by Anthony Othuke Ominiabohs
A sage once told me the most worthless of things on earth are these four: rain on a barren soil, a lamp in sunshine, a beautiful woman given in marriage to a blind man and a good deed to one who is ungrateful. These were the very same words that slipped out of the little boy’s lips. Then he screamed, as I called his name, an agonising wail that rent the night air.
“Please don’t let him win . . . please Ohmston; something is wrong. This isn’t the prophecy.”
“W-what prophecy?” I stammered. I felt stupid talking to an evil child. A loud clash of thunder shook the inn, drowning his reply.
Out of the night came the loud ding-dong of an old grandfather clock. It chimed the 12th hour, announcing the arrival of Good Friday. My heart hammered against my chest, panic stiffening my joints and flushing my face with sweat even in the chill that spread through the room.
The four-eyed monk looked at the clock with despair. “The hour has come,” he murmured. He wiped the lone tear that ran down his cheek. Innocent blue eyes stared at me, pleading for life, or what was left of his, or so I thought at the time. His skin darkened and began to peel away, peeling away like screes from a weathered rock. He took a step forward, his small hands raised above him in supplication. He was the picture of an angel. A child-saint.
A mournful wind danced around the room, throwing the eerie silence that accompanied the chime of the clock into the background. The musty walls were an ocean of blood, bubbling and frothing like it demanded some offering.
The Register still clutched in my hands, I took a step back.
“Wait . . . please wait.” His voice was soft, like a petal brushing against my cheeks. “I came here to help you, not harm you. Dante is the evil one, and by destroying me, you are setting him free, plunging all of Damba into slavery.” He took another small step forward. He looked so harmless, so childlike. “For years Dante had waited for just the right time, for just the right guest, a guest so gifted that his voice could unleash the sealing curse. He had patiently waited for the one hundred and eighth guest, just as it was promised in the prophecy.” He looked down at his feet. “But you Ohmston, are the hero and not the villain. For years I have checked this monstrosity, but Dante, he had found ingenious ways of luring strangers into his snare. All I have been able to do is keep him from getting more powerful; to keep him from taking into himself, the vanquished souls of his victims.”
Unwavering, he held my gaze, forcing pictures of the doom that would befall the Dambians were Dante to wield such power, into my head. I looked away breaking his spell. In a flash he was beside me, his white turban draped around his nakedness exposing his head which was bald as a beak. On his forehead sat two strange pair of eyes. They pierced my being. I felt as light as a feather, giddy. At once, all four of his eyes glazed out, becoming shiny white balls that stared vacantly at me.
The dreams Ohmston!
Remember the dreams.
The girl on the eaves.
The village in the leaves.
The four-eyed monk whispered, pushing me to the brink of insanity.
“Get away from me!” I staggered back, away from his charm. The wind yowled, gradually becoming a violent gale. The paraffin lamp flickered indecisively, bowing to the wind when its breath licked at its flame, which occurred often, birthing long frightening shadows across the uneven floor.
“What has Amber got to do with this?” I asked, raising my voice so he could hear me above the sighing wind. A tight knot of dread formed around my throat at the mention of her name. And without waiting for him to respond, I said, “Keep away from my head!”
His eyes clouded, turning blue just as quickly as they had turned glassy.
I had heard of spirits who were blessed with the gift of the garb, and I knew just how convincing such earthbound souls could be. I was sure this . . . this little boy, the four-eyed monk, was a gretoiry.
His small lips curved upwards. There was a sad smile in his eyes. He didn’t try to stop me as I lifted the Register to my face and for the second time, called out his name.
All he did was gaze with eyes wide open at the grandfather’s clock as it ticked ominously into the new day.
“Simon Widow!” I called.
“Beware of Dante.” These were his last words as he burst into plumes of bright smoke. The wind carried his remains up the stairs and out of sight.
Almost at once, everything went back to being normal again; the ocean of blood vanished, so did the sinister wind.
My shoulders sagged. I let out a troubled sigh, taking in a deep cleansing breath. I sped up the stairs to my room to locate my gun. I found it lying beneath the desk. I tucked it behind the small of my back and quickly, began to pack my few belongings. I shoved my Penpad into the duffel bag, drawing its string tightly shut. I did not have the guts to spend a second more in Dante’s Gallows or in Damba for that matter. I had seen enough to last me a lifetime. I turned, ready to make my way down the stairs when I saw him. I jumped back in fright, almost hitting my head against the wall.
He was standing right there, by the door.
More alive than his earlier apparition.
Gone were the ball and chains.
Gone were the blood stained rags.
Clap! Clap! Clap! He joined his hands together in my praise.
My bag fell from my grasp and landed with a jolting thud. I grabbed the curtains, digging myself further into the wall.
