THE FUGITIVE

The hunt was on.

“Subject 18 sighted. Approach?”

“Affirmative. We’ll stay out of sight but in range.”

“Contact ETA, one minute.”

“Stay sharp, team. He’s a slippery one.”

“Affirmative. Red Alert One.”

“Prepare to move in.”

“Project Shoel is a go. I repeat, Project Shoel is a go. Move in…”


The man emerged from the dark shadows, looking over his shoulder several times. His breath was fast, his eyes were shifty, and he looked ready to bolt at a moment’s notice. His thigh-length hoodie was dirt-stained, and what had once been a bright ankara textile was now faded and covered in dark stamps left by perspiration. The man smelled of sweat and something more acrid – desperation.

But even as desperate as he was, he did not dare escape this meeting at the place where three roads met. Only those who had nowhere else to go took this option – and that was exactly the point he was at.

The night was oddly quiet, all the usual sounds of nocturnal animals missing, as though they knew the place was unholy ground. The man reached the meeting spot and then continually shifted from one foot to another, eyes darting wildly. Despite his watchfulness, he did not see the dark figure when it emerged, and he jumped when it addressed him.

“Mr M, I assume?” The voice of the dark figure was mellow, dulcet tones that throbbed with a strange power.

The man moved forward bravely, squinting to see better in the night. But the dark figure remained in the shadows, a vague outline with broad shoulders and long legs.

“Y..yes,” the one addressed as Mr. M replied. “That’s me. Are you…?”

“Yes,” the dark figure interrupted, then chuckled. “It is I.”

“I came here because…”

There was a note of impatience in the dark figure’s voice. “I know why you’re here. Those who come here always want the same thing. A deal.”

The man looked around, and licked his lips. “Yes, I want… I need to make a deal. I’m in trouble.”

“Oh, I know your story, Mr. M. It’s nationwide news and your pictures are all over the internet. You’re on the run from the police. What was it? Fraud? Robbery? Kidnapping? Murder? Or all four?”

“Does it matter?” the man hissed.

“No, it really doesn’t,” came the response, tinged with amusement. “I can give you what you want. Money, help you flee the country, or hide in plain sight. I don’t care what you did, as long as you can afford the price for safety. You know what that is, yes?”

“Yes,” Mr M breathed. “My soul.”

“Yessss. Your immortal soul.”

The man held his breath as the figure emerged from the darkness and grinned down at him. The figure was unusually tall – over 7 feet, or maybe 8, because it was slightly hunched over. Still, he was surprised at everything else – the perfectly tailored blazer, the handsome face, the dark skin and bright eyes.

“What? Did you expect me to have horns?”

The man gulped audibly but nodded. “Well, yes. You’re …Satan.”

“Please. Lucifer will do,” the tall figure said with a wince. “And don’t believe all the old tales. Each generation hands down a different version of my story. Believe them at your own risk.”

Something unseen rustled in the surrounding darkness and the man shifted impatiently. “Can we get on with this?”

Lucifer grinned and stretched out a hand. “All it takes is one handshake, and the deal is done. But I see you’re in a hurry to lose your soul.”

The man’s reply was grim. “If I’m caught, I’ll die in dirty SARS cell. Who soul epp?” He moved forward, took a deep breath and clasped the offered hand.

Lucifer’s grin took on a new aspect, his teeth lengthening into points that gleamed in the moonlight. His fingernails lengthened into dark claws as his hand tightened around the man’s enclosed palm. “Then our deal is all but done. Make your wish carefully, and then give up your soul.”

They stared at each other, one gaze infernal, the other grim. And then things took an unexpected turn.

Something rustled in the darkness around them again, and Lucifer cocked his head to one side, sighting scurrying figures moving along the periphery of the dark roads. Had the man been followed to their rendezvous? “I suggest you make that wish quickly,” he quipped, “because it looks like the noose is tightening around your neck.”

But the man was unmoving, still staring, perhaps hesitant. Lucifer’s grin dimmed a little and a frisson of irritation went through him. “Fine. Don’t make a wish then,” he said curtly, pulling his hand away.

Except, he could not.

The man’s grip was strong … too strong. And when Lucifer pushed on their clasped palms with his other hand, the man calmly trapped that with his free hand as well.

“Subject 18 apprehended,” the man called Mr. M called out calmly. “Move in.”

Now aware he had been entrapped like a fly stuck to sticky paper, Lucifer struggled and bucked, his form churning into several hideous forms, with no effect. He could not escape, and he raged helplessly as the lurking figures moved into the moonlight and surrounded them. The area grew brighter as the watching figures slid off their mortal aspects and spread out their wings of light in a protective phalanx that surrounded the duo.

Still holding on to Lucifer, the fake fugitive known as Mr. M shed his false face also.

“You!” Lucifer raged. “Michael!”

“Yes, me, dear brother,” the angel, famed Battle-General of the Heavenly Corps, responded. “Too long have you roamed here after your great escape from Shoel. Time to go back.”

There was an infernal shriek of rage as Lucifer bucked with all his might, but his effort was ineffectual against the combined restrictive strength of his brothers. With a low roar, the otherworldly group disappeared in a flash of light with their captured fugitive.

In the ensuing calm, the night slowly filled with the sounds of night creatures – toads, crickets and a solitary owl – the only witnesses to the final success of Operation Shoel.

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STALKER

Benson was being followed.

He kept looking back as he stumbled on through the trees, the heavy backpack making him huff. He adjusted the straps and dug his phone out of his pocket. It was sometime past midnight, and the area was quiet. There wasn’t much chance that he’d run into anyone.

He liked it just like that, which was why he was there.

The Cross River National Park was a conglomeration of three former forest reserves, a sprawling forested area with teeming wildlife and lots of thick foliage to hide those who trespassed. The usual trespassers were illegal loggers or poachers who snuck in to catch some bushmeat and perhaps chop off an ivory tusk or two from the elephants that called the reserve home. The ranger patrols were used to such incursions, and the officials often camped in the areas where the endangered Cross River gorilla lived, discouraging the usual poachers.

Benson was a whole other type of predator.

At the moment though, he felt more like prey than predator.

“Fvck!” he cursed, fiddling with his phone as he listened to the night for a full minute. The area he was in was quiet… too quiet. Few of the usual nocturnal sounds broke the silence. Against his better judgement, he switched on his phone’s torchlight and swung it around in a slow circle, hoping to see something. It was a risky move, as the glow could betray his presence to any nearby forest rangers. But he’d been flicking his torch on and off for progressively longer periods since he’d started his trek about twenty minutes earlier.

Somehow, he suspected the light was all that was keeping his stalker at bay.

“What the heck is it?” he whispered hoarsely to himself, his light moving, moving.

He knew the forest – as a surveyor, he’d mapped sections of it a few times and as something else, he’d used it for his purposes thrice. The biggest thing he’d ever seen was a gorilla or two but today, something was different. The silence was unnerving, as though the forest held its breath as he passed by. He sensed that his stalker was responsible for the silence, which was worrying. If he was being followed by a gorilla, it’d be noisier, less restrained in its approach.

