Kevin hated cooking by candlelight. No, scratch that; he hated cooking. Pure and simple. The prospect of standing in a cramped-up room not big enough to lie in, and shuffling about with a knife in one hand and onions or tomatoes or salt or whatever in the other, with nothing as light but a little flickering flame, was not only tiring, it was depressing as hell. Life would have been a lot simpler if he didn’t have to cook. Or if he had a helper. Or a roommate. Or a full-time girlfriend. Or even electricity.
This was one of the reasons why he would marry early. Hell, he would marry next year if he could. Let him just get money first. Just let him get it.
In the kitchen, a boiling pot of stew sat on the stove. He took the bowl of dirty water on the counter and poured the water into the sink. Picked the empty tomato and sardine tins and came out of his kitchen onto the small veranda that came with his room and threw them into the bushes from where he stood. Outside, darkness ruled supreme. Kevin walked forward, down a step, and peered out from the bottom step. He could see the hazy shadows thrown by the weak light of other candles as they attempted to chase the darkness into the shadows. He looked opposite him, and saw someone, probably the girl who lived there with her family, move from one point to another in search of something. Actually, all he could see was just the suggestion of a female shape, so the person could easily have been the mother of the house. Or even the brother.
Kevin didn’t care. He heard faint music from his left. Probably Banji’s radio. The tree in his backyard took on a sinister shape, its branches looking like the gnarled hands of a monster, while the bushes looked liked what housed a giant python.
Scary huh? Yeah, right.
Right now, the only scary thought in Kevin’s head was if his kerosene dried up in his stove; he’d poured in the last of it into the stove, and it was too late to go out and get some. The people in this place turned in early. ‘This place’ was an obscure village in an obscure part of Edo State, where he was on a mandatory one-year service attachment to an establishment that had decided to set up shop here, and commence helping the community develop by planting a whole bunch of trees on most of their land, and paying anybody who was willing to work as a harvester a monthly fee that was not up to some folk’s daily salary.
Cheap labour and all that.
You got that right.
Kevin lifted the pot’s cover, and his senses sang with the sweet aroma emanating from the pot. Despite the fact that he didn’t enjoy cooking, he nevertheless liked it when he cooked something nice; normally he would eat in any of his friend’s rooms. He reached out and took the plastic bowl that contained the parboiled rice, and he poured the contents into the boiling broth. He replaced the lid, and he left the kitchen for his room.
Outside, the crickets chirped, the fireflies blinked their lights, and darkness crept forward tirelessly.
Darkness had a mission tonight.
Kevin checked the pot one last time, and judging that it was almost ready, he took his knife and cut off some fingers of plantain from the ripe bunch in the corner of the kitchen. He washed them and set them on the counter, and brought down the pot from the top of the stove. He blew out the fire; didn’t want to waste the kero’, and began to slice the plantain open.
It took a while for him to feel that something was amiss. Listening closely, he realized what it was; it was quiet; unearthly so. No radio, no distant laughter.
Even the crickets had ceased to chirp.
And then, Darkness knocked on the door.
Kevin looked behind him and looked at the knocker.
Is this why my heart was beating? Kevin asked himself. And he answered himself right back, yep.
“Yes?” he asked, looking at the face that peeped from around the door. It was still in the shadows and he could not see it clearly, but it was just a guy that was looking for someone.
“Kevin, right?” the guy asked, and Kevin’s mind went okay, so he’s looking for me. Something took hold of his gut and would not let go.
“Good.” He stepped fully into the candlelight, and Kevin gasped involuntarily. Probably a trick of the candlelight. Still he thought that the guy had just wavered. And then something struck him as funny.
The guy was wearing a black suit that came down to below his knees, what he would call a ‘Mafia Suit’. At 9 p.m.
Kevin kept that to himself. The guy smiled. He didn’t seem a day above 25 years old. And he was handsome. He seemed a little over 6 feet tall. He stood with his hands clasped behind him, like a professor, and his feet were clad in black shoes, but his face danced in the shadows thrown by the candlelight. Kevin couldn’t really make out his features; all he could tell was that any girl that saw this guy now would fall head over heels in love. Or lust. Or whatever it was they fell into these days.
