Archive for the ‘Suspense’ Category

Kimani woke up at 4.01am. He scrambled to the bathroom and threw up over the toilet seat before he could lift it up. He retched again, tried to lift the seat, failed, and sprayed the yellow spew on his hands. His stomach was wrenching, his head splitting, and there was a ringing in his ears. He swayed, slumped on his knees.

At the same time, a woman screamed.

He looked up, tried to listen. But the room spun and he was lifted off his feet and thrust towards the door. He screamed. Nothing! His voice was dry and taut and soundless. He raised his hands to deflect the onrushing door but it was too late. He floated through it. His hands went through the wood of the door as if wasn’t there. Then his feet. Then his face. He glimpsed the corridor, glimpsed the dark frame of the red rose Lili had hung there.

Then his hands began to disappear. His feet too. They were disintegrating. He could see the dusty, smoky things flowing away from them in a dark, winding Fibonacci stream. Hot surges of pain tore through him. He was burning.

His face disintegrated. Then he was blind. Stone blind.

Something yanked him back into the room before he could completely reach the other side. He was crashed headlong onto the floor.

Glass shattered.

The woman screamed again.

Darkness swallowed him.

His wife was shaking him.

“Kim! Kim, wake up! Wake up! Kim!” She was in panic.

He sat up. His eyes were throbbing, his head too. He was still nauseous. He blinked several times, started rubbing his eyes, discovered his hands stinking and retched. He examined his hands, recalling what had happened to him. How long had he been out?

“What time is it?” he asked.

“Almost seven. What did you do?” she asked.

“I blacked out,” he said and rose from the floor. Pain shot through his skull like a bullet. He grasped the wall, face distorted, teeth clenched.

“Are you all right?” Ana asked him.

A moment passed.

He looked at the toilet seat and then back at her. “I’m sorry about that. I’ll clean it.”

“Who broke the window?” she pressed, pointing at the bathroom window.

“I don’t know.”

“You don’t know?”

“I don’t know.”

“Did you fight with anyone?”

“No. Why?”

“Because there is a dead man in the living room!” she said.

“What dead man?” he asked. He was foggy. He was dizzy. He squeezed his eyes with the thumb and forefinger of his right hand. His ears rang and his head hammered.

Ana was searching his face. “A man is dead in our living room!” she repeated.

“What man?” he asked again.

“I don’t know!” she screamed. She jumped as she did and his head hammered harder.

She led the way. She walked briskly. He lagged behind her. She had to look back twice to be sure he was following.

Something had awakened him. Not the sickness. Not the screaming woman. Something else had snapped him awake.

Did I float through the door? Did I float? And what happened to my face?

He saw the dead man and stopped.

The corpse was of a young man no more than twenty.

He had died sprawled near the door. His head was resting on a pool of blood which had since been absorbed by the carpet. His right hand was clutching the edge of the sofa while his left hand had grasped a fistful of the carpet. His left leg was drawn up as if he had tried to get up in his last moments. His forehead was split, nose crushed, teeth broken, and lips split.

A small bloody patch on the wall marked where he had crashed his head.

“No!” Kim muttered. “Impossible!”

He went to the kitchen and splashed cold water on his face. He washed his hands and rubbed his eyes. He drank two glasses of water.

“There is no dead man,” he muttered again. “No dead man.”

He placed his head under the tap and let the water run all over his head. His wife hated that but she might as well shoot him. When he stood up, the water ran into his clothes and he was suffused with the cold. He felt better.

“Kim!” Ana called him. She was on the verge of hysteria. “Kim!

“If there is a dead man,” he muttered. “Ana should know about it. Not me. Not me.”

He returned to the living room.

The corpse was still there.

The kid had been wearing a white Lil Wayne t-shirt, navy blue jeans and classy Opel sneakers. He didn’t seem like a thief.

Kim bent down over the body. He put two fingers gently beside the trachea and felt the carotid. No pulse. He checked the eyelids too. They were stiff. Which meant the kid had died sometime in the night.

“Who was he?” he asked Ana.

“Are you asking me? You are the one who was fighting!” she shrieked. She was glaring at him as if about to punch him.

“I was not fighting!” he yelled back even as he suddenly became aware of his sore nose and lips.

“I didn’t fight with anyone,” he said, his voice moderated. “I don’t know this kid. I have never seen this kid in my life.”

“Then who brought him here if not you?” she accused. “Who beat your face? Why did you touch him?”

Ana!” he yelled again. “How can you even suggest . . . ?”

She burst into tears. “Then explain it,” she sobbed. “Please explain it.”

 “I can’t.”

“But he is dead in our house!” she heaved. “How did he get in? Who could have let him in here? Who else is in this house?”

“You explain it!” he shouted. “You also live here. If I don’t know, you should know.”

Kim!” she shrieked and heaved with tears. She cried louder and he regretted yelling at her.

“Don’t cry,” he said and squeezed her shoulder. “I’m sure it will be okay.”

He didn’t mean that. He didn’t know what was going on.

“No, it won’t,” she screeched, as if reading his mind. She pulled away from him. “How will it be okay when this man is dead in our house?”

He opened his mouth to retort but checked himself in time. She was accusing him of murder while playing victim. She was supposed to know him better than that. She was supposed to be with him in this situation.

“I don’t know how he got in here,” he said. “I really don’t know. I wouldn’t lie to you about something as grave as this. I thought something woke me up. I don’t know what it was. But the instant I was awake, I fell sick. Too sick. I don’t remember ever being that sick. I thought I was going to die. I became blind and fell and didn’t leave the toilet until you found me.”

He left out the part about floating and disintegrating. It made no sense.

She quietened down and wiped her face.

“Maybe they broke the window and sprayed you with something that made you blind and unconscious,” she contemplated. “Then they sneaked in through the window and dumped the body in our house.”

He reflected on that. “Who are ‘they’?” he asked.

“I don’t know!” she screeched and shook her hands in anger.

“What you are saying is impossible.”

“The hell it is.”

“We live on third floor,” he reminded her. “To reach the master bedroom through the back, you’ll need over twenty metres of rope because you’ll be standing on basement level two. And then, after obtaining the rope, you’ll have nowhere to tie it. And if there were a place to tie it, you’d still need to hoist yourself and this seventy kilogram corpse all the way up here. After getting to the window, you’ll need to hang there and wait for me to wake up sick so that you can spray me with a blinding chemical. Not to mention the tight se—”

“Stop!” she snapped. “I was just trying to consider alternatives. Which you can’t do because your whole focus is in negating mine!”

He was quiet. His head was throbbing again.

“I’ll call the cops,” he reported.

“How will you explain it to them?” she countered. “Thinking they will understand is like thinking you can fly to Mars with your own arms outstretched!”

“I have to call them.”

“You will go to jail. And I’m not ready to be the wife of a man behind bars.”

“The cops will eventually be involved,” he reminded her.

Eventually,” she stressed. “For now, go call the security people at the gate to come here and identify the body. Only they can tell us who the kid was, where he came from and how he broke into this house.”

“He doesn’t look like the breaking-in type,” Kim pointed at the smartly dressed corpse.

“But he got in here and you didn’t let him in,” Ana stressed.

“Breaking in doesn’t explain who or what killed him,” he said.

“Go now,” Ana said. She was resolute.

He started for the door but she grabbed his arm. “I’m coming with you. You can’t leave me here with it,” she pointed at the corpse.

“Okay,” he said.

He opened the door but did not go any further. His neighbours were gathered down in the courtyard. Over thirty of them. Looking despondent, whispering to one another.

He shut the door.

“Something is going on outside,” he whispered as if he could be heard by anyone else other than his wife.

“What?”

“A meeting, maybe.”

“Now?”

“It seems.”

Ana started to open the door but changed her mind. She pushed aside the curtains and peeked out through the window.

“It’s weird,” remarked she. “They look so sad. Why would they be so sad on a Saturday morning?”

“I don’t know.”

“You think they know?” she asked, her panicked eyes searching his.

“Know what?”

“That we have a dead body in here.”

“How would they know that?”

“Maybe the boy is from the neighbours and he went missing.”

Kim contemplated that. He saw the possibility of her suggestion and a cold thing seized his bones. If a neighbour’s son was found dead in his house . . .

“But they can’t know he’s dead in here, right?” he asked.

“You still have to go get the security people,” she said without looking at him. “I’ll just stand at the door and wait.”

“Of course,” he agreed but did not move. “I have to go take off my pyjamas.”

He was stalling.

She assessed him, started to say something, checked herself and mouthed, “Okay.”

He was pulling on a pair of jeans when Ana screamed in the living room. She let out a deranged, bone-chilling scream that sent him reeling in the bedroom like a drunkard. He hit the bedpost with his knee, flailed for balance, lost, and thudded on the floor. He scrambled up immediately, but the trouser had sunk around his ankles and he fell again on his stomach.

“Ana!” he shouted. “Ana!”

Cursing, he crossed the room on all fours towards his screaming wife, kicking away the trouser in the process. He started to get up at the door but halfway up, she bumped into him and the impact caused them both to land on the floor with a terrible force.

Kim’s swollen nose met with the back of Ana’s head and pain exploded on his face like a fire cracker, drawing tears and making him yelp like a dog.

“What is it?” he asked. “Ana, what is it?”

But Ana was uncontrollable. She beat at him and twisted and kicked while screaming like a maniac.

He seized her with might and turned her over on her back. He pinned her arms down and held both her legs between his knees.

“Ana, what is it?” he asked again even as his own tears trickled down and fell on her.

“It’s gone!” she cried. “It’s gone!”

“What is gone?”

“The dead one! It is gone!”

He let go of her and stood up. “Gone where?”

“I don’t know!” she screamed and convulsed in terror. “I don’t know!”

“That is impossible.”

He started for the living room.

“Don’t leave me!” she cried and leaped after him. “Don’t leave me!”

She gripped his arm like a vice and looked about her nervously. He put his arm around her and they both went back to the living room.

The corpse was gone.

“Where did it go?” Kimani asked after a moment of confounded horror.

“I don’t know.”

“Did you see it go?”

“No!” she shuddered. “I was looking out the window. When I turned, it was gone.”

“Did you hear the door open?”

“No!” she shuddered again. “Stop asking me as if it became alive!”

He was speechless. He was supposed to be relieved, instead he was more troubled.

Both the blood on the carpet and the bloody smear on the wall had disappeared too. So had the wrinkles on the carpet where the corpse’s hand had been clenched. There was no indication that anything had lain there.

“What kind of day is this?” he moaned in despair.

“What do we do?” Ana was asking.

“I don’t know, Ana. Perhaps we should wait and see if it returns.”

“Aren’t you going to search the house?”

“Why?” he snapped. “Why should I search it? The corpse was not supposed to be here in the first place. It is gone now. Gone back to wherever in hell it came from. Why aren’t you relieved?”

“Kim, if you don’t search this house, I’m not going to live here. I can’t spend one more night in this house knowing that a corpse appeared and disappeared in it. Disappeared in it, Kim,” she emphasized. “That is worse than appearing in it.”

As he listened to her, his head throbbing and his sanity deteriorating, an old song called The Boss of My Life by a certain Jamaican came back to him.

they say she ain’t powerful but see how we livin

see who’s callin em shots

see who’s firin em like bullets

 she grows on me like weed

she grows on me like em cobwebs on the wall

“Okay,” he agreed.

They searched the house. Ana stayed with him all the time, clenching his arm so tight he could feel her nails eating into his flesh. She was still shuddering and panting in his ear, making him more distressed.

“How can a dead man just vanish?” she was asking. “I mean, it was truly dead, wasn’t it? You confirmed so yourself.”

“It was dead,” he said. “The funny thing is,” he added after a moment. “You were alone when it appeared and you were alone when it disappeared.”

She stopped abruptly, jerking him to a halt as well. “What are you implying?”

“You tell me.”

“For clarity, I was not there when it appeared. I found it. I chanced on it. I was looking for you.”

Her eyes were stern. He decided to make light of the conversation.

“Perhaps the kid liked you,” he chuckled dryly. “Perhaps he was your secret admirer and he promised himself he had to see your underwear even in death.”

“Kim!” she exclaimed and tugged at his arm. “Why are you jealous of a dead man?”

“That is not what I meant.”

“You were speaking as if it’s alive. Now I have to fear that it is going to launch itself at us from a corner. With its bloody face, busted head, and smashed nose—it is going to emerge from a dark place in the house, maybe from Lili’s room, grinning at me, its teeth broken, coming to kiss me. Ugh!” she shuddered.

“Why Lili’s room?” he asked.

She pinched him. “That is not the point. The point is, dumbass, you are scaring my panties off.”

“Is that a bad thing?”

She pinched him again and they both laughed. His voice creaked painfully and his face was strained but he managed to relax somehow. He felt her relax too. She hugged him, kissed his cheek.

They were still searching when they heard a low scratch on the main door. It clicked once and opened very slowly.

They were in Lili’s room. Ana let go of Kim and, in a split second, was at the door. She pushed it shut and locked it both in one move. Her eyes were wide and her face twisted as if a scream had frozen there. She leapt back to her husband.

He took her and squeezed her against him. She was shaking violently. He could feel her heart hammering on his chest. His own heart was going to explode.

“It’s alive!” she gasped but there was no sound.

The thing in the living room moved. Kimani heard its footsteps. It picked up something and dropped it on the table. It picked up another one and dropped it again. It fumbled about for some time. Then it made a sound, a strange sound, like when you open your mouth wide and force out air with your lungs. It was loud enough to be heard throughout the house.

“What is it doing?” Ana’s lips moved without sound.

“Maybe cursing,” Kim replied in the same manner.

The thing went into the kitchen but did not linger there. It came out and went into the master bedroom, and there it lingered. After almost two minutes, it made that cursing sound again. This time longer and deeper and angrier. It slammed the door.

From the master bedroom, it pitapatted along the corridor and entered the next room. It took about fifteen seconds in there. Then it came out and paused at the door for a few more seconds.

“Ana!” it shouted.

Ana jumped and opened her mouth but Kim was quick to clamp his hand over it before the sound came out. She had been hugging him but now she was clawing his back.

“It knows my name,” she mouthed soundlessly when he removed his hand. “It wants me. It wants me!” Her eyes were wild, her face contorted. Her tears washed over his hand.

“Ana!” the thing called again and Ana started convulsing.

“Listen,” Kim said, gripping her. “It’s a woman’s voice.”

Ana!

“It sounds like Njeri’s voice,” Kim said, shaking her. “She’s your friend.”

Ana!” The thing was coming towards Lili’s room. It sounded even more upset.

“Susan!” Kim shrieked. His voice was dry, the muscles twitching emptily.

“Njeri!” he tried again.

Silence. Eternity of silence. Then: “Kim?

“Susan! Susan!” he kept calling, sounding more and more like a man saved from dying.

“Kim? Are you in there? Are you alive? Are you okay? Where is Ana?”

“We’re in here and we’re alive and we’re okay,” he rapped. “Ana is here.”

Susan tried the door.

“We’re coming out,” Kim said.

Ana stopped convulsing. She looked at her husband blankly as if she didn’t know him. She went stiff for a moment, then relaxed gradually. She looked at the door.

“Is it really Susan?” she asked. “Su?” she called out in a hoarse, trembling voice.

“Ann?” Susan answered. She sounded relieved.

Ana got up and wobbled to the door.

“Get my jeans,” Kimani whispered. He was still in his underwear.

Ana flung her arms around Susan. Susan was tall and roly-poly while Ana was petite. She held Ana like a child.

“I thought you were dead,” she said. “I didn’t see you outside. I thought you were both dead.”

“We were terrified and we hid in Lili’s room,” Ana explained. She disengaged from her friend.

“Everybody is terrified,” Susan said.

“Why did you think we were dead?” Kim asked her from behind the door.

“People are dead,” she said. “People are dead everywhere.” She paused. “Ann, Chege is dead.”

Kim was astounded. “What do you mean people are dead everywhere?” he wanted to ask but he had to think of Chege. He hadn’t known Chege well enough to mourn him effusively but the little that he had known had been all good. Chege had been reserved, hard to know; some days they had only waved at each other in the parking lot.

