|Photo credit: horrorland (silent night)|
“Happy hols!” the deep gruff voice of the big-bellied principal echoed from the large speakers as the school children gleefully and clumsily made their way to the school bus with so much speed as though a second wasted would leave them trapped in school for eternity.
“One at a time”, Uncle Joseph, the bus driver tried to sound stern as the junior students forced their way through the door.
They obviously did not listen to him and he knew nothing he said would change their minds, so he let the struggle continue. In about two minutes they were all in and the senior students filed in casually as though they had never gone through the stage of the juniors.
Uncle Joseph got into his seat and started the long drive down the road. It was the end of the first term and everyone was already chatting noisily in the school bus about how the Christmas holidays would turn out for one another. He continuously darted his eyes at the rear view mirror in the direction of the two girls seated behind. They seemed out of place in the bus; sullen and quiet. They did not even speak to each other.
He sighed and faced the road. They used to be three but one of them had died a year ago. He could understand their plight; their feelings; their pain. They had probably hugged and chatted about how they would make guys go crazy and all the silly girl-talks, only to return and find out they were never going to see her again.
He knew the dead girl; she was quite popular. He had occasionally heard SS3 boys chat and describe how she had made out with some of them in hidden places he never even knew existed in Afobiri Secondary School. She was loose and promiscuous, but dying was too much a punishment for her.
His thoughts came to a halt as he stopped the car in front of the brown bungalow with a short fence and watched one of the girls get up with her school bag and alight from the bus. As he started the bus, he could swear he had seen a look pass between them; a look of fear as though one would end up dead like their friend.
Judy clung to her school bag with both hands and watched the bus disappear out of sight wondering if that was the last time she would set eyes on it.
The deaths during the holidays had all been ruled as accidents; the car, the well, the knife, but definitely not the water. Jane was the star swimmer of Afobiri; she had won a national competition and even created a record as the youngest person to last underwater. She still could not bring herself to believe her friend had drowned.
The accidents had begun four years earlier. The principal had hollered as he always did, “Happy hols!”
They had all gone home to spend their usual exciting and fun-filled holidays but returned to hear of the death of James Iyaye, the rude Senior Prefect. He had been returning home from football practice alone when a car had hit him. The next Christmas holiday, the school bully, Paul Tamunowari had fallen into a well; and then Martha Attah had fallen down a flight of stair the next holiday.
The staff and students had mourned them and saw the happenings as mere coincidences, but the moment she received a call from Pamela concerning Jane, all the so-called accidents turned to murder before her eyes. To her, James had been hit by a hit and run driver; Paul had been pushed into the well; Martha had been pushed down the stairs and Jane had been murdered as well.
The moment she had voiced out her thoughts, everyone felt her friend’s death had taken a great toll on her. Her parents had even considered sending her to a therapist who would help her get over Jane’s death since she was not willing to accept the fact that her friend had drowned.
She sighed and unlocked the front door of the empty house. Her father was still at the shop and her mother at the bakery. Her elder brother, Nnamdi, was still in school so staying home alone was not new to her anymore, but with thoughts of a holiday killer on the loose, staying home alone was scary.
Judy alighted from the taxi and paid the driver. It had been a week since they closed for the Chrismas holidays and she had not heard from her friend, Pamela. For a moment, she had almost conceived the thought that her friend was probably dead, but a more reasonable part of her told her otherwise.
Great trepidation filled her as she stood at the front door of the Lawsons. What if she was truly right and a killer existed? What if she had lost another friend? What if-
She heard a click in the keyhole and watched the door open slowly; she had no idea she had knocked already. Instant relief filled her as her wide and expectant eyes came to rest on Pamela Lawson.
Impulsively, she pulled her into a bear hug. “You’re still alive”, the relief in her voice was obvious.
Pamela pulled away and gave her a scrutinizing look. “Am I supposed to be dead?”
Judy stared at her friend and smiled knowingly. Just like everyone else, she really did not believe there was a Holiday Killer as Judy had named him. The only effect Jane’s death had on her was a change of her whole perception about life.
Everyone was a walking corpse.
She opened her palms and sighed finally. “I’m just so happy to see you”.
Pam shrugged and led her friend inside the house. When they were both seated in the living room, Judy held her friend’s hand.
“I’m scared, Pam”, her sad brown eyes were fixed on Pam who knew better than to make her feel silly for believing there was a murderer on the loose.
She finally sighed and offered a pathetic smile. “You shouldn’t be, Judith. There’s no one after you”, she paused and closed her eyes for a second. “I know we’re all going to die someday, but you living in constant fear could send you faster to your grave”.
Judy hissed and released Pam’s hands. She sounded just like her mother and the last thing she wanted to hear was how Jane’s death had a great effect on her.
Pam then sighed and moved closer to her. “Judith, I think you should speak to your parents so that they can take you to someone that might be able to help you”, she suggested in a low tone.
Judy’s unmistakable glare replied her; how she hated it when Pam tried to get all mature and motherly. She was about to act on it but thought better of it; she needed to convince her; she needed at least one person to believe her. Pamela was just the right person for that; her boyfriend’s mother was a police officer. Judy believed that if she was able to convince her, one way or the other, she would get her boyfriend to believe too and his mother would then look into it.
Her hard glare softened immediately. “You’re right”.
Pam was nobody’s fool and being friends with her for four years made her know she had to act in line with whatever drama Judy had coming.
“I really shouldn’t be scared, because I have you”, she smiled and Pam had a fake smile plastered on face. “Yet, I need you to see reason with me. These deaths are too coincidental to be called accidents”, she began as her voice rose and Pam knew she was in for a long lecture. “I’ve studied these happenings; the students aren’t really the typical nice people”, her eyes widened as she stated her claim.
