A Debt

The driver’s hands gripped tightly on the steering wheel as he pulled the blue 2009 Ford Focus over to the side of the dirt road. The dust speckled car came to a complete stop in the shadow of a paint-worn shop which when open was a butchery, its red metal doors now padlocked.

Moments earlier, as the car was tearing down the lonely rugged road that was way off the main highway, its engine had started to sputter and cough as soon as the small nameless town came into sight. Once they entered the town, the car completely stalled forcing them to stop.

Silas glanced over from the passenger side at his colleague in the driver’s seat. He could see that Chege was as clueless as he was. He also noticed that the driver’s demeanour had changed. The usually mellow stout twenty-six year old bald man seemed nervous and was drumming his fingers on the steering wheel.

“What’s wrong with your car man?” Silas asked, “you think the engine overheated?”

The driver didn’t answer; he just sat back in his seat staring wide eyed at the road in front of them, still playing a finger solo on the black circular wheel. Silas on his part glanced at his watch as he unbuckled his seat-belt, all the time thankful that they had broken down in the tiny town after driving many kilometres through endless fallow fields and scant trees.

Silas opened his door and got out of the car. The orange light of setting sun squinted his eyes and the day’s heat still in the air bit at his face. His white seekers excited small clouds of red dust into the air as he walked around the car. The clouds rose around his tall slender frame clad in blue jeans and black t-shirt.

At twenty-two, Silas was the junior of the two colleagues of Magnar Security, a medium sized security firm. They did not work in the same department though; Chege was in sales while Silas was an IT geek. They rarely saw each other, much less talked unless Chege had a problem with his computer or his printer needed toner.

They were on their way to the annual New Year’s party that the CEO of their company threw on his ranch. This was to be a first for Silas having only worked at the firm for six months but Chege was a three year veteran of the event which had a reputation for being the highlight of the year. For this reason, Silas had been eagerly anticipating it for months.

The two of them were working late alone at their city office, the rest of the staff having already left for the ranch, and it had been decided, to Chege’s protests, that they drive up together. Chege didn’t want to go but Silas had guilt him into taking him by insinuating he didn’t know the way and even if he did, he lacked a means of transport as didn’t have a car.

“I don’t believe this!” Silas said in a dust chocked voice, “at this rate we will never make it to the ranch on time.”

“Calm down,” Chege replied from inside the car, “the party doesn’t get underway proper till sundown. The ranch is about thirty minutes off, if we can get a mechanic to look at the car we will be there in good time.”

“That is if we can find a mechanic in this one donkey town.” Silas shot back.

“Go ask someone where we can find a mechanic.”

“Do you see anyone?” Silas asked raising his hands in frustration.

The small town, too small to be even called a town, looked deserted. The few structures that lined both sides of the dirt road that run through its center looked like shops and most of them were closed.

“Over there.” Chege said as he got out of the car. He pointed to the last structure on the right end of the street that looked like a grocery shop. A plump short woman in a pink head-wrap and a blue dress had emerged from within. She was busy closing up, moving the fruits and vegetables that were on a rickety wooden stand outside into the interior of the shop.

Chege then saw something else which took the luster from his face and he quickly retreated back into the car. Silas looked around but all he could see were old shops and an empty street. Then he spotted a little girl standing next to the grocery shop wearing a white dress and cradling a naked doll with her right hand. She was missing a shoe and there was something else strange about her; Silas couldn’t quite put his finger on it.

He turned back to Chege. “When was your last service?”

“Last month.” Chege replied after quite a pause.

Silas paced back and forth looking over the car like he knew what he was doing. “Then what the hell is wrong? Open the bonnet and I’ll take a look.”

“Do you know anything about cars?”

“Not really, but it can’t hurt to take a look.”

Chege was not convinced. “That is where you are wrong. It can hurt. I’m not letting you fiddle about with my car. It’s not a computer and doesn’t run on RAM.”

“Well we have to do something.”

“Like I told you before, go and ask that woman if there are any mechanics around.”

“Why can’t you go ask her, it’s your damn car?”

“I’m not leaving my car with you and your curious hands. I’ll stay in here.”

“Fine, suit yourself.” Silas said giving in.

Frustrated, he headed towards the shop as Chege waited in his precious car. Silas noticed that the little girl was now gone, he assumed she had gone inside with the woman.

The shop had a sign with “Samson’s Grocery” painted on it in blue on a sun scorched plank of wood hanging above the doorway. Silas walked up slowly, when the woman emerged and saw him approaching she put down the half full sack of potatoes she had picked up and eyed him up and down.

After some awkward greetings he asked her about a mechanic and she informed him there was one who lived in a house just off the road a few minutes away. She pointed it out to him, a small speck in the distance that seemed as small as an outhouse.

“And where is everyone else?” Silas asked before heading back to the car.

