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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Man vs Road

One time as I was walking through the road, I realized that I didn’t know where I was going. I was moving forward and gaining ground on a destination I hadn’t decided on. Wherever it was that I was headed was not of my choosing. I had been on the road for as long as I can remember and the thought of having no direction made me feel more tired than I’ve ever felt before.

I didn’t like walking in uncertainty so I decided to stop. Once I did, however, a strange thing happened. I kept on moving. Some unquestionable and unyielding force made sure that I couldn’t stay still and pushed me forward. I was not in complete control, merely a slave to the will of the road.

The stage I had reached on my journey had a dull luster. The air was cold and clouds had gathered above me and I could barely see the sun. It was a darkness I had not encountered before. I could remember it being sunny once but the gloom had crept in slowly without my notice.

There were other people all around me on the road. There were hundreds of us, thousands, millions even, maybe more, maybe all of the people were there. I watched them as they traveled on their own journeys around me. We shuffled through the road together in a never ending throng. A herd of humanity.

There were all sorts; men and women, young and old, rich and poor, fat and thin, tall and short. All moving forward. A never ceasing, unending march without a beginning and without an obvious purpose. There was a gentle hum in the air all around. It was the sound of uncertain hope.

Though there were many of us on the road, none moved faster than the another. We all kept the same pace. Some people tried to run and leave others behind but couldn’t. Others, like me, tried to stay in place with similar results to mine. There were others who tried desperately to move backwards to no avail.

Beneath my feet was a path. It was narrow and nobody else walked on it but me. Everyone there had their own little path that they walked on. The great road we were all on was made up of all the individual paths intertwined but distinct. All forming a little part of the whole.

Among us, in between us, above and below us, all around us, was everything. Everything that is and ever was. I looked around as I moved and stared at it. I could not believe how beautiful it was. I took it in for a while and felt at peace. The thought of my own plight could not allow me to enjoy for too long though. I was compelled to look away.

Then I looked at the people around me and saw that most of them walked with their eyes focused ahead or staring at other people and missed all the beauty to be had around them.

I looked some more and noticed some people were trying to step and walk on other people’s paths but of course they couldn’t. This made them angry and their own paths faded with every attempt. Many other people kept looking behind them as they walked and tripped and fell, sometimes getting lost.

There were others there who looked tired and worn out from their journey, their paths looking rugged and somehow steeper than most others. With every step they seemed to stumble, sometimes they would fall. Some of them were strong and stood up each time. A few of them were helped by those around them to get up and keep walking before they found their own strength again.

Some poor souls stumbled, fell and stopped moving forward. With no one there to help them up, they slowly disappeared and their paths vanished from the road completely. One or two actually managed to stop moving of their own accord and they also immediately disappeared.

Some seemed to arrive at their own destinations and their paths branched off from the great road and headed elsewhere. Somewhere the rest of us couldn’t see or follow. Though somehow each of us knew that we would find out someday when we reached our destinations.

Some walked alone on their paths as I did, while other people’s paths seemed to converge. Some people’s paths seemed wider and crossed many other paths.  I looked back at my own and as far as could see it was mostly narrow and had converged with others but only briefly. I don’t know why but this made me sad.

I remembered seeking for company on my path. I’d find someone walking like me and we’d talk and walk together for a while. But I’d always grow tired of them or they would get bored of me or we’d start heading in different directions and our paths diverged. Leaving me alone once again.

The great road stretched forward into a pale nothing that was ahead of us all. There was a dull light at the front that only illuminated the place our next step would fall. To our right and left were clear and behind us was clearer still. We were all afraid of the nothingness and what it had in store for us but still we all headed unrelentingly towards it.

Some people lied to themselves that they knew what was ahead but the truth was that none of us knew. None knew because there was nothing to know.  The naught was too much for some. They were usually the ones who stopped short on their paths and disappeared.

The more I looked around at the people, the more I realized that the darkness around me was not felt by everyone. The clouds above were only mine. There were those enjoying the sun and it was so bright that I could see it reflecting on their faces and sparkling in their eyes. This made me jealous and angry at first but then it filled me with determination.

I decided I’d not let the darkness falter me. I’d break though the doom and gloom and seek out my sun.

I started walking again with a new conviction. Slowly the clouds began to shift and the murk began to break. Soft rays of warmth struck my face as light teared past the clouds. It was as if a new path had formed beneath my feet and when I looked ahead at the nothing, I felt like I knew where I was going.

