You have experienced pain in your life, but you have never experienced one like this. That level of pain where there is no tactual sensation, no hurt. Instead you become drained, deranged, only half-aware of the blows that keep raining down on your body, separating the already broken flesh and staining your clothes with streaks of blood.
You roll over and over, trying to align new parts of your body to take in the fresh blows, but each new blow reminds you that every surface has been touched. No part is free from the soreness, the aching. The pain has returned. You scream in an inhuman voice you never knew you had. The Pastor takes this as a sign and asks everyone to stop beating you.
He bends and peers into your eyes and says, “Does a demon of the devil control you?”
You are going to tell him no.
But that is when Them interrupt.
You recognize the voice instantly. Or, is it voices? It’s like a crowd is speaking at once. But you recognize them anyway. They’re the ones who always come to you, telling you things. The only ones who understand the words you try to speak.
But you’ve never liked them. They try to make you do things. Wicked, bad things. You always refuse, and they make you suffer. They chase you in dreams. You force yourself to wake up, screaming, and father comes to beat you back to sleep.
You’re in so much pain, you can’t hear what they’re telling you to do this time, but they’re insistent. They repeat it.
You shake your head, trying to get Them to leave you.
No! I won’t, you reply. I can’t do it.
Yes you can. You have the power. Kill the pastor. Then your father.
They won’t leave you alone. They’ll beat you and you’ll die.
By now, you’re shaking your head vigorously. That’s when you realize Pastor Siodi is watching you. He thinks this is the answer to his own question.
The rain of blows resumes, harder than the last two episodes. You taste blood in your tongue and your lips and face are swollen. You roll in the dust, begging, pleading, crying. You wail, yawl in self-pity. They don’t stop. They continue to rain blows until your throat can produce no more sounds, before they pause, all sweating and panting.
Pastor Siodi asks you the question again. You are weak; you can’t move your head. You are struggling to grab hold of consciousness.
This man won’t leave you alone. He will stop at nothing to protect his fake Church. He has burnt many other children like you. He will burn you.
Stop! Stop telling me these things!
You don’t see, Amaeka? They’re the enemy! Not us. We want to help you. We don’t want you to die. But they want you to. Him and your father. You must do it if you want to stay alive.
No! I won’t do it! I will never do anything you say! Leave me alone!
We can’t leave you alone. We are you. You are us. We cannot be separated.
I’m not you! I will never be you! You do bad things to people. It’s your fault they brought me here.
We have to do them because you refuse to. It’s our duty to see these things fulfilled. If you had done those things to your family when we told you to, we would not have interfered. But you refused. So we did it.
I told you I cannot hurt my family! I love them.
But your father doesn’t love you. He will agree with the pastor to burn you. You have to kill them both or you will die. Only you have the power. We cannot help you now.
You cover your ears and scream loud and long, trying to drain Them out. There are exclamations from the pastoral group, fingers are snapping. Then you see Pastor Siodi lower his cane and mutter some thanks to God. You realize it must’ve been interpreted as a sort of sign. You signal to him, trying to explain to them that they’re wrong, but they don’t understand. He kneels down and utters loud praise, echoed by everyone in the room. They begin to sing.
Father comes over, his face softer now, and tries to touch you. But you cringe when you see the hate still in his eyes. They told you he would burn you. You see it there now, and you know it’s true. He reaches for your hand, and you see it’s all pretense, so you slap it off. He agreed to this. He hates you. He started the thrashing. He is the enemy. You never want to see him again. You want Mother. Only Mother. Mother would understand.
You push him away, crying. His face hardens instantly. He deals you a hard backhand slap that sends you to the floor, but you’re back on your buttocks, inching away from him. He comes close again, aims to deal you another round of pain…
Do it. He will kill you.
The heavy slap lands on the side of your head, taking you to the floor.
You lay there, trying to get them to leave you alone. Father is saying something, but you can’t hear him properly. The slap has blocked out your hearing. The pain in your body is coming back. The pastor is asking you a question now, but you can’t hear him either. You’re shaking your head as much as you can. Father is crouching over you, raising his cane, shouting something.