“How?” he asked Susan. He started coming out, remembered his jeans. “Ana, please,” he implored. “Please.”

Ana went for his jeans. On her way back, she smiled dryly at Susan, who was looking from the jeans to Lili’s room and wondering why they had both been naked in their daughter’s room. Ana was still in her nightgown, her underwear visible. She did not explain herself.

She pushed the door ajar and passed the trouser to her husband.

Kim pulled on the jeans and left the room. “How did Chege die?” he asked again.

“I don’t know,” Susan said. “I woke up around four and he wasn’t there. His side was vacant. I thought he had gone to read in the living room, but then he appeared. He just appeared, you know. Out of nowhere. He just materialized on the bed next to me. Like a ghost. And he was dead. He was dead and limp. I was scared and I screamed in shock and shook him but at the same time I threw up before I could help it. My stomach was churning and regurgitating stuff and I had no control at all. And my head, oh, my head! I thought my head was going to burst. My house was also moving. My house was going round and round in a terrible circle. It was moving so fast I thought I was flying around in the bedroom. Then I couldn’t feel my hands, my face. I couldn’t feel myself. The next thing I knew, I was waking up from the floor, still sick but alive.

“And my husband was still dead,” she added after a long pause. Her eyes were full of tears.

Ana hugged her, started crying as well. “I’m so sorry, Su,” she sobbed. “I’m so sorry.”

“I heard you screaming,” Kimani said, recalling his own floating sensation. Sensation? It had been real.

“You were awake?” Susan asked. She wiped her eyes with the heels of her hands.

“Yes. But sick to death. I blacked out in the bathroom.”

“Did you hear the earthquake?”

“Was there an earthquake?”

“Some people said there was an earthquake. That it shook the houses and broke some windows.”

“Our window broke,” Ana said. Then, to her husband, “Maybe the earthquake woke you.”

“It did,” Susan agreed. “I felt shaken by something. Then I became distracted and didn’t think about it again.”

“Which other people are dead?” Kimani inquired.

“In the whole estate, there is mourning,” Susan said. “Otis said that he thinks everyone who was awake at four o’clock this morning is dead.”

Everyone?” questioned Ana. Her eyes were giant circles.

“What kind of earthquake kills only people who are awake?” Kimani wondered.

“Go talk to Otis,” Susan told him.

“But first, we have to see Chege’s body,” Ana cut in, recovering.

She hurried away to change her clothes and clean her face. Kim went for his shirt. When they returned, Susan led them downstairs.

“Have you called other people?” Kim asked.

“Cell phones are dead,” Susan said.

“Dead?”

“No signal,” Susan said. “The TVs too. They were completely dead two hours ago. Now they power up minus the signal. I found yours unplugged and plugged them. Then I turned them on. But there was no signal.”

“You turned on our TV?” wondered Ana. She looked at her husband.

“Both of them,” Susan agreed. “Otis said it was likely that the TVs that were unplugged when the earthquake happened would work.”

Kim met Ana’s eyes and almost burst out with laughter. They laughed about it later on, with Kim always saying how he had thought the dead man had made the sound with its wide open mouth.

They bumped into Otis on the second floor landing. He was with a group of neighbours going from house to house condoling with the bereaved. Kimani let Ana and Susan continue to Susan’s house. Then he pulled Otis aside.

“Engineer Otis,” he greeted.

“Kim, I’m glad to see that you are alive,” Otis said. “I was disturbed when I didn’t see you at the assembly.”

“I’m glad to see you too.”

“Is Lili well?”

Kim hesitated. Why hadn’t he worried about his daughter? If the cell phones had been dead as Susan had said, then maybe the school had tried to contact him and failed.

“I’ll go see her in school as soon as I’m done helping out with Chege’s body,” he said.

“You should,” Otis said. “Today, the dead are more than the living.”

“What really happened?” Kimani asked. “I heard you may know.”

“I don’t know. I just pieced together some things that may or may not be true.”

“Okay.”

“I talked to the bereaved families,” Otis said. “It seems that those who are dead were all early risers. Three o’clock, four o’clock people. Susan told me Chege used to wake up at four and read Christian books till six.”

“That’s right.”

“First, those people disappeared alive and then reappeared dead,” Otis went on. “Then, those who woke up near four o’clock fell very sick. Finally, those who were asleep were unaffected.”

“I was sick to death,” Kim said.

“Now, imagine how many people are dead all over the world,” Otis said.

“What do you mean?”

“Something shook earth. I don’t think it was an earthquake like people are saying here. And I don’t think it only shook this estate, or this city, or this country. I think it shook the entire planet and killed everyone it found awake. It made them disappear first then brought them back dead.”

“You are describing . . . Jesus! You think so?” he questioned.

“At least here in Kenya most of us were asleep. Imagine what happened in a country like China which is eight hours ahead of the Coordinated Universal Time. 4am here is 9am in Beijing. And it is 10am in Tokyo, 4pm in Alaska, 6pm in Los Angeles, 12pm in Melbourne . . . The list is too long. Almost everybody was awake in those places when the earth shook. They all died.”

Kim pictured a city swarming with corpses. He saw hundreds, thousands, gazillions of corpses, corpses upon corpses, corpses sprawled in all manner of positions along the roads, streets and alleys; all over the highways, parks, homes, schools, beaches, airports, markets, kitchens, parking lots, gyms, clubs, hotels, shops, and restaurants.

He saw dead people in the lifts and on escalators, on stairways and in the corridors, in cars, in libraries, in swimming pools, on rooftops, in tunnels. He saw planes exploding out of the sky like the Devil’s fireworks and plummeting to earth in flaming pieces. He saw multitudes of dead children strewn on playgrounds and in classrooms.

He saw dead animals. Countless dead animals.

“You think so?” he pressed. “You really think so?”

“I have considered it,” Otis said.

“What caused it?”

“The question is ‘who caused it?’”Otis said. “The answer is cliché. Scientists did.”

“What did they do?”

“They have been conducting experiments in the ionosphere. Blasting the ionosphere with high frequency energy, heating it up, and injecting energy into the magnetosphere as well. They have also been attempting to generate gravitational waves artificially . . .”

“Gravitational waves?” Kim interrupted. “I thought those ones could only come from exploding neutron stars, colliding black holes and supernova events?”

“Not anymore. Ideas have been mooted about generating them artificially. Why invest so much in complex and expensive equipment like the advanced Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory detectors and then wait around a long time for signals from black holes that collided several billion light years ago, only to find that the signals are so small they can go almost entirely undetected? It took twelve years to detect the first G waves. And the detected signals moved the measuring equipment by just one-ten-thousandth the diameter of a proton. That is just unimaginably tiny.

“Also, the information provided by the G waves is mostly history,” continued Otis. “By the time they can be measured here, they have travelled millions, billions of light years. Which should make you curious: if humanity can generate those waves at much higher frequencies than they are now and in large, measurable quantities, then we will be sending information into the future. Imagine manmade gravitational waves. Earth’s signature. Imagine everyone on earth sending messages into the future. Your voice is as unique as your fingerprint. If you send a verbal message, it will be your signature that you once lived in this universe. Machines wear out, civilizations crumble, and regimes change; but billions of light years from now, your voice will still be out there, travelling across the universe, to be detected by a future civilization on another planet. It is the ultimate eternal life, something humanity has craved since the very beginning.”

 “I see,” Kim said.

“So that is why scientists have been trying to generate the G waves. For communication with the future,” Otis said.

“I see,” Kim repeated.

But he was wondering if all that was so necessary that billions of lives had to be wiped out for it. Who was going to send the damn messages now that even the scientists were dead? Some corporation must have been behind the idea, already counting the billions of dollars to be raked in when the whole world began sending messages to the future.

“They have been building a machine. An excessively massive and dense machine,” Otis said. “They were going to put it in the magnetosphere and make it spin at the speed of light.”

“Speed of light?”

“When beaming large quantities of energy into the ionosphere and magnetosphere, the scientists discovered a way to harness the high energy protons in the Van Allen belt. They were going used them to power the machine. And I think the machine worked. It generated the G waves but they were too powerful. It may have exploded. The G waves rippled through the earth’s space-time curvature . . . and ripped it.”

“Ripped it?” Kim wondered. “They destroyed time?”

gravitational-waves-1024x576

A depiction of colliding black holes producing ripples of gravitational waves. Credit: NASA

 

“They did,” Otis said. “The manmade gravitational waves caused glitches in the space-time curvature.”

“Okay,” Kim said.

“All this is about time,” Otis motioned. “It is what caused so much death. The glitches disappeared almost as soon as they formed but the toll on life is unspeakable.”

“Oh,” Kim said.

“People were dislocated. Animals too. Both in time and space. Imagine where you’d be, say, nine years from now. Then suddenly you’re there. Having lived through the nine years in a fraction of a second. You would die. Your body would be too shocked to endure. If you were asleep, the dislocation might pass like a dream. If you woke up in the middle of it, you might become too sick and die. Or you might disintegrate. Or you might be transmitted through objects— walls, doors, etc—as if they did not exist.”

“Oh,” Kim uttered again, remembering his ordeal. He did not know what else to say.

He didn’t tell Otis about the dead man. He tried to figure it out for himself. Now that he had an estimate of what had transpired, he knew he could solve the mystery of the dead kid. He had been an avid student of Physics and Mathematics back in his younger days when he believed that showing intelligence in such fields could grant you a great job in Kenya. He now owned furniture shops on Ngong Road and Mombasa Road but he still believed in his understanding of the two subjects.

“I think I know about the dead man,” he told Ana at night.

“What do you know?” she asked.

“He’s going to die in this house.”

Going to die?” she puzzled.

“Yes.”

“But he’s dead.”

“Not yet.”

“He is dead,” she emphasized. “Don’t startle me with the living dead idiocy.”

He related to her the conversation he had with Otis.

“For communication with the future?” she laughed. “That is the funniest thing I’ve ever heard.”

“It is.”

“This space-time curvature. Is it physical? Is it made of matter?” she asked.

“No,” he said.

“Then how can it have glitches? How can it be physically affected?”

He mulled it over. “The earth bends it and it forms gravity,” he said. “The deformation of the curvature is what we call gravity. Gravity is real.” He shrugged. “But . . . I don’t know. You will have to ask Otis that question,” he added.

Gravity.5

A depiction of spacetime curvature. Credit: NASA

She was quiet. “So you think the boy is going to be killed in our house?” she asked.

“Yes.”

“By whom?”

“That I do not know.”

“Figure it out,” she said. “Because either you kill him or I do. I can’t kill anybody. I am small-bodied and easily overpowered in a combat. These arms can’t even kill a chicken if I punch with all my might.” She smiled at him. She looked pretty.

“For the record,” she continued. “You are the only man I ever afford to openly oppose and criticize. But that is because I love you. You are my husband, and you are Lili’s dad. And you are a good man by my standards. Also, I have weighed you and evaluated you and studied you and found that you can take my nagging,” she added and laughed.

He laughed too, remembering how some days he wished she would just shut up for a day or two.

“I always love you,” he told her.

“But I have to ask,” she said astutely. “If we already know that the man is going to die in here, can’t we prevent it?”

He reflected on that. “If we could prevent it, the corpse wouldn’t have appeared here,” he said. “Time doesn’t lie. Time is the boss of the universe.”

“Still, we have to do something about it,” she insisted. “We can search for him. We can sketch his face and give it to the security people at the gate. We can ask the neighbours if they know anybody looking like that. We can inform the police.”

“Sure,” he said.

They did all that. But they never saw the young man or met anyone who knew him.

Three years passed. The matter was forgotten.

One Friday in April when schools were closed, Kimani and his wife arrived home late in the evening from an extended family meeting. He was exhausted, and so was Ana. The meeting had dragged on for hours and there had been disagreements. Ana said that she was going to the shower and then straight to bed. She said there were leftovers in the refrigerator. He could microwave them for his supper. She didn’t want food.

She undid her hair and took off her blouse and unzipped her skirt as she went. Instead of heading in the direction of the bathroom, she detoured and went to look in on Lili. She reached the door and knocked.

“Lili,” she called and pushed the door. “Sweetie, how—”

The door swung back on her face and she was hurled across the corridor to the opposite wall. A man emerged from Lili’s room. Ana screamed.

Kim was slouched in the sofa pulling off his socks. He was on his feet at once, running towards his wife. At the entrance from the living room into the corridor, the man jolted him off balance. He recovered fast and lunged forward to grab the intruder.

The man dodged him adroitly and dashed for the door. He kicked the coffee table on his way, lost balance, and flew over it at an incredible speed. He stepped down once but his momentum propelled him forward and he collided with the wall face first.

The house shook from the impact.

The man teetered around slowly, seemed to want to say something, collapsed. He tried to get up, one hand clenching the carpet, the other on the sofa where Kim had just risen. He plunged down again, quivered, became still.

Kimani walked towards the body. He recognized it instantly.

“Oh,” he sighed. “Oh.”

He saw the dented place on the wall where the young man had ploughed his face into.

“Oh,” he sighed again. He faltered back and slumped on the table.

Ana was shivering. “It is him, isn’t it?” she asked. “I knew as soon as I saw him. Lili!” she called.

Lili crept along the corridor and stopped at the living room entrance.

“Who is this?” Ana asked her seventeen-year old daughter.

“Jeff,” Lili said. “My . . . friend,” she added timidly. “You stayed out for so long I called him to keep me company.”

“In your bedroom?” Ana asked resignedly, feeling overwhelmed. She never would have seen it coming.

Lili looked down, said nothing.

Kim opened his mouth to speak, choked. He tried again and croaked unintelligibly. It was a while before a word could climb past his throat.

Police did not come for the body until seven in the morning.

                                                                                                                         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.

I.

There was a place in Karen where the Devil sometimes came through to Nairobi. It was an open field of about a quarter of an acre with a few tall trees, sporadic thickets, and patches of stunted grass. The trees and the thickets had yellow, sickly leaves and the grass was mostly burnt. But a building usually appeared there just moments before the Devil stepped out of a wall. It was an enormous building and it disappeared as soon as the Devil was gone.

I had thought once that perhaps I should set traps there with massive chains, hooks and barbed wire—or even with a modified rat trap intended for something his size—and catch him unawares and torture him until he surrendered my soul. But I did not know what could hold him. He was a gigantic thing, and as heartless as only he could be. If he overcame the traps, he’d find me and squish me underneath his feet. Or worse, he would give my soul to Moloch. He had said that if I did not fulfil my end of the bargain, he would give my soul to Moloch.

He had, however, been the first to dishonour the deal, and I now had to contrive to obtain what he owed me.

I crossed to the spot where the house usually materialized. The temperature was much higher at that point, though the heat was clearly not from the sun. It was also still; but for the miserable vegetation, I had never seen any other living thing in the area.

I waited.

I had seen how the wall cracked before, how it gaped like a jagged, sinister, monstrous mouth. If I could flit through it before the Devil noticed me . . . If I could do that!

But what if he already knew my plan?

Ah! That could bear imponderable consequences. I began to sweat and shake from its very prospect, and my heart hurt. I turned my thoughts away from it, wondering who owned this property that the Devil used as a gateway. I had asked the same question before, though in vain. Somebody in Nairobi owned it and knew the Devil used it often. If they didn’t know, they would have developed it already. People were hungrier and greedier for such property than ever before. Prime Property, the dealers called it, and then charged astronomical costs. Yet here it was, unfenced, unattended, a dead, deadly plot, a doorway through to Hell itself. I imagined the owner had neighbours, friends, family. Did they know that he had allowed his property to be utilized by the Devil as a gateway from Hell and that he probably benefitted immensely from the agreement? I imagined him drinking and laughing with his friends, having sex with his wife, maybe trying to be a good father to his children, even succeeding, while behind them all, he had made the evilest, vilest deal with the evilest, vilest being ever conceived. People could be frightening.

Where the Devil went or what he did while about town I did not know. But there were disappearances. Adults, children. Random indiscriminate unexplained disappearances. The Daily Nation had done a story on them once. The list had been too long.

