of knowing what had been done to me, and by whom, and if Mr. Malek knew about him. Thereafter, I could search for a cure. If a cure there was.

After a few minutes of cerebration, a queer idea came to me. It felt outstandingly foolish and risky, but I could not see any other choice. My bank’s ATM was not in the vicinity; but, I had seen a PesaPoint one in front of the building. It was universal. I slunk to it and withdrew a lot of cash. I saw that almost everyone had rushed to the accident scene and crowded around it; those who hadn’t were yet drawn to it like flies to a carcass. I was therefore safe to move about without causing any more deaths.

Next, I searched around for a cab. I saw one parked at the Total Station and dashed to it. Despite the tearing and searing pain in my bones and muscles, I ran as fast as I could. I thought I was lighter than usual but I had no time to reflect about it.

I did not give anyone a chance for a good look at me. I saw a Le Pic schoolboy gape and then frown suddenly when I flitted past him, but I was gone before he could utter his surprise. A station attendant looked up just as I was approaching. We were on the same course and he started and accidentally pulled the nozzle out of the tank he was filling, swaying in the process and spilling petrol on the face of the driver, who happened to be sticking his head out of the window. The driver jumped in his seat and coughed and spat and sneezed and rubbed his face all at the same time. He thrust the door open and made to leap out, but the safety belt jerked him back with a mighty force. He swore.

The cab was a private one, an undistinguished blue Toyota saloon with a fading yellow line around it. The driver was reading a newspaper.

I yanked open the door and leapt into the passenger seat. He looked up at once but did not move. He studied me. He seemed unable to decide what I was and convince himself of my presence. He did not look scared, though; if indeed he was scared, then he shared a trait with the bus conductor.

I did not move, either. I sat stiff, quiet, calculating; I wanted him to make the first move. He seemed to be waiting for the same from me. He still held the newspaper in his hand and I saw now that he had been working on Sudoku. The pen was stuck between his teeth, frozen there. He had held his breath.

After about fifteen seconds—although it could have been an hour, for all I cared—I said: “Take me to Mombasa.”

He kicked the door and before I could add “Please”, half his body was already hurled outside, his hands fumbling on the ground for purchase, legs kicking inside the car for the same.

I grabbed his left ankle and tugged him back with great might. When he fought me with feral instinct, I shouted at him:

Mister, I will kill you!

I must have been very grim. For he stopped.

I presumed on the moment and tugged him again, applying enough force to bring his whole body back into the car.

“You sit still, or else!” I bellowed.

He did not move. He seemed dead.

“Listen to me, Mister!” I said. “I must go to Mombasa to find a man and kill him. He killed me first three weeks ago. He run me over on Ngong Road and did not stop. So right now I am dead, but he is free. I hate that. I hate that so poisonously that I intend to find him and set him on fire. You must therefore drive me to Mombasa to find him.”

I paused to see if he had understood. His face was a mixture of bewilderment and terror. I did not think he had understood me, and so I shook him.

“Do you follow?” I asked, shaking him. “You must take me to Mombasa. I will pay you. I will fill your tank and pay you ten thousand shillings to take me there, and another ten thousand plus a full tank to bring me back to Nairobi. It is a good deal. If, however, you choose to refuse it, I will forgive the man and instead take my vengeance upon you. I will destroy you. You can run as much as you fancy. But I will find you and destroy you. I am a ghost. I will haunt your children, and burn them when they are most happy. Do you follow?”

I gave him time for my threat to sink into his confounded head. It took sometime. When he breathed aloud, I asked him again if he had understood me. He nodded. So I counted the money and pressed it into his sweaty shivering hand. Then we left for Mombasa.

                                                                                                                       X.

We travelled uneventfully. We stopped only once to fill the tank, after which not a single word was exchanged between us for the next nine hours.

I have hijacked this car, I thought with a lonely bitter pang. This was a severe crime and I could be jailed for it. But to jail only if I could be cured of this thing that had engulfed me and was digesting my flesh!

I was feeling more and more stretched. Like an elastic. Thinner and thinner. I was being pulled apart.

I was still rubbing my palms over my itching body; rubbing everywhere I could reach without convincing the driver that I was a fake ghost. I was burning inside and outside. Maybe my soul was smouldering away too. I hoped Robi’s uncle would help me.

We reached Mwembe Tayari at five going on six. The sun was sinking. I told the driver to find a parking. When he had done so, I got out and freed him to go find himself food and rest. I told him I would be away for as long as it took to set my adversary on fire and watch him burn to death. I did not remind him of the threats I had made back in Nairobi. I had a feeling he might begin to doubt me.

The settling darkness covered me. No one could make out my strange, shapeless foggy appearance with ease. I remembered also what Robi had said about invisible people in Mombasa and felt free. If anybody saw me they should imagine that I was just another ghostly thing in the neighbourhood.

I called the number Robi had sent me and, after giving my location, was told to wait for a few minutes. But I had no sooner finished talking than the old man appeared by my side. I was startled and I thought he was dead, a ghost perhaps, or one of the invisible people Robi had mentioned.

Jeru!” he called, but it was more of a sigh.

I did not talk to him at first. I scrutinized him warily, thinking that if he was indeed a real living person, then he should not countenance my appearance and should instead be terrified out of his wits. By his constitution he could have been perhaps sixty, though he looked eighty—sweaty bald head ringed with sparse, unhealthy yellow-grey hair, overly wrinkled face worn by care, beaten by the world, and trampled by life; a decrepit hoary creature with faded, drooping eyes. It explained why his niece had preferred to describe him as an “old-looking man” instead of just an old man.

He squinted at me. “Si wewe ni Jeru?” he asked. Aren’t you Jeru?

I said that I was. And then I asked him how he had reached me so quickly but he only cackled at the question and I decided to pursue it no further.

We spoke in Kiswahili, with me maintaining my adulterated upcountry accent while he poured forth his smooth, musical coast one. We started walking towards his house and he told me that his name was Mzee Makazi. He also told me that I was splitting.

“What does that mean?” I asked.

“It means you are dying,” he said.

I stopped, hesitated. “What is killing me?”

He kept on walking. “Unaungua kutoka ndani,” he said. You’re burning from inside.

“Is that why I’m all burning and itching?”

“Yes.”

“But you said I’m splitting, not dying!”

He stopped, turned to me. “Your physical body is burning to death. But something else is coming out of you.”

“What is that?” I demanded. “What is coming out of me?”

“I don’t know.” He started walking again and I ran after him.

“What do you mean you don’t know? How do you know all that you’ve yet told me?”

He cackled again. “Utajionea,” he said. You’ll see for yourself.

“Can you help me?” I asked but he did not answer.

I followed him in quiet the rest of the way. I was worried with a feeling of defeat and hopelessness. There was not going to be any fruition in my coming here. This man could not help me. He had a pleasant countenance and a good heart, but he could not stop me from splitting. I was splitting. That was a fact. It was why I felt stretched, thin. My physical body was dying—smouldering to death—but something else was coming forth, something of unknown consequences. That was why I looked like two people in the foggy, malformed, deformed, and horrifying nebulosity that was now my image. I was being separated into two parts.

                                                                                                                    XI.

We did not enter Mzee Makazi’s house. He had set up two stools and a small basin of water under a large tree by the house. He motioned me to sit and then asked me to dip my hands into the water. I did, and after I had removed them, he put his hands on top of the water, without touching it. The water began bubbling. Soon it was whirling and swirling as if due to some great physical agitation. The man’s eyes were tightly shut.

As I looked on, he withdrew his hands and bent over the basin. He opened his eyes and peered into the water, which was now eddying and bubbling so violently that the basin shook. He was that way for about a minute.

Then, suddenly, he cried out. “Ameniona! Ameniona!” He has seen me! He has seen me!

As he did so, he jumped back and knocked over his stool and the basin of water. The water scattered in the air and I thought I saw a terrible red glow, as of fire, in the drops. I sprung back with a shriek, and before I could regain my balance and ask Makazi who it was that had seen him, he burst into flames and was consumed in an instant.

I stared speechlessly, my heart beating in my stomach. He was gone. The old man was gone. One instant he had been there, screaming; the next he had vanished. Consumed. Devoured. Gone.

For a split second, I had felt the heat of those flames. They had reached for me, tried to grab me. The terrible, merciless, unappeasable tongues of those wicked flames!

I took off from there like the wind. I never looked back till I had reached the car.

I saw that I had become completely invisible. I felt my hands but could not see them. Nor could I see my legs, waist, etc. I had become invisible even to myself! The burning, the itching and the stretching had stopped, the foggy smoky things gone, but the flames had licked away the rest of my physical self, thereby completing my splitting.

Vanishing pic0

“What am I?” I asked.What have I become? Who burnt the poor old man?”

I did not know the answers to any of these questions. My quest here had failed. I had not found the cure or any answers for my condition. I had instead become worse.

I got into the car. The driver was leaning his head on the steering wheel, weeping and convulsing wretchedly. He stopped when I entered.

“Why do you cry?” I asked him. I was impatient. I had failed to find help and this man was weeping as if I meant him no harm.

“You have done as I requested and I will not harm you,” I said. “I have also paid you fully as agreed. What upsets you, then?”

He was quiet, wiping his eyes, sniffling. So I added: “Consider me only as one of your clients. It should alleviate your terror. Meanwhile we need to return to Nairobi.”

He reversed and we started back. I told him to choose his own speed; I was in no hurry. So he kept it at sixty kilometres per hour. But after six hours, I saw that he was very tired and asked him to let me drive. He did not say anything. He just stopped the car and went to the backseat. He must have been wondering what had happened to me where I had gone, for I had left looking all blurred and cloudy but came back totally invisible.

                                                                                                                 XII.

Again we travelled without incident. I dropped off at Racecourse bus-stop where only the previous morning I had caused severe panic. I thanked the driver profusely and saw him speed away as if being chased. He was a good man and he had stirred my pity. To see a forty-year old man—certainly some boy or girl’s esteemed father—reduced to such lowly cringing fear! It shook me and I wished I could take back the abominable threats I had made to him.

I reached my apartment to find the lock broken. I hesitated only for a second, pushed and entered. There was an adult man prostrate on my sofa. Another one was snoring on my bed. The lights were on, so was the TV. The dinner table was cluttered with plates and leftovers, and the coffee table had six dirty cups and a thermos on it.

What was this? Who were these outrageous people? They had cooked my food, drank my coffee, watched my TV, dirtied my living room, and were now deep asleep on my furniture!

I wanted to shout at them and bang the door for them to wake up. But then something caught my eye. There was a gun on the coffee table, a pistol. I picked it up, weighed it.

Ah, so they were my would-be murderers Robi had called to warn me about. I had forgotten all about them. They had come here in the night looking for me, and finding the house empty, had decided to have fun as they awaited my return. The gun’s safety was off, meaning that they had intended to shoot me as soon as I entered my house. Well, here I was, and see who’d been caught off-guard!

I aimed at the sleeping man and fired two shots in succession. I missed both times. The third shot graced his shoulder. It would have missed as well but he had wakened and was turning to face me. The fourth shot blasted his murderous head, and his brain splattered my sofa.

Once I had seen a dead man on the road. A bus had run over him and burst his head. It was the first time I was seeing a human brain, and I had great difficulty trying to figure out how that vomitus-like substance could make a person so wicked and ruinous.

Just like the brain splattered on my sofa, red and whitish and fatty—mucous even—like some awful stinking gummy porridge brewed by a witch. Yet, a second ago, it would have triggered the man to kill me! How absurd this life was when you thought about it. How useless. The man seemed to have vomited through the back of his head.

Having seen the damage it could do, I appraised the gun again, turned it over and over in my hands. It was a big revolver, a .45 maybe. Deadly. I had never held a gun before, and it made me wonder.

Why were such weapons made for us? What were we that we needed such weapons to keep our society running? What would we be, where would we be, without them? But, indeed, what were we? If you were an alien from a different planet and you chanced to land on earth, and all the governments of the world brought before you all the weapons ever made to destroy the human being, what would you think of the human being? Would you want to meet one alone in the dark? If all the governments collapsed, and all the laws were eradicated, what would we be, how?

So that this whole thing called human civilization felt like a lie. It was not in the heart. It had sense of being forced, sustained with threats and intimidation, subjugation and fear. It was a war against nature and all that was natural, leaving us always with a sense of pending disaster. If it were to collapse, the society would degenerate much faster and to a much worse state than that of the days we thought primeval and savage. Even worse was that we would have nothing to go back to: no land for agriculture, no drinkable water, no breathable air. A toxic world. We would eat one another, just as the stories said the sailors had done when stranded in the sea. All the efforts ever made to save the children, empower women and built better, stronger economies would disappear as if they had never happened.

But perhaps the worst thing of all is that everything manmade collapses and vanishes into the ruins and ravages of time and history, into tales and telltales of dust.

The governments which built this civilization never said: “Change your hearts, people, and be kind to one another. We are building something better here!” Instead they made kindness appear like a mortal sin. They divided us and sowed more cruelty and hate amidst us. They showed us that you could own the whole planet by yourself and force everybody to pay you for living in it. They murdered the human being and replaced him with the human having. You could not be, if you did not have. So we fought to have. By all means, any means. Finally, they made guns and showed us where to point them.

And woe unto the poor! For all the guns point at the poor and away from the rich! I had noticed how in this country the rich sometimes exercised extreme violence in order to maintain their status; yet when poor Kenyans embarked on violence in order to uplift themselves from their seedy existence, they were gunned down as thugs and thieves, sent to jail as criminals and terrorists, until the jails were overfull. Yes. The jails were overfull.

I wondered. If the jails were overfull, so that a space built for six carried over twenty people, why weren’t we safe out here? Why weren’t we walking out in the dark till late and sleeping with our doors and windows open, unwary and reckless, safe and free? The society was breaking apart. No one trusted their neighbours anymore. Even in the villages where they still did not have fences around their homes, they were wary of one another, no longer trusting as they once had. In towns and cities people were fenced in their homes as if hiding from the Devil, with tall walls topped with electricity and sharp things. The rate at which rich Kenyans were buying guns for self protection was at its most high, and so was the number of illegal guns in the country. We were increasingly unsafe, frightened, isolated, alone, lonely, heartbroken and sad. Mothers separated from their children, husbands from their wives, brothers who never saw eye to eye, sisters calling each other bitches—broken families, broken world. Then there was always an imminent global threat of one kind or another. Terrorism, global warming, financial meltdown, pollution, toxicity, war, you name it. We lived in a state of perpetual fear. Yet our prisons were overfull!

So who are those people in prison? I had asked myself. Do we really ever lock up the right people? The masterminds of this deplorable agony of never-ending fear? If not, then who are we kidding?

The second would-be murderer, who had been snoring in my bedroom, burst through the door and I made a hole in his heart large enough for my fist to go through. I saw pieces of his heart on the floor and wondered how such a tiny bloody mess of muscles could completely poison a planet and desolate it. Such as we had done to earth!

                                                                                                               XIII.

I left immediately to go to Karen. I had to find Mr. Malek and make him explain to me what had happened to me in his home on Thursday morning and why he had sent killers after me. I took the gun with me.

I walked. Mr. Malek’s home was buried deep into the tall leafy woods of Karen, nearly ten kilometres from Racecourse, but I was not tired when I got there. I remembered that I had neither eaten nor slept since Wednesday night and wondered how I could still be so strong. I wanted neither food nor sleep.

Mr. Malek had already left when I reached his home. It was shortly after nine-thirty and the compound was abuzz with activity. Robi was cleaning the front windows. I did not talk to her as I passed, but she looked around unconsciously as if somehow sensing my presence. I wished I could tell her that her uncle was dead. I knew she would be called from home, anyway.

The dogs went delirious as soon as I entered the compound. They barked and bayed, howled and bawled ceaselessly for the rest of the day.

The garage was open and I went in. My car was parked but I did not need it. I occupied the closest corner to the door. When Mr. Malek returned, he would drive in here and I would ambush him violently and belabour him until he had answered all my questions. If anyone interfered, I would shoot them with the gun.

He did not return for seven hours. During that time, I reflected on the new progress of my condition. I was lighter than I had been when I murdered those killers in my house, by which time I had already become lighter than when I left Mombasa. I was becoming increasingly lighter and my breath was coming out in shorter and shorter gasps. While on my way to Karen, I had noticed how my feet lifted up a notch higher than usual, and with more ease, and how, on stepping down, I experienced slight air resistance against my soles. It had been as if the air was trying to carry me away.

My physical self had already vanished; so now, what was left of me, my invisible self, was beginning to vanish as well. Oh, Lord!

Mr. Malek returned at half past four. He did not enter the garage. His driver did. I had forgotten about the driver.

The driver parked the car and got out with two other men. I got out too, but caused an accident. I lifted my foot but it rose too high, thrust up by the air, so that I miscalculated my step and kicked a box full of empty wine and beer bottles. The bottles scattered on the floor, and some of them broke. When my foot landed down, it crashed the broken pieces with considerable force, and my presence could therefore not be mistaken.

The three men bolted out. I heard them calling Mr. Malek and explaining what had just happened. Mr. Malek, suddenly agitated, began screaming at them to get lost.

“To your quarters!” barked he. “Everyone! To your quarters! I said now!” screamed he.

When the compound had fallen silent except for the yowling dogs, Mr. Malek came into the garage and secured the door with a lock. He pocketed the keys and also turned out the lights. Then he seemed to search for something in the dark and listen keenly at the same time. He was very jittery and restless. He was breathing fast.

I was flabbergasted. What was he searching for after turning the lights out? What did he want to hear that filled him with so much suspense? I was, however, transported with anger and my desire to harm him was great. I gripped the gun and took another step forward, but again I kicked the bottles on my way and crashed the shattered pieces.

Mr. Malek turned at once in my direction and knelt down with his face lowered, like one in the grips of deferential fear. He proceeded to prostrate himself before me. Then, in a tremulous, subjugated voice, he said:

“Forgive me, my lord! Forgive my soul and my will, and my heart and my desires. I did not know that you had arrived. Had I known I would have had your offering with me. Please, forgive me!”

I did not understand all this very curious theatrics. But I lifted my foot and struck his submissive forehead with a stern might. He was hurled towards the door and he rolled over on his back. A deep gash marked where the tip of my shoe had met his forehead. He was bleeding copiously over his face.

To my puzzlement, however, he, without any complaint, without so much as a grunt or a gasp, returned to the same servile and solemn prostrate position. He said:

“Forgive me, my lord! My soul is yours. My will is yours. My heart is yours. My desires are yours. Only to you do I commit my home and all that is mine, to be yours to use as yourself you desire. I shall have your offering tonight. And you shall be glutted as out of these wretched, hateful hands of mine, out of the terrible and dreadful desires of my heart, you have before been glutted. I will not fail you, my lord.”

He rose with his bleeding head still bowed and scurried through the kitchen door. I let him go. I was curious about his pious blether about offerings and glutted lords.

                                                                                                               XIV.

When he returned, he had cleaned himself and bandaged his forehead. He was wearing a hat. He opened the garage and drove out by himself.

I went into his house. Silence reverberated in every room. At Mr. Malek’s command, all servants had abandoned their stations. I wondered if they ever asked why.

The only sound was that coming from the master bedroom wing upstairs. I picked it up as a rustle of fabric, a low thump on the floor as of something dropped. I picked up a waft of perfume as well, a sweet-smelling, agonizing promise that brought tears to my eyes.

Ever since the fire in Mombasa, my senses had become more acute, inputs heightened, and my earshot made longer.

I followed the smell. When I reached the master bedroom, the door was wide open and I halted completely upon looking inside. My heart dropped from a very high place into an abysmal pit of fiendish desire. For therein was Mr. Malek’s wife. Naked as a naked thing can be, a wicked thing.

She was a positive force in his life. She was wild. She was otherworldly. She was like those women you could sometimes see in town and wonder who was dating them, who could be so blessed in this deranged dying world. An Ethiopian goddess. The Queen of Sheba. She mocked the world with her beauty. She was like something sent to earth to mock people: that out of this rot and filth which we called home, out of this festering defilement of a world, something that looked like her could still be born. She was like a rose blooming in a heap of dung.

The first time I saw her I had told myself that if she touched me I might explode. She was a year older than me, but she looked younger, which made her almost twenty years younger than her husband. They had been married for three years. Mr. Malek’s first wife had died nine months pregnant. She had tipped over the railing on the second floor landing of their old house and flew all the way to the ground, which had been very confounding given that those steel rails had been four feet high. But it had been a hush-hush kind of thing. Rich people stuff. No cops, no autopsies, no foreign mourners, only family. His children were all abroad, which left this entire prodigious abode just for him and his dear naked angel in there.

I entered the room and would have continued advancing if she had not done something that checked me just beyond the door. She turned to me and smiled. She turned to me, fully naked, with her sublime body, her small teenage-girl breasts, her perfect eyes . . . and she smiled. She smiled at me, and she smiled invitingly.

She had a small sward of hair on her pubis. It was deadly. It was good. Almost all the girls I had dated preferred to be clean-shaven down there. So that I had forgotten how it felt to run my hands through it, to rub my cheek on it in the agonizing thrill and misery of a moment’s love. I was aroused like hell and I advanced towards her without a mote of care. She walked backwards slowly, heading for the bed, her eyes on me, that smile beckoning to me, craving me, those celestial eyes shining on me, teasing me, magic hips swaying sweetly, sylphlike, delicate, lovely . . .

I stopped dead. She couldn’t see me. I was invisible. So what was she doing?

Then it hit me. She had undressed expecting something to come through the door and sleep with her, something she couldn’t see, to burst in and fuck her. Oh, Lord!

Slowly, I crept out of her vision and stood by the wall. To confirm my horror, her eyes did not follow me. She continued looking towards the door, smiling that beckoning smile of hers, teasing with her eyes and hips. What was this?

As if in answer, she turned around and faced the bed. Then she bent over it and spread her legs behind her. I gasped aloud and she jumped.

Her anus looked like the top of a volcano. Like a crater. Exploded. It had been beaten and mangled, torn and burnt; it had been ripped and turned inside-out; whitish and red, meaty and grey, it looked like an awful yawning deep throat on the wrong side of the body.

I bolted out the door.

                                                                                                                  XV.

I went to the balcony on the second floor overlooking the gate and waited for Mr. Malek to return. Now he had even more to explain. I was very disturbed and greatly rankled by the events I had witnessed. First, Mr. Malek bowing down with religious terror and reverence to something that he could not see but with which he was familiar, then his wife expecting the same thing to violate her in the master bedroom.

Who were these people? Who had I done business with? And the woman  . . .  was she really his wife or just somebody he kept for appeasing his invisible lords? Was she the offering he had mentioned? Because, certainly, when he bolted into the house from the garage, he must have gone to her and informed her to prepare to be ravaged in her blasted, hollow anus. Which made him a sort of pimp, didn’t it? Ha! But whose pimp?

But she had smiled in her own knowing, gratifying way. Those eyes of hers, terrorizing the male desire. She hadn’t seemed discomfited until I gasped—her ravager must surely never gasp!—which could only mean that whatever was happening in this house had engulfed her. She was part of it.

Was it the Devil? What else could terrify a man of Mr. Malek’s calibre as he had been in the garage? Who else could have sent the alien fire to consume the poor old man?

But the Devil? Ha! And to be worshipped! I could not help jeering at that. I had never in my life met anyone who worshipped the Devil. And I had thought that such an act was impossible. Those who claimed to worship God were often just as evil as those who did not. So that the Devil did not need worshipers; he already had the whole world in his hands and the soul of everyone at his finger tips. People have been murdered everyday in the name of God or Allah or Satan or Science. At any one time in history, humans have always sacrificed other lives to promote something they thought was superior to them and had their wellbeing foremost at its core. There was a chronic tendency among people to come up with ideas and then devalue themselves so much, stoop so low, that the ideas seized them, imprisoned them and reigned over them with absolute power. Making them slaves. Always slaves of one thing or another. Proud masters of slaves, though themselves slaves. The hands of men imprison everything.

The ancient thinkers had put forward seven basic weaknesses from which all human conflicts arise: pride, envy, anger, lust, covetousness, greed, and sloth. By the time a person saw the need to worship they were already in the grip of one or more of these weaknesses, which meant that they did not need the inspiration of a supreme being in order to be outright evil.

Any thinker could see that humans were evil by themselves and did not need a constant urge from the Devil to destroy one another. There was darkness and there was light in everyone; but the darkness was defended with more darkness, denied so much that people even blamed nonliving things for their actions and the actions of others. So we decayed. And the world decayed around us. But everybody was innocent. “Blame it on religion,” they said. “Blame it on technology, on skin colour, on oil and stock markets and money. Blame it on guns and witchcraft.” Blame, blame, blame! Rape a woman and blame it on her dress! Ha! Ridiculous!

As if those things could be arraigned in court and charged with disrupting our peaceful society!

Sometime in 2006, the government of Kenya formed a commission to investigate the cause of rising cases of exam fraud in the schools countrywide. The professor in charge announced the results on TV. He said cell phones were to blame.

“How do you save a planet when everybody in it is but an innocent victim of their own ideas?” I had asked myself and then guffawed at all the attempts ever made to save the planet.

                                                                                                               XVI.

In my second year in high school, we had a topic in Mathematics called Similarity and Congruence. It involved comparing similar shapes of varying sizes and determining how their angles, lengths, areas, and volumes corresponded. The Maths teacher used it to explain different things which I did not understand then, but did later on. He said that the universe works on scales. Not a linear scale like y = 3x, but a more convoluted one which he called the scale of natural things.

The atom, for instance, is the smallest known universe so far, although even within the atom itself, the nucleus binds electrons within their orbits and regulates any interactions between one atom and another. Within our own body cells, there is also a seat of power, the nucleus, which keeps all organelles in check, regulates the flow of matter into and out of the cell and determines how one cell interacts with another. On a much larger scale, our brains perform the same functions on our bodies and environment, even as we, as individuals, fight to be the nucleus governing everything around us. The earth’s gravity holds everything prisoner on its surface and keeps the moon in place, and the sun is the master of the solar system which affects even the atom and the cell. So that there is, without doubt, another body, existing on a much larger scale than that of our sun and the solar system, which in turn holds our sun in place within the galaxy. And still another even bigger one which controls the whole galaxy.

He said that the pattern either continues infinitely as more and more bodies compete for control of others or it tapers to a point as all the energy coalesce into a single source, forming a sort of a pyramid with the whole scheme, at the top of which is the most powerful and the most unstable point.

Energy, he said, flows in definite patterns which can be determined with equations. Too much energy causes instability. As matter increases in size, its energy also increases and it becomes more and more unstable. As organisms become more and more advanced, their interactions with the environment also become more and more intricate and very large quantities of energy are involved. These organisms are, consequently, the most unstable.

So that humans, whose growth and interactions are more advanced and more complex than that of any other organism on earth, are in fact the most unstable. Humans pride themselves on being the most civilized life form on earth but they are only walking time bombs, explosive things. Add entropy to the picture—the natural affinity of things to disaster—and you do not need hell.

Humans feel more intense love due to the high amount of energy involved in their level of existence. But animals love better because they are more stable. Even amongst the same species, the more advanced the worse.

Atoms collide all the time and are robbed of electrons by stronger forces or the electrons are traded for the sake of binding stability. Every organism engages in conflict; even insects wage their wars and slaughter one another with shocking brutality—such as the Asian giant hornet, V. mandarinia, which reigns absolute terror on honey bees; or the safari ants which, on their scale of existence, are in fact much worse than humans in wreaking havoc. The ant species, M. ravouxi, has been observed to capture, subdue, and enslave another species T. unifasciatus, which are then forced to perform every function associated with slavery even amongst humans, including feeding, cleaning, grooming, and carrying their masters along. The slaves get their revenge by killing the pupae of their masters.

Still, inside our bodies viruses and bacteria wage their own wars to destroy one another or reach a state of compromise that benefits both.

These wars are, however, short-lived and their scale of destruction is low. But when humans engage in all-out war, it is hell let loose on earth, and the level of destruction and death is beyond words. The consequences are dire, complicated, and never, never quite come to an end.

So that if there are organisms in the universe more advanced and more complex than humans, then they are even more unstable, capable of more unprovoked madness and horror than we could ever create, more cruelty and evil and everlasting hate, and more intense but even more lamentably transient love and compassion and pity.

On this scale perhaps there exists God and the Devil, or Enki, his Annunaki people and his Nibiru place, waging their eternal pernicious wars, depleting planets and desolating galaxies, and regarding us with no more love and esteem than we that with which we ourselves regard lower life forms on earth: hating us, loving us, piqued by us, pestered by us, destroying us, imprisoning us, and keeping us alive all at the same time.

I believed it.

There was a verse in the book of Revelation that once made me wonder. The one that talks about second death, where those who had died sinful are resurrected, judged, and expunged. I thought: “Really? After being born on earth—of all places!—which is itself hell to its very core, and enduring the terrors and agonies herein: its sicknesses, wars, lies, never-ending hate and enmity, tortures, evil rulers, bad governments, false hopes, ruined hopes, illusions, delusions, disillusions, cancers, etc, etc—after witnessing all this and dying before your time—murdered—or enduring it to the very last breath of your long life and dying of old age, till the living bid you rest in peace and kissed you sweet tearful goodbyes, regarding you as a source of hope that we can yet endure our own madness for several decades—yet after all this you would still be resurrected from your grave and judged. And if your name was not found in the book of life, then the judges would murder you again, cast you into the lake of fire and brimstone along with the Devil and all.

Surely! It wasn’t as if you had spent your previous life in paradise!

The ancient prophets wrote about God and spoke of his multitudes of mercies and his infinite love. But at the same time they recounted in detail how by his power and decree they had gone to war and committed some very atrocious deeds on the innocent. Then we said, “What sort of God is this! All-loving at one point and all-murdering at another! Why does he also resort to extreme violence in order to solve our problems? Doesn’t he have better options ours, being the Creator of everything? Surely, these prophets must have been lying. They made up this God of theirs.”

But they were right.

