A CHRISTMAS TALE (BLOOD AND FIRE)
I have a story for you, and I promise you, it is true…
Christmas Eve, 2011.
That’s when I find her.
It is dark, almost midnight. The Christmas frenzy is at its most feverish pitch. The sound of fire-crackers-knockouts, as they are more popularly called-having heralded the season, have reached a crescendo tonight; they lend to the taut sensation of heightened expectancy in the air. I walk freely amongst the people, young and old, feeding off their infectious happiness. I smile. There is something fine, something pure, about being in such an atmosphere. I swim in the euphoria; the air is thick with it. These are people drunk on happiness. The chickens have all come home to roost, and I with them.
I used to be from these parts, a long time ago.
The village is a wonderful place; I’ve always been a village boy at heart. Through the years, through the decades that have become more than a century. The city is fine and all, but it gets mighty lonely at Christmas. This is a time when people come together to show off good-naturedly (most of the time) to their friends what they have got, and people come to see who has done what, and new milestones for the year are set once again. It is a wonderful time, for the living, and for the…beings like me. I have walked through the village, sticking to the shadows, amidst the angry sounds of generating sets and loud music. A stark contrast from Christmas Eve in England, or U.S., or Norway, or Finland, or any other foreign country that I have visited over this long existence of mine that you may call life, but that I call torture. I have watched with wistfulness as the people jubilate the end of another year, and at another chance to over-indulge once more.
And now, one of them is dead.
I am late, which is why she is dead. Or to be accurate, I had been over-confident, or carried away… Sigh…
What irks me the most is the fact that I think I saw her being taken away. I’d been at the Village Square, sitting on my own on the window-sill of one of the dark, empty classes, well away from the festivities of the night. I’d just let my eyes casually follow the people, smiling all the time. I could see everything clearly; being a Night Reaper has its…side effects, as I call them.
I think she was taken when her knockout finished and she went to get some more; I don’t know. Like I said, I had not been paying attention. I’d seen her being taken, but I hadn’t given it much thought at the time, thinking that it must have been her brother or mother or some elder family member. It was past bedtime, after all. I know that something about the night had felt iffy to me, but I’d shrugged it off.
Then, her scream.
It pierces the night air like a sword, the sharp, blood-curdling shrill wail clear as a bell. No one else hears it, because it doesn’t sound anywhere close to the Square, and even as my brain registers this, I am already off. I fly through the night air, carried on the wings of her despair. For a normal human being, this would have taken at least twenty minutes; for me, it takes just under four minutes. The branches and leaves slap against me as I tear through the forest, agitated.
And I find her.
She looks to be about six years old, and she has been torn open. Her intestines lie in a dark, gleaming pool beneath the moonlight, and she is left exposed like a ravaged, broken doll. But worst of all, her heart is gone.
I look up and sniff the air; the hounds of Okiri usually have a distinct scent; sulphur and mildly rotten eggs.
I smell nothing.
I stoop over the body. Her eyes are cold and lifeless, the ground, leaves and twigs beneath her stained dark by the blood; the moon gleams sickly off the blood. I can still feel the warmth of her life as it leaves her body. I touch her cooling head, and the ghost of her memories gives me the knowledge about her that I need, terrible, terrible knowledge. There is nothing more painful and terrible than knowing an innocent soul through their death; you see all of their pain, their struggles, their love, their lives…and the possibilities that was their future. Her name is Adaku, and she is an only child. I look up and concentrate.
Ah, there she is.
She is lit from within with some sort of soft light. She looks scared. She sees me as soon as I see her, and she reaches out to me. She is helpless, and she is in need of direction. I smile, and my undead heart breaks a little.
She doesn’t know how lucky she is to be able to die.
I raise my hand to her, and as she touches it, she fades. A cold draft, colder than the night, blows over me. I look down at her corpse. The forest holds its breath around me, and I close her eyes gently. I am mad. This…this is wrong. So wrong. But that is the nature of evil; unthinking and un-remorseful. I stand, close my eyes and breathe in the night air; it is heavily laced with the smell of jubilation, hope, food, love…and fear, and death. The death is strongest, as I am standing next to it.
And then, I feel it.
A savage tug in the darkest parts of my soul. It is a tug I recognize. The tug of the Darkness within. It is a part of me that I learnt to close a long time ago. It is this ability that makes me who I am. I sniff harder; nothing. And then I realize what I must do.
Risky, but it must be done. No other way.
I open up my dark heart, that black place where evil is strongest, and I welcome the tug. Because I recognize this Beast that stalks the Earth now. It is like me, and it is not like me. But one thing we have in common, is this heart. The want to do evil, to wreak havoc. I sense its intent, and I know where it is.
As I move, I open up myself to the night; I bask in its power. I am but a shadow in the periphery of the humans as they continue their celebrations. And then, I stop abruptly as I see him…it. It appears as a human, and it is dressed in a Santa costume. It is leading a little boy away from his friends, with no one taking notice. I close myself up and follow like a normal human being, making sure to keep them both in my sights. I follow until they round a corner, but by the time I get there, they have both vanished. Cursing, I open myself up again, and I follow its scent.
