When one sees the unbelievable, the unthinkable, one immediately goes through various stages. First is surprise-what’s that? Second is incredulity-is that what I think it is? Am I seeing this? Third, denial. The brain processes what the eyes have seen, delves into its archives, compares, and then discards the new information, rejects it outright. Fourth, close on the heels of denial, is fear. When the ghost of a possibility creeps in that what is being seen is really there, one begins to fear for one’s safety, or…sanity, or…life.
Fear for one’s life.
This is a very critical stage. Failure to overcome this stage is fatal.
Acceptance is the next, final, and most important stage. Acceptance and the fight to turn the situation around for your own good. The fight…for your survival.
Reginald stared at the road, gasping. He peered closely. I’m going crazy. He turned and looked behind, through the windshield, turned, looked through the windows on his left, craned his neck and looked past the passenger beside him and looked through the window.
Same thing everywhere.
Reginald laughed softly to himself. The passenger beside him looked at him, eyes wide. Reginald thought the guy was in shock. Reginald felt the beginning of giddiness welling up in him.
“Why are you laughing?” the passenger asked.
If he widens his eyes any more, Reginald thought, he’s gonna burst them and spray me with eye goo.
“How did we get here?” Reginald asked, although he doubted the man knew. He looked too scared to know his own name.
“I…I don’t know,” the passenger stuttered, facing front. He moved slowly, like his neural pathways were experiencing a traffic jam. The remaining passengers had scurried out of the bus as if it were hot. In a way it was hot, hot with their fear.
Reginald shook his head; his shoulders sagged as he clasped his hands between his knees. “This is not real,” he breathed. He laid his forehead on the head-rest of the seat before him and closed his eyes. He could smell the sweat of passengers past; the floor of the bus was sandy and rusty. He realized the radio was still on. Lucky Dube was singing ‘Prisoner’. Must be a tape. Reginald closed his eyes.
“This isn’t real,” he said softly. “It isn’t. It is a trick. Film trick. It can’t fit be.”
He raised his head and looked around him again.
Feeling like an old man, Reginald turned, realized he was alone, and slid on the seat towards the door. He let himself out, slowly; he felt fragile, like a glass cup on the edge of a table. Most of the passengers had wandered off a bit, never quite leaving the vicinity of their stop. He saw a guy relieving himself beside the road, as if he were in the most normal place for that.
Reginald made his way to the front of the bus, sidestepping two ladies who held themselves tightly, rocking each other, crying and consoling each other at the same time. He could hear other ladies crying; a sniffle here, a sob there, a wail here. It was all heart-rending. Well, it was only natural that they cried; those who couldn’t were in shock. Reginald didn’t blame those who cried; this whole thing was enough to make a mad man go crazy ten times over.
The air was thick with smoke, and the pungent smell of charred meat, as well as something coppery. Reginald coughed as he tasted ash on his tongue, and he spat it out, grimacing. He walked until he stood shoulder-to-shoulder with the driver, who stood, looking down the road in the direction of their destination. His eyes looked lost. Reginald could sympathize with him.
They all looked lost.
Denial crept in, subtly taking over his mind.
“I don’t believe this,” Reginald said.
“Mhmm,” the driver managed.
“This thing no fit happen.”
“E no suppose happen.”
“But e don happen,” the driver replied.
“E don be.”
“I no just know,” Reginald said. “It can’t be true.”
But there was no way to deny it.
Something unbelievable had happened; it seemed like it was still happening. Some trees stood untouched. Some were burning, some were already smouldering logs of firewood, as far as the eye could see. Smoke drifted in the air, giving the sky a dirty, sooty look.
But that was alright, in a way.
In the carnage before them, two cars were still burning, the flames coming out the shell-like windows, licking the air, reflecting off the shattered glass fragments on the road. Other vehicles were scattered on the road; one was overturned, wheels exposed and turning slowly, lazily, like a windmill on a breeze-less afternoon. Reginald saw a truck that had veered off the road and crashed into the bushes.
But that was alright, in a way.
The part that wasn’t alright, the part that closed his heart in an icy grip dripping fear, was the bodies.
The bloody, smoldering, torn bodies.
“Wa-was it an accident?”
Reginald turned, saw a woman standing behind him, peering from behind him like she was scared to come out.
“I don’t know,” he replied, turning. “Maybe.” He stood still, alone and in himself for a moment. Movement on the edge of his vision caught his eye; he turned, stepping on the woman’s foot, and she gave a frightened yelp of pain. “Sorry,” he muttered, and then looked; it was only a lady going off into the forest.
“Oh,” he said softly, before it hit him.
Going off into the forest.
He turned sharply again and yelled. “HEY! HEY YOU! SISTER! SISTER !!” The lady turned. “WHERE ARE YOU GOING!” He began to make his way towards her, stepping high over the bushes, jumping over the ones too high. Reginald stopped a few feet in front of her.
“I need to ease myself.”
“It’s not safe sister. I think you should at least do that somewhere around, somewhere we can all see you.”
The lady’s face screwed up in anger. “Why? So you can all gawk?”
Reginald felt embarrassed. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry.” He was already making his way back to the bus, as the lady stalked off into the forest, muttering in anger. Reginald cursed himself all the way to the bus.
Idiot. Mind your own business. You wanted to be a Good Samaritan, right? You should’ve just let her go.