Those, plus the souls that I’d given him. Given him in vain.

If I could just go through the wall without . . .

And I was calm. I had distracted myself enough to be calm when the house appeared at once and the wall exploded.

Shit!

I was thrown back, into the air and further back, but before I could hit the ground, I was flung against the ceiling and pinned there like an insect.

“Where do you think you are going?” demanded he. He was pinning me with his index finger, pressing my ribs too hard.

“None of your business,” I groaned.

In response, he drilled a hole through my heart to the ceiling. Blood flooded his finger and ran down the rest of his hand. I twisted and slid down, becoming stuck at the swell of the middle joint.

“Your business is mine,” he said. “You forget that all your business is mine.” His voice was like that of a man whose throat is clogged with oil.

“Give it back to me,” I moaned. “Give back what you owe.”

“You still owe me.” He released me and I fell hard on the floor. Dust and debris flew about and the house vibrated.

“Answer the phone and get back to work,” he said, and vanished.

II.

I rose. To my dismay, the wall had returned to its original state. Seconds later, the house faded into nonexistence, leaving me in the open. I was standing on dead grass.

Blood was gushing out of me. The hole in my heart was gaping at the world. But I did not care. It didn’t matter. I was overwhelmed by the futility of my ambition, the stark impotence of rage at the undying. Distress came upon me, despair. I did not move.

“Three souls,” he’d said. “Bring me three souls and you will get yours in exchange.”

Later, he’d changed to thirty-three, then to three hundred and thirty-three, six hundred and sixty-six, nine hundred and ninety-nine, and, finally, just one. The one that I could not get and he would not explain. Two thousand one hundred souls already! I had surpassed his target. All this accomplished in ten years. He had robbed me of ten years of my existence.

Yet he withheld the reward. How fitting of him!

The Devil. Lucifer. Satan.

Ah!

I’d been running from the cops when I bumped into him at this very place. He had been exiting, out for what I later learned was his once-a-month trip to Nairobi, while bullets zinged over my head and cops came steadily on my trail.

Suddenly, a house grew around me. A bungalow. Many-walled. Many-roomed. It came out of nowhere. I braked too unexpectedly and the momentum propelled me forwards, into someone, or something, that hadn’t been there before.

The impact knocked me flat on the floor. I immediately scrambled up. Confused, things spiralling out of view, going dark, too many inputs, too few interpretations, something clutching my stomach, my own heartbeat too fast—I started to flee, but at that critical moment, that decisive life-and-death instant, my strength failed me. My knees wobbled. I flopped.

Later, I realized that I’d wanted to flee in the direction of the cops. I also realized that if the Devil hadn’t been there at precisely when I ran into him, I’d have fallen through the crack into the unforgiving, implacable dark beyond and the unflagging fires of Hell.

He grabbed me, raised me. He was hot like a burning thing and I jerked away from him without a thought to spare. But he held on to my head. His hand was so wide it covered my head like a helmet, the fingers reaching far past my jaws, my neck. I was a little doll in his hands.

“Watch your path!” he said and shook me. “Human!” he spat. There was profound contempt in his voice when he did it. His breath was steam. It scalded my face.

I could not speak. I could not move. Neither could I take my eyes off him. He was a colossal thing that could easily weigh over a tonne. Hardy, rugged muscles jutted all over his immortal body, and his skin was like the bark of some ancient cursed tree that had stubbornly withstood the agonies of living in a cruel death-riddled world; it was hardened and rough-edged, excessively wrinkled and stained with the corruption and profanity of eternal Hell. A strange crackling sound was issuing from his eyes, as if they were roasting and might suddenly pop out, and reddish blue tongues of flame spewed out of his ears.

Lucifer.2.

The Devil

“You are about to die,” continued he, deadpan. “I can see it all over your face. What are you running from?”

When I didn’t answer, he said, “Can’t you speak? Or would you like me yank off your tongue so that you never have to speak again?”

“Cops,” I said. It was a faltering whisper.

“What is it you possess that they hanker after with such fiery passion?”

“They think I am a terrorist.”

The Devil grinned. A sinister grin that made the corners of his lips to curve like horns. The pupils of his eyes floated towards his nose and gathered there so that they seemed crossed. The irises glowed yellowish with tinges of red sprinkled all over. I could see my image in them: a distorted thing with a scalded, skinless face, eyes terrified beyond reason. I looked only once and shut my eyes.

“Are you?” he asked.

“No! My friend is.”

He seemed disappointed. I could tell by the way he sighed and squeezed my head.

“What difference does it make, anyway?” he said. “You are on the run for your dear soul. And they are going to kill you in two and half minutes. A bullet is going to shatter this skull like something for target practice. Are you ready to die?”

I shook my head within his stupendous hand. “No!”

“What difference does it make?” he asked again. “Dead or alive, you are all the same. All of mankind! The living ones exert too hard in order to die. The dying ones exert too hard in order to live. The living fight the living with a vengeance, yet mourn the dead with bitterness. It is pathetic. Stupid. However, there is a place where you can be both dead and alive simultaneously. It is the perfect place for mankind. Do you know it?”

My eyes were still closed and he shook me. I opened them just in time to see the wall shut itself. The edges met with the impact of jaws clamped together. What now faced me was its discoloured, ruined, ancient surface. It seemed to have been there for tens of thousands of years.

I had glimpsed what was on the other side of it: the black, hollow desolation that set the bladder loose and the bowels running by its very presence. A pit without an end; yet a scream had emanated from it, a deep, senseless, horrid cry from a truly wretched soul.

“Do you know it?” the Devil repeated. He was glowering at me.

Unable to speak, I shook my head.

“Well, then. You are about to find out. I’ll just wait for them to gun you down and then call Moloch.”

He removed his hand from my head, and I could again hear the police outside. They were too close. I could hear the sound of their running feet. One of them fired and the blast shook the house.

It occurred to me that I was truly caught between the Devil and the deep blue sea. Quite literally, between the Devil and the crazed gunmen. Death awaited me on both sides. It was a catch-22.

However, if the cops got me, they would triumph over my death and announce to the world that a terrorist had been eliminated. The world would rejoice and continue with its fancy delusions of safety. I was not a terrorist. I was an innocent man who had been at the wrong place at a wrong time. But that did not matter anymore. I saw my parents’ humiliation upon receiving the news, their shock, horror, the stigma that would haunt them for the rest of their lives. They were Seventh-Day Adventists proper, and frowned upon the consumption of something as simple and ubiquitous as tea. To discover that I was a terrorist would surely finish them off. I saw my mother weeping in quiet, felt her anguish, my father by her side, wiping his agonized face. My heart sank deeper.

The cops would never relent.

“So then,” thought I. “Why not disappear from the earth altogether?”

“Take me,” I blurted.

“Take you?” the Devil frowned. “I don’t do pro bono.”

“What do you want?” I pursued.

“I deal in souls.”

“Take mine.”

“I can’t take it like that. I don’t work like that.”

“Why? How do you work?”

“I don’t take willing souls. I don’t deal in free will. You have to do something to make it warrant my keep.”

“Take it!” I shrieked when another shot was fired.

“A condition has to be duly imposed if I have to take it under these circumstances,” he said. “You will work for me, and continue to work for me, until such a day as shall be judged suitable by myself to set you free from servitude, whereupon you will have fulfilled the number of souls required of you.”

“How many souls?” I asked.

“Three souls,” he said. “Bring me three souls and you will get yours in exchange.”

I wanted to ask him how I would still be able to live and work if he took my soul, how I would be able to see and extract the other souls, and where I would find him if I had them, but before I could speak, he raised me to his level (about nine feet high) and put his mouth against mine. With a single draught, he sucked out something.

A period of utter darkness passed during which I could not tell whether I’d been awake or asleep, or dead. I did not see what he had taken out of me, though I did understand that I had lost something, an essence. It was as if he had undressed me; I felt naked, cold; I felt unnaturally light and empty. When I breathed, the air seemed to flow right through me. I did not feel my presence; my substance, my person, had disappeared. I was not there; there was no I, no me. I was nothing. I looked at my hands and could not recognize them, could not tell what they were, or that they were mine. I was a stranger to myself.

The Devil brought his mouth back to mine and blew something into my mouth. Fire. He blew fire into my mouth. My awareness, my memory, returned at once with the heat. I was burning inside and I stretched and thrust against him. Flames and smoke came out of my orifices, and I thought my eyes would explode. I was sick, dying. I was dead.

I did not know how much time passed. When I came to, I was still hanging in his hands.

“The fires of Hell blaze your veins,” he said. “They are thirsty and they never die.” He lowered me. “And we have a deal. You owe me three souls.”

“Do I bring them here?” I asked. My voice was different. Harsh. Objective.

“When you have them, wherever you are, a gate will open for you. Hell has many gates. Enter the gate and Moloch will find you. He loves souls. He so loves them.”

He then left, and the house followed him.

I saw that I had wet my pants and my underwear was heavy with the weight of faeces. My face was badly burnt, blistered and swollen in several places, skinless and bleeding in others. My head hurt too where his hands had gripped, my hair singed, scalp peeled. Yet such terror had he put me through that none of it had drawn my notice.

But it didn’t matter now. Not the pain, not the deformity, not the horror. I felt nothing. Except the fire within me. It blazed. It consumed whatever was left of me.

The cops were still on the property. I did not know why they had not broken into the house. Maybe the Devil’s presence had kept them away. When the house vanished, they started screaming and running helter-skelter, scattering like little birds when the hawk came down, but when they saw me, they turned and began firing. They shot me several times; they shot me in the head, in the chest, and in the stomach; they shot me everywhere. It seemed they would not stop, could not stop. They were terrified. But when they could not shoot anymore, when they thought I was dead, I got up and I killed them. I broke them one by one and stamped their heads under my feet like mud.

III.

But the Devil had lied. That treacherous bastard!

With aggravated bitterness, I trudged away, head lowered. The day had grown gloomy. The sun was peeping down through an ominous stretch of nimbus, and thunder rolled occasionally.

I had scarcely stepped out of the spot where the house had been when my phone rang. It never worked within that spot. It would go off by itself as soon as I got there.

Several messages now reached concerning attempted calls by Stig. I remembered the Devil instructing that I should answer the phone and get back to work.

“What is it?” I asked.

“I need your help,” Stig groaned. “Come now!”

That jolted me back to activity. It meant more souls to be traded. I might even chance upon the special one the Devil wanted so as to release my soul for good. Stig had been helping me with the work. He crucified people on the walls of their bedrooms. Whole families, nailing them side by side from the father to the lastborn. He was the terrorist the cops had been looking for when they found me at his place. They had never caught him. After disposing of my soul, I had gone back and saved him.

He had acquired a new house after the raid and now holed up in a secluded compound off Forest Lane, surrounded by a dense growth of trees and a seven-foot tall wall topped with alternating lines of razor and electric wire. The gate was of steel, as tall as the wall, and had a metallic sign welded on it with the words ‘PRIVATE! ENTRANCE BY INVITATION ONLY’ in red, bold uppercase letters.

The gate was open. It was always shut.

Alarmed, I tore across the compound into the house. I found him sprawled in the living room, the floor around him teeming with blood. I thought he was dead.

“Stig?”

He raised his eyes. He was so weak I thought he might pass out any minute.

“My leg,” he said. “It’s gone.”

His right leg had been sawed off just above the knee. I could see his thighbone gleaming white against the spurting blood. A bit of marrow had oozed out of it.

I removed his belt and tied it around the wound. Next, I obtained a large bed sheet and wrapped the thigh into it. But neither the belt nor the sheet was of much help. He had lost too much blood and was certainly going to die since he would never risk going to the hospital.

“You are going to die,” I stated.

“Fine,” he said.

“You want to die?”

“Not before I get my leg back,” he said. “Go get my leg.”

“Where is it?”

“That bitch took off with it,” he said. “She sawed it off and took off with it.”

The bitch in question was Anther, his girl. When I first met them they had been a duo of budding musicians calling themselves Stigma & Anther, he being Social Stigma and she Alpha Anther. They had dreamed of introducing a version of European Rock into the Kenyan market. One of their choruses had gone thus:

I fell beyond bounds and made a deal with the Devil

Coming quietly in the dark, knocking on my bedroom door, he said

“In three days, I will raise you to a higher level

On the fourth day, I will walk off with your head.”

It was the song that had drawn me to Stig. I had loved it from the very first moment I heard it, more so because of the asphyxiating Christianity at home. However, Stigma &Anther had had almost no fans. Songs like that just did not do well in a country where the worship of God still dominated consciousness. But they had lived lavishly. A home in Karen, two Range Rovers, two Benzes, a BMW, parties every weekend, and trips to Europe where they said their music was more appreciated. I never asked them where the money came from, although it was doubtless the music did not make it. I had learnt not to ask such questions around here, where people were apt to flaunt oodles of cash yet investments were few and development retarded.

The parties, however, were my favourite, because of the hordes of university girls that always came. They were young and pretty, and ripe. And they liked sex. Stig slept with one of them while drunk and that was when trouble began. Anther took it bitterly. She attacked the girl and broke her arm. In the morning, the police came and took Stig and Anther for questioning. Thenceforwards, things precipitated from bad to worse for the couple, until the CID linked Stig to the Al Shabaab terrorists of Somali. Apparently, he was the Nairobi region coordinator of terrorism and piracy. He oversaw the distribution and investment of the money obtained from the acts of piracy in the Indian Ocean. He also owned the warehouse in Industrial Area where the terrorists hid before and after launching attack on Kenyans. The music was a subterfuge. When the police came for him, I was there, and I ended up trading my soul with Devil.

“Why did Anther cut off your leg?” I inquired.

“We had a deal.”

“What deal?”

“We were fighting over who really fucked things up that day the cops came so that now we live like prisoners. She said it was me and called me a fancy faggot. I beat her up. She cried and said she was leaving me. I told her she had nowhere to go. Cops will be up her ass the instant she walks out the gate. That really made her furious, saying I fucked up to imprison her. She said she hates me and would rather go to the cops than live with me. I got scared by that, man. I got scared bad . . .” He trailed off, coughing. I ran for water and when I came back, I sat him upright against the sofa near him.

“I begged her to stay, went on my knees, promised never to strike her again,” Stig went on when he could. “But she said she wanted proof of my word. ‘What proof?’ I asked. ‘I don’t know,’ she said. ‘Proof or I leave!’ She made me desperate, man. It didn’t matter how much I assured her. She is all I have in this prison. I don’t know what else I can be or do without her. So I told her to cut off my right leg. She did. But then she took off!”

“And she carried the leg with her?”

“She was supposed to keep it in the fridge,” Stig continued. “That was part of the deal. But she took off with it. I want it back. I need my leg! That’s why I called you.”

“Where did she go?”

“I think to her sister’s. Karen Road. We’ve been there with you.”

“I’ll get your leg,” I assured him.

He squinted at me. “And what happened to you, man?” asked he. “You are all smoking like you’re smouldering inside. Your face is burnt. Is that a hole in your heart?”

I related what had transpired between me and the Devil.

“So he already knew you were waiting for him?”

“Somehow.”

“But, man, you go to Hell all the time yet you cannot find your soul!”

“That’s because the Devil keeps it in his private chamber. I cannot access it unless I go through that goddamned wall.”

“I told you not . . .” He started coughing again and drank more water. “I told you not to be tormented about a soul. It’s of no use. Look at people who’ve got it and show me the difference! If it mattered the world wouldn’t have been like this. Myself, for instance, I have it but . . .” (Cough) “. . . I crucify people on the wall. I blow people up like pieces of paper. I only wish the Devil had taken me like that—like you.”

We had had a similar conversation before. He thought my life had more meaning than his. I worked for the Devil, and, therefore, was part of a known eternal entity. He said that those who worked for God seemed abandoned and were victims in perpetuity. By default, he said, whether in the world or wild, the call to Hell was impossible to turn down.