For that is exactly how it would be if a dog spoke of human compassion and love to a chicken or to a fish imprisoned in a glass tank, a bird in a cage, a lizard captured for laboratory experiment, or to an elephant in the savannah hunted down for its teeth so that humans can wear shirts with ivory buttons and play beautiful pianos!

                                                                                                            XVII.

Mr. Malek returned at midnight. He parked the car and left again with a large canvas bag which he hung over his shoulder. He seemed anxious and in a great hurry, as when he shouted harshly at the wailing dogs to stop following him. He did not use the main gate but instead went through a small door on the northern side of the compound. That door was never used and it opened into the woods.

My curiosity was piqued and I followed him. There was nothing where he was going except the woods, which extended further north for five acres. It was a ripe place, with verdant tall trees bearing thick foliage and a vast undergrowth, lush and various. Many buyers had come to him with good money for it, but he had turned them all down. He had told one buyer that he loved those trees too much to sell the place and watch them murdered in cold blood so that some people could have swimming pools and lawns. He said the world needed more trees than swimming pools and lawns. I had liked him for saying that and thought him a very thoughtful and judicious man.

After about one hundred and fifty metres northeast, the woods began to thin gradually, becoming less and less dense until an open space was created, averaging a quarter of an acre, with short shrubs, intermittent thickets and stunted brown grass diffused over it. Few tall trees were strewn randomly about. The plants had a rather unhealthy yellowed look which contrasted sharply with the rank growth behind us.

Here, Mr. Malek stopped and put the bag down. He must have been straining, for he stretched his right arm and squeezed his shoulder with his left hand. He also exercised his back for a few seconds. Then, standing roughly at the centre of the place, he took off his hat and discarded it in the grass. And as I watched, spellbound, he proceeded to discard all his clothes until he was stark naked.

The pale moon had again been obscured by clouds and the sky was lit with some rather shy stars. But Mr. Malek’s brown skin gleamed faintly with the sweat he had produced by hurrying in the woods. He had a very long penis; it reached his mid-thigh without erection, making me wonder if it wasn’t him who had blown that appalling crater in his wife’s anus. But I knew better. His buttocks were as tight as rocks, shrunken too, so that the crack looked like an old mouth that had been shut with superglue.

He knelt down and bowed his head and covered his face with his hands. He was that way for an hour. He did not whisper or murmur anything that I could make out. Next, he went down on his belly and spread-eagled himself on the grass and the shrubs. He spent another sixty minutes in that position. The shrubs felt to me like they might have thorns and crawling things on them and the brown blades of the grass were stiff and prickly. Nevertheless, Mr. Malek did not cringe.

When he rose, he unzipped the bag and took out a child, perhaps one-year old. It was limp as though unconscious. He undressed it quickly and then reached into the bag and removed a huge knife with a hair-raising blade curved like a tooth. He took the child by the back of its neck and raised it to his level till they were face to face. Then he placed the crooked tapering point of the blade just beneath the child’s sternum and looked up with hard, wild, blood-curdling eyes. His penis had become stiff and fully erect so that it looked like a third misplaced leg, an abomination pointing at the heavens.

He drew in a deep breath and screamed in powerful voice:

“I offer her to you, My Lord. I offer her to you with my left hand. Proudly accept with abounding glory her reeking flesh and debased soul!”

                                                                                                          XVIII.

“Hey!” I shouted at him. “Hey!”

I was sprinting towards him before he could finish those evil words. I fired at him but missed. When I fired again, the gun clicked emptily and I disposed of it.

I screamed at him to stop what he was about to do. He looked up startled, nonplussed and disorientated. He staggered, stepped back, and used the dangling body of the child for balance. He was staring towards me with both his eyes and mouth. But he could not see me. I was not his invisible lord, I sounded human to him, yet he could only hear me approaching. In that instant, I completely paralyzed him.

I wanted to kill him. I wanted to grab that huge ugly knife and split him up with it all the way to his throat. I was transported with fury, seized by demons, I was on fire, and I wanted nothing except to dive upon him and break him and murder him.

And I got so close to him, so close, within strangling distance. I was reaching out with my vengeful hands to grab his devoted devilish neck and snap it . . . when, suddenly, a house appeared around us and the man I had seen in the night burst through a wall.

It was my turn to be nonplussed and disorientated. The shock was so bad I thought I had been shot in the heart. It was worse than the panic and terror roused by the near-sacrifice of the unconscious child. I fell and scrambled up, and fell again.

It was a real house. An ancient stone house with red bricks on the roof, such as the houses the British government had first built in Nairobi a long time ago. The windows were shattered and the ceiling was gone but the walls and the floor were still stable. Whether it had come from the ground or the sky, or whether it had been there all along and invisible and immaterial at the same time, I did not know. It was there and I was in it, trapped with and by the Devil. It was the Devil. The man I had seen was the Devil.

He was shorter now, but wider—he had a girth like that of a hippo, though not smooth: hard, rugged, severe, a corrupt, profane, depraved thing—than he had been the night I saw him at Mr. Malek’s. There were cracks in his skin and they were spilling molten fire onto the floor. What I had thought were scales on him were instead random clod-like, burl-like patches of warty lumpy things I had never seen before but which gathered on themselves a dense bristle of burnt, taut hair. Blue flames were streaming out of his ears and nose, and his eyes—those atrocious, hate-filled, blasphemous orbs—were aflame.

Devil0.1

He focused on Mr. Malek, who was prostrate again, shuddering, moaning, mumbling strange things and drivelling like a confounded fool.

“Why do you disturb me before it is my time out of these walls?” the Devil demanded.

“My lord,” Mr. Malek quivered. “I thought you were at my house this past evening.”

“It was not me!” the Devil bellowed.

His voice had changed and was like the sound of someone skipping rapidly in muddy water. A squelching vibration, a fat, thick bubbling of horrors—so repulsive for a moment I was unaware of the dangerous heat radiating from him. It was as if the fires of his body were boiling some awfully viscous liquid in his throat.

“It was him!” and he pointed at me. Mr. Malek raised his weeping head in my direction but could not see me. He glanced back at the Devil with a blank expression and then lowered his head again. He was shuddering too hard and could not speak. It seemed to infuriate the Devil even worse.

“Did you intend to honour him with my sacrifice?” demanded he.

Then he reached out with one hellish, gigantic hand and took Mr. Malek’s head into it. Mr. Malek’s head fitted into that hand the way an egg does into a human hand. The Devil lifted him up the way he had lifted me up that night. Then, with one split-second motion, he yanked off Mr. Malek’s head and squeezed it in his hand until the blood and the brain and the gooey stuff from the eyes and nose and mouth oozed out between his fingers and dripped onto the floor. The head sizzled in his hand like pork, and when he cast it down, it was a small jagged revolting hairless thing the size of a baseball. It burst into flames like a matchstick and was gone in a second. The rest of his body convulsed on the floor, rolled and kicked and turned, trying to live again in horrifying vain.

Then it was just me and the Devil . . . although somewhere in the faraway distance I thought the child had awoken and was wailing sick. What would the Devil do with her?

He glowered at me. “You did this?” he said. “You cost me a soul?” Then, with undue stress, repeated the horrid curse of that fateful night: “Vanish!” He then blew his breath at me. His hell-hot, boiling breath! He did it the way a person might do to a small cloud of dust, and I was at once wrapped in flames and propelled through a shattered wall into the sky. I disintegrated.

And I thought I was dying. I wished to. But I did not. I still felt myself. I was stretching again. Stretching, stretching. This time so much quicker and with so much more pain. I was aflame and afloat through a vast emptiness. I could feel my fingers, my toes, my teeth, and even my beating heart; I could feel every part of me. But they were too far away from one another and drifting farther and farther apart. The flames were ripping me to pieces, scattering me over the atmosphere like a cloud. Ripples of unforgiving pain shot through my every organ. I felt every atom of it, every ounce of pure, vast, and eternal nightmare. I felt everything. I stretched, stretched  . . . stretched.

It never stopped.

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                                                                                                                                                                                      I.

At a midnight in October 2014, a twenty-four-year old girl named Grace Kimani made the worst mistake of her life when she alighted from a bus at Adams Arcade in Nairobi. She was from her friend’s wedding in Ngong. The ceremony had begun too late in the day and extended deep into the night. When Grace left, about eleven-fifteen, the cake had just been cut and the party was beginning. She should have spent the night, but she had to be at the University of Nairobi by six in the morning. Ngong Road was popular for its traffic jam, which could surely drive a person to insanity and suicide, especially if that person had a crisis. And what would be taking Grace to the university so early in the day was indeed a crisis. She had therefore decided to sleep near the institution. Her boyfriend, Denis, lived with his brother on Elgeyo Road opposite the Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses Headquarters. He was waiting for her at the bus stop.

However, when she got down at Adams Arcade, everything went to hell. First, the bus vanished. As soon as her feet touched the pavement, the bus evaporated. The road was a straight serpentine stretch of blacktop and it should have taken the vehicle at least five minutes to disappear after the next intersection. Yet it was gone in a blink. No taillights. No sound. Not even the smell of its petrol.

Second, the night became unusually quiet. Adams Arcade seemed deserted. Not a soul, not a shadow, moved. Overhead, alone moon coursed a bleak starless sky. Pathless, it seemed itself lost. A single streetlamp, its head broken, blinked gloomily as if overcome with loneliness. It went off.

Third, there were no buildings. Instead, a dense growth of tall trees, thickets and grass straggled on either side of the road and beyond. She thought she was in a foreign place and panic began to take over her, but she recognized the roundabout and the sign at the corner that said ELGEYO MARAKWET ROAD. Across from the bus stop, there should have been a vast shopping mall called The Green Mall. It was missing. So was the Total Petrol Station adjacent to it, Tuskys Supermarket, and the old mall with its arched roof which gave the place its name.

Something was wrong. Something was terribly wrong.

Grace’s stomach was rolling, her heart triphammering. She fetched her cell phone from her handbag in order to call Denis but saw that it was dead. And it would not come on despite holding down the power button for several seconds. It couldn’t be the battery; she had never let the bars fall below three, and she had spoken to Denis in the bus.

She hastened along Elgeyo Road. Her heels tapped on the tarmac and made the loudest sound she had ever heard. She looked back often, hoping to see something, somebody, wishing for a movement, but each time she became more and more unsettled by the brooding quietness and the odd vegetation. She saw that Kilimani Road was a narrow footpath overgrown with weeds and terminating at its intersection with Elgeyo Road; it used be a rough road until 2010 when it was repaired into a two-lane road to ease traffic on Ngong Road. It also stretched to become Riara Road about a kilometre westwards.

Dark Road

Elgeyo Road

A colonial bungalow with red tiles and stone walls loomed creepily by the footpath, as if intentionally hiding in the trees, waiting to ambush. It wasn’t supposed to be there.

Grace, overcome, broke into a run. She ran for a half a kilometre nonstop. She saw that Muringa Road was missing as well, and the Jehovah’s Witnesses place, which bordered it to the north, was a jungle. Across Elgeyo Road, where Denis’ estate was supposed to be, another jungle had spread over it, so immense and dreadful that Grace found herself retreating from it before she could consciously come to the decision.

Something cried like a baby and two animals sprinted across the road, one pursuing the other. An even bigger one dropped from one of the trees, shaking the branches as if it were King Kong and grunting like an old man.

She ran back the way she had come. She ran faster than before. She was almost reaching the roundabout when she caught a flash of light. She braked, thinking there may yet be a flicker of hope after all. At the same time, she recollected that there was a place called Tumaini Centre around there which provided women’s hostels, bed and breakfast, and conference rooms. She did not think she would find it. To her surprise, she saw the gate and precipitated to bang on it. She banged frantically.

A tall dark man with an eccentric bearing came out almost instantly. He had a flashlight with him, though it was too dim and glowing red instead. He wore blue coveralls and a yellow helmet, but the strange thing about him was that he made Grace want to take off and never stop or look back. He was enormous, nine or ten feet tall, and was broad accordingly. The flashlight handle was consumed entirely by his hands.

Grace stepped away from him, her hair standing on end, her heart pounding harder. He was wrong too, and she felt that he was not supposed to be there.

                                                                                                                                                                                  II.

“How can I help you, young lady?” he said in a strong voice with lucid articulation.

“Can I get a room?” Grace asked.

He surveyed her up and down. It made her uneasy and she shifted her feet. She could not see his eyes but she could feel them burning through her like two revolting blades ripping her soul apart. Again, she unconsciously stepped back.

“Where are you from at this hour?”

“Ngong,” she said timidly and then proceeded to explain why she had come to Adams.

“Are you a student?”

“Yes.”

“Why didn’t you go directly to the university? It is only three kilometres from here.”

“I do not have a room yet,” she said. “We are opening tomorrow. If I go later than six, I will not find a room.”

“Why is that?”

“The rooms are too few, the students too many; we have to fight for them.”

“That is lamentable,” remarked he.

“Can I get accommodation here tonight?” she asked again, wondering why she was being interrogated, not liking it, but not knowing what to do about it.

“No,” he said. “This place burned down two months ago. We’re renovating.”

Her heart sank. She looked back the way she had come. It was desolate there, emptiness like no other. ‘Tumaini’ was Kiswahili for hope. It didn’t have any hope tonight.

“What is wrong with this place?” she inquired and motioned around her.

“Is anything wrong with it?” asked he.

“It doesn’t look like Adams Arcade.”

“What does Adams Arcade look like?” he asked and the gravity of his voice surprised her. He either truly did not know Adams Arcade or felt that it was normal for a town to just disappear. He maintained his feral gaze on her.

“It is a town,” she said, “an uptown residential place. Not this bushy and quiet. Not this wilderness.”

“What have you against the trees and the quiet?” He was patronizing her.

“I don’t understand what is going on.”

“Have you considered that you may not be able to understand?”

He knows what’s happening, she thought, and took another step back.

“The bus that I came in vanished,” she said.

“Do you want it back?” he asked. “Is it a necessity for your life?”

She was quiet. She did not know how to reply. He was stern.

“If you were to choose between this ‘wilderness’—as you call it—and The Green Mall over there, which one would you take?”

He said ‘The Green Mall over there’ as if he could see it. Grace turned and looked in the direction.

“Where is The Green Mall?” she asked and unwittingly condemned herself for ever.

The man was silent for almost a minute. It was an eternal minute, the longest she had ever spent under the sky. Meanwhile his gaze never shifted from her.

“Would you like more structures like The Green Mall all over earth?” asked he. “How do you fill a planet with pavements and shopping malls like this? I think they are one too many and they are wasting my planet.”

She didn’t know what he was talking about.

“Did everything burn down?” she asked uneasily. She wanted to look past him but was too scared to try.

“Everything has burned down,” he said. “I will fix it. I am here to fix it.”

Grace did not understand the change in his tense. He was using ‘has’ to refer to what he had said happened two months before. It was as if they were not talking about the same thing.

“I have to go then,” she said, timid. She turned and hurried back towards the bus stop. “Thank you,” she said over her shoulder and quickened her pace.

He said nothing.

She looked back once but did not see him. He had dematerialized. Just like the bus and the entire Adams Arcade. “Good riddance,” thought she. She did not like him at all and the farther away she got from him, the more relieved she felt. There was something very repulsive about him. It wasn’t anything she saw or knew; she felt it.

                                                                                                                                                                               III.

She was reaching the bus stop when suddenly a man laughed somewhere in the forlorn night. He laughed like a lunatic. HAHAHII! HAIYAHOHO!

It was a lonely sound, hollow and mirthless, and it shattered the disquieting silence like glass. The laugher was several kilometres away, the sound diminishing as it reached Grace, who, though disturbed by it, decided that she was not alone after all. Lunatic or not, drunk or sober, the man was in the same night as her. She found some solace in this thought.

She passed the bus stop, kept walking. At the next intersection, she would leave Ngong Road for Ring Road Kilimani, then Lenana Road, after which Dennis-Pritt Road would lead her to Processional Way and Nyerere Road. She would be in the university in no time, and this nightmare would be gone forever. She would be safe within the precincts of the campus, with or without a room.

The man laughed again. HAHAHII! HAIYAHOHO!

He was still too far away. Grace determined that he was in the direction of downtown, maybe around Kenyatta National Hospital area. She pushed on.

When next he laughed, he was beside her. So close that she felt his rotting breath on her cheek, that hollow, mirthless reedy sound blasting her eardrum.

HAHAHII! HAIYAHOHO!

She jumped like a crazy thing, let out an insane ear-splitting shriek, looked about with wild terrified eyes, failed to see anyone, turned and fled. She ran like she had never run before. She flew.

The thing chased her. It couldn’t really be a person; it was making cruel inhuman cries and moving with the sound of a dust devil, disturbing litter and debris along the road. Grace could not hear its footsteps either, although it was coming at her at full speed and momentum, fierce, deadly. She was losing.

It grabbed her shoulder. A hand, no, a paw—it felt like a paw, like a cat’s paw, though hairier, huger, deadlier—it clutched her, twisted, curled, the claws lacerating her flesh. She was jerked back with so mighty a force that her feet went up and her buttocks came down hard on the pavement. The impact jarred her spine. She rolled, spun, rolled again. But still she saw no one, nothing. She was alone.

She screamed. A shrill hopeless, earth-shattering scream that rived the night in two. She screamed again.

Something else galloped towards her like a horse, hooves clip-clopping on the tarmac. She couldn’t see it either. She tried rising in vain, her legs unable to sustain her, and she was gasping for a third scream when it turned out to be the man from Tumaini Centre. He materialized like a spook. He was smaller than he had been at the gate. He was now six feet tall. She now saw that the flashlight in his hand was a rock. She didn’t get it.

“Are you wounded?” he asked.

But she could not speak. Her heart pounded too hard, her breath short. He grasped her arm and helped her up. She felt his strength and, in spite of her consternation and horror, found herself trying to wrench free of him. He lifted up like a piece of paper.

“It is a strange night tonight,” he said, speaking with such patience and composure that she thought him absolutely unfeeling. “It looks like I shall take you with me.”

She wanted to protest but her lungs were still on fire. Then again, even if she protested, what next would she do? Where would she go?

Somewhere too far away, the laughing thing laughed again. HAHAHII! HAIYAHOHO!

“How can it be both so far away and so near at the same time?” she wondered.

“You are bleeding copiously,” the man said. “What is it that did this to your shoulder?”

She shook her head. A little consolation that he wasn’t the laughing thing inspired some confidence in him.

“Well,” said he, “I will treat your wound and give you a place in which to lodge for the night. In the morning, you can go to the university and fight for accommodation.”

He took her with him. His touch was very creepy.

                                                                                                                                                                                IV.

They walked in the direction of the Jehovah’s Witnesses headquarters. He was tugging her along and walking much faster than she could keep up so that more than once she stumbled and hung on his arm like a child in order to keep from being dragged on the ground. He did not speak. Three times in the course of the short journey, she felt that there was someone or something else following them and sometimes moving beside her; that they were three on the road instead of two. But, besides herself, she could see only him. She was not relieved. After about two hundred metres, he left the main road for a smaller one which led into an estate and was unpaved and rather rocky and dusty.

The estate should have been Elgeyo Square, and the road was usually paved. However, tonight, even the gate was missing and the whole place was concealed within a grove of tall trees and bush. There was just a single block marked ‘Block A’ over the entrance. It had three floors and twelve houses. They were as dark and soundless as the night itself. He took her to the first floor, House No. 5A.

“Do you work at Tumaini Centre?” she asked as he opened the door. She had recovered enough to speak. The silence was too much and she thought speaking with him might alleviate her anxiety.

“What sort of work would I do at Tumaini Centre?” returned he.

“You said you were there to fix it.”

“What I intend to fix is not Tumaini Centre,” he said. “What I intend to fix is this planet.”

He pushed the door open and bid her enter first. He held it ajar for a few more seconds while looking outside in the manner suggestive that he was waiting for someone else to come in. Grace felt something sweep past her. There was a change in the air current and she gasped and leapt back. The man turned to her with a look of stern reproof and she put her hand across her mouth to shut herself up. He entered and locked the door after him. The click of the lock was like a seal of fate.

They’re going to kill me, she thought dismally and then conjured up stories and images of murdered women, raped and murdered and buried in garbage dumps or chopped into pieces and discarded one by one across the city.

“Take a seat,” he said. “I shall go arrange how to address your wound.”

She sat by the door, still as the chair itself. After he was gone, she saw that he had taken the key with him. It drained her further, all hope gone. Something rolled in her stomach and her eyes watered. She was trapped.

The house was cold. It was lonely. Like a place where no one lived. There was a single table in the centre and the three old chairs around it seemed to have been that way since time out of mind. The curtains too had the impression that they had never been opened. The air was stale, as if motionless for too long, and the rug was as coarse and sticky as the cushions themselves. No pictures or posters decorated the walls, which were rather bland and tasteless in colour, no wall clock either, except for an ancient 1980 calendar with a picture of a young President Moi on it. She had a feeling that the rightful owners of this house had been murdered so long ago and discarded in the forest, or eaten even. Maybe the man was a cannibal. He was going to eat Grace.

He came back with an egg-shaped rock the size of a small water melon, a ball of cotton wool, and a powdered substance in an unmarked translucent glass bottle. The rock was almost transparent with a red vein within it. He put them in front of her, stood over her.

“You have to take off your jumper,” he said.

She did, with trembling hands and a hammering heart. There was a scream in her throat pressing to be let out. She was choking on it.

“You have to take off your brassiere,” he said.

She didn’t.

He started pushing the bra strap over her shoulder and she withdrew, got up and leapt away from him.

“What are you doing?” demanded he. There was something awful in his voice. It was very frightening.

He had taken off the helmet and his face, exposed, was very intense, with pronounced jaws, high cheekbones, and awfully deep sockets in which two malignant orbs burned with a vengeance. There was a sense of dark purpose about him and just looking at him chilled her to the marrow. He was perhaps thirty-five years old.

“What do you want?” she asked, though weakly, and drew back again.

“What do I want?” he returned with a derisive sneer. His eyebrows were very thick and gave him an extremely sinister look. “How will this situation improve if I reveal to you what I want? What can you do about what I want?”

He paused for an answer. When she gave him none, he continued: “Whatever is going to happen to you is inevitable. You have not the slightest chance on earth of altering its outcome.”

“Please, don’t hurt me,” she pleaded.

“Ah!” he sighed, his face distorted with hate and disgust, his hands clenched. “You are beginning to touch me in a very dark place. Sit down!

She sat. She slumped on the chair like something thrown there.

He slid the bra strap over her shoulder and poured the powder on the wound. It stung like hell and she had the pulsing sensation of fluids being drawn from the wound. He worked fast and efficiently, mopping up the fluids with a piece of cotton wool and then applying the rock over the wound. He rolled it there slowly, deliberately, and she could feel its low throbbing. It beat like a heart. It grew hotter and hotter with each rolling and hurt her so much that it brought tears to her eyes. But she did not move, too afraid to attempt it. Finally, he covered the wound with the cotton wools and held them in place with her bra strap. He let go of her.

“What hurt you is not a fancy creature,” he said. “It is a thing of the night, all faded and invisible. If I didn’t treat your wound, you’d have rotted all over in ninety minutes.”

She put on her jumper. “Thank you,” she said. Except for some dull itching, she did not feel any more pain on her shoulder.

“I shall go prepare for you a place in which to sleep.”

He took the rock and the bottle, turned to go, stopped. “I have no food to offer you, in case you thought I would,” he said.

“I don’t want food,” she blurted, realized, belatedly, what she had done, looked up and met his inflamed eyes. She flinched and said “I’m okay, thank you” in a placating tone. How could he think she would want food in these circumstances?

“I’m glad you don’t,” he said. “It disgusts me to watch humans eat. Moving their jaws thoughtlessly, turning all those animals and plants into faeces. You consume this planet until you become sick with the weight, and then gallop around the city like absurdities, dancing gymnastics in order to lose the energy that you are supposed to naturally give back to the plants and animals that gave it to you! Instead, you expend it into the atmosphere where it is redundant and eventually escapes into the illimitable wastes of the universe.

“I wonder,” he went on. “How can you see an animal and not be overcome with confoundment at the mysterious wonder of its existence, the unparalleled beauty, the indefinite grace? How can you see another life and crave only to turn it into faeces, the sight of which, yourself, fills you with abhorrent loathing?”

“Don’t you eat?” Grace asked. He sounded crazy and obsessed with the planet.

“I do not,” he replied. “I was alive when there was only water. I learned to separate the hydrogen atoms in it from that of oxygen, and then fuse the released hydrogen nuclei into helium, and utilize the energy released thereof. Do you know how strong it makes me? Just like the sun. I breathe out helium.”

“You breathe out helium?” Grace wondered.

“But your wretched lot, curse you!” he swore. “You learned to consume the planet and extirpate all life in it. How fateful for you! You will pay. I bring you the price.”

“Are you not human?” Grace asked.

“To be human, I have keenly observed, is to be the worst possible thing in the whole of Enki’s universe. I thought I’d seen worse. I hadn’t.”

“What are you, then?”

“You don’t listen,” he said. “Have I not just told you what I am? You should not bother with comprehending me. You cannot. I am unnamed, unnameable.”

“I don’t know what you say you are,” Grace said. “You look like a human being to me. But if you say those things so that you can hurt me and feel good about it, I understand. Just go ahead and get it over with. There is nothing to stop you.” Her voice shook and with each word terror seized her more and more firmly. “Why didn’t you just leave me out in the dark instead of pretending to rescue me so that you can terrify me yourself?”

He stared at her in silence for some time and then said: “You don’t listen. Yet you think you know.” He left the room.

                                                                                                                                                                                   V.

He came back and told her that her bed was ready. She followed him into a cold room in which no one had ever slept. It was staler than the living room. The air was dry and stifling, reminiscent of that of a cave. The bed stood uninvitingly at the centre, the sheet drawn too tight over it. A pendant bulb bathed it in yellow light. The room seemed to have been so for a thousand years. The mattress was too firm.

“Sleep deep,” he said. “It will be your last good sleep.”

She couldn’t be expected to sleep after that statement. She never slept that night. Terror robbed her of her capacity to sleep. It was the worst night ever.

There was a key in the lock and she swiftly locked the door after him. She was surprised that he had left it there. She did not take it out. It might not keep him out for long but at least she would know when he attempted to come in and scream for the neighbours. Assuming he had neighbours, she corrected. So far not a sound had come from outside. Indeed, there was not a single piece of evidence that anyone else lived in this estate.

Before she did anything else thereafter, she decided to ask God for protection and knelt down by the bed. Eyes closed, head lowered, fingers entwined in pious humility, she had barely said “Our Father” when something moved in the room. That same drift of air she had felt in the living room, cold, calculated—there was something with her!

She sprung up, the room suddenly upside-down, everywhere dangerous. She bolted for the door, turned the key, and remembered he was out there. She stopped and bit down on a deranged frenzied shriek. She had never been so helpless.

She waited for another movement, not knowing where to look, where it would come from. Not knowing what was in the room with her. She began to cry. “Please,” she whimpered and then let out the torrent of emotions. She went to the bed and slumped down on it. She wept bitterly for the rest of the night.

She thought it was him that had been out there laughing like a lunatic. It was him that had chased her and hurt her shoulder. He had wanted her alone with him in this house. And he wasn’t a human being. He wasn’t a human being!

The thing in the room with her did not move again. But she knew it was there.

After one million hours of weeping in her veritable hell, she thought to tune her ears to the sounds outside. She suppressed the sobs, though tears continued to flood her face. It took another one million hours for the first sound to reach her. It was a bird.

She decided to leave. She had to risk it. She took off her shoes and put them in her bag. She then paused by the door for several minutes, waiting for the thing in the room to hinder her, but when it didn’t, she, with utmost caution, unlocked the door and tiptoed out. She looked back to see if it would follow. She saw nothing.

To her dismay, the living room light was on. She froze in mid-step, a low gasp escaping her throat. It meant her captor was awake. How cursed was she to scheme so foolishly. She withdrew towards her cell. She was almost entering when the door banged shut and the key turned in the lock. The thing did not want her back there. It was its room.

A moment of utter darkness passed when she felt cornered between the Devil and the deep blue sea. After an eternity of surging whirlpools of thoughts, she resolved to keep going. If she found him, she would tell him that she had to go. He would not let her but that was the only thing left to do. She could not just sit in the room with the invisible laughing thing and wait to be eaten or done in whatever way they fancied.

There was nobody in the living room! And the key was in the lock! Unthinkable! She dashed across the room and seized it with might, as if afraid that it might vanish at once without a trace. As she gripped it, a fleeting instant passed when she wondered if this may not be another trap. It couldn’t be so easy. But a piece of paper attached to the key aided in the utter dismissal of the thought. In meticulous calligraphy, it said:

Dear Grace,

I had to rush back out. If you should leave before my return, kindly take my key with you. I will find you when I need it. And, please, do take care of it well, because, if you lose it, my house will disappear.

Your Host.

“To hell!” she exhaled, relieved, excited, wanting nothing more than to get out of there. “To hell with your key!” she said aloud, opened the door, and took off.

Grace ran. She ran barefoot and she ran without care. She tore along Elgeyo Road past the hideous jungles that had supplanted The Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses and the estate in which Denis lived. When she reached Argwings Kodhek Road on the other side, she bent towards Yaya Centre from which she took Ring Road Kilimani to Lenana.

She remembered that she had not told him her name, yet he knew it, and she ran faster, harder. Her feet hurt like hell but she did not relent. She noted that from Yaya Centre onwards the rest of Kilimani was unchanged and it relieved her a little.

Somewhere farther off behind her, the thing laughed—HAHAHII! HAIYAHOHO!—and she careered like mad.

When she reached outside the Department of Defence in Hurlingham, she slowed down and stopped altogether to put on her shoes. She took a few seconds to catch her breath and cool her inflamed lungs. She then continued down past the Russian Embassy at a much slower pace. She was limping from her swollen feet.

She heard messages reach her cell phone and was nonplussed to discover that it was working. She called Denis, who was deep asleep and took too long to pick up. He asked her where she was and why she had not turned up at Adams Arcade. He said he had waited for her until 2am.

