A few years back, when he was serving in Congo on a peacekeeping mission, his closest friend was a History graduate who had bad breath and talked too much.
But he loved listening to Speaker Sam. He loved his stories. The most intriguing being the tales of the Masai warriors who could sleep on their feet.
Who could be deep in sleep one minute, then slip into full wide-eyed wakefulness and be battle alert the next?
It was the Masai story that saved him.
The moment he opened the door and so many pairs of hands reached for him, he slammed in with all his might, pushing his weight behind the door.
But his bad knee betrayed him. A sharp, searing pain made him grunt and relax the pressure on the door.
He was flung backwards, tripping over a stool and onto the rug he had bought just a week ago.
They stumbled in.
Stumbled in every sense of the word. Their movements lacked the grace and steady coordination of humans. As he scrambled painfully to his feet, he thought of his arthritic grandmother when she tried to dance the Umuaro war dance.
They came at him. He backed away, his heart thudding against his chest like the feel he got as a child when he placed his hand against his father’s loudspeaker.
He steadied himself on his good leg, grabbing the closest weapon. A flower vase.
If anyone had told him when he bought it only yesterday that he would be using it to play slam-bang on the head of some creature with the gait of a cripple barely twenty hours later, he would have died laughing.
He watched them as they made the sound. It was like a telepathic tongue that they exercised at the same time.
And as if to prove him right, the six or seven things ambling towards him made the strange sound again. All at once.
Then as if to disabuse him of his earlier notion,one of the things in front suddenly charged towards him with an unbelievable burst of speed.
He was too stunned to even raise the vase to strike.
Even as the creature sent him flying with a shove infused with near demonic strength, he had time for one more thought. One more wiseass remark in his mind.
My grandma be damned. These bastards can even make Usain-damn Bolt look like he is in slow mo….
The thought filtered away as he hit the wall hard enough to see stars and visions. He tried to get up but his body wouldn’t cooperate.
Panic seized him.
The things had begin to move again. He willed his body to move, but it wouldn’t budge.
My legs, he thought, oh God, I can’t even feel my legs.
He noticed suddenly the order with which they came at him. They walked in pairs. Except the one who had attacked him.
And suddenly he knew.
His inability to move had nothing to do with his bad fall.
They were doing it.
They were jinxing him.
That’s why they spoke as one.
Moved as one.
And now they were holding him in place. What could a man with a bad leg off a stray bullet in the forests of Congo do against seven or eight inhuman creatures with mind-bending powers?
He closed his eyes to pray.
His last prayer.
“Hail Mary full of Grace.”
He knew they were approaching. He knew they were closing in for the kill. He shut his eyes tight and forced everything from his mind. He pictured a fog. A white haze. A long, black train.
“The Lord is with thee. Blessed are thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb…”
Despite his best efforts, he could sense them as they inched closer. He stopped praying. He felt them now. Smelled them. The smell of week-old eggs. The smell of rot.
The smell of death. His death.
” Jesus save me!”
The panic in his voice frightened him. His jaws began to tremble uncontrollably and he could feel his bladder bursting.
The first blow sent shockwaves of pain roaring through his skull. His eyes opened to darkness though he was still very much conscious. He put his arms out protectively as he waited for the clouds to clear. He felt fingers like claws on his neck and he kicked without thinking, taking insane delight to hear a squeal.
Then two powerful hands grabbed him and lifted him off his feet into the air where he was held like a rag doll.
The cloud cleared and he and stared at a face he knew.
The cancer cells still seemed to have continued their savage work on her even in death. Her face was now completely obliterated except two black holes from which her eyes poked. Her mouth had been eaten off leaving only her teeth and a very sick grin perpetually plastered on her face.
She looked nothing like the sick woman who had lain in the other room, moaning and filling his dreams with bogeymen and bojubojus.
But he could recognize his mother anyday. He could recognize the braclet on her neck. The one with his initials, J.M. on it.
She jerked him towards her at the same time her head moved. There was a sickening sound of bones colliding as bright lights flew across his vision again.
He dropped to the rug, barely conscious. He waited for the clawlike hands to touch him and rip him apart. For the end to come.
Death would be a mercy.
But nothing happened. There was a sudden stillness to the room that wasn’t there before. He opened his eyes.
They were all standing with their backs to him. They faced the door where a new entrant stood.
The man, he looked more human, stood at nearly seven feet. He stood with such stillness that said nothing could possibly shake him. He wore a white shirt and a black jacket. Even in his clothes, his broad shoulders and thick muscles stood out. He thought the new entrant looked like his clothes got erections just by his putting them on.
“Ooooorrrgggghhhhh.” The sound came again,
The man didn’t blink. He stared at the creatures with something akin to a bored indifference.
The creatures suddenly fell silent and he realised he could move again. But he didn’t move.
Somehow he knew the first person who moved next would wish he hadn’t.
Wish it hadn’t.
There was silence for what seemed like a century.
Then someone moved.
And all hell broke loose.