Stigma did not understand my anguish. There was fire in me and it glowed and blazed. It would never die. It flowed through me like lava under the earth, churning with great agitation, devouring me, always ready to explode and spew forth its wrath and misery all over the world. The pain was unimaginable. The Devil had replaced my soul with fire. He had given me a piece of himself. And I now understood what Milton had meant when he wrote: “Which way I flie is Hell; my self am Hell.”

“I want my soul back just as much as you want your leg,” I said. “Look at people with legs and show me the difference! They are embarrassed of them. They don’t want to be seen walking. There is even a bias against those who have legs but no cars or shoes. Yet yours you so dearly desire, though you’re dying.”

He tried to laugh but coughed instead. He then inhaled so deeply I thought it would be his last. But he said, “I don’t think you’ll get back your soul. If the Devil honours his promise, then he won’t be the Devil. Will he?”

I didn’t want to contemplate that. So I went to the kitchen to fetch him sugar. I found a five-litre bottle of orange juice, almost two-thirds full. I poured it in a jug and gave it to him.

“Drink that if you wish to see your leg again.”

“Go on and fetch it, then!” he said. “Why are you still here? Plus, I think you may just find that special soul you’ve been looking for after all.”

I left, remembering to shut the gate.

The compound on Karen Road was full of cops. I arrived just as they were leading Anther to a waiting vehicle. She was carrying Stigma’s leg in a plastic bag. She did not show any signs that she was under arrest. No handcuffs. No undue stress. Her face was as pleasant as ever.

“Anther!” I shouted.

I had leaped over the fence at the back and was now standing by the main house. When she saw me, she jumped back shrieking, “That’s him! That’s him over there! That’s Obel Sibuth! Stigma’s partner!

He works for the Devil!”

I knew then that she had made a deal with the cops. Maybe she had told them that she had disabled Stigma so as to get him arrested. And she would be granted leniency.

The cops charged me. Like dogs. Three, four, five. Six of them. Oh, how I hated them! They had made me lose my soul.

A surge of rage overtook me; revenge beclouded my eyes; hate propelled me. The fire within me grew. It grew and grew. It blossomed, swelled, multiplied. It became denser, deadlier. I was burning. I was a pillar of fire. The agony was exquisite. It was uncontrollable. I was uncontrollable.

The first three cops to lay hands on me blew up like matchsticks. The other three, too rash to slow down, also pounced on me and burst into flames, hungry, predatory flames that wolfed them down in seconds. Just like matchsticks. What remained of them were charred shrunken lumps that might as well have been cat carcasses.

The remaining eight or so opened fire. It was a single-minded furious discharge from hands that shook with terror and hearts that beat too hard. A volley of bullets hit me. And kept hitting. I was lifted me off the ground and hurled back. My chest exploded; so did my stomach and back, organs ruptured, shredded, spilling.

I saw Anther running into the house with the leg and pursued her.

“Anther, give me the leg!” I yelled at her above the fusillade. She kept running.

I pursued her across the room and past the chairs. I pursued her along the hallways and over the stairs. I pursued her through the bedroom and into her lair.

“Give me the leg!”

But she was paralyzed. Seeing me like that, face shattered, body in shreds, blood, smoke and fire leaking out of me. She appeared dead. I made to grab the leg but touched her hand instead. Matchstick!

I couldn’t touch the leg in my present state without vaporizing it as well. So I stood over it and waited for the fire to cool.

I was still waiting and trying to relax in order to speed up the cooling when I heard the most unlikely sound under the circumstances issuing from one of the bedrooms. A baby was crying. I remembered Stig telling me that the special soul may come of this mission and excitement flushed over me. I followed the sound.

But in the hallway, the cops started firing again. They had followed me. How adamant! I did not want to heat up again, though it was difficult with those cops shooting me like that. I struggled to squash the rage, thinking only of the baby, my salvation. Succeeding, I went back into the room and took Stig’s leg. I gripped it firmly. My weapon. I faced the cops. I whacked them with it good and proper. I broke their skulls, necks, jaws, ribs, and every other vulnerable bone in their bodies. By the time I was done, they were dead in a pile, all ten of them, and Stigma’s leg was damaged beyond repair. I dumped it. He was dying anyway. I went for the baby.

The woman was slinking in the closet, the baby in her arms. Like her sister before, she became immobilized when she saw me. She could see through me like a shattered a window, yet there I was, not dying, not living—both dead and alive.

“The baby!” said I, my hands extended.

She blacked out.

I took the child before she could fall. It was a girl, maybe two months old, her eyes still bluish. A chubby thing, she smiled a lambent smile.

I bound her with a sheet and took her to Hell.

IV.

“Obel Sibuth!” Moloch exclaimed. “You bring me a bundle of joy!”

“Indeed,” I said. “It is for your master.”

“Nonetheless, I will receive it.”

He took the child. He was the demon in charge of torture. Inside his chamber, he had an enormous sewing machine which he used to sew people like clothes. He also took care of entertainment. He had invented a new game which involved randomly selecting two fat people from the suffering lot and smearing their bellies with glue (Hell’s glue). They were then stuck together and two demons yanked them apart to see whose stomach would burst first.

Moloch.1.

Moloch

“Obel Sibuth!” Mulciber said. “It looks like your body needs repair!”

“Indeed,” I said. “It is your master’s doing.”

“My master is good at his job.”

Mulciber was the architect. He superintended the construction and maintenance of all the infrastructures in Hell. He also had a talent for “patching up”—as he put it—people. Some days he worked with Moloch to boil people in a giant boiler containing molten, gluey, white-hot fire. After they had boiled for what seemed to be eternity and were in pieces like cooked beef, Mulciber sieved them out into a different vessel, where he then patched them up neatly—reassembled them like motor vehicles, that was—and cooled them down till they were whole and well again. But just when they thought the ordeal was over, and were a little relieved for the moment, he threw them back into the boiler.

“Obel Sibuth!” Beelzebub greeted. “How gleeful is my heart!”

“Indeed.”

Beelzebub was the second in command. He ran Hell. He was the one who had told me that my soul was in the Devil’s private chamber which I could only access through the mysterious house in Karen.

“Can I get my soul now?” I asked him.

“No,” he said. “And you won’t.”

“Why is that?”

“Because that is how it is.”

Shock. Anger. Rage. Fury. All at once. I was ablaze.

“I was promised!”

“We don’t keep promises here.”

“Lucifer wanted a special soul! I delivered it! That baby is a special soul!”

“Certainly, she is.”

“Then give back my soul!”

“We don’t give souls. We take them.”

“This is utterly unfair!”

“If you want fair go to Heaven.”

I groaned and swore with vehement acrimony.

“No need for further affliction,” Beelzebub said. “Mulciber will repair your wounds and Mammon will give you food if you direly crave it.”

Mammon dealt in (and with) matters of material value. He bragged about how he alone had colonized the soul of mankind and, by virtue of his “irresistible offers”—as he put it—brought in the largest number of people to Hell.

“Also,” Beelzebub continued. “I lied when I said your soul is in the private chamber. In truth, Lucifer ate it.”

“I am leaving!” I swore. “And I will never come back! I will never come back! All work stops forthwith!”

“You are not going anywhere,” Moloch said decisively. “You belong here. You belong in Hell.”

At this point, I gave vent to my frustrations and howled. But that was all I could do about my situation. I was defeated. Ten years of toil. Yet this!

Oh, damn you Lucifer! Damn you! You chronic, pathological liar! Father of lies! Damn you for tenfold the space of eternity! How deserving of Hell are you! The infernal fate! Ah! And how foolish of me to dream of life in your unpitying care, to trade my soul for enduring doom and relentless anguish! To pursue your mission and injure the innocent! Oh, how hopeless have I become! How destitute! Remorse consumes me. Grief besets me. Pain my everlasting companion. And fire. Chthonian and absolute, the tormenting inferno ravages me from all sides. I am doomed.

Truly, as it is written, thus it is.

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

I died for three seconds and went straight to Hell. Upon my arrival, the Devil came and took me before that infamous immensity of molten fire, the limitless, unquenchable expanse of mucilaginous horror, which cracked and crackled to reveal its seething white-hot underbelly. The Devil asked me to choose whether to be cast into the squirming hostility immediately or to wait as I watched my fellow humans boil and broil and scream in eternal agony and implacable doom. He said that he often liked new arrivals to just stay and watch on their first day because, then, the horror and affliction of Hell was total and complete and immensely rewarding to him. He added that he was a fair being, for he still allowed us some choices, even when we were utterly in no practical situation to make any.

“I do not want to be here,” said I, whining and quivering in unspoken terror, to which his reply was “That’s not a decision you can make now,” by which he meant that it was too late for me. My life of choices was spent. He proceeded to add, “However, I can return you to earth, but you must choose, from the two ways which I shall offer you, how to spend your worthless time on the worthless pit that you so thoughtlessly love.”

I quickly agreed, thinking I would do anything to return to earth, and escape the hideous, unflinching terror of the inglorious molten sea.

“A short life of three seconds during which you shall be the most intelligent of your species, a genius of a singular kind,” continued he. “Your fame will be unsurpassable, your glory intense and unmatched; three seconds during which all your dreams and whims shall come true. Or a long life of a hundred years spent in savage servitude, of brutal labour and undying humiliation. My demons shall minister to you and shall be your supervisor, and they shall expose you to anguish so great and insupportable it will make what they did to Job of Uz a travesty.”

While I was still pondering over the disparity between three seconds of a minute and a century of years, and increasingly becoming appalled by the wicked irony of this offer, the Devil turned to face me . . . and lo! what a mocking smile on his unfeeling countenance, what a cunning gaze in his deep, bone-chilling eyes! Perceiving fully what fate awaited me, I broke down in desperate yells from the desolate pits of my accursed soul, yells so deranged and inconsolable they startled Hell itself. For an instant there, I thought the everlastingly burning and smouldering souls had forgotten their unequalled anguish and stopped their inhuman screams in order to listen to me.

Enraged that I had failed to take either of his choices, the Devil lifted me by my neck and hurled me, like a tiny rock, into the molten, white-hot vastitude of fire . . .

And I woke up in my bedroom, choking and screaming, red smoke hissing furiously out of all the pores of my skin and the orifices of my body. My hair was all burnt, my night-clothes melted and stuck on my skin, my throat parched as if on fire. My head felt as though it were splitting along several jagged lines, and my eyeballs throbbed endlessly, rife with agony and immortal pain. I was hotter than a cupola; the heat of my body alone set the blanket and sheets ablaze, and soon the entire bedroom was engulfed in unforgiving flames.

I bolted to the door coughing and crying for help, but stopped at once when I heard a man laughing just outside it, a baleful, deep-throated guffaw like the rumbling of the foundations of the earth. Ho, ho, ho . . .

The Devil laughing

lo! what a mocking smile on his unfeeling countenance, what a cunning gaze in his deep, bone-chilling eyes!

I. The Albino Twins

On the nights when neither moon nor stars rode across the sky, when the heavens were black and endless, and you couldn’t see your own hand in front of your face, the people of a small Kenyan town called Toi believed that something inhabited the tunnel under the highway. Nobody had ever seen this thing, although it was generally agreed that when you crossed the tunnel on such bleak and dismal nights, a dense feeling of being stalked tightened around you like a noose, and all the hairs on your body stood on end, and, suddenly, you took to your heels and sped like the wind. Sometimes the shadows shifted in front of you just as you reached the middle or the opposite end of the tunnel so that you had an indubitable feeling that something had been waiting for you there. Those who told the stories claimed that it had begun with the electric storm that had wrecked Morris’ old shop.

Even so, nobody had ever seen it. That was the most important thing. It was why what befell the albino twins, and later the university students, was inevitable. People found all manner of ways of refuting these claims: they mentioned superstition and discussed the notorious black spot on the highway just thirty metres from the tunnel. They talked about the perpetual darkness in the tunnel, and, still, some clever ones pointed out the innate nature of human minds to harbour fear of the unknown and to be prominently evoked by stories of horror.

However, these swift-talking, smooth-tongued, fear-evading sceptics could not explain what had made the seventy-year old Kariuki to scream his lungs dry and run a hundred metres in less than twenty seconds before his heart exploded right where he fell; or why a fifteen-year old girl named Njoki had become deaf-mute and pregnant after taking the route alone in the night. (She had become pregnant with something that did not want to be born. It squirmed in the confines of her belly, and she cried horrible, heartrending cries unfit for a child. She was picked up dead one day with her uterus and vagina all chewed up, a nasty hole gaping there, strange teeth marks on her buttocks and legs.) Or why all stray animals had vanished from Toi. Or why the accidents over the tunnel remained gruesome and there had never been a survivor even after the government had hired Chinese contractors to renovate the road and built better rails.

Or what had happened to the albino twins.

Theirs was the most recent incident, and quite memorable indeed it was. It started with an accident. A bus called Modern Highway Express collided with a minibus which was for some unknown reason called The Omnibus Nightshift. They had such a collision that the minibus was first cast skywards before it crashed down with a thunderous force and rolled several times. One of its front tires detached and beheaded a cyclist ten metres away. It also killed the cyclist’s wife who had been riding with him, crushing her chest to pulp, almost breaking her in half.

The bus, on the other hand, burst into unforgiving flames that gutted it like paper. Not a single soul escaped its ruin. It took two days for the police to clear the scene and haul away the wreckages.

However, on the third day, rumours began to spread across the town that a body had been left behind. It had been thrown over the rails and beyond the bush that crept and crawled on that side of the highway. Police had not located it, even after their diligent search. Those in the know explained that it was the body of the cyclist’s wife.

Now, Muguna and Miguna felt that they were very unfortunate kids. They were eleven years old—“eleven years all!” Miguna yelled in the privacy of their shared room—and had never seen a dead person. Because they were albinos, their mother did not allow them to mix freely with the townsfolk. There had previously circulated very dismaying stories about some folk in town who kidnapped albinos and sold them exorbitantly to witches who in turn used albino body parts to make juju potions for improving sexual virility in men. Muguna and Miguna were, thus, incarcerated in their compound, and whenever they were allowed to leave they were chaperoned with such severity that any fun of being away from home could not exist at all.

But they longed to see a dead person. Those two children did, with all the fiery passion in their young hearts! They had seen a dead housefly, a dead cockroach, a dead cat, and a dead dog. But a dead human, no! And they always wondered how a dead person looked like.

“Maybe people don’t completely die, anyway,” Miguna said one day.

“People die! You hear about it all the time!” said his brother.

“Maybe they just hung about somewhere and watch what you do about their rotting bodies: how loud or bitterly you cry, or how happy and cheerful you are. They gauge you.”

“Dead is dead, is dead!” Muguna said with emphasis. “Like the dog at the school gate. It looked so totally dead! Deader than the cockroach you squished in the kitchen or the housefly you burnt with super glue!”

“Do you think that if you look into a dead person’s eyes you will be able to see your reflection in them?” Miguna asked. He was serious, and he looked fixedly at his brother.

“I don’t know.”

“Would you like to know?”

“Sure.”

“Because, if you can see your reflection in them, then the dead person can still see you.”

And so it came to pass that the two boys conspired and sneaked out of their house on the night of the day the town was rife with rumours of a forgotten body near the tunnel. They wore black clothes and masks and gloves so they would fit with some confidence in the darkness without their skin colour betraying them. They also took their faithful dog, Tyke, with them. Moreover, they had a powerful flashlight, of the kind the night guards did carry around with them.

“What about the tunnel?” Muguna asked. His voice quailed. They were getting closer and closer to the hole. It looked blacker than the night itself; a foreboding pit, it was thoroughly revolting to the senses. It was like a nasty, slimy, monstrous thing, silently brooding and calculating.

The Tunnel

The Tunnel: It looked blacker than the night itself.

“What about it?” his brother replied. He sounded bold and defiant.

“You know what I mean! Don’t pretend.”

“I don’t believe any of it,” Miguna said confidently. “Nobody has seen a thing. There is no evidence. I am a scientist. I work with evidence!”

“If Tyke growls or barks or behaves in a funny way, I’m not entering that place. It is a Death Chamber,” Muguna said.

“Coward!”

“Don’t call me that!”

“Coward! If you run away, that’s what you are, will always be.”