He entered the bus, slid over to his place on the back seat, put his hand beneath it and brought out his small bag. Nothing inside but a change of clothes, toothbrush, perfume, deodorant, two sausage rolls, a bottle of water, and a half-filled bottle of apple juice. He got off the bus, opened the bag and began to search for the juice. Got it out and opened the bottle. Took a gulp and felt the juice coat his tongue with sweetness. He looked around. Some passengers were with their phones trying to make calls.
He’d forgotten all about that.
He fumbled in his pocket, took out his phone as he searched for the driver. He saw him with a phone in his hand, looking worried.
“What’s wrong?” Reginald asked.
“How?” Reginald checked his phone. Saw the network bar on the screen.
Reginald tried to check his balance all the same; sometimes reception would be fine and the network status bar would be empty.
Well, obviously, this wasn’t one of those times.
He tried again.
And the same message always, flashing on his screen.
“Bros.” Reginald turned, saw a guy walk towards him, phone in hand, face creased with fear and worry. “Do you have reception on your phone?”
Reginald shook his head. No.
“I no get,” someone said.
No phone had reception. This increased Reginald’s worry a couple of notches.
He walked up to the driver. “What do you think happened?”
“I dunno…petrol tanker accident, or something.”
“But we were on this road,” Reginald said, “and we saw nothing like this. It just…appeared.” The driver was silent. “What’s your name?” Reginald asked him.
Reginald looked up at the sky. The same blue. But it seemed different…somehow. Now he could fully smell the air. A noxious blend of charred flesh, blood, ash and petrol.
If this was an accident, it must’ve been a terrible one.
Something, however, was bothering him, like a nagging toothache that just wouldn’t go away. Something…
He turned to Femi. “What do you suggest we do now?”
“I don’t know.” He turned to the bus. “The bus won’t start. Probably wait for the next vehicle to help us.”
“But I don’t hear any vehicle,” Femi complained, “talk less of to see one. And we can’t clear the road on our own.”
“But at least we can try.”
“How?” Femi said.
“Maybe we can-”
Cocked his head.
Strained his ears.
He turned to Femi. “Do you hear anything?”
Femi listened. “No. Why? Anything? What’s the problem?”
“I mean, do you hear anything at all?”
Femi looked at him, puzzled. And then he began to look around, realization dawning on him, and then the horror. “Oh God,” he breathed, a scared whisper. He sounded like his heart was breaking.
That’s right, Reginald thought. Oh God.
The forest, on both sides, was utterly still.
Not even the leaves.
Nothing made a sound.
Not even the birds.
Reginald looked at the driver. “Maybe we should go back.”
“Yes. I’ll try to start the bus. Please help me get everyone back inside.” Femi walked to the bus. His footsteps on the road were suddenly so loud to Reginald’s ears.
Almost like we are all alone in a giant room.
Yeah. Reginald felt alone. He heard Femi open the door of the bus, heard the squeak of metal and the creak of the seat as he sat.
Femi turned the key in the ignition.
The engine coughed, and then died.
Cursing, he tried it again.
It coughed and died again.
Hitting the steering with his fist he cursed and then tried it again.
It didn’t even bother coughing.
Reginald heard him say, “Shit, wetin be dis one now?” and he turned to the bus. “E no wan start?” he asked.
“My brother, I no just understand,” Femi answered. “And the engine is sound oh. Just had it serviced yesterday. Which kain tin be dis sef eh?” he complained in Pidgin English.
“Check your engine,” Reginald advised.
“I know, I know. Na de tin wey I wan do sef.” Femi stepped out and raised the his seat, exposing the engine beneath.
And the scream cut through the air like a knife.
Reginald snapped his neck around so fast that it hurt him sharply. Crying out in pain, his hand flew to his neck, as he tried to locate the direction from which the scream had come from.
It came again, and then petered down to sobs, before ascending in a crescendo of agony.
Something, or someone, was amiss.
The lady that had gone into the forest to relieve herself, the one who had embarrassed him, was nowhere to be found.
She was still in the forest.
She was the person screaming.
“SISTER!” Reginald bellowed at the top of his voice, forgetting his whiplash pain. “LADY!” he shouted, crashing through the bushes into the forest; he could hear others rushing in behind him. His bag threatened to slip off, and he slung it across his body. Questions raced through his mind-what had happened? What had she seen? Had a snake bitten her? Had something or someone attacked her?
He kept on shouting “SISTER! LADY!” as he entered the forest, and the others joined him.
Something caught his foot, tripping him. Reginald caught his balance before he could fall, and looked down. Saw a black handbag, contents half in, half out.
I probably did it.
This meant she was nearby. Behind that large tree maybe. Probably hiding. He hoped they had scared off her attacker. As he got closer to the tree, he could make out a wet patch on the ground, probably where she’d just eased herself.
“Sister?” he called softly as he crept cautiously forward towards the tree; he didn’t want to be embarrassed again. He expected her to answer, say something at least.
“You never-” he turned and saw the clearing behind the tree. “-finish?” came out of his mouth like a balloon losing air.
Nobody was there.
It was empty.
Something warm and moist brushed the side of his head, something warm dribbled on his jacket, ran down the sleeve onto the hand. He brushed the moistness away-it felt a little squishy, and he flung his hand to get rid of the liquid that had run down his hand and stained his ja-
Reginald’s eyes grew wide.
He opened his mouth, gagging. “Oh my God,” he whispered.
Reginald felt like throwing up.
Someone screamed; the scream of madness.
Reginald looked up, wiping his mouth on his sleeve.
Hanging above them all, was the lady they were all looking for, smouldering entrails hanging out of a smouldering, ripped-open stomach, with blood pouring from a throat that almost wasn’t there.