All this still didn’t make him feel any better. Kevin chanced a look outside his window and his stomach twisted further. Where before he could make out the trees in the faint moonlight, it was completely dark now. He didn’t really know why, but he didn’t feel so good anymore.
Kevin realized what it was that he was feeling in his gut.
It was fear.
Kevin wanted to scream Get out of my kitchen!, but what came out of his mouth was “What can I do for you?”
“What can you do for me?” The Guy asked smiling. He stepped forward and Kevin took one step back. The carpet laid on the kitchen table brushed against the back of his knee, and he jumped, heart beating wildly.
The Guy laughed; a rich, throaty sound. “Please, please don’t be afraid.” Yeah, easy for you to say. But Kevin tried his best to stay calm.
“I’m not afraid” Kevin declared, and The Guy smiled as if to say Yeah, right.
“I didn’t mean to startle you, really I didn’t mean to.”
He strode into the kitchen and the shadows followed him like a smoky pall. The candle seemed ineffective all at once. Well, Kevin thought, it was ineffective in the first place.
The guy seemed at home in the kitchen, as if it were his. He lifted the lid off the pot and inhaled. “Mmm. Jollof rice. Smells nice.”
“Thanks.” Kevin felt like his food had just been raped.
“What were you trying to do after the rice?”
“Me? I was trying to fry some plantains.” Kevin cut off a slice and popped into his mouth. It tasted like bile. He forced himself to swallow it, together with the lump in his throat.
“Rice and fried plantains. Nice.” The Guy turned, and Kevin was given a real chance to look into his eyes.
Yes the candle was on.
It could still have been a trick of the lights, but Kevin didn’t think so; the light could only trick you so much. But he hoped so. For his soul, he hoped so.
In The Guy’s eyes, Kevin saw dancing flames within their depths. It seemed his eyes were swirling vortexes that took one straight into unimaginable depths.
The Guy smiled.
Kevin realized something that seemed trivial and so important at the same time. And he voiced it, although in a shaky voice.
“You have not told me your name.”
“My name…” The Guy drew it out, like it was fine wine. “You want to know my name.” A smile.
“My name is Lucifer. But you can call me Satan.”
The candle flickered, and went out.
Lucifer stretched out his finger and touched the candle wick, and a flame was born from his finger-tip. This flame seemed bigger, hotter than the last one. It seemed to give off more light, but the light seemed darker somehow. Kevin couldn’t seem to explain anything; his brain was befuddled.
The devil has come to visit me in my kitchen. Hmmm. I wonder if he is hungry.
He slapped himself mentally. Get a hold of yourself man.
Yeah, easy to say, when there was nothing to hold. He felt as if he were made of water.
“I like you,” Lucifer said.
Kevin wanted to say ‘Thank you’ automatically, but he remembered who was talking to him and he asked, “Why?”
Satan smiled. He pulled Kevin’s stool from behind him nonchalantly with his foot without looking at it, as if he had known it was there. He sat down and Kevin vowed never to use the seat again. If he lived long enough, that was.
Lucifer looked at him for a while, and Kevin felt he was being boiled slowly from the inside out. God, he prayed inwardly, help me get through this and I will follow You till the end. Please. No answer, none that he could hear but somehow the boiling sensation receded. Still, Kevin had never felt so alone.
“Tell me what you want Kevin,” Lucifer said. “I’m sure you want to be a ‘big boy’ in life. Hell, everybody wants to be a big boy, even the ladies. No wonder they now wear trousers and sometimes male boxers. But I can’t begrudge them what they want or need to feel special. I’m just a guy who makes things available to people who need them. You can call me the world’s greatest fixer. And I am here to fix you up good. For life, my man.”
Kevin tried to feign ease by leaning on the concrete platform built on the wall where he kept his kitchen utensils. “How do you mean fix me up?” He was surprised he could still hear himself; his heart seemed to be holding a rock concert with the sole purpose of winning the prize for loudest decibels emitted.
Lucifer shrugged. “Well, I can get you whatever you need. A clean ride; you can start to stay in town if you like instead of this God-forsaken village. I can make the best-looking girl in the state fall for you, if you want. Anything. Anything in the world.”
Kevin stayed silent for a while. What a deal. He spoke, “But God will-”
“Oooooh shut it. God will what?” Lucifer cut in. “What has he done? You’ve been lamenting about your condition for so long. You’ve asked him countless times why He let you come here, haven’t you? Come on man, all I offer is what you want; all the good things to make your life easy. No strings attached. Promise.” Lucifer smiled and Kevin thought he would go mad.