Unsaid

Joseph Kandeni is lying on his bed, resting his head on a pillow. He’s not asleep, he’s not trying to fall asleep. He’s thinking about his young life as the red evening sun throws narrow rays through the only window of his small hostel room. He’s feeling off balance. His life is spiraling and he’s trying to put it together in his head.

Joseph has just received a call from his father, it was not good news. He’s looking up at the white water-damaged ceiling with the phone still clutched in his right hand. The 21 year old second-year medical student is trying to figure out what to do next. Everything was fine just a few hours before, but then slowly began to unravel that afternoon.

The phone conversation with his father had been short, too short. His father had hung-up before Joseph could tell him his own news. Fill him in on events that occurred just an hour before in the dean of medicine’s office. Events that had put him on the first spiral he was in before his father called him. He was dreading to tell his parents about it but now they would have other things on their minds.

Alone in the room, he thinks as he listens to the wind rustling through the leaves of the trees outside his window and the shuffling footsteps from outside his door of other students returning to their rooms after evening classes. The silence of his own room is broken by the ringing of his phone. It’s a text; from an unexpected source. He opens the message and reads it.

Hi, been a while, umepotea wapi?

He looks at it and smiles. The message is from Sera Makawa, a friend he hadn’t seen for a while because he had been busy with his mid-terms. Sera was a tall and thin second-year art student he met through a mutual friend a year ago. He thinks for a bit then he types.

Mimi niko tu, kuja unitafute 🙂

SEND

He waits for the reply which he is sure will come, she always replied to texts immediately. He liked that about her, he liked her from the moment they met. She wasn’t like his female medical-student classmates. Although not very book-smart, she was very artsy and smart about life. The exact opposite of himself.

After a minute, his phone rings as expected, a new message. He reads.

Sawa 🙂 we should meet up, movie?

They had the same taste many things and especially movies. The two of them would go out, but only as friends, whenever something good came out. He thinks about the last time they saw each other, one month back, as he types.

Ok, I’ll call you when I’m free.

SEND

He waits as he now watches the single pale-blue curtain on his window dancing to the breeze. Again he doesn’t have to wait for long, he feels the slight vibration of the phone in his hand before hearing the familiar message tone. He reads.

Cool, looking forward to it. How is everything else, classes and such?

The words of the message take him back into his mind-spiral. Incredibly he had managed to put away his troubles from his mind. He stares at his phone, thinking about the question for a full minute before typing.

Things are awful, my parents are separating and I might get kicked out of school.

Joseph looks at the message he has just typed. Such earnest, the most he has ever put in a single text. He feels uncomfortable. He hadn’t know Sera for long, only a year. During the times they had spent together, they always kept their conversations on casual topics and had never gone much deeper. He feels like this is a mistake.

DELETE

He also doesn’t want her feeling sorry for him. He pictures her in his head; pretty round face with piercing brown eyes and her smile that always managed to lighten him up. He feels himself longing to see that face again, those eyes. He begins to type again.

I’ve missed you since the last time, been thinking about you a lot.

Joseph surprises himself. He didn’t know just how much he missed her till that moment. Till he saw those words on his phone which he typed almost on auto-pilot. He panics.

DELETE

He had something special with Mary and he didn’t want to ruin it. Besides, he couldn’t face the rejection, not this day. But then, he feels something stirring inside him. An emotion that makes his heart beat faster and an intensity well-up from the pit of his stomach all the way up to the back of his throat making him want to shout. He thinks, “what the hell, what’s the worst that could happen?” He types.

I think I’m in love with you.

He looks at the words. He pictures her reading them, not quite able to make out her face. Is she smiling? Is she frowning? He can’t tell. Fear grips him again. He feels her drifting away. What if she doesn’t feel the same?

DELETE

What was he thinking? That would have been a disaster; he would have lost her for good if he had sent that text. He lies there still, breathing fast. He waits until his breathing slows down and his heart stops racing. He types.

I’m fine.

SEND

Split

Floating, drifting above their heads. A black wingless bird teetering on the edge of life. Seeing everything. Seeing nothing. Hurtling past sanity, reality and reason. Heading where? Somewhere.

Seconds ago, or was it minutes, maybe hours, I was part of the daily march. Thinking, not caring, seeing, being. Maybe thinking but not seeing. Distracted by mundane thoughts weighing down my mind.

It hadn’t come out of nowhere, it had come out of somewhere. Sent, to guide me out of this world. A giant chariot of innocent metal force. Powerful enough to nudge me out of here, out of now.

