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BLOOD AND FIRE
“What do you want?” Ngohide asked the thing that was suddenly standing in the far corner of the shed, sheathed in shadow. The space behind the church office was small and sweltering with strange heat; Ngohide’s body was coated in unnaturally dense dust and grime and sweat. A mosquito scudded noisily over and bit him; he instinctively jerked his hand away. The tropical evening heat attacked the Lagos air all around him like an abusive husband.
“Where are you taking that money?” The voice was a sexless, ageless vibration of air. He could tell nothing about the thing that spoke with it.
“Its offering money. It belongs to the lord!” Ngohide exclaimed, instinctively pulling the brown bag of money to his chest and looking up through the gaps in the metal roofing, to the sky. The edges of the clouds were a browned orange, like burnt citrus. And darkening fast.
They were in a makeshift shed behind The Church of Jesus of All Nations’ office, a space created by hastily assembled wooden latticework and sheets of aluminum siding that was clumsily attached to the back entrance to the church. Ngohide stood in the center of the shed, caught mid-step, beside a large slab of concrete that had probably been part of a wall once. Warm spears of rapidly diminishing sunlight stabbed into the shadows through the holes in the aluminum roof.
“If it belongs to God then why are you taking it to your pastors car?”
Ngohide said, “He will take it to the bank tomorrow.”
The thing laughed in the shadows of the shed. Ngohide squinted, trying to make out a shape, but it was useless. He saw nothing. But he could sense that it was there — a menacing, ancient, vaporous presence that was mostly in front of him but also felt like it was around him. He felt like it could coalesce behind him any minute and do terrible things to him before he had the chance to plead the blood of Jesus. He wanted to scream but something sinister held his tongue.
“I need to enter your office,” The thing said calmly.
“Then enter, why are you still here talking to me” Ngohide said sharply, a little emboldened by the things apparent hesitation.
“There are rules. There are things I cannot do. Our people say, Ọ̀bẹ kì í mú kó gbẹ́ èkù ara rẹ, no matter how sharp a knife is, it cannot cut its own handle. So I need you to invite me in,” the thing whispered before adding, louder, “Invite me into the church..”
“God forbid! I bind you in the name of-”
“Stop!” The thing bellowed; it sounded like the breaking of bone. Ngohide went silent. The shadows were long and the light was amber now.
The sun was almost gone.
“I have seen your heart. I can smell your blood.”
It laughed again. A rolling, suffocating sound that made Ngohide want to press his hands to his ears and scream himself hoarse with brightly colored heat and many-splendored madness.
Suddenly, its face emerged from the shadows like an ancient beast from the oceans depths. It wore a woman’s face like a mask. A beautiful mask that crowned a voluptuous body with swollen, full breasts and wide hips streamlined to a lightly haired vee at her intimacy like the place where old rivers meet.
The sun was almost below the horizon.
“Tí ògiri ò bá lanu, aláǹgbá ò lè ráyè wọ̀ọ. If there are no crevices in the wall, the lizard cannot penetrate it. But you and I both know you have many crevices, don’t we? Sloth. Greed. Lust.” The thing tilted its head and cupped its breast. “You don’t even believe in God. You are here for business. Church business.”
Ngohide felt his lips quiver and his breath shorten. He heard footsteps behind him but he could not turn around. He could not move at all. The thing was doing something to him.
“I know the things you fear and God is not one of them. If you feared God you would not be helping your pastor steal this money. You would ask questions when he tells you to take the bag of money to his car. But you will learn, I will teach you to fear again.”
Something hard and wet fell behind Ngohide. He strained to turn his head but he could not. The veins along his neck tensed.
“Who are you?” He asked, sweating.
The thing laughed again.
“I have been here for a long time. I will be here longer still.”
“Who are you?” Ngohide asked again. This time, in a low whisper.
“They have called me many things. Aranran. Obayifo. The old one. It does not matter. Names and bodies shall pass away, but my essence shall remain forever. Do you want to see what awaits you beyond death?”
In a flash, Ngohide’s world shrank to nothing.
The shed was gone.
He was in a soundless, sightless place. A cocoon of pure black, not a color, but an absence. An absence of everything.
He screamed, but he could not hear himself.
He tried to move but he could not feel his body.
He kept screaming and struggling in vain for what seemed like hours.
It could have been years, he had no sense of time or sense of self.
Hell. I am in hell.
Then suddenly, abruptly, he was back in the shed, the thing staring at him. Fear wrapped its cold fist about his heart and squeezed the words from him in whispers.
“Oh God, please, please, I’m sorry. I don’t want to go hell.”
“Do you want me to save you from the void?” The thing looked directly at Ngohide as it paced in front of him, just beyond the fast-fading beams of light between them. Its eyes were dark, hollow caves.
The light’s color had deepened to near darkness, the beams tilted until they were almost parallel to the ground. Night was settling over the city.
Ngohide was not fully aware when he whispered, “Yes.”
“Invite me into your life. Accept me as your personal overlord and corruptor. Invite me in.”
Trembling and desperate not to return to that dark and soundless non-place, Ngohide said, “Come in.”
With a red spark of triumph in its eyes, and a smile that Judas in hell might be proud of, the thing reached forward through the remaining beams of light and embraced Ngohide, pressing the long fingers of its slender hand onto his chest with a weirdly graceful motion, as delicately as a lover. The stink of burning flesh exploded into the air as the thing whispered, “Die and rise again.”
