Chioma and Jenny screamed in fright and I looked towards the door. Sure enough, somebody’s face was just visible through the cracks. His mirthless grin was made visible via the moon’s rays which now shone brightly outside. He flicked on a torch and we heard the clinking of keys as he fumbled with the padlock.
There was a snapping sound as the padlock released its hold and he swung the door open, shining the torch in our faces and momentarily blinding us in the process. As he walked in, he kicked some sand in my direction and I looked away immediately to avoid sand entering my eyes. Chioma was now visible to me and I saw she was trembling violently. Jenny remained still, looking up at him and he walked towards her.
“This girl, you don buy market today.” He said and as I turned back to look at his face I saw his grin widen. Jenny tried to stand up but he pushed her back to the ground and she landed with a thud.
“Hey! Leave her alone!” I said angrily.
He looked at me. “You, you aren’t even supposed to be alive sef. How come you weren’t in the room we put you in? You were supposed to have died in those flames. I made sure it would be very difficult for whoever was in there to come out.”
“So you were the one that set the fire?” I said.
He shrugged. He was wearing the driver’s suit he had worn earlier that day and right now it looked a dull shade of grey or blue black, I couldn’t quite tell with the poor light inside the shack. Every once in a while he would bring out a handkerchief and dust his suit, like he didn’t want sand on it or something.
He walked to a corner of the shack and brought out a kerosene lantern and lit it, set it on a wooden table. For one horrible moment I thought he was going to re-enact the fire plan again. He looked at the flames for a while and smiled.
“Do you know, I’ve had a crush on Ms. Jennifer ever since I joined this company?” he said, his eyes still on the flames. “I actually worked my way round to making sure I became her personal driver. Was thinking up ways of how to attract her attention, but me being a lowly driver and she being a…well…big girl na, she didn’t even look my side one day. I know all about her daily routine, where she stays, where she likes to hang out, what she likes to wear and on what days she like to wear them. It was a pleasure driving her around. I think she even knew I liked her but was waiting for me to make the first move. And I was going to do it…Until you came.”
He turned his eyes away from the flames slowly and focused on me.
“Okay.” I said. “Where are you going with this?”
“She became obsessed with you, wanting to meet you at the airport, wanting to show you your room, wanting to pick you up first thing in the morning…haba. Very annoying. She didn’t even give me a second glance when I greeted her again, it was all ‘let’s hurry, Chuks will be waiting, let’s go, so we can pick Chuks up early.’ It was all I could do to restrain myself from slapping her silly.”
“What has this got to do with anything?” I said, trying to buy some time. If he was going to keep talking, maybe an opportunity would present itself so we could escape.
“I must confess, I was beside myself with rage. I deliberately started running late just to piss her off, and I must admit, I got some kind of pleasure out of it. And the more she fawned over you, the more I realized I didn’t like her as much as I thought.”
He bent down and pulled out a sock and started filling it with sand.
“I started imagining her running down a dark lonely street; you know, bare feet, unable to scream, her lovely breasts bouncing up and down as a certain wild animal closed in on her for the kill. I started fantasizing about this every day. I didn’t really think I’d have the chance to actually see it, until today.
Jenny sat up and struggled to her feet. He looked across at her, then turned back to filling his sock and pressing the sand hard until it formed a firm ball. She shook her hair about then started talking.
“I’m so sorry about that. It wasn’t intentional, my ignoring you. If you give me another chance, I’m sure we can work something out. We’ll chalk all this up to a big misunderstanding, right folks?”
Chioma nodded vigorously and I joined in.
“What’s my name?” he asked suddenly.
“What?” Jenny said.
“I said…what’s my name? Surely you should know the name of your own driver, Ms P.R.O. I know yours. So what’s my name?”
“Tell you what.”He said, standing up straight. “Guess my name. If you get it right, I’ll let you go. If you don’t I’ll beat the Shtt out of your boyfriend here.” He pointed to me. “Just like I did to those two guys on the floor.”
He shone his torch at Obi and Kelvin. For the first time I could see their faces as they had actually been lying facing me. Obi’s head was bleeding and his left eye was puffed up. Kelvin had a swelling on his head the size of a table tennis ball. It dawned on me that their situation was more serious than ours.