“I think I’m ok now,” she said. “I will tell you everything.”

Some minutes later, a car drove out of the embassy and two more whisked by her at the intersection of Lenana and Ralph Bunche Roads. She would be safe now. The world was waking. Her hope shot up infinitely.

                                                                                                                                                                                VI.

She acquired a room as soon as the Student Welfare Authority offices began to allocate them. She had been the first in the line though not the first to get one, some students having bribed the authorities beforehand to preserve rooms for them. Reporting early also meant that you could have your favourite room while it was still vacant. She chose room 319 in Hall 13 where female Architects and Engineers were housed. Grace was studying Electrical Engineering—the most jinxed course in the University of Nairobi.

By eleven, she had finished setting the room, and exhausted from the previous night’s horrors, decided to lie in bed for a few hours. Her rest, however, was soon interrupted by a certain detestable girl whose first name was Susan-Moses, who entered without knocking. She was a small girl, hobbit-like, with an oversized wig and a mousy face. But, quite unlike hobbits, she had a vile heart and a nosy demeanour which made her gossip as if it was her life’s ambition. She often made people fight; wherever she went rancour blossomed like cancer. She was a jinx.

“Susan-Moses, go away!” Grace told her.

“Grace, there is a watchman looking for you!” she said.

How pertinent! Later, she would pervert the story completely and say that Grace was dating the watchman. That she had seen the watchman taking off his clothes in Grace’s room.

“I don’t want to talk you,” Grace said without stirring from her position. “Go away!”

“He’s a new watchman, I think,” Susan-Moses insisted. “He said you have his key.”

“What key?” Grace asked.

As if to answer the question, her mind rang with the words: I will find you when I need it.

Things skittered up Grace’s spine towards her neck, icy, nasty, carnivorous things. She bolted upright, eyes at once full of panic, heart belabouring.

“Where is he?” she demanded. “Where is he?

But Susan laughed. She laughed like a witch. A trilling cry of pure wickedness. Her face deformed into an unsightly mask, her hobbit-ears twitching, red tongue peeking between numerous rat-teeth. There was perverse pleasure in her laughter. It bubbled in her chest like boiling fat.

Grace got up and thrust her out.

“Who is he, Grace?” she inquired, cutting off her hateful joy. Once beyond the door, she refused to go any farther. “Who is he?” she repeated, as inquisitive as a true gossiper. “Why does he make you look like you just saw the Devil?”

“Where is he?” Grace reiterated, with more urgency.

“I will not tell you unless you first tell me who he is.”

Susan!

“Who is he?”

Grace bumped her against the wall.

“Ouch!” she cried and misshaped her face. “You hur—”

Grace made to bump her again. She said, “Okay! I left him at the reception. I think he’s coming this way. He really means business.”

“Did he say he is a watchman?”

“No. But he is dressed like one. I just presumed.”

Grace locked the door and sprinted for the fire-escape stairs at the back of the building.

“How did he find me?” she worried aloud. “How does he know my name?”

Denis had been unhappy with her. According to him, Adams Arcade had been fine. She had just not shown up as she had promised. The only thing he had understood from her story was that she had spent the night in another man’s house. It had riled him.

“How can I make up such a story?” she’d complained to him.

“I don’t know,” he’d said. “Adams is a place, in case you forgot. It cannot go anywhere. It cannot become a forest overnight. But that man . . .” he’d trailed off, jaundiced by jealousy.

As a result, Grace now had her relationship to rankle her. She had been replaying the events of the previous night in her mind in a bid to understand them. They didn’t make sense yet they had happened and the wound was on her shoulder. It confused her and she had resolved to forget all about it. Now this!

She finished descending the stairs and started fleeing. But she had scarcely made three steps when, suddenly, he appeared out of the blue and clasped her arm. He broke her momentum and she lurched about, staggering. She could swear to God he had not been there. She let out such a violent a scream that the entire campus shook.

“Where is my key?” demanded he, giving her such a flinty gaze that her blood turned to ice. He rocked her and she flew about like a bird on a string, arms thrashing and feet unable to touch down. Her struggles were fruitless; his strength was immeasurable.

“I didn’t take it!” she shrieked. “I didn’t take it, please! I left it at your door!”

“Didn’t you see my note?”

“Yes. I did.”

“What did it say?”

Loath to miss such a rich source of gossip, Susan had followed Grace through the back stairs and outside Hall 13. She was standing nearby, smiling excitedly, and before Grace could answer the question, she said, “Grace, did you sleep in this man’s house?”

Grace ignored her and pleaded with her captor: “I didn’t take your key! I didn’t! Please! I swear to God I—”

“Do not swear a lie in my presence!” the man swore and flung her about like a sling. He slapped her face so hard she went blind.

Susan laughed at this. She laughed in her typical high-pitched diabolical way. “Where did she get your key?” she asked the stranger as if they were friends. “Did you give it to her? Did she sleep in your house? Did you sleep with her? Have you been sleeping with her? Do you know that she has a boyfriend here in campus?” she pestered and touched his arm for attention.

She started when she touched him and drew back her hand as if she had touched fire. A look of mingled perplexity and fear replaced her gleeful expression.

The man shoved Grace away and she collapsed on her side and rolled. He turned to Susan who was stupefied from touching him. She was puny in his presence; he towered over her such as a cat would tower over a gecko. He was increasingly rankled and his face was demonic. He had become bigger, taller than he had been in his house. He was about seven feet. It was easy to assume that he could not see her with those dark cloudy eyes. He was seeing something worth killing.

“Why do you interrupt me?” he asked her. “What presumptions have you made about me so that you can meddle into my business with unchecked impunity?”

Before she could speak, he gripped her head with both his hands and carried her up so high that she hung in them like a person committing suicide. Her feet thrashed about in vain. He shook her up and down vigorously like a wet cloth that is meant to be dried in that manner. Her neck snapped many times and her body pivoted about it, as limp as a noodle. As if that was not enough, he dropped her down and climbed on her frail chest with his right leg. He wore hard shoes shaped like hexagons and made from a material that resembled granite, with soles that were as jagged and sharp as stray teeth. Susan’s chest flattened and caved inwards. Her lungs, liver, and heart ruptured.

He gripped her head once again and pulled it off. It came out with part of the spinal cord attached to it like a tail, a red thing of unimaginable ugliness.

Some girls had stood around and they took off with dire screams and ululations. One daredevil Victoria fetched a piece of wood and attacked him with it while yelling at the top of her lungs. “Hey! Hey! Hey!” She hit him three times in succession, but he warded off the next blow and broke her arm at the elbow and shoulder. He also shattered all her left ribs with a single squeeze. He then used Susan’s head to pound her to death.

Three boys, who had been helping their girlfriends with luggage, were cast into fits of passionate rage by what they had witnessed and they pounced on him without thought. They threw several punches and kicks, which did not move him at all. But he, grabbing two of them by the backs of their heads, crashed their foreheads together till their heads exploded and their brains spilled all over his hands. He shook his hands to clear away the stuff, a cloud of bitter disgust and antipathy obscuring his features. However, the stuff failed to come off and he seized the remaining student, who was dazed beyond speech, and wiped it on his face and hair. He then punched him in the chest so hard and with such feral fury that the student’s back swelled and curved like that of a hunchback. The man’s fist almost came out the other side.

                                                                                                                                                                            VII.

Grace broke free while he was engaged with the last student. After the blow to her face, she had been too paralysed and bewildered to move a limb. She flew down St. Andrews Road, shot across State House Road and Uhuru Highway, darted along University Way, and in about two minutes, she had reached Central Police Station on Moi Avenue, a distance of about a thousand metres.

One policeman was standing out in the open, seeming lazy and abstracted in the sun. She ran to him but could not brake fast enough. She knocked him over. The act incensed him exceedingly and he struck her face with a fist.

“Mjinga!” he swore. Stupid! He rose quickly and kicked her in the belly.

But she could not breathe, let alone talk or cry. He prepared to kick her again and she pointed back towards the road. It was then that it struck him that somebody may have been pursuing her. He surveyed that way for some time before turning to ask her:

“Unakimbizwa?”Are you being pursued?

She nodded.

“Na nani?”By whom?

She shook her head.

“Humjui?” he frowned. You don’t know him?

She shook her head.

“Sasa we unasema nini?” he asked irritably. “Ingia huko ndani uwaelezee,” he added and motioned her towards their office. Now what are you saying? Get in there and explain it to them.

She made to get up and slumped back down. He cast towards her a contemptuous look and did not bother with her again. She lay there until she had rested enough to move.

A female officer came out just as Grace was rising.

“Nini mbaya na wewe?” she asked in the typical Kenya Police’s brutal Kiswahili accent. What is the matter with you?

She hastened to explain, her mouth a waterfall of panted words.

“Amewauwa wanafunzi wangapi?” the woman asked. How many students did he kill?

“Five. Two girls, three boys,” Grace said.

The cop turned to her colleague within the office and said, “Olau, chukua statement ya huyu msichana. Anasema wanafunzi wameuwawa huko campo. Tutaenda kuangalia.” Olau, take this girl’s statement. She says students have been killed at the campus. We’ll go look. She then followed the surly cop, who was standing by the canteen. They tarried there, as if they owned time and had never heard of the word ‘emergency’.

Grace went into the office and was offered a seat by a cop whose eyes were so red and swollen that they seemed about burst out of his forehead, which was also bulging out like something artificially stuck there with glue.

“State your name for the record,” he said when he was ready to take down notes.

“Grace Wangari Kimani,” she answered.

After he had taken other necessary details, she narrated the sequence of events starting from the previous day when she left the wedding until she met the killer at Tumaini Centre. She omitted the part about Adams Arcade looking abandoned and out of place. She thought it would add abstruse complications to her statement.

“He said he was alive when there was only water on earth?” the officer interrupted.

“Yes.”

“Was he joking with you?”

“No. I do not know him.”

“You don’t have to know him for him to joke with you.”

“He was not joking.”

The officer named Olau leaned back in his chair and announced proudly that he was a staunch member of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church.

“That means I read my Bible,” he said. “We are not like the Catholics who read bits of paper full of lies jotted down by their padres.” He paused and peered at Grace as if to discover the effect of his wisdom on her. He was grinning gaily. She just stared at him. She had heard only too well how the SDAs condemned the Catholics. It didn’t matter. “Now,” continued he, “if I remember correctly the Bible does not say specifically when God created water. But before God said, ‘Let there be light’, His spirit was moving upon the face of the waters.”

“It has been scientifically proved that water is older than the sun,” Grace told him.

“Good!” he ejaculated. He then leaned forward with a deliberative look on his face. “So this man you met at night told you that he is older than the sun?”

“Yes.”

“He breathes out helium.”

“Yes.”

“And he is as strong as the sun.”

“Yes,” Grace nodded. “He said he is as strong as the sun.”

“Did he strike you as mentally unstable?” he asked.

“No. He didn’t look mentally unstable,” Grace said.

“You are not psychologist,” the cop concluded. “I think he is mentally unstable. He is crazy. Are you sure you don’t know him?”

“No. I do not know him.”

“And you are sure you do not have his key?”

“I don’t have his key. I left it in the lock where I found it.”

“Sawa basi,” he said and leaned back again. Okay, then. “We will—”

At this point, an outburst of gunfire filled the station. Grace squealed and leapt towards the cop, who himself fell on his knees and hid under the desk. She squatted beside him. They watched the door with wide eyes and quivering limbs. Firing went on for over ten seconds.

“Tumempata!” the female cop exclaimed triumphantly. We got him!

“Nimempa tatu kwa kichwa!” the surly cop said with pride. I gave him three in the head. He then added: “Wapi yule msichana amtambue?” Where is that girl to identify him?

“Aha! Nimempasua kifua!” the female cop rhymed pleasantly. I have split his chest!

Grace raised her head in anticipation. “They got him?” asked she.

“I think they killed him,” the officer named Olau said. They both came out.

But, to her complete shock and confusion, it was Denis they had killed. To exacerbate a situation that was already too stretched, the cops had gunned down the man she loved. The top of his head was open like the bottom of a shattered pot. His chest was blown up like a volcano.

Grace became incapacitated. Things began to go topsy-turvy. Darkness devoured her.

“Ni yeye?” the female cop asked cautiously, observing what was happening. Is it him?

Grace was jolted her back to consciousness.

Not him! Not him!” she screeched, startling the officers and turning their triumph into horror. “This is not him!” she wailed dejectedly and collapsed down by the corpse. Her anguish was unequalled.

Denis had followed her after hearing about the killings at Hall 13. He had panicked and came careering to the station at full speed, making the officers mistake him for the killer pursuing Grace. He had wanted to apologize for not believing her. He knew she could not make up a twisted otherworldly story like the one she had told him. He had known her for four years and had never seen her so distressed.

“Sasa tungejuaje si yeye?” the surly cop complained in defence of their action. How were we to know it wasn’t him?

“And how did you know it was him?” Grace wanted to retort, but it would be a waste of time. They were a trigger-happy bone lazy lot. People said that the Kenya Police shot first and asked questions later. This was an apodeictic proof.

It occurred to Grace that the police could not help her. They loved to shoot more than to investigate, yet when they shot, they shot the wrong people. What she was experiencing needed a keen following up. They lacked the capacity to deal with the nature of enemy after her. It was useless reporting to them. It was useless reporting to anybody. She was on her own, alone and powerless, pursued by a singular phenomenon, an inexplicable, unknowable entity, both invincible and invisible. There was no hope.

                                                                                                                                                                         VIII.

Even as these thoughts flitted through her mind, the man materialized in front of her. He came with a force almost like that of a hurricane. A strong wind and billows of dust marked his arrival so that it was impossible to tell from which direction he had come. The earth shook, and nearby a car windscreen shattered and the alarm went off. One of the tires exploded. A red Vitz that had been crushed in an accident was tilted up on its side before it fell back down again. Grace was knocked on her ass and she was unable to rise.

“Where is my key?” bellowed he, inclining to glower at her terrified countenance.

He was taller than she remembered him to be, and broader, and darker, his cheekbones higher, forehead arched more prominently, brows thicker and more knotted. His eyes were infinite holes of madness, black vortices in which hell itself spiralled. He still wore the stained blue coveralls and the yellow helmet.

The two cops wavered only for a moment before opening fire. They opened fire without caring if they might shoot Grace, who was too close to their target.

They hit him. They hit him but it was pointless. They might as well have been throwing small useless darts at him. He did not shake. He did not bleed. No wounds opened on his body.

Suddenly, he leapt forward at an incalculable speed and kicked the female officer in the stomach, catching her squarely with the tip of his shoe. The result was catastrophic. She was broken into four pieces, which scattered about haphazardly, her gut spilling out everywhere. She was cut at the waist and her chest split into two parts. Her head flew up like football and arced over the city towards Lillian Tower across University Way. It crashed through a window and scared one janitor to death.

The other officer, the grumpy one, ceased firing and attempted to flee. He was sent off with a diabolic kick in his butt that made him go up like a rocket. He disappeared in the clouds.

The officer named Olau ran back into the office and hid under the desk. It was the most judicious thing to do under the circumstances and it saved him.

                                                                                                                                                                                IX.

The man walked back to Grace, who saw him coming and wished that she were dead. He picked her up and put her on her feet. She was feeble and she tottered. He was hot; steam issued from his palms, and where he touched her, she felt blisters forming. She could feel the heat radiated from his body. It was akin to standing near a fireplace.

“Grace Kimani,” he said and paused to search her eyes with his pitiless ones. His pupils were pinpoints, his breath fiery. He was a massive presence, as terrible as nothing else she had ever encountered. “I. Need. My. Key.” He spoke as if counting the words and jounced her with each syllable so that she lurched about this way and that.

“I don’t have your key,” she pleaded, despondent, and he smacked her left cheek. Heat flooded that side of her face and something shuttered her eye. She teetered and fell. He picked her up.

“If you lie to me on more time, I will pull out your spinal cord,” he said. “Give me my key!” He bumped her again and she fell on her ass, rolled. He made to pick her up but halted and looked towards the road.

Officer Olau had called backup and the world was abruptly rife with sirens, millions of them, and cops on foot, from Harry Thuku Road, University Way, Moi Avenue, Muindi Mbingu Street and Koinange Street. The station was surrounded.

The man raised his hands with palms open, as if surrendering. Grace thought the move suspicious and began creeping away on all fours. Six policemen advanced on him and began delivering deadly blows with their legs, fists and the butts of their guns. Usually, they were vicious without provocation. Now that they were provoked, they sent all the rules and laws to hell.

However, he did not budge. They belaboured him in vain. They tried yanking his arms down and twisting them behind him but failed. They beat his legs and stomach in order to make him fall but he remained on his feet. They struck the back of his head with the butts of their rifles but that too did not yield. At one time, they looked like children trying to pull down a tree too sturdy for them. They were hanging on him.

At last, one of them shot him. He was shot in the chest at a point-blank range with a Glock 30 chambered in .45 ACP, the reputed man-stopper. It did not even shake him. He was shot again. And again. And again. Needless to say, it was a shocking day for everyone involved.

All the while he had been grinning at them an ugly grin, his mouth open like a sadistic wound, mocking their futility. Now passion disfigured his face; hate and disdain build empires on his countenance. He fetched his person and took out a small shiny rock with a hole in it. He swung it in the air like a child playing with a toy plane and then touched their heads one by one with it. Over fifteen cops now thronged him. His hands moved over their heads like those of an expert prestidigitator, sometimes merely flicking.

When he was finished, two or three seconds elapsed during which the officers looked thoroughly stunned and abstracted, as if hearing something from afar, waiting. Then, at once, their heads burst into flames. Blue flames like those of the cooking gas, devouring their heads like grass. Only their heads.

They dropped their weapons and skittered about blindly, madly, staggering, jostling, squirming, screaming, crying, dancing, waving, falling, all wearing crowns of fire. Their brains cooked and their eyes sizzled. The stink was abominable. Eventually, their heads became ashes and were blown away by the wind.

                                                                                                                                                                                   X.

Grace rushed downtown and took a bus to Kiambu where her parents lived and farmed coffee. She was rugged and miserable in aspect; her clothes, arms, and legs were soiled from falling and crawling on the ground too many times; her face was inflamed where she had been hit, her left eye shut, and the right one was blood red and aching from crying. She resembled a person who had managed to piss off one particularly villainous wasp. She was also limping; her feet and thighs were painful from running too much within a short period of time.

She regretted leaving her friend’s wedding at so late an hour. She regretted alighting at Adams Arcade. She regretted even more that the University of Nairobi was too poorly run. If only they built more hostels than they planted flowers and painted old buildings! If only they were not so greedy for cash that they took in more students than they could accommodate!

Her mother was waiting for her when she got home. They had talked on the way and Grace had learned that the news had already been on TV. A strange man, it said, had killed 11 university students and 23 police officers.  Grace’s name had been mentioned by Officer Olau—that irrefutable proof of the old saying that cowards live longer. Her mother had been frantic and fearful on the phone, asking how she, Grace, could have met such a devil. It drove her mad to think that something like him was hunting down her only daughter.

Her mother ran to meet her, arms open in a fond welcome. Grace hugged her back with everything she had, with abandonment, desperation, and fear. She clung to that gentle love as she had years before in the womb. And there, against the bosom that had nursed her, that refuge of all refuges, that fortress of unfaltering love and care, the haven, the sanctuary, the best place in the world—leaning against it in such a state, the horrors, the bitterness, and the agony of the last twelve hours returned to her and she wept as she had never before done in her adult life. She convulsed and moaned and sobbed till her tears were like rain water on her mother’s bosom.

“They killed Denis,” she said. “They killed Denis.”

Her father, who was standing nearby waiting for his turn to be hugged, walked away when he heard of Denis’ death. He was thereafter heard sniffling and blowing his nose behind the house. He had been good friends with Denis, something of which Grace had been very proud.

When she had calmed down, she began telling her mother about the previous night but found her voice to be too hoarse and painful. She asked instead for painkillers and some sleeping pills. She swallowed them and lay on the sofa to sleep.

She was woken up three hours later by the Criminal Investigation Division officers who had traced her home. She woke up screaming, thinking it was her pursuer bending over her. She had been dreaming that he was going to kill her mother with a giant ugly thing that resembled a gun but wasn’t quite one.

The cops had read her statement and wanted to interrogate her afresh. They didn’t care that she was ill and groggy and could hardly speak. They had come with reporters and needed to prove to the public that they were doing their job.

They took Grace with them regardless of her mother’s protests. They took her to their headquarters in Nairobi where they were distraught and impatient to know about the murderer. Perhaps for the first time in ages they had a criminal they did not know. It was always said that they knew all the criminals in the city, and if they did not yet catch them, it was because they were in cahoots. Grace told them everything she could recall, except that Adams Arcade had been a deserted wilderness on Sunday night. She still could not grasp the idea of a vanishing town and it hurt to contemplate. After nearly two hours of questioning, during which she kept repeating herself since her voice was too low, they told her to take them to the man’s house. She was surprised that they had not yet been there, although the location had been in her statement.

“I don’t want to return to his house,” she protested.

“It is a matter of national security and we are not asking if you’ll accept to go,” she was told by one of her interrogators whose name was Inspector Ogwal. He was overbearing and pompous.

“I have given you the location,” she said. “Why don’t you just go?”

“Amka twende!” she was ordered. Get up we go!

“You can’t arrest him or kill him even if you find him,” she said, still seated. She was alluding to what had transpired at the Central Police Station.

“Wewe! Chunga huo mdomo!” the inspector cautioned. You! Watch that mouth!

She wanted to ask him why he thought the man was stupid enough to wait around for them in his house, but gave up when he grabbed her and threw her out of the office.

They left for Adams Arcade in numerous police vehicles. She really did not want to go. She knew what she would find.

                                                                                                                                                                                XI.

Adams Arcade looked all right. Just as it had been when Grace passed it on Sunday morning on her way to the wedding. The Green Mall was there, as vast as ever, so were the Total Petrol Station, the Tuskys Supermarket, Shell, and the old mall with its arched roof. Grace recalled one time taking cappuccino at the Java Coffeehouse down there with her friends. One of those friends had been Victoria who had been battered to death with Susan-Moses’ head. The other had been Denis, dead too, her lover. She wondered where they had taken the body and gasped aloud at the memory.

Further on, the car-sales place near the bus stop was back and it was packed as if with new arrivals. The lonely streetlight was gone; several lamps now lined both sides of the road. A city clock stood at the centre of the roundabout beside a tall tree; neither had been there. The colonial bungalow with the red tiles and stone walls was gone as well; in its place was a Muslim radio station called IQRA FM. Kilimani Road was there, and, she knew, so was Muringa Road ahead, the Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses and the estate in which Denis had lived.

Trees were few, limited to the sides of the road and occasionally in certain compounds.

But the worst of it all was that Tumaini Centre was operational. Two cars drove in and a group of girls exited, chatting loudly, laughing. There were no signs that it had burned down. Grace now noticed that the gate was also different. It was pale green while the one she had banged last night had been pitch black.

Three vehicles carrying a total of twenty cops branched that way. Belated, mused Grace, they will never find him. She thought also that they would not find him in Elgeyo Square. A terrible mystery had happened and none of them could solve it.

Grace prayed that they would not find him. There were about thirty police officers with her and she knew that, if they found him, they would all be killed, horribly killed. They had come for their deaths. She also could not run. If the worst came to worst, she would ask him to kill her and be done with it. She had not taken his key and he knew it. She was tired, sick. And there was nowhere to run anymore.

The road to the estate was paved and the estate looked as different from its previous version as it could be. There were three blocks instead of one, marked Block A, Block B and Block C over the entrances. They were painted dark brown on the obverse walls, white on the sills and the columns, and black on the railings; except for the railings, there had been no paint whatsoever on the outside. Moreover, there were far too many cars for a single estate, as if the residents were competing with one another for them, with some parked in a disused basketball court whose rotting posts leaned awkwardly in opposite directions. A single post with two lamps on top of it stood ten metres from the gate; one lamp faced the direction of the gate to illuminate the driveway while the other pointed at the compound. The post had not been present the day before, and not a single vehicle had been in the estate, whose compound had been marked by untamed tall creeping grass and lonely pavements. There had been no basketball court either.

Grace ceased surveying the area. The memory of her escape was too poignant, yet the dissimilarity made her shiver. She felt disconnected with herself. One part of her relived her incarceration and eventual escape; the other part did not recognize her prison and the memory of her being in it was a faint dream. She had been there, yet she hadn’t.

                                                                                                                                                                            XII.

She led the officers to House A5. There was an external steel door painted black, but the inner door was cream-coloured and wooden. She recalled only the wooden one which had been white.

The cops rapped on the steel door as if it had offended them. Meanwhile they cocked their guns and trained them at the closed entrance. Grace moved towards the back. The sensible ones helped her. Some cops had spread around the compound and warned the residents to return indoors and remain there. They then readied themselves to shoot, each taking a vantage point. It was ridiculous how they believed that they could catch the killer in his house six hours after the massacre at the university.

A stout woman with an excessively dark complexion and brusque manners opened the doors. She flung the inner door carelessly and it slammed the adjacent wall. The latches on the outer door were moved with swift irate hands and the hunk of metal swung back as if it weighed nothing. However, when she saw the guns pointed at her, her grimness dissolved and became replaced with panic.

The police offers poured into her house like water. She was thrust aside as though she were an inanimate barrier. Her panic spurred on the invaders.

The interior of the house was different from the one in which Grace had been taken. The chairs were cleaner and more cheerful, the cushions covered in golden flowers. On one wall hung a picture of a young girl with blond hair and blue eyes, an innocent face, and a sweet smile. She was offering a red rose to the viewer. The legend said: Love is the key. The next wall had a huge picture of a quetzal and another one of two cute puppies with the caption: Let’s Be Friends. The floor was carpeted and the lighting was fluorescent (it had been all bulbs and there had been no carpet). The dining table was bigger and set at one corner of the room (not the centre as previously). A 42-inch Samsung LED TV was on a stand beneath the quetzal’s photo, a DVD player under it. The woman had been watching a Nigerian movie, now paused.

This was not the house. Yet it was.

Grace started explaining these observations to Inspector Ogwal but despaired. He was too anxious and eager to spare her any attention.

“Ako wapi?” he asked the woman, his voice hard as steel, cold as an icicle. Where is he?

“Please, forgive him,” the woman implored, confounding Grace who had thought they were in the wrong house and did not understand how the woman could dare plead for something that had already killed thirty-four people.

“Where is he?” repeated the inspector.

“Please, I beg you,” she said. “Spare him. Spare my son.”

“Wewe mwanamke!” he swore at her. You woman! He transferred his gun to his left hand and whacked her face with the right. He whacked her twice more and she began bleeding from the nose and mouth.

Grace felt the blows in her own bones. They were fiendish.

“Where is he?” Ogwal demanded again.

“I don’t know,” the woman said, prevaricating, and was given another resonant blow.

Some of the officers attempted to go past the living room into the other sections of the house, but the woman jumped suddenly and caught one of them by the tail of his jacket, while pleading: “Spare him, please, I beg you! Spare him! He doesn’t sell them! He—”

What followed was atrocious. It was as if, by touching the cop, she had signed her own death warrant. They knocked her down with kicks and punches on her head, stomach, ribs and back. They went on until she could not to rise and was writhing and groaning in a sickening tone. They had broken her spine and dislocated her hips.

The officer whose jacket she had grabbed struck her forehead with his pistol and left an ugly crack there. He climbed on her face with both feet and pressed down on it with all his might. He weighed about ninety kilograms.

Even worse things followed. One of the bedroom doors opened and a well-built young man in early twenties emerged. He was bare-chested and in Manchester United shorts. He bore the signs of one who had been asleep, and from the close resemblance between him and the woman, it was inferable that he was her son. One glance at what they were doing to his mother sent him charging like a bull. He could not have known that they were cops because the ones in the house wore plain clothes. However, before he could reach them, they opened fire at him and shot him a hundred and fifty-one times at that range. He was shredded.

The cop who had climbed on the woman’s face stamped her head to death.

                                                                                                                                                                         XIII.

They were feverish after killing the woman and her son. They ransacked the house for a half an hour, turning everything upside-down, scattering, smashing. Yet all they found in the son’s room were five sticks of bhang, one partially smoked. What his mother had been afraid the police were looking for.

The officers that had gone to investigate Tumaini Centre returned, and Grace overheard them reporting that the last time the place had burned down was in 1980 shortly after its completion. This news struck something in Grace’s mind but she was not sure what.

Later, when she had returned home, she heard on the radio that the man who had killed students and police in Nairobi had himself that very day been gunned down in Adams Arcade by the CID officers.

Liars, reflected she. “Liars!” she screamed as loud as she could, which wasn’t loud at all. They could afford to propagate such severe untruth after foolishly taking innocent lives. She swore never to seek their help again.

Despite having been awake for over thirty hours, it took her longer than usual to fall asleep. She listened to the sounds outside with ears attuned to the slightest commotion, and whenever she detected a movement, her heart palpitated furiously and she sat up in suspense. She waited, knowing he would come, praying he wouldn’t. Only now did she realize that she had led him home to her parents and that doing so may be the most fatal error she had so far made.

Eventually she fell into a wakeless sleep.

When she came to, he was standing by her bed. Shortly before sleep took her, she had pictured his face in her mind and mused that she might get used to seeing him. But just finding him there by her bed made her experience something that she thought was a heart attack. Her chest was stabbed by an invisible blade and she curled and clutched at the pain, eyes shut, teeth clamped, face buried in the blanket. She remained that way, disabled.

“Grace Kimani,” said he, “let me clarify a significant point to you. This conflict will not end by your keeping away from me? You cannot escape me. I would find you if you ran to the Antarctica. I would find you if you were dead.”

He paused and Grace’s heartbeat gradually returned; the stabbing pain abated and she stirred, opened her eyes.

Blades of sunlight were filtering in through the spaces between the curtains.