A few minutes later, his light caught something when he stopped again. The sighting was brief… but Benson could swear his light reflected off two gleaming eyes before they disappeared. The small hairs on the back of his neck stirred and he wiped his sweaty brow, fist instinctively tightening around the handle of the shovel in his other hand. There was something catlike in the way those eyes were slanted.

Impossible, he thought. There were no big cats in the forest. They’d have decimated the local wildlife.

“Maybe I’m overthinking things,” he murmured, resuming his trek. Maybe he was just being spooked by a curious grasscutter. He winced as the backpack pulled at his back and made something twinge in his shoulder. Although a slight drizzle had begun, his forehead streamed with sweat and his back felt clammy. For sure, he’d already spent too long in the forest. “Just have to find a good spot and then get out.”

He’d parked his jeep by the expressway, as he’d done three other times. But on this occasion, he’d gone in a bit further than planned. The first time he’d picked a spot to do his business was when he began to feel watched. To avoid discovery, he moved on, further in. He mustn’t be seen.

He finally stopped and slid the backpack off. Followed or not, he dared go no further. Already, he’d wandered farther inwards than he’d planned. It’d been a while since he last saw a well-trodden path, and it was possible that he was in an area that few people had ever reached.

“Perfect,” he murmured.

He set to work with his shovel, digging past the spreading grass and into the dark soil. A few minutes later, the hole was deep enough. He raised the backpack high and opened it over the hole.

He sighed, both in relief and regret as the bloody body parts that he’d been carrying all night tumbled into the grave. He switched on his phone’s torch again and peered down wistfully at the dismembered legs and arms that had belonged to a svelte young woman who he’d given a lift two days earlier. She’d been petite, with a soft throat that crushed quite easily under his squeezing palm. His third kill since he’d moved to Cross-River for a survey project, and the sweetest so far.

The backpack was dripping, but not just with rainwater – he realized the blood had soaked through. Cursing, he swiped at his back. No wonder it felt clammy as he walked earlier – that wasn’t sweat; it was the blood of his victim soaking his expensive black Burberry shirt. If he wasn’t wary of being chewed alive by mosquitoes, he’d have bundled it into the shallow grave as well.

Besides… “Black hides all,” he chuckled. One good machine wash later, and no one would know his shirt was marked by innocent blood. It would be a good souvenir of his fun night with her.

His nose wrinkled as the acrid smell wafted form the backpack to his nose and he looked around warily. Maybe that distinctive smell was the reason for his stalker’s perseverance. Quickly, he tossed the backpack into the hole as well, and shovelled sand over it. Hopefully, his stalker would lose that scent now.

Purpose achieved, he moved away, shovel in one hand and lit phone in the other as he began to make his way back to the expressway. His phone buzzed a few times but he ignored it. He had a long way to go and the ground was more slippery because of the drizzle, so he had to use the light more often. He stumbled twice and was cursing under his breath when he heard the rustle, and then the growl.

Benson whirled around, phone held aloft, its strong torchlight trained on the area behind him – and then, for the first time, he saw it before it shied away from the light again.

“Jesus Christ! Jesus Christ!” he repeated over and over, frozen in place. “What the hell!”

It was definitely a big cat specie, its coat gleaming darkly, wet with rain. About the slanted eyes, he’d been right; they gleamed yellow in the dark before they disappeared.

Benson floundered on, his breath coming fast. He could still hear his stalker following, and he turned to shine his light every few seconds, keeping it away. Why was it following? He’d left the bloody body behind…

The back of his shirt, he recalled. It was soaked with blood. There was no use pulling it off now; without a doubt, the rain has spread the crimson stains to his trousers. And that scent was like a whistle to his stalker. All he could hope to do was outpace the cat.

Without the heavy backpack, he was moving faster but by his estimation, he still had at least a fifteen-minute fast trek to exit the suddenly dangerous forest.

“A cat, a cat. Is it a jaguar? Lion? Leopard? What?” he muttered as he walked-ran. Imagine that, he thought, imagine discovering the first big cat in the famous national park. No one would believe him, and he had no intention of telling anyone anyway.

A few minutes later, his phone torchlight flicked off. Benson crashed to a standstill and fumbled with his phone. When the torchlight finally came back on, he stifled a scream – in that short interval of darkness, the silent animal had drawn way closer, and it whipped away from him when the light glowed. He stumbled on, gasping. If that light went off again, he was a goner.

On the heels of that thought came another tremor from his phone. This time, he looked down at the screen and his eyes widened at the notification. No wonder the torch went off.

TIME TO OUTRUN THE JAGUAR, BENSON, a voice tittered in his head, and it sounded like the voice of his latest victim who lay in bits in a hole in the forest floor.

RUN, KILLER! OR SEE YOU SOON!

And he began to run, even though he knew it was futile. Behind him, something large, deadly and hungry followed swiftly, drawn by the heady smell of fresh blood all over the running man.

The torch light went off for the final time and when the phone slipped out of Benson’s sweaty palm, he did not stop to pick it. He ran on, and four quiet paws immediately flew over the phone as well.

The phone screen glowed in the dark, but only for a short time, just until loud screams came from a distance, as a predator caught a predator-turned-prey.

The phone screen glowed, glowing dimmer every second as the battery icon glowed red.

1% …. 1%…..

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THE DREAM

First there was the lightning and wind, then there was the sound, louder than anything she’d ever heard. Afterwards, came the screams. Sometimes it was her voice, sometimes it was not.

“Ndifreke! Ndifreke, no! Ndifreke!”

Then there was heat and fire, bright and hot…

And then she would wake up.


Joanne hurried down the dark path, her breath coming fast. It was late, but she had no choice but to dare the dangers of the night. She’d had the dream again, and she had to do something about it. None of her housemates saw her creep out from the room and out of the Corpers’ Lodge, and none heard her when she pulled open the main gate and slipped out.

It was bold of her to be moving through the silent community in the early hours of the morning. As a corper, she was still a stranger to the inhabitants of the small settlement. Yes, she was loved by the children at the primary school where she was assigned to teach, and the market women and traders loved to greet her and ply her with gifts.

But at night, everything was different; a stranger like her grew even … stranger.

Her sense of urgency increased and she moved quickly, but as quietly as possible. Every rustle in the bushes she passed made her jump, and the pitch darkness didn’t help – with storm clouds bunched up angrily in the sky, there was neither moonlight nor starlight. Veins of light streaked in the sky as distant thunder rumbled and she shuddered, praying she would not get caught in the coming rain.

When she sighted her destination, she stumbled forward with relief but some trepidation. The small house was the residence of Ndifreke – a pregnant young woman who she’d grown fond of since she came to the community six months ago. Ndifreke set up a spot in front of the Corpers’ Lodge on most mornings to sell her akara and other fried foods. Her akara was delicious; fluffy, flavoursome and spicy, and nothing at all like anything Joanne had ever tasted. Despite her pleas, Ndifreke refused to share her recipe, and they’d spent many hours playfully quarrelling about it.