“Oh my goodness!” Chioma cried. “What did you do to them?”
The Driver pointed his torch at Obi. “That one refused to lose consciousness after I blew the powder in his face. He managed to open the car door and almost fell out but I pulled him back in and pinned the door shut. He was drowsy but still putting up a bit of a fight. I had to hit him severally with my fist before he passed out. You should have seen the way we were swerving on the road, men! We almost had an accident! When I brought you guys here I decided to pummel the men extra hard just to make sure they remained unconscious.”
He turned to me and shone his torch in my face. “I’m surprised you are awake already.
And I hit you pretty hard on the head like Oga Kelvin over there. You must heal very fast.”
His teeth pulled back again, more of a violent snarl than a smile.
“You think you are so tough abi?”
“I figured out what your name is, though.” I said.
He walked up to me and bent down.
“Yeah? What is it?”
I whispered. “Assh0le”.
He was silent for a while. Then laughed and stood up. He tied the sand filled sock to form a kind of sling and started swinging it.
“I have to admit, I kind of like your bravery. It doesn’t stop me from enjoying what I’m about to do though.”
Without warning, he swung the sock at my head. I didn’t expect it to hurt so I didn’t cringe. When it hit it was like someone had shot me with a large stone from a catapult. The pain was everywhere. My head swam but I didn’t lose consciousness. I heard Chioma shouting in the background.
“Stop that! What did you do? Jenny, tell him to stop!”
“It seems harmless enough but it’s quite painful.” The driver said, still swinging the sling-sock thing. “You have to aim it at just the right point…” and he struck again.
This time the pain exploded in my skull and all went black momentarily. When I regained consciousness it was like I was having the worst migraine ever and my head fell back, hitting the plank wall. I remained there, not bothering to move, not wanting to. I would have cried out if I could co-ordinate my mouth muscles, but I couldn’t so I lay still.
“Hey, come on baby, stop that. You don’t need to do that to get my attention!” Jenny’s voice came over to my ears like they were far away.
“One more. One more to soften him up.” He said. The sock came down on my skull like a small bomb and I saw stars. I was still conscious but I kept my eyes closed.
And behind my eyelids a fire was burning.
“That’s enough babe,” I heard Jenny’s voice again, this time soft, soothing, seductive. “You made your point. Now come to me.”
He moved away from me, I could feel him receding. I opened my eyes a crack and saw him walk past Chioma who had gone on her knees and was praying, her head down, her hands behind her back. Jenny was looking at him and smiling her seductive smile, confident, radiant.
“You are a pretty passionate fella.” She said, trying as gracefully as possible to get to her feet with her hands tied behind her back. The driver stood over her for a while then suddenly bent down and helped her up.
She pouted her lips at him.“All this because you were jealous of him?”
“Are you really going to pretend you don’t understand what happened in the car when you touched me with your charmed ring?” he said smiling. Jenny batted her eyelids innocently.
“You saw me. You saw my talisman, my protective charm. I daresay you even saw my innermost self.” He glared at her. “Tell me what you saw.”
“A man afraid,” Jenny said. “A protective charm, the type that immobilizes the person while you make a quick getaway. Simple but efficient. Why do you need it, I wonder?”
I closed my eyes again. I didn’t need to see them; I could hear them just fine. The flame behind my eyelids was still there. I channeled the flame towards the rope that bound my hands. I kept as still as possible, knowing that as long as he thought I was unconscious he would not pay much attention to me. I continued to concentrate on the rope and soon I felt it burning.
The driver was still talking.”You know why. You know my predicament. I heard you and Chuks talking the other day when I was driving you two to his hotel. You were talking about the man-animal and how you were going to hunt him and his accomplice down. I figured I had to stop you guys. I would have killed you that night, when I went to drop you off at Onitsha bridge, but I guess I let my emotions get in the way. I decided to finish with Mr. Chuks instead. So I went back to his hotel, made a call to the manger with a hidden number to make sure his room was D16 and went in to set it on fire.
Imagine my chagrin when I was down the corridor and he burst out from the opposite room. I barely had time to escape without being noticed.”
“But that still doesn’t explain your talisman.” Jenny said, her soft footsteps on the sand telling me she was drawing closer to him.