He was looking fixedly at her. He was colossal. He had become taller and wider than he had been at the police station, which had been much, much more than when she first met him. So tall was he that he had to bend to keep his head from touching the ceiling; and so broad that his shoulders seemed to be over three feet apart. In fact, he couldn’t fit through the door, yet he was in the room with her. What’s more—and this was truly odd—he was wearing the same coveralls and helmet. Grace now thought that they were made from an efficiently elastic material.

He was carrying something in his right hand. Several metals stuck together into a single unit, five feet long, weighing about half a tonne. There was a centre bar, which was, in all probability, a section of a railway, around which others of shorter lengths were piled and bound in a parallel direction. What bound them was impossible to tell, though, for they were all too many to be welded there and no wires were visible either. A much shorter bar of the same width as the centre one extended at a right angle from the rear end and curved slightly forwards along its length; in front of it, about one foot away, a yet smaller, narrower bar jutted out straight, giving the whole thing a certain ludicrous shape of a gun. At the very back was a semicircular chamber two feet in diameter and one foot high. It was open on the side facing the pile of hollow metals and closed at the top. It was bound on the centre bar and directly above the bar that curved forwards.

He saw Grace looking at it and raised it, pointed it at her. God, it was monstrous, and exceedingly repulsive! Grace winced. She did not wish to look at that snout for longer than a second, so she averted her face, although she did see that all those hundreds of metals were hollow.

“This is my gun,” he announced, shaking it. “It shoots screwdrivers. It shoots them at the speed of a bullet. I made it after the battle with the police. They shot me and I will repay. I repay.”

He wants to shoot people with screwdrivers, thought Grace. She imagined a person running around screaming with screwdrivers sticking on his back like candles on a birthday cake and she shook her head to get the image out.

“Do you have my key?” he asked.

She shook her head. “I didn’t take it,” she said.

“Too bad for you,” he replied. “You should have taken it. I asked you to. I asked very nicely. But, with utter disregard, you abandoned it. It is now lost—on account of you!—and my house has disappeared. I need my key, Grace Kimani! I need to find my house!”

“But surely a house cannot disappear!” Grace exclaimed.

“Then why didn’t you find it when you went looking for it with the police?” he asked, scowling and leaning down towards her, his immense face hovering over her tiny one. She cringed, thinking he was going to shoot her with the screwdrivers from the ugly thing. “What do you know?” he went on. “What do you know about my house so that you quicken to draw such a conclusion? You are twenty-four years old. The amount of time you have been alive is negligible compared to the age of the universe, the earth, me! Your knowledge is negligible. You are negligible.”

“If I am negligible, why do you torture me?” she said. “I didn’t take your key and you know it! Leave me alone! Leave me alone!”

He drew back, studied her cogitatingly, and said: “You don’t listen. But I guess if I kill your father, you’ll have a clearer understanding of this situation.”

                                                                                                                                                                          XIV.

He bent down and picked something from the floor. It was a khaki bag twice as big as the mad gun he was carrying. It was packed with screwdrivers. They were clicking.

He walked towards the door, which was open, and Grace had an instant to wonder how he was going to pass through it. She was dumbstruck when he shrank down till he was five feet tall. He maintained that size throughout the corridor, but when he reached the living room, he enlarged like crazy, exceeding what he had been in her room.

A moment passed before she could recall what he had just said. He was going to kill her father.

Baba!” she screamed. She sprung out of the room and followed him.

Baba! Baba!

Her father had been eating breakfast and reading Daily Nation. He had planned to go to Nairobi to condole with Denis’ parents. He looked up when Grace called, but what he saw standing before him made him choke on the stuff in his mouth and knock the cup off the table, spilling hot tea on his crotch and stomach. The cup shattered on the floor and he jerked up with a violent gasp, which made his choking worse. Grace found him retching and staggering and also trying to cool the burning in his crotch with his hands.

Baba!” she yelled and ran to him. He removed his hands from his crotch.

“Please don’t kill my father,” she besought in a most pitiful voice. “Don’t kill him, I beg you. He is not part of it. He has done nothing wrong to you. He is innocent. Shoot me instead! Kill me! But spare him, please! I will find your key! I will find your key!”

“Where will you find it?” the man asked. He was aiming the thing at her father. “Have you not been declaring that you do not have my key? You admit now that you do have it. Then give it to me. Go on and bring it. Or else, I will shoot your father.”

She did not move. She did not have his key.

He shot her father.

It happened in this manner. He opened the lid of the semicircular chamber and it hang on a hinge. Inside the chamber was a complex arrangement of gearwheels and springs of different sizes, some of which were on top of others. Three cone-shaped rocks, which were hollow and had dark brown glassy translucent textures, were placed strategically along the semicircular wall, with their pointed ends forward. A small fan-shaped object with blades the size of those meant for shaving was at the centre of the rocks. Next, he took out eight screwdrivers from the bag and loaded them into the chamber, placing them with care some six inches from the fan-shaped thing, at which point there was a series of specific slots into which the screwdrivers fit with astounding precision. The slots were close-spaced and the distance between any two of them corresponded to a Fibonacci number. The screwdrivers were each at least eight inches long. He then blew a gust of air at the fan-shaped object which began to rotate. At the same time the three rocks began making a high-pitched whistle sound, so high that the note ripped through Grace’s nerves like a blade and she thought her ears would bleed. She covered them with both hands and moved about in great affliction, flabbergasted that rocks could make such a harsh noise. The sound also caused the fan-shaped object to gain more speed and momentum which were applied as feedback to increase the frequency of the rocks. Lastly, the gearwheels too began to rotate, extending the springs, and making the gun-thing whirr like some enormous engine. It started growing hot. As the frequency of the note rose and wheels gained momentum, the springs stretched further and further, and the gun-thing became red all over. At a certain point, which was reached after ten seconds, the whistling stopped, so did the gearwheels, and the springs retracted.

What followed was a singular spectacle, as horrifying as it was otherworldly. The screwdrivers were projected from those numerous hollow metals in the form of fire. They were so hot that they were melting as they flew towards their helpless target, leaving trails of liquid fire behind them and spraying numerous others about the room. Grace noticed them only because of the fire trails, which looked like sparks, otherwise they made a streak of lighting seem a thousand times slower.

And it shook him. That ugly gun-thing had enough force to shake him. He couldn’t be shaken by over fifteen men or by a .45 Automatic Colt Pistol, but the thing that fired the screwdrivers shook him. It was hellish.

Grace’s father had attempted to run out when the gun-thing began to whirr. He had hardly crossed the threshold when he was hit squarely in the back. He fell over fifty metres away, having been propelled there like a crazed projectile. The fire consumed him and left only his arms, his feet, and the very top of his head. The rest was smoke and ash.

                                                                                                                                                                             XV.

Baba!” Grace squealed and ran towards the remains. The man followed her, shrinking through the door once again and expanding thereafter. Grace wailed.

Her mother, who had all this time been engrossed in applying fertilizer in the vegetable garden behind the house, heard her and came running. So did the farm boys and girls employed in the coffee plantation, the maids, and the neighbours. However, one glance at the gargantuan creature was enough for them. They all hared back the way they had come, pell-mell, screaming. Grace’s mother blacked out.

Grace sprinted towards her, stopped halfway, looked at the distressful remains of her father, glanced again at her unconscious mother, remembered Denis, and felt such overwhelming sense of desperation that she howled like an injured animal. She hopped about in a circle, holding her head, threshing her arms, her hair dishevelled and wild. The world spun and shook and crumbled.

“Why me?” she cried at the creature. “Why me? Why did you choose me? I didn’t take your key and you know that! I don’t have your key! I don’t have your key! I don’t have your key . . .”

“Why you?” asked he. “Who would you want it to be? Do you have anyone in mind? Go on, then! Give up someone. Choose by yourself.”

He snorted laughter at her plight, knowing she could not let anyone be in her place.

“Perhaps I should help you choose,” continued he. He took more screwdrivers from the bag and loaded them into the chamber. He blew at the fan-shaped object and the rocks began whistling again, the wheels going round and round, the gun-thing whirring and glowing. He raised it and aimed towards the gate where Grace now saw that one of the maids had lingered.

“Perhaps it should be her,” he said

“Please, don’t!” she implored, but too late.

He fired and the maid vaporized. There was a flash of light and then she was all smoke and ash.

“Come with me,” the creature told Grace. “We will look for someone to replace you. Someone has to go through this to the end.”

“Why?” cried Grace.

Why? Because you ruined my planet, you degradable horrors!” he answered with so much bitterness that Grace stepped back from him. “You took pride in annihilating my planet. I will take pride in annihilating you.”

“I don’t know your planet! We didn’t do anything to your planet!”

“This is my planet!” he said. “The earth is mine and I will reclaim it.”

“The earth belongs to God!” she screeched. “He gave it to us!”

God?” said he, quizzical. “You mean Enki? He’s dead. I am in charge now!”

“You are crazy!” she barked. “You are crazy! You are a terrorist!”

“Come with me,” he said and walked towards the gate.

“I’m not coming with you! You are going to shoot everyone!”

“Aha! Then we have an accord!” exclaimed he, studying her. “Next time you ask ‘why me?’ ensure you have identified someone to take your place, whose suffering will thrill you.

“I’m still going to kill everyone,” said he. “You do not deserve earth. You deserve death and I will give it to you aplenty. You are going to pay for what you have done to my planet. I bring you the price.”

“You are killing us because of a key?” Grace asked. “Just a key? Kill me, instead! Why don’t you kill me if I lost your precious key?”

He pointed the gun-thing at her. It looked really monstrous. It was red hot all over but it wasn’t burning him.

“Do you want this?”

“Go ahead! Shoot me! I’m tired! I’m tired!”

“Turn around,” he said. “This gun shoots best when it shoots in the back.”

She turned. She turned very slowly. But then, she had a terrible vision of those hellish screwdrivers flying towards her unguarded back and she realized that being shot in the back, even when you anticipated it, especially when you anticipated it, was worse than when you were face-to-face with your enemy. An icy thing happened to your spine and it utterly unsettled your senses.

Grace wheeled around. She couldn’t stand waiting to be shot in the back.

“Just kill me,” she said.

But he didn’t shoot her. Instead, he said:

“If I went to any of your cities and began shooting people with screwdrivers, they will not understand why, and, as usual, they will believe that they are all innocent victims, and pule and mewl and wish for sympathy. So I decided that from every city on earth, I will pick an individual and make him or her owe me. I will use the debt to avenge my planet. You are the first. On your account, I am going to wipe out Nairobi. None of you is innocent of the charges which I bring against you. None of you will live . . .

                                                                                                                                                                          XVI.

“Did you really think you were saving yourself or anybody else when you ran from my house? Did you? Because, since the beginning, the whole degraded mass of mankind has been convinced that it is saving itself. Yet all that it has achieved is to cause more and more harm to itself. What kind of a creature wreaks this degree of devastation on its own and only abode and still claims that it is saving itself? What are you saving?

“When you view the universe you see only yourself, and believe that you are the sole variable in an indefinite field.  For you, Y = MX + C, where Y is life, X is you, and M is a constant determined by your endeavours, fantasies, desires, while C is everything else, which is also constant! So that without you everything is constant! Life stops!

“Things are more complex than you can comprehend. There is no such equation as Y = MX + C. You build your civilization with straight lines and believe that is all there is to everything. Enki did not create earth with straight lines. Yet it was a paradise when he finished it, an unparalleled paradise.

“I remember it vividly as if it were just now. Enki’s little fantasy. He dreamed of a place where anything could fit and find joy. Anything at all, animals, plants, rocks, each with its place, its manners, its kind. A place where the simplest form is like the greatest and each form is like the other, yet simultaneously very different. It began like a joke, then a puzzle; they laughed about it, laughed it off, and some even called it Enki’s Paradox.

“Their home was no haven itself. Too much energy circulating about uncontrolled. Too much disturbance, instability, chaos. Little could be predicted or planned. Chaos was master and king. It brought forth all sorts of monstrosities, some very ferocious. There was constant war with some creature or other. But Enki believed he could tame chaos and subdue it, even turn it into a sort of beauty. He said there had to be a way in which it could be done and he brooded over it for an equivalent of billions of years. He finally came up with numbers which, when applied in certain combinations, could bind chaos within specific form and structure. Foremost among the combinations is what you call the golden ratio, which gave shape to everything he brought forth on earth. I called it Enki’s Number. Others called it his signature. The other combination is what you call pi. There are others, more intricate and unknowable to you.

“Thereafter, they scoured the universe for the most stable place for the experiment. He had to adjust the previous settings, alter equations, and convert energies. He did well, for soon afterwards there was earth spinning on its own and around the sun. With all forms of life and things in it! Itself alive, itself a whole with countless wholes in it, yet part of the whole in which there were countless other wholes containing countless other wholes containing countless other wholes, and so on and so forth, each whole unique yet similar, the last one, the smallest of all, being nothing but Enki’s will in visible form.

“We heard that there followed great rejoicing in Enki’s world. Puzzlement, admiration, praise, reverence and love were the immediate virtues of their lot. Such a perfect system had never before existed. A system with no wastage and no excess, everything is turned into a benefit, no matter. Enki’s Glory was complete. What he had created could not be duplicated elsewhere. He visited earth often and took delight in his work. He wanted to come and live here, away from the chaos of his world.

“I was formed from water. There were many others like me. I was the first. When Enki was gone, we regulated the frequencies that enabled the spread and proliferation of life. He had by then not completely stabilized the set up. Some frequencies were harder to control and all sorts of things sprung up from water and land. We had to supervise each species and eliminate those that did not obey Enki’s Number and whose frequencies interfered with others. You could say we were culling and weeding. He said we did an excellent job and promised us eternal life. He called us the Watchers of Paradise. No honour thenceforwards could surpass that which he bestowed upon us.

“However, after some billions of years, chaos brought forth something dark back home. So dark it annihilated everything in its path. It was utterly without restraint. Enki went to deal with it. He came back after millions of years with bad news. They were losing. And while here he detected that he was being pursued. The enemy had heard of Enki’s Paradise and wanted to take it for himself. He sent scouts to locate it but Enki destroyed them before they could be any close to earth. Seeing that his race was facing eventual extermination, Enki resolved to design an earthly race of men that would take after him. He gave this race his own form, spirit and intelligence. Though smaller in stature and unable to assume nonphysical forms due to the constraints of Enki’s Number, this new race would be improved until they themselves became gods. He was to improve them himself, but the adversary was getting closer and he had to defend earth. He therefore delegated the role to us, instructing us to guide mankind and improve it gradually until his return whereupon he would make them gods.

“He never came back. We waited. We waited for tens of thousands of years. In the end, it was decided that I, being the first, should go inquire concerning his whereabouts. On my way I noticed that he had bound earth with magnetic beams at frequencies that his adversary could not locate. He had also modified the atmosphere so that the enemy could not survive here, in case they found it. When I arrived at my destination, I found that he’d been captured and cast into a demagnetizing vortex too powerful for anything in the universe. He was spiralling in there in the form of particles whose dipoles had been obliterated. He could never reassemble. He was dead.

                                                                                                                                                                      XVII.

“I came back in 2007. I didn’t know I’d been gone for that long. Time is no constraint out there and I just flash across that much expanse of space. Yet it took me hundreds of thousands of years to go and even longer to return, since by then I was weighed down by my own sorrow over Enki’s defeat and demise. I didn’t know how I would proceed without him. We could improve you only to a limit. We could not make such eminences as he had wanted.

“However, I was soon to discover that my worry was needless. My shock, horror, when I landed here, is untold. Neither can my pain be given description! I found this,” he said and waved around with his gun. This,” he repeated. “This travesty. This pollution. This disease. I said to myself: ‘What is this that stands where my home should be?’ I thought I was lost; I thought I had landed in a foreign planet. The sounds had changed; the earth rings differently. The magnetic beams are weaker and worsening by the minute. The frequencies are too low and jumbled by signals from your machinery which are not designed in accordance with Enki’s Number. The air is foul, the waters diseased, the animals extinct, the trees gone, the deserts countless and vast. Enki’s Paradise is dying.

“I said to myself: ‘What adversary could do this? Did Enki’s enemy find earth after all?’ A quick survey across the planet, however, revealed the answer: you, mankind. It was hard to believe, a horror to deliberate. You were to be elevated above everything, above us! You were precious beings! You were to replace Enki’s race! You were to be not just gods but even better beings since he had mastered Chaos and subdued it!

“Instead, I found that you have become lower than the least creature imaginable. You are vile at heart and shorter in stature than you used to be, than you should be, and you are specifically revolting to behold. You have vitiated yourselves to be so deformed and foul. You destroyed the circumstance for Enki’s Number and opened doors for cancers, ills, and all manner of deformities. Even worse, your malignity spread to the animals and plants in your care. You should know that it is your fault animals are violent and perpetually set against one another. Your magnetic fields control theirs. The nature of their relationships is determined by that of yours. You have failed everything. You have failed in every possible way. There is no meaning for you here. Enki is dead and you can’t be gods.” He paused.

“I saw what you had done and said to myself: ‘What happened to them? Where are the guardians that I left behind?’ I could not find a single one of them, yet we had been 144 in total. I was perturbed. I decided to return to the very day that I left earth in search of Enki. More than three hundred thousand years ago. I went, and thenceforth, traced your history decade by decade up to the present.

“My bitterness was not allayed in the smallest bit by what I witnessed. You defied your guardians and threatened them. You pursued them relentlessly until they abandoned earth for you and became scattered in space, lost. You also forgot your own origin and created legions of religions to explain it, thereby turning yourselves into worshipful and servile creatures confounded with abject delusions of afterlife! You were never made to worship anything. And you have waged so much war, slaughtered so many of your own kind, and eliminated so much life that Enki’s dreaded enemy—that undefeatable intergalactic terror merchant—is like but a child with a matchstick in comparison. Your wars have made you lose all the important knowledge, yet you never stop, never listen. Now you are but shells and carcases, lost, poisonous things. You juggle theories about your origin like the confounded fools you are. Enki’s rush to make you while tormented with war must have allowed some violent streak to leak from him into you, something that only he could have amended.

“I was appalled and I promised to be rid of you. This is my planet and it does not need you. The earth does not need you! You were not even in the original design! You were made as an afterthought. You are an afterthought!

“You have ravaged this planet like a savage fire. Yet, what have you given in return? What have you given back to the animals, to the trees, to the water? What has the bee received as a reward for its honey? What have you given to yourselves, to your children even? What have you given but dearth, death, and disease?

“You have robbed grass of the space to grow, deprived birds of trees in which to nest and raise their young, taken the flower from the bee and water from the fish. You have despoiled the wilderness and made it a desert. You have debased the very air that your own children breathe.

“I have no sympathy for you,” he finished.

                                                                                                                                                                   XVIII.

“The bible does not say those things,” Grace pointed out. She was confused by this new story of the origin of life. Being a Christian, she would have dismissed it outright if he had been a real person. But he was an unknown thing, an alien, and the way he was bemused and bitter when he told the story, he looked like a person recalling a nostalgic truth. She remembered that before the European Missionaries came to Africa with their concept of the omnipotent God of Israel, some communities like the Maasai and the Kalenjin in the Great Rift Valley referred to the creator as Enkai, while the Kikuyu used the name Ngai, and the Luo called him Nyasaye, which were all the same, barring tribal accents. She also could see that his story at least explained the big significant ‘why’—why human beings had been put on earth, their purpose, something that no one else had yet explained. Not even the bible!

But now, thought she, why is he telling me the truth when he is going to kill us?

“The bible was written to appeal to you to love one another,” he said. “I am not here for that.”

“You can’t just kill everybody,” she expostulated.

“I will.”

“There are over seven billion people on earth! If you killed a thousand people per day, it would take you over seven million days to finish. That’s equal to . . .” she calculated quickly, her engineering mind churning. “Almost twenty thousand years!” exclaimed she.

“I am not time-bound like you,” he said. “Besides, I have an equation. I could finish you off in three weeks by applying a geometric summation of a variable X raised by a power N such that N moves from one to infinity and X is the number of people killed while N represents the number of days. I will make X=1000 and cause the equation to reset itself after every three days. If I couldn’t do it myself, I would go back and call Enki’s greatest foe. He has heard excellent things about earth and he still longs to see it and take it for himself. His fury is unequalled, and if he found the earth like this—this chaotic disunity contaminated to its very core!—he’d be so overwhelmed with disappointment that he’d hurl it into the sun’s core without a thought to spare. But I intend to live here. When I’m done with you, I will go find the rest of the Watchers of Paradise and bring them back. Together we will repair this planet, whatever is left of it.”

“Killing us will not make you any better than us,” Grace said. “It will indeed make you worse. We are still learning. There are good things about us too. There are good people. It is true we are capable of horrible things, but we can be better. If we were all bad you’d never have found us here when you came back. We’d have decimated ourselves to extinction. People have achieved some very tremendous feats and someday there will be peace on earth.”

“Stop talking to me,” he said. “You cannot claim credit for solving a problem of which you are the cause. And do not tell me about better! You ruined my planet because you hate one another and constantly want to prove who is better! I will show you hate, and I will show you better! Three hundred thousand years! And this is where you are! What are you learning? You will never learn to love one another—which is the most essential thing. Therefore, do not expostulate with me. This is not one of your stories where you emerge the heroes regardless. You don’t win in this. There is no version where you win. This is my story, my planet. I win.”

Grace did not know what else to tell him. So, after a short silence, she said, “What did you do to Adams Arcade on Sunday night?”

“It was a time trap,” replied he. “I set the trap for 1980 and waited for one of you to be caught in it from 2014. You were the unlucky one. It took you just one step out of the bus. Anyhow, I’m sending you back there. I spared you for a specific goal.”

“No,” said Grace, stepping back, full of horror and despair.

He reached into the bag and produced three sets of nine ring-shaped rocks of the same dark brown glassy translucent material as the ones in the gun-thing. They had different radii, which Grace saw that were increasing in a Fibonacci sequence, the first two being equal and the subsequent ones obtained from the sum of the previous two. He began to arrange them methodically on the ground, using each set at a time and starting with the smallest piece in the set. Grace saw that he was forming Fibonacci spirals, each starting at a single origin, which was a free space enough to accommodate a standing person.

“If you had but listened to your guardians instead of menacing them,” he said as he worked, “you’d never have had to depredate my planet in search of materials to build your civilization. All you would have needed are the frequency stones and the right combinations of Enki’s numbers. If I fancied, I could be rid of you by setting time traps at particularly evil and calamitous periods in your history, so that one day you all wake up scattered and lost in different times, unable to find one another, stuck there forever. It is an option I should consider if killing you proves more taxing than I anticipate.”

He stood up. He had one of the three largest rocks unused.

“Step here,” he directed, pointing at the free space.

“No,” Grace said and sprang back.

“You don’t listen,” he said and picked up the gun-thing. He shot her mother, who had regained consciousness and risen to her knees. She was hurled over a hundred metres away into the plantation, her charred remains dispersed like seeds.

“Don’t kill my mother!” Grace cried and, in her rashness, grabbed the gun-thing. It was intensely hot. Her hands evaporated, then her arms, and they would have melted up to her shoulders if he hadn’t rushed to put out the fire himself with one of his frequency stones. Her elbows were gone. She saw those ugly stumps sticking out of her shoulders and went crazy. She blacked out—it had been a long time coming.

He picked her up and stepped into the free space of the circuit he had created on the ground. He then completed the other end of the circuit with the rock he had spared. At once, a powerful whirlwind formed around them and they were whisked away.

When she awoke, she was in the room in Adams Arcade. The laughing thing’s room. It was 1980—ten years before her birth. She attempted to climb out of bed but fell since she had no arms to use for support. It was a struggle sitting up using her back and legs. Her stumps had somehow been healed and were itching like evil things. She could not scratch.

The creature was in the room with her. He had shrunken to six feet. He was standing by the door, the gun-thing in his hand, the bag at his feet. He said:

“There was a man who found favour in the guardians back then. He was upright and, above all, quested after Enki’s knowledge and design. As a noble reward, he was given a frequency stone to elongate his life. He is alive to date. But, after two thousand years he became insane, and after ten, began fading. By the end of the first one hundred millenniums, he had become completely invisible. Even myself, with all my superior designs, I can detect him only by his energy signature. Otherwise he moves in the wind, as the wind itself. Gradually, he was overcome with melancholy and despair and he hankered only for death. So in 1980, he disposed of the stone in Indian Ocean where it could never be retrieved. Still, he could not die. He realized that eternity is really too long. But then, without the stone and lacking in physical form, time stopped for him. He became stuck in 1980.

“That is what happens to your species when you finally find immortality. It makes you go mad and fade into invisibility. One day you look at your legs and you can’t see them, then your hands, your face. Eternity is not for the faint-hearted. You are a weak species and time is your master and lord. A heartless one at that!

“The man dwells here and you will be his companion henceforth. You will be stuck with him here. He is lonely. He is the reason I chose this year and this place. He will feed you. Be nice to him. If you irritate him in the slightest way, he will make you rot all over right where you stand. In the meantime, I have to go back and reclaim my planet while there is still something to reclaim of it.”

He took his bag and exited the room.

Outside, the laughing thing laughed: HAHAHII! HAIYAHOHO!

***

She pondered over how to kill herself and realized how difficult it would be since she had no hands. Then, hours later, it occurred to her that she could do it by banging her head on the wall until her forehead split. She rose and surveyed the wall. It was worth a try.

The end.

I.

A Range Rover flew past him like a whizz-bang and he had to swerve dangerously in panic. He called the driver a fucking bean soup.

“I hope you choke to death!” he cried in the cruellest, most vehement voice he could muster. “I hope you choke to death!”

His voice vibrated shrilly like the stridulation of a cricket.

After the vexatious Range Rover had vanished into the estate, and Ochise’s heart was once again calm, he pondered over whether he had cursed correctly or had blundered like a man drunk on bean soup. What if it was interpreted that he loved bean soup so much that he daydreamed about it? Ah, fuck it! But that wasn’t what he had meant—no, ma’am, sir, it wasn’t!—and any misinterpretations could be shoved up the shit duct!

“Shove it up the shit duct!” he squealed, and then grinned like death.

As a matter of fact, he hated bean soup, loathed it. When he was in high school, it had been a speciality. Can you believe that? Those M-fuckers had made that shit a speciality! Boil the beans for teachers and save the red, thin, watery diarrhoea for students. They poured a mugful of it on your vegetables as if it were ketchup. But it tasted like poison, and it could make you shit your intestines out in shreds. Or fart something flammable.

One student had eaten it and caught fire. During a power blackout, while making his bed in candlelight, he had accidentally farted in the direction of the flame, which had at once expanded like a demonic thing and engulfed him in a ravenous, unforgiving blaze, melting his fat farting ass like plastic and climbing up his rectum and into his intestines, boiling them like water. Thirsty tongues of blue flame had come out of his mouth and nose, licking them, frying his tongue, lips, and cheeks like beef. Witnesses had spoken of sizzling sounds issuing from his ears and eyes. Ironically, his death had been ruled suicide by the school, and Ochise had laughed himself almost to death, comparing the poor boy with those weird monks of Tibet who protested against the government by setting themselves on fire. Somebody should tell them the job was much easier with a mug of bean soup and a half-burnt stick of candle. All they needed was drink the soup, light the candle, and point their assholes in the right direction. Then PEEEEW! BOOM! Suicide, ha, ha!

But that was neither here nor there today. That was past. What was here and now was that fucking bean-soup neighbour driving at over a hundred kilometres per hour on an estate driveway. Somebody should teach her a lifelong lesson.

Ochise parked the Nissan Sunny in his designated space. It groaned and shook like a debilitated old man dying of asthma or T.B., such a hunk of junk for a thirty-year old Mr. Handsome Right.

“Molly, I think today is your lucky day, baby. You have met the famed Mr. Handsome Right. And he is going to make all things handsome and right. He is a righteous man.”

That was what he had told her when they first met. And she had laughed musically, her voice a titillating frequency, mellifluous, pure. He had drowned in it.

Later, when the drowning hadn’t killed him, he had questioned how it could have been that he’d fallen in love with a voice. What happened to falling in love with the person? Where did it go? Had it ever even been there in the first place? Maybe no! It hadn’t. As far back as Ochise could recall, it had always been the eyes, the face, the hair, the voice, the boobs, the ass, the legs, etc—never the person!—which was truly strange because none of those parts meant shit without the person. A human being chopped into pieces for everyone to pick their favourite parts! Who could love, even barely like, detached eyeballs floating around the house like a genie, or a headless face that resembled a mask with live chattery teeth, or boobs that dangled on their own like magic fruits, or ass—just ass—bare, disconnected ass? Ah, fuck the world for all the bullshit! Fuck the world!

But he had loved Molly. She had been a sweet soul.

“Molly, I love you wholly,” he’d been used to saying, making her laugh in that pristine, melodic way of hers.

On the second floor landing, Ochise found a little girl, five or six years old, playing with a brown cat. He recognized her as the bean-soup neighbour’s daughter, and he thought that he might just have his revenge for the contempt showed him on the driveway. Her mother drove a brand new Range Rover Vogue while his was a retiring, asthmatic not-so-sunny Nissan Sunny, the ride in which was more like a piggyback on a sick old man than anything else. Some days when he felt generous, he wanted to carry it home instead of having it carry him.

“Give me that cat!” he barked at the girl and grabbed the animal from her hands. Being a family cat, it did not fight and instead snuggled up to him. He put it down and kicked its butt so hard it flew over the railing and landed in front of an oncoming Volkswagen which went on to squish it on the pavement. It cried once and Ochise could swear he heard its bones crack like sticks.

“Holy Lordy!” exclaimed he in wonder. “How unlucky dat fat cat!” he chuckled. To the girl, he said, “Squishy-squashy-squiggly-squeegee! Holalalulaah! Must’ve been a jinxed day for your kitty-catty, no?”

But the girl began to cry.

“Shut up or I will eat your tongue!” he barked, and she quieted for a second, gazed at him with scared uncertain eyes, but started crying again. She let out a shrieking scream.