Kevin felt like running. Truth be told, he was too scared to consider the offer. All the good things? No strings attached? Come on, who was he trying to kid?
A small voice within answered him, You of course.
Kevin had to get out. He didn’t know how he would, but he would try.
“Um, I’ve got to go and buy some fish. I just remembered that I didn’t have any fish for my food,” Kevin said as he pushed himself off the platform and began to make for the door. Lucifer held up a hand and said, “Not to worry boy, I brought enough for the both of us.” He put his hand in his pocket and brought out two large fishes. The stench hit Kevin’s nose, making him gag; a horrifyingly thick blend of death, rot and sulphuric fire. Lucifer dropped the fishes in Kevin’s bowl.
The room seemed smaller all of a sudden and Kevin grew desperate with each passing second.
Kevin looked at Lucifer, who smiled teethily, spread his arms and said “You’re welcome.” Kevin almost fell down dead. One more flash of that horrible smile, one more glimpse of those horrible, sharp teeth, and he would fall down screaming and start pulling his hair.
Lucifer clasped his long hands in front of him. “Back to business Kevin. These things I offer you, all you have to do is say yes, and you’ll have them immediately. But…there is one small matter. At the end of everything, you’ll have to give me something. Not now, don’t be alarmed. I’m a good sport. I know how hard this world is, hell I’ve been around for a heck of a long time, and I know that this world can kick you in the nuts, even rape you. It’s the rich and powerful that make things happen here on earth, so if you don’t have money, you’re screwed. So I’m giving you a way out of it all. You’ll enjoy it very well, I guarantee you. But in the end I get your soul.”
Ha. What a deal. Kevin was numb inside. He was slowly losing it. His heart was still holding that concert.
“What if I say no?” Kevin said, heart in throat.
Gradually, Lucifer’s smile faded and a crease appeared on his forehead. The air in the room grew thicker as the candle flame grew bigger and darker at the same time. There was a thrumming in the air, indistinct but there, as if people were beating drums in the far distance. “I won’t like that Kevin,” Lucifer said as he stood slowly. “I won’t like that at all.” Kevin saw the little wisps of smoke as they made their way via his mouth and nostrils. His head seemed to touch the ceiling. Then Lucifer blinked and everything was as it was; Kevin almost thought he had imagined all of it. He turned, picked up a finger of plantain to slice and eat raw, thought the better of it, and dropped it. Right now his throat was crawling with disgust and fear. Fear mostly.
“Okay, just for the sake of argument,” Lucifer said as he sat down. “Let’s just say God still loves you. What will he give you? Look around you. How many born again Christians do you see that are rich? How many do you see that drive a car, not to talk of the latest one? Come on Kevin, open your eyes. God has nothing for you. He only wants to make you a mere slave, to do his bidding, and to give you nothing. You’ll only get the short end of the stick if you follow Him. Don’t you get it?”
Pay him no mind.
Kevin only got more afraid. “What of the rich pastors in all these big churches? Why are they so rich?”
“What did you call them? Pastors in big churches, right? Now, imagine a great number of people gathering every week just to put something in your pocket for saying a few words. Won’t you be rich? Hell, it’s everywhere. It’s all nothing but window dressing.”
Kevin didn’t know who was speaking to him, but he was grateful for the still, small voice that seemed to come from within.
Be strong. Stand by what you believe in.
“What if I still say no?” Kevin asked.
The change was faster and no less scary. Now Lucifer’s face seemed to look like leather; his whole visage seemed to be throbbing with contained rage. As he got up, his voice was tight as he said “Then I will really get mad Kev’ ol’ boy, and trust me, you won’t like me when I get mad. It also means that I’ll have to collect that puny soul of yours right now. You are not fit for this world. Come here.” Lucifer beckoned.
Kevin, as though on autopilot, turned, lifted his pot of food, hot ‘n all, and offered it to Lucifer. “Are you hungry?”
Lucifer took the pot in one hand as though he were being handed a cup of water, and opened his mouth. As Lucifer’s mouth stretched, so did Kevin’s imagination and sanity. Lucifer’s jaw stretched endlessly, and Kevin thought of a python trying to swallow a large egg. But no, this was more than that, way more.