I didn’t feel a thing when it hit. One instant I was on the ground the next I was floating. No time to scream, no time to brace. It hit and immediately my body was on fire from the pain. Next instant the pain and everything else was gone. The ground surrendered my feet.

Now time has lost all meaning as I float above their heads. I know I have to say goodbye, but up here I’m all alone, so I whisper farewell to the wind. The ground greets me again, harshly, and throws me about.

I’m back together with the ground, waiting. I lie on red liquid sheets that spread fast beneath me. They become bigger and bigger as the world dissolves from my sight, from my memory.

All sounds travel further and further away from me. I can’t smell the air anymore. My body disappears. I cease to have hands and legs and skin. I’m now just a floating presence. My body rests broken, my mind is quiet, my heart lies still.

 

Mama Joe’s

“What can I do for you?” The words were simple enough, as was their meaning. It was a question asked many times before by the young and pretty shop attendant at Mama Joe’s Cake and Pastry Shop.

It was around seven o’clock, the earth had began pulling its dark star-spotted blanket over the sky. The little ants that scurried on its face prepared for another night. For most of the tiny creatures, this day would end like any other; but for the two current occupants of Mama Joe’s, it would be significant.

A young frazzled looking man, conspicuously wearing a heavy Jacket in the mild weather, stood in front of the counter. He would have probably been the last person to hear those words that day from the young lady behind the counter. A pink plastic tag pinned on her collar claimed her name was Margaret.

The question that had been asked by Margaret lingered in the air for a second, then another and another till it was carried away by the wind and had to be launched again. It was meant by Silence still.

“Sir?” Margret said after not getting a reply.

The young man was startled and reacted as if waking from a dream.

“Yes,” he answered sheepishly.

“What can I do for you?” those words again, now feeling ancient, “can I help you with something?” Margaret was being very patient with the young man. It was her nature, you had to be amiable to work in a cake shop she always thought.

The young customer found himself deeply contemplating the question. Could the lady help him with something? He doubted it, his problems couldn’t find their end at Mama Joe’s Cake and Pastry Shop. He would have had more luck at Mama Joe’s Dreams Fulfillment Shop. He was there only for a temporary solution to his one big problem.

He pulled out of his Jacket pocket the tool which he had carried. It was a small silver revolver pistol. He wondered why it felt so heavy in his hand as he lifted and pointed it at the now frightened face of young and pretty Margaret.

“Yes,” he said, surprisingly calmly, “put all the money-”

He didn’t get the chance to finish his statement. The quiet in Mama Joe’s was shattered by an unfortunate loud sound. The sound came from his tool, it had screamed. Immediately after the scream the back of Margaret’s head ruptured and sprayed her red blood all over the white wall behind her.

The young would be robber stared shocked at the freshly painted wall in front of him as Margaret disappeared behind the counter and greeted the ground. She lay there still, robbed of life.

The young murderer’s ears were ringing due to the unexpected, unfortunate sound. He had strayed a little and owed dangerous people money, but now he was completely lost. He put the smoking tool back in his pocket, turned around, walked out of Mama Joe’s and headed towards nowhere.

 

Faux Town

A story is told about a place that was not there.

In a land that did not exist, resting in a valley that never was, housing people that were never born stood a town that was not there. No one ever gave it a name because no one ever went and no one ever came.

In rare mornings when the absent sun would escape the broken horizon and climb up the invisible sky, the missing people would rise from their vacant beds. They would roam the empty streets and all day the sparse people would play. All day they sang silent songs and danced; hollow feet thumping on loose floating earth.

The missing people did not do meaningless work from grey dawn to dim dusk so they could buy food which their empty stomachs never craved. Nowhere stood shops and markets to sell this or that for there was no need for money in the land that did not exist.

There were no chiefs, leaders, presidents or politicians in the town that no one ever saw or has seen. Rich people and poor people, sick people and homeless people were scarce in the valley that never was.

Hate and love were memories lost in whispers. Fear was a rumor, kindness was hiding, misery was forgotten. The time stops and never passes, nothing ever changes in the town with no name.

I read nowhere that the missing people were happy maybe, they probably respected each other and their opinions. Everything that was made was good I hear. Everybody told the truth to nobody and only had good intentions. Nobody died from malice, all death was natural as they all lived forever.

You did not hear of this story of the town with no name nestled in the hidden valley. Nobody told you about the people who somehow lived lives uncommon but real? You did not hear the silent songs they never sang in the streets that never were. It all took place in the time that was now, is then and later.

A story is forgotten about a place that was not there.