“They’ve all gone into the city or to church; it is New Year’s Eve after all. No one is in town but me. Musa will be in though, he rarely leaves his house.” she said referring to the mechanic.

“What about the girl?” Silas asked, remembering the strange little girl he has seen earlier.

“What girl?”

“I saw a little girl next to your shop before,” Silas saw that the woman looked confused, “she was in a white dress wearing one shoe…”

Silas didn’t finish, interrupted by the shocked look on the woman’s face.

“Sera…” the woman said with a trailing voice.

“Who?”

“No, nothing. I’m sure you are mistaken.” The woman was now in a particular hurry. “Now please excuse me, I have to hurry to the church.” With that she quickly shut and locked the shop’s wooden doors and hurried off; leaving Silas to ponder about her sudden shift in manner. Thinking little of it, he walked back to the car.

“The kiosk attendant says there is a mechanic that lives in that shack over there,” he told Chege who he found still sitting in his car.

“Well, go get him.” Chege had taken off his shirt and was now only in his t shirt and trousers.

“I’m not going to some secluded country-house all by myself. I’ve seen Deliverance.

“Do you need me to hold your hand? I didn’t want to come up here in the first place.”

“Fine, fine, I’ll go,” Silas said, not wanting to argue with Chege and waste more time.

It was a bit of a walk to the shack the shopkeeper had showed him. Silas made his way slowly, the image of the strange little girl with one shoe kept flashing in his head. There was something wrong with the picture.

Before he could figure it out, he was at the house. It was a lonely little mabati shack in the middle of a clearing of red earth. It looked like a solitary metal island in the middle of a small red lake.

Sure as the shopkeeper had told him, the mechanic was in. Silas had hardly knocked on the door when it flung open. It was almost like the dishevelled grey haired old man wearing worn grey trousers and un-tucked dirty once-black-now-grey shirt was expecting him.

“Who are you?” the old man inquired with a suspicious tone, “what do you want?”

So much for country courtesy, Silas thought. “Um… our car broke down in town and we were wondering if you wouldn’t mind taking a look at it, you’re the mechanic right, Musa was it?”

“You city people and your cars are nothing but trouble,” the old man shouted, “why don’t you go back to where you came from?”

“We would but our car doesn’t work. I’m not bringing you any trouble old man. We can pay you just to look at it.” Silas replied. This seemed to calm the old man.

“I can’t look at your car now, I’m going to church,” he replied after pondering for a second.

“It won’t take long, just a quick look,” Silas pleaded.

“No,” the reply was firm, “you’ll have to wait till I get back.”

“Won’t that be after midnight?”

“I’m not going for the New Year’s mass. I’m heading to a young girls memorial service,” he said solemnly.

“I’m sorry,” Silas immediately felt guilty for pushing him. “We’ll wait till you are done with your family matters.”

“Sera wasn’t family,” the old man replied, mostly to himself.

Sera. The name froze Silas’ blood.

“Excuse me? Did you say Sera?” Silas asked in a slightly chocked voice.

“Yes. What is it to you?” The suspicious tone was back.

“Nothing,” the young man mumbled. “It’s just that I saw a little girl in the town, the woman at the shop said her name was Sera too.”

“You saw her?” the old man’s eyes widened.

“Yes, she was in a white dress and carrying a doll.”

The old man rubbed his chin thoughtfully, and then asked, “was she wearing one shoe?”

The look on Silas’ face was yes enough for the old man.

“Listen to me boy,” his voice was stern, “there are forces at work here that you won’t understand. Go back to your car and stay in it till I return, don’t leave for any reason.”

“Why?” Silas was getting worried.

“Because someone … something is looking to cash in on a debt that’s owed and you wouldn’t want to be around when it’s time to pay up.” the old man grinned.

“What do you mean by that?”

“Nothing much, just a little curse, one that does not forget and does not forgive.” as he said this, the old man broke into spell of hoarse laughter.

It was all too much for the city boy, he wanted to turn and run right then. Get away from the town on foot if he had to. He wasn’t afraid of ghosts and curses, just the crazy country people who did believe in those crazy things. They gave him the creeps.

The old man didn’t say more, he slowly closed the door still laughing. Silas started walking back to the car. He decided he would not wait for the old man to return from his memorial, he would call someone at the ranch to come and pick them up. He didn’t want to stay at the town any longer than he had to. He took out his phone and dialed.

When he finally got back to the car however, Chege was gone. The driver’s door was open and the keys were still in the ignition but there was no sign of his colleague.

Silas sat in the car and waited for a few minutes before getting nervous. The old man’s words were still fresh in his ears. Go back to your car and stay in it till I return, don’t leave for any reason. It was starting to get dark; he knew he would have to go looking for Chege before nightfall.

