Nonso squinted as the sun’s glare hit his eyes. He stepped out of the back seat of the taxi, the journey finally reaching an end. With his hand as a shield from the sun, he looked up to scan the area. There wasn’t much. It was mostly a ranch with some farmland around, with sheds scattered here and there. The major attraction, however, was the main house. That was where Nonso needed to be.
Nonso reached in to take his bag, then remembered he hadn’t carried a bag for this occasion. There wasn’t any need for one. He wasn’t staying here. Instead, he closed the door of the taxi and thumped on the roof with his open palm twice. The driver waved at him and calmly drove off, leaving in his wake a light cloud of dust.
Nonso walked up to the waist high gate and pushed it open, taking care to close it back when he was through. He stood at the mouth of the pathway leading up to the house and tried to get his emotions in check.
Deep breath in.
Deep breath out.
It wouldn’t do to go in with fear or trepidation. He needed to be calm enough to handle whatever was to come. When his heart settled into a steady rhythm, Nonso walked up to the house’s front door. He lifted a hand to knock, then stopped in mid-descent. This was not the first house he had visited. It was like the third or fourth… or maybe even the fifth. There would be no one at home, so knocking would be pointless. Instead, his hand went to the doorknob and turned it, and sure enough the door opened when he pushed.
The air inside was musty, and with it came the feeling that nothing had been cleaned in weeks. Not surprisingly, the furniture was well arranged, and everything seemed to be in order. The only abnormality was how much dust covered everything around.
That, and the absence of any human presence.
It had been the same thing in the other houses Nonso had visited. The inhabitants had suddenly vanished from the house, like they were there one minute and simply gone the next. Some of the rumours going around was that the families had decided to leave, but who would leave without taking anything with them? And out of the blue at that?
Nonso went through the rituals like he always did; the living room, the dining area, the kitchen, the store, the backyard. Nothing seemed to be abnormal, as much as normal could be defined in these circumstances. The kitchen was clean, and the only proof that people had lived in the house was the dustbin that contained bits of refuse. Nothing organic enough to spoil though, so that seemed weird in itself for a kitchen.
Nonso walked up the staircase and checked each room, disturbing as little as possible. There were 3 rooms in all, and each room looked clean enough. The beds were laid, the clothes were in the wardrobes neatly arranged, shoes on the shoe rack. No signs of any packing whatsoever. The bathrooms presented the same image; toothbrushes, toothpastes, pill bottles, shaving cream, shaving sticks and other bathroom paraphernalia stayed untouched.
Nonso expected all this, but couldn’t help and feel a little disappointed. He had hoped this would be different.
There was one more place he needed to look.
He went back down the stairs, and found the door that led to the basement level.
The stairs creaked as he walked down a step at a time. The lower he got, the lower the temperature got, and the mustier the air felt. At the bottom landing, Nonso fought a shiver and looked around. The space in front of him held nothing but old chairs and discarded equipment parts. Beyond that, there were four walls and nothing else. Nonso examined the walls and felt a cool draught flowing through one of them, confirming his suspicion that there was something else hidden beneath.
With a sharp kick, the wall shifted, and Nonso employed his weight in his shoulder to shift the wall out the rest of the way. In front of him lay a narrow passage, just a little wider than his frame. Claustrophobia began to set in, but Nonso steeled himself against the fear and walked into the small opening. As if on cue, the wall closed behind him, plunging the narrow passage into darkness. The claustrophobia bit in harder, but Nonso couldn’t let it rule him. With his hands on the opposing walls, Nonso calmly walked forward, going in deeper and deeper.
After what felt like minutes, there was a low rumbling sound, and Nonso could have sworn the voice he heard was in his head.
“Mortal… you seem lost. Are you lost?”
Nonso took in a sharp breath, his heart racing staccato beats in his chest. Had he found it? Had he finally?
“Hmmm… looks like you’re where you wanted to be,” the voice said again, amused.
Nonso licked his lips and swallowed. “Have you been the one taking over these houses?”
A low rumbling that sounded like a chuckle went out. “And what if I am?”
Nonso kept walking forward, his pace quickening ever so slightly. “Tell me your name.”
The rumbling went higher, and this time Nonso could hear the laughter. “And why would I do that? You came into my abode and now you ask for my name? Isn’t that rude?”
Nonso smiled and nodded in the darkness. “They call me Nonso. But you probably don’t know me, demon.”
The rumbling abruptly stopped, and Nonso could feel a sense of dread in the air. Nonso quickened his pace and came out into a small opening bathed in a soft blue light. Looking up, he realized the light was because of the crystals hanging from the ceiling. They were oddly beautiful, but he couldn’t stare at them for long. Right in front of him, in the darkness of corner sat two scarlet orbs.
The orbs trailed him whenever he moved.
He realized the orbs were eyes.
“What do you want, mortal?” the voice rumbled out.
“Tell me your name, and under whose authority you act,” the orbs danced in what Nonso imagined to be surprise. “I know you’re not acting of your own, demon. Who is your master?”
The demon cackled. “You come into my domain and question me? Such arrogance! I admire it!” The air began to feel cold, and mists of breath came out of Nonso’s nostrils. He sensed trouble was coming, and began to prepare himself. With his fore and middle fingers, Nonso made the sign of the cross in front of him. The lines he made shined golden, and began to shimmer. He grabbed the top and the bottom with his right and left hands respectively, and spoke softly;
“In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Oh Lord, guide me with Your Grace, and may Your Glory shine for all to witness and see. Give me strength, I pray. Amen.” At the last word, the cross Nonso held in his hands began to shine brightly and shimmer with electricity. With a tug, the top of the cross slipped out and formed a golden sword, the bottom dissolving to form golden gauntlets on Nonso’s arms.
Electricity coursed over the golden blade, and Nonso readied himself for the demon. Just then, the walls in the opening began to contort, and several black forms pulled themselves out of the walls. They looked wispy, their features coated in darkness, their limbs scraggly and ending in crooked talons and their heads with no feature but the opening that served as a mouth. They approached with an awkward gait that told of their hellish origins. In the darkness of the corner, Nonso saw yellowish teeth bare themselves and smile at him. The demon had sent forth its minions.
The demon rumbled with glee, and growled out; “Wraiths. Kill him!”