I felt the rope around my wrist loosen. A little bit more…
His voice, harsh, bitter. “I got it a while ago, to protect myself against him, the man-animal. When I saw he couldn’t control his lust for flesh anymore…I got it for protection. But I needed it to be special. You see, if for any reason he found out I was protecting myself against him, I don’t know what he would have done. So I made it a double whammy. It is a protector and a camouflage as well. No one with spiritual abilities would even know I had it on me. Except someone with a revealer ring.
Which begs the question; what are you doing with one?”
“Oh, I was going to use it to hunt down your man-animal” she said simply. “It was sheer accident that it found you out instead. See how clever you are?”
I opened my eyes and saw Jenny. She was practically pressed up against him now. He was still holding on to her waist from when he helped her up and his eyes had a faraway look even though he was staring right at her. I knew Jenny was working her feminine charms on him and he was as distracted as he would ever be. Now was my chance.
I pulled on the burnt piece of rope that tied my hands and it snapped with little effort. I stood up carefully and quietly. Chioma was still on her knees, eyes shut tight, murmuring in prayer; and I hoped her murmurs and Jenny’s actions would distract the driver long enough to get the advantage over him.
I looked around for something that I could use as a weapon. Some old bits of plank were strewn across the floor and I choose one of considerable size. I managed to lift it up without attracting his attention, and then crept up behind him. Jenny was still working her magic, cooing to him softly.
“So where is my Revealer ring?” she was saying, “I woke up and saw it wasn’t on my finger. Did you confiscate it, you bad boy?”
“I took it for safe keeping. Here…” and he dipped into his pocket and brought out the ring, ceremoniously putting it on her finger. “I don’t need to keep it now, knowing that we have no secrets from each other…”
“Except one…” Jenny said, smiling at him.
I took that as my cue and brought the plank crashing down on his head. It made a sharp splitting noise as the rotten wood broke into pieces. He screamed and fell to the floor, holding his head in agony even as Jenny jumped over to me.
“Well, you were taking your sweet time, weren’t you?” she said excitedly as she jumped over to my side. I grunted and pointed the sharp edge of the now broken plank at the driver who was still m0an!ng on the floor.
“Chioma, you can open your eyes now,” I said. Chioma opened her eyes and struggled to her feet, running behind me.
“Hey, how did you loosen your rope?” she asked. I said nothing but held Jenny’s ropes with my left hand while supporting the plank with my right. I need not have bothered though; Mr. Driver was still in agony over the blow to the head I had given him.
“Ow, ow, Ooooow!!!” Jenny yelped as fire spontaneously came out of my hand and burnt the rope to ashes. She pulled hard and the rope snapped. Massaging her wrists, she took the plank from me as I went over to Chioma.
Chioma looked at me, her eyes wide with fear. “What, what did you just do?”
“I discovered I could set fire to things with my hands a few months ago.” I said. “I haven’t totally got the hang of it though so please try and hold still.”
“But how will you burn the ropes off me without burning my hands as well, won’t it hurt?” she asked anxiously.
“Chioma, stop being such a baby!” Jenny said.
I smiled reassuringly at her as I turned her around and held on to the ropes. I concentrated and sure enough they burnt off. Chioma hardly flinched.
“See,” I said, turning her back and watching as she looked at her hands in amazement. “That wasn’t so bad was it?”
“Bytch.” Mr. Driver m0aned. He was still holding his head with both his hands.”You said you loved me!”
“Me?” Jenny said, pointing the stick at him menacingly. “Where? When? You must have imagined it.”
“I’ll make you pay for this! I’ll see you run and beg for your life before you get eaten! And I’ll enjoy it too!” he screamed. He brought one hand down and I saw blood. I took the plank back from Jenny.
“Try and wake them Obi and Kelvin and let’s get out of here.” I said.
Chioma and Jenny went over to the two prostrate bodies and shook them vigorously. Soon Kelvin was awake. Obi took a while longer but was soon on his feet. The girls went on to loosen the bonds that tied them. I gritted my teeth for time but there was nothing I could do, we couldn’t just leave them there and run.
Each second that passed seemed like an eternity to me and I knew our peril was far from over.
“Is everybody ready?” I said as Obi got shakily to his feet. “Let’s get out of here.”