 

The Pitch

Arnold was a bastard. Six weeks, six long grueling weeks we had worked on the pitch. A pitch which could guarantee a whole year’s worth of flowing revenue. Now come pitch day, Arnold, that bastard, was nowhere to be seen and attempts to get him on the phone went unanswered.

Everything was set up and ready to go but we needed Arnold, our closer. We couldn’t keep the clients waiting so come crunch time it was decided that I would do the presentation. I would have to go in front of seven to executives and pitch a multimillion shilling project.

To say that I was ill prepared would be putting it mildly. I had watched Arnold rehearse the pitch numerous times and had it more or less memorized so I was able to convince myself that I could pull it off.

I entered the boardroom and stood up there, in front of those seven serious, non-blinking judging faces. Those fourteen piercing eyes which between them had seen thousands of presentations. I set up the projector, uploaded the presentation, made a quick introduction and got started.

Then immediately, something strange began to happen. My words, words which I had spoken thousands of time before, started to get lost in my throat. They started to disappear. I would start on a word but once I got to its middle, I would swallow it and only a light croaking sound would come out.

I panicked and I pretended my throat was dry. There was a pitcher of water and glass by the window of the boardroom. I walked over and poured myself a glass. I drank the water slowly. Every second spent thinking about what I was going to do. Wishing that at any moment, Arnold, that bastard, would walk in through the door and save me.

I saw the bottom of the glass and put it down. I had to walk five steps back to the front of the panel and in those five steps, I had to come up with a plan.

First step, I could bolt out of the room. Second step, try to stall for time. Third step, feign an ailment. Fourth step, back to fleeing. Five steps, I had nothing.

I needed to relax so I inhaled deeply and exhaled slowly, trying not to think of the impatient executive eyes looking at me. There was no escaping the situation so I decided to power through the presentation.

I talked as fast as I could. I ignored all the word bumps I encountered and just continued talking. I kept my eyes off the panel and on the slides on the screen. One after the other they went by, I explained as much as I could as fast as I could and managed to get to the end.

Then I turned my head back to the panel. Silence. My heart sank. I could see it in their eyes. I could feel it in the air. It was all around the room, you could almost choke from it. The undeniable stench of failure.

Arnold, you bastard.

“Ill”

The disease shook me, it woke me from my dream. I opened my eyes and stared into pitch darkness. I couldn’t tell how long I’d been asleep for but I could tell it had been a long time. I sat up, my body groggy and still feeling feverish. I could have stayed in the infirmary but I preferred to stay in my quarters.

Everything was quiet and still as it always was. The only noise I could hear was a gentle pacing in the room next to me. It was Michael, our engineer and navigator. The poor genius was probably busy with some trajectory calculations in his head or some other thing that I would never understand. I was a mere botanist, the lowest form of life on any interplanetary exploration mission.

I wondered what everybody else was up to. Most of them would be up and about doing daily reports. The captain at the bridge checking on our progress. We had been traveling through the emptiness of space for eleven months, our journey now half done.

I felt around for the light switch and turned it on. The light hurt my eyes and I shut them instinctively. I waited for them to adjust and opened them slightly and took a short look around the room I was in; although calling it a room was a bit generous, capsule was more like it. It was grey and way too small for a person to do anything more than sleep in; there being only enough floor space to put in a cot and a narrow space on the side.

I looked at my watch; it was 5:00 PM by earth time. No one else on the ship had a watch. They all thought me silly and sentimental for keeping it. It really had no meaning here, where there was no day or night, just constant dark stillness. I brought it because it reminded me of home and it kept me grounded.

I walked slowly out of my tiny room, my legs slightly shaking. I stumbled straight to the medical quarters. She was there as I hoped she would be, still running tests on the samples she had taken from me. She was the medical officer, co-pilot and cook; her name was Jess. She saw me walk in and said.

“Hello Mamud,” I liked how she pronounced my name, with the last syllable drawn out, “how are we feeling?”

“Same as before.” I answered, my voice shaky.

“I ran some more tests on your blood.”

“And?”

“Nothing so far. I’m beginning to think it may me psychosomatic,” she paused and looked at me after saying this, then continued, “I want to rule out a few more things so I’m going to try something different.”

“Whatever you think is best, I’m really starting to miss the routine around here. Being stuck in my cot is starting to get to me.”

“You know the drill, get on the table.”

Some strange ailment had overtaken me a week earlier. It had come upon me suddenly one night as I slept. I had woken up with a bizarre fever that was accompanied by shivers.