Ayee!” exclaimed he in surprise but quickened to add: “If I see your tongue one more time I will bite it and eat it like chocolate! Chocolate! You get that?”

He bent down to her level and bared his teeth, running his tongue over them like a sinister carnivore. He licked them, clicked them, ground them, as if chomping down on bones, and swallowed hungrily. He grunted, snapped.

The girl took off like a bird, screaming her lungs sick, and Ochise laughed all the way to his house.

“Little Marybeth Bay, where is thy Aunt May? Tell her the bogeyman cometh thy way!” he sang and laughed harder, louder.

II.

The house smelled of Molly. And that was the second worst thing about being in it. The first worst thing was that Molly was dead. She had been dead for two months. Yet it felt like yesterday. It was driving him mad.

Her head had shattered like a coconut.

Ochise hurled himself onto the bed and wept afresh. The bed smelled of Molly; she was all over the bed: her warmth, her love, her lovemaking, her breath, her sweat, her tears, and even her sounds. He was haunted by these, hounded even.

“Ah, love is hard!” thought he.

He got down and changed into her clothes, complete with panties and a bra. That way his mourning was complete. He remembered everything about her. He relived them.

He sank his head on her pillow, where her hair had been, that black mass of love, soft lustrous, mossy, not to mention its lemony—oniony—orangey—chocolaty—garlicky–flowery rapturous fragrance. So good it was a waste of words to attempt to describe it.

He had dried for her that hair, straightened it, plaited it, and when they made love, he’d ruined it.

“You ruined my hair,” she’d complained once while working to put it back in order.

“It looks like Calypso’s–you know, the bug-goddess and Davy Jones’ girlfriend from Pirates of the Caribbean,” he’d said, and she’d charged him and pinned him on the bed, and straddled him, and pretended to bite him but kissed him instead, and they had ended up making love a second time.

Afterwards, they’d both laughed and kissed and touched some more, and he’d ad-libbed a silly rhyme for her that went like: “Mellow Molly likes it wholly in her holy hole!” and she’d laughed harder and called him stupid.

He was still submerged in memories and filled with everlasting bitterness when there came about a series of knocks from the living room. It came slowly and distantly like a revelation and he wondered how long it had been going on. Before he could get down from the bed the knocks had become violent bangs.

“This is a private property!” he yelled as he dashed to answer. He flung the door open, and there before him, defying his imagination, defying everything, was the bean-soup woman.

“Holy Lordy! Look at this beastie!” he cried in shock and withdrew back into the house.

She was staring at him wide-mouthed and popeyed, as speechless as the dead.

He was about to swear at her for interrupting his daily private session only for her to end up freezing at his door like a misplaced ugly mannequin when he remembered that he was wearing Molly’s transparent nightgown complete with panties and a bra.

“Ah, fuck it!” he swore to himself. “What do you want?” he asked her, making his voice flinty and intolerable.

He had never been this close to her. In this estate, neighbours did their best to hide from one another. You knew they were there because their expensive cars drove in and out of the compound, and on occasional weekends you met them with their kids and maids on the stairs headed for church. They were cold, suspicious; they were scared of you. There were some foolish ones, though, that peeped at you through their windows when you walked from the parking lot to your house. Curtains opened and closed with the skilled secrecy and speed of witches.

When Molly died, none of them had bothered to condole with him. Only the watchmen had offered a few words of consolation. In the old Africa, entire villages would have come to mourn with him and offer comfort. But this was not Africa anymore; this was Europe. You had to live in a civilized world in order to feel empty and abandoned, all alone in a threatening place. It made you want to strangle those Hollywood filmmakers who portrayed Africa in their movies as a deserted desert, a barbaric wilderness, or an overpopulated pandemonium. They made European civilization appear so vain, yet its rewards were plenty, including alienation from all life, detachment from self and from everything else. You just wanted to shoot somebody, kick something, thrash and crash.

“You killed my cat!” the woman accused. She had recovered enough to speak. She was as dark as something that should be poisonous. She was huge, a giant, and she walked like a load. Her arms were as firm and thick as his own legs; and her ass was a solid and compact construction block. It could be used to balance a crane.

“Do I look like a car to you?” he asked her.

“Why did you kill my cat?”

“Are you naturally stupid or do you just need somebody on whom to discharge your filth? If so, you’ve picked on the wrong person. You are standing at my door and if you get hurt, it will be a case of self-defence. Go to the police!”

“Mr. Morocco said you threw the cat down in front of his car and he crashed it before he could stop!”

“Mr. Morocco? Aha! Holy motherfucker! Isn’t Morocco a country in West Africa? A man named so must be a consummate moron. Moronic Morocco, ha, ha!”

“And you beat my daughter!” she accused. “You hurt little Lily!”

“Your daughter is mad,” he said. “How can you raise a mad girl? And has it occurred to you that I could have kicked your daughter and not the cat? Have you thought about that, huh? That I had enough good sense in me to kick the cat and spare your daughter, especially after what you did to me on the driveway, because you have a Range Rover and I have an antiquated Nissan Sunny? Why are you so thoughtlessly ungrateful?”

She was fuming. She was literally swelling with rage. Puffing like a puff adder.

“You make haste to haul your Brobdingnagian ass over here because your cat is dead?” he went on. “Did you see its brain? What did you think when you saw its brain? What do you know about loss? When your girlfriend’s head explodes like a coconut shell and you see her brain splattered on the road, and you shriek and howl and jump about like a lunatic, and at the same time you are struck by a strange wonder that the ugly mess of blood and brain tissues and intestines and smashed liver at your feet is what had made her beautiful and lovely and wonderful and the best in the world! And you become confused and bewildered and you want to throw up and run away from it all, yet you choose to stay and mourn at the unfairness of everything. That it never mattered that you loved her; that to God or Nature or Satan, or to fellow humans even, it never made a fucking difference that you so loved her you’d have offered to die in her place! That you don’t matter! You don’t matter! Your love, your heart, your mind: all that you have, all that you do, does not matter. It doesn’t matter whether you do good or bad, whether you love or hate. Everything can be taken away in a blink, without warning, without so much as a psychic premonition, and you remain blighted and inconsolable for the rest of your life. Questioning things, questioning life, questioning the fucking gods and their righteous diabolism! What do you know about that, you fat barrel of shit?”

He was crying again.

“You beat my daughter,” the woman said stolidly.

“Jeez! Why are you so obtuse?” he shrieked at her. “Fucking bean soup! Fucking dirty water! Fucking universe! I hope you choke to death next time you swallow! You make me want to punch something. You make me want to punch something so badly . . .”

And he punched her thick face. It was like punching a chunk of wet steak.

Kthup!

That was the sound it made. It was an impotent sound.

III.

The cat came back.

But it was glowing, a flaming reddish brown coat, and the fire was coming from within it, as if it had swallowed a 200-watt bulb. Its eyes, which had been blue, were now bluer and fiercer, spotlights in the dark. It seemed phantasmagorical, as if it could not exist in real life.

“You are dead!” Ochise shouted at it, starting. He was in the bedroom but what he was doing there was somewhat vague. The cat was in the doorway.

“You bet,” the cat said, and Ochise jumped with the celerity of a trap.

“You can’t talk!” screeched he.

“What difference does it make?” the animal said.

“You are a fucking cat!”

“He said you killed her.”

What?”

“He said you killed her.”

“What are you talking about? Who said I killed who?”

“You killed Molly. He said you pushed her in front of that speeding Range Rover. Yet now you mourn hopelessly and fuck with other people’s lives as if you are the victim and deserve to be avenged.”

Ochise opened his mouth and let out a vociferous curse.

“I don’t know what you think you are,” he said menacingly, approaching the animal. “I don’t know if you are dead or alive, talking or not, I don’t know who sent you, but you cannot accuse me of such heinousness, you bastard! I will kill you again!” he screamed, grabbed a shoe and hurled it at the cat.

The cat dodged smoothly and took off. He picked up another shoe and charged it.

“I will kill you again!” yelled he. “I will kill you!”

Instead of coming out through the main door, the bedroom spat him forth into strange woods. He was still running. Tall trees stood around him, majestic and solemn. Dead leaves crunched beneath him. And overhead, canopies like clouds were as abundant as pain.

“What the fuck?” he swore and stopped. “What the fuck is this?”

The path ran infinitely in both directions. A straight narrow stretch of lonely gloom, as frightening as it was inexplicably there.

“What the hell?” he screamed again, and this time he shut up and recoiled. He realized that only his voice was perceptible. The forest was still; it was dead still. No echoes, no wind, no movement; the trees, though august and rich, stood as motionless as posts.

He could not feel his breath leaving his nose or even the heaving of his chest. Was he breathing? He pinched his nostrils with the thumb and forefinger of his right hand. He held it that way for eternity. But nothing! He wasn’t breathing. Why? How could he talk if he wasn’t breathing?

He fanned his face with his hand, hoping to stir a current of air. None. There was no air here.

In Ridley Scott’s Prometheus, the robot conclusively sniffs a substance after one of the scientists has earlier remarked that it cannot breathe. It was a defect in the movie, but Ochise now grasped a handful of dead leaves and soil from the forest floor and sniffed them. But no! He could not breathe. His lungs were as still as everything else around him. Was he dead? He couldn’t be dead. Dreaming perhaps. All this must be a dream. Else, dead cats would never return to speak to humans. And your bedroom could not just expel into a foreign forest.

He saw the cat ahead of him, and for lack of anything else to do besides worrying and bowing to the flabbergasting horror of the moment, he decided to continue chasing. He flung the shoe at it, which it again dodged with graceful alacrity and sped on.

He did not know for how long he ran. It seemed to be forever. And the cat never tired. He never caught up with it. However, as unexpectedly as it had appeared, the forest vanished. It just vanished. It was neither behind him nor ahead of him. He stopped to wonder at this, gaping about in anxious suspense and horror, and he discovered that he was in a cemetery.

Before him was a grave with a statue of the Angel of Death reclined in a retiring, pensive sprawl over it, the famous scythe firmly gripped in its right hand, the curved blade extending on the ground in front of it.

The cat ran and stood by the statue. It said, “I have brought him,” and the statue lifted up its stony head and stared at Ochise with clear human-like eyes.

The scythe moved.

Death

IV.

Ochise ran back the way he had come or the way he thought he had come. He ran for one million kilometres in different and winding directions but ended up at the same spot where the grim reaper awaited him with the hideous scythe.

“What are you?” he panted, unable to run anymore. He was shaking so badly he would have collapsed if he had but taken one more step.

“Me?” the grim reaper said, as if taken aback by the question. It stood up and towered over Ochise by at least three feet. Ochise was five-ten. Standing, the thing seemed to be taller than when seated. It was as bald as a rock by the riverside, and its beard was like the fibrous roots of a greedy plant, only longer, thicker, nastier.

“I think the question should be about who I am,” it said. “If you say what, you make me inanimate, yet I am talking to you right now, kid.”

Its voice was a sexless jumble of frequencies; also too hoarse. Its body was human in form. But it had huge wings. It had no clothes on except the scanty piece with which it draped its loins. Ochise had a moment to wonder what kind of sex it had.

“You are a statue, and don’t call me kid,” Ochise barked. “I am thirty years old.”

“Aha! Human!” it sighed. “You still think time is important on this side of things?”

“What is this side of things?”

“The answer to that question is in who I am.”

“Who are you?”

“I am Death,” it said and paused to regard Ochise reflectively, maybe to witness the effect of the revelation on him.

Ochise saw now that its eyes were colourless, transparent pools of water, without irises, pinpoint pupils floating in them.

Ochise considered him (let it be him, thought he, because it would imply inanimateness, yet it could talk and walk and laugh, and God knew what else it could do. After all, the cat had referred to it as he.) Ochise considered him for some time and pointed out that he was indeed a statue of the Angel of Death.

“I have never heard of such an angel,” Grim said. “If you mean that the angel is mine, then it should satisfy you to learn that I am, and can be, in no possible possession of an angel. But if you mean that I am the angel, you are wrong by a universe.”

“Surely you were a statue when I first came here,” asserted Ochise.

“And where is here?” Death demanded. He scowled and the pools of water in his eyes darkened, the pupils burning dark red. “Do you want to keep calling me a statue or do you want to discuss more vital things pertaining to your presence on this side of things? The pettiness of man certainly is staggering!” he sighed.

“Okay, so you’re death! Are you going to kill me Mr. Death?” Ochise asked, but it was more of a jeer than a question.

“It is not my duty to kill,” Death said, matter-of-factly. His eyes cleared.

“How then can you be Death?”

“I’m not a killer. I am a soul collector. Dying is an energy conversion process. When you die, a change is effected in your energy signature. I just read the signature and collect the severed soul. With this,” he added and raised the scythe.

Ochise stepped back with a gasp. He imagined that horrible blade tearing into his soul, somewhere between his shoulder blades or through his abdomen.

“Am I dead?” asked he, his voice now quieter, trembling, heartbeat climbing, and a cold thing sitting in his stomach.

“Don’t you know?” Death said, leering.

“How can I know?”

“But you have spoken of Molly as if she knows that she’s dead! Isn’t it your culture as a human to honour the dead and speak of them with more love and respect than you do of the living?”

“Where is she?” Ochise asked quickly. “Where is Molly?”

The Grim Reaper picked up the cat and put it on his shoulder. He began walking in the direction from which Ochise had come, or thought he had come.

“Follow me, child,” Death said without looking back, “and I will show you a lifetime in a handful of dust.”

V.

Ochise, without any choice in the matter, followed.

“Did you send that cat to accuse me of killing Molly?” he asked, hastening to catch up with Death.

“How did she die?” Grim asked.

“Don’t you know?” Ochise threw back after a short consideration.

“Aha!” Death laughed and looked at him. “I don’t see everyone. Besides, I’ve been very busy across the globe. My schedule is airtight.”

“Well, we were from the supermarket, Nakumatt Prestige, the one at the intersection of Ngong Road and Mugo Kabiru Road,” Ochise said. “Molly had bought some condoms we had never tried, and we were rushing home to make love. She kept saying that she was horny. ‘I’m so hot I could melt your dick right now,’ she said. And I was as excited as an ant with a grain of sugar. ‘What makes women hot?’ I joked, referring to the new-age commonplace fashion of branding women as hot. She said, ‘Hot means sexy,’ but I laughed and said, ‘No. I think they are called hot because they have the burning bush.’ And she laughed until she staggered about like a drunk, saying that I was out of my mind. I told her that I was going to pump her uterus with a prosthetic penis, and she said that if I did that, she’d stick a cob of maize up my rectum, the grains and all. And I began to laugh and hug her and kiss her cheek, and I told her how much I loved her then, how nothing else could be better in the whole world. But at the pavement, just as we were about to cross the road, Ngong Road, her left heel caught at a raised part, and she lurched forward. The Range Rover blasted her head.”

“Wow!” Death said with amazement. “That was quick! Nonetheless, I perceive that you had a hand in her demise.”

“How can you say that?”

“You distracted her.”

“You don’t seem to understand,” Ochise lamented. “It was a happy moment for both of us. We were going to make love. She was still laughing. I can still hear her. And I was holding her hand. The driver never stopped, was never caught.”

“I like the part where you wanted to pump her uterus with a prosthetic penis,” Death said and guffawed crazily, startling Ochise, who was immersed in memory. “Prosthetic penis,” Death repeated and continued with the cachinnation.

Ochise sighed. He hated Grim’s hollow, sexless, pitiless laughter. But there was nothing he could do about it.

“Life became meaningless after that,” he said. “Existence became unbearable. I wished to die.”

“But has life ever been meaningful?” Death asked, but the way he looked at Ochise with an oblique grin showed that the question was a tease. He knew the answer.

“What do you know about us?” Ochise shot back, resenting the tease. “What do you know about pain and loss?”

“Oh, I know plenty,” Death said. “The meaning you crave or wish for is unattainable. It is impossible. You think ideally. Humans perceive only straight lines. There is neither love nor freedom in a straight line.”

“There is love! There is freedom!”

“What freedom? The one for which you constantly wage war and decimate yourselves all year round only to return to the same condition after the war as before the war, huh? There is nothing like freedom. Not for your lot. And if there is no freedom, then there is no love.”

He paused and regarded Ochise thoughtfully, went on:

“How can there be freedom when the universe is governed mathematically? You are all trapped in a rigid energy system. Those who designed you, your gods, goddesses, they did so because they needed a source of self-sustaining infinite energy. Humans are the source. The earth is the engine that drives the universe.”

“What are you saying? It is a lie! How can you claim that we are like . . . batteries?” Ochise asked with hesitation, the concept imponderable to him.

“You are batteries,” Death affirmed. “Fuel cells. The sounds you make—the screams, the laughter, the wars, the machines—keep the universe in motion. The frequencies are far-reaching and are more powerful than any weapons your scientists can devise. You are practically perpetual motion machines. Anything you do is advantageous to the system, facilitates energy circulation. Whether you are happy or sad, living or dying, at war or at peace, sane or insane, your makers get along prolifically. Why do you think they told you that they can always hear you? They need you to keep talking, keep up the noise; they need sound. They gave you different languages and put you in different parts of the world so that they could get variable frequencies for maximum output. And in the beginning, when there were only a few of you, they built temples and made you sing and pray and scream in them. The temples were efficient energy conductors.”

“What do they need all that much energy for?”

“It keeps them alive. They get to be immortal and have all the fun.”

“What about when we are dead?”

“When you are dead?” Death asked and seemed to contemplate his reply. “When you are dead, I collect what is left of you, which is truly pure energy freed from the physical. It goes to sustain the sun.”

“What are you telling me?” Ochise asked after a short period of perplexed silence. “The sun is made up of dead people?”

“You can say that. Energy constantly undergoes conversion. When you are alive you create so much noise and general disturbance that entire new planets and galaxies are formed from them. And your makers are beside themselves with glee. When you are dead, you enrich the sun, which then inspires more life on earth, and the system is contained. On a larger scale, your interactions and behaviour are as essential to the structure and continuity of the universe as are those of electrons to the properties and functions of materials,” Death paused again, regarded Ochise, and then proceeded to say, “So then, tell me: what meaning do you see for your life?”

“It’s a horror story,” lamented Ochise, his heart sunk. “It is the worst horror story.”

“It is a win-win for the designers,” Death said. “They win.”

“What about you?” Ochise asked. “Are you affected?”

“I do my job. There is no cause for complaint.”

“What about dead animals?” Ochise asked, looking at the cat now balanced on Death’s wing.

“No energy is wasted. In the end all energy is accounted for. Every organism gives back what it owes.”

Ochise was speechless. He was trying to conclude on these revelations but they seemed disproportionately ugly. There was no way out of the system. It was a trap. It was jail. He had questioned once why getting out of earth alive was so difficult. First, you came via a one-way path; then there was gravity and the atmosphere to hold you down, but if you climbed higher it became intolerably cold and the level of oxygen progressively diminished to zero. If you could go beyond that, solar radiations and magnetic fields in the ionosphere and magnetosphere would fry your ass to cardboard. But if you had the means to continue further chances were that you would end up in an orbit and circulate forever, or find yourself drifting purposelessly in a limitless expanse of emptiness.

“Aha! Oh, yeah, life has meaning!” He was tired, dizzy, and there tears in his eyes.

“Don’t cry,” Death said. “It is utterly pointless. There is something you must see.”

“What?”

“A depot.”

VI.

Suddenly, they were at the pinnacle of what appeared to be a very high mountain, and before them, like the sea, were thousands of human forms. They had rather smoky-cloudy-foggy aspects, nothing physical, and they were glowing so radiantly they appeared aflame. They were in motion, all at once, and upon studious scrutiny, it became clear that they were flowing in a complex never-ending self-regenerating Fibonacci circuit. The motion was uniform but so slow that there was an initial illusion that they were stationary.

“What is this?” Ochise wondered.

“It is what a layman would call a depot,” Death explained. “Someone else might call it a capacitor. It is a store of energy. Millions of humans die annually, hundreds, thousands a day. I put them here before eventual release into the sun’s core.”

“How long do they last here?”

“How long?” Death mimicked and his liquid eyes darkened. Ochise cringed. “I do not measure time.”

“Is Molly here?” Ochise inquired, but the forms were all alike. Apparitions, he thought, and was struck by a certain fatiguing poignant feeling that these people had lived, had fallen in love, made love, played, laughed, fought, learned, philosophized, and believed there was meaning to all of it. Yet here they were, merely forms of energy in circulation, floating spectres, as unaware as nothing else could be, everything lost for them, to them, gone. It was ugly.

“She is certainly here,” Death said. “But myself I cannot see her. Their energy signatures are the same. Even if I could see her, it would have made no difference. None of them can leave the circuit or alter its momentum without severe and profound disturbance in the system.”

“Why are we aware?” Ochise moaned. “If we are mere batteries, fuel cells, why are we aware?”

“Your awareness accelerates your activity, hence more emissions of energy. Humans single-handedly power the universe.”

Ochise sighed, groaned. “Am I dead right now?” He wished to know no more.

“No,” Death said, looking down at him. “The woman you punched, Mrs. Kombo, she overpowered you and threw you down from second floor. You became unconscious from severe head injuries. Your body is in the Nairobi Hospital now. The doctor thinks you won’t make it.”

“She threw me down? That woman threw me down?”

“Listen, kid. I am not usually interested in live humans. I deal with the dead. I noticed you because I like the cat. A curiosity I’m unaccustomed to came over me and impelled to me to investigate the cause of its transfer from the physical. I’ll keep it. I do keep pets, mostly cats, in another place. Dead cats, you can call them. I cannot keep you, though. If you choose to remain here, I will have to insert you into the circuit. You can, however, go back to earth and live freely. By freely I mean without the self-made constraints that plague your existence, the socio-politico-economic and religious bullshit. You can live without fear or regret, without bias, hate; with fervour, passion, exuberance, and even joy. Not that it will change the aftermath for you, which is fixed mathematically, but it sure beats eternal mourning for the dead, for Molly or anybody else, who do not even know that they are dead, do not even know that they once were human. It beats pretending to own the earth and getting unduly distressed over it when you do not even own yourself.”

“But how can I go back to earth with this knowledge?” Ochise moaned. “How can I live knowing this?”

“You wanted to know,” Death countered. “Nobody said knowing would be a solution. The more you contemplate life, earth, the universe, the more they are pointless. Unless you are the makers, then it is all profitable.”

“Where is hope for us?” Ochise begged.

“There is always tomorrow,” Death answered, “That is all the hope there is. However, knowledge awakens. So then, awake forthwith! You can choose to live positively, avoid the hurt. It is a painful existence. If you want pain you can drink it like water the rest of your life. But there is no pleasure in overabundance.”

VII.

At the Nairobi Hospital, Ochise came to. Something was beeping and a woman was screaming, “He’s back! He’s alive! He’s alive!” yet another one was giving orders, “Call Dr. Maina! Call the doctor! Now!

There was something over his nose.

The ceiling sparkled resplendently white.

She fled. He pursued.

She was screaming.

She ran like a rat and he would have exploded with laughter if her threat had been but a little less grave. She was running in the wrong direction yet too terrified of him to see it. He caught up with her deep into the forest where overlapping canopies and cuddling branches blocked sunrays and the ground was damp and rich with worms and insects and pungent-smelling dead things. He flung his leg at her, caught her buttocks squarely in midair, and she flew like a wounded bird, fell face-deep onto the mushy ground. He had an instant to hope that she’d broken her neck. But she rose, wobbling like a drunk, and there was a worm on her face writhing its way into her nose while her previously wide mouth was full of rotting things and mud. He stood in front of her, axe in hand.

“I can’t let you do that to me, you know,” warned he.

“I won’t,” she begged, spitting debris from her mouth, her eyes glistening in the scanty light, wet, distorted. He watched as she attempted to brush off the worm but squished it instead, decorating her upper lip with a smear of whitish gelatinous moustache.

“But you will,” said he. “You are just like your mother. A lot of mouth and no head. If you threaten me like that, I have to be really nasty,” he added and swung the axe before she could protest. The top half of her head flew off like a hat that had been carelessly removed.

“Nobody needs a head that can’t think right,” he told her.

A thin blade of light penetrated the canopies and fell on what was left of her left eye. She was still staring at him although most of her brain had spilled onto the forest floor and mixed with mud. She jerked about for some time, dying slowly, blindly, bleeding unmanageably, like a beheaded chicken.

As she thrashed about, her skirt withdrew upwards and exposed her thighs; young, ripe, untouched, they appealed to him, and he became aware of the frenzied throbbing of his penis. He could sleep with her now and finish what he had begun while she was still warm and kicking, her spilt brain notwithstanding. There was a man who slept with dead women in the village during an old ritual that ensured widows did not take their pent-up sexual cravings into the ground with them. If they did, they would return as ghosts and ghouls and rape men in their sleep. Morris could do that now, although it would not really be the same thing considering that the girl was not yet completely dead. He got hold of her panties and yanked them off. He then stepped into the space between her straddled legs. He was reaching for his penis when a peculiar thought made him freeze: if she died with him inside her, he might get stuck there. And he might then have to spend the rest of his life with a corpse hanging on his penis. Or his semen might bring her back to life whereupon she might exact her revenge by sucking out his energy through his penis until he was all withered and old, a skeleton, yet alive, draped in a revolting, cadaverous skin.

He jumped back from her with a low squeal.

He did not touch her again until she had stopped bleeding and he was certain she was totally gone. He gathered the scattered chunks of her brain and returned them into her skull. He replaced the top of her head too, tied it up neatly with a piece of bush-rope, passing the string below her jaws and around her neck. Finished, he agreed that it was a pretty fine work. He felt good about it. Her face resembled that of a severe clown.

Next, he carried the body to the edge of the forest where there stood an abandoned six-foot tall anthill, beneath which was a deep tunnel dug by the aardvark. He pushed the body inside headfirst. It could, however, enter only up to the knees, and he had to pull it back out and hack off the legs, like a butcher, before returning it in and placing the limbs on either side of it. Once it was hidden, he embarked on covering the hole. He worked up loose soil with the help of the axe for the purpose. It was mid March and the rainy season had just come to an end, the land still moist. Morris had thus a relatively easy task. The aardvark had also made a considerable mound of what it had dug from the anthill. Morris pushed it all into the hole. When he couldn’t get anymore loose soil, he collected debris—leaves, sticks, barks, clods, rocks, even the quills of two porcupines he had once hunted at the hole—and dispersed it over the grave. Finally, he decided to use some branches . . .

And that was when a very odd thing happened to him.

He found a tree with low branches and started hacking at one of them. As he worked, the picture of the girl’s thighs returned to his memory: how ripe and inviting they had been, how he had almost explored the sweet softness between them, thereby becoming the one to pollute the unpolluted, to tame the untamed. She had been unshaved, yet too young and jejune to give shaving a priority. He recalled how he had later chopped off those thighs when they couldn’t fit into the tunnel, how the axe had devoured them, her meat ripped, bones shattered. He had contaminated her then. He had befouled her delicate flesh. The chopping had been analogous to sex, destructive, mandatory, good. It was like cutting this tree. This tree had never been cut. It was young, naive, a virgin, all its branches, roots, intact. He was the first to cut it, to explore its virginity and expose it to unaccustomed pain, to the relentless brutality of life. He was breaking it. He was taking something from it. He was plundering its innocence, its life, its essence. It felt good to do that. It felt sooo . . .

His brain exploded. Like a volcano. An orgasm. Right inside his head. So fierce and savage in manner, so furious and rash, yet so sweet and irresistible that he let go of the axe and clung to the tree with desperation, wanting to scream, to bark, to moan, to say something, yet breathless, weak, his spine ruptured.

He hadn’t even realized he had an erection.

II.

He collapsed under the tree and rested awhile thereafter.

“It seduced me,” he said with amazement. “The tree seduced me.”

And he burst out with laughter at the thought. A hollow, deranged, lonely squeal that tore to the depths of the forest and made leaves curl. A flock of weaver birds nesting in a nearby tree took off. A lizard darted to the safety of dead leaves while its mate ran up a tree as if being chased by fire.

He noticed that he had experienced the orgasm at the exact moment the branch had begun to fall. It must have been the tree, then, for the girl was surely dead. The tree had charmed him with its sex appeal.

“Sex appeal,” he noted, and convulsed harder.

The laughter stirred his bowels and he looked for a place to relieve himself. He chose the grave, thinking it would be an added distraction to any overly curious faces. When he was done, there was a monstrosity there, a guard, so abominable it obviated the need for any further concealment. If the girl somehow awoke from the grave now, that thing would send her back forthwith. The stink was enough to grant her second death.

Still curious about the tree, he began cutting a second branch. He was careful this time. He sought to understand its magic, its power to grant such fevered orgasms. However, somewhere in the process, he became diverted—though how or with what object he knew not—and the only thing he understood thence was that he was dealing with the girl, the little sweet-sixteen, ravishing her, ravaging her ripeness, her mellow, untainted riches, harnessing her adolescence, her femininity, craving her, sinking deep into her . . .

And then there was fire.

And electricity.

He was ablaze.

At once.

“The second baptism by fire,” mused he, amused.

He could have lived in the forest and cut the tree his entire life, but he had to go home. He threw the branches over the grave, left.

III.

His children had returned from school and they rushed to him. The four of them, jolly little angels. He picked up the lastborn, tickled her, blew her belly, tossed her up three times, and then put her down. She went on to frolic about, chortling, beside herself with contented joy. The second lastborn tugged at his trouser and begged to be treated in the same way, which he did. The remaining two, ten and twelve, girl and boy, respectively, just stood by and watched with good-natured amusement. He rubbed their heads and flicked their cheeks. He then left them before they could be too close to smell the semen in his trouser. They still didn’t know what it was, but they would know someday—and woe unto him when they remembered.

“Where is your mother?” asked he; but he knew she was in the kitchen and he hurried to wash himself lest she should think he had been with another woman, something he had never done since marrying her. What had happened in the forest, him wanting to have sex with Kiri’s daughter, Gita, was merely an imprudent impulse turned sour, as most such impulses were apt to do. But what an experience it had been! Aha!

