The night blackened with intensity as some strange force crept over the atmosphere.
The gust of wind blew stronger.
The bushes on both sides became more disturbed.
The air grew colder. I felt my breath almost beginning to mist with every exhale.
I moved closer to Harry who had squatted on the sidewalk, closed his eyes and plugged his ears with his forefingers. I tugged fearfully at his sleeve.
‘Harry! What’s happening? What the hell is going on?’ I had to whisper loud enough to be heard above the din of billowing wind.
‘D…don’t look Abigor…it’s about to get ugly…’ He rattled out the words between chattering teeth.
I had never seen such intensity of fear in him before.
And it terrified me. Because anything that could make the ever bold and defiant Harry this scared must be downright horrific.
I struggled to heed his warning but I knew I would eventually give up; thanks to my knuckleheaded curiosity habit. If I was a cat, I probably would use up my nine lives in a jiffy. I had my eyes partially closed but could still see a hazy view of what was going on.
The Cobra Capone stopped playing on the harmonica for a moment and looked around him, amazed at the way his surroundings were coming alive.
His boys threw glances about in awe as they took in the strange scenario unfolding about them.
Dust carried over from the bushes blew across the asphalt in circles and scattered formations as though an encroachment was beginning to take place.
‘Incredible!’ the Capone gasped. His chest was heaving in excitement as he went mind-orgasmic; the feeling of having such power was giving him an ecstatic trip.
He looked at the cowering Harry who still had his eyes shut, ears plugged and was mumbling inaudible words of prayer.
‘Hey you!’ the Capone bellowed at him, ‘when do the girls start showing?’
Harry said nothing. He just clasped his hands tighter round his ears and continued to mumble.
I prodded him to get him to answer but he also ignored me.
I looked at the sprawled out campus layout in the distance, hoping someone would just show up and break up this charade. But everywhere looked dead even in the distance I couldn’t make out the usual figures of people passing along the faculty gangways. For the first time since it all began I noticed that not one single car had passed and the campus in the distance looked deserted.
How on earth was that possible?
On both sides of the road, the bushes began rustle violently; evidence that something was moving within them.
The Capone’s boys moved with self-styled military precision and positioned themselves on both sides of the road. They focused on the places where the bushes were rustling the most. Their display of arrogant bravura was however not convincing enough as I could see doubt and fear of the unknown registered on the faces of some of them. They had been used to attacking fellow students, not unexplainable phenomena that defied common logic.
Then, in a flash following the five seconds they had stood on both sides of the road, the unknown things in the rustling bushes revealed themselves.
Writhing serpents of varying sizes and species slid out of the bushes in aggressive spiraling procession onto the asphalt as if out for war. They moved out from different parts of the bushes in droves; a horrific sight that elicited screams and gunshots as the cultists emptied their guns on the reptilian horde. The Cobra Capone had also panicked and beat a hasty retreat towards one of the parked vehicles.
An agonizing scream came from one of the guys as a big python encircled his right leg, tripped him and proceeded to wrap its massive trunk of a body round his. Three of the cultists simply took to their heels like jackrabbits forsaking their colleagues, cars and weapons which had dropped from their hands; a reflex action to the morbid horror unfolding before them. They ran off into the distance leading to the staff quarters. The opposite direction which led to the campus had already been cordoned off – by approaching snakes.
More and more snakes continued to slide out of the bushes; a colorful mirage of thick bodied and venomous death all hurrying into the open with a matter of urgency.
Two of the cultists had managed to get into the Toyota Camry but were thrashing about and screaming as they battled to their wits end and struggled to get out of the vehicle again. They had entered the car without knowing that some of the snakes had crawled earlier through the windows.
The Capone had climbed onto the roof of the Nissan Maxima, brought out a small pistol and begun shooting at the snakes. His bullets struck some scattering serpentine blood and fleshy bits about but it seemed to encourage more of the reptiles to come gliding after him. He cursed wildly, unbuckled his belt, pulled it off and started using it to lash out at the ones trying to climb onto the vehicle.