“Well, well, well. I must say that was a brilliant performance. Not many men, Mr. Weth, could have dealt with Simon without losing their sanity.” He eyed me over. “Not even his gretoiry could influence you or drive you mad like it had the others before you. You indeed are a godsend.”
He glided forward. He stopped inches away from my face, then raising a long bony finger, he pushed my chin upwards so I could meet his gaze. His eyes were alive, amused. His hands were cold.
He was almost flesh and blood!
He was flesh and blood.
His oval face was handsome; his lips full, accentuating his slender chin. Stale breath fanned my face as he drew closer.
Quickly, I drew my gun but puff and he was gone, disappearing into thin air. His laughter filled the air, its savage edge grating my nerves. I thought he had been killed by the four-eyed monk. I was wrong.
But who was he, I wondered. Dante?
It couldn’t possibly be. There was no way the four-eyed monk was telling the truth. The wraith had been friendly earlier, but the emanations from him this time were cold, cruel. I grabbed my bag and hurried out the door.
“Not so fast Ohmston.” His voice stopped me dead on my tracks at the head of the stairs. “There is one more thing you alone can do for me,” he paused and threw a furtive glance at the second door on the hallway. “I need you to open that door.” His face was flushed with excitement as he spoke, hiding his hands beneath his cloak.
A clap of thunder shook the inn a second time. The thunder strikes had long increased. Lightening flashed across the sky, its bright rays seeping into the inn through the cracks in the old structure. Tonight wasn’t going to be free of rain after all. With every crash of thunder, the dread in the pit of my stomach grew. The lightening that flashed across the wraiths face worsened my fear; for as I gazed into those eyes, his skin glassy, his manner terrifying, like he was a mummy undergoing some transfiguration, I froze.
I was scared, but within the kernel of my fear, I found my voice. I had nothing to lose, I was trapped anyway.
And in measured tones, I asked him, “Who are you?”
He jerked his head backwards, irritated by my question. “Who I am is of no consequence. Get that door open now else I’ll break your little neck.”
Ignoring his threats, I pushed my advantage. “Dante?”
He looked away, an uneasy laugh tumbling from his lips. “The sealing curse won’t work on me, so don’t even bother. Now get this door opened!” he fumed.
I could see how desperately he wanted the door opened and I knew at once that as long as I held back, my life was mine.
“No I won’t.” I replied, pushing fright aside.
He glowered at me, his eyes turning red from his rage. Then his features softened, giving him a boyish look.
“Do not let Simon get to you; he’s a gretoire, that’s what he’s best at—deception. This door spells freedom for me, freedom from Simon’s will. Please help me open it. I dare not touch the knob for it would scald me almost to the point of unconsciousness, one I would never be able to wake up from. Please help me save my people from Simon’s curse. Please, Ohmston I beg you.”
“Simon?” I quizzed, my brow raised at his apathetic plea. “No longer the four-eyed monk? And I remember you saying you didn’t know his name.”
He flashed me a patronising smile, but the glint in his eyes and the nervous tic on the corner of his mouth gave away his agitated interior.
A familiar rage enveloped me. Looking at Dante, I realised everything Simon had said was the truth. I had killed an innocent wraith. And now, I owed it to Damba, to send this monster straight to hell.
“What is The Prophecy and what does it say?”
Dante shrank at the mention of the prophecy, edging closer to the wall.
He raised his hands into the air and began to shriek. From all directions came bats, rushing at me. Their wings beat against my face, their claws picking at my skin. I shielded my face with my hands, trying desperately to flee.
I was stuck.
I couldn’t move.
The pain was blinding. And the birds seemed to multiply.
Then came the rain, pouring in torrents, beating against the roof like a sanction for some unspoken crime.
Dante wrapped himself with his revolting creatures and approached the door. He rammed his shoulders through the steel. The door gave way, falling off its hinges and landing on the floor with a loud clatter. Immediately, his whole being was set ablaze. But the birds caught most of the flames. He staggered into the room. White light enveloped him. I could see so many gallows. The room stretched far beyond what my eyes could follow. Hanging lifeless on each of the gallows was a wraith—the one hundred and seven guests. The very first wraith I noticed, was missing from its gallows. Simon.
I watched Dante grow a thousand times, the souls of his vanquished rushing into his open mouth.
No! No! This wasn’t happening.
I heard Simon’s last words in the flurry of the attacking creatures: “Beware of Dante.” Then, I knew I had blundered.
I raised my voice and cried out into the night.
The rain landed on the roof with the force of a million sledge hammers, drowning my cry.
But loud and clear, above the din that filled the inn, came a voice as clear as crystals of ice.
“And upon the writer’s despair, shall I come forth with venom and spear.”
Never had I heard poetry spoken with such grace. My attackers vanished, fading away at her presence. Even Dante must have felt her presence for he opened his mouth a notch wider, urging in the bound souls.