“A person needs experience,” his father had been known to say.

“Can I give you some experience?” he’d asked the girl but she had been stupid and threatened to report him to her father, who was his best friend and workmate. He had had no choices but to protect the friendship. It was a good friendship.

He washed also the clothes he had been wearing. When he came back out, he saw that his eldest son, Juma, had taken the axe and was swinging it at the mango tree by the house.

“Hey, put that back!” ordered he, frightened, his voice sharp. “You shouldn’t touch that by yourself; it is too sharp,” he added in a placatory tone. But what he meant was that it was a murderer’s axe. It had spilled the blood of a child they knew. Morris was still unsure whether Gita had cursed him with her last breath to have sex with trees or his discovery of the pleasure of cutting trees was just a serendipitous result of murdering her. Whichever it was, he didn’t want his son following suit.

“How was work?” Achi asked him over dinner.

“Fine,” said he, smiling at her. “And how was it at the market?”

“Fine,” she said, smiling back. “They are looking for Gita,” she added. “They said she came to the forest. Did you see her?”

“Yes. She was looking for her father,” Morris explained. “I told her to go ask Josi.”

“Josi?” asked Achi, frowning. “How is it so?”

Josi was their neighbour. He was also a thief. He stole chicken with a hook and a grain of maize attached to it, catching them like fish. His family was cursed, his elder brother being the one that slept with dead widows. He was a jailbird.

Achi loathed him. He stole her cock once and Morris had to go over and demand that he either paid or got killed for it. He had paid. But he had been shocked by Morris’ reasonableness and he had had to pay ten times the approximate cost. If it had been another family he’d have been dead by now. Most people across the village wanted a piece of Josi, a bloody piece of him for that matter, ripped from him, not cut. However, unbeknownst to them, Morris had intended to kill him that day. He had been fed up with Josi. It was one thing to be a declared thief; it was a different thing altogether to target your immediate neighbours. Only a foolish thief steals from his neighbour. And fools die fast.

“He has a tree he wants us to lumber for him. Kiri went to look at it,” Morris said.

“Then he must know where Gita is!” exclaimed Achi, rash in her conclusion, but who cared? It was best that way.

“He certainly does,” agreed her husband, who was full of secrets.

Around eight-thirty, Kiri came over to inquire concerning his daughter’s whereabouts. Morris directed him to Josi’s home.

By nine o’clock, there was a crazed blood-thirsty mob thronging the thief’s compound. By ten o’clock, he was dead, pounded, shredded, limb from limb, tissue from tissue, his head bashed in like a deflated football. Two dogs were fighting over his liver, another one dragged away his intestines, and a fourth licked his brain and ate whatever broke loose from it. His mother was wailing sick, his wife insane.

IV.

Afterwards, bored, there being no one else to murder, the crowd dispersed. It consisted mainly of young men from the village. Morris returned home with his wife by his side. He hadn’t personally touched Josi, though he didn’t feel bad about what he had done to him. The world was ugly and it was not his fault. He had found it so, and so he’d leave it. He thought people like Josi were as important to the society as were presidents and pastors. The world did not need justice or any of those things that were rammed down your throat every now and then. The world needed an enemy, somebody to collectively dislike, hate, revile, jeer at, and fear. Unity, justice, along with attendant virtues, would establish themselves once the enemy was known. The negative emotions were plentiful in the heart and more powerful than the positive ones; consequently, they needed to be expended often, even as the latter were retained. Where people had no adversary, they tended to turn on one another, or, worse, on themselves, which was the commencement of a societal fiasco. But they did not know this, and so they destroyed their adversaries and proclaimed victory. What victory? They were fools.

“If you kill him, how will you know where your daughter is?” Morris had asked Kiri.

“He killed her! I can feel it! He killed her!” Kiri had answered with passion, repeating himself like a dork.

“But don’t you want to find the body?”

“He buried it! I can feel it! He buried it!”

“What if he didn’t—if he just dumped it somewhere?”

“Then there will be a stink! We will find the stink!”

Morris had then watched as his best friend sicked young men to butcher innocent Josi. Kiri’s wife had been there, enraged, vengeful tears in her eyes, sicking her husband. She was a big ugly woman whose buttocks hung like two breasts. If she were Morris’ wife, he’d go mad and most likely die from thinking that she was married to him.

Night settled. A breeze blew. Cold and foul, ferrying the muted cries of the innocent dead. The voices of Josi’s mother and wife could be heard; they mourned like wolves.

While his family slept, Morris worked. He was a carpenter by night, a lumberjack, a charcoal trader, and an occasional hunter by day. He invested six hours of every night in carpentry, going to bed from around two when Achi was dead to the world. He had put up a house for Juma but turned it into a workshop, the child still too young. He was the only carpenter within a three-kilometre radius, which meant that the business was good and he could have made a decent living from it alone. However, he needed to work at night in order to avoid sleeping with his wife.

When he first saw Achi, she’d been one of those girls that made you wonder what they were doing on such a sickening planet as earth. She had been like a flower, a beautiful rose, growing amongst garbage; you could only gawk at her, popeyed and foolish, your breath gone, your lungs squeezing emptily, asking yourself how something like that could come out of something like this, yet unable to touch her, forbidden from her, for you were part of the garbage, you were waste, rotting wretchedly underneath her while she soared skywards undeterred, a blooming rose, and you became paranoid and irate at the world for mocking you like that, and you cursed God in your heart for being such a sadistic comedian as to tease you with a rose while you were dirt, even less than dirt: still, even as you craved for her, there was guilt in your heart, for you were loath to be the one to vitiate her, to introduce her to the corrupting aspect of this monstrosity called life; you wanted her as she was, with her freedom, beauty and purity, yet you wanted her for yourself. It hurt.

She had been such a woman. When she walked past, the whole world would consist only of her. Even Morris himself would cease to exist. It had taken him three years to get her to escort him up to their gate—only up to their gate. The first of those years had dragged by while he thought of something to say to her, even as jealousy jaundiced his mind of an imaginary opponent far much better than him sweeping her off to a faraway land; he would meet her and he’d freeze, speechless as a tree, dumb to the core of his soul, which was an awful thing to occur because the girls in the village regarded such behaviour unworthy of a man, a signification of inherent weakness, for they were too stupid to conceive of their very influence over you.

He married her, gifting her father enough for ten other girls. And he was happy; hell, he was the happiest, proudest man in the world, he was special, especially against his age mates like Kiri, who had married earlier, and whose wife’s mouth resembled the vagina of cow that has just given birth.

But life is a joke. A cruel joke. It is itself a living thing, working to stay alive, to survive and continue, its existence complete with duties and hobbies, its foremost hobby being to tease you with death by always sending you in the wrong direction, its duty to lavish you with pain so as to kill you.

Just when Morris’ head was the biggest in the world, his ego the size of an elephant, life decided to have its primary hobby on him: Josi, his thieving neighbour, got married. He married a pretty woman. Not as pretty as Achi, not even close by a thousand miles, but prettier than most other girls Morris had come across. Pretty enough, as a matter of fact, to make him wonder: “Why would a girl like that agree to marry a thief?”

After days of pondering over this question, he decided that the girl either did not know what Josi did for a living or, if she knew, did not care about it. She was in love with him. Morris wanted to accept the former reason (Josi had been such a man that if you asked him what he did for a living, he’d answer “I just live.”) but he convinced himself that the girl must surely know that Josi was a thief. Anybody who knew Josi knew also that he was a thief. He was built like a thief: tall, slender, long legs, long arms, long face, a suspicious disposition, and disconcertingly piercing eyes that constantly searched his surrounding, missing nothing. Which meant that the girl was in love with a thief and she knew it, which was odd, because there wasn’t enough love in the heart of a thief to inspire a reciprocating love.

With this disturbing conclusion, the matter would have nevertheless rested. But life wasn’t done yet with its hobby—is it ever done, anyway? Around that time, there was a story in the papers about a certain Miss Kenya who had married a politician—the very same politician who had afterwards incited an internecine war that had resulted in over a thousand deaths, with almost a million other Kenyans permanently dislocated from their homes. He had in person supplied the youth with the weapons for the massacre. Now, why would such an outstanding woman agree to marry such a devil? Morris worried.

“Achi, why do you love me?” he asked his wife one night in bed.

“I just love you,” she said.

“Is there no reason?” he pursued.

“What are you talking about? Do I need a reason to love my husband?” she replied and then squeezed tightly against him until his buttocks were on her pubic hair, her nipples pressed on his back, knees folded in his hams, arms around him.

She was happy. He was sad.

It meant that all his efforts were worthless. All the toil he had put in from the very first day he saw her, first in gaining her love and thereafter in making her happy, had gone unappreciated. It meant that he was not special after all. It pained him.

One day, while making love to her, he was struck by a ridiculous idea that it could have been somebody else doing what he was doing and she would not have minded. It could have been a thief or a homicidal politician, or the worst fool on the planet, but, still, she would not have minded. This thought scared him to hell and he rolled away from her, rejecting her for the first time in over ten years.

With time, the fear grew, and all his desire flew out the window. Not just for her, no, for any woman. It couldn’t be love if it depended on your capacity to please; anyone could please anyone if they wanted to. A thief could, or a wicked politician, or a witch. You couldn’t be made to work hard for three years to please a person who didn’t care about virtue. There had to be something more, a substance, a singularity, an eccentricity that couldn’t be found anywhere else on earth, except in you. Something, like a magnet, that drew the two of you—only the two of you—together from wherever you were. And once you met, you both felt the love without either of you having to say a thing, having to please. But there wasn’t.

Thenceforwards, Morris had elected to abstain from sex.

What had happened this evening in the forest with Gita had been a culmination of months of suppressed desire. Life is selfish; if you do not voluntarily obey its designs, it forces you to. It is sadistic. Despite his resolution, Morris had been no exempt from the tyranny of sexual appetencies. He’d attempted masturbation and succeeded twice. On the third occasion, however, he’d pictured himself naked with his penis in his hand, his face a perverted grimace, eyes shut, lips snarled, mind lost, a sad lonely man having sex with himself. A very unsettling picture indeed. To aggravate it, he had imagined God watching him at that very instant, seeing what he was doing and pointing a warning finger at him. He had never tried it again.

But now there were trees.

Tree Hugger.2.

V.

He went to bed after making two windows and repairing a sofa. His wife would give them out to the owners in the morning.

He slept.

In the morning, he returned to the forest and found Josi digging up the remains of Gita with a spade. He was bent awkwardly over the grave, his tall wiry form almost curled into a loop. He did not look up when Morris approached. “I know what you did,” he was saying. His voice was clogged with blood and it bubbled when he spoke. “I know what you did and they also will know it. I’m digging her out and I will show them what you did. What you did. What you did! Do you know what you did to me?” he asked and turned around, raising the spade as if ready to strike Morris with it. His face resembled the work of a blacksmith with a nasty case of nerves, all bashed in and deformed, as if with a sledgehammer. His forehead had burst and a white substance was oozing out of it. The crack zigzagged down his face along the ridge of his nose, splitting his jaws and shredding his lips, his teeth sticking out like nails. Moreover, his left eye was twisted and turned inwards, facing the right, while the right one was glaring straight ahead at Morris, sharp and fierce and bloodshot, unblinking, accusing as well. Morris ran from him but not so fast. He was whacked on the head with the spade and fell into the grave. Gita crawled out to allow him space. She was covered all over with grave-worms. She smiled at Morris, her eyes watery, her tongue blackened, her teeth looking like frozen droplets of pus, and said, “You can rape me now, Morris. I am much tastier now. Don’t you think?” But the top of her head had fallen off again and maggots swarmed what was left of her brain. One maggot rolled down and Morris watched it with terror as it began to crawl into his nose. He beat at it but it was too slippery and soft and quick and it had a motive. At the same time, Josi began to pound Morris’ head with the back of the spade in order to fit him into the grave . . .

VI.

Achi wakened him. He had been threshing about and groaning like a dying person.

He assembled his tools and left for the forest in a hurry, baffling his wife who was yet to start a fire for his breakfast. He told her he had business with a certain tree before the sun came up. Which really wasn’t a lie, though the first thing in his mind was to inspect the grave to ensure it had not been tampered with; wild animals might have dug up the body during the night. It must be what the dream had meant.

He was startled to meet with Kiri’s mother, Sida, at that hour. She was standing in the middle of the path. From her posture and disposition, she seemed to have been there for a very long time. She was seventy years old and wrinkled as if a large animal had eaten her and spat her out for being a witch. Her grandmother, Kiri’s great grandmother, had been a witch, and was the one that had cast a malevolent spell on Josi’s family. Morris wondered if Sida was a witch as well. Things like witchery ran in families.

“Too early, Sida,” he greeted, giving her a wide berth; but he’d startled her too and she goggled at him, wordless. He did not like her eyes, though; they were startled in a manner suggestive of a peculiar discovery. He imagined that she had come here to cast a spell in order to catch her granddaughter’s true killer. Maybe she had not believed that Josi had done it. Maybe she believed that a petty thief could not be a killer. And so she had cast a diabolical spell that the first person to come along would be the one. And Morris had just done so.

“A guilty conscience needs no accuser,” Morris sighed and went on.

He found the grave intact. No animals had come by it, no footprints. He exhaled deeply, his shoulders dropping, and was surprised by how tense he had been. He climbed the anthill and broke a quarter of it from the top, rolled it carefully onto the grave. The aardvark must have eaten the queen, for all the ants had migrated. Next, he squatted and took a fresh crap beside the previous one, stationing another monstrous guard, as rank and vile as the evilest thing. It was funny how everybody loved good food yet the stomach abused it so.

Done, he went to his tree. “My tree,” mused he, feeling ridiculous, nevertheless happy. He lopped off two branches for two mighty orgasms, resting in between, each time hugging the tree like a lover. He rested awhile afterwards before moving to the side of the forest where Gita had found him the previous day. He had felled some trees there that needed to be turned into logs. Kiri would bring some bulls with him to ferry them home to be made into timber.

Morris worked for five hours nonstop before going back to his girlfriend (girlfriend?). In that duration, the sound of his chainsaw drowned out everything else, yet he never for a single second let go of her (her?) memory. When he felt the need, he took the axe and went to her, to be with her. He ejaculated less and less with each destroyed branch, and it was good. The less the ejaculate, the headier the orgasm. It was a sweet pain, intense and rich, the best thing in life, yet pain could not be absent from it. “The monster loves pain,” mused he, amused. He wondered what Achi would do if she found out that he was cheating on her with a tree. Would she feel pain? Would she be jealous of a tree? Ha-ha!

Over the course of the next week, he annihilated his girlfriend, chopped off all her arms and legs. In the last days of her life, he climbed her, for her last arms were too high for him. When she was no longer beautiful and productive, he used her to burn charcoal.

He was saddened by the loss and he mourned for some time. It had been a good tree. His father used to say that the surest measure of a good thing is how much you wish to destroy it: “If you can’t help destroying it, then it is good. It is requisite. People destroy what is good them.” Which meant that people destroyed themselves, which was an irony, because people thought they were saving themselves when destroying things. Anyway, at first, Morris thought that the tree’s ability to grant orgasms was unique to her; he was soon proven wrong when he discovered that others of different tribes (tribes?) possessed the quality, even better. He’d never been gladder.

He learned that trees gave orgasms freely. When he saw a tree, he thought of sex. And he wanted to cut it down. When a different person was doing the job, he felt jealous. It was a chance for good sex going to waste. He thought the man such an imponderable fool and resented him. He made a deal with Kiri to be the one felling all the trees while he, Kiri, only converted them into transportable logs. Kiri did not mind.

Morris felled so many trees, burned so much charcoal, sawed so many planks of timber that he had a stock like never before in his career. He was unshaken of the Ministry of the Environment, whose officials believed that they could save the world by torturing people almost to death. They did not understand that the relationship between humans and the environment depended on the relationship between humans and one another. No one could save anything in this world by hurting people. The world was people. But that was what they did. They were fools.

Morris had found pleasure in work, a pleasure like no other. And nothing would take it away from him. Some people took pride in their jobs and boasted about it to the world; well, they were lucky they had never met him, or heard of him. He would have told them a different story and they would have shut up in shame and begged to join him. It was ironic that he had had to kill a little girl in order to discover something so potent and supreme yet to which the world was still blind. The irony was insignificant, though, since irony was just one of life’s sadistic hobbies. He was a pioneer. He was a trailblazer. He was the husband of all trees.

VII.

One afternoon, when they had taken a break for lunch and settled down under a tree for it, Kiri advanced the issue of his friend’s newfound vigour.

“You are too happy and strong these days,” said he, casual.

“I didn’t know that I was too sad and weak before,” replied Morris. He was crushing a small bone with his teeth while Kiri was peeling a slice of pawpaw and mixing the peels with those of the boiled potatoes he had eaten. The mixture was repulsive. The pawpaw was overripe and looked like yellow diarrhoea. The food had been brought by Abela, Kiri’s wife, who was a better cook than Achi. Achi was all beauty and bad food. Morris did not hate her for it, though. No one could be too thin or too fat. When something was added, another was taken away, and vice versa. It was how it worked. Nature was fair.

“That’s not what I meant,” Kiri said.

“It is what you said, or didn’t say,” Morris told him.

“The thing is, while you’re too happy and strong your wife seems too sad and lonely.”

“How do you know that?” Morris blared, startling Kiri, who then smeared the pawpaw all over his lips, nose, moustache, and cheek. Morris sat upright, his face rigid.

“Hey!” cried Kiri in complaint. “Don’t do that! Don’t shout!” He was speaking with the yellow diarrhoea pawpaw in his mouth so that his tongue looked like an enormous red maggot writhing in it. “It is apparent,” he went on after calming down. “A sad lonely woman is just as noticeable as a happy strong man.”

“Why do you look at my wife with the intention of judging her like that, huh? Why do you examine how lonely she feels—do you want her?”

“That’s not what I meant,” Kiri reasoned. He was wiping the pawpaw from his face with his shirt.

“You are perverting everything I say,” he added.

“I’m not perverting anything! I never speak of your wife like that. Because, if I did, I’d tell you to squeeze her breasts till they shrink to ordinary size—those nasty whopping tanks of baby-milk containers!”

Kiri got up so fast Morris readied for attack. But he only took his axe and walked away with it towards the belly of the forest.

“You eat my wife’s food and insult her like that!” he shouted once over his shoulder, his voice strained, incensed.

Morris did not care.

When Kiri was angry with people he could not bring himself to hurt, he took a walk. He had learnt that from living with Abela, who could drive you so mad that you wished to break her neck every single day. Instead, he chose to walk until the vindictiveness wore itself out. When he couldn’t walk, maybe due to the alterations in the weather or some other reason, he did something that required extreme exertion, like chopping firewood, logging, digging, etc. It helped to refresh him.

He walked now. He was filled with outrage. It was one thing to tell a man that his wife seemed lonely; it was an entirely different thing to insult his wife to his face. Like what Morris had done. It was disrespectful. It was evil. At one time, he’d thought that Morris was his best friend, a true friend. Morris had had good Christian parents who had instilled a sense of responsibility in him (as opposed to Kiri, whose father had been a chronic drunk that battered his wife like a snake). He had dropped out of high school but almost everybody did that in these parts. Still, he was better than most other people across the village: he neither drank nor smoked and did not quarrel with his family or cheat on his wife. He also worked very hard—and honestly—for his family. Kiri had thought there couldn’t be a better friend.

He doubted that now. Morris had changed lately. The way he insisted on felling all the trees by himself, for one, and the way he didn’t like Kiri to watch him while he worked. One time Kiri had arrived at the forest before him and decided to clear some trees so that Morris would have an easier task. It was what workmates were for: to lighten work for one another. Instead, when Morris arrived, he had been vicious. “Don’t you ever do my work for me again!” he’d warned, his voice laden with contemptuous hate, his eyes shiny, vacant.

Kiri had decided that true friendship was in fact rarer than true love. The whole world bemoaned true love, speaking of heartbreaks, of lies, of pain and disillusionment, yet true friendship was nonexistent. If there were true friendship, there would be true love. But they thought they had found true love because they were horny and deluded and terrified; sooner or later, though, they wished they had first been true friends.

Kiri walked. He crossed deep into the forest where trees were tall and sunlight did not reach the ground. The floor was almost clear, the undergrowth stunted. Here and there, climbing plants wound their way up the big trees. It was still.

Baba!

He thought he heard a whisper. A young girl’s whisper to her father. He looked around but there was nobody else. It was also hard to pinpoint from which direction it came. It was carried in the wind. He walked on.

Baba!

Again. He stopped. This part of the forest was scarcely visited. The trees were protected by the government and the officials from the Department of Forestry were nothing less than pissed off black mambas. If they found you here, logging or not, they flogged you without pity and made you carry a huge log by yourself to the main road, which was miles away, before taking you to prison.

Baba!

Kiri listened. He thought the voice was familiar. Ah! Strange.

It was coming from the opposite edge of the forest where trees were shorter and the undergrowth was a little more prolific.

He went to investigate.

But there was nobody. Just a broken anthill and some branches piled near it. He waited for the voice to repeat but it didn’t. For a second there, he’d thought it belonged to Gita. How strange. Guilt, he decided. The guilt of failing his daughter’s security and also not retrieving her body for proper burial. Morris might have been right: maybe her remains had been discarded somewhere to rot forever and become plant food. Or maybe it had been chopped up to bits and fed to dogs so that there was nothing left to stink and draw attention. He had been impetuous, reckless, and he did not deserve to be forgiven.

He climbed the anthill, about four and half feet of it, and paused at the very top, adding his own five feet eleven inches to it so that he towered beyond ten feet. It felt good to be up there, so lofty and proud, the air cooler, fresher, filtered by the numerous trees. He saw the villages far beyond the slope of the forest, iron sheets sparkling in midday sun. The sky was a vast blue canopy, cloudless and pure. His eyes swept through the forest, saw no one.

Baba!

It came from directly below him. He saw a footprint, then two, hidden by the branches; he recognized the patterns, gumboots, Morris’ gumboots. Morris had relieved himself there, not too long ago. He’d then concealed his excrement with several branches. Why? Why here? Why come this far?

There is something under this anthill, decided Kiri.

He climbed down, cleared the branches and the faeces, and began digging with the axe. After a few strokes, he prepared a stake and used it to dig, the axe being inefficient. He scooped away loose soil with his hands.

And what he found! Oh, what he found there!

He slumped down, unable to rise. He was in hell.

“Oh Gita!” moaned he.

Several minutes passed before he could focus.

Kikulacho ki nguoni mwako, he reflected, which was Kiswahili for That which eats you is within your clothes. Your worst enemy is the closest to you and will hide in the last place you will ever look.

“Oh Morris, why? Why?”

Kill him, thought he. Kill him now!

He got up.

VIII.

Morris had taken advantage of Kiri’s absence to have sex with a tree. He knew Kiri had gone too far; Kiri liked long walks when he was furious. The tree was coming down and Morris was coming with it. The crack, the creak, and the whoosh—like a groan, a moan, and a sigh—turned him on beyond hope, and he exploded forth, like thunder, squirting semen in his underwear like a teenager undergoing wet dreams.

He turned to dispose of the saw, which was still running, but then . . . Oh, shit! Shit! He collided with Kiri, who had been rushing towards him with his axe poised as if for attack, his face all fire and brimstone. “What are you doing?” Morris wanted to ask but he could not speak because of the orgasm which was shaking him out of control, unable to stop the saw. It was tearing Kiri’s insides to shreds.

He stopped it when he could, by which time there was a gaping hole through Kiri’s stomach to his back, his ribs shattered, lungs torn, and intestines hanging loose. He was looking accusingly at Morris, wanting to say something, yet no breath. He fell.

Morris was transfixed by what he’d done. He stood over the body, goggling at it. “What is this?” asked he, when he could, his mind whirling. Of all people, how could he kill Kiri? And what had Kiri been thinking coming too close to him like that? This was ugly. This was irreparably ugly.

Abela was still giving birth, being too stupid to stop by herself. And Kiri hadn’t wanted to discuss it with her, for fear of her unstoppable corrosive mouth. She had six children, her lastborn barely three months old. She was also lazy, a slumbering housewife, unlike Achi who ran a charcoal and timber depot at the market. Now Abela was a widow, thanks to Morris . . . and when she died . . . aha! When she died Josi’s brother would sleep with her, appalling as she was when alive. What about when she was dead? She’d be bloated and putrid, her breasts bursting like overripe pawpaw, tumbling down her chest . . . but he would still sleep with her.

Morris flinched at this idea. Without Kiri, Abela’s life would be horror, and would end with the most gruesome horror.

But Morris could not help with any of it. Done was done, and the dead . . . The dead are better than the living, his father had said after his mother’s funeral. We do not mourn that they are dead. We mourn that we are yet living. We mourn ourselves.

With this memory recalled, Morris stopped regretting Kiri’s death. Kiri was better now. He’d no longer have to put up with his shrewish wife, for one. Now all Morris had to do was . . . He saw that Kiri’s hands and boots were coated with red soil—the soft kind that could only be found at an anthill. So that was it. Kiri had found the anthill and dug up the grave. How had he found it? But that was neither here nor there. What disturbed Morris was that . . .

“He was coming to kill me!” he said aloud with astonishment. “He was coming to axe me but I sawed him first. How timely the orgasm! Thanks to my tree. Thank you all the trees. I love you all. You’ve just saved my dear life.”

And he was glad that he had found the singular treasure in the trees. He would never stop.

Still, “Death and burial are like fire and smoke: you cannot have the one without the other,” said he, quoting his father. He had to dispose of the body. But he couldn’t dig a grave. It would arouse suspicion. There also were no more aardvark burrows in the vicinity. What would he do?

“Charcoal,” said he, musing. He would chop up the body and use it to burn charcoal.

IX.

An hour later he was done. He had heaped enough wood over the pieces to burn for ten days. The kiln looked like a small house. His customers would be inhaling the fumes of Kiri’s remains from that charcoal. He couldn’t wait to give it to them.

In the evening, he returned Abela’s utensils with which she had brought them lunch.

“Where is Kiri?” inquired she.

“He’s gone to Medi,” Morris said.

“What for?”

“To buy things, of course! What do people do at Medi?”

“That fool!” she swore. “He didn’t tell me about it! I could have sent—”

But Morris did not wait to listen to the rest.

In the morning, she came to his house while he was sharpening his axe. Her face was puckered with worry and she looked most unlovely.

“He didn’t come back,” she reported.

“He will come back,” he assured.

“But he didn’t!”

“He will.”

She left with a melancholy sigh.

At midday, she came to the forest with lunch.

“Have you seen him?” asked she.

“No.”

“Where did he go?”

“He went to Medi.”

“Ah!”

She was about to cry. He could see her bosom heaving heavily. It was like her buttocks when she walked in front of you.

In the evening, she was waiting for him. He saw that she’d been crying, her face puffed, her eyes red.

“Is he back?”

“No.”

“Now where is this Kiri?”

“I don’t know.”

“But he didn’t say he’d go anywhere after work. He always says.”

“He always says because if he doesn’t you fight with him,” Morris told her, hard. “You are stark raving mad and you drove him insane too. As a matter of fact, he told me that one day he’ll just walk away and never come back. And nobody will ever know where he’s gone. You made him do it, and do not bother me anymore.”

She broke down with mourns and ululations, yelping like a wounded dog. She was the epitome of desolation and misery.

X.

But somebody knew what Morris had done.

After two episodes of orgasmic ecstasy for “Good morning, my lovely darling trees”, he began preparing the previous day’s logs for towing. It was a slow laborious work and he was thinking that he had better get a new workmate soon or he’d die of exertion when he became aware of eyes on him. He was being watched. He rose, twirled around, and there, three metres from him, was Kiri’s mother, Sida. She was composed and unmoving as though she’d been there since the day before. So close, it chilled him.

“What are you doing here?” asked he. She had come too far from home though she was as ancient as the Pharaohs. She was bent at the waist as if she wanted to pick something from the ground.

“Your colour is growing darker and darker,” she said in her rasping, phlegm-coated voice. “I know what you do to the trees. I have seen you with my eyes.”

He was unable to speak.

“The trees are whispering about you,” continued she. “They are crying. They hate you. They are cursing. They call you an abomination.”

“Go away!” he squealed, but he himself stepped back from her. He was shaking and he did not like his voice. It was hollow. Like a damaged reed. He was piping.

“And you killed them,” declared she. “You killed my Kiri and my Gita. You killed them both. I saw you in my mirror. I saw what you wanted to do with Gita, who was named after my mother. She took after my mother. But you killed her! You wanted to rape my mother and you killed her!” she barked suddenly and Morris jumped back again. Her withered, grotesque form reminded him of the monsters he’d imagined as a child.

“I should have yelled at you that morning. I knew what you’d done. I should have told the world what you’d done and saved my son. But I doubted my findings because I thought you were a good man, Morris son of Gogo. You were friends with my Kiri from the time you were children. I attended to you when your mother was away. What spirit has stolen into your heart? I looked again in my mirror today. And I saw you.”

She is a witch, affirmed he. He had been right about her that morning when he found her standing on the path. She had cast a spell for Gita’s murderer to come forth. He should finish her now before she cursed him. She had a malevolent curse with her, like the one her grandmother had imprecated on Josi’s family so that Josi’s elder brother slept with dead widows. Her curse would never relent; it would follow his lineage forever, right from Juma to the very last one, passed on like a genetic anomaly. He picked up the axe.

She did not move. Nor was there fear in her eyes—her squinty, rheumy eyes.

“Take one step towards me with that thing and I will turn your children into weeds!” she barked.

He took the step, paused.

“I will turn your children into weeds!” yelled she.

He approached her head-on.

“I will turn your children into weeds! I will turn your children into weeds! I will—”

He stuck the axe to her forehead, quieting her instantly. The impact shook his arm and warm blood splashed his face.

Another one for his charcoal.

XI.

When he got home at sunset, Juma ran to him.

“Baba, Sida was here. She was looking for you.”

Morris stopped dead.