One of the guys in the trench coat was busy blasting away at the snakes fearlessly in a mix of desperation and rage, despite being ‘outnumbered’. He didn’t run but stood squarely and aimed his shotgun striking snakes and asphalt with bullets.
I screamed as I watched the whole scenario terrified out of my wits. I wanted to run but was totally paralyzed by horror. I even found myself wetting my pants. For a coward like me, this was the zenith of my fear. I was sure that it would eventually kill me.
I looked at Harry who still squatted on the sidewalk, eyes closed and ears plugged, rocking to and fro but now saying nothing.
I punched him hard in the forearm and stutter-screamed his name, ‘Ha-Ha…Harry!’
‘What?’ he yelled back angrily at the painful distraction, eyes still closed but let down his hands from his ear.
‘Harry! See…s-snakes…terrible…s…something…see oh…s-snakes…everywhere…‘ It was hard for me to express myself coherently. The fear had not only made me pee on myself, it had also robbed me of speech.
‘Didn’t I tell you to close your eyes and ears?’
I couldn’t answer him as I knew that I was dead guilty.
A boa constrictor moved sluggishly past us and headed over to where the guy in trench coat was busy battling the reptilian mob. I gave a small terrified scream as fright made wild love to my senses. But the constrictor didn’t respond to my outburst. It ignored me and just slid past.
‘What was that?’ Harry asked.
‘S…s…s…sna-ke.’ I was almost choking on my saliva and biting my own tongue. Fear was literarily turning me into an imbecile.
He laughed so hard tears managed to come through his tightly shut eyes.
Rather than worry over why he was laughing, I got the more scared. I watched the snakes as they moved in droves in different directions expecting one of them to soon head our way.
But none of them did. Neither did they seem to have any intention of coming anywhere near us. It was as if they couldn’t see us or just weren’t bothered with us.
‘They won’t harm you. They are not for you.’ Harry said as if he had read my thoughts.
I gave him a scared and suspicious look. The way he said it was kind of authoritative and unnerving. He suddenly opened his eyes and looked around. The fear that initially engulfed him seemed to have disappeared.
He got up, dusted his clothes and walked up to the Nissan Maxima where the Capone was still struggling on its roof to fight off the climbing snakes with his belt. The Cult don had already been bitten twice and was getting weary as the poison took effect on him.
As Harry approached the car, the snakes gave way, crawling out of his path to allow him through. None attempted to attack him. It was as if they recognized him as a higher authority.
Harry looked at the Capone for a moment as he beat off reptiles with his belt then stretched out his right hand and said in a stern voice, ‘Give me the Harmonica, now!’
The Capone, startled by his sudden appearance didn’t hesitate. He dug out the mouth organ from his jeans pocket and threw it at Harry.
‘Please! Abeg! Help me!…stop these snakes…!’ the Capone pleaded with Harry in a tired and broken voice.
‘I warned you not to play it. You didn’t listen.’
‘No vex! Abeg! Help me…abeg!’
Harry cleared his throat, placed the mouth organ between his lips and played a soft soulful tune on it.
The cold bawling wind subsided gradually until the atmosphere was reduced into cool night calm.
The snakes became less aggressive and began retreating back into the bushes in mass exodus. Under 30 seconds, everywhere was bare and absent of any reptile. Only a few dead ones lay strewn across the road.
Beside the Toyota Camry, two of the cultists who had been attacked in the car lay on the floor, still alive and crying out in pain both partially paralyzed by snake venom.
The guy in the trench coat was seated on the sidewalk panting and swallowing heavily. The adrenaline that had charged him into action seemed to have subsided and paranoia was creeping in. His hands trembled as he cradled the shotgun to his heaving chest. He was fortunate not to have been bitten.