“What about him?” Kelvin said, gesturing at the driver, who smirked.
“We’ll lock him inside.” I said, motioning impatiently for them to come out.
We all came out of the shack and I got a hold of the padlock which was still hanging on the wooden door. I was about pushing the door shut when Jenny gave a little shriek and rushed back inside.
“Come in! Come back in, all of you!” she screamed, then turned towards me with wild eyes. “He’s here!!!”
I turned around and sure enough the two tailed leopard was there. It wasn’t as regal as it was the last time I saw it. Now it frothed at the mouth and its mane was in flames. It looked like a beast inflicted with rabies, insane, irrational. I realized that I was seeing a manifestation but even then the manifestation was rushing across the sand towards the shack at an alarming speed and that could only mean one thing!
“Everybody inside, now!” I shouted, grabbing at the person closest to me who happened to be Chioma, and flinging her inside. Kelvin and Obi ran back inside the shack and I entered last, banging the door shut behind me. There was no way of padlocking the door from the inside so I held on to the makeshift doorknob, knowing deep down that it was a feeble attempt at protection. The man-beast would tear this shack down like it was made of cardboard if it wanted to.
We all stood there, waiting and panting, the driver laughing quietly but not interfering. Obi and Kelvin exchanged puzzled looks and Jenny and Chioma huddled together in a corner.
We were like that for a while until Obi decided to speak up.
“Chuks…why did we run back inside?” he said. “Did you see anybody?”
“The beast is out there.” I said, still holding on to the doorknob.
“What beast? Where is it? If it was around wouldn’t it have attacked us by now?” Obi was restless. “Look man, I’m in pain. I haven’t had my…meds since yesterday and all my body hurts like hell. Let’s get out of here, please.”
“We are not moving anywhere Obi, not until we figure out a plan” I said grimly. “I’m sorry about your pains. Please try and bear it. Jenny?”
Jenny came to my side.
She looked around, aware that everyone was listening. She sighed.
“If I could make it to the river…I could get help.”
“Help from the river?! How? What are you guys talking about?” Obi asked perplexed. I noticed the driver lean forward with interest, but there was no way I could stop him from listening.
“Obi, don’t ask her.” Chioma said with a shaky voice. “We’ll explain later.”
Obi and Kelvin turned towards Chioma. She was standing by herself away from all of us, desperately trying to look brave.
“The important thing to know is that Chuks and Jenny are…special. We should obey whatever they say, no matter how absurd it sounds.”
“Oh, really? How are they special?” the driver inquired.
Kelvin turned and moved quickly to him and dealt him a blow across the face. He staggered back. Apparently he wasn’t one for fighting. He raised his hands in surrender and went to stand at the far end of the shack away from us, but not after murmuring:
“Won’t do you any good anyway.”
“Ignore him.” Kelvin said. “Now, what’s this about the river?”
“I need to get into the water.” Jenny said, looking at me. “In a few moments I should have fortified this ring.” She raised up her ringed finger. “I will make it so potent that it will be able to tear out the man-animals powers in an instant.”
“And maybe Chukwudi’s as well?” Chioma asked quietly. Jenny turned to her.
“Look, sister. I know it sounds like I’m still going after Chukwudi here but I’m not. There’s a very real danger at our door. Chukwudi’s powers can wait…”
“But, hypothetically, if I were to handle that ring then or if someone were to use it on me, it could trap my powers as well?” I asked.
Jenny turned back to me.
“Actually, no.” she said. “Obviously we underestimated both your strength and the man-animal’s. I saw how it handled Sidney in the meeting room, I saw the aura of raw power coming out of it when I tried to talk it down. The man-animal is an uncontrollable monster already, just like the baboon-man so many years ago. No, I’m going to juice up my ring with something so powerful, it will leave nothing to chance. My sisters and I have waited a long time to harness such a power and we will get it at all costs.”
“Your sisters?” Kelvin interjected but Chioma shushed him.
“I still don’t get your point.” I said. “How does that affect me?”
Jenny came closer.
“The power in the ring will be so strong, that no mortal man could come in contact with it and live. That includes you, Chuks. You must stay away from the ring. If you come in contact with it, it won’t just tear you and ‘The Stronger’ apart…it will kill you both.”