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The Hills

The branches of the trees trembled as the wind moved through them, making a small whistling sound. Down the hill, beside the river where the men worked, bringing down some ageing cocoa trees with their cutlasses, there was singing as the swish swish of cutlasses filled the afternoon air. An old battered pick up and a tractor stood in the middle of a large clearing behind the men as they worked.

One of them was calling to his colleague standing by the pickup truck. The sound of the rushing water of the waterfalls just a stone throw from them mingled with the men’s voices.

“Hey Chima, please help pass the gallon of water over there.”

As he waited for his colleague, the man stopped to wipe the sheen of sweat on his forehead with the sleeve of the shirt tied across his waist.

“These villagers are so funny,” he said, collecting the small blue plastic gallon container his colleague eventually passed to him. “Living in these bush areas has made them afraid of everything.”

His words tickled the rest of the working party and they laughed as the severed limbs of trees were arranged in a neat pile on the bed of the truck. The men continued their task of clearing the land, unaware of the wind that moved in their direction. A bird squawked somewhere close to where they worked, beating a feathery retreat at the advance of the chill wind.

“They say nobody in their village comes near this place. The woman I bought corn from told me that a spirit lives in this place.” Chima, the one who had given the water to his friend said with a loud guffaw, “stupid people.”

 “Don’t mind them.”

  The man with the gallon dropped it on the grass beside him and began to swing his cutlass in the air for another strike at the grass he was bent over. Just as he did, his eyes caught a movement in the bushes in front of him. He straightened, the cutlass hanging limply beside him. He wanted to call out to his friends but the words froze on his lips. He was slowly realizing that the thing that he was looking at was not a trick of light. It was a ghost like apparition that was as black as the tennis shoes on his feet.

The thing was moving in his direction. Large and shapeless, it seemed to float but he wasn’t so sure. His mind had stopped working. He could only feel the paralyzing fear. He watched, eyes bulging in their sockets as the thing changed form. The others felt the wind approach and looked up.

“I can smell rain.” A stocky fellow on the far side of the clearing said, dropping his cutlass and standing hand on hips to throw his face up. “It did not look like it was going to rain when we came.” He looked at his colleague standing open mouthed in the clearing with a frown. “Hey, are you okay? What are you looking at?”

The man did not answer him but instead, continued to stare at the thing that stood before him now. He could feel the hair on his skin stand. The thing was so close he could see into the dark pools that observed him coolly. He couldn’t tell if it was male or female. The long face was almost feminine but the sinister smile on its face was far from reassuring. Was this the guardian that the villagers talked about? The one that guards the falls? The thing made a slow movement andturned to look at his colleagues.

 “Peter!!!”

The man jolted as if struck by something and then turned with wild eyes to the rest of the party. His mouth moved wordlessly and spittle gathered at the corners.

“Can’t you people see it?” his question came out as a scream. Visibly alarmed, the men looked among themselves as Peter began pointing to the direction of the man on his left. “It is coming to your side,” he screamed again. The men were beginning to scan the forest in fear.

Peter began to mumble incoherently, his body jerking as he rocked back on his heels. The man he pointed to was just about to open his mouth  to say something when he too appeared to freeze and began to shake. Arms flailing wildly, the bodies of the men vibrated with an unseen force. As the other men witnessed the horror, the wind was gathering momentum, making eerie sound as it did. Suddenly, the rest of the party dropped their cutlasses and scampered into the thick bushes, abandoning their old pickup truck, the tractor and their two comrades. They had seen enough.

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