Reginald’s breath began coming in short gasps. The air stank of sweat and blood and urine and shit. He heard people wailing, shouting questions as they came forward, heard people crashing backwards, trying to get away from, to escape the horror before their eyes. But there was no way to do that. It was already in their minds.
As for Reginald, he couldn’t run; his legs felt too weak for that. He wasn’t sure he could manage four steps in any direction. His mind went blank, like a slate wiped clean. Then, a thought.
Who did this?
And another one, one that made his mind cringe.
What did this?
He looked at his hand. Her blood was already drying. He used his handkerchief to wipe it off, and then attacked his face furiously, scrubbing away, trying to get the blood off. If he could, he could’ve removed the top layer of his face.
Christ help us.
He turned, trying to look behind him, and froze. Turned his neck slowly, his neck creaking, muscles strung up and wound tightly like springs. He looked up at the tree again.
It was empty.
No hanging lady.
No, he thought, wrong tree.
He turned a full circle.
He heard a small thrashing. He snapped his head around at the sound.
Again. The bushes. They were shaking.
Another one thrashed to his left.
A growl, low and guttural.
“RUN!!!” he shouted.
Reginald stumbled out of the forest.
“Femi! FEMI!” Reginald shouted as he made for the bus. Femi looked up, alarm in his eyes.
“START THE BUS! EVERYBODY GET INSIDE NOW!” People turned, bleary-eyed, to look at the screaming maniac. Around him, those who had been in the bush were beating a hasty retreat too, gesturing with their hands, some shouting. Reginald turned and looked; the thrashing was closer now. Soon, whatever was in there would come crashing through-
He couldn’t finish the thought.
“EVERYBODY GET INSIDE THE BUS NOW! FEMI, START IT! NOW!!” The panic seemed to get the other passengers, and they must’ve seen the thrashing too, because they began to get up hurriedly, scrambling, shrieking, tripping, getting up, falling on top of each other. A guy looked back.
Others looked back.
Reginald didn’t look back. He just threw himself on the ground, ignoring the cuts and scratches from the grasses and shrubs. He closed his eyes, just screwed them shut, whimpering. He was lucky, and he was quick. Something big, something powerfully fast and strong flew directly over him, passing through the space he’d been standing in a second and a half ago; the slipstream washed over him, flattening the grass and ruffling his clothes. He heard sounds; growls and snarls, as if a hundred lions were battling over a kill.
He smelled the smoke.
And then, the real screaming began.
Reginald stiffened; something, some things, were attacking them. Gurgling screams rose in the air, as if someone, some people, were trying to scream with a mouthful of liquid. He smelled burning flesh, he heard ripping and tearing sounds, something warm and wet sprayed on him, something thumped the ground beside him. Reginald opened his eyes, risked a look at the thing that had landed beside him.
It looked like a hand.
It was a hand.
A severed hand.
No, no, a torn hand. Broken and just torn off; he could see the jagged edges of the bone, could see the muscles, the arteries, veins, still pumping blood.
“Oh God,” Reginald breathed.
Reginald looked up, just managed to get his head up…
…and found himself staring into a pair of black soulless eyes, in a smooth, hairless, hideously man-like face, a face the colour of light chocolate. Blood dripped from its thin, almost non-existent black lips, pieces of pink flesh hung from its long, jagged extremely sharp teeth. As he watched, the hand of the creature’s victim, which was in its paws, came ablaze as if from the inside out. Like the fire had somehow wormed its way out from the inside. As Reginald watched, a black thick strip of muscle that was its tongue snaked out from within its maw, and licked the blood from its chin; it swallowed the flesh.
It seemed to be grinning.
Reginald pushed off from the ground and dashed to the right, trying to get to the main road, and from there to the other side of the forest. Anywhere but here was fine by him. The creature turned, took a chunk of its victim’s neck, leaving the head connected to the body by nothing more than little skin and some muscle. The head flopped, boneless, to the right, and the body followed.