“Nothing is as reliable as an animal’s instincts, you know. It saves them from tsunamis and earthquakes while humans die like squished cockroaches!”

“Aren’t you curious to see the eyes of a dead person—if there is any reflection at all in them—if they can see you?” Miguna asked.

“Of course, I am.”

“Today we must know for sure.

“What if we find that they just rot and sink into the skull and become two stinking holes filled with pus and maggots?”

“Like maggot swimming pool?”

“Like maggot soup.”

“Well. No matter. We must find out. Something else I am puzzled about is whether a dead man looks like a dead woman.”

“They can’t look alike! One is a dead man, the other a dead woman!”

“I mean, whether they smell the same, or feel the same if you to touch them, rot at the same rate if they die at exactly the same time. But most important is whether their eyes resemble!”

“Wow! You really should be a doctor!”

“I’m going to be a Medical Examiner! Isn’t that cool?”

“Yeah, cool!”

Tyke did not growl or bark or behave in a funny way when they entered the tunnel. But when they were almost through with crossing, shadows began to shift in front of them in manifold forms and all the hairs on their bodies suddenly stood on end, erect and stiff and prickly, and that was when Tyke did everything Muguna had said it might do. It growled and barked and leaped about in a funny way. But it was too late.

The flashlight burst and Muguna shrieked in pristine terror. Neither of them lived to tell of what bred within the tunnel. Miguna was found on the following day, drifting purposelessly on the other side of the tunnel. He was moribund, his eyes inside-out, eyelids shrunken like burnt leaves. His stomach was excessively distended—he looked pregnant!—and he was choking on something stuck in his throat.

By the time they got him to the hospital, he was dead. Upon examination, his body was found to be stuffed with the remains of his brother and their dog. He had been choking on Tyke’s intestines.

Where they buried Miguna, a curious incident occurred several hours later as the day faded to a grey evening and the sky became clouded and overcast as if with grief. A young girl named Nkatha, while playing hopscotch nearby with her friends, happened to glance cursorily in the direction of the town’s cemetery. Her attention was immediately arrested. A column of smoke, black as that of a factory chimney, was rising from Miguna’s grave. It wreathed heavenwards and then bent and flowed away.

Unbeknownst to the little girl, who was now irretrievably enthralled, the smoke flowed against the wind, and it flowed in the direction of the tunnel. Silently, lost in thought, goaded by strange forces, she followed it, and that was the last time she was seen.

Miguna’s coffin lies empty even as this story is told.

II. The University Students

That was almost three years ago. There was a media-blast about it and people gasped with horror. But memory fails people, fails them tremendously.

By the time the university students crossed through the town, the furore had died down and Kenyans had other businesses to mind. No one warned them of the tunnel. It was assumed that they knew about it. The townspeople had managed to keep off that route and believed that a person would have to be stark raving insane to use it. The tarmac was dull and littered with papers, rocks, silt, dead leaves and sticks from adjacent trees. Grass had overgrown the edges and now began to creep over it.

What’s more, the students were feared in these parts. They were a daredevil lot; openly rude and incautious, they believed life owed them a debt that had to be paid regardless. They viewed life in the manner toddlers did, resorting to violent tantrums, abuses, and causing irreparable damage to both domestic and commercial property. Shops were closed and entire roads avoided when they rampaged.

The group’s destination was not clear, but Morris, who was watching them cautiously from his shop window, ready to shut down if they should begin their characteristic frenzy, decided that they must have sought a shortcut to the Arboretum in the deep woods two kilometres beyond the highway. It was Sunday, the day the greatest number of people visited the Arboretum.

They were young, probably still in their first year, their faces bright and carefree. Young people in the prime of life, adorned in the gloriously beautiful but painfully transitory garb of youth, ripe and sweet and elegant, savouring life for the all the delicious things it offered, their indefinite futures still holding before them a plethora of choices. They chattered and laughed boisterously as they hurried down the road, gay, pert, and bold, adventurous and rash, full of erotic energy, all out to have fun, pure, unspoiled fun, unaware that fun came in multifarious facets, and that sometimes, if not most times, the onlookers had the greatest fun.

Morris was relieved when the tunnel swallowed them without incident.

Over the rails above the tunnel was perched an intrepid teenager named Kiama. He was flabbergasted when the rollicking group of girls and boys came out on the other side without incident. He heard their riotous laughter when one boy remarked: “I told you guys! Didn’t I? There’s nothing in that tunnel but superstitious gibberish and misplaced fear!” to which a girl, her voice musical, added: “When you don’t believe in superstition it has no influence over you!”

When his confoundment had subsided, Kiama contemplated the sky. A silver sliver of moon rode across it in a lonely subjugating gloom, and flocculent clouds scattered from it as if repulsed. The moon would vanish soon. The heavens would be dark. And there might be an incident. Kiama, who was fascinated by the thing in the tunnel, decided to wait for the students to return. But when it was almost seven o’clock and they had not appeared, he decided that they must have chosen a different path. So he went home, disappointed.

Soon afterwards, a keen scream brought the townspeople rushing headlong out of their houses. It was the girl who had remarked that superstition had no influence over those who had no belief in it. She seemed stricken insane. Her voice cut through the stillness of the night like a hot knife through butter. You couldn’t remain where you were after hearing that scream.

She came careering towards Morris’s shop which stood by the road. She was a wispy thing and did not seem to touch the ground at all when she moved. Long hair, slender neck, quick, graceful limbs, as agile as a reptile, she flew into Morris and seemed to perch on his chest like a bird. Such was her weightlessness that he did not feel her impact.

But she was raving mad. She would not calm down. She was shaking violently like one with paroxysms, and there was a great volume of foam spraying from her mouth. Her eyes were shut and she was uttering rapidly and incoherently, as if inspired with glossolalia.

The first thing heard, through all that unintelligible gabble—and it seemed a long time before anything could be made out—was: “Swallow!” Morris had to listen carefully because the word came out sounding more like “Sallow”. “Sallowed them!” she shrieked. After several other useless words and phrases, it became clear that the girl was saying “Swallowed them! It swallowed them! The earth swallowed them!

My head!” she cried and clutched her ears with desperation. “My head!

Her ears began to bleed, and there was a greater profusion from her eyes and nose. “It is in my head. Something is in my head!” she cried, before her mouth became an overflowing dam of blood. There was a tightening around her head, her forehead bulging forwards, the sides extending. The sound of her bones and flesh tearing apart was excruciating. Suddenly, her head blew up like a squashed fruit and most of her brain fell on Morris’ face.

For a wild, turbulent second, he discovered that the brain is rather too smooth in the mouth, damn easy to swallow, and a tad too salty. Or maybe it was just the girl’s brain.

Smoke was now pouring forth from all over her body. It seemed her brain had been boiling.

The townsfolk, who had been gaping speechlessly at Morris and the girl, turned and shot like arrows back to their homes. They careered back faster than they had come.

But that night, Kiama found one of the boys from the girl’s group—the boy who had said something about superstitious gibberish and misplaced fear—lying on the roadside not far from the tunnel. His eyes looked like the eyes of a dead fish, his face ghastly and twisted like a demon’s mask. His mouth was open and he did not have any tooth left. His teeth seemed to have been uprooted one by one, his gums swollen and ruptured all through, discoloured even, seeming ploughed by a lunatic farmer. Clotted blood coated the lining of his mouth, his tongue a massive chunk of grey flesh. His stomach was bloated and grotesque; there was an appalling putrescence all about him.

Kiama, overcome with curiosity, picked up a stick and prodded the impregnated belly with it, thinking that this one too may have been stuffed with the remains his friends, as the albino twin had been. The stomach made a squelching sound and then burst like a balloon, spraying foul stuff all over Kiama.

The university boy suddenly became alive and cried: “Ah, you! Ah!” He seemed angry that Kiama had disturbed him. He reached out with his hands to grab Kiama’s legs, his glassy dead-fish eyes shifting about crazily, but Kiama jumped back, his own shriek stabbing the night like a rusty blade.

His flashlight went off. He shook it. Nothing! He shook it again, hitting it against his left hand. Nothing! He started walking backwards, cautiously, his plucky spirit finally dissolved. He turned and fled.

The dead thing got up and chased him towards the town. Kiama ran as he had never run before. He wished he could fly. He wished he had stayed in bed. He wished he had paid better attention to the story about the fabled cat murdered by curiosity.

The thing caught up with him just as he was about to reach Morris’ shop. He screamed once, fell headlong, and it landed on top of him. It was cold, very cold. It was creepy, and wet, a most repulsive thing crawling on him. Its burst intestines, now hanging like torn ropes, wrapped around Kiama. They bound him like an insect in a spider web. He was dragged into the tunnel.

III. The Invasion

The disappearance of the university students had a greater impact on Kenyans than did the previous events that had taken place in the town. Twenty two students did not (and could not) just vanish like that.

A violent furore gripped the university and a mob of students invaded the town. They crowded around the tunnel and stopped traffic on the highway. When they couldn’t see any peculiarities about the tunnel, their anger increased greatly and they started a riot.

“People cannot sublime like iodine,” the student leader announced. “We must find our comrades. We will not leave before we know their whereabouts. Somebody lied to us!”

With this last proclamation, missiles began to rain upon the traffic. Traffic lamps, posts, and shop windows suffered irreparable damages. One student brought a hacksaw and began cutting the rails over the tunnel.

Looting began. Morris shut down his shop and begged God to ward off the marauders. It seemed God answered his prayer. But that was probably because he sold foodstuff. The students craved electronics the most.

Then there were journalists. The self-righteous seekers of truth. Theirs was a different kind of riot—the media riot. Antagonistic, opportunistic, importunate pessimists, where would they be without bad news? They came in hordes. Talkative vipers with reddened inquisitive faces warped with vindictive passions and strange prejudices, anxious eyes roving about in search of deformities.

They interviewed everybody they met: children, adults. Hell, they would have interviewed dogs if there had been any! (Ever since the tunnel turned wicked, animals did not live long in the town, unless they were indoor pets). They wanted the story told and they wanted it done by any means, all means. The nature of their inquiries revealed that they thought someone or some people were behind the disappearances. Just like the students did. It was unbelievable.

Repeatedly, they were directed to the tunnel where they took imaginative photos of it, of both interior and exterior, and from all perspectives conceivable. But they were in the end dissatisfied with the absence of any remarkable features about it; they found it to be only a plain tunnel, dingy, dank, sporting mottled walls reminiscent of ancient puerile graffiti and a fractured, crevice-strewn floor, left unrepaired and unpainted for decades, now languishing in a sorry state of slow decay and desuetude.

They scurried back to the town centre to harass people with their numerous questions. Such was their cleverness that they inveigled even the most honest of the townsfolk to reveal more than was true. Their main goal was to get somebody to admit, even subtly, that there was nothing amiss or mysterious about the events in the ill-famed tunnel; that the students had been indeed victims of a diabolic scheme.

A woman named Jane said: “In the beginning we didn’t believe that there was anything wrong with the tunnel.”

“What is wrong with it now?” she was asked.

“I don’t know,” she said. “But it is—” She was cut off.

Morris was trapped in his house by thirteen reporters. Word had leaked out that the girl with the boiling brain had died in his arms. He was surrounded, his home infringed on, left with nowhere to run, to hide. He was greatly rankled. Normally, he was a reserved person who scarcely minded other people’s affairs. But distraught, as he presently was, he became tight-lipped. He had told the reporters everything he had seen, but they still wanted more from him.

“So you admit that she just died in your arms?” he was accused. “Where it gets unclear, is where you say the girl evaporates immediately after her cruel death in your hands. Would you clarify that again?”

The questioner was from Q-TV. He was thirty, had a shiny forehead and desultory eyes that seemed to see nothing. Morris ignored him.

The girl had vaporised. She had turned into smoke, consumed by something that had been inside her. Her stench had been evil, purely evil; so corrupt that Morris had almost become insane from inhaling it. It had attacked his respiratory tract and knocked all oxygen out of him, making him double over, clenching his throat, gagging, coughing, unable to breathe, to talk, to think, a man confined in a dark, unknown place reeking of death and damnation.

Morris had later told his wife that if Hell stank like that nobody would worry about fire, unquenchable or otherwise. That stink watered the eyes, corroded the nostrils, and poisoned the lungs. The black smoke had writhed its way, slow and worm-like, into the tunnel.

“The tunnel is a bad place,” he said finally. “People disappear there. Sometimes corpses are stuffed inside people. And sometimes the corpses awake to take you with them into the tunnel. Something evil lives there, something so evil that it can cause glass to crack without touching it. It has found a way through to this town. Maybe it rips opens a portal within the tunnel and takes whoever it finds.”

The reporters left him alone, though clearly disappointed. Morris, relieved, decided that such careers, as did numerous others, fed on catastrophe, grew fat on the carrion and turpitude of humanity. He was struck by the futility of warning.

“What is the point of warning anyone?” wondered he.

The police also came. But they had a different mission. While the General Service Unit officers battled with the rioting students, detectives swarmed the town. They needed culprits, and in Kenya, if the police want culprits they obtain them aplenty. They obtain them by any means, all means.

One inspector remarked that they should arrest every Toi resident they could find and lock them up at the station to be interrogated later on. His colleague praised the idea, but added that the station could not hold them all. So they went from house to house asking questions. It was a gruelling option but they had a cruel devotion. They wanted to know how each house made a living, the breadwinner and all.

Now, in any given Kenyan town, the unemployed are countless, street children are a must, and school dropouts as fish in the sea. The police made a bountiful harvest that Monday, their reasoning being that idlers are the most vulnerable to crime, are in fact criminals. It was a handicapped view, indeed, typical of the unproductive system they served.

Morris was arrested and cuffed alongside a forlorn teenager with whom he had never before had a chance to make acquaintance. His wife wept and pleaded with the cops to spare him. She said he was an honest man, kind even, an altruist who had never hurt anyone on purpose ever since she married him. “He has never even slapped me!” she shouted. But, of course, her pleas and implorations could not convince the authorities. Morris’ story about the university girl simply did not make sense.

It was evening and the sky looked mournful. Clouds hung low, dense and fecundated, casting an ominous shadow over the town. A chill breeze blew, and the families of the captives nestled outside their houses weeping in dejection and quivering in the cold as they watched their friends and relatives wrongfully taken away from them. A woman named Nyoruko who sold tomatoes and onions at the market expressed her regret for having lived in the town for too long. She should have abandoned it as soon as the first misfortune happened in the tunnel. Other families expressed the same sentiment.

The tunnel was built by the British in the 1920s. But the history of its wickedness began about five years ago. There was an electrical storm after which a fog enveloped the town for two days. A thirteen-year old girl named Soni became its first victim. The police were involved, but when their efforts did not fructify, it was decided that she had been kidnapped. The second was a construction worker with a family of four to feed. It happened on the same day. In total, seven people vanished before the question of the tunnel was even raised. When three high school boys went through it one evening and did not come out the other end, it was only then that it began to receive attention and rumours spread of an invisible monster hiding within it.

IV. Stupidity Unqualified

Once, not too long ago, two philosophers were discussing the human condition.

The first, a cynic, said: “People do not understand a situation if it’s not happening to them. You can explain it till your throat turns red, dries like sand, and cracks like clay, but they will only act as if they understand. This characteristic makes pain and suffering requisite, because, pain is the unqualified detergent of the soul and suffering evokes thought and compassion.”

The second, dispassionate, said: “The human, unique and uplifted above all animals, was bestowed with all the important faculties that every animal has. He was given them in moderation so that it is up to him to cultivate and nurture them. It means that man has the capacity to be the most intelligent animal on the planet, or the most stupid. It is up to him.”

***

The reporters lingered in town—and wonders of wonders, they were inside the tunnel! Many students had mixed with them to escape the GSU officers quelling the riot, so that the hole was packed. They were waiting to see for themselves what the thing did when darkness fell. They were chatting very loudly and laughing at the top of their lungs.

At the farthest end of the tunnel, where some light penetrated and the din was a bit tolerable, a man named Onyi, who worked for KTN, was hitting on a European woman named Sara, who worked for BBC.

