TOMORROW, THE FORGOTTEN (A Christmas Tale)

gun and knife

OVERTURE:

Last year, I gave you the Night Reaper in this Christmas tale which you can read here: http://www.naijastories.com/2011/12/a-christmas-tale-blood-and-fire-night-reaper/ .  Well, here I am again, with another story for you, and who is to say it is not true?

                                                                                                                               

Sarah stumbled and fell again, cutting her palms on the forest floor. She raised her hands and stared at her palms, struggling not to cry.

“Get up!” Temi shouted, turning back to look at her, eyes wide. She looked beyond Sarah and gasped. “Now!”

Wincing, Sarah got up, wiping her palms on her roughed-up jeans. Her blouse was torn in the left shoulder, and her right ankle throbbed. Biting back sobs, she ran. They had to keep moving. Stopping meant death, or something worse.

Temi held out her hand to her, pulling her up the inclined forest ground, dodging round trees and jumping over tree roots jutting out of the ground, aiming for the dense tree-line ahead. “Just a little more Sarah,” she said. A sound; rotors in the distance, and Temi shouted “Move!”

A missile streaked towards them just as they flung themselves over the ridge at the top. They scrambled for cover behind a tree just as it exploded, lighting up the forest a fiery orange-red, the impact sending shock waves through the forest. Sarah screamed and they both closed their eyes against the blast. Temi opened hers a moment later and turned to Sarah. “C’mon, we have to move! Quickly, before they-” A sound cut her short, and her heart fell. “Oh no,” she breathed. “The Sweepers. Quick!”

Sarah got up, pain flaring in her ankle. She screamed and fell again.

“Get up Sa-”

A metal tube landed into the ground with a loud thunk in front of the sprawled Sarah, and her eyes widened. She looked up at Temi, her eyes pleading , as five more tubes surrounded her rapidly; hands, legs, mid-point between her legs, creating a long hexagon that surrounded her completely. Temi shuffled backwards as force-fields appeared around Sarah, buzzing with energy. Red LED lights on the tubes began to blink in countdown in sync with a beeping sound, gathering speed as Sarah raised one hand within, pleading and screaming silently. Whirls of colour played across the surface of the force-field as the beeping became one long sound, and then the force-field disappeared in an explosion of earth and forest floor, taking Sarah with it. Temi threw herself backwards, turning in mid-airt into a forward roll and getting up, running.

Move girl, move.

Thunk!

She refused to look back. Arms and legs pumping furiously. She saw a manhole cover propped open in front of her.

You can make it.

Thunk.

Fifteen feet.

The tubes slamming into the floor in pursuit, gaining on her.

Ten feet.

She flexed her fingers in her gloves as the whole world faded away, her senses focused on the tunnel in front of her. Time slowed.

Six feet.

Temi slid across the floor and found a foothold on the ladder leading down. She looked up as tube landed in front of her, and she heard a distinct thunk behind the manhole cover. She didn’t wait as two more tubes landed on either side of the tunnel; she held on to the ladder’s sides, her soles on the outside, and she slid down as she counted down in her head. She didn’t look up as the force-field formed above her; she landed at the bottom, turned around and ran towards the light in front of her. She flinched as she heard an explosion and the sound of wrenching metal behind her. Temi threw herself into a forward roll, twisting as she regained her footing on her haunches, left palm on the ground. Nothing behind her now but wrenched metal. A wire hung from the ceiling, throwing sparks; the bulbs dimmed twice, and then steadied. Temi got up slowly, taking stock; minor scratches, but nothing serious. Her K-Bar knife was still intact in her combat belt, as well as her kyoketshu shogei; a knife with a curved blade attached to a weighted chain. She got up and exhaled. No way back now. She would have to find her way from here.

She turned and ran.

                                                                                                                                                             

She’d been walking for close to thirty minutes when she came to a metal door with a keypad beside it. She tried the handle; it wouldn’t budge. She took out her knife and pried the keypad out of the wall, revealing the wires within. She pulled them out, toughed them together, and an alarm started on the other side as the door popped open. She pulled it open and stepped onto a white corridor.

She had to move fast. Soon the place would be crawling with Sweepers-guards.

Hearing footsteps coming from the branch off on the left side of the corridor in front of her, she ran forward, knife in hand; reverse grip.

Fifteen feet.

Ten.

Five.

