She came out of the water gracefully. Unclad from the waist up, tail from the waist down, hair reaching her shoulders and beyond, Jenny looked more beautiful than I had ever seen her.
However there was a deadliness in her eyes which were as cold as ice. I saw them and shivered, not daring to call her name. In her hand she held a golden staff with inscriptions on it and a round orb at the end on which rested the ring. The ring now appeared to be a part of the staff itself. She rose up out of the water until only a portion of her tail remained in it. She was the epitome of terror and yet she was the beauty of the river itself.
She stretched forth the staff and there was a sizzling noise like rushing water upon hot stones. Suddenly, the vegetation and debris around us came to life. They twisted among themselves and became cords which whipped forward and entwined themselves along the arms of the man-animal in an instant.
He bellowed and tried to free himself but more of the vegetation came out of the river and latched on to him, binding him even stronger.
Then they started to recede and the man-animal found himself being pulled towards the water. He roared and tried to free himself but couldn’t.
His accomplice, seeing what was happening, abandoned his hostages and ran shouting towards the mermaid, pointing his gun.
He fired at her but either he missed or his bullets had no effect. Jenny turned her attention toward him and pointed her staff which crackled menacingly. Before he knew it, the driver himself had been caught in the living twines and was lifted up and flung hard on the beach floor. Screaming gutterally he tried to free himself but it was useless as the river vegetation swiftly dragged him towards the banks and into the water which seemed to flow unto him even before he reached it. As he approached the mermaid he lifted up the gun which was still in his hands and fired at point blank range but once again the bullets had no effect. Seeing this, his face contorted with terror. He flung the gun aside and started pleading for his life but she paid no heed.
The plants dragged him to the depths and just before he went below, a huge catfish large enough to swallow a cow, with whiskers like giant snakes emerged and in one gulp swallowed him up to his waist. Screaming violently, he struggled with it but all attempts were futile. In two quick powerful strokes of its tail, the fish had dragged the driver under and was gone.
The man-animal saw all of this and for the first time I saw terror in his eyes. As the twines continued to pull him towards the water he threw his head back and roared.
I watched as the manifestation of the Leopard with the two tails appeared beside the struggling man-animal and merge itself with him. And then the full transformation began.
His half formed snout began to elongate as his spine contorted and stretched horribly. His skin moved about like it had a life of its own and fur began to grow on it. His bones appeared to break and reform and break again and the mangy hair on his head grew thick and rich until the fully transformed beast stood on all fours before me. It was huge, as large as it had been in my dreams when it hunted down the girls in the street but this time more malevolent, if such a thing was possible.
It frothed at the mouth and looked less regal but regal all the same. It panted from the exertion of transformation and suddenly looked up and its eyes shone evilly.
I backed away and the beast took a step forward only to realize it was still entwined in the vegetation Jenny had summoned. In fact during its transformation it had been dragged almost to the bank of the river but now it began to struggle more ferociously. It pulled and tore and soon it had one of its limbs free. Jenny pointed the staff at the beast and more twines came but the beast gave a mighty swipe of its claws and the twines were shredded to pieces.
The mermaid glided back and I saw concern on her face. She gave another silent command and there was some turbulence in the water.
All of a sudden the giant catfish jumped out of the river, its skin glistening in the moonlight.
It landed by the leopard and grasped one of its hind legs and began pulling the leopard into the water. The leopard roared and struck out with its claws. There was the noise of iron striking stone as the claws grazed harmlessly on the huge fish’s solid skull. The leopard continued to attack however,and soon white creases showed on the great fish’s head but it did not relent. It dragged the beast closer and closer to the river and I could see in the beast’s eyes that it knew if it got into the river all would be lost.
Suddenly the beast changed strategy.
It pounced on the head of the fish and struck deep into the massive flesh behind the gills.
Blood immediately sprayed out unto the river bank in great torrents. The Leopard continued its onslaught, slashing, cutting and biting and finally the fish let go and tried to escape, but it was too late. The leopard buried its great jaws into the spine behind the hard skull and there was a great crushing noise. Jenny let out an unearthly scream as the great fish stopped moving and its huge form sunk back into the depths.