It was strange because before we left earth, the ship had been completely sterilized. The entire crew has also been inoculated against every sort of disease possible. In the entire trip so far there had been no major ailments except for the usual headaches, fatigue and effects of the ship’s artificial gravity which did funny things to the body.

Mine was a strange disorder. The medical quarters being fully equipped as it was, Jess was able to test me for almost anything but had come up short. No one knew what was wrong with me, a fact that worried me to no end.

I got up on the examining table and she did all the routine tests; temperature, blood pressure and all that. The results were the same as before. Temperature elevated, blood pressure elevated, nothing else was off. I wasn’t getting worse but I wasn’t getting better either.

Jess hadn’t given me any medication apart from painkillers so far. Her “something different” was to give me a dose of antibiotics to see if there would be any changes. She got out a pack that said “trimitracin” and connected the drip to my arm.

“This will take around half an hour so lie still and wait. I’m going to the bridge to update the captain. I’ll be back before it’s done.” Saying that she walked out, leaving me alone in the room.

I lay there and watched as the clear liquid ran down the transparent tube and seeped into my blood. At first I felt nothing different but after about ten minutes my body suddenly went numb. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t breathe. A few seconds which felt like hours passed then slowly my body began to convulse. I tried to cry out but my jaws felt like they were wired shut.

I felt something terrifying, it felt like my blood had stopped moving the right way through my veins and started moving the opposite direction. It felt like every blood carrying vessel in my body was being turned inside out.

A feeling came over my skin like sweat but when I managed to peek down on my hand I saw that it wasn’t the usual clear liquid coming through my skin. It was a pitch black gooish substance forming drops on my skin. The drops rolled down all over my body as I lay there and collected in a pool underneath me.

The more the “sweat” came out of my skin, the less severe the seizure became till finally it stopped. I was afraid to move, not knowing what was under me. I made a quick movement and at once I was off the table and on my feet. I looked back at the table but the black goo was gone. There was no trace of it anywhere. I thought perhaps I had hallucinated but when I looked at my clothes I saw that they had turned completely black.

 

Aby

Aby had been at the manor for five years. She had been brought there by her uncle who owned it to keep her safe. Far away from the ten year war which had encroached closer and closer to the farm in which Aby lived with her father and brother. A war in which these two members of her immediate family went to fight in and died in.

Aby sat on her bed, contemplating a decision she had made that would probably affect her for the rest of her life. She had decided to leave the manor and its safety to travel back to her old home, there was something she had to find. The magnitude of her decision started dawning on her and the room started to feel small. She decided to take a walk.

She strolled out of her room, then downstairs and out the front door, passed the children playing in the yard and headed towards the river. She liked the river, watching the clear waters rush by. For all the years she had been at the manor, the river was one of the few things that had remained constant, the river and the war.

She didn’t get along with her three cousins whom she passed in the yard. She was from a different lifestyle and was much older than them; seventeen now, ten years older than the oldest child of the manor household. The cousins liked to tease her, they called her “Shabby,” a corruption of the name her father gave her.

She mostly kept to herself and had found solace in the manor library. There were thousands of books, many with stories about princesses and heroes though she found it strange that those two were rarely the same thing.

One book in particular had led her to the decision to leave the safety of the manor. She had found it by accident when during a storm someone had left the window open and water had blown into the library. While cleaning up she found the book tucked behind one of the shelves hidden somehow from sight, as if done on purpose.

It had an innocuous title, “Secrets of Earsea.” She thought it was another storybook at first but when she looked at its pages it looked more like a history book and instruction manual. The books pages were filled with accounts of special people who had abilities that normal men did not posses.

They were called shifters and one of the abilities they had was moving objects with their mind. The book told of these people not living in made up lands with funny sounding names but here, in the real world, long ago, nearly 500 years ago.

They had been few in number and apparently other people, normal people, had grown jealous and scared of these shifters who could move things with their mind and had hunted them all down and killed them.

She still considered it some sort of story but there was something else that caught her mind. When the book described the shifters it told that one common trait they all possessed and the reason they were identified so easily was because they all had sparkling green eyes.

This made her remember her old home on the farm and more specifically their neighbors. They were a mother and father and they had a son. They mother had green eyes and so did the son. She thought about the possibility but it didn’t make any sense to her. If they were shifters why did they live in a small farm on the countryside. Why didn’t they use their ability to save themselves from such meager lives.

The more she thought about it the less sense it made. But when she read on, the book revealed that a person with the ability wasn’t simply born with it, it had to be nurtured and activated. Maybe they didn’t know who they were. She remembered of an incident on the farm one day when a storm had felled a tree on the neighbor’s house but they had all survived, without a scratch.