They’d also talked a lot about other things, and Joanne was moved by the young woman’s story. She was in an abusive relationship, and even in her third trimester, often showed up with bruises to sell her wares. Joanne had tried, unsuccessfully, to convince the young woman to leave her partner or at least go stay with her parents till she gave birth. But Ndifreke was reluctant, unwilling. Upset, Joanne decided to keep her nose out of it.

But then, the dreams began. The same dream, over and over. Every night for the past week, she’d dreamed about Ndifreke and fire.

And today, after she had the dream again and jerked up in bed, gasping, she saw the clouds outside, and knew. It was the night she kept dreaming about.

She had to save Ndifreke.

As Joanne drew closer to Ndifreke’s home, she could see a flickering orange light in a window of the house. She could also hear raised voices, and that made her heart race faster.

Was she already too late?

Suddenly, the doors of the house burst open, and she stifled a scream as Ndifreke staggered out, crying.


The pregnant young woman stumbled, her fingers touching the sand before she straightened up again. Behind her was her irate lover, his voice raised, a kerosene lamp held high in his bunched fist.

Joanne’s breath caught in her throat as she envisioned her dream coming to pass – the lantern tumbling through the air, the sound of impact as it hit Ndifreke and spilled kerosene all over her, the loud whoosh as she lit up in flames…

“Ndifreke! No! Stop!” Joanne screamed. Lights came on in nearby houses and neighbours peeked out to see what the ruckus was about as Joanne charged at the young man, shrieking. “Don’t you dare touch her, you monster! Get away from her!”

The young man shied back at the sight of the stranger streaking towards him in the dark with her face contorted in fury. Slowly, he lowered the kerosene lantern, confused.

Joanne reached Ndifreke and grabbed her, hugging the sobbing young woman as they both defiantly faced down the young man. He still looked shocked, and when the neighbours began to gather, she saw the anger fade from his eyes, replaced by something that looked like sullen shame.

“Thank you so much, thank you,” Ndifereke sobbed over and over, hugging Joanne tightly. “I should have listened to you. I was so scared that he was going to hurt me and the baby.”

One of the neighbours tried to prise Joanne’s arms off Ndifreke and she resisted, at first. “She will be fine,” the woman assured Joanne. “Let me take her inside; it’s cold.”

“Please, don’t let her go back to that house,” Joanne begged.

“She will not. I will escort her to her family home tomorrow morning, myself.” The woman promised. “Thank you, corper. Please go back to your lodge. We didn’t know it was this bad. Only God knows what would have happened if you didn’t show up.”

Oh, I know too, Joanne thought to herself. For the first time in days, she could breathe easy. Whatever she had foreseen had been averted. Ndifreke was safe now.

It was just after she waved Ndifreke goodbye and turned towards the bushy path leading back to her lodge that it happened.

There was lighting, so bright that Joanne shielded her eyes and screamed. And then it struck again. And again, a third time. And then came the screams; hers and that of the others.

“Ndifreke, no! Ndifreke, stop!”

Joanne watched as the kind neighbour held the pregnant young lady back, and she prayed that she would not let her go. After all, she was not the one meant to die that night.

Horror was reflected in the eyes of the helplessly watching people as the lightning struck – the sound of its crackling fury filling the night and drowning out their screams. They watched as it hit the young corper who had just saved their neighbour. They watched as she burst into flames.

First, there was excruciating pain, and then there was nothing as the flames seared away her nerves. Through the fire that surrounded her, Joanne could see Ndifreke still struggling to run to her and she had time for a last thought.

Oh, Joanne thought, before she fell. Oh, it was me in the dream.

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BAD LUCK SARAH

Sarah was tired.

She was having a day from hell, but since when was that new? Her life was a tragic story – lost her parents in a car accident as a toddler, her sole – and abusive – guardian died when her shop collapsed, and just three weeks ago, her fiancé’s jeep almost taking a dive off 3rd mainland bridge. It was shocking news even though before the incident, he’d just called off their engagement through text, and learning later that he had his new flame in the car with him at the time did not make Sarah feel better. He was still hospitalized, and Sarah could not bring herself to visit him. She felt his accident was just one more in the long list of unfortunate disasters that plagued her existence.

She’d finally come out of the funk her failed engagement had left her in and this morning, was supposed to be at a job interview. First, she woke up later than planned, then her neighbour’s dog almost took a chunk out of her thigh as she hurried past it. She’d promptly boarded the most rickety bus in Lagos, and then found herself stuck in the middle of the worst traffic jam she had ever experienced in her 25 years.

Now, she was stuck in a sweltering danfo with a gaggle of irritable co-passengers, a smelly conductor and a bootload of rotting cabbage. The putrid smell lay thick in the bus, despite the open door. There was no breeze to offer relief and Sarah, like all the other passengers, was forced to gag on the stench.

Sarah looked down at herself and sighed. Wearing a light-coloured top was the first mistake of the day – there was an oily streak close to her collar already, and she could feel a growing patch of sweat around her armpit. Not to mention that here was no way she would come down from this bus not smelling like crap.

“I no know why una go dey carry this kain load for small motor like this,” the male passenger on Sarah’s left grumbled. “See as everywhere dey smell like gutter.”

The woman on Sarah’s right glared at the man and issued a hiss that was so loud and long it made Sarah flinch. She sneaked a glance at the woman and saw that she had on a faded blue apron – the unofficial uniform of most market traders. No doubt, the boot-full of smelling veggies was hers.

“Nonsense behaviour,” the man continued. “Something wey don spoil sef. Na so dem go dey sell wetin go make people sick. No single conscience…”

Oh Lord please, don’t let this people fight now, not with me in the middle, Sarah prayed desperately. But she already had a sinking feeling that her prayer would go unanswered.

“Oga, wetin be your problem na?” the woman beside Sarah exploded. “Pesin no go sell market again?”

Sarah closed her eyes, took deep breaths, and braced herself as the two angry passengers began to exchange insults. Her small frame rocked as the indignant trader shifted around to better face her opponent. When bad breath washed over her face, a choking miasma that she could not escape from, Sarah felt tears prickle beneath her closed eyelids.

She was tired. Tired of expecting anything to work out for her. Her luck was never good. For all she knew, these people were fighting because of all the negative energy that surrounded her – it would not be the first time that people suddenly lost their cool around her. During her university years, her acquaintances and course-mates often avoided her because of her penchant for bad luck. Shunned cruelly, her schooling years had been hell. She’d left with a degree and a moniker – Bad Luck Sarah.

And it never helped if she got distraught. The more she let her feelings get to her, the worse the outcome often was. Looking for inner peace had led her to learning the art of meditation and trying her hand at yoga. Usually, those helped her stay calm till things settled down around her but stuck between two shouting people, her small frame squeezed, her body soaked in sweat, Sarah felt herself losing the battle. The assault on her senses was too brutal.

…the stench of rotting veggies and halitosis…
…the shouting of the passengers, conductor and bus driver…
…the revving and horn-tooting of the noisy smoke-belching vehicles that were packed around them like sardine in a rusty can called Lagos…

Sarah’s pulse pounded in her ears, and she could almost hear the second hand of her wristwatch ticking as it counted down towards another missed job interview for her. Another impending loss in a litany of losses.