The creature went after Reginald.
Reginald ran, turned around and glanced behind him.
The creature pounced.
Someone had the bad luck to run in between them, running for his life, trying to get to the bushes to hide.
The creature slammed into him.
Reginald heard the surprised and agonized scream as he scrambled to his feet and dashed across the road, disappearing into the forest with the few scraggly survivors.
Reginald tore through the bushes, jumping over bushes and shrubs and just crashing through anything he couldn’t jump, hands shielding his face from the unforgiving whips and scratches of the branches. Jesus he felt like screaming his head off; only the sheer strength of the terror coursing through him kept him from doing so. That and the adrenaline. He felt the bag bumping against his hip distantly, and wondered how it had even stayed on. All around him, he could hear the trashing of others and their fear-filled voices as they urged themselves forward, heard some cry out as they stumbled. Someone stumbled across his path and he reflexively jumped over the person without even looking. Some people were even trying to find out what was going on as they ran, asking
What was that?
God, wetin dey happen?
What just happened?
Wait for me!
questions; questions that for now, had no answers. No time. Now was the time to haul ass and try to survive. The only thing on Reginald’s agenda was to put as much distance as he could between him and the horror behind him. Everything after that could sort itself out later.
Eventually they all came to some sort of clearing; the plants didn’t grow so much together here and Reginald, eventually tired of running, collapsed on a tree, sliding down until he was on the ground, legs splayed out in front of him, panting. For now he could see nothing but dancing dots, plenty of them. Different colours too.
After managing to get his breath under control and blinking to clear his vision, he looked around him and saw the people with him. He eyeballed them, took count. Six. Four guys and two ladies. His heart cried out. Out of the twelve people in the bus, almost half of them were dead. He saw Femi, the bus driver, doubled over, hands on knees, panting. Somehow, this made him glad.
“Hey,” he called. “Femi.” The driver looked up, smiled at him ruefully. A smile. Not happy, not good enough, more like a smile of acknowledgement, Hey, I see you. But just fine. Like a tonic. Reginald beckoned him over. With visible effort, Femi stood upright, grimacing, and shuffled down to where Reginald was and plunked his ass down beside him. Leaned his head back against the tree trunk and just closed his eyes. Silence. Nothing but the nervous whimpers of the ladies, a few sniffles and shuffles. Someone coughed. One of the ladies broke into a quiet sob. The other lady tried to console her, and ended up crying herself. Everything was done hush-hush. Everyone understood the need for quietness.
“What happened back there?” Femi asked, eyes still closed. “What were those things? Those…things, what were they?”
“Are you asking me?”
Silence. Then, “I wish I knew,” Reginald said.
“What…” Femi stopped, unable to continue. The others began to draw closer, as if Reginald and Femi were the only heating source in a cold environment.
“So…what do we do now?” Femi asked.
A guy shuffled closer. He wore blue jeans, a red T-shirt with Ché’s face imprinted on it, a gold necklace, and he sported an Afro.
“Let’s get back to the bus,” Afroguy said.
Femi opened his eyes. “The bus?” he asked, incredulous.
“And do what?”
“Out of this place,” Afroguy said. “Back to Port Harcourt.”
“And how do we get out of here?” Reginald asked.
Afroguy looked at the other people. His expression said this was the most stupid question he had heard all week. He turned back to Femi and Reginald and said, “By driving of course.”
Reginald exhaled. “I don’t think that is such a good idea,” he said.
“Why?” Afroguy asked.
“Didn’t you see those things?” Reginald asked, pointing towards the road, his shock that someone was even suggesting they move out of this little sanctuary they had found evident on his face.
“Yes, I did. You think I’m going to wait for them to come and get me? Uhn uhn. No way.”
Femi looked up at him like he was the world’s biggest fool. “Well I’m sorry, but you’re going to have to trek out here then.”
Afroguy’s expression clouded over, first in confusion, and then in anger, as one of the guy’s asked, “What do you mean?”
