Terror in the shadows: Dele awoke!
His lips, tremulous with a suppressed shriek. The pounding in his chest flooded his ears – his heart racing with the pace of a crazed drummer. He wasn’t sure what woke him up. But his tongue felt dry. He felt his pyjama top plastered against his body by sweat. A drop coursed in a rivulet down his aching forehead and nestled itself in the inner corner of his right eye.
The salt water stung!
He blinked repeatedly to dislodge it, brushing his forearm over his forehead to dry it.
Why had he woken up so suddenly? He searched his memory for any clue. Was it a dream? He sighed loudly, closed his eyes again and listened. He could hear the night breeze taking a tumble on the trees outside. There was a continuous grating sound as the cashew tree by the house nudged the zinc roof with its branches. The only window in the room was open and the protector bars stretched their shadows across his bed as the moon poured over them in a stream of silver.
A dog howled in the distance.
He sat up and allowed his mind to wander. Here he was in this bungalow, miles away from Markudi. It was his friends place actually and he had visited this evening expecting to meet him as planned but Tunde was yet to arrive. It was late in the evening and the thought of driving down that lonely stretch of dusty road at that hour was not an option. He had a key so he let himself in and settled in for the night. He had spent many happy days in this good old house with Tunde. He should be here tomorrow. He wondered what could have delayed him.
The cashew trees resumed their assault on the rooftop, this time more urgently. He undid the pyjama buttons and peeled it off his skin. He laid back in surrender to the sudden gust of cool breeze that poured in through the window. All was quiet in the semi-darkness of the room – nothing stirred except the pendulum of his roving thoughts. He stared at nothing in particular waiting in vain for sleep to shut his eyes.
From the corner of his vision a shadow glided past. He reverted his gaze to the window. Another shadow passed. He sat bolt upright, his heart racing. He did not understand his sudden panic. Was that the trick of the shaded night or was that the silhouette of something – man or animal? He leaned forward on the bed, straining eyes and ears to dissect fact from fancy. Nothing happened. Nothing moved.
The night was still.
His heart was still racing. He pulled off his cover clothes, sat on the edge of the bed and listened. All he could hear was the riot rumbling in his chest and the warm harsh blast from his nostrils.
Nothing. Silence. Absolute silence.
He rose, and on tiptoe made for the open window. From the window’s edge he peered into the night. Nothing suspicious was about. There was a full moon in the sky and a curtain of silvered darkness hung in the night air. He returned to his bed, his breathing settling to an even pace, his chest, heaving less rapidly. He sat on the bed again and was about to recline when he heard it. The crack of dry leaves. The crunching sound of withered leaves beneath treading soles.
A chill rippled through him from crown to toe. A broad shadow fell across him and he turned around suddenly, a stifled scream on his throat. He saw a form – a shadow – black – dark – darker than the night standing by the window. It stood there motionless. He stared, trying to make out the nature of this apparition and struggling to master the panic that now wrestled with his senses.
Then It was gone!
As suddenly as he had seen it, the shadow was gone. One moment it was there and the next moment it wasn’t. He reached for his torch and pointed its searching beam at the window but all it revealed was emptiness.
He could still hear the crack of the leaves outside. Someone or something was definitely out there. A burglar? A stray dog? Or the illusionistic realism of a fear-crazed mind?
He dashed for the window and looked outside. He could not tell how it happened but he felt himself being flung from where he stood, across the room and slammed against the opposite wall. He was a near-senseless heap on the floor.
He looked at the window again. The dark apparition was standing there. He felt rather than saw eyes boring into him.
Who was it?
What was it?
He pointed the torchlight at the Shadow and what he saw made his already reeling senses spin even more. He knew the Shadow was still standing there but the beam of light from his torch instead of reflecting off a solid object, went right though the Shadow and lit up a tree stem in the distance.
The Shadow churns in the swirling mist of darkness bubbling from the earth. Echoes of eternal agony at its wake precedes the flapping of leathery wings against the roof of a cave. The Shadow roams – It roams the solitary abode seeking wine to quench Its thirst.
Imprisoned in chains of darkness. It was set loose by the covenant. It looms in the darkness over the beating heart.
A howl. A scream. The dull thud of a falling body.
Night’s children are emerging from the mist. The mist rising, tentacles stretching to the boundaries of the pact.
A scent in the air bares Its canine teeth to the moon’s gleam.
A scent in the air. The sacrifice.
It encircles the trees – songs from coloured feathers on their branches is downed to a whimper. The owl awakes.
The ascent of the hoot.
It shatters the silence – the distant howl of a dog. The last alarm from night’s sentinel to this hapless soul.
His blood is warm. His heartbeat is strong – the throb beckons to the darkness.
His breath is fresh. His nostrils flare – the wheeze, a symphony that entreats the mist.
It will not be long now.
Dark wings beat in dark joy.
Claws scrape on stones whetting their points.
The Shadow rides on the wind, follows the moonbeam to the iron bars
Its Dark eyes see beyond the darkness . . .
“Who is there?” Dele asked in a husky voice
“Who is there?” he repeated.