It had been a day, no, a week, no, a month from hell already, and all it would take was a small trigger. So, when a large glob of spittle from her shouting seatmate landed on Sarah’s face, something gave way within her. She could almost feel it – the snap of something that had stretched too far, for too long.

“Can I just get a fvcking break?!”

The loudness of her angry screech shocked her. In it, she could hear years of buried anger and despair, all those pent up feelings that she’d buried deeper and deeper with each loss or disappointment.

And wonder of wonders, there was sudden silence.

Her body continued to tremble, almost thrumming, while her anger travelled through her in waves. She felt a lightness, an almost out-of-body feeling. In the silence that surrounded her, she could feel shock, and she expected to find the busload of people staring at her in shock.

Instead, when she opened her eyes, she could barely believe them.

The people around her were floating, some holding on to the rickety bus seats as cabbage heads roiled around the bus. Their mouths were open in soundless panic, as they pushed off one another, legs and arms spinning slowly.

Sarah realized that she alone was still in her seat, her body and mind totally relaxed as waves of strange power passed through her. When she looked outside, she saw that the buses closest to them were floating as well, the people within them milling around as though stuck in invisible water.

And then, she knew – she was the cause of all the unbelievable tragedies that had happened in her life. When she cried, it rained; when she was anxious, people and animals went crazy; when she was upset, buildings fell and cars skidded…

And she was tired of it all.

Sarah closed her eyes and let go of all that power. And as the buses hurtled back to the ground, the people within them screamed all the way down… all except Bad Luck Sarah, who ended it all with a smile.

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OUT, DAMNED SPOT!

Shola set up the camera, her hands shaking. She made sure the entire door was in the shot, and that the light in the corridor beyond it was on.

Ready, she gingerly perched on the edge of her bed and tried to still her racing heart. Her two children were asleep in their bedroom and her husband was working late, so she was alone. But she had to be brave.

And to think this all started a week ago with one damned spot that she couldn’t wipe off.

**

DAY 1
The first time Shola noticed the red dots, she was just about to fall into her bed. Her first annoyed thought was that her toddler had taken his crayons to the master bedroom wall again. She tiredly rubbed at it with a wet wipe, but the red mark remained. Grumbling, she gave up and plopped into bed.

The next morning, the red stains were gone.

DAY 2
The next evening, she saw them again. The stain seemed larger, red streaks that stained the wall beside the door. She went at it again with wipes, and then detergent, grumbling. She was just too tired for stuff like this.

For three weeks, she’d been slaving around the house because her live-in nanny had absconded. Cynthia had been a nice, pretty and hardworking young lady, and Shola was disappointed to discover that some of her expensive jewellery and a vintage scarf had disappeared too. Her husband, Kunle, also reported that he was missing some money. They’d reported the matter to the police and thanked God the thieving nanny didn’t harm their kids before leaving.

Without a nanny to help, Shola’s workload had increased. Seeing to the cooking, cleaning and child care was exhausting, and she had to juggle her job with all that as well.

The stain was stubborn, so she gave up and decided to tackle it in the morning before she left for work. But when she woke up, the marks were gone.

Only till night-time anyway.

DAY 3
On the third appearance, the red marks were more pronounced. And when Shola stood back and examined them she noticed with some shock that they looked like…

“A handprint,” Shola murmured.

“What did you say?” Kunle asked. He’d just walked into the room just after her realization. It was one of those rare days when he didn’t come home after midnight, or not at all. Shola suspected that he had a mistress or two that kept him out late on most nights, but she didn’t really care anymore. Her 8-year old marriage was only held together by the plaster of duty, and they lived like roommates, which was fine by her. She had no intention of sharing any germs he caught from his dalliances.

For the sake of normalcy, they still shared a bedroom and, whenever he decided to sleep at home, a bed.

“There,” Shola pointed. “Those red marks on the wall. Somehow looks like a handprint.”

And that was when things took a strange turn.

“What marks?” Kunle asked.

DAY 4
It had taken almost twenty minutes for Shola to be certain that her husband wasn’t pulling her legs the night before. He really couldn’t see the red marks on the wall. He was annoyed, thinking SHE was pranking him.

Afterwards, confused, Shola stared at the wall in wonder, worried that she was finally losing it because of the stress.

It was with no real shock that she woke up to find the stain gone, so the 4th night, she was ready. She cooked quickly, tucked the children in early, and then camped in the master bedroom to wait. Soon enough, her patience was rewarded.

Just after 11pm, she watched, mouth open, as the marks began to appear. What started off as a few faint dots soon strengthened until her impression from the previous night was proven true – it was a handprint.

“A bloody handprint,” Shola whispered in the quiet room, and her own quivery voice scared her. It took a lot of courage to sidle past the stain and run out the door. That night, she slept in her children’s bedroom.

DAY 5
On the fifth sighting, something else appeared beside the red marks.

Shola, scared but determined to see whatever was happening through, was waiting on the edge of her bed when it appeared. The door was slightly ajar, which was how she left it on most nights when Kunle was out, so that she could hear her children if they needed her. When the new thing appeared, it hovered in the open space.

It was an arm, fixed in a grasping claw as it trailed off the end of the handprint. It was streaked with the same red as the stains on the wall, and it floated there, half-formed, while Shola shivered and shuddered.

She didn’t have the bravery to walk through that ghostly appendage, so she curled up in her bed and watched it until, exhausted, she fell asleep.

DAY 6
The next day, the shape beside the handprint solidified further. It extended into an upper arm… a shoulder… half of a torso…

The curve of the torso beside the arm was pronounced, and Shola realized with both excitement and trepidation that the shape was female. But it stopped appearing before it was fully formed, and remained static for the rest of the night.

But by then, she knew what she had to do.


It was day 7. The camera was ready, as was Shola. She would get the sighting on tape, both as proof for Kunle and evidence that she wasn’t going nuts.

When the handprint and the half-formed body appeared, Shola spoke to it.

“Who are you?” she whispered. “Why are you tormenting me?”

Her words seemed to strengthen the apparition and it began to solidify even further. Yet only half of the body was formed, with the face still invisible.

“What do you want?” Shola asked again, boldly.

She gasped as the bloody handprint moved, forming words. At the same time, the hand rose, a bloody finger pointing at the wardrobe in the bedroom.

RED… BAG…

In the wardrobe, Shola indeed discovered a red bag, tucked into a corner. It had to have been hidden by Kunle. She unzipped it and pulled out its contents, her jaw dropping.

Lightheaded, she tottered back to the apparition with her discovery spilling out of her palms. “I don’t understand. How is this here? How..?”

She paused as she saw that the apparition was complete now, its face instantly recognizable and sad. It was Cynthia, her missing nanny.

She looked down at what she’d found in the red bag – her missing jewellery and scarf. If Kunle had hidden these, then that mean he knew where Cynthia was or…. what had happened to her. Her blood ran cold as the apparition moved in real time. Cynthia was crying soundlessly, gasping and clawing at the door jamb with bloody fingers, and as Shola watched, a brawny arm appeared around the young girl’s throat, squeezing relentlessly from behind her.

A familiar face appeared behind Cynthia’s, warped by a murderous grimace that chilled her even more. Shola was so engrossed that she didn’t immediately notice when the apparition wavered and a real person stepped through.