Temi leaped just as the gun hand came into view, and then the whole of the Sweeper came into view. She slammed her knees into his chest, pinning his hand to his body, riding him to the ground, stabbing him in the neck. Slamming his head on the floor, she rolled off his corpse and grabbed his gun; a Glock 17. Sheathing her dagger, Temi racked the slide and then checked the clip. Satisfied, she took his radio and key-card, and then ran towards the end of the corridor. Stopped at the end and peeked around the corner. Clear. She moved. A door opened on her right and she shot the person who came out, not stopping to look; in this facility, anyone not strapped to a bed or locked in a chamber was the enemy. Running steps at the end of the corridor, and then two guards ran past. A third ran past, did a double-take, and saw her. Tried to call out to his colleagues; she dropped him with three quick shots. Increased her speed towards the exit, and then threw herself to the right as a rifle appeared. Squatting, she shot at his leg as it appeared. The guard screamed, falling forward. She shot him in the chest and head. Automatic rifle fire drove her into the closest room; a lab with the lights out. She shut the door and hid behind it, counting down in her head. The door burst open, and she shot the guard through it as he came in. She dragged him in, picked up his rifle as she tossed her spent pistol aside, and then checked the clip and slide. Checking quickly, she took a couple of flashbangs and a frag grenade. Putting these into her utility jacket, she peeked, and then stepped out, rifle in front of her. The alarm was still on; how long until they sent the Sweepers? They should’ve bee-

Shots behind her, and she dropped on her haunches, spinning, rifle coming up, squeezing; one semi-auto burst. The lone guard fell. She turned and checked the corridor; a four-man team making their way towards her. She took out the frag grenade as they raised their rifles and began firing. Pulled the pin and tossed it, covering her eyes. After the explosion, she came out and turned right. Two more corridors and she would come out at the next possible point of contact with the Sweepers. Two guards; dropped. At the next second corridor, she checked. Four of them, ready, waiting for her to pass so they could shoot. She took out a flashbang, threw it, and then covered her eyes and ears. Came out, killed them all. Checked her clip. Halfway done. She slammed it back in; no time. More would be on the way.

Forward, and then left. Two guards; dropped. A scientist with a scalpel; dropped. A guard; head-shot  Two more guards, and she shot them as well. Squeezed the trigger; click. Reached out to take a rifle off one of the dead guards, and gunshots drove her back. She pulled out the last stun grenade and threw it, then ran out. Threw herself forward, picking a pistol as she rolled back onto her feet. Shot them all, dropped to one knee and brought down the Sweepers running behind her, heard the click of her spent weapon and rolled forward, bringing out her K-Bar knife. A guard ran forward, gun up. Temi threw herself to forward and to the side as he shot, blocked his gun hand, sliced his carotid, caught the gun with her left hand as it fell from his dead fingers and threw the body at the guards in front of her. Emptied the clip in them, turned and threw her knife, burying it in the throat of a guard behind her.

In the stillness that followed, Temi looked at her hands. Blood; not hers.

Move girl. Move.

She was close to the exit now; she knew. She turned round the corridor, through the circular foyer that branched off into different corridors-

-and her hand came up reflexively, blocking the kick to her ribs. She turned, punched, kicked low, missed, was kicked in the back. She fell forward and got up. Eight Sweepers roughly surrounded her; two behind, six in front. They all carried batons; no rifles or pistols. In their black combat uniform, black berets and multiple weapons, they were any intruder’s nightmare on any given day.

“I’m flattered,” Temi said, “no guns for me.”

“Commander Temi,” said the squad leader, stepping forward. “You know this is the end for you. There is no escape.”

“Really?” Temi said, smiling. Come on, closer…closer.

“Yes, really. You know how this works; now come with us quietly.”

“And if I don’t?”

Subtle change in the stances of the men as the squad leader smiled. “Well, it has been a boring few weeks, and everyone has been itching for some action. And who better to provide it than the leader-sorry, EX-leader of the Sweepers?”

“You people do not understand anything, do you?” Temi said. “Morons.”

“What was that?” the leader said, leaning forward.

Temi punched him fast and hard, twice, in the throat, crushing it. As he choked on his own blood, she released the catch of her kyoketshu shogei, letting the blade fall as she held the chain. Flicking her wrist, she caught the handle of the blade and sliced open his throat with a downward slash, and then an upward slash, flicking the blade outwards and releasing it, letting the chain play out as she spun. She caught the chain and swung, slashing the cheek of the guard to her right, spinning and dropping as she re-directed it at the other one behind her, burying it in his throat. She pulled it and he crumpled, hand going to his throat as blood spurted out of his cut throat. She spun, swinging the weapon as the others tried to stay out of range; she twisted, looping the chain under her left armpit, across her back and over her right shoulder, redirecting it at the guard with the slashed cheek, twisting to let the chain play out fully, stabbing his heart. As he held onto the hilt, Temi did a 360-degree side kick, burying it deeper. She pulled it out as he fell, and then turned to face the remaining five, settling down into her stance.