“It means,” Reginald said, “that he’s not going to give you the key.”
Stunned silence. Then they all erupted in a barrage of questions:
Wetin be dis?
What does he mean by-
Can you imagine that?
What’s going on here?
Is he crazy?
Are you stupid?
“WAIT!” Afroguy bellowed. Everyone else shut up, just like that. He turned to Femi and squatted. “What exactly do you mean?”
“I mean I’m not going to give you the key.”
“Are you blind? Did you not see those…those THINGS that attacked us? You want to go back there?”
If Afroguy had stopped to reconsider, if he had just paused for a moment to think about it, for surely he was capable of that, if the others had not supported him, if they had all stopped to think about it like Femi and Reginald, if they…
But Afroguy couldn’t stop. No.
He was on a roll now.
“I guess we’ll take our chances.”
“Speak for yourself, boy,” Reginald said.
Afroguy’s eyes flashed angrily. “DON’T YOU EVER CALL ME BOY!” stabbing the air with his right index finger, pointing at Reginald. “AND YOU!” Now pointing at Femi, who couldn’t help but flinch. “KEYS! NOW!”
There was a moment of silence. Then, a female voice spoke, softly, like she was afraid. “Give him the key.”
That was all it took. A female voice.
Everybody else began to mumble at first, then the mumble grew to the sound an arguing mob would make, and it was all Femi and Reginald could do to keep from screaming their heads off.
Give us the key.
Where is the key.
Where the key dey?
Who hold the key?
Bring the key.
No, no, no, no.
Afroguy punched Femi on the nose, breaking it. Reginald was on his feet in an instant. Afroguy lashed out with his foot, catching Reginald on his chin. As his head snapped back, as he fell back down, they fell on the both of them, all except a guy who watched, helpless, looking like he wanted to run away but had no place to run to, which, ironically, was the case. Reginald and Femi were punched, kicked, slapped, punched some more. They both covered their faces with their hands, curling up as well as they could, screaming, begging.
The beatings stopped when the guy who didn’t join in the beating started shouting, asking whether they wanted to kill them, they should stop, they were supposed to be working together. He pulled the ladies from the scrapping and attempted to stop the guys.
Reginald sat up. His thigh throbbed, hell, his whole body was on fire. A thought popped into his head; If a punching bag had feelings, this is how it would feel. He was bruised, and he touched his ribs, afraid they were broken. Caught some luck there; no break. Blood ran from a cut on his hand, his arms were starting to swell, his face was a bit bruised; nothing serious but a cut or two, he thought. As he took inventory, he looked sideways at Femi.
He didn’t look so okay. They’d really worked him over pretty good. Every part of him was covered in bruises, cuts, swellings. His left eye was almost swollen shut.
Afroguy was twirling the key, smiling.
“Don’t do this,” Reginald begged. “Don’t go there… Please.”
“But we have to. And because of this you two are not coming with us, so don’t bother getting up…if you can, that is.”
“Fuck you,” Reginald spat.
Afroguy laughed. “Same to you bro.” Turning to the others, he said, “Let’s move.” He left without looking back, and the others followed, save one. He was the only one who had not taken part in the beating, and he lingered for a moment, face like he wanted to cry or take a shit or do both at the same time. In the end all he could do was to blurt out “Sorry” and run after the others.
Reginald and Femi listened until they could hear them no more, and then turned to each other. Femi looked…lost. His eyes showed defeat and hope struggling with each other.
“Don’t worry. They are not going anywhere.”
Femi scoffed and struggled to his feet.
As Reginald stood up, dusting himself, they both heard the sound of the bus. Femi looked at Reginald, eyes wide, his fright screaming from his face. He might have been thinking, These people are going to make it, they just might make it out of this place, and we’ll be stuck here forever, until those creatures get us.
Reginald shook his head slowly. He didn’t know how he was so sure, but he wanted to reassure Femi. “I said don’t wo-”.
The screaming began.