It was Kunle, back from work, or wherever he had been.

He was staring at her, and the jewellery in her arms, and the red bag at her feet. And so, Shola asked.

“Kunle, did you kill Cynthia?”


Things moved quickly after that.

Kunle lunged at Shola, and she screamed, dropping her jewellery. A pearl necklace fell apart, sending creamy beads rolling all over the floor as Kunle wrapped his big hands around his wife’s throat. They struggled, but Shola was no match for his greater strength. His hot alcohol-stained breath washed over her face as her strength began to wane.

Suddenly, thoughts that were not hers filled her mind.

Cynthia rejecting Kunle’s advances, pushing away his groping hands.
Cynthia slapping Kunle.
Kunle hitting Cynthia over and over.
Kunle trying to drag Cynthia into the room while she held on so tight to the door frame that her nails tore off.
Kunle squeezing Cynthia’s throat when she refused to budge from the doorway.
Cynthia promising Kunle before the darkness took her…

…the same words coming out of Shola in a voice that was not hers…
“You won’t get away with this…I promise you!”

Startled to hear Cynthia’s angry voice coming from his wife’s mouth, Kunle loosened his grip. Shola summoned all the energy left in her and pulled away, and her husband lost his balance. He backpedaled, feet sliding over the pearls on the tiled ground till he fell backwards with a yell.

There was a loud thunk when his head cracked against the door jamb on his way down, burst vessels sending a vermillion spray across the wall.

In the ensuing silence, Shola hacked and coughed. She cradled her sore throat as she laughed and cried at the same time. There was no ghostly nanny in the doorway any longer. There was only Kunle’s juddering body.

Shola knew the camera whirring silently behind her would show no encounter with a ghostly nanny. It would only show an assault by her murderous spouse and his subsequent accident.

She swallowed a hysterical cackle when she noticed there was no longer a bloody handprint on the wall. There were just a few spots of Kunle’s blood.

“Now, those spots will come out,” she croaked.

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MORAL SUPPORT

The parked car was hot.

The air-conditioner was on, but turned low. It was early February but the nippy evening was still in the grip of a harmattan that refused to let go. Still, the windows of the car began to fog up as heat built up within it.

The jeep was parked in a small bushy path that led off St. Michael’s street. The area was usually a quiet one, and got most of its traffic from the people who visited the large hospital it was named after. In the corner where it was hidden, the car was barely illuminated by the strong security lights of the nearby St. Michael’s Hospital. Besides, the darkness was welcomed by the vehicle’s occupants.

The jeep rocked rhythmically as the two people inside it continued their horizontal dance. They were cramped – legs and hands sticking out in several directions – but determined to finish what they’d started. Hips gyrated and groins thrust as the couple huffed and puffed their way to satisfaction. The man did, anyway. When he rolled over, his companion stopped her fake moans and rolled her eyes, unseen in the near-dark.

“Wow!” the man breathed, wiping sweat off his brow. “That was just what I needed. Was it good for you, baby?”

“Always, dear,” she lied, and rubbed his chest. “You know you always leave me on cloud 9.”

He grunted, and it was unclear if it was because he was pulling on his trousers or if he disbelieved her. Still, she waited a few moments, detangling the springy hair on his chest with her fingers, before she made her move.

“Baaaabe,” she whined, “You’ve forgotten what you promised me o. By the time you get me this latest iPhone, a new model will be out sef and I won’t be able to show it off.”

The man speared her with a look. “Susan, can’t you just chill for once? Haba!”

Susan pouted. “You see why I don’t like to ask you for stuff. If I remind you now, you’ll say I’m not patient. If I don’t, you’ll say it has passed…”

“At least not tonight na!” the man snapped. “Is this the moral support I need right now? You always do this.”

Susan glared right back at him. “What’s that supposed to mean? Don’t I always show up when you need me? Because you asked, I boiled white rice, bought takeaway isiewu and cold beer, and took an Uber to meet you in the middle of nowhere at 2am for heaven’s sake. I’m sweating, my wig has shifted, you somehow put pepper in my bumbum and your car seat almost broke my back. What more support do you need again?”

The man sighed. Susan was annoying, but she was soft in all the right places, and then some.

“You know I’m stressed, baby girl. That’s why I asked you to come. Just to, you know, help me relax.”

Susan scoffed. “And your wife? Is she relaxed right now?”

“Don’t you dare mention her! Are you okay?”

There was a sullen silence as they both pulled on their clothes. The man tried to flick on the jeep’s inner light and hissed when it stayed off – the bulb must have burnt out. He was doubly annoyed because he now felt guilty. Susan’s comment was a bitter reminder that only a trekkable distance away, his wife was in St. Michael’s Hospital, deep in the throes of labour as she edged towards birthing their first child.

Well, he consoled himself, at least she was not alone. She had her mother and sister there with her. What did they need him for? He’d paid most of the required hospital bills immediately he was asked to, and everything was ready for the baby’s arrival. Was he the doctor helping her deliver the baby?

If anybody needed moral support, it was him. He’d been running around all day and his wife’s labour was taking forever, so he’d been hungry. There was no place close by to really relax at that late hour, and he’d had the brilliant idea of calling his side chic, Susan, to show up with food. That naturally led to the whetting of other appetites. He was satiated now, and miffed.

“I need to go back to the hospital,” he said gruffly. He fumbled in the darkness for his bulging wallet and drew out a sheaf of 1000 naira notes. “Hold onto this first. We’ll talk about the phone later.”

Still stony-faced, Susan took the cash with mumbled thanks. She couldn’t see the money but, by feel, knew he’d been very generous. She hid a smile. Guilting him had been the right move after all, she chuckled internally. Briefly, she felt a pang of pity for her lover’s wife – the poor woman was probably screaming the roof of the labour room down while her husband was messing around. Silently, she prayed she would never marry such a philanderer.

The problem started when she tried to roll down the car windows. Despite pressing the right buttons several times, the sheet of glass didn’t budge. Then she tried to open the car door, and couldn’t.

“Babe, I think your central lock is on. Please open the door for me.”

The man leaned forward, and pressed the lock button. The doors thunked, and she tried again. No success.

“Babe nau! It’s still locked. All these automatic cars sef.”

The man frowned, distracted by his ringing phone. It was his sister-in-law. He slid his finger across the screen but his phone seemed frozen. He’d have to wait until the call ended to call her back. A surge of excitement went through him. His baby was probably here.

“I opened it now. Check again,” he told Susan, his attention on the phone. Why was the call taking forever to end?

Susan pulled back on the door handle but there was no give. “Babe…”

The car’s air-conditioner suddenly went off, and they both frowned. A feeling of unease went through Susan and she pulled on the door handle with more vigour.

“Don’t spoil my door o!” the man scolded and pushed the central lock button again. This time, the doors did not make their characteristic unlocking thunks.

“Babe, what’s going on? The car is hot. I want to stand outside and order an Uber ride…”

He motioned at her to wait. “Wait first, I’m coming.” He was frowning – the phone call had finally ended but the network bars on his phone had simultaneously disappeared. He switched networks but there was no change. “What kind of dead zone is this area now?” he hissed.

