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Midnight Race | Iheanacho Chidi

That field over there has harboured more dry bones than the feet of those who go to rest their loved ones. Grasses like well-spread butter on slices of bread grace the terrain. Headstones at a few intervals peeked out from the ground like little billboards. The air over that dead yard has always been thick and gloomy, the smell of dirt and dampness, and evil hung in the air. Even the sun threaded this ground with caution; its rays, while bouncing off on some headstones, carefully avoid others, leaving the latter shrouded in darkness all day. Rumour has it that those tombstones that refuse even a single ray of sun belong to witches who even on their deathbeds had refused to renounce their craft.
It rarely rains on that field, even when there are heavy downpours all over the village, but whenever it does rain on that field, parts of human skeletons flow into the streets and drainages. Anyone who comes in direct eye contact with these bones was rumoured to experience devastating misfortunes. Nwunye Gerald had a miscarriage on getting home the evening she claimed to have seen a femur while urinating near a drainage. Chude’s father fell ill the night he returned from his in-laws’ place. He remembered taking the footpath near that field but wasn’t sure if he met any skeleton part on his way. Still, he met his death later that night.
“Mba! This can’t continue! Something must be done!” Nna anyị Okiri lamented on the day we gathered at the village square to discuss the matter. “If it was in the days of my father, Ezemuo would have put an end to all this rubbish! But no! You Christians have spoilt everything! Everything!” Nna anyị Okiri remains one of the few titled men in our village who still believe that Christianity is too weak to confront our dark realities. After long deliberation, the community decided to write to a distant Reverend, whose news of Holy ghost powers and miracles have spread all over the neighbouring towns. Many women say whenever he sings and claps, demons confess their names and apologize for inhabiting their hosts, yet Reverend Bernard won’t cast them out, not until he has dealt them several lashes with his anointing oil; a spectacular process which leaves the host body writhing and sprawling on the floor like a wounded snake.

Father Bernard’s visit is in two days, and everyone was getting ready. Many women prayer groups have taken to dry fasting to prepare the grounds of our community, Ụmụọjị, for the holy legs of Father Bernard.
“The days of those skeletons are numbered…” One of those women tells my mother.
“Only but a while they will feel the power from above.”
I couldn’t help but wonder how these skeletons will feel the power from above. Will they wriggle and writhe in pain, on the swampy soil of the cemetery? Or perhaps confess their names and apologize for disturbing our peace?
Two days, for my village, is a long time to wait, but father Bernard kept his promise, and he arrived. He gave a condition; the prayers and consecration of the burial ground can only be at midnight when the demons will be present to be battled face-to-face. He also said about 50% of the community members must be present to witness the power of God.
Later that evening, the community gathered to select volunteers which almost ended in fistfights.
“Chukwu ajụ! God forbid! At midnight? We will all be dead before we enter that field!” A young man protested.
“Please count me out, I’m the only son of my family,” Chude said politely. It was obvious he wasn’t done mourning his father.
The women prayer groups, when asked to provide volunteers, said they are not afraid to battle demons at midnight, but they won’t join because virtuous women don’t keep late nights.
“The Reverend should go alone. He is a man of God, we don’t have holy water to take with us, in case of emergency but he does,” Nna anyị Okiri said, trying not to laugh.
Finally, it was decided that every family must provide one person to join the prayers. My father came home looking worried, his shoulders drooped as though a heavy load had been dropped on them.
“Nna m,” He called me, in a very suspicious politeness. “You will go for the family.”
“Me kwa!” I screamed. “Me kwa! Papa, but I’m still young!”
With tears dropping freely, I imagined the skeletons digging into my flesh, licking up the smallest drops of my blood. I refused, threatening to run away from the house before midnight. Father eventually changed his mind; he would go instead.
An hour to midnight, the Reverend was already at the community square, muttering inaudible words, as he walked around gently in circles, with prayer beads in his right hand, a big black bible and a bottle of holy water in his left hand. His cassock shone brightly in the moonlight, as he waited for the villagers to convene.
When the community youth leaders came to our house to pick our representative, father asked me to open the door. The door squeaked, revealing many nervous faces. Most of the young men had on them weapons of all sorts, cutlasses, sticks, dagger knives to fight the skeleton demons. Father was standing behind me fully prepared, he wore his usual baggy shorts, with an old shirt my mother’s father had given him. He had with him the only torchlight in the house. I wondered how useful that torchlight will be to him in case of emergency since the light only comes on after about four to five knack-and-start sessions.
There was a sudden push from behind and I found myself outside. The door was immediately closed, and I could hear my mum’s voice screaming and begging my father to open the door. It took a while before I realised what had just happened.
“Jesus! Papa abeg open the door!” I cried, banging on the door.
“Okay open let me change my clothes!”
I had only my singlet and a pair of shorts on, with no slippers to shield my feet from the midnight cold. The youth leaders were impatient, they grabbed my arm and dragged me to the village square where we met up with Reverend Bernard.
It was a few minutes to midnight, the Reverend stood in front with a reasonable distance between him and the first person in the crowd, and we followed suit. I squeezed my way to the middle; a strategy to afford me the opportunity to run home in case the demons start attacking from the left, right, front, or back, I will certainly have enough opportunity to escape. In a short while, we got to the field and were welcomed by the pungent smell of dirt and dampness, the whistling sounds of a strong wind, and the eerie sound of rustling leaves.
“Blood of Jesus! They are awake!” A man nearly screamed.
“Abeg shut up and man up!” a young girl barely my age retorted from behind with no trace of fear in her voice.
Father Bernard began praying, binding and casting, sprinkling holy water to the left, right, and front. It was pitch dark; even the few that had torchlights were too scared to switch them on.
“Close your eyes! Focus! Allow no distractions!” the Reverend thundered. No one obviously listened to him, as I could see open eyes darting from side to side, tightening their grip on their many weapons.
I felt a quick tap on my shoulder. I looked behind, it was the same young girl that had snapped at the other man earlier.
“O boy look!” she whispered in fear.
“Over there!” she said in a frenzy, almost screaming.
I strained my sight in the direction she was pointing. As the dark cloud shifted gently, a shaft of moonlight dropped on six figures, reflecting them in grey-white. They moved towards us in a coordinated formation with their feet barely touching the ground, their empty black sockets fixed on us. Their hair stood up in long grey spikes, with fingers like talons floating in the air.
“Hei!” I screamed to the limits of my lungs. I took to my heels, the others following suit. I thought I was fast enough, not until I was far behind Father Bernard.

About the Author: Chidi Iheanacho is a creative writer, a literature teacher, an Amazon publisher, and a literary blogger. A final year student of Education and English Language in the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. A member of Goodreads book club, Oprah Book club and The Writers Community UNN.

On Socials: @pencraft900

Photo by alexandru vicol on Unsplash

Published inFictionShort Stories

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