She glided up the stairs, wrapping her tail over my injured frame. She looked at me and a smile crossed her cherubic face.
I bowed my head, feeling unworthy to behold her stare. But keeping my eyes away from the beauty before me was an impossible task. Her face glowed like there were a thousand candles beneath her skin. Her nose was small and slender, her lips a wonder. Her skin was velvety, dark and bright like gold long buried under the earth. Her arms were slender, almost fragile, but I sensed a strength within her that was well hidden beneath the veneer of calm and grace. Her waist tapered gracefully into a snake. A black snake.
She stared at Dante, an amused smile playing in her eyes. Just then he turned and faced us. He loomed before us. His beauty was gone. In its place was a red-eyed monster. He had grown two extra arms on both sides of his ribs.
“The goddess herself in my inn,” Dante roared. “I see you’ve come to make good where your lowly servant failed. But I tell you, your death will be at my hands, and there’ll be no god in Damba but I.”
The goddess smiled in response to the monster’s speech. She stretched out her hands for mine, and as we joined hands I felt a strange tinge crawl down my spine as she merged with my being. The monster shrieked, spitting fire at our union. A white halo enveloped us, stopping his fiery attack. Encased within the protective light, she gazed into my eyes.
“I have waited fifty years for your arrival.” When she spoke, it was a song, her pitch mellifluous. I strained to hear the low smooth timbre of her voice. “Fifty long years I slept, relegating my duties to faithful Simon. Dante had poisoned my lake, seizing the realm through this evil inn. Simon, an orphan from the west, sacrificed his life at my behest to tame Dante’s plague. It was the greatest love a stranger could have shown to a people unknown. You both could have been friends in another life.” As she spoke, her skin merged into mine, “But then the prophecy had foretold Dante’s rising on the Good Friday of the hundredth moon, resurrected by the very same wanderer who will behead the monster. And upon the writer’s despair shall I come forth with venom and spear . . . I came to you in dreams; dreams that drove you insane until you had to seek help from the priests in the temple of Avia.”
As if a veil was suddenly lifted, I remembered the dreams and the troubles they had caused me.
“Ohmston, are you scared?”
I shook my head. I closed my eyes accepting the strange feeling of our union.
I forgot my cuts and pains in the radiance of her eyes. My fright was history and as I looked at Dante, I saw a man broken by evil, and chained to his inn by the burdens of his sins.
The monster rushed at me, shattering the halo with his claws, his shrieks drowning the sound of the falling rain. I was ready for the attack. I rammed my fist into his guts as he came. He reeled backwards. He stood glaring at me. Then from within his cloak he withdrew the dog-eared register. He flipped it open and summoned the second guest by calling his name. My fists slammed into the wraith before he was completely formed sending him back to the land of the dead. I closed up on Dante, delivering blows to his stomach with the speed of a whirlpool. He took the blows and, feigning as if he was down, he side-stepped my attacks, slashing my face with his claws.
I tasted blood, smelling its metallic tang.
The monster spat fire from his eyes. The same halo enveloped me, protecting from the blaze. I felt a metal grow into my hands, its pointed edge gleaming in the light of the halo. Holding it behind me, I raced out of the protective light, landing a kick to the side of Dante’s head and another to his knees. He went down on one knee, his six clawed hands tearing through the flesh of my left thigh. It was all the distraction I needed to plunge the serrated spear into his heart.
He stared at me with a mixture of wonder and admiration. I withdrew the spear, and severed his head. He toppled to the ground, lifeless.
The goddess emerged, sliding out of my skin. She looked sadly at the dead man. She knelt beside him, placing her hands upon his heart. She muttered a spell and closed her eyes as the tears fell. One after the other, the souls now free from their captor rose into the air, through the ceiling and out of sight. I saw Simon; he paused beside the goddess, a wide smile on his lips. She looked away. I never knew, till that moment that gods could cry. Simon smiled at me too. He waved as he floated into the clouds. The goddess stood and looked at me. Her hands wiped my bloodied face. I touched her face to wipe her tears. She flinched at my touch, transforming completely, almost immediately to a huge black snake. The snake slid away; disappearing just the same way she had come. I watched it go wondering if I’ll ever be able to erase her sight.
Weary but eager to flee the nightmare of Damba, I picked up my carryall, strapped it to my shoulders and limped down the stairs.
I opened the front door and walked into the rain. I limped into the night, trying to get as far away from the inn as I could.
From their homes came the Dambian’s in a horde. They circled me, not minding the cold rain that beat their skins. And as I stared at their faces, I saw hope; the fear was gone. And right there, they did something, something I can never forget till my death, something that scares me till this day.
In unison, they fell on their knees, burying their heads on their arms which rested on the muddied ground, and with a strange cry, they worshipped the stranger from the south.