“Everyone hated James, he was the most wicked prefect in the history of Afobiri”, she paused to take in Pamela’s fake attention. “Paul was-”
“The official school bully, Martha was a devious and cheating liar who felt she could always get away with everything and Jane was our friend”, Pam cut in monotonously as though she had heard the story countless times.
“It’s just a theory, but once we’re able to investigate the-”
Pamela put up her palms in the air and stopped her from speaking further. “First of all Judy, it’s a hypothesis, not a theory”, she corrected and shook her head.
Her friend scowled at her. “Seriously? You had to cut in because of my choice of words?” she made it sound like a question. Pamela was the class English guru who corrected any sentence at the slightest provocation and how much Judy she hated it. Jane used to really hate it too.
She pretended not to hear Judy. “Secondly, we are not investigating anything. You are going to pull yourself together and finally get to accept that our friend’s death was an accident as well as the others”, her tone was slowly rising and she could see its effect on her friend’s face. “Enough is enough, Judy. Jane is gone, you have to accept it and move on just as I have”, her right palm came to rest on her chest as Judy gave a lopsided grin.
She finally rose to her feet and dusted her short black skirt. “You never really liked Jane, did you?” she watched Pamela sigh with her hand on her forehead but did not wait for her to reply. “You’re not sad that she’s dead”, she added as Pamela opened her mouth in a bemused manner. “You don’t want justice for our Jane”, Pamela suddenly noticed the tears in her voice and felt she was onto the next level of her acting: emotional blackmail.
She sighed and massaged her forehead as she thought of a suitable reply for her bereaved friend. She glanced at the clock and suddenly wished she had not been so adamant when her father had asked her to follow him to the workshop earlier that morning.
“So, you’re just going to sit there and ignore me”, there was anger in her voice but Pamela kept massaging her forehead and avoiding eye contact. “You think I’m-”, a knock on the front door cut her short.
Pamela’s instant relief was obvious in the way she jumped up from her seat even though she was not expecting anyone. She did not even glance at Judy as she said, “Give me a minute” and scurried to open the door.
The excitement at having someone interrupt Judy’s theory had really gotten to her that she even forgot to ask who it was before opening the door; and that was a grave mistake in the city of Port Harcourt. Well, she was lucky though. The intruder was Echezona Kalu, wearing a sweater and a pair of jeans.
She felt her heart skip a beat and turned away from him towards Judith as though warning her to keep mute till he was gone.
She turned back to him and offered a wry smile. “I had no idea you were coming”, she tried to sound comported as he sneered.
“You would have known if you had taken my calls”, he retorted as Pamela noticed Judy sitting back on the sofa from the corner of her eyes. It was a good thing she had not walked to the door instead.
He noticed her eyes. “Are-are you with someone?” he managed to ask with his finger pointing inside.
She did not want him inside the house and having Judy sit with them would be fifty shades of awkward.
“Yes, I am”, she finally said and without looking at him, added “Daniel came by”.
She rolled her eyes and watched him nod and give an “oh” expression. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to-”
She twitched her left eye and offered a sympathetic smile. “It’s alright”.
He still watched her and when she noticed he was waiting for her to say something else, she absent-mindedly added, “I guess things are better this way, Ech”. She muttered with a large stare and waited for his reply; she badly wanted him to refute and say no.
“Sure”, he swallowed and pointed his index finger towards his bicycle. “I guess I should be going then”.
“That sounds okay to me”, she tried to hide her disappointment and offered another fake smile before closing the door without waiting for a reply.
“You’re seriously not getting back with Eche?” Judy made it sound like a question as she stood with arms akimbo to face Pam whose smile had faded the instant she closed the door.
“Things are better this way”, her voice was a low whisper. She sounded unsure; as though she did not want things to be that way, but yet had no choice than to leave things that way.
God! She was just fourteen and her life was already that complicated.
Judy looked at her as though that was the most stupid thing she had ever heard her say. Eche was the social prefect of their school while Pam and Judy were in SS2, a class lower. “Do you know how many Afobiri girls like that boy? Even our senior girls too”, she reminded her. “You should feel lucky to have such a handsome boy choose you out of-”
Pamela threw her a penetrating glower. She hated it when Judith objectified her. Wanting no more of that topic, she turned to the wall clock. She was supposed to be at the workshop thirty minutes ago.
Judy turned in the direction of her gaze and asked, “Workshop?”
Pam nodded in reply as Judy sighed and arranged her sleeveless blouse. “I guess I’ll be seeing you around then”, she threw her a quick glance and walked to the front door as Pam watched her with folded arms and a knowing smile across her lips.
She knew her friend so well and could tell if she was happy or not. “I’m not lying, Judith. I really have to be at the workshop”.
Judith scoffed and walked out without throwing a single glance at her. She was so desperate to get her to believe a killer existed and as she walked out, that was all she thought about.
Pamela shook her head as she walked to the door and locked it before darting her eyes to the wall clock once more and rushing inside to get dressed.
In ten minutes, she was already locking the front door and made to leave when her purse fell to the ground. She bent to pick it up and then noticed a piece of paper by the side of the door with a stone atop it.
Curiosity got the better of her as she lifted up the stone and picked up the paper. She did not need a soothsayer to tell her Eche had left her a note. She feigned seriousness in case he was watching to get her reaction from a corner.
Her jaw dropped and her eyes widened in horror as she stared at it; glaring at her in bloody scribbles were the words “Happy Hols!”