“Why do women eat soil when they are pregnant?” he was asking.

“I don’t know,” she said, uninterested. “You can Google it.”

“Google kills conversation. I’m trying to build a conversation right now.”

“For what?”

“My mother used to eat salt when she was pregnant with me,” he said.

Salt?” she frowned, interested now.

“Yes. Table salt,” he said. “Sodium chloride. She’d eat whole packets of it. 2kgs, 4kgs, 10! Scooping spoonfuls after spoonfuls, ladles and ladles. She would dissolve a whole packet in a bowl of water and drink it like soda. She craved salt.”

“And you survived?”

“Standing right here loving your pretty eyes!” he said and grinned. She blushed, looked away for a moment, and returned to him.

“Well, that is very strange,” she said.

“What is?” asked he. “Surviving the salt or loving your pretty eyes?”

“My pretty eyes have been loved before,” she said, her tone a notch defiant. “For your information,” she added as an afterthought. “But the salt thing is alien. Did you become sick?”

“Healthy as a horse!” exclaimed he. “I was—and still am—preserved by salt. I am salty. So salty that when I was fifteen, I kissed a girl and dried her mouth by osmosis. She had to consume three litres of water afterwards in order to restore herself.”

“Lol, you are lying!” she said, laughing.

He liked the way she laughed. He liked even more that he was making her laugh like that. He stepped closer.

“How can you tell?” he asked.

“I don’t believe it!”

“I am literally a walking pillar of salt.”

“I don’t believe you!”

“Would you like evidence?”

“Yes!”

He stepped forward. “Kiss me,” he said, and something in his voice made her pause and regard him differently. He thought she would refuse and hastened to add: “I’ve been thinking about your lips ever since I first saw you here. I can’t help it.”

“That’s it then!” she broke out, laughing harder. “You’re hitting on me! You’ve been hitting on me all along! Oh my God, I should have seen it! You’re such a clever over-winding prick!”

She did not move when he took one more step and closed the distance between them.

“Can’t this be done another time?” she said, flushed, looking around warily at the rest of them.

At that moment, Onyi proclaimed himself a winner. He felt such a hot rush of triumph that his penis bulged like a rock outcrop. His heart was on fire.

He was beginning to hum “win some, lose some” when a strange shadow fell over him. He turned, spinning like a wheel, all his winsome charm and proud heart at once gone. The tunnel had become darker and ominous. There were strange movements in front of him. Shape-shifting things, incomprehensible things, amorphous things, shadowy, real. He smelled something foul, a bitter, asphyxiating corruption of flesh. He saw something like a wing. He heard a rustle of hairy, leathery things. He saw something reaching for him. It looked like a giant claw.

Onyi ducked and Sara let out a chilling scream. He had forgotten that she was there. The thing—the claw or whatever—struck her and her head went flying against the wall, bounced, and rolled on the tunnel floor. He made to rise up but her headless body fell on him and pressed him down. He could feel her blood burning his back, spurting forth like a crazed fountain, while her hands and legs jerked madly. He pushed her away with great might, scrambled up, but was suddenly covered in a horrible embrace with what he now confirmed were wings. Leathery, hairy wings, yet so large that he was lost within their eerie confinement. They tightened around him, the claws clasping his ribs, digging in, ripping his spine. He opened his mouth to scream but no sound came out. Instead, his eyes exploded, blood gushed out of his ears, and his teeth fell off like faulty ball bearings.

The university student leader, who had also sought refuge in the tunnel and had been listening with amusement as Onyi pulled a trick on Sara, broke into a frenzied, terror-inspired run when he saw what happened to the two. But something like a giant stinger stabbed him in the stomach, injecting strange fluids into him and paralyzing him there and then. He was digested inside out, becoming a small pool of brown liquid.

One Ciku, who worked for NTV, on seeing the complexly shifting images in the tunnel, did not wait to investigate. She had been thinking that the entire Toi community could not be so wrong. They couldn’t tell the same story as if they all knew one another and had discussed it. That man Morris, for instance, had not been lying. Yet there had to be an explanation for the events in the tunnel, which was why Ciku had elected to linger in it.

She fled now. But instead of coming out into the open, she fell into a hole which hadn’t been there before. She fell forever. It was dark. It was eldritch. It was endless.

The rest of the group fell after her. Some of them almost made it out but they tripped on the brown liquid, which, only a few seconds before, had been the student leader.

The cops heard the chaos and hurried towards the tunnel. They brought the prisoners with them. They could see from afar that there was nobody in it. All the journalists had vanished. But the cops were unafraid. They were the ultimate authority and they had guns. The prisoners now consisted also of unwatchful students who had been collared. The ones from Toi, however, were frightened. They knew just to what scope the tunnel could extend its malevolence. But there was nothing they could do to save their skins. If they disobeyed the police, they would be shot dead without hesitation. If they got into the tunnel, they would never make it out alive. They were herded in like sheep.

Morris had hung back from the moment he realized they were going into the tunnel. There was now just a single policeman behind him. As the others began to stream in, he stopped altogether. The policeman promptly kicked him on the butt. The next few seconds saw him flogged and dragged and pushed and called all manner of names. Needless to say, he did not budge. He had the will of a mule.

He held on to the edge of the tunnel with his free hand. He realized that he was much stronger than he had always thought. He was in fact stronger than the policeman. The problem was the kid with whom he was paired; instead of helping Morris resist the cop, he was pulling Morris towards the hole. He was also crying. A struggle ensued for sometime, but the officer, losing, began to grope for his gun.

At the same time, a great tumult erupted within the bleakness of the tunnel. Somebody cried out and a gun went off. A stampede ensued. Morris could see them coming back, running and tumbling along the tunnel, tripping on the floor, falling and trampling one another. But none of them was coming out. They were vanishing somewhere between the middle of the tunnel and the end where Morris and the boy were.

They looked vague, distorted images moving blurredly before being taken by mystery, into mystery, almost as if there was a barrier between Morris and them, a constantly shifting farrago of shadows and real images. Then there was a hissing sound, and a high-pitched diabolical cry like that of a furious cat. Something flapped like wings and a cold volume of air exited the tunnel in a gusty rush.

The cop was still distracted. Morris let go of the wall and kicked him in the stomach. The gun flew away from his hands and Morris pushed him into the heartless darkness, where something like a tentacle stabbed him and he rotted instantly. His tongue fell out and his eyes sunk into his skull.

Morris tugged the boy out, who fell hard on the stony pavement, yelped like a dog, but Morris ran, towing him aground.

He stopped after about thirty metres. His shoulder was hurting from pulling the kid along. Most of the boy’s face was bruised, lips shredded, and knees skinned. Nothing that couldn’t fixed, though. Morris scooped him up and hurried away. No one else left the tunnel after them.

V. The Thing

It is. It just is. In the supreme unknowable dark, where no light can reach and neither meaning nor logic can be found, where emptiness reigns unbound, it abides, and has abode, forever, and ever.

I.            Déjà vu

Almost twenty-four hours before the dead man appeared, Kimani was afflicted with a sense of déjà vu so keen and deep, so detailed and distinct, that he did not just have the feeling that the events he was experiencing had already taken place, but he in fact saw himself performing or witnessing them in the past.

It started in the bathroom. He was reaching for the towel, he could just feel the wet tips of his fingers coming into contact with its velvety softness, ready to grasp it and pull it down from its holder, when, in a flash, he was overwhelmed with vivid memory of the action. Involuntarily, he jerked his hand back, as if the towel were too hot for him. Then he wiped his face in one quick, anxious motion of his hand, and stared at the towel with a confounded expression. But it was still just hanging there on the wall, impotent, quiet, not even shaking from the slight touch he had given it.

“Strange,” he said, blinking rapidly to clear water from his eyelashes.

He had seen an image of himself, with his dripping arms extended, seizing the towel; even the way it had felt against the tips of his fingers had been oddly familiar. He tried to recall if it was memory from the past, when he had showered in the same place and used the same towel. But no. The image could have been from the past, for all he cared; yet the feeling put it in the present, this very morning, this very moment. It shook him.

After nearly two minutes of fruitless reflection, he took the towel and dried himself.

From then on, it became a nightmare for him. His life was on a replay. It was as if that Wednesday, December 23rd, 2009, were happening for the second time with meticulous accuracy. The way he dressed, the clothes he chose, which leg got into the trouser first, which one into the shoes, what he said to his wife, his position at the breakfast table, his posture, the sight of the food, the arrangement, the taste, his daughter’s appearance, her fork, her plate, her Weetabix, the conversation they had, her voice, etc—everything was as though rigidly foreordained, and he’d been through each and every one of them this very day. It was eerie.

His daughter, silently studying him, asked, “Dad, what’s the matter with you?”

“Nothing,” he said, starting, meeting her brilliant eyes. He smiled at her. “I’m all right, Lin. Thank you for asking,” he added; but there was déjà vu in both the question and the response.

“For a moment there you looked weird,” Linda said, still studying him. “You looked disturbed.”

“I think I’m experiencing déjà vu,” he said.

“Is déjà vu a disease or something?” she asked.

“Or something,” he replied, and she laughed aloud. “Dad!” she exclaimed happily, her fork hovering about her mouth, her eyes luminous.

He got up, left the table. “I’ll just be outside,” he told her.

“You didn’t finish your breakfast,” she announced after him.

“It’s all yours,” he said.

“Over my full belly!” she exclaimed and laughed at her own joke.

He stood on the balcony. Standing there, too, seemed to have occurred beforehand. He saw his neighbour taking out garbage in a black plastic bag, felt that he had seen her do that before, although he hadn’t, for it was the owner of the house herself, not the maid, which was out of place because the maid always performed the task. If it was the maid, he would have concluded the sense of déjà vu associated with her was no more than a recurring image from an event actually witnessed before. It caused him to ponder over the causes of déjà vu. He remembered coming across a long time ago information to the effect that déjà vu could be a result of a screw-up in a person’s memory banks, when the long-term and short-term banks got their data interchanged. But that, he reasoned, explained a single instant of déjà vu. Not several hours of it, or the entire day. Wouldn’t he have to be utterly mad if his memory banks became so corrupted that the whole day appeared to be reoccurring, right up to the subtle nitty-gritty of it, like smells, sounds, gestures, greetings, and desultory thoughts? Was he becoming mad?

Or perhaps he was developing epilepsy. Did he have epilepsy? Déjà vu could also be a disorder of the central nervous system linked to epilepsy. It chilled him to contemplate the slightest possibility of that evil torment.

When he was in high school, there had been a boy with epilepsy in his class. Gony, his name; when he was attacked, he’d be convulsing and stiff at the same time, his mouth twisted and drivelling profusely, his eyes wide, unseeing, staring fixedly at something invisible on the roof, and strange, loud, revolting, gargling, strangling sounds would be coming from his throat.

Epilepsy, being a long-term disorder, could be the only explanation for the sort of déjà vu Kimani was experiencing.

He pictured himself in Gony’s place, prostrate, paralyzed, convulsing, seeing the Devil or maybe death itself on the roof, while his twisted mouth emitted oodles of vile spittle.

Epilepsy, he thought with sudden panic. “I have epilepsy!” he cried in a shrill terrified voice, and fled back into the house, tripping over the door rug and momentarily losing his balance in the process.

“Kim, what’s the matter?” asked his wife, who had joined Linda at the table and was polishing off Kimani’s left-over breakfast. She started to rise immediately.

“Dad?” shouted Linda with concern.

“I’m okay,” he lied, his voice shaking. “Just remembered something.”

He ran into the bedroom and locked the door behind him. Unconvinced, for they knew him, Grace and Linda were soon shouting outside, but he did not let them in. If he went to the hospital, he would be put through so many so expensive tests at the end of which he would be advised to return for more. The doctors in the current economic system did not compassionately care about their patients; money was their chief concern; and there were always stories that they were bribed by the pharmaceutical companies to prescribe drugs, so that they gave you drugs that would not treat you, would perhaps kill you, or just worsen your painful condition, but they did not give a damn.

So Kimani called Otis, his long-time buddy and business partner, with whom he had been in the University of Nairobi studying Physics and Mathematics. Otis knew things. His opinion would be reliable. Thirty-nine, same age as Kimani, yet a bachelor, he read for a hobby and he’d read one too many books. Kimani had advised him to enrol for a master’s at the campus but he’d said: “What’s the point, when I can make all my money by myself and still read every damn book I want, without some perverse, grumbling, underpaid lecturer telling me what to read, and what not, for an unnecessary piece of paper at the end?”

Suppressing his agitation, Kimani inquired, “Is déjà vu a symptom of epilepsy?”

“No.”

“Are you sure?”

“I’m sure.”

“But certainly I recollect seeing an article about the connection between some form of epilepsy and déjà vu,” asserted Kimani.

“No, that’s not true,” Otis said. “What you saw was most likely a conjecture. There is really no established cause for déjà vu, inasmuch as I can tell. Epilepsy is a broad term for neurological anomalies, Kim; now, if you view déjà vu in the same way, maybe as a disturbance in the memory circuit, audio, visual, or tactile, etc, then there you have your connection. But it’s all just an educated guess.”

“Okay,” Kimani said, and sighed loudly with relief.

“What’s wrong, Kim?” asked Otis, carefully, after hearing the relief in Kimani’s voice.

“I thought I had epilepsy.”

“What do you mean?”

“I’m experiencing déjà vu,” Kimani explained.

“How can an experience of déjà vu lead you to such preposterous conclusions, Kim?” Otis asked. “An epileptic person manifests recurrent convulsive seizures, not déjà vu!”

“You don’t understand,” Kimani said. “Everything is re-happening. The whole day is reoccurring, as if I’ve been through it before. Even this conversation, the things you say, what I say; even when I scratch myself, it’s like I’m repeating it.”

“That’s interesting,” Otis remarked.

“Indeed, because it feels as if you’ve said that before, and today,” Kimani answered.

“I can give you an explanation, but it’s just mine,” Otis said.

“Go ahead. I’m listening intently.”

“Do you remember that course on Quantum Mechanics?”

“Professor Akumu,” Kimani said. “That old neglectful bastard; he didn’t seem to have an atom of idea what he was talking about!”

“Quantum Mechanics hypothesizes that there exists more than just one world . . .”

“Parallel universes, alternate realities,” Kimani interrupted. “I remember that one.”

“In those other worlds, or realities, or universes, our past, our future, our present have happened, are happening now, or will happen sometime in the future. Our history may be the same one or entirely different. What you did, or could’ve done, or was done to you in the past, say, in the year 2000, has been done already, is being done right now, or will be done in, say, 2014, or 15 elsewhere. Time is simultaneous across the universes. The year 2009 here can be concurrent with 2015 or 2030 elsewhere. Sometimes there is a glitch between two worlds, like a temporary short circuit, and particles known as tachyons cross back and forth carrying with them energy from wherever reality and whichever time they come. If such is the case, and your data particularly is transmitted, then you experience the sensation of what has happened to the version of you on the other side. That’s déjà vu.”

“I’ll be damned,” Kimani said and chuckled. “You’re saying that today, Wednesday, Dec 23rd, 2009, has already happened to me elsewhere, and I am simply re-experiencing it here!”

“Something of that sort, yes,” Otis said.

“Ha! I like that one,” Kimani said pleasantly. “It sure is more comforting than thinking I’ve got epilepsy.”

“You are fine,” Otis reassured. “Déjà vu only means that you’re still alive and kicking out there somewhere in a separate, disparate world. Enjoy your Christmas, Kim, and pass my sincere love to Grace and Linda.”

“Will do,” Kimani said. “And thanks, man.”

“No problem.”

He felt much better afterwards, elated, cheerful, happy, although those feelings, too, were quite familiar. He did not care much any more. He spent time playing Scrabble with Linda, let her win three out of five games, much to her jubilant amusement and inspiration, before she left with her mother to go to shopping at Nakumatt Junction.

Alone, bored, unwilling to leave the house due to his déjà vu, despite not considering it a threat any more, Kimani went to the bedroom, lay down on the bed, and slept after half an hour or so.

