By SADIQ Abdulsalam Adeiza
Everything is black, pitch black. Struggling to breathe under the weight of this hood over my head; Moments ago I was grabbed, tied, gagged, hooded and thrown into a van. My heart is racing, pounding hard on the walls of my chest like pestle on mortar. Questions are jettisoning in and out of my mind like buzzing bees. Who are my captors? What do they want?
“Calm down!” I order myself. “Calm down and think.” I take a deep, hot breath, forcing my galloping heart to slow. The van hits a bump, falling sideways, my skin touch something warm, something that shrinks away, someone! I listen closely to hear indistinct sounds which I suspect are coming from behind gags and hoods too.
“Don’t go and join cultists in the university o!” Mama’s voice from three years ago suddenly comes ringing, unannounced and clear like a church bell in my mind; I try to push it aside. “God please get me out of this;” prayers gushed out my lips, and then stop, last Sunday we robbed a church, God couldn’t possibly be that nice.
The van soon stops moving. Faint noise seems to be coming from outside the vehicle. The back door opens, ushering in a gush of fresh air. Footsteps of someone climb into the van. A powerful arm drags me up and shoves me roughly, my heart jumps to my throat; I fell on a cold, hard surface. The arm drags me again, its hard nails biting into my underarm, since they took away my shoes, stones poke the soles of my feet like a thousand needles, and still, I stagger after my captor. Finally, we stop, I’m pushed to my knees.
I remain like this for what seems like eternity when finally the hood is yanked off my head. Blinking my eyes, trying to adjust them to my new environment, I am in an open clearing, faint stars in the night sky reminds me it’s about 11p.m, the scenery is illuminated by a fire burning not far away.
To my right, two people are on their knees too, someone familiar… Babyface. Fear is visibly etched on his face, beside him is Jagger, I turn left and the whole crew is here, on our knees, tied up and gagged. Feeling a wash of unabashed relief, misery does love company. But then I notice we were not all here. Where is Ake?
The first feeling as I see the flag is confusion, then fear. Black flag with a red skull in a circle is ours – The skull men. The flag is hoisted on a branch of a small tree not far away from us. Is this a summoning from our superiors? Some figures start to troop into view, dressed in our fraternal garb of black robes on black trousers, I recognise some among them and they are indeed members of our cult, they stand in two rows of nines behind a large stone before us. From the solemn looks on their faces, I know something is gravely wrong.
I try to think, who screwed up among us? Did one of us go after a superior’s girl? Our last mission at the bank went so well, what could it be? Ake will know exactly what was going on, why isn’t he here?
I feel him before I even see him – Venom, our Commando; the chirping crickets fall as quiet as death and the fire seem to stop to crackle as Venom came and sat on the stone before us. I have seen the Commando only once before, on the night of our crew’s initiation into the cult, the night all eight of us became sworn foot soldiers of the skull men. I still shudder at the thought of his cold hands on mine pushing the cup of blood into my lips and his whispery voice saying “drink”.
The man himself was rather unimpressive but tales of his feats on campus cult realm are legendary. Some say he is half mad, some say he’s a genius, others say he’s a mad genius.
Venom sits bare-chested, his robe tied around his waist, staring at us from behind horn-rimmed glasses, he is now flanked by two of his deputies; a huge man they call Mr. and another called Mosquito.
Mosquito, a tiny man true to his name soon steps into the light.
“Brethren!” he says as he takes a sweeping look at the seven of us before turning to face the others.
“Who are we?” he asked
“Skull men!” they chorused
“Who are we?”
“Stones and sticks”
“May break our bones!”
“But the skull”
“Shall never sing!”
Our cult mantra echoes into the still night causing the ground beneath me to reverberate a little upon its recital.
“Bring him out” Mosquito orders and two members soon drag someone into the light. It was Ake, the red flaming dreadlocks gave him away instantly, it was Ake but he lay still on the floor, head hanging lopsidedly from his neck, snapped, lifeless, dead. Urine rushes from my bladder and burns the tip of my penis. I feel a pressing urge to keel over and vomit, I cannot shake the foreboding that Ake is not the only one that is going to end this night dead.
Venom who has been sitting still all this while gets up and pulls a gun from Mr.’s belt, he cocks it and stares at it like one would a lover.
“One of you…” he begins in that sick, chilling voice, waving the gun at the seven of us as he paces “…saw it fit to murder your crew member, breaking one of our sacred rules and you all connived to cover it up.”
What! That is a lie! I want to shout but I keep mute behind my gag, beside me Babyface is trembling so bad I think he will fall. Or is it true? Maybe the others did do it without me knowing, besides it will make sense to exclude me; I was after all the closest to Ake.
“So, One question,” Venom continues slowing his pace and walking to the furthest person to my left – Jango, he pulls the gag from his mouth “Who Killed Ake?” he asks pointing the gun at Jango’s midsection
“I swear boss I don’t know, walai! I sw…” a loud BANG cuts short the rest of his statement, and even from where I kneel I can see my shock mirrored in his eyes as he falls to the floor, dead. A few hot drops of my sweat and Jango’s blood falls on my boxer shorts. Venom moves to the next person, T.Y. “Who killed Ake?” his voice smooth as if in song, like he did not just murder someone in cold blood “Ehn… ehn…” T.Y. rambles and then BANG. The blast of the shot knocks him back a distance, his limp body landing with a dull thud.
Two more, then my turn, that is all I can think, what will I say? Who killed Ake? Was there even a right answer? At this point, Babyface is crying, I envy him; I am too scared to cry. My eyes fall on Ake’s corpse, imploring him to get up and tell us who killed him, but then skulls never sing.
I see blood clinging to the hair on Venom’s chest, gleaming in the firelight like red glitters – He is now standing before Caleb.
“Who killed Ake?” voice calm like still water.
“Longe did it! Longe killed him,” Caleb explodes as soon as his gag comes off nodding at Longe beside me whose protests are suppressed by his. I cannot help but think that Caleb is only just looking for a way out.
Venom pauses as if to ruminate over this piece of information, he looks from Caleb to Longe and back again, then he points the gun away from Caleb to Longe and BANG!
The noise from the shot is near deafening and I flinch as blood from the now collapsed Longe splatters on my cheek.
“Untie them,” Venom says with a sigh as if disappointed.
I cannot believe my ears, is it really over? Longe really killed Ake? I am not going to die? Mr. unties Caleb completely and props him up to his feet. Mr. is now behind me untying my hands when Venom raises his hand commanding him to stop, my heart drops. “Do you know who I hate more than a traitor?” Venom asks Caleb whose mouth is slightly hung open like a door ajar.
BANG! A jolt of shock seizes me, Caleb stands still for a full second before falling face flat.
I am shivering now as Venom turns Caleb’s dead body over with one foot and pulls the trigger again, sending a bullet right through his forehead before answering his own question
“So” he says turning to me his lips curled in a snide smile “Who killed Ake?”
SADIQ Abdulsalam Adeiza is serving in Kwara State. He is a member, Creative Writing SAED, NYSC.