I was sleeping, under the bridge, the river at my feet, lapping up the debris from the wood mill just on the other side, opposite where old rusty half finished boats swayed in the gentle tide. It began to rain and this was good because in the evenings, big rats came to forage for food and they were not picky eaters. The rain made it difficult for them to get to my toes but it also got me wet and cold because the bridge was old and discarded like me. It shook when cars or tricycles moved across it and once, a tragic accident almost happened on it. The government shut it down for repairs but never did carry it out. Presently, two ferries carry vehicles and persons across the river every thirty minutes. You need to see the large crowd gathered at the jetty. Because, we are a stubborn people, some persons, like me still crawl under the barbed wire fence used to barricade the bridge and trek across and around trash and small tents of homeless persons to the other town just after the bridge.
I was sleeping under the bridge when i heard the loud scream of sirens. It was the signal for everyone to get under cover. The occulus, the ghost eaters were coming out again to hunt for the ghosts of those who had gone but were able to cross over to the other side. I turned on my mat, still delirious with sleep. But i knew i needed to get up. I needed to do my job or innocent persons will be hurt. I got up and rolled my mat. I picked up my knapsack which i used as a pillow and threw it on my shoulders, then i inserted the mat through the handhold at the top. I opened a zip on the side and brought out my dream catcher. It was an old, stained and tattered thing but it has served me well over the long years fighting the demons that rage all over the night of our town.
I heard the sirens again and rushed under the pillars that still held the bridge aloft then clambered fast over the ladders that i set there a long night ago. The whole place was in an uproar as people either struggled to get on the ferry or run into the bombed out buildings that still stood near the river. On the bridge, the homeless just hurdled around staring at the expectation of mass of shadows rushing towards them. Many of them were ready to go, already tired of being sick and hungry. I have heard of a prophet among them who urged them to worship the occulus as gods, as saviours. They were not my business. I needed to get to that barbed wire fence. I needed to stand before it and say the words like my foster mother taught me, like her mother taught her and her mother’s mother and her mother’s mother’s mother did before the war, before the bomb went off, before the rift opened in the earth and the occulus poured out like locusts and consumed the afterlife before it even began.
People ran pass and towards me, their voices filled with fear. I tried to ignore them but the fear was on their faces and human fear is a dangerous thing. Someone caught my coat and i turned to see a little boy, his eyes filled with courage only the dead knows. He was a ghost. He was supposed to be on the other side but because the gate to the afterlife was broken and the gods had locked the spirit world forever, the dead had nowhere to go. It is my job to save them. It is my job to take them into my dream catcher and lock them in the Bata bottle, the artefact of the great juju man from the destroyed kingdom of Benin. I stole that bottle but that is another tale. It used to be for djinns but i managed to bind all the djinns in it to service, tasking them with the welfare of every ghost i send into its infinite space. I don’t know what will happen if the bottle ever breaks. It is imperfect i know, but what solution can one find in a world so broken? I bound the ghost boy with the dream catcher and sent him into the bottle. Before he faded, he had a smile of gratitude for me. That was enough for me. I opened another zipper and dragged out a plastic water bottle. I opened the cap and took a swig of cheap liquor from it. My job demanded its own price.
I ran and jumped over holes opened over the river. The roar of the occulus drew closer even as i drew closer to the fence. As i moved, i caught struggling ghosts with the dream catcher and sent them into the Bata bottle. There was a lot this night. This was the third time this month, which was unusual for the occulus. I did not know if it was because of the rain or if there was another reason. I got to the fence just as the ferry capsized in the river and people began to swim across. It was strange to see the living struggle to get away from a monster that can cause them no real harm but i understood something that many did not despite their fear. Once an occulus got your scent, it never lost it and the moment you died, it will seek you out no matter where you are. My scent was with many of them and they have hunted me and have paid for it with their blood. I pulled out my last weapon, a small iron knife, rusty with misuse. It was baptised in the Ethiope, before the goddess fled and had also tasted the blood of the oldest tree in the great Egini forest. It was said that the tree’s root ran through the whole earth and deep into the deepest hells. I don’t know of that though. What i do know is that each time the knife touched an occulus, it exploded in splatters of black viscous liquid.
I crawled under the barbed wire fence and stopped before the bridge sloped downward into the crater that separated the rest of the road from the river. I saw the big lantern eyes of the occulus bearing down on me. I took another draught of liquor and wiped my lips, then i closed my eyes and began the ritual of endings. The chant is older than me. With it, i can bind the world in statis for three hours. I hoped it was enough. You see in all that i have said so far, i have not told you one thing. I am not human. I am something like an occulus but not as deranged as they are. I am the child of an occuli who birthed me under the evening stars by chance. The occuli was dead when i awoke to my senses. I did not know how it arrived there. Because i had no access to the hive mind that drove the horde, i adapted to the upper world and dressed myself in human form. Deep within me lies the rage i know to be of my universal consciousness, the prehistoric mind of my race but i have also seen the beauty of humans. My foster mother, gods bless her, gave me love. I have also learnt that there are many like me, Occuli living among humans, who fight to save this fragile race from themselves.
Each of us stands at the city or town gate of our adopted community and battles the raging occulus, battling a war that can never end. I do not know what to do if it does though. This war has been on for a thousand years and more. I have watched the humans flourish out of tattered remnants only to be destroyed to the bare bones again. The rise and fall of a race can be tiring especially when in each case, their downfall is their fault. Yes, i am that old. The Occulus can live for very long as long as they don’t kiss anointed weapons like my iron knife. My chanting ended and the fighting began. I wove and twisted through the horde. Their hate for what i am is palpable. I was an abomination in their eyes, an occuli that did not hear the hive. I don’t care. I would destroy them all if i had a chance and maybe, then the screaming in my head would stop and i would dream like the humans do.
I was the destruction, the mayhem, the tragedy of my own race, and then suddenly, i was nothing. I stood there and opened my eyes. Before me was a single occuli, huge, and it stood in human form. It strode to where i stood feeling the violence eat into my strength. Then it spoke;
"Prince, your father is dead, and you must return to take the root, the throne of your ancestors,” a voice spoke in the old language, pidgin.
What? My father? Prince? Root? What was this thing talking about? I refused to reply. I turned my face away from the being’s caricature of a human face. It was obvious that it was not good at faking the human form.
“You must listen to me young prince. You fight an unjust war here,” the occuli added.
“An unjust war? You take ghosts and push people to death with the nightmares of your constant raid. Who is unjust in this?” i asked
“You know so little and what is worse; you take pride in your ignorance. This war was started by you. You!” the occuli replied.
“Me? How? What did i do?” I asked.
“It is not my place to tell you the tragedy of your family. Come with me and you will find out the truth,” he replied.
He opened a half finished palm and on it sat a black disc. On its face was spiral that went on and on. I had one in my knapsack. I found it on the grass where i was birthed.
“This is the totem of your house. Your mother had it on her when she fell through the rift and i suspect it is with you as we speak,” the occuli added.
I closed my eyes and began the chant of ending. I was not going to accept this lie. I will not be told that i had fought in vain, in a war that i had caused. After all the suffering, the chaos, the Bata bottle solution, after all that i had lost, it was all a lie? No!!
“You are late,” i replied as my iron knife began its grisly work.