II.            Someone in Linda’s Room

The bedside clock was reading eleven minutes after six when he awoke. For some time, he thought it was in the morning, until he recognized that the orange rays pouring in through the window were from a setting sun. The general texture and tone of the day had changed; there was less noise without and the evening had acquired a velvety feel. Kimani struggled to reconcile himself with the fact that he’d slept for over eight hours.

He went to the toilet to urinate. As he was finishing, it occurred to him, abruptly, that he was no longer experiencing déjà vu. He paused in the process of zipping his trouser to scrutinize this revelation. He recounted his movement from waking to the toilet. It seemed true. To be absolutely certain, he concluded the zip, lowered the seat, rinsed his hands, face, dried them, washed his mouth, stepped back, opened the door, and exited slowly, all his senses sharply alert to any abnormal sensations. But there was none; no interfering memory; no déjà vu.

Glad, encouraged, a harsh burden lifted from his heart, he hurried smilingly towards the kitchen where he knew his family was now getting ready for a six-thirty dinner. His feet were light; his gait graceful; his mood evincing great exhilaration. He attempted to whistle yet in vain. The endless episode of déjà vu had taken its cruel toll of him; he realized the extent of strain it had caused him. It had been poignant, though no more.

As he was passing outside Linda’s room, suddenly, out of nowhere, he felt that there was somebody else other than her in there, and he was brought to a jolting, trembling halt. His skin prickled; his hair rose; his heart gave a forceful jerk, and then accelerated steadily. It was a powerful feeling, brutal, poignant, like a confirmation of bad news, as if he was convinced beyond doubt of the presence of the stranger. A stranger—he knew it was a stranger, and a man. He knew. Impulsively, he stepped forward, grasped the lock, but let go of it. He had a split second of reflection to realize that if he went in with such a frame of mind, he would frighten her badly. He needed to relax. He should relax. He must relax. He noticed that his hands had curled themselves into hard-knotted fists. He uncurled them. He shut his eyes. A few seconds elapsed. He took deep breaths.

She was twelve; an only child, her mother had suffered the ugliest, most excruciating, wickedest possible case of obstetric complications, what the doctors had called placenta percreta, in which Grace’s placenta had become completely lodged into the uterine wall. She’d had to lose her uterus in the operation; which meant that there would be no more children for Kimani; which meant that Linda was special, more than special; indeed, she was extraordinary.

“Lin?” Kimani called and knocked once. His heart was still thumping, though the deep breaths had calmed him a little.

“Come in, Dad,” she said. Her voice was sweet, pure; innocent.

He went in. She was sitting on the bed surrounded with plenty of books, a pen in her hand, and a calculator beside her.

“Hi,” he greeted.

“Hi, Dad,” she said happily. “Are you really okay?”

“I’m fine.”

“Then why did you sleep for such a long time?”

“I don’t know. I meant to wake up when you and Mum returned.”

“But you didn’t,” she said, gesturing. “Today, you’ve been truly weird! Are you hiding something from us? Mum said you might be.”

“There is nothing to hide, Lin,” he said. “I had a curious case of déjà vu. I told you in the morning. But that’s all. I’m fine now. Are you alone in here?” he asked after a pause. His tone was conversational; yet he was subtly looking around.

“No,” she said.

His heart leaped. “I can’t see anybody else,” he remarked, hoping the excitement in his voice was unnoticeable.

She laughed. “Dad, you’re also here! Can’t you see yourself?”

“That’s funny!” he exclaimed, and they both laughed. His laughter was tense. “Do you talk to yourself, then?” he asked, thinking he should dispel any suspicions. He did not want her thinking later on that he had been convinced there was a man in her room. It would give her wrong ideas.

“How can I talk to myself?” she asked.

“I heard you,” he said.

“You’re just being weird again,” remarked she. “I was studying Maths. And you can’t do anything else when you’re studying Maths. You lose concentration.”

“You’re studying Maths on Christmas day?” he teased.

“Dad, it’s 23rd! Besides, Uncle Otis said there is no bad time for reading. Any time is fine.”

“Uncle Otis is a genius,” Kimani said.

“He also said that I should strive to discover things for myself and not always wait for the teacher to show me.”

“That’s an excellent advice.”

“And, guess what, I think today I discovered something that is not in our books!”

“What’s that?”

“It’s about number nine,” she said, looking up with radiant eyes. “Do you know that nine plus any other number can be reduced to that number?”

“I don’t know what you mean,” her father said.

“Like nine plus six can be reduced to six!”

“Nine plus six is fifteen.”

“Yes, but one plus five is six. Nine plus eight is seventeen; but one plus seven is eight. It works for every other number added to nine.”

“What about nine plus twenty?” Kimani challenged.

“It’s twenty-nine, which is like two plus nine equals eleven, and one plus one equals two.”

“Isn’t it supposed to be twenty?” Kimani asked.

“Twenty reduces to two plus zero, which is two! Same as twenty-nine!”

“Whoa! That’s amazing!” Kimani praised, genuinely delighted.

“You think it’s an important discovery, Dad?” she asked, seriously.

“It’s extraordinary,” he said. “Tell Uncle Otis all about it. He’ll be thrilled. It’ll be like a Christmas present to him. And he’ll tell you where the concept can be applied.”

“Can I tell him now?” asked she, her face lighting up with anticipation.

“Of course,” he agreed and gave her his cell phone. “Come for dinner when you are done,” he added, and left.

Feeling guilty, embarrassed, he questioned his motive for going into her room. How could he have been driven to think, let alone believe, that there was a man in with her? It was absurd. It was wrong. She was but a twelve-year old kid, innocent, genius, full of love, trust, freedom, honesty, virtue; an angel. Yet he had been powerless to resist the feeling about the stranger. He told Grace about it.

“Jesus, Kim, what’s wrong with you?” she admonished strongly. “You can’t do that to Linda. It’s awful. It’s immoral. Your imagination is farfetched. You’re paranoid. You’re overprotective.”

“I’m not,” he said weakly.

“Do you know what happens to overprotected girls?” she continued. “They grow up screwed up. You are not going to screw up our only daughter. All those strict religious rules and principles and bullshit my parents made for us! I will not allow you to put my only child through them.”

“But, Grace, she is a genius! She has just showed me a concept in Mathematics that I don’t remember meeting anywhere in Kenya’s curriculum. And she found it by herself. We have to protect her or some half-witted, opportunistic idiot will take advantage of her.”

“That’s quite irrational!” Grace exclaimed. “I am not discussing this any more!” added she in an astringent reproachful tone.

Kimani started to protest but then remembered how his hands had curled themselves into hard-knotted fists at Linda’s door. He stopped.

III.            The Dead Man (1)

In the morning, there was a dead man in the living room.

Grace shook Kimani awake. She was terrified and in panic.

“What did you do?” she demanded.

“What?” he asked. Everything was misty. He rubbed his eyes.

“What did you do?” she shrieked, shaking him harder.

“I don’t know what—”

“There is a dead man in the house!” she cried. “There is a dead man in our house!”

He shot out of bed like a bullet. The sheets and the blanket flew after him, caught his legs, and he floundered, staggered, fell, got up and ran out in his underwear. His head was ringing, his heart rapidly gaining momentum.

“Oh, Kim,” Grace cried, following him.

The corpse was sprawled on its belly about three feet right of the main door, with its right hand clutching the edge of the sofa nearest to it and the corresponding leg folded and drawn up as if the owner had tried to get up in his last moments. The left hand had pinched a fistful of the carpet, apparently in distressing desperation, and there was a depression smeared with clotted blood and peeled skin on the wall where, evidently, the man had banged his head, which had continued to bleed on the carpet. His head lay on its cheek; the forehead was split, the nose crushed, lips and teeth shattered. The man had been no more than twenty years old.

“Who is this?” Grace asked.

Kimani, tongue-tied, thunderstruck, confounded, shocked, did not respond, could not respond.

“Who is this man?” Grace pressed agitatedly. “Who is he, Kim?”

“I don’t know this man,” Kimani said slowly, eventually. He had to be dreaming. He definitely had to be dreaming. His mind was whirling.

“Did you do this to him?” Grace asked. She was hysterical. “Did you kill him?”

“I don’t know this man,” Kimani repeated. It was all he could say.

“Oh, my God, Kim! Who is this? What happened? Who is he? What do we do?”

“I don’t know,” Kimani said. “I have never seen this man in my life.”

He was thinking about the déjà vu. He was thinking about the long sleep he’d had and how he had felt that there was a man in Linda’s room. What had happened? Had there, indeed, been a man? If so, who had killed him? What had his déjà vu to do with it?

“Grace, do you know him?” he asked, looking at his wife’s horrified countenance.

“No!” she said, shaking her head and spontaneously stepping back from the corpse. “I have never seen him before,” she added vigorously.

“Was the door open when you found him?”

“The door is still locked, Kim. Can’t you see?”

“Then how did this man get in here?”

“You’re asking me!” she exclaimed. “You tell me!”

“Can you go ask Linda?” he suggested; but Grace stiffened at once, as if paralyzed, wounded, gave him first a perplexed, questioning stare, then, remembering something, most likely their discussion the previous night, turned defiant, accusing.

“Don’t!” she warned, moving backwards, stern, her eyes hard as pebbles. “Don’t, Kim! Don’t! She’s out of this. Keep her off it.”

She went to Linda’s room and directed her not to come out.

“We have to go to the police,” she announced, coming back. “I’m going,” she declared. “Don’t touch it. Don’t touch anything, Kim,” she added.

He nodded, too confused and overwhelmed to comment.

She took in deep breaths, settled a bit, faced him, and said, “Kim, Linda is too young to have a man in her room. You know that yourself. You are a reasonable person. And she just can’t. Even if she could, she wouldn’t. She is a good child. I don’t know what’s going on here. But I do know that you didn’t kill this young man. You can’t kill anybody, Kim. I know you. You didn’t wake up at all till now. And there is no way he could have got in here. He doesn’t seem like a burglar to me. Moreover, to reach this house he’d have to pass through the rigorous security at the gate or climb the stone wall and fly over the electric fence at the top. And then, still, one of us had to let him inside. Whatever this is, it’s very strange. But we’ll solve it. We’ll be all right.”

But there was repressed hysteria in her voice and her chest was heaving too rapidly. She was fighting to take charge, though scared witless. She left for the police.

Kimani looked at his hands. The back of his right hand was bloody, the knuckles were swollen, and his arm was aching at the shoulder. He had punched something, someone.

IV.            In Custody

A terrifying chill coursed through him. He felt insane, disoriented; sick. Once again, he thought it was all but a dream. He hoped it was all but a dream. He had no memory at all of the killing. Had he sleepwalked? He had never sleepwalked in his life. He never sleepwalked. Had he suffered memory loss? If so, then when, why, how? What had the déjà vu to do with the dead man? Why had he felt that there was somebody in Linda’s room, when there had, in fact, been none? There had been none.

Four policemen, armed, found him slouched wearily on a sofa, weeping, his darkened, distorted face in his hands, his elbows on his knees. He was still in his underwear.

“Kim?” Grace called at him, distraught, scared.

He looked up hopelessly, depressingly, and showed her the back of his right hand. She started to cry.

For the cops, the case was pretty much self-conclusive. There was a corpse in Kimani’s house whose owner had clearly been beaten to death and there was blood on Kimani’s hands. All they needed next was a confession in order to determine his motive. When they were finished with their petty investigations around the scene, they allowed him time to dress, and then took him with them to Kilimani Police Station.

The body was taken to the city mortuary where it vanished soon afterwards, without a trace.

There was no court session till Monday, Dec 28th. Kimani spent his Christmas and the following two days wasting away in a cold, squalid, lightless, vile prison cell, alongside lowlife criminals, some of whom must have been rapists and homicides, the lot amongst whom he had never thought he’d ever spend a single second of his dear life. Grace and Linda came to see him but all they did was cry, and cry some more, inconsolably. They felt like victims of a scheme impossible to comprehend. They felt wretched, hopeless; doomed.

On Monday, before a Kibera Court magistrate, after the mentioning of his case and his pleading not guilty, his lawyer requested bail but was denied. The prosecutor argued that since, according to police reports, the body of the victim had mysteriously vanished from the mortuary, and was suspected to have been stolen, allowing Kimani bail would be most inappropriate, for it was suspected that he had colluded with those who had stolen the corpse, and he’d, thenceforwards, interfere with investigations respecting its whereabouts. His lawyer started to object but instead began to stutter badly, shocking everybody, for he was not a stutterer. The magistrate, herself seeming distracted and somewhat lethargic, bored, announced that bail was denied and set pre-trial hearing for March 22nd of the following year, 2010.

Kimani saw his family in court, but it was a sight too melancholy and heart-wrenching to behold. He felt for Linda, especially Linda, wondering how she was coping with all of this, what she now thought of him, what she thought would happen to her, if she had grasped the magnitude of the events that were unfolding, like her not having a father to look up to, among other horrendous consequences. She was a clever pupil, talented, inspired, industrious, and she needed proper nurturing. In view of Kenya’s ineffectual academic system, Kimani had planned to send her out of the country as soon as she was done with high school. In Europe or America, she would be favourably cultivated and improved. Her outstanding talent would be nourished by greater talents. But he was now in prison, charged with murder. Found guilty, he would serve a sentence of at least fifteen years, by which time his daughter would be twenty-seven, maybe even married. And he could easily be found guilty. The system was sloppy, incompetent, dangerous, steered by thundering, overwhelming morons on the wheels of venality, prejudice, and perversity; sick, sickening men from the fiendish belly of hell itself; they were already speaking of murder yet nothing about the victim had so far been established, not even his name.

Overcome with the enormity of his imponderable fate, Kimani wept in his cell like a demented child.

Otis, who had gone to his rural home for the holiday, returned to Nairobi urgently when Grace told him what had befallen his friend. He came to see Kimani. He brought with him chips, chicken, and soda, which Kimani regarded with revulsive loathing and everlasting distaste, having lost his appetite a thousand years before.

“That’s quite complex, man,” remarked Otis, in his own puzzlement, after Kimani had narrated to him the events subsequent to the episode of déjà vu.

“You are the genius, figure it out,” Kimani said. “All that Quantum Mechanics stuff, what does it say about waking up to find a dead stranger in your very house and going to jail for it, huh?”

“I don’t know,” Otis said. “The concept of the multiverse, or multiple universes, is hypothetical. It can be used to explain some phenomena, like déjà vu, but . . . this, Kim, I don’t know what this is. Even if I knew, who’d understand it? Will the judge release you? I doubt it. This country is run by people who don’t even know why they shit, let alone why they wipe their asses backwards!”

“You have to try,” Kimani said. “It will at least give me a little peace of mind to know why I’m here, what kind of quantum mechanical devils I pissed off. And, man, I’d like to know why they say the corpse vanished. How could the corpse just vanish into thin air? If stolen, as they say, who did it? It’s so convenient! Everything fits so well but in a diabolical scheme intended to demolish me!”

“Don’t break down. It will be over. And soon,” Otis consoled.

“One last thing, watch out for Linda,” Kimani said. “She shouldn’t feel exceedingly traumatized by all this and despair. She might mess around with some unintelligent, opportunistic pests.”

Otis left a few minutes afterwards, promising to do everything he could to get Kimani out of his unfathomable quagmire.

V.            Investigations and Eventual Discharge

Police did their investigations. They grilled Kimani endlessly, and with as much mercy as crocodiles have for their victims. They wanted him to confess. They wanted him to reveal the name of the young man, his association with him, and where his body had disappeared to. They believed Kimani was the key to all the answers they sought. Their methods of interrogation included, but were not limited to, deadly flogging, coercion, intimidation, dragooning, and hair-raising threats. Yet at the end, they had nothing, nil. Kimani stuck to his truth. He had nothing else to tell.