“Now, which one of you wants to die first?” she asked.

Five of them circled her, knives drawn. They were good; she knew this because she had trained them.

She was better.

One of them moved.

Feinting to his right, she spun and flipped, twisting in mid-air as she swung the weapon, slashing behind the knees of the one closest to her, who yelled in pain and lashed out at her with his knife. The chain looped around his knife hand and Temi pulled from behind him as he fell on his knees, forcing his knife against his own throat. Flicking her wrist, she pulled the chain, the momentum causing the guard to spin as his own knife sliced his throat. She spun, ducking under a diagonal slash, blocked, one two three, kick to the knee, looping her chain around the arm of a Sweeper as he thrust his knife at her. She jumped backwards, pulling him as she kicked him in the ribs, causing his knife to fall from numb fingers as she smashed the side of her foot into the side of his knee; she caught the knife, following him down to one knee as he fell, bringing it up and beneath his falling head. He impaled himself on it, the blade passing beneath his chin and through his mouth. Untangling the chain, Temi got up, delivering a spinning roundhouse kick to the head of the onrushing guard, knocking him aside. She wove around two downward slashes, keeping the other guard in sight; she spun on her right foot- a spinning back-leg sweep-and in one fluid motion, continued the spin, left leg rising as she went into tornado kick, left leg kicking out the knife as her right crashed into the side of the head of the other guard, knocking him off his feet. Landing, she spun and threw the weapon, burying it in his throat as he lay on the floor, pulled it and turned, doing a side-flip over the one closest to her, her hand lashing out as she slashed his throat. She landed, facing the last guard who was up. Swinging the weapon, she advanced as he stepped back, eyes wide with realization of his fate. On its downward swing, Temi redirected the blade with her boot, stabbing his throat. For what seemed like forever, he stood, disbelieving, gurgling as he tried to speak. Temi yanked the chain and his corpse fell as the blade pulled free of his neck.

Time to go.

Temi wrapped the chain of the kyoketshu shogei around her hand, knife held in reverse grip as she ran towards the exit. She pushed open the door…

…and she had to shield her eyes from the bright light-how long since she’d seen sunlight?

Blinking, she turned to Sarah. “C’mon! We have to get out of here now! The forest is over there!” she said, pointing.

“I know, I know. I’m trying. My leg hurts so bad…”

“Quick, we need to…”

                                                                                                                                          

Behind the one-way mirror they watched her; two humanoid creatures with white eyes, occasionally looking at the beeping monitors that surrounded her. One of them carried what looked like a glass board.

“Still stuck in the same loop, is she?” one of them asked. They were both dressed in a leather one-piece bodysuit.

“Yes,” the other answered. “I don’t know why she doesn’t try something different; does she think she can win?”

“Hmm…fascinating. Like a…what is that creature the humans used to be so fond of?”

“Hamster?”

“Yes Zorg, hamster. What date is it? Their date?”

“December 27th.”

“Ah. What is it they say again? Merry Christmas.”

“Merry Christmas.”

In the room, the monitors continued to beep.

 

Dec 27th, 2012.

                                                                                                                                                    

Well, here we are again; another year gone. All the turkeys are gone now, and people are sneaking peeks at the calendar with sinking hearts as the time for the resumption of work draws near. And therein lies the danger; the danger of being stuck in a loop. As you stare at the calendar, you think back to this same time the year before, and the year before, and…

Santa, you can take a break now. You’ve earned it. Step out of the loop.

Merry Christmas world.

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SWAN SONG 3

6

 

  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.”

“From who?”

“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.

 

7

 

 

  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.

“John.”

  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.

“John.”

  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.

  No.

  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.

“Sorry. No.”

  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.

  Huh?

  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…

“From who?”

“I can’t really say.”

“What is your name?”

  A chuckle.

“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.

007-SKYFALL: A REVIEW

SKYFALL: A REVIEW

 Image

“Everyone needs a hobby?”

“So what’s yours?”

“Resurrection.”

  SKYFALL  sees Daniel Craig return a third time as the iconic Commander James Bond/007 of the MI6 in the 23rd movie instalment of the series created by Ian Fleming. In this movie, he plays a disillusioned 007 who must do what he knows best once again, against all odds, for the good of his country.

  And boy, does he do it.

  I’ll try not to reveal any spoilers.

