Time seemed to have been stretched to its limit. Even the air seemed to hold its breath. I had settled into a trance-like state; my heartbeat and pulse, both of which sounded like drums in the dead of the night, were slower than usual and my breaths were deeper.
“So,” I prompted, after managing to find my voice, “what happened next?”
“The beings all around me,” Chuks continued, “noticed the three of you. Then the air seemed to change pitch, and in perfect unison all heads, then body, turned towards you on that little hill. I stood transfixed as the humming began in the air and, as if on cue, they all moved as one body towards you. You know how it is in dreams, how when you want to do something, you just can’t seem to do it? It was like that for me. I tried to run to you but I couldn’t. It was as if someone had snuck up on me when I wasn’t looking and bolted my feet to the floor. I felt these beings pass me. George stepped back and stopped as you all stood your ground. I tried to warn you, to tell you to get out.
“That was when I felt a hand around my neck. It was a long-fingered, bony hand, and it felt cadaverous, but trust me there was nothing cadaverous about its grip. I didn’t see a body; just a hand floating in the sand/mist. It felt like someone had wrapped a strip of leather around my throat and was crushing my wind-pipe with it. I watched in horror while I struggled to breathe, as hands caught both your necks. That was all I could make out, the hands. The bodies behind them were still hazy. I don’t know how I did it but I sucked in air, enough for me to start screaming. I still remember the whole thing, the pain.” He touched his neck lightly, a pained expression on his face.
We sat still, oblivious to the other students around us. Somehow, no one had bothered to take a seat anywhere near us; like we were radioactive or something. Good for us; what we were discussing would have sounded crazy to most people. It sounded crazy to me.
“Why did you see George in the dream?” Dan asked. It was a logical question, given the fact that he was the only surviving ‘normal’ person amongst the three of us.
Chuks shrugged. “I dunno. I guess maybe it is because the three of you are tight. I also think that maybe his time has not yet come. When it does, we’ll all know.”
“You spoke of a war,” I said. “What kind of war is that?”
“I have no idea. Think of me as er…a messenger.”
“Again, no idea either. But I know that soon, all that we know and understand will be shattered into a million fragments, and all that we love will be at risk. Somehow I guess it all depends on the three of you.” Chuks glanced at his watch, whistled. “Almost six.” He slid his tall, languid frame off the desk, straightened his clothes. “I’ve got to run. We’ll see back at the hostel.” We shook hands and he left.
Dan looked at me. “What’s going to happen now?”
I searched my pocket. “What’s going to happen now…” I brought out my phone, “is that I’m going to call my baby, know where she is.” I stood up. “You coming?”
Dan looked exhausted, pale even. “I don’t think so. I think I’ll just stay here and rest a while, go to the room later. See you.”
We shook hands and I left.
Somewhere, a clock was ticking.
Pitch-black darkness. Not a single star in the skies. It was so dark that I felt I was walking in space. I was outside my hostel. Call of nature; the liquid kind.
My thinking was still somewhat fuzzy on account of the fact that I’d just woken up from sleep, which is probably why I didn’t feel startled when I saw a pale-looking, butt-naked guy standing a few feet away from me on my right, apparently also relieving himself at the common urinal (a gutter that ran length-wise beside the fence that separated the male hostel from the Anatomy complex). Then, two, no, three things struck me.
One, the only pissing-sound I could hear was mine (maybe he was through).
Two, I couldn’t see the suggestion of a profile. I know it was dark but by now my eyesight had adjusted to the darkness. Probably he wheeled a little for every step I took, making sure all I could see at any particular time was his back (I would know why later).
Three, which is the most compelling reason why I should’ve seen his face if he’d stayed at a place is because I could see him clearly. Now, this was more than the wonders of rods and cones in our eyes. I mean, I could really see him. How else could I know he was pale? Even the darkness surrounding him was pale.
I wasn’t supposed to see this clearly. Why?
Okay. My hostel compound has got some streetlights, some of which work, none of which were on; blackout. Everything was just shapes and shadows, but stay in our hostel long enough and you develop a kind of internal radar system that tells you where to and where not to put your leg. It happens if you stay in one place long enough for it to grow on you.
One more thing. About this darkness. It seemed weird. Not the darkness in itself per se (it was night; it was supposed to be dark) but the nature of this particular darkness of this particular night. The darkness had a thick, syrupy feel to it, and it seemed to reach out and envelope me. The air was thick, like I was wading in a sea of darkness, if there was anything like that.
Of course I realized all of this later, when I’d been shocked to heaven and back out of my sleep. ’Cos as it was, my night was just about to get interesting.
I finished my liquid business, shook myself (always a drop or two left guys, no matter how much you shake yourself) and I heard my name.
Naturally, I turned towards the butt-naked guy, expecting to see someone I knew (finally; the suspense was killing me), though I couldn’t place the voice. All I could still see was his back. I waited. Nothing. I turned to go.
Now, this one raised involuntary goose-bumps on my flesh. The voice came from the naked guy, no doubt about it. But that wasn’t what gave me the goose-bumps.
What caused the bumps was his voice. Gravely, eerie. Like rubbing a fistful of gravel on a metal drum. What little hair I had on my head stood on end. Slowly, I turned and face him.
“Who’s that?” I asked. “Who-who are you?”
“That,” he answered, “is irrelevant. The real question here is, who are you?”
“Who am I?”
“Yes. Who are you?”
“I am John.”
“Not in that sense.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Come with me.”
Okay. Sounds weird enough yarning some philosophical-sounding talk with a naked guy in the dead of the night. What would even be weirder would be following him anywhere. Crazy and weird.
He gave a soft chuckle that gripped my heart. “You talk as if you have a choice.”
He took a step forward, away from me, and I turned to go…
…and couldn’t even move my head sideways.
With every ounce of strength I had, I willed my body to turn. I might as well have been moving a house.
Jesus. Oh no please.
“I told you, you have no choice.”
“No you didn’t.”
“Doesn’t really matter, one way or another.” I could hear the amusement in his voice as he made as if to go.
“Wait.” He stopped. “Who are you?”
“Me? Why, I’m the messenger.”
Klaxon sounds in my ears…
“I can’t really say.”
“What is your name?”
“What are you?” I asked, my voice beginning to rise.
“Me?” Suddenly I felt him smile, I just felt that smile of his as he answered, “I’m just a dead guy.”
My mind went blank, and all I could manage was “Huh?”
Slowly, he turned.
The first thing I noticed were his eyes. They were a milky colour, but they also felt like the gateway to another place entirely.
And then I noticed the big ‘Y’ incision, albeit stitched up, that had been made on him, starting from around the shoulders to his pubic bone. His penis hung limp, and I remember thinking, That thing has not done any peeing in a while.
“Now,” he said, “come with me.”
I knew I had no choice.