Next, they turned their unflinching attention to Grace. She told them the truth as she knew it. Kimani had been strange the day previous to the appearance of the dead man. How strange, they wanted to know. Disturbed about something, even looking sick, she answered. What thing? She didn’t know. He’d said it was some chronic form of déjà vu but she did not understand. In the evening, he’d felt there was somebody in Linda’s room but there had been nobody. What kind of ‘somebody’? A man, she said. Like a boyfriend? She didn’t know. He’d started to explain but she’d cut him off with a rebuke because she’d not liked what he’d been implying. Did he get such feelings often? No. He had an overprotective instinct—he loved Linda too much—but nothing like that had ever happened. Did she think that if there had been a man in Linda’s room, Kimani would have killed him? No, she said. “Linda is twelve. There was no man in her room. And Kimani cannot kill anybody.” Did he have any enemies? No. None that she knew of. But even if he had an enemy, she wondered, why would it be a child of twenty? Did he tell her everything? Yes. Mostly. Eventually. Yes, mostly, or eventually? Yes! Did she know the young man who’d been killed? No. She’d never seen him before. Ever? Ever. Was Kimani a violent man? He was docile, meek, amenable; he was generous, loving, a good husband, a perfect father. He had his moments of flaring rage, just like everybody else, but he hurt no one. As a matter of fact, she was the more belligerent one between them, controlling, inflexible. Was Kimani capable of killing? No. Not even a cockroach if he could help it. “What if he couldn’t help it?” one cop whispered coldly, grinning like a reptile, his eyes shining like polished steel. He could always help it, she replied.

They questioned Linda, too, until she broke down and cried for her mother.

“Dad, there was nobody in my room,” she told her father tearfully when she came to visit him. “Why did you think there was a man in my room?”

Kimani, ashamed, dejected, pained beyond rescue, apologized to her; but damage had been done. A sprinkle of distrust had been sown in her heart and he feared it would germinate and proliferate. He felt like taking his own life.

Otis, when questioned, tried to explain the many-worlds interpretation of Quantum Mechanics to the cops, who were no more than high school leavers and did not even understand how the heart functioned. “We ni professor kutoka university gani?” they demanded in pathetic Kiswahili. From which university are you a professor? Before he could answer, they decided he despised them and pounced on him with their fists and boots. Then they informed him, matter-of-factly and with genuine spite, that they could certainly find a way, if they so wished, to make him Kimani’s accomplice and lock him up forever. After all, he was his business partner.

However, by March 22nd, the cops still had nothing. No whereabouts of the deceased, no name, no relatives, no motive for his killing: in fact, the young man might not have existed at all in the first place. But there had been a murder, and justice had to be done. The magistrate had no qualms whatsoever setting the second hearing date for October 26, 2010, in order to allow ample time for investigation. Again she seemed distracted and apathetic, almost as if Kimani’s case was an imponderable burden she would rather die than contemplate.

Kimani’s lawyer understood the case no more than did the police, or anybody else, for that matter. He believed Kimani was telling the truth but thought that it was truth that felt like a lie. He started to stutter again before the magistrate, acquiesced quickly with her decision, and glibly informed Kimani that it was the best thing to do.

Hearing did not take place on the third date. More inquiries still needed to be done. It was as if something wanted Kimani in the custody of the police, something unknown, dark, diabolic, a monstrosity, contriving evil behind the curtains and manipulating all that was involved, blinding, stupefying, and rendering them intellectually debilitated and sluggish, thoughtless and mystified beyond words. It turned the magistrate against him, causing her to exhibit distraction, apathy, and stupid boredom whenever his case was presented before her. It made his lawyer to stutter and appear bewildered in court. Kimani was desolated.

The next date was promptly, hastily—as if musing on it for more than a few minutes was murderously burdensome and hurtful—shifted to July 18th, 2011; later to February 24th, 2012; further to August 29th of the same year; then to May 20th, 2013; eventually to December 23rd.

Four years! Four full years! On remand! Cursed, cursed the system! How wicked! How unjust, criminal, evil; the magistrate was stupid, cold-blooded, inhuman; the police, and rest of the authorities involved, were devils, demons, and ghouls. It was one of those instances when you became so furious, so frustrated and embittered that you wished to sell the entire soul of your country to the Devil for a single, damn shilling! Kimani felt broken inside. He no longer cared for what was taking place. Half of the time he was too dazed and detached from his surrounding to mind anything. Harassment from the implacable cops, vulgar, sadistic inmates, sordid existence, the constant postponement of his case, the fact that he knew almost nothing of what had got him into jail, that there could have been an all-powerful evil mastermind behind all this that none of them could handle, that his family was alone without him, that his daughter was growing up without him, that now she scarcely visited him, and when she did, she scarcely spoke, was reserved and aloof—these things haunted him and wiped out his dreams and hopes, and left him in a permanently exhausted, abject state of mind, too far-flung from the real world.

Otis and Grace, still hopeful, though fatigued, fired the first lawyer and hired a new one. A thirty-five-year old cocky, bold, intelligent Kenyan, with just more than a dash of arrogance, named George Olum. He had a meeting with the prosecutor and the magistrate in which he argued that Kimani had been unlawfully, and inhumanly, held in custody for four years for a crime that was never committed in the first place. No law had been infringed. No one had been killed. Period! No body, no victim, no name, no relatives seeking justice, no reports of missing person, nothing! If in truth Kimani had committed assault on a young man, then the victim had merely been unconscious when police found him. He had presently regained consciousness and walked away, failing to report the offence.

George argued that Kimani had never had a criminal record prior to his arrest, had been an upright, law-abiding, upwardly-mobile citizen and taxpayer, with a prosperous business of his own, and a family that he loved too much; yet all of which now faced disintegration and utter collapse due to the false, unverifiable charge brought against him and the painful, nightmarish years of his unsympathetic incarceration. As a matter of fact, he deserved to be compensated by the State, and George himself would see to it.

That day, for some intriguing, mysterious reason, the magistrate was alert, smart, and helpful. Shock registered subtly on her quinquagenarian face when George presented the details of Kimani’s suffering. It was as if she were hearing his case for the first time. Consequently, the charge against Kimani was dropped forthwith. And he became a free man.

It was December 23rd, 2013. Something, the thing, the monster, whatever, required him back at the house. Linda was sixteen years old.

VI.            The Dead Man (2)

They drove from the court premises three minutes to one. Otis was driving. Kimani and Grace sat at the back.

“Why didn’t you come with Linda today when I am released?” Kimani asked. It had been quietly nagging at him.

“She didn’t know you’d be released. We didn’t know either,” Grace said. “I wonder we never thought to hire George Olum before,” she added wistfully.

“She doesn’t hate me?”

“She wouldn’t hate you, darling,” Grace replied. “Your absence took its toll of her. She loves you. Whatever happened, it was four years ago. She’s all grown up now.”

“She’s a teenager, Kim,” interjected Otis. “Unpredictable, delicate, troublesome. Going to Form Three, though, and top of her class as ever, only better. You know, in Form One she used to tell me that half the Mathematics syllabus was a repeat of Standard Eight. It disheartened her. ‘I’m not learning anything new in Maths, Uncle Otis. It doesn’t feel like high school,’ she said. So I told her to quickly finish the Form One book by herself and start on Form Two. Guess what now? She’s going to Form Three but she’s finished Form Four book!”

“That’s extraordinary,” Kimani remarked, pleased. “You’re quite the uncle!” he told Otis.

“She’s a singular student,” Otis said. “Now that you’re out, you have to work your ass extremely sore to get that genius out of this failed country. We’ll be at it together. If she goes to any of the universities around, it’ll be the ultimate demise of her genius.”

“I love that child,” Kimani ejaculated spontaneously, out of his heart. He felt a deep, profound, irrevocable love for his daughter. It wrung his heart, like anguish.

“We all do,” Grace said and took his hand into hers. She squeezed it.

“We all do,” Otis seconded enthusiastically. “She discovered digital mean by herself in Standard Six! That day before you were arrested, Kim,” he continued. “That’s what she called me about, and I was thrilled. The first time I came across that concept I was in the University of Nairobi and about to graduate!”

“You know, Otis, you never really got to tell me how my quantum mechanical déjà vu resulted in my spending four years in jail,” Kimani said.

“That one,” Otis said uncertainly. “I have but a hypothesis.”

“Well . . . tell it. I’m all ears, and all yours.”

“You remember I said that your déjà vu was the result of a glitch or a temporary short circuit between two parallel universes, one of which is this ours, and tachyons carrying your data were transmitted across to you?”

“I remember something of that sort,” Kimani agreed.

“Now, that boy didn’t die in your house here in Nairobi. He didn’t die in this universe, but the next one; and the glitch caused him to be transported here.”

“Stop right there, man! What are you saying?” Kimani asked, raising his tone. “You’re saying that I killed him in the other universe. Isn’t that what you’re saying? That he was transported here as part of my data?”

“That’s what I’m saying, Kim,” Otis said. “You killed him elsewhere.”

“I’ve never killed anybody,” Kimani lamented. “I can’t kill anybody.”

“The universes are not duplicates of personalities,” Otis explained. “You’re a different person in each and every one of them. In some of them you might even already be dead; and I may be a married man with a hundred children!”

“Oh, man,” Kimani moaned. He clutched his forehead. Grace squeezed his hand again. “In other words, that boy is probably still alive here in Kenya, enjoying his life, happy, while I was rotting in prison, and he doesn’t even know that he is already dead, killed by me, in another reality?”

“That’s it,” agreed Otis. “It’s heavy, man. Quite heavy. Oppressive. I explained it to the cops and they beat the shit out of me, for presuming upon their stupidity.”

“Damn! I would like to meet that unfortunate young man. If only to see him,” Kimani said.

“Me, too,” Grace said.

Two careless P.S.V. drivers caused Otis to slow down considerably on Kibera Drive near the intersection with Joseph Kang’ethe Road. Several others stopped him totally at the intersection of Mugo Kibiru and Ngong Roads. It took so long that Grace left the car after announcing she could use the time to do an impulsive welcome shopping for her husband. When the roads cleared, Otis drove to Nakumatt Prestige, parked, waited for her.

Eventually, they arrived at Kimani’s Kilimani house at three-oh-two in the afternoon.

It felt good to be home. The relief was profound and unequalled. The air smelled fresh, refreshing, lovely, and the house itself was expansive, cool, wholesome, and welcome, as opposed to the oppressive, muggy, sweaty, stinking, plebeian atmosphere of the jail cell.

Kimani took off his shirt and tossed it in the garbage container.

“So much for prison sweat and stink,” he announced. “Where is Linda?” he asked.

“In her room, of course,” Grace said. “She spends all the time in there with her books.”

“Lin?” Kimani called. “Lin? Lin?”

“Linda, Dad’s home!” her mother announced.

“Maybe she’s asleep,” Otis observed.

Kimani went to Linda’s door. He knocked twice successively. “Lin?” he said. “Lin, it is Dad! I’m back!”

He started to open the door but was violently interrupted. The door flung open at once and a man emerged from the room. He bumped Kimani violently, flew past him, and bolted towards the main door. Otis deftly stepped on his way and caught him by the shoulder. A dark, instinctive rage blinded Kimani and he charged.

Kim!” Grace shouted in alarm but it was too late.

Kimani grabbed the nape of the man’s neck, spun him around, and punched him three times on the face, crushing his nose, and breaking his lips and teeth. Grace grabbed her husband while screaming something, but Kimani hurled the man on the wall, where he crashed his forehead and became still for a moment. The house shook. The man fell. He started to scramble up, gripped the edge of the sofa with his right hand, brought up his right leg, his left hand resolutely clenching the carpet, and collapsed, dead. There was a ghastly wound on his forehead. Blood spurted forth.

“Kim!” Grace cried in horror, looking down at the corpse.

Otis was speechless, astounded. It had happened too fast. Less than five seconds.

Kimani stared at the dead man without any comprehension at all. Then, very slowly, it began to dawn on him that he’d killed a man. And even more slowly, as his composure returned, he took in the dead man’s details.

Such mystifying horror filled his heart that he teetered as though he were standing at the very thin edge of a very tall skyscraper. He supported his legs against a sofa.

“What is this?” he demanded when he could speak. “Grace? Otis? What is this?”

“Linda’s boyfriend,” Grace answered.

“Boyfriend?” questioned Kimani, scowling with disbelief.

“He came around sometimes,” Grace said. “I thought he was a good boy.”

“But, Grace, don’t you see? It is him.”

“Who is it?” Otis asked curiously when Grace’s eyes started enlarging, her mouth agape, and her face cadaverously pale. She was transfixed.

“This is the man I went to jail for killing,” Kimani said. “In exactly the same way, even how he’s lying down there on the carpet. I remember his grey jumper and trendy jeans and those black Nikes. Everything. Every detail. What is this? What the hell is this?”

“And Grace didn’t recognize him?” Otis asked.

“He did look familiar the first time I saw him,” Grace said. “But he said he graduated from Riara in 2011, Form Four, while Linda was there in Class Eight. I decided I might have seen him on a parent’s day, perhaps. How could I know he was supposed to be dead in 2009?”

“What about Linda? Didn’t she recognize him?”

“Linda never saw him dead.”

Silence spread across the room. It was morbid. It was torturous. It was macabre.

“Otis, is this another of your glitches?” Kimani inquired. He had slumped dejectedly on a sofa. “Is he going to disappear again? Am I going back to jail?”

“You can’t be in jail twice for the killing of the same person,” Otis said. “It cannot just happen. Once suffices. And what I think took place four years ago is that December 23rd 2009 and December 23rd 2013, today, occurred simultaneously across the two universes. You just had the worst of it. It seems the boy’s fate and yours were entwined. I can say you were foreordained to kill him, or he was foreordained to be killed by you.”

“Who plans these things?” Kimani wept in anguish, his face in his hands. “How can they be so perfect? Are they random? How can random be so conscious? Of what use am I if I have no control over anything, if all I ever have is an illusion of control?”

At that time, Linda came out of her room, saw her dead boyfriend, and started to wail.

VII.            Thereafter

Kimani was promptly arrested. The detectives grilled him again; though it was, in truth, more of molestation than interrogation. Their cruelty was unchanged, their malevolence devoted and keen. They theorized that since he had been unlawfully incarcerated, when released, he’d, afterwards, sought vengeance and murdered, for good this time, Janis Orechi, the twenty-year old student of Daystar University, whose false death had cost Kimani four full years of his life. This theory made revenge Kimani’s principal motive. However, they blatantly disregarded the fact that Kimani had found Janis in his house, “and not just found him,” George Olum clarified, “but found him purely by accidental coincidence.” When apprised of this error, the cops first scoffed at that phrase accidental coincidence, and then went on to reason that Kimani must have had an accomplice who had known the whereabouts of Janis Orechi and had sought him out and brought him opportunely into Kimani’s residence on that fateful day. They suspected the accomplice to be either Otis or Grace, with Linda not to be entirely discounted.

Enraged by this flagrant lack of imagination, George asked them one last question: “If Kimani’s friends knew all along the whereabouts of Janis Orechi, why did they abandon him to decay in a putrid prison cell for four full years, especially in light of how they all were traumatised by his imprisonment?”

The detectives started talking about the fact that Janis Orechi had dated Linda. They dug backwards to find out if he had met Linda four years previously.

“These guys are so dumb their brains must comprise dust and soot!” Otis remarked.

Janis’s parents wanted justice for him. But they did not (and could not) appreciate that Kimani had already spent four full years in police custody for killing their son. It made no sense at all. Four years ago, they said, Janis had been sixteen years old and in Form Two at Riara. He had known neither Linda nor her father. However, on the night of December 23rd 2009, he had dreamt that he was dead and had woken up yelling like an eccentric man. He had woken up around 7.15am, which was about the time the corpse had inexplicably vanished from the mortuary. In the dream, he had been killed because of a girl he was dating. He had had no girlfriend then.

Otis, when testifying in court, presumed on the rare occasion to explain his Quantum Mechanics theories and hypotheses in public. Nobody really got a thing.

The truth was that everybody was tremendously befuddled by the case. Even George Olum, the bright, cocky, bold, arrogant lawyer, did not really know what was going on.

However, arguing that Kimani had already been in custody for four years for the same crime and that it was unthinkable and impossible to kill the same person twice exactly four years apart, he managed to have the case dismissed.