The leopard struggled back unto solid ground and snarled loudly, increasing in size. Rushing towards the Mermaid, it took a swipe at her but she instantly retreated. The leopard dared not follow her into the water; its madness had not reached that stage and it satisfied itself by roaring and snarling at her from the safety of the river banks.
I heard a noise and turned in the opposite direction. Chioma was still on the floor near the shack, still on her knees, eyes closed and praying fervently. Kelvin was on the floor and screaming Obi’s name, for apparently the latter was still alive. The leopard turned towards them and deciding to forego the mermaid for now, went after the easier prey.
“Chioma! Get them inside the shack!” I shouted anxiously but she didn’t respond. Kelvin heard my urgent shouts and looked up.
Even from where I was I could see his eyes widen in fright as the leopard approached. He shouted at Chioma and even hit her hard on the shoulder but she refused to budge. He started to drag Obi and himself into the shack and it was only when I saw him limping I remembered that he had been shot.
“Hey, monster!” I shouted. “Over here!” But the leopard ignored me and continued to stalk the three that were before it.
Desperately I picked up a stone and aimed at the leopard’s head. It struck it on its snout below its right eye and the beast turned around angrily. I had definitely gotten its attention.
Now what was I supposed to do next?!
Jenny had swum closer to shore. I remembered the ring on her staff and devised a clever plan. I picked up another rock and hurled it at the leopard. It struck it on the body this time and suddenly the beast snarled and tore after me. I turned and ran as fast as I could towards the water.
“Throw it!” I shouted at Jenny. “Throw it like a spear!”
Jenny nodded her understanding and braced herself. I was terrifyingy aware of the sound of the leopard’s feet as it got closer, and I knew there was no way I would be able to outrun it.
However, outrunning it had never been in my plan.
As the creature caught up to me and pounced, I ducked and rolled on the floor. It flew harmlessly above me and at the same time Jenny threw the staff. The staff sailed through the air with the ring at its fore and headed straight for the leopard’s face.
I looked up and smiled grimly.
It should have been over right there and then.
But it wasn’t.
A stone went hurtling through the air and hit the staff, sending it spinning out of the Leopard’s path. The staff struck the sand upright and the Leopard landed harmlessly at the river’s edge.
I turned in amazement at the direction the stone had come and saw the person that had thrown it.
Mr. Daniel was on his knees, amulets around his neck and Hands, wearing a white t-shirt and black trousers. The Leopard sprinted towards him and he quickly lay prostrate on the floor.
“Oh mighty beast, spare my life and take those of my enemies. I am the blood relative of your keeper, I am the one who gave him a job. He told me to meet him at this spot this night to serve you and you would in turn favour me and vanquish those who brought me shame.”
The Leopard snarled at the prostrate form of Mr. Daniel and for a moment I thought he was going to tear him apart. But the amulets protected him and though the leopard made several attempts at crushing his skull it was halted each time. It would have been simple to break through the force of the amulets but apparently the Leopard decided it would need this new servant, so it relented. It turned away from Mr. Daniel’s prostrate form and went back to the mermaid who seemed very distraught. Her staff was beyond her reach now and she dared not enter land to retrieve it.
Mr. Daniel stood up, holding a machete in his hand. He looked at me and laughed.”I told you, you people would pay didn’t I?” he chortled. “You thought I was joking.” Then he saw the mermaid.
“My god, na Jenny be dat? No wonder…”
“You realize that the beast would have killed you just now?” I said, cautiously retreating as the leopard approached me and Jenny. I waded into the water, not that I trusted Jenny altogether but right now, she seemed a better option than staying on land with the leopard.
“Abeg forget that thing!” Mr. Daniel shouted. “You think say I no sabi say power pass power? I go control this leopard with my charms the way my cousin don dey contol am since. Where the idi0t sef?”
“He’s dead.” I said.
“Jacob! Jacob!!!” He shouted but received no answer. He turned towards me, “You better make sure he is alive oh, or I will tell this leopard to attack you!”