Heat flushed Ngohide’s body. Every nerve ending was aflame. The thing touched its lips to his throat; its tongue slid along his jugular, fondling the pulsing red rill beneath his sweaty skin.
And then it sank its teeth into him.
It was a sharp, lovely pain, like a kiss with teeth.
Ngohide’s vision blurred and the edges of shed around him began to run into each other. The sun was completely gone and the dark sky was weeping itself into the shed as the moon melted like wax. The door leading to the church pooled around the ground. He heard footsteps from inside the church as the men and church leaders he was sure he had just betrayed moved around inside it. Ngohide shut his eyes. He quivered as his blood left him to feed the thing and his fears eased into a comfortable numbness. The darkness receded from his mind. Everything became beautiful.
And then Ngohide’s world exploded around him as he started to burn, intensely. He screamed, opened his eyes and looked at his hands. Parchment-thin strips of his skin swelled and slipped and hung loosely from blackening sinew and muscle.
His eyes swelled with expanding fluid, red and bulging; and then they popped, spewing a geyser of clear fluid and blood onto the thing around his neck, drinking his blood. He was in pain, so much pain.
The thing said, speaking into his skin, “Ẹyìn tí yóò di epo, yóò tọ́ iná wò.” The palm nut that would become palm oil needs to have a taste of fire.
Ngohide felt himself fall down to the hard earth, the flames finding their way through his skin, starting a fire in his bones.
Ngohide screamed and screamed.
The pain crested, crashed and then there was darkness.
Death and darkness.
A scream woke Ngohide into a world of noise.
He heard the heavy sound of running, followed by a crash.
Silence like death.
He tried to rouse himself. To make himself get up. He couldn’t.
He felt like he’d lost control of his body but the burns and the pain were gone. His eyes and skin were normal again.
His eyelids fluttered open and he saw the beginning of a flame dancing along the bottom of the door to the church and through the doorway, behind the fire, he saw the two senior deacons from his church, Festus and Bidemi.
Their throats slit and there was crimson blood seeping from their eyes like liquid sin.
Ahh, no, no…
He slipped back into darkness.
When Ngohide awoke, the moon was a low, round orb in the sky. He saw it through the holes in the aluminum roofing. He was soaked with sweat. He rose slowly, his skin as smooth as a baby’s and his throat parched with thirst.
He entered the church.
He found Festus and Bidemi on the floor by the entrance. They had left blood and black stains charred into the floor as evidence of the suffering that preceded their deaths. Burnt skin was covered in a coating of pus, blood and lymphatic fluid. Festus’s head had been plucked clean off and lay three feet away from his body, tufts of black hair stubbling the peeled skin of his head. Bidemi had been sloppily drained of most of his blood before he’d burned, the skin around his head and neck were shrunken. His eyes were still open and glassy staring at Ngohide in an accusatory death gaze.
Ngohide paced past the corpses, heading for the Pastors office. When he opened the door, he recoiled at the sight.
Pastor Okonkwo was suspended upside down from the ceiling of the office, his feet tied with a belt to the ceiling fan, which had come partially free from its anchor. There was no skin left along the stretch of his body. Only red, striated muscle.
He’d been flayed. Alive?
He’d been drained too, but not by teeth. Blood was splashed on the floor beneath him, running into the cracks in the floor like so many perpendicular rivulets. His throat had been slit and his face had been burned. He had been tormented and his blood had been wasted, spilled to the earth for show. This did not look like murder.
This looked like… punishment.
The floor creaked suddenly and Ngohide turned to look behind him. The thing stood staring at him, smiling and covered in blood. It was still naked. It was still beautiful.
“I waited for you,” the thing said calmly. Its voice was sultry now, no longer sexless. No longer ageless.
Ngohide’s lower lip trembled. He tried to say something but he couldn’t get his voice to work. Finally, he struggled to ask, “Why did you do this?”
“Ẹyẹ kìí dédé bà lòrùlé, ọ̀rọ̀ lẹyẹ ńgbọ́. Birds do not ordinarily perch on rooftops, they are drawn by words they hear. I heard that your pastor was a bad man. A false Okomfo like all the others. They all use the same words. They say they can hear Olorun’s voice. Or Amadiohas’s. Or Jesus’s. They are liars. I know their kind. They feed people false hope at a price. They are the kind that take money or yams or cowries and speak lies in the name of something holy. The kind that used to accuse girls like me of witchcraft and kill us with the chop nut when our husbands wanted an excuse to get rid of us. But sin is not silent. I heard. His time came.”
“So this was punishment?”
“Yes… Mostly. And I was hungry.”
The thing extended a hand to him. “Enough now. I will keep my promise. Come and kiss me. The sun will rise soon.”
Almost against his will, he walked toward the thing. Knowledge flooded him in fullness and in truth.
He knew what it was now.
What he was.
He reached it and the vampire wrapped its fingers around the back of his head and drew his head to its neck.
Whoever drinks my blood…
The vampire said, “Go ahead. You have already died once and yet here you stand, arisen. Now taste me and taste eternity. Taste freedom, from hell, and from heaven. Taste. Don’t be shy.”
Nhogide’s lips grazed the vampire’s cold neck and his breathing became labored. He bit in and for the second time that night, everything became beautiful.
Sawaleh’s identity remains unknown. It is believed to have been a writing collective of between 5 and 15 members that published a series of (mostly bizarre, experimental and macabre) stories on the Sawaleh blog: sawaleh.wordpress.com between 2011 and 2012. They have been silent since and only communicate with us every Halloween, to say hello, or occasionally, to give us a story.