Susan was frowning down at her phone too. “Babe, I don’t have network either. I can’t order an Uber.”

Hissing again, the man dropped his phone and gripped the keys in the ignition. He’d drop Susan off at the hospital gates, and leave her to sort herself out. He needed to see his new baby.

He twisted the car keys and … nothing. There was no hum, no click, not even a grinding sound. Just silence. The car was essentially dead.

“What the hell is going on?” he grunted, trying again and again. He finally turned his attention to the car doors, but the automatic locks would not open. Beside him, Susan was hyperventilating, and her panic was infectious. They were trapped!

“Babe…” puff puff “Babe…” huff huff “Babe!”

“Wait!” he yelled at her. “Let me think.”

He yanked the head rest of his car seat out and, with a pang of regret, turned the pointy ends towards the car window. It would be expensive to replace a window of the expensive jeep, but they had to get out.

After a few spirited jabs at the car window, he realized something was very wrong. Every time each metal prong of the head rest met the glass, a small crack would appear at the point of impact, but immediately he pulled back, the crack would somehow disappear. He tried again, and gaped as the glass knitted itself into transparent smoothness before his eyes.

“Jesus. Jesus. Jesus.” He repeated over and over. “Jesus, what’s happening?”

His phone vibrated and he sprang for it. But the network bars had only appeared briefly before they disappeared again. In those few seconds, however, several text messages from his sister in law came in. His eyes widened as he read each one.

WHERE ARE YOU
PLEASE WHERE ARE YOU. THERE IS AN EMERGENCY
PLEASE CALL WHEN YOU SEE THIS. ITS URGENT
CALL US O CALL US NOW
MY SIS IS GONE, OMG YOUR WIFE AND BABY ARE GONE
I AM FINISHED O
WHERE ARE YOU, THEY HAVE DIED OOOO

The phone fell out of his numb hands as Susan suddenly screamed and pushed back against him.

“Babe, babe!” Susan shrieked, almost scrambling into his lap. “Who is that outside? Babe, who is that!”

From the tone of her voice, it was obvious she knew who it was. After all, she’d spent several hours going over the pictures of her rival, maliciously comparing body dimensions.

Just outside the passenger side window, her lover’s wife, recently deceased, stood. A too-silent baby was cradled in one hand, and the open palm of her other hand was pressed to the glass as she peered in at her husband and his lover who had been busy bumping groins while she bled to death. Her eyes were black and gleaming with malice.

Susan began to scream non-stop, and when the man joined her, the dead woman smiled. No one would hear them, and no one would be walking into that lonely corner until daybreak. It wouldn’t be too long before they both suffocated in the air-tight car. Soon, her small family would be reunited, plus one unlucky side chic.

She was just there to give them moral support.

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NIGHTLIGHT

Almost everyone loved Baby Chioma.

The three-month-old was cute, healthy and peaceful. She rarely cried, and even then, only made small blustery sounds that quickly ended when she was picked up, fed or cleaned. One could hardly tell that only a month ago, the baby’s mother had died suddenly from post-partum complications. Baby Chioma easily made the transition to being bottle fed, apparently enjoyed her own company and often slept through the night.

The baby’s calm nature came from her late mother, who was always loving and peaceable. They also shared a strong facial resemblance. And while these things greatly comforted Baby Chioma’s grieving father, those same qualities rubbed her Aunty Pat the wrong way.

There was no love in Pat’s eyes as she peered into the nursery, watching Baby Chioma who was wriggling in her cot and cooing contentedly. The baby’s room was dark, except for a blue nightlight that hung in a corner, but the baby wasn’t bothered. All she needed was her nightlight and, once tucked in for the night, she would play by herself until sleep came. It was a helpful and endearing trait, but it gave Pat the creeps. Why was a three month old baby not scared to be alone in the near-dark?

She walked over to the cot and smiled down at the child. “Hi, Chi-baby,” she cooed. The baby ignored her, instead smiling toothlessly at her nightlight. Pat’s smile faded as she wondered afresh why the baby was so weird. It was 2a.m. and the baby had woken up, but she would probably play a bit and fall back asleep, as usual.

“Small witch,” Pat muttered to herself and then bit her lip in frustration. The little witch was indeed a problem.

Aunty Pat was the best friend to Baby Chioma’s late mother. As the late woman’s closest pal, she’d been a part of the family for a long time, and moved into their home a week after her friend died. People praised her for moving in temporarily to ‘help’ with the baby and take care of her friend’s husband. In truth, she was more focused on the latter.

Her late friend’s husband had long been an object of desire for Pat; as far back as when they were all undergraduates in the same university. She’d made a few tentative advances even while her friend was alive, but most of those moves flew over the man’s head because he was so focused on his girlfriend and then, wife. Her best friend had been nothing but supportive and kind to her, but it did not stop Pat from coveting her husband. With her friend now out of the way, Pat knew her chances had improved dramatically.

But Baby Chioma was a problem. Pat had this recurring fantasy in which the grieving widower would turn to her for comfort and in the course of it, fall for her. Unfortunately, rather than lean on her, the man seemed to turn to his infant daughter instead. All he was focused on was the baby; first thing in the morning and last thing at night, he spent time with her. Whenever he wasn’t working, he was cradling her, tending to her, and playing with her. There was no room for Pat to bond with her target. So, while everyone else seemed smitten by the baby, she was not. The infant was a problem, and it was one that needed to be solved.

She bent over the cot and wiggled her fingers over the baby’s face until she finally caught her attention. Baby Chioma smiled up at her, pleased to have company. When Aunty Pat reached into the cot, she raised her arms, but picking her up was not the woman’s objective.

Pat’s arms were not empty; she was holding a large pillow that was carefully positioned over Baby Chioma’s head as it descended.

She’d done her research. Many babies between the ages of one to four months sometimes passed away mysteriously, especially when they slept alone. The main cause of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome was still debatable, but it was common enough to hide what she had to do. A smothered baby, turned over on her belly, would fall in between the cracks of the syndrome neatly. Smiling, Pat pushed down on the pillow, her arms straining. Her late friend’s husband, broken afresh by the loss of his baby, would have no one else to turn to but her.

Then she heard something strange; a loud giggle.

It was coming from Baby Chioma. Pat frowned. That was impossible; with the pillow pressing down on the baby’s face, she shouldn’t be able to make such a sound. She leaned downwards, straining to see better in the dimly lit room, and her jaw dropped when she saw a clear gap between the pillow and the wriggling baby’s face.

Bewildered, Pat slipped a hand under the pillow and felt … something. She recoiled, yanking the pillow away as the room grew brighter.

Pat could see the figure now, shining with ribbons of light as it stood over the cot, its hands protectively hovering over Baby Chioma’s face. The figure looked up at her, and there was no hate or judgement in its face, just sadness and perhaps, disappointment.

Even beyond death, her best friend was still nothing but loving towards her.

Chased by terror, and her own guilt, Pat fled baby Chioma’s room. From the corridor, she turned to look into the room one more time, tripped over her feet and tumbled down the stairs with a loud scream, to lie very, very still.