  Skyfall is arguably the best 007 movie in recent memory, and is a wonderful breath of fresh air after the tepid affair that was Quantum Of Solace (sounds like a Physics Professor named the movie), that highly forgettable mistake of a movie. In this movie, Sam Mendes brings a deft, quaint touch to the table, giving it an almost-nostalgic feel. It is a blend of the old and the new, as characterized by the locations, camera quality and general mood of the movie. The decision to hand Sam Mendes the reins has yielded massive dividends as the movie has been a massive box-office and critical hit, grossing almost $790 million worldwide since its release and having an average rating of 8.1/10 on the IMDB.

  So what makes this movie so good? I’ll give my own opinion here.

  One of the good points of this movie is the fact that the 007 character is stripped down to the bare bones. Most of the previous movies, especially the ones starring Pierce Brosnan, were usually about the cars, gadgets and the women. Whenever a Bond movie came out, the next question would be “What car will he use here? What gadgets will be on show?” etc. However, this movie remembered one fundamental issue, Commander James Bond is first and foremost, a Secret Agent for the MI6. I can’t imagine an active Secret Service Agent with a belly pouch (sorry Pierce). I was actually impressed with Craig right from the opening scene in his first Bond movie, Casino Royale, as he brought the physical aspect that we all expected from Secret agents but had to turn to Jason Bourne for. Bond was hard and steely as well as suave. Craig really trained for well for this movie, as it was evident, despite the use of stunt-men.

  Another thing I like is the fact that this movie does away with the unnecessary flamboyance that is usually associated with Bond. I remember watching Die Another Day and while it was okay at the time, in hindsight I can’t help but feel like I’d watched a project by Tinkerbell; too much glitter. Maybe it was the Ice Station…but that’s a crazy place to have a home. I can’t begin to imagine the heating costs…

But I digress.

  In Skyfall, the mission and its accoutrements are once again stripped to the bare bones, with the only ‘gadgets’ given to Bond are a Walther PPK (his weapon of choice) coded to his palm-print, and a radio transmitter. Very practical.

  Skyfall also shows the human side of Bond. We’ve all watched so many Bond movies that we’ve forgotten he must come from somewhere, unless the aliens just delivered him to our doorstep, packaged and ready to kill. Skyfall shows us a peek behind the curtain of what his life as a boy was. However, one other surprising fact is that Skyfall also shows us another side of M, and sheds some light on the relationship between Bond and M. Sam Mendes handled both characters beautifully here, and I had to smile at the nostalgic feel of some parts of this movie.

Image

  And now, enter the villain. 007 has had his fair share of memorable villains-Dr No, Ernst Stavro Blofeld, Scaramanga, Goldfinger etc, but Raoul Silva has to rank among one of the top villains. It is evident that Sam Mendes borrowed a leaf from Christopher Nolan with his character The Joker, and Silva, played by Javier Bardem-an outstanding actor- played his part almost perfectly. He was disillusioned, cunning and calculating; almost carefree in his attitude. However, he possessed a mind to rival Bond’s, if not surpass it. When he laughed, it was not hard to imagine a monster straining against a leash within. Javier Bardem brought the same intensity he showed in No Country For Old Men, and tweaked it beautifully. He has become one of my favourite actors.

  Skyfall obviously learnt a lot from Nolan’s behemoth of a movie, The Dark Knight and like Commander James Bond, has resurrected the entire 007 franchise. In doing so, it has become the standard by which upcoming 007 movies will be measured. Let’s hope they will not be found wanting. In my opinion, Daniel Craig is the best Bond of our time, with respect to Sean Connery. Sean was good in his day, but Bond fights a different kind of war now.

  So, here’s a toast to Sam Mendes, Daniel Craig and all the other awesome cast members of SKYFALL. Well done guys….well done.

My rating: 8/10.

 

SWAN SONG 2

3

   3 a.m. The witching hour.

  That night I was sleeping well, but a friend of mine wasn’t. His name is Chukwuka, but we all call him Chuks. He woke us all up at exactly 3 a.m. (someone later confirmed the time for me) with his screams.

  I bolted out of bed, moving from sleep to wide-eyed wakefulness seamlessly, my eyes darting, trying to pin-point the exact location of the disturbance. The lights came on and I saw Chuks, eyes scrunched tight, veins taut, limbs flailing as he struggled with something only he could feel. It was almost comical; this tall guy who fought to sleep comfortably (his feet always came out from the end of the bed), screaming his throat raw. I was torn between bursting into laughter and punching the bunk; I did neither.

  And then I felt it. It began with a thickening of the air; it became too hot to breathe. My brows furrowed in confusion and I looked at George. No help there; he was watching Chuks. I tried to call out but I couldn’t. Something had my vocal cords in a stranglehold. My vision began to get blurry; I thought I saw Daniel clutching his throat, but I wasn’t so sure.