“And you think it will listen to you?” I said incredulously. “Daniel are you mad?”
“Daniel! What are you doing here? Come inside!” We heard Kelvin shout from the illusory safety of the shack. He had managed to get himself and Obi inside but Chioma was still outside on the ground praying, her wooden cross hanging silently above her head.
“Ah, so those ones are still alive” Daniel said, frowning.”I thought I told him to kill them quickly.”
“You knew we were here?”I said.
“Of course na. My cousin told me.
He explained how he had managed to trap all of you in the shed. I had called to tell him how you had all embarrassed me in the office and had even given me sack letter and I had already planned with him how to eliminate you guys. He said he wanted to let me in on a secret and then he told me of the beast he was controlling. I was impressed and asked to be involved. That boy’s head has never been correct but at least he tried this time around.”
“Listen to me, Daniel!” I said urgently. “Your cousin never really controlled the creature. It owned him! You’ve gotten the story mixed up. Your life is in danger!”
Daniel shrugged all of this aside and the leopard looked at him and shook its head.
I knew what it was thinking, It would strain whatever assistance it could get from this man and dispose of him as soon as possible.
“E be like say na me go come kill these people finally.” Daniel was saying. “No wahala.” He started walking towards the shack and saw Chioma.
“See that mumu dey pray! Sista, this one don pass prayer matta o!” he laughed and continued walking when he saw the staff.
The staff seemed to call out to him. It shone bright and golden and the ring on its orb glittered prettily. Daniel walked towards it and examined it.
“Kai. This thing go cost o. Make I hold this one first, na my first reward be dis.”
And so saying, he closed his hands around the staff.
There was a loud crackling sound,like someone touching a high voltage cable. Mr, Daniel was flung high into the air even as the staff was flung in the opposite direction towards the water. He fell to the ground, his corpse a grisly crispy mass of burnt flesh. The beast gasped and jumped out of the way as the staff land at the edge of the river bank. Quickly Jenny rushed forward to retrieve it, her tail splashing powerfully behind her. I ran out of the way even as the leopard, realizing what was about to happen, rushed towards Jenny’s advancing form.
Jenny had just reached the staff, she had to come almost out of the water to do so. It was in her hand and she was directing it towards the Leopard when the beast collided with her, hitting her hard. The staff flew out of her hand into the air, in my direction. It all happened so fast, I tried to get out of the way but it was too late. The staff was going to strike me in the chest and I raised up my hand to defend myself and I felt it strike my arm…
Somewhere far away I heard Jenny say her first human words since she transformed,
A force like nothing I had ever experienced surged through me. I felt like I was on fire. The pain was so intense I couldn’t scream. I longed to pass out, to run away from what was happening, to quench my senses but the fire persisted. I was aware I had been flung into the air and a mental picture of Daniel’s body doing the same thing a few moments ago passed through my mind. I landed far away from where I had been standing previously, the flames continuing to burn until I finally let out an ear-piercing scream. And then all went dark.
And then light.
It was like in my dreams. I was there but not really there. I stood at the scene, watching my body lying supine on the wet sand, my hand firmly grasping the staff but unmoving. I looked and saw Jenny had retreated into the water, a deep gash on her side with blood oozing from it. The Leopard having lost its new accomplice and its river prize, rushing full force towards Chioma who was still on her knees praying.
She was dead already and didn’t even know it.
And then my body got up of its own accord and moved at an inhuman speed. In an instant it was upon the beast and smashed the staff sideways into the beast’s skull. The beast lost consciousness as its body was flung far unto one of the great pillars that held up the Niger bridge. There was a dull thud as it slammed into it and fell into the river below.
Jenny gasped and swam deeper into the water.
He saw her and moved at lightning speed again. In an instant he had lifted her out of the water and unto shore. Holding the staff in one hand he grabbed Jenny by her waist and pulled her to him, giving her a long deep kiss. As he did so he touched her wounded side with the staff and it healed immediately. Then he released her mouth from his. She looked into his eyes, gasping for breath.
“Hello fish-lady” Chukwudi the Stronger said with a grin.