And then the heat; Kevin felt it come forth in waves as Lucifer opened his mouth. In the darkness, his throat danced the dance of roaring and boiling flames, as if he contained the world’s largest furnace within him. And the pot began to glow red as it went past Lucifer’s outrageously stretched lips. Slowly, the pot began to melt in Lucifer’s mouth, the molten metal slowly running down his throat, and Lucifer smiled around it.
Now, the still, small voice told him. Stop watching and MOVE!
Kevin moved as fast as he could. Screaming, he went for his front door as Lucifer swallowed hurriedly, gagging as he forced the pot down his throat. He uttered a muffled sound that seethed with frustration and anger. Kevin screamed as he burst out of his room into the night. The night was darker and thicker than usual, as if he were swimming in black water. He ran on blindly, not knowing were he was going, only trying as much as possible to distance himself from the devil behind him. A great keening filled the air, a strangely jubilant keening. It was as if the damned souls of the underworld were crying to be let out and at the same time rejoicing at the possibility of an addition.
“YES!” Kevin looked over his shoulder and saw Lucifer running towards him; great, long, loping strides, as if he were bouncing off the earth. Anywhere he stepped on he seemed to leave a patch of burning grass. “YOU’LL NEVER ESCAPE KEVIN. YOU ARE MINE TONIGHT, YOU HEAR ME? MINE!!!”
I fly to Your protection oh Lord. Save me from this and I’ll serve You forever. Please Jesus PLEASE!
Kevin felt like his heart was going to explode. The only things he could hear were his panic-breaths, that awful keening sound and Lucifer’s mad cackle behind him. He looked over his shoulder once more. Lucifer seemed to be gaining on him. He was also glowing a fiery red and Kevin could make out his horrible visage; it was the face of one so ancient and yet so young. The face appeared to be brewing furiously underneath with barely controlled malice. Kevin stumbled and he heard a triumphant cackle behind him; several ethereal whoops and yells.
“JESUS PLEASE!” Kevin cried as he pushed himself up.
Turn left now, that voice told him.
Kevin turned, and suddenly realised it was easier to breathe and to see. Not stopping, he saw the church gates. Adding a burst of speed, he ran inside the gates. Up ahead the church doors were open and although there was no electricity, he saw white light filling the church.
Quickly, my son.
Kevin ran for all he was worth. He risked a glance over his shoulder as he heard the rage in the scream that rose behind him. He saw those impossibly long fingers reach for him, long and parched, with hooked claws for fingernails, and he threw himself into the light.
“GET AWAY FROM HERE YOU PRINCE OF LIES!” Kevin heard a booming voice say. “YOU DO NOT BELONG HERE, AND HE DOESN’T BELONG TO YOU! HE BELONGS TO THE MOST HIGH, THE LORD OF HOSTS!” Somehow, the booming voice gave Kevin peace as he squeezed his eyes shut against the dazzle of the light.
“NOOO!” Lucifer cried in anguish, as he realized what had happened. “IT’S UNFAIR. HE WAS MINE. MINE!!!”
“BUT YOU DID NOT CREATE HIM, OR ANYBODY. NOW BEGONE!!!” And Kevin heard a wailing sound so forlorn that he knew if he had been anywhere but here, he would have been turned inside out. And as the wailing and that keening sound faded, everything seemed to fade with it. He felt like he was being carried down a tunnel, far away…
And he heard that voice say, Call on me anytime my son. I will answer. Don’t forget your promise…
Kevin woke up, startled. His breath caught in his throat, until he realised he was lying down on his bed, in his room.
I must have had one hell of a dream, he thought, as he got up. He realised he was still in the clothes he’d worn yesterday evening. Had he been that tired? Kevin walked to his front door, a yawn stretching his mouth.
The yawn stopped when he saw the door handle. It was black and twisted, like someone, or something had squeezed it with the hottest hands ever. Petrified, he clawed the door open from the side. He could make out the foot-sized burnt patches of grass in the clear sunlight; they started a few meters to the left of his room.
“Jesus Christ,” he breathed, as his colleagues stared, dumbfounded at the spectacle.
And a still small voice whispered in his heart, Fear not, for I am here…