Somewhere in the Southern Nigeria district, a University campus sat cosily beside a quaint little fishing village. There was a curious juxtaposition of illiterate, occultist villagers against the nation’s brightest minds; a shantytown alongside modern structures of higher learning. A small river flowed nearby. Rumour had it that the residents practiced many atrocities along its banks, and so the school issued warnings advising students to avoid the area at night.
In a decrepit, off-campus student hostel, two brothers lay in bed for the night. Being of humble stock, they shared a queen-sized mattress which was placed crudely on the bare cement floor. Their shack consisted of a 12ft square living space, a closet-sized bathroom, and a shoebox kitchenette. It was 1:30am – more than an hour since either of them last said a word. The power was out, and would probably remain so until morning. Not a peep came from the flat nearest theirs, so the neighbours were probably away. The air was hot and heavy, still and silent. Outside, an orchestra of crickets was deep in performance, rendering that silence excruciatingly loud. Earlier, the boys had dropped insecticide bombs and fled the room for a few hours, so at least no mosquitoes bit or buzzed around their ears. The room’s sole window framed the top of the mattress like a tasteless headboard. The curtains and louvres were wide open, only the window netting separating outside from inside.
The younger brother was sprawled on his side, wanting badly to fold a fan from a piece of paper. By this time, a cool night breeze should have been kissing softly across his face from the window above, but not so tonight. He didn’t want to move, lest he wake his brother. In the stifling heat, he knew sleep was still far off. But this was nothing new to the self-proclaimed “creature of the night”. Bored out of his brains, he looked within for amusement – to the exclusive space that was his mind – and sought some diversion from the cache therein. Outside, the discordant chirping was reaching a crescendo.
I’m terribly parched, thought the prone form beside him. He longed for a drink to cool his sweltering self, but knew the tiny fridge was tantamount to a cupboard at the moment, as the power had been out for hours. Still, a warm drink was better than none. And yet he knew moving about would only get him hotter, more stressed. So he lay still and tried to sleep, lest he flunk his test tomorrow–today.
A pack of stray mongrels usually loitered about the area, begging for scraps with their pitiful eyes or plundering the many garbage heaps dotting the landscape. They would punctuate the night with barks and growls in settlement of their scuffles, but were otherwise silent. Tonight however, quite suddenly, the dogs went wild. There was frenzied barking, which quickly turned into a lamentation of howls and yelps – hollow and strange-sounding, far off. As though they were besieged in a deep valley and crying for help as a formidable prey approached from surrounding hills. A sudden gust of unnatural breeze swept the compound and brought a slight chill into the room. All at once the cricket cacophony was silenced, as if by the invisible hand of a wand-wielding, creepy-crawly conductor.
Near the boys’ room, an unusual sound came that was the footfall of something unimaginable drawing close. Something alien but sentient; strange but undeniably malevolent. It is impossible to describe, as such a terrible, unfathomable sound was not the tread of any known biped or quadruped or serpentine creature. It simply was a thing in motion.
The brothers lay still. From all indication, they had fallen asleep. There was a rusty, latched gate at the porch entrance. The peculiar footsteps ceased for a beat, but when they resumed was much closer, the gate never having creaked. The thing was on the porch, probably standing at the front door. A pause, then a shuffling of sorts as it progressed toward the only window in the room, the same one overlooking the brothers where they lay.
The dogs’ cries grew wilder, more frantic. The presence persisted at the window, seemingly looking in on the boys. Its aura seemed to intensify, and a dense effluence of that intangible force ensued. It seemed one which no living thing could withstand. The crickets had already retired in deference, possibly death. The howling of the hounds had waned to whimpers, and eventually silence. The very air was positively frigid now. After an infinity had passed, the entity slithered soundlessly into ethereality.
If either of the boys had any clue as to the events of the previous night, there was no indication, as they never spoke of it. At daybreak, they got up and went into campus as usual.
At a small restaurant in the GRA Quarter, two men sat and chatted over lunch. There was enough resemblance between them to suggest a close familial tie. They caught up here most Wednesdays – it was a spot conveniently situated roughly midway between their workplaces. Reminiscing about university life a decade ago, someone recalled a night when they were visited by something unknown.
“What do you think it was?”
Without hesitation: “It was a ghost.”
Raised eyebrows. “I wasn’t even sure you were awake. The entire time, I was praying you wouldn’t get up and start screaming. That would have been the end of us, surely.” A pause. “Ghost, you say?” A chilly draft – perhaps real, maybe imagined – swept across the room and he shivered. Yet tiny beads of sweat appeared on his forehead. The sandwiches suddenly seemed very interesting to pick apart with nervous, shaky hands.
“I’m certain it was. Ghost, evil spirit, whatever. I didn’t see it—didn’t open my eyes. But it couldn’t have been an animal…I mean it certainly was not human. No man walks like that.” He shook his head emphatically. “That’s why it was of the utmost importance I not open my eyes. I didn’t need the visual confirmation that would send me over the edge of sanity. So I clung to the speck of doubt my mind made up but my soul never believed.”
A long, drawn-out breath: “Hmmmmmmm.” A soda was raised but the trembling hands never delivered it to his lips. “Even the dogs went quiet. I—I wanted to reach out and take your hand but I was so scared! I thought if I moved–” He swallowed audibly and could not continue.
His brother was no less flustered. Huge eyes stared far away, deep into the past. They were animated, wild, mad as he said: “Do you remember the big mirror? The one on the wall opposite the window? Well if I opened my eyes, it was right there. I would have seen it – seen exactly what it was. God! I couldn’t do it. I could not let my eyes see whatever that…thing…was!”
Around them, knives and forks scraped against plates. People chatted. Outside, traffic built up then dissipated. Clouds merged then broke in the sky, and the earth continued to revolve in ignorant bliss.