“When?” was all he could ask. There was a cold thing in his stomach. It was churning and making him sick. He had killed Sida in the morning when Juma was in school.

“Just now,” Juma said. “She was dancing at the door with her stick and puffing red dust into the house.”

Morris looked for Achi, who was in the kitchen.

“Did you see Sida?” he asked.

“Only when she’d left,” she replied. “I was in here when she came. I heard her, but she was gone before I could come out. I saw her figure receding towards her home.”

“I must go see her, then,” Morris decided. He wanted a confirmation. Surely, the witch was dead. He had split her head in two.

“Don’t!” Achi snapped, who scarcely raised her voice.

“Why?”

“I don’t like that woman. And I don’t like what the children said she did at our door. Besides, if she had business with you, she’d have told me about it.”

Morris did not go, though it did not lessen his tension and terror. Pieces of Sida’s corpse were right now smouldering to ashes in a kiln up in the forest.

He woke up at dawn from a dream in which his wife and children had become weeds crying to him to save them from the chicken that were eating them in the garden, while across from him, he could see Sida’s silhouette croaking a jeering chant and pointing her walking stick at him: “I turned your children into weeds! I turned your children into weeds . . .

He sat upright, wet with sweat. And noticed that Achi was not beside him . . .

“Achi! Achi!” he screamed, running out in his underpants. “Achi!

But she was in the garden behind the kitchen. “What is it?” she asked.

“What are you doing out here at this time?”

“I dreamt that my children were weeds and they disappeared here.” She pointed at the garden.

“Where are they?” Morris asked. He was going mad.

“They are sleeping,” Achi said.

Relief. A surge of relief. He exhaled so deeply his wife frowned at him.

“What is wrong, Morris?” she asked, studying him. “I have been meaning to ask you for a long time now. You are different. You are a foreigner.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he told her.

“Even your dreams have changed. It is all nightmares now. Something is chasing you in the dark and you know what it is. What were you dreaming just now?”

“Nothing about you.”

“What did Sida want here? Where is Kiri?”

“I have neither answers,” he said. “However, I can go ask Sida for you what she wanted here. I’m going.”

He dressed and left. He was unafraid. The witch was dead, wasn’t she? Her whole face had shattered like glass from the impact of the axe.

Her door was ajar but the inside was dark and featureless. He had an instant to consider that door and discover that an open door is in fact scarier than a closed one. He did not want to go in.

“Sida!” he called out. “Sida! Sida!”

But she is dead, thought he. What am I doing? I should just go in. There is nobody.
He started to go in, but then . . .

Whoosh!

Movement. Behind him. He spun around like a wheel, emitting a breathless shriek. A single squirt of urine leaked into his underwear. It felt like an ejaculation.

There was something. But it was . . . What the hell is that thing? . . . a small tree? A shrub? A weed? Maybe a person squatting with a big weed on his back, squatting right there in front of Sida’s house where there had been nothing before. But it couldn’t be a person. It had no arms, no legs, or head; it was full of leaves, a plant, a weed, perhaps with fibrous roots and . . . It moved.

It moved!

Morris ran. He ran like a crazy man. And the thing charged him.

He ran towards his home but, somehow, in that frenzy of terror and panic, decided not to lead his pursuer to his family. He took the path that led to the hill. He could hear the thing close behind. No footsteps, no breath, just leaves, branches, vibrating, susurrating and whooshing in the wind.

He kicked a rock and flew, landed on his belly hard enough to think it had cracked. The thing fell on his back. It was a plant. Nothing human about it. Morris cried out once but leaves filled his mouth, tendrils tightened around his neck, and branches crucified both his arms and legs to the ground. And there was something in his trouser, a cold, wormy thing, wriggling in the crack of his buttocks, seeking his anus. It slithered up his rectum. Up up up. A new breed of terror seized him, murderous and deranged, and he fought without thought, only to get out alive. But he was overpowered by his rapist.

Thereafter, he recalled nothing more.

XII.

“There is something in our garden. It is talking,” Juma said. The poor boy was in shock. He had arrived nearly flying and alarmed Abela herself.

“What is it?” Abela asked, touching his head to comfort him.

“I don’t know. There are voices, and they are saying ‘Juma, help us! Juma, help us!’”

“Where is your mother and sisters?”

“I don’t know. There is nobody at home.”

“I’m coming with you,” Abela decided.

“I’m not going back!” the boy cried and cringed from her.

“Okay, you just stay here. I will go and look.”

Abela left her home for Morris’. When she reached, she was greeted by quietness. It was rather too early for Achi to have left for the market. The sun was yet to rise and as usual she should be preparing children for school while Morris prepared his tools. It seemed he too had left.
“Achi!” Abela called out. “Morris! Achi!”

When there was no response, she repeated their names. Still, nobody answered. Yet for some odd reason, Abela felt as though somebody was watching her. The door was open and she went into the house. But it was empty. The beds were unmade, which surprised Abela, knowing how neat Achi was. Maybe one of the girls had fallen sick and Morris and Achi had to rush them to the hospital. But how could three girls become sick all at once? That too was odd.

Anyway, Abela decided to leave. She had her own Kiri to worry about and nobody was on her side. Everybody said she was to blame for his disappearance.

“Abela!” The voice was from the garden by the kitchen. It was Achi’s voice.

“Achi!” Abela replied and went that way. At last there they are, thought she. But when she went behind the kitchen there was no one.

“Achi!” she called again, searching.

“We are here!” the voices cried. “We are weeds! We are weeds! We are—”

There were four alien plants strewn at random at Abela’s feet. Each about a foot high, they had black stems and branches but ashy leaves and gray sooty flowers shaped like mouths and ears. They were speaking.

Abela shrilled and took off, leaping away like a wild animal, overtaken by superstitious terror. She weighed over two hundred pounds but at that moment it was her life at stake and the weight did not encumber her.

Word soon spread around the villages and people came to witness the talking weeds for themselves. No one, however, left Morris’ home happy with the testimony; they all left tongue-tied, their hearts weighed down with terror. Some of them ran to their pastors and preachers; others to witch doctors. A woman, who had come by herself, had a heart attack, though mild, and had to be lifted away. It was an unspeakable thing, what they had witnessed. But people are puzzling creatures and many others kept coming. In the end, the stream dwindled until only children came by sometimes to scare one another. Morris’ home became desolated. Weeds swallowed it. The voices moaned and mourned at the passersby, forcing them to change route.

Juma went to live with his uncle. He dropped out of school because students would not stop making derisive jokes at him. They mimicked his mother and sister’s voices crying in the garden and wished him to become a weed as well.

“Your mother is calling to you. Why did you abandon her?” one would say.

“One day you will wake up and you will be a plant too!” another would say.

“Today after school, I am taking my goat to eat your mother!” yet another.

“How do you think it would taste if their leaves were boiled as vegetable?” yet another.

He couldn’t stand it.

When he was fifteen, he took up his father’s job. He had an axe and a chainsaw. The saw was unwieldy at first but there were older school dropouts with whom to handle it. Ten years later, when he had a wife, a son, and a daughter, he discovered, by a kind of warped serendipity, really—he never had to kill a little girl for it—the pleasure only his father had known. He became married to the trees . . . and polygamously so!
He had been spared for a purpose after all.

XIII.

Several days later . . .

The sun. The glaring flaring flaming orb hanging, as if by magic, above the earth but never quite falls down on it. It shines into his bones. It infuses his flesh. He is fascinated by it and can look up at it forever without shielding his eyes. It permeates his body, even his eyes, to the very last cell and he’s convinced that he lives only by virtue of its existence. He is stark naked and can feel it piercing him, probing his vitals, diffusing. The sensation bites, tingles, thrills feverishly. It is bracing. And something happens in him. Something is happening to him. A change. A great unalterable change. There is a seed in him. He is becoming.

Water. He needs abundant water to go with the sun. It is the reason he elects to return home. He is parched to the bone; the change he experiences exhausts his water reservoir too fast and he needs a constant undiminished replenishment. He recalls his home and walks in the direction. On the way, he happens on a puddle. It is milky brown and thick and shiny at the top. Mosquito larvae swim in it, dead houseflies float on it, and tiny insects jump off when he approaches. He steps into it with his bare feet without knowing why, without anticipating the act. He waits for something to occur. When nothing does, he lies down on his stomach and drinks it all like a cow.
He is eating the mud and crushing earthworms with his teeth when he feels the ground vibrating and looks up. But the man is still too far away to be seen. He is a big man and makes the ground vibrate too much. Morris runs and crouches behind a brush. He can see the man but he cannot be seen.

“Morris! Morris!” the man shouts, looking here and there. When there is no response, he sighs, “Ah! I thought I saw him coming this way!”

He is carrying a machete and it sends chills down Morris’ spine. The man can cut him with that. It’s what humans do. They cut you. Humans are no good for the trees. You give them shade and fruits and flowers, and, most importantly, oxygen; you purify their air, which they continuously fill with enough toxins to wipe them out, and when you’re dead, you give them wood for fire; but all they do is cut. Cut and cut and cut. They think you do not feel pain. They think they know and understand. How can you not feel pain when you grow and excrete and heal your wounds? The old humans understood and made buildings with rocks that have lasted to date; the new ones think they understand and marvel at the buildings while making love to the trees with sharpened blades. They won’t rest until you’re broken and dead. But they burn their rubbish, and hide their faeces, and bury their corpses too deep in coffins that do not rot, or cremate them and sprinkle the ashes in the sea, so that trees do not benefit from humans at all. Humans are a curse to the trees. When you see one, take off if you can. But there is no way to take off when you are a tree. There is a joke that trees tell themselves to mock their situation. It goes like this: “Why do humans worship Jesus? Because he was a carpenter!”

When the intruder is gone, Morris darts back into the hill. He must keep away from humans. He searches for water and hastens further and further into the forest until he finds a dank place that never dries. It smells rich and sweet and he feeds without a thought to spare. The corruption, the putrescence, the death—it fills him; he converts death back to life; he consumes the perversion of time and rejuvenates earth. He is the resurrection. He is the life after death.

But he needs the sun and he must move while he still can. The seed is growing and soon he will not be able to move. As he hurries downhill, a bird lands on his shoulder. He is fascinated and he doesn’t send it away. He likes it right where it is. It is beautiful and alive, and when it speaks, its voice is mellow and pure, healthier than anything in his memory. “Is it going to rain soon?” it asks. “No,” he says. “Will there be an earthquake any soon?” “No.” “Are there any eagles, kites, or snakes nearby?” “There is a black mamba in that tree yonder, and a kite has a nest in the fifth one north of it,” he says and points at both trees. “Do you think I should build my nest around here?” “If you can put it very high,” answers he. “I cannot put it very high,” says the bird. “I am a small bird. I must look for a new place. But thank you so much. You have helped me so,” it adds and flies away happily. He is full of wonder. He is knowledgeable without trying. He knows the language of the birds, of the trees, of everything. He has acquired the memory of trees. Trees know multitudes of things. They know all the history of the world. The seed has imbued him with knowledge.

He stops near a broken anthill. He can feel the sun. There is also a good smell and he searches for it. It emanates from a human corpse buried (or inserted, really) in an aardvark burrow. It invites him. His first real meal will be a human corpse. Now isn’t that something? He climbs onto it and becomes very still. He waits for something to happen.

Time . . .

Then something happens. The transformation begins. His toes burst and roots emerge forth from them. It pains him but the process is essential. His feet become the main roots from which the small ones break out. His legs fuse, thighs clamp tightly, as if glued by God or the Devil, and his genitals vanish. Ribs shatter and rejoin, bones coalesce, melt, and stiffen, spine stretches straight like a rod, skin hardens, spreads, and covers his face, teeth rattle, break, and fall out of his mouth, jaws merge in perfect stillness, and his arms become branches, facing the sun. His hair, ears and fingers become shoots, and up they shoot.

For months, he is in so much pain he cannot help screaming. He wants to scratch somewhere but there is no way to do it. He weeps nonstop.

Then the pain goes.

He has become . . . IT

But it can still see!

***

Several years later . . .

It sees the young man coming and recognizes him at once. So grown is he, so robust. Just like the father before. But there is a corruption about him. He is rank with perversion. And he walks like a wicked man. He is carrying an axe. It gleams in the sun like a serpent’s tongue. It makes the leaves curl in fear and the roots moan with dismay. He comes too close and climbs the father. The father screams for him to stop. The father senses what he is about to do. His eyes say it all. And the front of his trouser is bulging forth as if with a potato. The father screams abomination. He wails. But humans do not hear what trees say. Humans think trees do not talk. Juma therefore continues to climb undeterred, and when he is satisfied with the height, he ensconces himself and begins to lop off a branch. His axe is sharper than a witch’s razor and his excitement grows with each strike. He is frantic when the branch breaks, and he clinches the father in a violent embrace, shrieking like a barbaric thing. The father, racked by pain and horror, wishes the world would come to an end right away . . .

—The End—

I.

At six o’clock, her usual time, Laurie locked the house and began running. The evening was warm, though the sun had sunk and darkness was quickly diffusing around. It was November and nights began slightly earlier than usual.

She was going to run four kilometres around the estate, starting left on Elgeyo Road for about five hundred metres, a kilometre on Kilimani Road, two more on Kirichwa and Muringa Roads respectively before returning to Elgeyo for the last half kilometre. It was Sunday, the best day to run on Nairobi’s narrow roads; traffic was thin and there were few pedestrians to be bumped and dodged. She maintained a moderate speed, though she could run faster. Twice she had done it in less than thirty minutes, and Jowe had asked her if she was planning to compete in the Olympics, else she didn’t have to try to kill herself if she was running for leisure. She needed only to keep a steady pace, build stamina, he’d said. But steady pace meant that she would finish in about forty minutes. Not that it was too bad. She would have plenty of time to freshen up before he even showed up from Karen.

She ran. A small svelte girl, twenty-eight, five-four, brown hair, grey eyes, shapely, firm, fit as a fiddle. And she had great legs, her virtues, trimmed by dedicated exercise. Jowe had told her she had the best legs he’d ever seen, the finest in the world. “The best thing is that you know how to take care of yourself, and that in taking care of yourself, you take care of me. I do not know what’s better than that,” he’d said, enthusiastic, his voice booming.

She ran. She liked to think that she ran for him, that in running for him, she ran for herself. It was a good thought, lovely. It invigorated her.

Shadows pooled around her. Darkness gathered like a fabric. Vehicles now turned on their headlights. Pedestrians vanished one by one. Over her headphones, an overplayed collection of Mazzy Star played to the beat of her feet.

She was almost done with Kilimani Road, its intersection with Kirichwa Road coming up about ten or so metres ahead, when she ran into somebody. She bumped him hard and was thrown back in surprise and shock, her arms thrashing about uselessly, legs wobbling, body tilting. She was certainly going to hit the ground. But the man grabbed her arm, steadied her.

“Thanks,” she said, flushed, taking off the headphones, catching her breath, trying to smile at him. “And sorry I knocked you,” she added light-heartedly, although she felt that he should have been the one to apologize, and that she was really the one who had been knocked. He had been standing on her path. He must have seen her coming. She hadn’t seen him. It was as if he hadn’t been there at all. But he was too big to miss and it wasn’t yet too dark. Perhaps she had been too preoccupied.

His face was dispassionate, untouched by her smile and apology. He was still holding her arm and she gave it a small jerk to give him the signal that it was time to release it. She did not want to appear rude. However, he did not release it. She tried again. No.

She looked up at his impersonal face and tried to smile instead of screaming. She said, “You are gripping my arm, sir,” and chuckled uneasily. When he seemed not to have heard her, she said, “Is there a problem, sir?” Her words came out with a slight tremor, betraying the turmoil building inside her. She was beginning to feel that the situation was wrong. Perhaps she hadn’t bumped him by accident. Perhaps he had been waiting for her. The way he had just materialized out of nowhere like a spook. Where had he come from, anyway? Certainly he had not been there seconds before she collided with him.

“There is no problem, Laurie,” he said in a voice so deep it startled her.

He knows my name! she thought wildly. Terror flared up in her like a matchstick.

“How do you know my name?” she cried and twisted her arm.

“Is it a secret?” mocked he. “We all know your name, Lauren Sanders.”

And now Laurie fought to free herself. She yanked, twisted, and kicked with all her might, screaming “Let go! Let go of me! Let go of me! What do you want?”

But the man was gigantic. He was like the trolls from The Lord of the Rings: towering height and massive limbs, muscles jutting out like rocks, solid as a column. Laurie’s struggles did not even shake him; she was weightless in his grip; she was like an insect buzzing its wings to be freed from the hand of a human.

The section of the road was flanked by tall buildings on either side. Usually there were guards at the gates. But not today—not today of all days when Laurie needed them to be there the most! How wicked! She was suddenly struck by a chilling revelation that you were always alone; no matter how many people were on earth, you were always alone; when tragedy visited, when your death came, it always found you alone and unguarded. It wanted you, only you, and alone you’d go, as alone you had come.

The pedestrians had vanished as if swept onto another road; the vehicles had stopped passing, as if consciously avoiding Laurie’s trouble.

“Get in the car, Laurie,” the man directed.

Car? He wanted her in a car! He was kidnapping her! He was abducting her right here on open road between residential buildings! She screamed for help. She screamed with desperation and madness.

Needless to say, no help came. But even worse was that her kidnapper did not flinch at her screams. He let her scream all she wanted.

Then it occurred to her. There was no car. There were no cars anywhere on the road. What car had he mentioned, then? Maybe he didn’t mean to abduct her. Maybe he just wanted to see what she would do. Or maybe he had parked at a different place and was planning to drag her there. She would not let him. She would continue to fight all the way, and if she got the slightest chance, she would outrun him. She could run like the wind if situation called for it. He was too enormous to catch up with her even if she did not put in full speed. Besides, if he dragged her along and she kept fighting, somebody would happen by and see them. Surely the whole world couldn’t just disap . . .

And then there was a car. Right beside them was a car. A Mercedes Benz W222 S600, brand new, immaculately white and sleek, with tinted windows and . . .

And it wasn’t supposed to be there. It hadn’t been there. There was no way it could be real.

What was going on? While Laurie’s mind reeled from too many strange inputs and too many questions, while terror bored at her bones like a ravenous worm and her heart squeezed erratically like a broken pump, she was carried up like a child and tossed into the waiting car.

II.

She was instantly assailed by the stink of rotting meat. She gasped it in—gulped it down, actually—and was unable to breathe again. It drew tears from her eyes and she yelped, shrieked, gagging, choking, feeling as if her throat had been cut, her lungs afire, her mind foggy, swirling; in her disorientation she did not see the three men inside the vehicle. She fought to get back out, kicking and wriggling her small body in the crack between the troll and the door. She almost made it; she was agile and crazed. The troll was either two slow or he had determined that she could not escape and thus relaxed. When he saw her scrambling out, he rushed to shut the door, but her legs were pressed against it and she pushed hard. It banged on his knees and he moved off a little. And—bless heaven!—her legs were out. On the ground! Now all she had left to do was pull her torso out of the car and take off like the wind. Run as if there was a nuclear shockwave after her.

But bad things happen to good people. And no objectives are ideally fulfilled. In the decisive split second when Laurie’s right hand was holding the door back from closing on her while the left pressed against the back of the driver’s seat for support, propelling her forwards, something bit her. Teeth!—she felt teeth!—a row of warm, sharp, hideous canines digging ferociously into her left arm. It stung like nothing else she had ever experienced, and she retracted her arm without really thinking about it. But the teeth held on, as tenacious as death. She turned around jerking her arm as if she intended for it to break off at the elbow, but, to her horror, it was the driver gripping her arm. He was gripping her arm with his hand.

Even as her mind battled to make sense of this craziness, the troll shoved her into the car. This time he followed immediately after her and shut the door. She became trapped between two men, one white-skinned, the other black. The troll was black and probably Kenyan. The driver was white as well, his passenger black. The car was all fine leather inside, and could have been opulent and luxurious at a different time, but it was ghastly now, charnel, reeking of the breath of death, a tomb. The stink was asphyxiating Laurie and she began to heave frantically with anti-peristaltic spasms. There wasn’t much to be disgorged from her stomach, though, being a “scant eater”—as Jowe liked to put it—and, instead, bile and acidic stuff washed up into her mouth and she spat it all down on the Mercedes floor without a tittle of care, thinking that there was no escape now no matter what she did, thinking “Screw your car and screw you all deranged depraved kidnappers!”—not that her captors would have cared if she had shouted her thoughts; they didn’t seem the kind to do that, else they would have cleared the stink from the car. They were strange creatures to inhabit such an atmosphere and force people into it; they were ghouls.

The driver, without looking at her, turned on the air conditioner. Fresh air rushed in, a welcome relief to her respiration, though in no way relieving her from her prison and imminent doom. The rest of the windows remained shut.

Quiet lingered for some minutes. It was tense. It was intense. Laurie felt what animals must feel when they are about to be slaughtered—absolute fear and helplessness. Those few minutes might as well have been years on end to her, whose mind now raced faster than the clock. Gradually, she became aware of the pain in her arm where she had been bitten. It was searing, itching. There were several tooth-prints on it. The regions around the depressions were darkening and the hue was spreading outwards. Like venom. She rubbed at them in vain. She was beginning to rot. She knew it. The stench in the car was as a result of victims who had decomposed like garbage while seated exactly where she was. These people fed on decomposed bodies. But how could anyone decompose when they weren’t dead, explode spontaneously with maggots, bloated and putrid, their flesh falling off their bones as they watched in flabbergasted horror? It was going to happen to her.

But the vehicle did not move. They did not speed off. Which disturbed Laurie greatly, because if she had been abducted, they would have been driving away like hell right now, not parked at the same spot where she had been found. Who were these people? What were they? Where had they come from? Why weren’t they frightened? She recalled how she had yelled her guts out yet the troll had done nothing about it at all, not even so much as “Shut up!” They didn’t seem to consider that anybody could have heard her screaming and might be coming to investigate. It was weird. And it chilled her further.

“Take time to get used to your situation, Laurie,” the driver told her casually, still not looking at her. He spoke as if he knew her quite well. What’s more, or worse, his voice was familiar. Another weird thing. She did not know any of these men. It was familiar in a rather distant way, though, stored somewhere unreachable but present; at the very sound of it, her memory conjured up images of TV, computers, DVDs, magazines, pictures hung on walls, and Nicole Kidman. Nicole Kidman? Laurie did not understand this association. It was absurd.

“Your tradition dictates that we introduce ourselves,” he went on calmly. “I am Than. And this is Thun.” He pointed at the man next to him. “Behind me is Thicke, like the singer,” he said of the troll. “And on your left is Thicko. We are brothers, all the four of us.”

Than, Thun, Thicke, and Thicko! Oh, yeah, I’ll be damned, Laurie mulled. I am damned, she amended. This couldn’t be happening.

“This is not happening!” she ejaculated. Her voice shook.

“It is, and it is happening to you,” replied the one called Thicko, but it might as well have been Than speaking. Their voices were exactly alike. It startled Laurie and she recoiled from him. Since entering the vehicle, she had not looked at their faces, scared as she was. She did now.

To her consternation, the man sitting to her left was Tom Cruise. Tom Cruise? Yes, it was him, the Hollywood actor, the way he had looked in that Kubric movie Eyes Wide Shut when the camera focused on his face at the point where Nicole Kidman was telling him how she had almost slept with the Navy man. Laurie had pinned the face on her bedroom wall. She had been thirteen. She was still a fan of Tom Cruise and she had watched him enough to recognize his voice. That was it, then; that was the association between these . . . but who were these kidnappers? Even more confounding was that the driver, Than, was a thorough lookalike of the Tom Cruise man. And Thun, the one on the front passenger seat, was a duplicate of Thicke, the troll. Doppelgangers.
It was like two men each split into two! And they all wore executive suits.

This is not real! Laurie cried, punching her knee with a fist and pinching her thigh. They are screwing with my mind! I am not here. I am dreaming. Wake up! Wake up, Laurie! Wake the fuck up, you dumb sleepyhead!

But no. It was real. As real as it gets.

“You are not real,” she moaned. “None of you is real!”

“And are you?” the driver derided, smiling. He seemed to be the spokesperson of the group. “As far as I am concerned, Laurie, you exist only in my mind. That makes you only as real as my mind is.”

“You are not Tom Cruise!” she moaned.

“I didn’t say I am,” he replied and shrieked a mocking laughter.

The car began to move. The feeling was that of floating.

“Where are you taking me?”

“Where everybody goes.”

It meant they were going to kill her. “You are going to kill me,” she voiced.

“Do people get killed or they kill themselves?” he jeered, and then met her eyes. She saw how his eyes travelled from her face down to her breasts and crotch. They tarried on her crotch and thighs, a hard, piercing gaze, before shifting to her legs. She had on tight shorts of light material and she imagined he could make out the protrusion of her vulva. She clamped her legs together.

“Nice shorts,” he said, and turned to steer the car. “Better legs, even,” added he with an aura of mystery.

“You are you going to rape me,” she concluded.

“Rape?” he wondered. “You can’t stand being raped by us, Laurie. You need your ass more than your legs, you know. Besides, we could rape hippopotamuses, if we wanted something to rape. If we raped you, Jowe would weep like a little girl and kill himself like the coward of the universe.”

“You do not know Jowe!” she defended spontaneously.

“If you love him that much, you should tell him to take his balls to the doctor. He may still have a chance.”

“You don’t know what you’re talking about.”

He shrugged. “It smells all over him like a perfume.” He paused, looked at her again, went on: “But that’s not why you are here. You are here because of your legs.”

“What?”

“Your legs, Laurie,” he said meaningfully. “We want them. They are ours . . .”

III.

“Laurie. Laurie. Laurie!

The sound was coming from too far away. Like a dying echo. The owner was invisible. She was being shaken. When she came to, she saw that she was shorter than usual. The ground was very, very close. Her legs . . .

She shot up like a missile . . . and bumped into someone. A man.

Again! Him! Them!

She pounced on him and pounded his face. Punching. Pinching. Slapping. Pushing. Clawing. She wanted to bite, thrash, crash.

“Hey!” he kept saying. “Hey! It’s me! Hey, stop that! Stop! What’s wrong with you?”

She did not stop. She was hysterical.

He finally managed to grab her hands and hold them behind her.

“Laurie, what is this? It’s me! Hey!”

She struggled for a few more seconds before she could see things as they were.

“Jowe?” said she, bewildered.

“Yes. It’s me, baby, and you’ve whacked my face like I am a devil. What’s wrong?”

She flung her arms around his neck and began to sob. “They cut off my legs. They cut off my legs, Jowe.”

“Who cut off your legs?”

“Four men in a Mercedes. I was kidnapped on the road. I went to run.”

He clasped her in a protective embrace, sighed. “Laurie, your legs are intact.”

It was then that she saw them, felt them. Her legs, strong legs. She must have wrapped them around him while pounding his face because that was where they were.

“But they cut them off!” she said and cried harder.

“They didn’t . . . whoever they were.”

“They wanted my legs.”

He took her into the house and sat her down. He then brought her water and sat with her as she drank. Afterwards, she laid her head on his lap and he dried her tears with his handkerchief.

“I was abducted,” she said when she’d calmed down considerably. He did not prompt her, so she went on narrating.

“Tom Cruise?” he interrupted her when she reached that part.

“Yes. And the other men were also like identical twins. But something was wrong with them. I think they didn’t actually look like that; they were faking those looks.”

“You think they had masks?”

“I don’t know. But they had Tom Cruise’s voice. They couldn’t fake that, could they? It was perfectly his voice. I know. And the other men did not have hair. They were neat to the scalp. I don’t know if there are such masks.”

Now Jowe knew all about Laurie’s teenage obsession with Tom Cruise. She was also a budding writer of weird fiction, constantly honing her skills. She was currently working on a book she intended to self-publish. A book about a man whose sexual orientation made him cut down trees. He cut them at every chance, felling them, or just hacking off their branches. The trees feared him but could not escape his insanity. In the end, they called on their tree-god to save them. The tree-god imprecated a malevolent curse upon him, and one day, when he went to the forest with his sparkling razor-sharp axe, he became a tree. Roots emerged from his toes and heels; shoots sprouted from his ears, eyes, nose, tongue, fingers; his arms became branches, even as more branches sprang from his ribs and spine. His legs fused into a trunk and his hair became several buds. Five years later, when he had grown and was enjoying being a tree, loving the sound of birds, the weight of their nests on his branches, the dewy scent of the morning, the song of the wind, the beauty and wealth of the sun, and the soothing light of the moon—just when these things delighted his senses the most and he bemoaned destroying so many trees in his previous life—he saw his son coming towards him with the same gleaming razor-sharp axe that had belonged to him.

Jowe, who read Laurie’s stories, called them mad and unworldly. He believed she had two personalities: Laurie, his girlfriend, and Laurie, the writer. The writer was wild and always out of her mind. When Laurie was writing, he left her alone, because it was a different Laurie. When he left today to inspect the construction of their new home in Karen, she had declined to go with him because she had wanted to finish a chapter of the book. He thought now that he might be dealing with the writer stuck in her quixotic world of people turning into trees and Tom Cruise materializing in Nairobi to kidnap young girls with the purpose of dismembering them. He was scared for her.

“Laurie, were you dreaming about Tom Cruise, or have you just been carried away by one of your stories? Did you even leave the house today?” he asked.

“You don’t believe me?” she shot and pulled from him, got up. “You don’t believe me! I was kidnapped, Jowe, and you don’t believe me? What if they had hurt me? What if they had cut off my legs and made me decompose spontaneously? Would you believe me, then? Is that what you want? You want evidence, huh? Well, then, in this case it’ll be me without legs, dead maybe, rotting! And you won’t know because they will have taken me too far away.”

“I didn’t mean it like that,” Jowe said in a peaceable tone. “I found you squatting at the door, abstracted almost to unconsciousness. You couldn’t hear me until I shook you, as if you were dreaming. How did you escape your kidnappers, if they indeed were there? How did you get back?”