  Oh God, I thought, as my knees buckled, what’s happening?

  I held onto the bunk beside me for support, bending forward. Pinpoints of light danced in the corners of my eyes and a black void seemed to come out of nowhere, rushing forward to meet me.

  Oh no.

  The lights were going in and out of focus, and crazily, a line from a Phil Collins song popped into my head

  ‘My harbour lights are fading fast…’

  God no please…

  Suddenly someone shouted “JESUS!”

  The air cleared and I sucked in air greedily, like a drowning man coming out from the depths of the ocean. The blackness cleared and the lights became brighter a little too quickly. I was vaguely aware of my forehead touching the floor, and then I heard a thud and gasps. I dimly heard George shout “JOHN!”, and then my body followed my forehead.

  I blacked out.

  

4

 

  When I came to, I was on my bed. George’s face loomed over me, concern and worry etched deep in his face. Dan stood behind him-did he look tired?- with a couple of my friends. I re-focused on George as sensation slowly returned to my limbs, and I felt the insistent pressure of his hands on my body as he asked “Are you alright?”

“Um…yeah, I think.” I sat up, then swung my legs off the bed onto the floor. Felt like I was on a boat. I rested my elbows on my knees and cradled my head in my hands.

“What happened?” someone asked.

  I shook my head, no. “How’s Chuks?” I asked.

“Asleep,” George said.

“Okay,” I said. “I think I need to do the same now.” I lay back down.

“You sure say you no dey possessed?” Samson, one of my friends, quipped, drawing a few snickers. I even managed a smile.

“Na you be the evil spirit abi?” I asked him weakly.

“Sorry oh,” he said. “No faint again.” He left for his bed. After voicing their concerns, they all finally left.

  As I closed my eyes, the image of Dan gasping for breath chased me to sleep.

  

5

 

  In the morning I felt better, and after breakfast and a bath, I felt even more so. However, the events of the previous night hovered in my mind, like a dark shape just on the edge of my peripheral vision. Dan didn’t say much all day, but there was this…resignedly haunted look in his eyes. He looked less like a rabbit caught in the glare of headlights and more like a man bound and tied to rail-tracks, with no room for escape, with a train horn sounding in the distance. He avoided contact with me all day. He would be with someone, and then if he saw me, he would make a hasty exit. The only time I managed to accost him, he said two words. “Not now.”

  So I waited. I needed answers. I didn’t know of anyone I could talk to. We only had ourselves and somehow, I knew this wasn’t going to be something George could understand or do a thing about. So I had to be patient.

  As for Chuks, he was gone most of the day; must’ve been lectures or something. But when he came back in the evening, he had Dan in tow. They had been looking for me. I followed them and we found an empty classroom. I was the first to speak.

“What’s going on man? What happened to you last night Chuks?”

“Easy man,” Chuks said, signalling with his hands for me to take it slow. “Easy. You’re not helping.”

“Sorry, but I’m confused.”

“Aren’t we all,” Dan said softly. He turned to Chuks. “I guess there is really one question that’s bothering all of us.” He looked at me, and I realized that my eyes had not deceived me about Dan the previous night. I nodded, turned to Chuks, and asked the question.

“What happened last night?”

“Honestly,” Chuks said, rubbing his eyes, “I don’t know.” He looked up, and I saw how he would look like thirty years from now; it was like the ghost of a face super-imposed on his own, and then it vanished.

“I know I was dreaming,” he continued. “But before I proceed, I want to know what happened to you two.”

  And so Dan proceeded to tell him what had happened to the both of us, with me chipping in whenever it was necessary; it was basically the same experience except that he had the comfort of his bed while I was passed out on the floor. Chuks eyes sent signals that ranged from awe to surprise to uncertainty and back again. It was as if some important piece of a puzzle had fallen into place, presenting him with a clear picture, and what he saw frightened him to no end. The air was so charged that I was surprised it didn’t crackle. When Dan finished, Chuks just nodded slowly. All was quiet as Chuks seemed to contemplate and digest all he’d just heard, and then he spoke.

“That’s basically what happened to me, but I think mine was triggered by the dream I had.” He looked at us, feeling somewhat self-conscious, then cleared his throat and narrated his dream to us.

“I was standing on a barren land, nothing but sand as far as my eyes could see, which wasn’t far given the fact that that things were hazy and clouded, shrouded in dust-like mist. The air was hot; it seemed like late evening. I remember sensing that I was not alone, and when I took a closer look around, I saw shapes, human-like shapes. I never really saw anyone clearly, as there seemed to be a sandstorm brewing. But I couldn’t feel any wind. The sand and dust just seemed to hang heavy in the air, like they were part of it. I’ve never seen anything like it, but then again, it was just a dream. In the way that only dreams can be, this sand didn’t hurt me.