Inside the dimly-lit room, Baby Chioma dimpled at her mother who had come to play with her, as she did every night. She kicked happily, cooing as she stretched chubby fingers toward the shining light above her head and giggling when the glowing figure smiled back at her, and then covered its eyes with hands of light.

“Peek-A-Boo!” It whispered, “I see you!”

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UPLOAD

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UPLOAD

Even in Heaven, there was doubt.

Being 2-22 floated before the shimmering walls, very still. But within him, several thoughts combated with aeons of obedience. Did this have to happen? Was it so important to make sure The Word That Was came to pass? Did it never get wearying, and perhaps feel unfair, that what was foretold to be must always be?

This was what they were created for, all they had been trained to execute… but sometimes, Being 2-22 wondered – if there was no other way, why was he given the capacity to desire another outcome?

Was it blasphemy to think that, perhaps, there could be a new word?

But these were thoughts that would never be expressed by Being 2-22, or any of the other beings that floated beside him as they awaited his instructions. They were his unit – the Apocalypse Unit – and each member knew what its duty was, what role it had to play. They’d had aeons to be ready. Bringing about what was meant to be would be a seamless process.

As Being 2-22 rose to the highest point in the Operations Room, he wondered if he was the only one in his unit that had doubts.

“Release the Seven Golden Bowls on my mark,” Being 2-22 finally ordered.

“Aye, bowls ready.” “On your mark.” “Good to go.”

The silvered surface that covered the walls of the room shimmered, and written commands floated into view, waiting to be touched.

Being 2-22 took in the 360° view one last time and then raised a hand. “Hold, hold… Release!”

And just like that, after aeons of waiting, Operation Heaven’s Final Wrath was underway. The day of the Apocalypse had arrived. Even as high up as the beings were, they heard when the cries of agony, fear and horror began.

From the left side of the room, confirmation of what was happening below filled the air.

“Plague 1 – Body Blight, deployed.”
“2 – Vermillion Sea, deployed.”
“Fire Tsunamis, on the way.”
“Withdrawing Light in 3…2… darkness, deployed.”
“Earth-wide Vaporization in effect. All water gone.”
“Tremors on the move. I repeat, Tremors imminent.”
“Ice pellets descending. Impact, Impact.”

Being 2-22 held back a shudder and gave The Abominable Order.
“Open the Pit.”

Some of the beings in the Operations Room paused as a rumble travelled around the shimmering space. It was a surprise to feel the grinding that signified the release of daimons that were long held in darkness. Those fiends would be driven to murderous rage by their exposure to light, and would lash out at all they ran into. And even as far above as they were, some of the beings were grateful that they would be spared the sight and fury of the one who led that unholy horde – the Dragon himself.

Released, the only gift that the slighted Serpent would give the world was more horror.

Being 2-22 forced himself to focus. All that suffering, pain and torment happening below were better imagined than experienced. Whether it was needless was a bitter thought too late to dwell on – the word must come to pass. So, it was important that the innocent were not caught up in all the dreadfulness.

“Begin The Upload.”

A flurry of activity began on the right side of the room as the retrieval began and The Book of Life Index was accessed, and launched. Being 2-22 floated to the nearest port, breaking his resolve not to watch. A feeling of warmth rose within him at the sight of The Upload. It was impossible not to be moved by the sounds of joy that the floating multitude made as it rose up, rescued from the besieged world below.

“Look! It’s the Redeemed!”

“They are beautiful! They are saved. Halleluyah!”

When Being 2-22 looked around and noticed that some other beings had also drifted over to watch, the feeling of warmth bloomed stronger. And yet, even as the others closed their eyes to enjoy the jubilant songs of the Rising Redeemed, once more, doubt tugged within him.

Why did this have to happen at all?

As though the thought had summoned it, a loud noise filled the Operations Room, and the right wall shuddered. Being 2-22 turned towards the sound, and although he had not battled for a very long time, instinctively, a beam of light extruded from his palm to form a sharp blade. The room grew brighter as his closest lieutenants followed suit, their glowing weapons held ready.

“What is this?” Being 2-22 asked. Getting no answer, he repeated. “What is this?”

A being that floated before the shimmering screen with a frown answered. “I’m not certain how this is possible… but there are presences outside the wall that were not there until we opened the Pit.” The being looked around, and there was panic in its gaze. “When we opened the Pit in Earth, we also opened another in Heaven!”

The right wall moved inwards and then burst apart, sending beings of light tumbling about.

“Did you not read the Scriptures?! THY WILL BE DONE ON EARTH, AS IN HEAVEN! As Above, so Below,” the Dragon roared as it invaded Heaven again, bringing with it fire, fury, and an unholy host of daimons made just for ripping and tearing.

And although Being 2-22 launched himself into the fray without hesitation, he knew that his unit was no match for the Dragon. They would fall, and perhaps, all of Heaven too, just because … the Word had to be. If he had given in to his doubts, and cancelled the Apocalypse, they would not be so doomed.

Perhaps – he thought to himself as he thrust his sword of light into the middle of an abomination that was made of only teeth – perhaps, this is only fair.

Above the fight, on a smashed section of the silvery screen that wrapped the room, two words glowed.

UPLOAD INTERRUPTED.

And in the void outside, the Rising Redeemed screamed as they hurtled back onto the besieged earth, to their grisly deaths.

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ONE WEEK INTO THE NEW YEAR

It was the first week of the New Year and the Yuletide-born harmattan was still hanging on for dear life.

The small corridor was cold, but Jeremy was sweating. The wall touching his back was chilly and although he could feel the wisps of harmattan fog that snaked into the house through the back door, he could not see them because he was sitting in pitch darkness. He sweated and also shivered as he sat there, the door opposite him so close that he would be able to touch it if he reached out. But it was the last thing he was going to do.

He could almost feel the three presences in the pulsing dark behind the closed door.

One was his twin brother, Steven.

The second was his mother – somewhat – recently deceased.

The third… the third wasn’t even a person at all.


Steven was afraid, nauseated, and also excited. The last 24 hours had been a whirlwind of activities, some belly-churning, some terrifying, some promising, but all leading to what he hoped was a new and better future for him and his brother.

He knew Jeremy waited outside the dark room, as instructed, but the darkness in the room was so absolute that it would have been easy to feel alone in the entire world. Yet, he wasn’t, and in the most gruesome way possible.

First, he had his mother with him. Or more accurately, he had pieces of her.

He grimaced as his fingers rubbed together. They were slimy, wet with whatever fluids a freshly dug-up body yielded when it was cut up in bits. In the darkness before him lay a pile of body parts that had once been his loving, animated mother, who had been buried just a day earlier. Arranged just like Baba Black had instructed.

“If you want to summon the entity, you must create a welcoming crescent for it to emerge from. After you dig up your mother’s body, arrange the parts as I showed you. You’ll have to practice, because you’ll be doing it in the dark. The entity must not be revealed to you by light. It is a very hungry thing. If you make a mistake, there will be consequences.”