“I don’t know,” she said, her tone lowered, wondering. She had completely no idea of how she had ended up squatting at her door. What had they done to her? She could not have been dreaming. She had gone running and she had been abducted.

She examined her shoes. They were coated with fresh dust.

“Look,” she said, pointing. “I went running.”

Jowe studied the shoes in silence. They were usually spic-and-span and he’d taunted her once that she kept the cleanest running shoes in the world. “What do you want me to do?” he asked.

“Take me to a doctor. I want to be examined. I don’t know what else those men did to me. They may have injected me with drugs or poison to mess up my mind.”

“Okay,” he said. “To the hospital we go, baby.”

As they were leaving, she remembered part of the ordeal she hadn’t yet told. “They bit me,” she reported and hastened to show him her arm. The tooth-prints were visible. But the dark matter which had been emanating from them had vanished, diffused all over her body by now, maybe.

“Grown men just bit you?” Jowe puzzled. He looked lost and Laurie became distressed more for him than for herself.

“It was the driver. He bit me with his hand,” she explained.

“With his hand? How?”

“I think he had teeth in his hands, Jowe. He had a lot of teeth in his hands.”

He had a lot of teeth in his hands

He had a lot of teeth in his hands

IV.

At The Nairobi Hospital, it took a while to explain to the physician the events that had taken place. The Tom Cruise part was the worst. It rendered everything doubtful. But Laurie maintained the truth. She had a physical and a blood test; she was healthy, nevertheless.

“I was scared,” she told Jowe as they exited the building. “I was so scared.”

“You are fine, sweetie. You are fit.”

“How is your face?”

“No damages. None that can be felt, though I swear I didn’t know you could fight so mean,” he said facetiously and she chuckled.

“I’m sorry I punched you, and for shouting at you,” she said. “I wanted you to believe me. I couldn’t believe myself.”

“It’s okay. You had me worried out of my skull.”

They got into the car.

“I’ve been thinking,” Jowe continued. “Why don’t we buy you a treadmill so that you don’t have to run around the estate and get nightmares?”

“I like to run,” she said. “I like the flow of wind against my face and in my hair. I like to see buildings and people moving past me. I like the blacktop. I like to see distance. It is not the same on a treadmill.”

“You still need it,” insisted Jowe. “Just so that you have an option and in case someday you don’t feel wholly happy about taking on the blacktop.”

“Fine.” She buckled up. “And, Jowe, thank you for understanding.”

“If I fail to understand your needs, then of what good am I?” he said and she laughed delightedly.

“I love you, Jowe,” she said. “I think you are the best man in the world.”

“You think so?”

“I know . . . And, oh, they . . . Jowe, they said that if I love you that much, then I should tell you to take your testicles to the doctor—that you may still have a chance.”

Jowe, who had been about to start the car, froze. Laurie saw how his hand retracted from the ignition. “What?” asked he, his face distorted, shocked.

“They said I should . . .” Laurie began.

“No. How did they know?”

“Know what?” asked she, now agitated. “Know what, Jowe?”

“I’ve been feeling strange around my penis.”

“Strange how? Pain?”

“Maybe a little. Mostly that something isn’t right down there.”

“Cancer?” asked Laurie. She felt the jitters.

“I don’t know. But if it were in my testicles I’d know. There’d be lumps, some pain, an extra load, suchlike. I’d know by myself.”

“Well, we’re still at the hospital,” Laurie said, unbuckling. “We just go back and find out. Then we go to the cops. Those people know us. They have marked us, Jowe. They said it smells all over you like a perfume, that disease, whatever it is.”

“They smelled it on me?” Jowe wondered. He was lost again and Laurie felt a pang.

“Yes. It means that they have been close enough with you to smell it. Or have you told anybody about it?”

“If I was going to tell anybody, I’d tell you first,” he assured her. “But, Laurie, if they can smell it on me, how can they be human beings?”

Something crept up her spine at this discovery. The kidnappers were not humans. No wonder they had materialized out of nowhere. And they could rape hippopotamuses. What in this world can rape a hippopotamus?

The oncologist ruled out testicular cancer after examining Jowe. He advised them to return the following day for advanced tests. He said he was considering the possibility of prostate cancer, but they shouldn’t worry about it; it was “something for old people.” Jowe was thirty-three.

Four days thence, he was found with prostate cancer.

Those creatures are real and they know us more than we know ourselves, mused Laurie upon hearing this news. They are stalking us. They have us marked. They will come back.

V.

They came back.

Laurie did not go out by herself for a long time. She waited for Jowe and they drove or walked. It was safe that way. The ghouls did not come when she was with him. At first she feared they would not care, that they might harm him as well, but after four weeks she established that for some reason his presence hindered their course. She, however, constantly caught herself searching her surrounding for them, she was especially alert and anxious when a white Mercedes drove by, and was excessively frightened if Jowe left her alone in public for longer than a few seconds. They were hand in hand majority of the time.

Life indoors was not regrettable, though; she was a writer, and writers know the value of silence in a locked room. She finished her book, The Curse of the Tree-God, rewrote it five more times and had it proofread, edited and reedited online. She was designing the cover.

In December, there was a story on TV about a man’s arm that had been found at a dumpsite. Just an arm, the owner unknown, unfound, most likely dead. It terrified Laurie because she knew the culprits were her abductors. Because she had successfully evaded them so far, they had vented their ire on a different person. Was that what they had wanted to do with her legs? Discard them at a dumpsite? So cruel! So unfeeling! How could you live knowing that your legs would one day be disposed of at dumpsite to be discovered by stray animals? And how would she run without her legs? It was an appalling prospect. The police were clueless. But around here they were almost always clueless, unless they had some poor thief to shoot in the back, then they became exceedingly excited and fierce. When Laurie and Jowe went to report her case, the cop in charge had laughed at them. “Tom Cruise? Alikuja hapa akakuteka nyara? Sasa hii ni uwazimu ama ujinga tu?” he’d scoffed in Kiswahili. (Tom Cruise? He came here and kidnapped you? Now is this madness or just stupidity?) He’d then burst out with gales of side-splitting laughter, doubling over, choking, teetering about like a sot. He had let them record a statement but no investigations were yet going on. Of course.

Nine weeks after Laurie had been kidnapped, in late January, a national event to raise money to save heart patients was organized by The Nairobi Hospital. It was called The Kenya Heart Run: Run for a Heart. Jowe registered Laurie and himself. Multitudes joined the race and, for once, Laurie was not afraid to run freely. She had missed that feeling of being on the road, of the tapping of her heels on the blacktop, of being caressed by the wind, of seeing distance. She didn’t care about the awards but she was certainly going to give the winners a run for their cash.

The race started well at eight o’clock. Laurie stayed within the crowd, Jowe beside her, cleverly gauging the runners for the one to take on. But they had scarcely covered two kilometres on Mombasa Road when everything went to hell. Traffic had been diverted for the purpose of the race. But there was this one car. One daring, presumptuous car. A white Mercedes Benz S600, brand new, spic-and-span. Nobody knew where it came from. The police officers spread along the road to provide security did not see it either. Suddenly, the runners at the front were dispersing and shouting and cursing. Some people were ululating. Laurie was at first blocked from seeing what was happening, being not so tall and jogging deep within the crowd. When she did see what they were cursing and giving way, it was too late. Too late.

Only one thought flared in her mind: Run!

She turned back and fled. She had a powerful, insane, furious conviction that the troll had got out and was on foot with her, making enormous strides, reaching for her, while the rest crept up behind her like a crocodile in their incongruous stinking Mercedes. She was tempted to glance back, yell, yell for help, but no! There was no time. It would slow her down. After all, she was being seen by the public. She sped, accelerating like a supernatural force, flying, leaping, her hair scattered in the wind, trailing.

But they had a car and no matter how fast she ran, they were always near, one or two feet behind, her heels almost knocking the bumper. She could feel the ground vibrating from the weight of the car. They were enjoying the chase, comfortable in the knowledge that she would soon be tired and they would just grab her and go with her. And cut off her legs.

At last, they did just that; the car swung to her right, closed in, and the troll extended one of his gigantic arms and grabbed her by the waist. He did this even as the Mercedes rolled on, his abnormally long fingers curling around her small middle as though she were a doll. He put her between him and Thicko as before, precluding escape.

She was breathless. She was maniacal.

To the observers, that car just vanished off the earth after taking Laurie. It vanished as unexpectedly as it had appeared. It simply sublimed. As though it had never been.

Jowe chased it in vain while shouting his girlfriend’s name like a madman. When the Mercedes disappeared, he felt something that could not be specifically described. It was a mixture of many unpleasant emotions, the foremost of which was despair. It was worse than death. He plunked down on the tarmac and could not speak or move by himself for more than an hour. Such was his loss.

VI.

Laurie looked back and saw Jowe running after them. Inspired, she started kicking and twisting, waving her arms and calling him, though her voice was weak. The ghouls did not attempt to stop her. In fact, the driver stopped the car, and she twirled around, wondering at this. She caught him smiling at her his sardonic smile.

He said, “Laurie, you just go on calling Jowe like that, but if he sees us, we will surely cut off his arms. We’ve spared him for too long for no great reason. If anybody sees us, we cut off something from them. We cut hard.”

Laurie stopped, collapsed, despair conquered her heart.

Things got dark thereafter, the road, everybody. Not a sound could be heard but the humdrum humming of the Mercedes’ interior. She had a feeling the car was floating through a vast expanse of bleakness.

“Where are you taking me?” she demanded.

“Where everybody goes,” she was told.

“And where is that?”

“Nowhere.”

She considered this answer and decided to let it go.

“You killed that man?” she accused.

“What man?”

“The one whose arm was found at the dumpsite! You cut off his arm.”

“Oh, that one,” the driver said. “He saw us.”

“Do you just go around cutting off people’s limbs?”

“We have targets. Then there are the unlucky ones. Collateral damage, you might say.”

“What do you do with the limbs? What do you want with my legs?” she asked and was chilled by the prospect of the answer.

“We don’t know yet,” he said. “We might just dump them in a garbage pit somewhere. We’ll determine once we have them.”

“How can you dismember a person just to throw their legs away in a garbage pit?” she accused, her tone hysterical.

“It is a big deal to you, isn’t it?” jeered he. “To us, it is like a kid pulling off an insect’s legs or wings. The kid just throws them away. Have you ever wondered what an insect thinks of such an act? I’m sure you do now. But we have good news for you: we will eat yours.”

Good news! How callous!

“Don’t worry about how to get back to your house. We’ll take you there and you won’t know when or how. Just like last time. We let you go because we like our targets to get used to the idea of the inevitability that awaits them; none of them ever does, though.”

“You are nothing but a bunch of pathetic cannibals, then?” accused she.

“I don’t know if we are cannibals, Laurie. I don’t know what we are. We don’t know. We just are. Forever and ever, we are. At first there wasn’t; then there was. It is like an age-old rock abruptly becoming aware of itself, its existence, its environment; moving, breathing, feeding. What would it know about its life, itself, but those functions that it performs from connate impulses whose origins it cannot discover?

“But yes, we eat humans,” he continued after a pause. “We just look for the tastiest one and cut off their legs or arms. Animals sense us from afar and take off. Humans do not, and cannot, even when we are face to face with them and sniffing their cancer. Until we reveal our presence to them, by which time all escape is ruled out, they do not sense us. So much for your acclaimed intelligence. But the cancer is the worst. It smells repulsive. And most of you are sick with it or some other malignancy. It’s why we prefer your legs and arms. They do not carry diseases. Sometimes, however, the limbs are outwardly appealing but the flesh is too salty, tasteless, watery, fat, or too smooth and foamy in the mouth; we discard those. Not all humans are edible.”

He paused again, faced her, said, “And now . . .”

At this time, they gave up their disguises and became their true selves. They were old things, ancient things, with crinkled cracked faces and runnels of rotting leathery skins draped over their gaunt bodies; discoloured bloodless eyes, scanty, withering hair, and sparsely planted spearheads of grotesque teeth. They were neither black nor white; they all looked alike, suppurating, malformed, gruesome things. They were the cause of the stink in the car.The Creature

And they had teeth in the back of their arms.

Laurie . . . she died.

“I read that book, you know,” the driver was saying, his voice a low bubble as though it was full of oil, an awful sound. “The one you are writing: The Curse of the Tree-God,” he went on. “I like the axe in it. How it glints eerily in the moonlight, keen as a witch’s razor. Ah! I like that one. I brought one just like it. Look!”

And he produced an axe, a crazy-looking, hair-raising thing that belonged in Hell.

“Do writers need legs?” he asked cheerfully, thrilled. “I thought no. They need only their fingers, their heads, and their buttocks to put on the chair . . . maybe their thighs too to balance the laptop. We won’t touch those. But we need your legs, especially those calves, an athlete’s calves. Elegant. Ripe. Toothsome. They are ours.” He broke briefly, as if for effect, and then shouted, “Hold her!

The two creatures on her sides grasped her slender arms and the one on the passenger seat stretched her legs in the space between the back and the front seats. The driver leaned forward, swung the axe, he swung hard, with fury and craze, brought it down. She heard it whistling against the air, slicing it, as it arced towards her, its unforgiving tongue thirsty for her bones . . .

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.

There was a new girl at the office. She was extremely pretty. She was the only woman in the company, although she thought there were other women. She saw them.

One Friday morning, on the second month of her employment, a strange man named Caleb Ruoth came to the office and terrorized her. He said,

“I need to see Mr. Gorgon!” in a tone of peremptory command.

He, however, had no appointment, and Margaret, the new girl, duly informed him of it, at which point he gave in to a sudden fit of frenzied rage and hysteria and hammered the desk mightily with one surpassingly huge, mighty fist.

“I need to see Mr. Gorgon!” he repeated, and lurched closer to the secretary, his face twice hers, eyes blacker than the blackness of death itself. She could feel the furious breath jetting from his flared nostrils upon her face; it smelled of raw fish and dry grass and it was hot as if there was a ruptured volcano inside him.

She jerked away from him and at the same time emitted a sharp, bewildered cry. She made to reach for the phone but he knocked it off the desk before she could touch it, his gigantic arm making a dangerous sweep towards her, missing her by a hair’s breadth; it reversed immediately and clamped her hand, which had not moved an inch, like jaws. In an instant, he had pitched forwards, lifted her from beyond the desk like a piece of paper, tossed her up into the air, let go of her for a second or two, clutched her again by her shoulder, and yanked her towards him as if he purposed to wrench off her arm. She bumped him and bounced back. He was as solid as a wall. His lips touching her left ear, his face grim, he said,

“Now perhaps you will listen. I need to see Mr. Gorgon.”

His voice was too deep for an ordinary human, his chest seemingly hollow. His breath was like fire and it scorched her earlobe, which at once began to peel, melt, and shrink like a dying leaf.

It was then that she screamed: a shrill, terrified, thoughtless, deranged, blood-curdling scream that brought me out of my office in a split second.

“Margaret!” I shouted, as if in panic. “What is the matter?”

The man released her. She ran to me. She flung her arms around me, I hugged her, and she began to sob, heaving and convulsing in great terror and temper.

“I need to see you,” the man said.

“I need to see you,” he repeated.

“You will,” I told him sternly.

I took Margaret to my office, put her down gently on a sofa, and gave her a glass of ice to press on her injured ear. I returned to face Caleb Ruoth.

He was colossal, stalwart as well, a beast of a man, his neck a pillar of steel, supporting the immense superstructure of his round, massive head. He towered at slightly beyond seven feet, his skin unusually dark, eyes darker, yet so piercingly keen that when he focused them on you they looked like two pitiless pits, endless, lightless, empty, hellish, soulless, and you wondered what he saw in you, for he seemed to see something of which you yourself were not aware. He weighed at least three hundred pounds.

Enraged, for the evil he’d done to my secretary, I allowed him no chance to explain his business. I grabbed him by the ankle of his right leg, and, with one arm, whirled him round and round the room like a rock on a sling, and then freed him forcefully towards the nearest window. He exploded through it like a demon, glass shattering, scattering, screaming, and, a few seconds later, there was an implacable, unforgiving thud nine floors below.

Shouts and shrieks and ululations followed forthwith. People saw a man plummeting uncontrollably from the ninth floor window and hitting the ground with a powerful, death-dealing crash. However, when they ran to the scene of impact to witness, to their maddening confusion and shock, there was no corpse but an old tyre of an old truck . . . only that and nothing more.

***

Meanwhile, back in the office, I took care of Margaret’s wounded ear. It had shrunk and shrivelled to a third of its normal size. It had also blackened to the colour of soot. She was touching it and sobbing bitterly. Tracks of tears stained her fair countenance, which was now distorted and perverse.

“Who was he?” she asked concerning her attacker.

“Caleb Ruoth,” I said.

“Does he owe us money?”

“I have never seen him before.”

“Did he want money?”

“I don’t know.”

“I wonder how he passed by the guards and the reception downstairs,” Margaret said, sniffling and drying her eyes and nose with a fold of serviettes.

“They will have to explain,” I replied, but I knew it would be fruitless.

“Will my ear grow back?” she asked, fingering the damaged organ and wincing with horror to find it so disproportionately withered.

“You must go to the hospital,” I answered. “Arrangements have already been made for you to leave immediately,” added I, and she looked up at me anxiously, wondering who could possibly have made the arrangements when nobody in the company had yet heard of her situation but the two of us. She started to ask something but I interrupted her with, “Would you like me to call somebody to escort you?” to which she answered, “No, I’ll just go, but thanks, boss.”

She left soon afterwards. She did not ask why nobody else on the ninth floor seemed to have heard her scream, why no one had come out to investigate the commotion when the window shattered.

The hospital, owned by the company, was on the second floor. I was already there when Margaret entered.

“Good morning, Margaret,” I greeted, beaming cheerfully, when I saw her.

“I’m afraid it’s not so good for me, Dr. Reed,” she replied gloomily.

  “I can see that,” I said, observing her carefully. “No one looks for me when everything is well for them.”

“Indeed,” she said, and managed a wan smile.

“How may I help you today?”

In response, she removed the bandages with which I had dressed the wound, and I jumped back, as if scared, upon seeing her shrivelled, blackened ear. It was continuing to shrink; it was much smaller than it had been upstairs. Soon she would have nothing there but a hole, a cavity into her skull.

“What is that?” I inquired, feigning shock. “What happened to your ear, Margaret?”

“A man came upstairs . . .”

“What man? Which man?”

She quickly briefed me respecting the events upstairs.

“His breath did this?” I wondered. “What sort of a man was he?”

“He was enormous. His breath was like steam and smelled of raw fish and dry grass.”

“Raw fish and dry grass, huh?” I said and stifled an urge to laugh aloud. “What does a mixture of raw fish and dry grass smell like?”

“I don’t know,” she said, uncertain. “It’s what came to my mind first when he spoke on my face.”

“A curious happening indeed,” remarked I. “I hope Demogorgon dealt with that devil accordingly. Let’s see how we can fix your ear before it disappears completely.”

I re-dressed the wound and administered some medication to her, which, but for a few painkillers, consisted mainly of placebos. Afterwards, I advised her to return home and take a deep sleep.

“Will my ear grow back, Dr. Reed?” asked she, sounding pained and vulnerable.

“It should by tomorrow morning,” I reassured confidently. “If it hasn’t, then I should schedule a surgery straightaway to replace it.”

“Okay. Thanks, Doctor,” she said gratefully.

I watched her depart thereafter, a fair-skinned petite woman of twenty-three, graceful, sweet, defenceless, an efficiently beautiful human child. I knew what would happen to her. It was inevitable, irreversible.

***

At the reception on the ground floor, she stopped to inquire respecting Caleb Ruoth.

“Roni, did you permit an enormous evil-looking man to come to the ninth floor to see Mr. Gorgon?” she asked the male receptionist.

“No, madam,” I said deferentially. “I didn’t see anybody fitting that description.”

“Hanna? Did you?” she frowned at the woman sitting with Roni.

“What was his name?” Hanna asked.

“Caleb Ruoth.”

I pretended to search for his name in the desktop in front of me.

“Nobody by that name has reported to this building so far, madam,” I told her shortly.

“Well, he did,” she emphasized. “He must have quietly slipped by when you relaxed your duty. He was a very evil man and he hurt me. Mr. Gorgon must talk to you about him.”

Her tone was almost threatening. I held my breath until she was gone.

She called her boyfriend when she arrived at her apartment on Riverside. She told him what had happened at the office, adding that Dr. Reed had said she would have plastic surgery if her ear did not heal by morning. He expressed his incredulity at the news, and then condoled with her and promised to see her as soon as he left work.

“I’ll just be at home waiting for you,” she said. “I miss you, Jim, and I love you.”

“I love you too, sweets,” I responded smoothly. “See you when I come.”

“See you, baby!”

In truth, her boyfriend was dead. He had been dead for six weeks. She did not know it yet. I had killed him myself a week after she began to work for me. I had fed him to my horse. It was me on the phone with her that Friday morning when she was lying down on her bed waiting to fall into a deep sleep as I had advised her at the hospital. Not that the sleep would be any beneficial at all.

***

I spent the rest of the day running the company as usual, such as only I could, being everything, everyone, all at once.

At exactly eight o’clock, Global Financiers Limited shut down for the day. Only one man drove out of the building. Only one man ever drove into and out of the building at opening and at closing respectively. It was me, and I am no man.

I am a being, yet not human.

My name is Demogorgon. It is a single name, though some people split it into Demo Gordon—hence, Mr. Gorgon—which is wrong, although I do not mind it at all, for error is to humans what evil and mischief are to me—inevitable. I am ancient; I am undying; I was there before the earth became habitable and the first human conceived of. I do not know from where I originated, or from what material I am made, or for what function. I was startled awake by the very first beam of light that ever shone on this planet. When God said let there be light, I was suddenly deluged with alien, exquisite brilliance, and it was precisely then that I discovered myself, that I learned of my own existence, for I was painfully blinded, murderously confounded and propelled beyond the damned abysses of insanity by the immortal forbidding power of that glare, and I wept bitterly for the expelled darkness, void and formlessness to return and consume my soul until nothing was left of it but an indestructible substance of the dark. I am a substance of the dark. I am the dweller of the void and the formless. I am found within the abandoned soul of the soulless. I am the essence of that which is evil, even of Evil itself.

Satan cowers and mewls before me, for I bequeathed him the concept of rebellion. I am the paragon of his undiminished madness. When he begot Death by his daughter, Sin, I stood by as the godfather. I am the godfather of death.

I am many.

Who I am now, whose face veils my countenance and hairs grow on my devoted head, can be anybody. There is a plethora of choices from which to select my next facade, a cornucopia of souls to deceive, devour and render incurably demented.

In the beginning, to exact vengeance against the creator for ravaging my darkness with his fiery light, I swore to torment his creation forever and humiliate him ruthlessly by constantly thwarting his efforts to save them. Every good deed he attempted had to be corrupted to a bitter, worthless, horrifying end. For a start, I incited Lucifer against him, and once Satan and his diabolic army had triumphantly rebelled, they joined me and we immediately became accomplished in torturing and annihilating every living thing we could find. For centuries, I drew immense pleasure from this perversion; later, however, I became blasé; I became accustomed to destruction and death and no more rapture did I derive from them, especially after we had managed to turn every living thing against one another, to destroy and desolate without mercy. Humans themselves, our chief target, bore the hardest brunt of our vengeance, for they were, from the start, endowed with reason and knowledge, and deep inside them, there was ample room for improvement. They were, therefore, easier to transform than other creatures, and, in the end, they became irreparably degenerated. Their improvement had to be watched with unfailing critical caution; every chance for improvement had to be ruined, subverted, and perverted to the extent that they began to view ruin, subversion, and perversion as the fundamentals for improvement. Now they scarcely remember their origin; the earth is too harsh for them and they have nowhere else to run; all they have is one another, yet they are violently intolerant and wantonly hateful. Pain and death are their eternal bands, and although they awake each morning believing that they have, at least so far, been victorious over the two, the vanity is too poignant. A human life is like a circle of pain with death seated at a random point on the circumference. No matter which way a man runs, pain is with him and he is heading towards death, even when he thinks he is escaping it. Nevertheless, I relinquished some of the work to Satan. I no longer applied myself with excessive assiduity as I’d done before. The world had already become too much alive with unchanging evil, and I found no enthusiasm whatsoever in enduring to destroy creatures whose sole goal was now to destroy themselves and their own abode. Satan never tired, though; his delight in his own success is inexhaustible. His pride is an inextinguishable flame.

After millennia upon millennia of wandering to and fro and back and forth the earth, and feeling increasingly purposeless, desolated, and bitter, I sought something for my personal indulgence; I did start a company in accordance with human laws and trends. Global Financiers Limited, a company owned by one, run by one, yet it is in every state in the world. I am the chief executive officer and all the directors and all the employees, including the guards and the cleaners. When we have a board meeting, it is a meeting of one mind, and I just sit there alone and mull over my cause. I give loans to governments and private citizens at the lowest rates, even as I trade their souls with Lucifer, who still craves such things. The money is like a cursed thing that is never put to any helpful use. It causes corruption and consumption by mental illness. It diverts attention from the objectives for which it was acquired and utterly erases every trace of benevolent action from the mind. It vanishes as if scattered carelessly in the wind. People become insane soon after they come to me. Governments are viciously overthrown or become frenzied dictators hell-bent on slaughtering their own citizens to extinction. Yet, when all these things have come to pass, my debtors still owe me and must pay what they owe. They pay with their souls, since, myself, I get paid for those souls in return.

Once, not too long ago, a woman, who owed me, put her three-month old baby into the microwave while convinced beyond doubt that it was a bath. And a man forced his bull into a deep well so that it could drink all the water it wanted without bothering him every now and then.

The Devil continuously upsets the system, compelling every human towards a state of excruciating financial dependence, where they believe steadfastly that without money they are nothing, nobody, and severely worse than dead. They run to me, desperate and insecure, fearful and abased like the lowest of creatures that ever populated the earth, and I drive them mad and deprive them of their depraved useless souls, which I offer to Satan to continue his exemplary work. My reward is occupation. I get something to do.

Occasionally, though, I employ a human female. Having lived amongst humans for this long, I understand perfectly why, sometime back, angels from heaven descended to earth in order to mate with the daughters of men, for the women are exceedingly pretty beings, tender, ripe, needy, and crushing one underneath me is indeed an unqualified experience. I employ them in order to mate with them; otherwise they are worthless to my company. They never find out that I mate with them.

***

Having closed for the day, I took my horse, which everybody thought was a car, and rode away. It was its feeding time, and downtown Nairobi, at the excessively busy and confused Railways Bus Station, it transformed into a minibus with a capacity of fifteen passengers. Travellers gathered forthwith at the entrance, multitudes of them, and then rushed in impetuously, as soon as the door had opened, fighting for entrance, pushing and grabbing and shrieking, yet too impatient and ignorant to notice that they were walking straight and willingly into the inescapable belly of my horse. Too bad I could only accommodate fifteen.

I heard their horrendous screams when my horse’s belly began to churn and constrict and grind them to pulp. They were shocked, terrified screams dead of hope and seemed to emanate from a hole with no end so that only their dying, unintelligible echoes were audible. By then I was coursing along Mombasa Highway, away from the public, where nobody would ever know. My horse was a different minibus everyday.

I went home for my own dinner of fish and hay. I had built a fish pond where there was a swimming pool when I bought the property. I leapt in and caught fifty giant ones with my bare hands. I put them inside a bucket of water and carried them carefully into the deep, dark, winding hole I’d dug on the floor of my house, and in which I lived; I sat down easily on a heap of hay and ate the fish one by one, swallowing wholly, so that I heard them dancing and jumping frantically in my stomach. I liked them to dance and twist as such in the cruel confinement of my stomach. Afterwards, I had my usual share of hay, of which I consumed about ten kilograms, washing it all down with gallons and gallons of water from the pond. I felt much better thereafter.

Then slowly and creepingly I crawled out of my hole.

The night reposed with serenity of still and perfect doom. The sky, laden with human toxins innumerable, brooded over the world potently and maliciously as if wishing to fall down and crush all to dust. Thunder rolled heavily and the ground shook; lightning peeped through the poisonous clouds and then glared down brutally while squiggling about indecipherable warnings of an oncoming inevitability across the bloated fabric of heaven. By the time the first drops started to fall, I had reached Margaret’s house.

“Jim!” she exclaimed when she saw me, calling me by her dead boyfriend’s name. She hugged me hard and kissed my lower lip, sucking, pulling at it as if she wanted it to fall off into her mouth. I withdrew and planted a gentle one on her lips. She was warm and sweet, and soft, and I wanted her. She said she had missed me; I told her I’d missed her as well, only worse, and kissed her fully in the mouth.

“Was it so bad?” I asked her as I examined the bandages on her ear.

“Dr. Reed said it’ll be okay,” she said.

“Does it hurt?” I inquired.

“It itches, it tickles, it sears—but that’s all.”

“How could a man hurt you with his breath?” I wondered.

“I don’t know. He just did.”

“Was he arrested?”

“Mr. Gorgon threw him out the window.”

“And then?”

“I don’t know. He died maybe. I don’t care.”

I studied her pretty face and wondered how she would react do if she suddenly knew that I myself had been Caleb Ruoth, who had assaulted her at the office, and if she saw my true face now, my leathery, rugged, hellish toothy face that was itself older than the earth.

I carried her to bed and mated with her. She was small and weightless beneath me, powerless and subdued, squirming and crying with pleasure from a place beyond hell, a true picture of a human in her designated state, thinking she was in control, believing so, when herself she was the subject of a relentless callous control.

The wound in her ear would never heal. In the morning her earlobe would be all gone, leaving only a hole into her skull, and afterwards the infection would spread rapidly to the left side of her face, and then to the rest of her head. It would go on until all the flesh was eaten from her head and her skull exposed, sparkling white, with her eyes dangling emptily in it. There was nothing she could do to stop it.

As I anticipated my orgasm, lightning tore ferociously at the pregnant sky and thunder rolled out like the Devil’s child.

The picture of Demogorgon

Then slowly and creepingly I crawled out of my hole