You’re gesticulating to father. Can’t you see I’m doing this for you? He doesn’t wait to understand. He brings it down and your neck ignites again. You yell. The pastor is urging him on, speaking gibberish. His eyes are red. He’s shouting the same thing at you, over and over, but you still can’t hear properly. You’re trying to explain, but he’s raising the cane…
With a rush of all the strength of your power channeled to your arm, you swipe at his cheek with your long finger nails.
The singing stopped short with a chorus of gasps. Siodi looked on in horror as the man’s eyes suddenly changed colour. His whole body went rigid, as if struck by electricity, and in almost slow motion, he crumpled to the ground. Four marks of the young girl’s fingers appeared on his cheek, bleeding slowly.
“Jesus!” one of the female pastors exclaimed.
He rushed over and felt for the man’s pulse. There was a very weak one, and it was fading fast.
His eyes widened instantly. It wasn’t possible!
Siodi shuddered at the thought. Could it be? That she really was…? He looked at his warriors. They stared back, all visibly shaken. Their eyes were trained on the pallid creature, who now sat with her back to the wall, looking just as surprised or doing a very good job of faking it.
He stared at her, his jaw almost fully slackened.
“What have you done?”
She stared wide-eyed at him, her face the epitome of childlike naiveté. She looked scared and confused in her torn dress, like an alley cat. Siodi searched her face, trying to understand. Could it be?
Then he saw it.
A flicker, in her eyes. Like a passing of film over her pupils. It flashed for just a moment, there now and gone the next. He didn’t see enough to know what it was, but if he knew something, he knew those weren’t the eyes of any child.
No. It wasn’t possible. She was…
Siodi jerked back to the junior evangelist.
“Bring petrol! Go!”
The mention of fire brings a new life to you that you thought you could never regain. New strength borne of an ineffable dread. The upsurge is so great that you wonder if this is the Adrenaline people always talk about, or if it’s Them. No less, you embrace it, because you know it is the only strength you will get. Now you know Them were right. The pastor wants to burn you for what you did to father.
It isn’t Them this time. It’s the normal voice in your head warning you. You don’t think twice about obeying. With this new strength, you push off the floor and hightail it, heading out the unlocked door of the Sanctum before they have time to respond. Your little feet carry you quickly, but you can hear their heavy steps and shouts closing in on you as you leap down the stairs in threes, tears still spewing out of your eyes. You bundle past a baffled crowd of people as you get to the foot of the stairs, your heart threatening to eject from your chest. Your eyes scan for mother, but you don’t see her in the crowd, so you sprint out of the hall. The church gate, your door to safety, is within sight.
“Catch her! Witch! Witch! Catch her!”
You can hear them calling to everyone. A multitude has joined in the chase. Everyone is the new enemy. You glance backwards. Pastor Siodi is leading the chase, his shiny grey trousers flapping as he runs. You make for the gate with a new fury.
They are beckoning to the guard at the gate. You know this because you see him turn to face you. He bends slightly, spreading his arms as if to embrace you. He’s going to catch you for them. You won’t let him. He’ll take you back to them and they’ll burn you with their fire. Not today.
So even in the middle of your fear and unstoppable tears, you put all your experience of playing catcher with your friends into use by dodging past him, slipping under his arms as he closes in to hold you. He slumps to the ground, embracing air, while you run out of the gate and into the road.
You should’ve thought it through. What you were going to do once you got out. What direction you would run in. Who you would run to. But fear has taken so great a hold that you aren’t thinking. Or looking.
That’s why you don’t see the car as it comes.
The force of impact is so great it makes father’s blows feel like feathers. It picks you up and throws you onto the tarmacadam. There is the sharp crack of a bone in your side as you land. You see a bright whiteness, slowly giving way to darkness. You hear Them again.
We told you! We told you to do it…
The car stops abruptly. Two men emerge and run towards you. Their faces look kind and worried for you. Maybe you’re going to heaven.
We told you! If you don’t do it, you will die…
You smile inwardly. You are satisfied. See, father? It wasn’t me. See, mother? I didn’t do anything. You speak to Them. I did it. But not for you. For them. I did it for them.
One of the men kneels by your side and shouts something inaudible. There are more faces all over you, hysterical. They are talking and asking you questions. You can’t hear because you’re fading. Everything is fading.
Now, everything is gone and you see or feel nothing.