“I heard a sound, a keen howling, like the wind was rushing towards me. Everyone around me turned to look in the direction of the sound.

“And then I caught something abnormal on the edge of my vision. I turned and peered into the storm as hard as I could. The air seemed to shift, and I saw an elevation, like a small hill. But that was not the anomaly. No. It was something else.

“It was you. Or rather should I say the three of you; you, Daniel and George, standing on that hill, and I thought, ‘These are the people that’ll make a difference in this war.’

“Oh yes, I forgot to tell you. There’s a war coming. And it’s coming fast.”

 

SWAN SONG

INTRODUCTION

 

  I don’t know if this can be classified as an ‘Introduction’, as I haven’t really written one before. Yes. I usually go to the heart of the story. Hopefully, this will not be a trend; my mind is already trying to create permutations and sentence combinations…

  Shut up, mind.

  It’s always like this for the both of us, my mind and I. Most times, it is worse.

  I digress…

  What I want to do here, is try to re-introduce this story, SWAN SONG, both to you the reader, and to me. Yes me. This is an old story, and a special one too, written at a time when I was discovering the art of short-story writing. This story, however, is more of a novella than a short story; it was what I used to round up a series of short stories I wrote some years ago. I just found myself thinking about it again, and the voices in my head didn’t let me rest until I had taken out my hard disk and had trawled through files to locate it. And boy, am I glad I did. So this ‘re-introduction’ is for two reasons.

  The first is for the characters in the story. When I wrote this, my writing was in no way bad, but it wasn’t what it is now, so I need to do them justice once more, in a more fitting way…John, George and Daniel. The three musketeers.

  The second reason is more personal. This story is a special one for me, you see…

  I wrote this story after I lost one of my closest friends to Sickle Cell, in our final year. I tried and tried to think of a way to honour him, and one day, I took up a notebook, a pen, and opened a new page to create my own piece of alternate history. So I decided to revisit this place and rediscover the past. I’ll try not to change much in this story, but I will try to add what I might have been afraid to add back then. Just forgive any cheekiness you may find in this story.

  Okay, enough talk/writing. Now, to the main event.

  Oh, one more thing: what you are about to read, is all real.

  After all, who is to say Fiction isn’t real?

 

DISCLAIMER

All lyrics used in this story are copyrighted material of their owners.

 

 

 

SWANSONG

 

 

Yesterday I lost my closest friend,

Yesterday I wanted time to end,

I wonder if my heart will ever mend,

I just let you slip away…

 

-Lost Prophets, 4. a.m. Forever

 

 

 

“Do you hear that? Do you hear that, son?”

“What’s that daddy?”

“That’s the wind, son. That’s the wind of change…”

 

 

 

 

 

If I don’t say this now,

I will surely break…

 

               -The Fray, Look After You

 

 

 

PROLOGUE

 

  4 weeks ago, if you’d told me that the dead could speak (not ghosts; there’ve been stories of ghosts speaking to people, though not to me. I haven’t seen one. Yet. I must be ghost-repellent-suits me just fine. No, I’m talking about cadavers!), I would have looked at you like you needed to get your head checked. Even with all that was happening at the time, broach the subject and I would personally have hauled your ass to see a shrink. Or a pastor. Or whoever could and would have helped.

  Dead people, talk?

  Yeah, right.

   But…

   Since the past week, my take on life and everything concerning it has changed. It wasn’t actually a gradual process, you know, like childbirth…

  No. It was the most abrupt change that could ever happen to anyone.  Something happened. Something so incredible that I still can barely get my head around it. It was an…what’s the word…other-worldly experience. And it wasn’t pleasing either. Actually, it was the most painful thing that ever happened to me in my entire life, short as that has been.

  I gained…

  I lost…

  And I lost more than I gained.

  Writing this has been the hardest thing I have ever had to do, no fun reliving the events of the past weeks. But I had to do this, because I’ve got the feeling that forgetting would have dire consequences…

  Just be thankful that it didn’t happen to you.

  Oh, sorry. My manners.

  My name is John.

 

————————————————————————————————————————————————

 

 

 

 

 

Did we create a modern myth,

Did we imagine half of it,

What happened then, a thought for now,

Save yourself, save yourself,

The secret is out,

The secret is out…

 

-Thirty Seconds to Mars, A Modern Myth.