…there will be consequences…

Those words of the juju man echoed in Steven’s mind afresh as he began the incantations that would invoke the presence he sought. He and Jeremy had not missed the note of glee in Baba Black’s voice when he gave that warning. Whatever dark forces the juju man answered to would be glad if they failed. But that would not happen. He and Jeremy had prepared the room meticulously. And as for light? He scoffed. The slum they lived in had not been blessed by PHCN in months. Darkness was their own normal – their dilapidated home was perfect for the ritual.

Immediately he finished the incantation, something primal in him woke and the small hairs at the back of his neck stirred. He knew he was no longer alone in the dark room.

He could feel the darkness shift. He could feel something blow hot against his face. He sensed something otherworldly breathing on him – rank, fecund, thick with the smell of putrefaction. Suddenly, he was glad the room was dark – whatever it was hovering over him, he did not want to see it.

It was time. He stilled himself to speak the words, to ask for the things that would earn him and his brother the soft life they deserved. He had to take on this particular task because he was better at memorizing things. Earlier, Jeremy’s muscles had come into play when they both stole into the nearby graveyard with shovels and a huge Ghana-must-go bag. Digging up their mother’s freshly buried body was horrible, and dismembering it had been worse. Both ungodly acts would be easy to expunge from their memories when they were big boys, living in luxury and…

And then the worst possible thing that could happen in that moment happened.


Jeremy sat frozen as a hot stream of urine bloomed in his crotch and pooled beneath his bottom. He was pinned in place by the bright beam of yellow light coming from the keyhole of the door in front of him. The door behind which Steven had been in the process of entering a supernatural contract with something that was not to be seen.

The door behind which a yellow bulb, long disused, had suddenly come to bright life and doomed them both to death.

He remembered Baba Black’s gleaming eyes and blackened teeth, and he peed some more. There was no point in running; he could never outrun the joint consequences of their mistake.

He could hear his brother screaming as something hungry descended on him.

And he could still hear the triumphant cries that echoed and rose from house to house, ringing through a neighbourhood that had lived in darkness for months, until that night, one week into the New Year.

“UP NEPA!”

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MR. FINE BOY

Two days before Segun’s father died, he saw his tutor’s face fall off.

Segun was seated beside the man at the dining table when it happened. He was just about to turn over a page in his Maths textbook when something slid past the young boy’s hand and fell on the tiled floor… SPLAT!

Everyone called his tutor Mr. Fine Boy. A tall, light-skinned man, he was handsome, with large eyes, one deep dimple, very white teeth and a small moustache like that of Segun’s dad. Segun’s father was also a very handsome man, with good looks that his son had inherited, but they both paled in comparison to the young boy’s tutor. At first, anyway. Segun had noticed, over time, that his tutor seemed less perfect every day. A wrinkle there, a growing dark spot here… it almost seemed as though Mr. Fine Boy was sometimes ill.

Still, Mr. Fine Boy had been tutoring the young boy on Maths for over three months, so Segun easily recognized what lay beneath the dining table. Although it was all crumpled up, he could tell that it was his lesson teacher’s handsome face on the floor – fair, with its thick eyebrows and small moustache. The holes where eyes were supposed to be stared back up at him emptily and the mouth formed a small O, as though it was saying BOO!

At first, the young boy just stared and then he began to stammer, “Mister… sir, that is… is that…”

Beside him, Mr. Fine Boy casually bent over and picked up his face. Segun briefly saw the red raw skin behind his tutor’s hands before he slid his face back on. It slipped into place with a small, wet, squelch and just like that, Mr. Fine Boy was smiling at him with a puzzled frown on his replaced face.

“Did you see something, Segun?”

The young boy gaped at his tutor, confused. Mr. Fine Boy grinned and tapped his nose, and Segun recoiled from the touch. The man’s finger was cold and clammy. “Well, did you see something, Segun.”

It was no longer a question and Segun instinctively shook his head. His denial earned him a bigger smile, and he held back a small scream when he noticed that the tutor’s deep dimple hadn’t quite dropped properly into place yet – instead, it ballooned slightly whenever the man spoke.

“Good boy. Let’s carry on, shall we?”

And carry on, they did. Somehow, Segun soldiered on through the Maths lesson, avoiding the man’s gaze, firmly in the grip of confusion. Only later, after Mr. Fine Boy left, did those clouds lift. He began to recall all those times when the tutor looked ill, and wondered if that was a sign that his strange face was getting bad. What if he needed to replace it? With terror, Segun also remembered that Mr. Fine Boy had often admired his looks… and that of his father. With hindsight, all those innocent comments now took on a terrible meaning.

“I’m lucky to be the tutor of such a well-behaved and handsome boy like you…”

“If you were older ehn, I’d just…” cheek pinch “…steal this your fine face.”

“Segun, you take so much after your father. You’re smart and charming, just like him. He’s a gentleman and has done a great job of raising you up alone…”

“Anyone would kill to look as good as he does…”

…Anyone would kill…

That last phrase kept Segun up that night. He struggled with telling his father what he had seen, but he knew he would not be believed. His father was a down-to-earth man, with no time for fanciful stuff. When Segun’s mother died a few years earlier, the young boy had not handled it well. He’d woken up screaming from awful nightmares, and claimed he’d seen his dead mother around town on a few occasions. All that had stopped with time, but if he told his father about his tutor’s face-slip, he would be suspected to have relapsed and promptly re-enrolled for therapy.

Luckily, Mr. Fine Boy tutored him only twice a week, and so Segun estimated that he had a few days to think about what to do next.

Only, unfortunately, he was wrong.


It was just two days later that Segun woke up to the choking smell of smoke, and some strange sounds coming from his father’s bedroom.

There was a growing fire in the kitchen but he followed the sounds first. And when he opened his father’s bedroom door, he met a sight that was the stuff of nightmares. His father was arched up painfully in bed, making choking sounds as Mr. Fine Boy leaned over his face, close enough to kiss. The sucking and slurping sounds that came from the bed would never be erased from the young boy’s mind and he immediately knew what was happening.

Mr. Fine Boy was stealing his father’s face.

“Stop! Leave my Daddy alone!”

As though the command had worked, Mr. Fine Boy jerked upwards, while Segun’s father flopped back onto his bed like a dead fish. When the tutor turned towards Segun, he knew he was too late.

The face looking down at him was his father’s own.

“Such a handsome boy, with a face as perfect for me as his father’s,” Mr. Fine Boy whispered with the mouth of Segun’s father. He moved towards the young boy, and then past him, but not before leaving a few parting words.

“When it’s perfectly aged, I think I’ll come back for it…”

Segun bravely tried to chase the tutor down, but he was too small to catch up, and by the time he could mobilize their closest neighbours to help, the fire that his tutor had set in their kitchen had bloomed into a voracious blaze from which they could not pull out Segun’s unconscious father.

When they finally put out the fire, Segun already knew what they would find. He was silent and unresponsive while other people cried and wailed over his father’s body – so burned that he was unrecognizable… so charred that no one really noticed his face was no longer there.

The young boy knew that out there, somewhere, was a creature that had pretended to be a Maths tutor called Mr. Fine Boy, and it was walking around with his father’s face, and when the time was right, it would come back for him too.

And when it did, he would be ready.

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