The Shadow receded into the night. The howl of the wind increased outside then, it slowed. There was a sound of breaking glass somewhere in the house. He dashed out of the bedroom, through the living room into the kitchen. He grabbed a knife. He stood in a corner of the living room – hands shaking, heart pounding.
A piercing shriek rent the air. The roof rattled with the branches. Then a hollow silence.
He was covered in sweat. The knife he clutched to suddenly flew out of his hand and buried its tip in the woodwork of a sofa. A scream rose from his lips as he backed up stumbling back into the bedroom. He pressed his back firmly against the wall, his eyes never leaving the doorway. Where he sat, he felt something cold and sticky beneath his palm. He pulled his hand from it and looked. It was blood – dark red blood. Instinctively he checked his body over. There was no cut anywhere.
Where had the blood come from?
As clear as a ray of light, he remembered the dark coloured stain he had seen at the entrance to the house when he arrived. He had not given much thought to it then but now with a sudden lucid insight he realized it was a bloodstain.
It was blood! Whose blood?
He thought of Tunde.
Had he arrived afterall?
Had he fallen prey to the same mysterious agency that now taunted his own senses before the final kill?
He wiped his blood-stained hands on his trousers and slammed the bedroom door shut.
Tongue licks over lips in relish. The meal.
The Shadow abuts its face to the iron bars. The heartbeat is running. He holds a steel blade.
Cool evil eyes smile.
Then the malicious gleam of the underworld.
The steel blade – it has a mind of its own – it takes on wings – it flies away.
Petulant shrieks of evil gnomes:
Shrouds lift from dark drums beaten by fear.
A pair of eyes – blue with a circle of fire.
A thousand shadowy forms, hovering, circling the rooftop – myrmidons of the Eyes. They drool in mad ecstasy at the scent of the hunt.
The dimensions are now one for the final passage.
The Shadow chants. It howls, yearning to spill blood – to pour the arteries content in libation.
Great chasms of horror gape in foul eructations.
Night stunts the light.
The Scythe grins, ready for the harvest.
Leaping tongues lick the cliff’s edge, the gates fling open – dark wings crawl up to the light – to the beating heart.
They were everywhere. Ants.
A creeping sheet covered the walls. His bed was buried beneath their black bodies. The unrelenting horde advanced towards him. He let out a violent scream as they descended on him. He waited for the million stings of pain that would follow but they never came. He opened his eyes slowly and found they were gone. There were no ants – not a single one on the wall or bed.
Sweat dribbled down his face to his torso. His hands were bunched up in gruelling desperation to hold on to his sanity and his life.
The howling continued outside.
Should he bolt through the door into the open night? No he would be exposed.
The howling stopped.
It was raining. He could hear the noisy clatter on the roof and the discord of the trees as the raindrops thumbed their branches. The wind blew a wave of the shower through the window. The spray fell on him. The drops were salty on his tongue. He pointed his torch at the liquid on his body. It was not water. It was blood.
It was raining blood.
Leaping tongues lick the skin and beyond to the bone.
Strip away all screens, revealing the ugly skeleton beneath the pretty flesh.
The dark wings whip up a cloud of ashes – cremated desires and hopes.
Cruel contortions. Pale apparitions drift in and out of the belly of night.
Foul fiends; claw-tips on the lips contemplating the prey.
Vain is his cry. Lost!
The pot was broken at the base of the tree. The serpent coiled around the stem stings the roots – envenoms the fruits.
Was the dance not done?
Were thumbs not pressed in embrace in a tide of blood? Was the cowries’ mind not bared to the honest earth?
Passage. The compact was made.
The heartbeat screams. He howls.
“Cease your whine and wail. Cease your clamour.”
“My hour has come.”
The bunch of dark clouds descends from the sky – within are shears, blade gleaming – still dripping from the previous kill. A branch of lightning unzips the clouds.
The Shadow came to the iron bars – the portal of passage.
The Shadows glides towards the heartbeat – seeking heat from the body. Needing to cling to this suit of flesh. Gnawing.
The heartbeat is running but he is bound in the shackles of the oath. The heat beat is caged.
The Shadow rises from the fissures of the earth. It clips the bellows of the heartbeat in mutism. Let loose the hounds upon this piece of earth. Sink the fangs into this beating heart.
The hour has come.
A violent wind was raging outside. It tore through the rooftop, ripping the ceiling apart. Angry clouds stared at him from above – dark and awesome. He reared up against the wall. There was nowhere to run. A thunderous howl reached his ears. A faint light drifted two-arms length away from him. He looked.
He saw the ghostly apparition of his friend, Tunde. His face was sullen.
Then the Shadow enveloped it.
So, he was right. Tunde had met his end here after all.
All was silent again.
He heard the creaking of metal in front of him. He looked towards the window. The white window bars gleamed in the moonlight. Then the bars began to bend. The metal was being pulled apart by a force more than mortal.
He was weary with fear. He could not scream. He watched helplessly as the bars came apart. Two fiery-blue eyes floated through the gap. A dark Shadow followed behind the eyes. The amorphous Darkness stood in front of him. He stared wide-eyed at It. Entranced.
The Shadow enveloped him.