 

I am not alone,

I live with the memories,

Regret is my home,

This is my true freedom…

 

-Alterbridge, Shed My Skin

 

 

This is for the ones,

Who believe that lives won’t change…

 

-Amber Pacific, If I Fall

 

  

1

 

  The three musketeers. That’s what they called us. The only thing was, we didn’t have swords (we weren’t in an Edwardian age) neither did we have horses. No; what we had was by far more greater than that.

  We had friendship, and in the end, it was all that mattered.

  George, Daniel and I.

  The three musketeers.

  We didn’t deliberately invite the name; somehow it emerged from our course-mates and stuck like glue. It wasn’t a bad moniker though – I’ve seen people being called worse. We didn’t mind. Actually, we kind of liked it. Whenever we were alone gisting, we would envision ourselves doing great things, becoming great people, you know. Forming a formidable team, no matter the stage. Music, academics, business…

  Sand castles, some would say.

  Hey, not a crime to be ambitious, is it?

  We were final-year students in the University, three accountants-to-be. We were also room-mates, or should I say hall-mates? Yeah, our room was actually a small hall, which we shared with roughly sixty or so other guys. And no, it wasn’t over-crowded, not that we noticed anyway, but on a really sunny day, you would wish you had your own personal and portable air-conditioning unit.

  Nevertheless, the room had its upside. It was filled with the most wonderful characters; a wonderful, hilarious, God-chosen cocktail of personalities. ‘NITE OF A THOUSAND LAUGHS’ , that popular Nigerian comedy show, had nothing on us. Every waking moment was fun, so much so that other guys from other rooms would come to spend time with us and get belly-aches from laughing so much.

Reminiscing…

  Sorry, but back to us.

  George, Daniel and I had appropriated a corner of the hall, the left-most corner from the front door. Cozy. Not the Hilton, but okay.

  George, the oldest of us, was a tall, handsome guy, not so fair, not so dark. None of us were, actually. A little over six feet, he was slim and wiry of build. Not a body-builder or an exercise buff. He was just one of those rare people that God blessed with minimum body fat. He was also our unofficially designated cook; he could whip up some tasty dishes. And he was our drummer.

  Oh yeah, did I ever mention that we were starting a band?

  Daniel. Daniel was taller than me with about half-an-inch or so ( don’t know if that matters but hey, half-an-inch is half-an-inch). Not bad-looking, he was also slim, but his was not from body-building, neither was it the rarity of nature.

  Daniel suffered from Sickle Cell Disease.

  He wasn’t always sick – the crisis associated with sicklers didn’t always disturb him.

  Always…

  He couldn’t be troubled to do anything, except when he really had to do them on his own, like taking a bath, doing his laundry, um…okay, ran out of stuff there.

  However, we didn’t mind.

  What are friends for, if not for inconveniences?

  Besides, Daniel couldn’t cook even if his life depended on it. Even I cooked better than him, and that’s saying a lot.

  But Daniel was a great guy. There’s a reason we stayed close friends right from the first day we met. Yeah. Daniel. He was cool…

  Memories…

  He was also our lyricist. Super cool, huh? Talk about our own black Eminem.

  As for me, well… Okay. Here’s the deal. I don’t want to cloud your judgement about me alright? I don’t want to be tempted to tell you that I am a cute guy (I am though; you should see me) who’s got long, golden hair (NOT!), blue eyes (mine are black), and I walk like a lion  (well, I’ve got my own swagger, if you know what I mean). No I’m no Prince Charming (I can be when I need to) from a Mills and Boon story. Actually, my life can be summed up in a couple of words.

  Books. Lots of them.

  Music. Play me a good tune and I’ll dance, or sing along if I can’t dance.

  Love.

  Love for, and of God.

  Love for, and of my family.

  Love for, and of my girlfriend.

  Love for, and of my friends.

  Love for life. Life probably wants to screw me six ways to Sunday. But I survived long enough to write this story. Some people were not so lucky.

  Right now, I don’t know much anymore. Not after what happened. But I know this; my life will never be the same again. The course of my life has been irreparably altered, and most of the time I feel like a rudder-less boat adrift a stormy sea with no land in sight; translation – I feel like crap, like I don’t know where I am going to anymore. But I hope to change things real soon, just take my destiny and shape it any way I want.

  Enough about me. I came here to tell you a story, and tell it I shall.

  I hope I get this right.

 

 

2

 

 Tap-tap-tap-tap-tap. I opened my eyes, removed my head-phones. I could still hear the music coming from them, like people screaming from a distant land. I reduced the volume. “Wetin?” I asked George. He’d been tapping me.

“Guy, one day you go jus’ deaf. Just like that”, he warned, snapping his fingers.