Then he saw her. The strange single-shoed little girl in a white dress. She was on the other side of the street; she was looking at him, staring at him. Silas stared back through the windscreen, not letting his fear overtake him, she was just a girl, he thought. Suddenly she ran off and went behind a white building with a red cross painted on it, a clinic.

Silas sat in the car contemplating. Then as if through no will of his own, he found himself exiting the car and crossing the street. Something, some urge was pulling him to follow the girl. As he turned the corner to emerge at the back of the clinic, he saw her standing there. She was pointing to a small shed that stood lonely a few meters from the clinic’s back wall. Silas couldn’t see inside but the door was wide open.

“What is in there?” He asked the strange little girl.

She didn’t answer. She just kept pointing at the room, at the darkness inside. Silas still couldn’t put his finger on what about her wasn’t quite right.

He moved towards the room. He approached it slowly, trying to make out what was inside with each step. As he got closer to the doorway the room became clearer. There were no windows in the room but by the fading light he could make out the figure of a man standing in the middle of the room, it was Chege.

He was standing over a table which had something draped in a white sheet on top of it. Silas couldn’t quite make it out as Chege was in the way. The room itself was queer. From the outside it was an ordinary wooden shed, but the inside was tiled in white with metal shelves on the wall containing various medical instruments.

“Chege! What are you doing?” Silas reached out, “I didn’t find the mechanic but I called Rachel. She agreed to come from the ranch and pick us up. She’s on her way. Come on, let’s go.”

“I have to tell you something,” Chege spoke low, not looking away from the table.

“Can you tell me walking? Let’s get back to the car. This place is giving me the creeps.”

“I can’t.” Chege said softly, “I can’t leave.”

“What do you mean you can’t leave? What’s that on the table?”

“A debt.”

A chill run down Silas’ spine. “What the fuck is that supposed to mean? Stop messing around and let’s go. I’m not above leaving you here.”

Silas inched closer to the door and by doing this was able to see the table more clearly. What was under the sheet had the shape of a small human body, a child. The sheet covered the entire body except for the feet where he saw that the body had on only one shoe.

Silas spun around to look back at the little girl and he saw what he didn’t want to see. The girl and the body were wearing the same shoe. Then he finally noticed it, the thing that made the girl so strange to him, the thing that had nagged at him. Beneath the girl’s feet, there was no shadow cast with her body by the pale light of the setting sun.

Silas wanted to run but found he couldn’t move. His feet were planted on the ground. It was not the fear crawling up his body that held him there but something else; a giant invisible hand holding him in place. He could talk and move his head, his feet and his body however, were not his own.

“What’s going on?” Silas screamed.

The girl started to walk towards him, when she got to the doorway she walked right through Silas and into the shed. The room at once was bathed in a feint red glow. The table and the body were now gone. The instruments and the white tile were gone as well. The room was now an ordinary empty shed with a dirt floor and wooden walls; its only occupants were Chege and the thing that looked like a girl.

It moved next to Chege, who was also held in place by the invisible force, and took his hand.

“We have to go soon,” it said in a voice that was half little girl and half … something else.”You should say goodbye.”

Chege began to speak. “Last year on my way back from the party, I had an incident on this road. It was the reason I didn’t want to come up here. I had to leave the party early and was drunk and tired, very tired, but didn’t fancy the idea of leaving my car so I decided to drive anyway.”

“On the way I fell asleep at the wheel and while asleep something woke me. I just thought it was a bump on the road and kept driving. But when I got home I found blood and a little shoe stuck to my front grill. I knew what I had done but I did not go back or tell anyone.”

“I was wracked by guilt at first and wanted to turn myself in. After a while, though, no one came to put me in handcuffs and take me away. I thought I had gotten away with it and I was glad I did.”

The air inside the room began to pulse, the air itself. It was as if the room had an ethereal heartbeat.

“But now I know there was never any getting away with it and I am sorry. Please let me go Sera, I’ve seen the error of my ways.” Chege didn’t look at the thing holding his arm as he pleaded, the thing that looked like a girl.

The reply came swiftly and sternly. “Words can’t repay your debt. You owe a life and must give a life. And don’t address me by the little one’s name. I have no name, only purpose.”

The small room’s pulsing stopped.

“The sun is set, it’s time to depart,” was the last thing it said.

With those words the room glowed brighter with a brilliant red light that blinded Silas. Then as quickly as it had come, the light disappeared and the room went dark again. The invisible hand released Silas and he fell to his knees somehow exhausted.

Through the murk, Silas made out Chege’s motionless body on the floor of the shed. His head was facing the wrong way. He was no longer among the living.

Silas quickly got up and ran desperately back to the road and into the car. He turned the ignition and the car roared into life. He hit the gas and drove off as fast as he could manage, he didn’t dare look back.

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