**Ah, Liz. Elizabeth. Lizi. Zeenike. And that other Yoruba name I read somewhere. In her characteristic bossness, here she comes. Hint: to get more juice out of this one, read it at night, with the lights off ;)**
“Home, sweet home”, Uju whispered to herself as she looked around her new studio apartment with pride. Uzo, her boyfriend had just helped her move the last of her boxes over from his house and was going to have to leave immediately, God be praised, since he needed to travel the next day. Yet to her mounting irritation he was stillspending precious leaving time apologising for having to abandon her on this first night, and promising to dedicate the whole of the next weekend to helping her ‘christen’ the bed, carpet, kitchen counter, bathroom… She really didn’t hear the rest of it, she was busy scheduling a headache in for that period. After all, she hadcome to Salford to get a Master’s degree not a pregnancy.
Finally, in just over an hour shewas able to lock the door behind him with relish and begin putting things away. She noticed a small heap of very old newspapers sitting by the door and was angry with herself for not seeing them whileUzo was around, he could have helped her throw them out. It was strange, though, that he hadn’t noticed them either, he would have had to step over them as he was leaving. Oh well,shethought contemplating the yellowing paper and faded pictures, I might as well read them and find out what life was like in… is that 1884? Men, this oyibo people no dey throway something?And just as she was reaching for the papers and marvelling at the thick, old style print, she heard a window slam.
Damn it, sheswore, raining curses on the estate agent who must have left the bathroom windows open as she went to check the sound out, but on getting thereshefound both windows locked from the inside. Strange. Shrugging her slim shoulders she returned to the room anddecided shedidn’t have the timeto read papers from before Jesus’ time;shepacked them up anddropped them by the gate of the little building outside that housed the dumpsters. Looking up at the four buildings arranged in a square that made up the apartment complex she shivered a little. She felt boxed in, watched. Wasn’t it strange that in a block of flats with at least 80 apartments only her windows showed a light at 10pm? Where was everyone else? It occurred to her for the first time that in all her pre move-in visits shehad never seen anyone else here or heard any conversations or music. Uju wasn’t one to scare easily but shefelt another shiver run down her spine and ran back indoors almost wishing she’d asked Uzo to stay.
Back inside thebrightly lit room shefelt better. A little ashamed, even. What was all that about?Yawning, sherealised shewas exhausted and needed a quick nap. She laid the bed, and to be sure shedidn’t sleep too deep climbed in fully dressed with the lights on. Shewas probably gone before her head hit the pillow. Then the voices woke her.
At first she thought she was back in Uzo’s perpetually noisy house. Rolling over she swore for the 123rdtime that she was going to leave the needy, clingy, inconsiderate basta… Wait, wait. This wasn’t Uzo’s house, this was her apartment in which she’d gone to sleep ALONE and those weren’t Uzo’s friends. She felt the hair behind her neck begin to rise. The voices were of a woman and girl, low, coarse and grating, speaking a version of English she had never heard before. She remembered going to sleep with the lights on but now it was all dark, and she could barely make out the shapes of the boxes on the floor. The voices came from behind her but she was too afraid to turn or even move a muscle.Then there was silence.
She felt a weight on the bed close to her face, like someone was leaning in to watch her sleep, and then she felt the touch, the caress of cold, clammy knuckles stroking her cheek and she found herself staring into the face of something that had once been a little girl of about 6, but which was now contorted in a look of pure agony, dark stringy hair hanging limp around a pale, grey face, one eye sunken deep in its socket and the other socket empty and bleeding,mouth twisted and set in the death grin of rigor-mortis,and Uju felt her sanity slipping away. Then the thing before her opened its mouth and let out a croak and it was the stench of death and decay that galvanized her into action. With a piercing scream, she jumped out of bed and lunged for the door. Luckily she’d left the key in the lock earlier and she was able to shake the second cold grasp off her ankle and stumble out into the cold night.
She landed on her hands and knees, crawling away from the door and the voices and the stench and into a corner, heart pounding in her ears and tears running down her face, what was happening? Somehow she knew that if she could just get out of this place, get outside the compound, she would be safe.
In the darkness she couldn’t make out the gate but she knew it was about 20m ahead to the left. She’d make a dash for it, she thought, she couldn’t just cower here in a corner and wait to be eaten alive – or whatever oyibo ghosts did with their victims these days.
Then she smelt death and decay in the wind ahead of her and she knew her escape was blocked.
A movement at the dumpsterscaught her eye. There in the small building coweringbeside a binwas a little blonde boy of about 9 years old. She almost laughed aloud, so they thought they were going to catch her that way?Mba, not Uju!And she crawled further back into her corner. But then she was able to make out the words the boy was whispering urgently as he pointed frantically over his shoulder – “there’s a way out!”,and she recalled the small door she’d noticed behind the dumpsters earlier that night. That door, the fact that the boy didn’t sound anything like what she’d heard in the room and the fact that the stench, along with the evil things it heralded, was closing in rapidly made up her mind for her, she stood up, and with her last shred of willpower ran for the small building.
And so she didn’t see the wind blow an 1884 newspaper open to reveal its centre-spread with the picture of a blonde 9 year old boy flanked by the pictures of a woman and a 6 year old girl withthe caption “TRAGEDY: Boy, 9, Batters Mother and 6 Year Old Sisterto Death With Hammer and Hangs Self”. Nor did she catch the glint of metal in the blonde boy’s bloody hand or of evil in his smile as she shut the building door enclosing them both in darkness.
**** Vunderkind: (I felt almost tempted to add, “Or is it?” after that “THE END”. I love drama)