“I’ve heard that before. What’s up?”

“Nothing.”

“You didn’t see her?”

“How?” George asked, perplexed, raising his shoulders, opening his hands questioningly. “She pulled a disappearing act on me.” His brows knotted together, and for a moment he looked like a six-year-old student complaining to his teacher about the complexity of a math question. “I don’t even-” He was interrupted by his phone. He checked the screen and then looked at me, face unreadable. “It’s her.”

  I felt like laughing. I watched him as he answered, then terminate the call. “She had a lecture,” he explained. “She couldn’t come.”

“Thought as much,” I said. “She should have called you since.”

“Said she was in a hurry.”

“This your girl wan’ put you for high jump oh.”

“No mind her. Man, I am hungry. Food dey?”

  I looked at him with mock incredulity. “You cook food keep?” I asked him. “Or do I look like a fast-food joint to you?”

  George laughed. “Guy you dey eff up oh.”

“Guy, shun. Let’s go to the café .” I got up, tossed my CD player into my bag, tossed this into my locker, locked up, got dressed. Took some money, my phone, sunglasses, and got ready to follow George.

  I heard a low whisper. “Soon you’ll understand.”

“Understand what?” I asked.

“Huh?” George countered, turning to look at me.

“Soon I’ll understand what?”

  George’s expression turned blank, then quizzical. His eyebrows went up. “What are you yapping about?”

“Didn’t you just say something just now?”

“Yeah, I asked you what you were yapping about.”

  George can be a clown sometimes. Guess he’d just pulled one on me.

  I shrugged. “Where’s Daniel?”

 “With his babe” George answered.

“The one who’s not his babe, or another one I don’t know about?”

“The one who’s not his babe.”

“Oh.”

  We walked to the cafeteria and joined the line of people ordering food. We carried ours – two plates of steaming-hot jollof rice with fish (we preferred fish ’cos the meat they served was as big a Maggi cube. Or should I say as small as…). George went to get us drinks and water. He returned and we began to eat, talking around mouthfuls of hot rice .  A shadow fell across our table and we looked up.

  Dan.

“Thieves,” he said, sitting down. “You didn’t call me to tell me you were coming here. Afraid you’ll both pay for my meal?”

“Next thing now,” I replied, “you’ll expect us to call you when we want to shit.”

“How’s your girl?” George asked.

“She’s fine. And I told you this before, she’s not my girl.”

“Right,” we both said, nodding and smiling.

“What?” Dan asked, taking a spoonful of rice from my plate.

“Wetin dey happen for inside school?” I asked.

“Nothing much. Have you guys gotten your project topics approved?”

“Uh huh?”

“I just got mine approved,” he said, sipping George’s Coke.

“Guy!?” George exclaimed, snatching the drink.

“What? John didn’t complain.”

“That’s rice!”

“Yeah. And this is Coke!”

“Go and buy yours,” George said, putting the drink back on the table. “Don’t drink this again.”

“No problem.”

  Dan drank it anyway.

  We finished eating (Daniel didn’t buy anything, said he wasn’t really hungry, so why did he eat half of my food?) and just as we were getting up,

“It’s coming.”

  George was the closest to me, so it was only logical that he be the one to play this prank on me. Again.

“What’s coming?” I asked George. Daniel just looked at me steadily, his gaze suddenly unreadable. But right now, I had eyes only for George; he would not play this prank on me and go free.

“Huh?”

“I said what’s coming?”

  George cocked his head, looked at me, touched my forehead, as though looking for a fever. Sighed and shook his head. “Oh, no wonder. Must be the heat from the rice. It’s messing with your head. And I thought I warned you about eating hot food. I do hope you are not falling seriously ill.” Turning to Dan he said, “This guy has been hearing voices all day. Must be that loud rock music he plays every time.”

  Daniel laughed weakly, but his eyes looked strained, like he didn’t believe his laughter.

 As we left the café, Daniel sidled alongside me and whispered in my ear.

“I hear them too.”

 

Welcome

Words…

Writing has been a defining part of my life. In writing, I have learned so many things about myself, including the fact that I am not a Writer in the real sense of the word. Anybody with a pen and paper, or keyboard, can write.

So what does that make me?

A Messenger and a Storyteller. I bring messages from the curtain behind Reality and Time, and tell them to you in the form of Stories. If you love these stories, feel free to share them, talk about them, even comment. If you don’t, well, I am just the Messenger, hehehe…

So, come on in, take off your shoes and sit by the fire; a cup of hot tea is on the way. I hope you don’t get too scared and run away when the monsters come; they are friends after all.

It’s gon’ be a paaaaaaarTAY.