To another side of the road the guy who had been attacked by a python lay helpless, bones broken in places. Fortunately for him, Harry’s intervention had saved him from being swallowed and digested by the mammoth reptile.
Harry stopped playing the Harmonica, wiped the vents and hooked it back on his neck chain. He sighed, then turned to me.
‘Abigor, get up and let’s go.’
I got up from the pavement, tucked out my shirt to hide the pee map on my jeans and half-wobbled half-hurried to his side. I was still smarting from the stupefaction at the whole incident and the amazing power in the hands of my friend.
‘Harry these guys are in bad shape oh…are we going to leave them like this?’
‘Don’t worry Abigor,’ he said, smiling and adjusting his glasses, ‘they’ll live…but with scars.’
I didn’t know how that would happen but I believed him. The way he said it was very reassuring.
He led the way and as we walked away from the scene, I saw the other cult members who had taken off earlier come creeping back to help their fallen colleagues. The Cobra Capone, injured both bodily and in ego, sat on the roof of the Maxima gazing at us with dread and respect as we strolled away from the area.
I looked up from the document on the laptop I was working with.
It was Shade, looking so simple yet so stunning in flowery short gown and furry flip flops. She had just come in while I wasn’t looking. Her hands were behind her back. She was hiding something from me.
I sat back and smiled in response.
‘Guess what?’ She continued sashaying her steps as if doing a dance.
‘You won a lottery?’
She shook her head, a sweet smile creeping in at the corner of her lips. Then she brought out her hands from behind her back and presented a fully bonded thesis before me.
‘My supervisor finally approved my project!’ She gave her characteristic ecstatic child-like scream.
She was in her final year of a four-year course while I still had a year to go since mine was a five-year course. I had taken up accommodation off campus to allow full concentration on my studies as I drew closer to the finale of my course. She visited me from time to time as she still stayed on campus. She had once been tempted to come live with me but I strongly discouraged it. I was exercising the wisdom I had learned from Harry.
My cell phone buzzed. I frowned when I saw the name on the screen. I picked it up.
‘Hello Nkiru. What can I do for you?’
‘Hi Abigor…umm…can we meet?’
‘For what, may I ask?’
‘To talk. I…erm…kind of miss you…those good old days, you know.’
‘I’m sorry Nkiru, but I don’t think my fiancée will like the idea of me chatting amorously with my ex.’
I heard a gentle gasp at the other end of the line.
‘Fiancée? You have a f-fiancée?’ Nkiru’s voice sounded mournful when she came back on.
I heard a sob at the other end then the line went dead.
Shade gave me a castigating look.
‘What?’ I inquired.
‘You should have been nicer…even if she’s your ex.’
‘Was I harsh? I was only being straightforward.’
‘You were harsh,’ she insisted, punching me playfully and sashaying back into the kitchenette.
I gave her a celebratory hug and she clung tightly to me. Then she released herself and looked down at my chest. Something had pressed against her when she hugged me.
It was the harmonica hanging on a chain.
‘Do you always have to wear that?’
‘Yes I do.’
‘Because with great power comes great responsibility.’
‘Power? Which kain power?’
‘The power of music of course’ I replied smiling.
She gave me a disbelieving look but I didn’t say anything. Then she sighed and made her way into my kitchenette. She knew I wouldn’t say anything further. She knew me that well.
I watched her as she moved to and fro getting busy with food and other kitchen stuff. We were really meant for each other.
I wished Harry was around to see how far we’d gone in the relationship. He had transferred away from school for reasons he said I would later understand in the future. He declined dropping a contact address but gave me an odd phone number which I could call him. The number was weird and bore nothing near any of the lines carried by the phone networks. I didn’t question him any further as it was typical of him to be that mysterious.
I smiled to myself as memories of my friend came flooding back to me. I missed the guy.
And now when I reflect on it, I really don’t regret meeting Harry.
Neither do I regret becoming the next guardian of the Harmonica.