I come upon it just as it is about to bite into the boy’s exposed neck. The boy’s eyes are wide with shock and disbelief; it is as if he has forgotten how to scream. In the moonlight, its teeth gleam a horrible white; jagged nail-like teeth that are designed to bite past the human flesh, into the soul. I rush forward and clamp its jaws shut with both hands, wrenching its head back and out from the boy. It lets go of the boy as it brings its hands up and behind to fight whoever or whatever is gripping it. I fling it away from the boy, scooping him up as I turn to face the Beast.
It has changed fully to its original form, and the Santa costume lies on the ground in shreds. It stands tall, like a man, and has a man’s musculature, but that is where the resemblance ends.
It is covered by a fine pelt of golden-brown fur, and its eyes are black and knowing. It flexes its fingers, breathing hungrily, and I see its long, sharp claws, wicked in the darkness. Its muscles are large and taut, and its breath is hot. Its mouth is unnaturally wide, and its ears flat and pointed against its skull.
“You,” it growls, pointing one clawed finger at me. The forest falls silent.
So, it knows of me then. Splendid.
“How may I help you?” I ask.
“Give me back the child.”
I look at the boy; he is rigid with shock now, eyes wide and jaws slack. I close his eyes gently, push his jaw shut, and then gently push his head onto my shoulder. Looking into his head, I know his name and his family. No other child is going to die today. No more. “Obviously,” I say, looking up at the Beast, “you are not the father of the boy, so I wonder what gives you the right to demand for him with such an angry tone. “ I smile. “Bad dog.”
The Beast clenches its fists, gnashing its teeth and growling in ager. I see the spittle dangling from its mouth. The full moon above us, a cold and silent spectator in this tableau of death.
“YOU WILL DIE FOR THIS!” it screams as it rushes at me, fast, arms coming together to grab me in a crushing, deadly embrace.
But I have been expecting the attack.
I move, dodging to the left, dancing out of its reach, clutching the boy to my chest. He whimpers and I comfort him, stroking his hair. The Beast comes again, leaping, blotting out the moon with its terrible shape, its inhuman growls piercing the night. I move again. I look at the little boy.
Time to end this.
I move back, never taking my eyes off the Beast, and then place him at the foot of a tree. He huddles into himself and buries his face into his thighs, arms wrapped around his knees. I smile at him, and turn just as the Beast moves.
I move also, but towards it.
It might know of me, but it doesn’t know what I can do.
Putting on an extra burst of speed, I slam my palms into its throat and sternum, stopping it cold. The impact makes it reel into itself, and I am on it like stink on shit. I bat its arms away, striking hard and fast; I duck under a swing and punch its knees, dislocating one and shattering the other. It cries out in pain and panic as its legs buckle beneath it. I somersault over it, gripping its hair as I land, and I yank back and up, punching it twice on its spine, breaking it. Now its howl it that of pure, unadulterated pain, but it still fights, never giving up. So I break its arms for good measure, and leave it as it falls helplessly to the floor.
I stand over it, taking deep breaths. Its muzzle is bloody, and it coughs up more blood. I kneel beside it, and one black eye rolls up to focus on me.
It laughs weakly. “You- know,” it says, gasping and wincing, “thi-this is not o-over yet.”
“So, Okiri sent you eh? Why?”
The Beast tried to shake its head and winced. Coughing, it said “N-no…his father…Agbato.”
I gasp. Bad news. Agbato, that remorseless Deity. Half-man, half-Beast, full god. I try not to think about the implications. “Why?” I ask. “Why Agbato? What does he want?”
The Beast laughs. “For they have summoned him through the ancient ways of Blood and Fire.” And then it begins to laugh. Its laughter is one of the triumph of evil, it is laughter of the vilest desire. And it angers me. Yelling in rage, I raise my hand, letting my claws grow, and slash its throat, dodging the spray of its black blood. And then I watch as its body suddenly bursts into flames.
Retracting my claws, I walk to the boy who flinches when I touch him. “Hey Chuka,” I say, “it is me.” He opens his eyes, sees it is me, and hugs me fiercely, crying. “O zugo,” I coo in his ears, “it’s over now. Stop crying. O zugo nna.” I get up and walk slowly with him through the forest, leaving the stench of death and fire behind, while the Beast’s last words echo in my head…
I smile as I see Chuka’s parents hug him. They have been looking for him for a while now. I watch from the shadows as his mother smoothens his hair, picking off little pieces of twigs and leaves off his shirt. I turn away as they start to ask him questions, shutting their voices out of my head. It is Christmas Day already, and at least they have gotten their child back. I can’t say the same for Adaku’s family.
And as I melt into the Shadows to make the night my own, I can’t help but fear for the coming trials.
And then, I hear the collective shout from the Village Square, “MEEEERRRY CCCCHHHHRRRRRIIIISSSSTTTTMMMAAASSSSSSS!”
In spite of myself, I smile…
This one’s for you Santa, you tireless, old bugger. For you have served us faithfully over the ages. And so, I raise my glass to you. A Toast.
I will leave the cookies and the Milk outside, made from the blood of the Innocents.
And when I unwrap my gift from you, I’ll leave you a Thank-you note on my doorstep, written in blood.
Merry Christmas Santa.
Merry Christmas world.
December 25th, 2011.