This made her mind up for her, she decided that she would go back home and try to find the boy though she doubted he would still be alive. The war might have overtaken their farm by now. Thought the boy was too young to fight; he was around six when she left so he would be eleven but still, she would go. Such a discovery could not only end her own personal troubles, it could end the entire war.

 

Sam

Transient; he was floating through existence; squeezing through time from one second to the next; never belonging to any one moment. He was looking for a home. A home he had never known but believed was out there waiting for him. Meanwhile, he simply survived. Hopping from day to day, cheating death on occasions.

He did not have a name, he had never needed one. This was because he didn’t stay in one place long enough to require a name. When asked, he would simply give the name of the last Inn he stayed at or the name of the last bridge he slept under. It didn’t matter to him what people called him, he would soon find the road again and be on his way.

He had lived sixteen years on this earth and ten of those years were spent on the road; on his quest to find a home, and a name – his true name – and whatever else he was looking for that could fill the void inside him.

Sometimes, after spending a long time in one place he started thinking that maybe it was time to give up on his quest. Time to anchor down and finally settle on a name. The name that had stuck with him the longest was Sam. It was the name given to him at the orphanage in which he spent the first six years of his life. When thoughts of stopping entered his mind, he knew it was time to move on.

His journey had started those ten years ago when he looked out past the endless fields that lay behind the Lost Souls Orphanage and just started walking. He kept walking and walking, never stopping, and till this day he was still on that same walk. Only interrupting it long enough to sleep and to put himself to the task of filling his belly.

Sometimes he wondered where it was that he was going; what would be waiting for him when he got there; how he would know if he had arrived. During those times he looked out past the horizon and the feeling of ‘it doesn’t matter’ falls over him.

One day, a day like any other that found him on the road, he passed by a lonely farmhouse which seemed desolate and abandoned. Since it was starting to get dark and the night road was full of bandits, he decided to steal into the farmhouse and seek shelter for the night.

He made his way into the back-room of the farmhouse through a window; for he found the door to the front locked. The moon had come out and by its pale light manged to find a table and got on it to look for sleep.

He had hardly a chance to find his dreams when he heard it. A soft murmuring moan coming from the front room. At first he thought it was just his fancy or perhaps the wind. He stayed perfectly still, held his breath and listened keenly. He herd it again for sure. A soft muffled voice in the darkness.

He got up and walked towards the door that connected the two rooms, his body trembling in the moonlight. He tried the door and found that it wasn’t locked. He opened it slowly and by the light of the moon illuminating the room, he saw her.

She was an old lady wrapped up in a black shawl sitting on the floor looking through a window. She was chanting something under her breath. He tried listening to what she was saying but couldn’t make it out. It was from some language he couldn’t understand.

He was to her left and within her plane of vision but she didn’t seem to notice him. He spoke to her but she didn’t answer. He asked if she was okay but again, she wouldn’t answer. He decided to leave and as he was turning away, he heard her clearly speak one word – “Sam.” He spun around quick, quick enough that he saw the old woman dissolve from under her wrappings and disappear, leaving behind only her shawl.

He froze, numbed with terror. He didn’t know what to do. He had heard of stories of witches and sorcery while on the road but had never seen anything like this. Did the old woman really speak his long forgotten name? Maybe he had heard it wrong, but he was not mistaken about what he had seen.

He then saw something else. Something that caught the moonlight and glimmered from under the shawls windings. He stepped forward slowly but cautiously, surprised by his own bravery. Anyone else would have surely bolted into the night by now; but for some reason his curiosity compelled him or was it something else entirely that compelled him to move towards the glimmer, towards the unknown.

He picked up the item and saw that it was a dagger. A gold dagger with a smooth ivory handle like nothing he had ever seen before. There was something written on the blade. He strained his eyes to see in the moonlight. The letter lowly formed words and he was able to make out all words, they were:

Truth will lead you home. Falsehood will be your damnation.

He stood there wondering; all these question racing through his mind. Was he meant to come here? Who was that old woman? Was the dagger meant for him?  He didn’t know the answers but he felt he wouldn’t find them in that room. He would look for them on the road.

He didn’t feel safe in the farmhouse anymore, not prepared for anything else it might have in store. He got back out into the dark road, the fear of bandits gone. He strode into the night cautiously, still searching for his home; and now also chasing something else, a mystery. The root of the mystery tucked safely in his belt.