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A Song of Violence

It started with a hole. Specifically the one seven-year-old Mamo Wajin had dug up behind the church after his mother had sent him outside when he grew restless during Pastor Aduwabe’s sermon. You see, there were three important things to know about Mamo. One. He’d been born with a song in his head and voices to boot. Two. This was all on account of his sowasah daddy, a Mowakobe tribe bone dealer. Sowasahs talked to the dead through their bones to settle domestic disputes but Mamo’s daddy could communicate with the dead, ancient beings his people called Godkin whose bones, great massive things, would wash up from the ocean, embedding themselves into the coast as if some monstrous beast had tried to take a bite from the land, leaving fragments of its teeth behind. And three. He’d been carrying the feeling of a shaken bottle of pop sitting deep within his chest for some time now.

That feeling was still there even as he noted one particular hole that extended deeper than all the others beneath his probing stick. Just then he recalled his paternal great-grandmother’s words.

“The earth listens to the lonely and needy,” she said. “If only you speak to it.”

Words never worked much for Mamo but he could sing his feelings, his want for a friend to understand him. So he hovered above the impossibly deep hole and sang, releasing the cap off the bottle inside him to push whatever fizzled out into lyrics deep within the earth.

“What are you doing?”

Someone, a boy not much older than himself asked, startling him. He stood a few feet away, curious looking and non-threatening; regardless Mamo ran. Head down and feet silent, he slipped back into the church, remaining as still as death in the back pews.

The service had been over no longer than five minutes before a woman’s shrieking sent a crowd hurrying behind the church, Mamo included, as his mother gripped his hand tightly. There they found the woman mad with grief, shaking the body of a boy. It was the one Mamo had run from, now upon the ground, eyes rolled up in his head, all crooked and twitching, his dark skin ashy pale. Then there were his teeth wildly gnashing together.

“Tak, tak, tak.”

Bewildered, Mamo looked from the boy to the hole he’d dug. The voices buzzed loudly in his head as his foot began to tap to the beat of rattling teeth and a song fell from his lips.

Stories of the incident spread like wildfire and Mamo subsequently took the blame. From being bullied on the schoolyard to attracting the whispering and side-eyes of the adult church folk whenever he was near he suffered greatly. His own mother entertained the whispering, leaving only his sister Inoka with long limbs corded with lean muscle to shield him. She’d gotten the better of the Mowakobe gifts, kind, healing hands but capable of exacting a type of vengeance only a sister could dole out. Such a bond didn’t exist between Mamo and his gift-less, older brother Yonif.

His brother was cruel, a trait Mamo assumed stemmed from fear yet he never forgave the many times Yonif had stood by as his friends accosted him. Would forgive him less after the day he’d been snatched while leaving Old Wata’s bookshop. They locked eyes from opposite sides of a vendor stall, Yonif with his friends and then Mamo found himself spirited through the cramped alleyways of the bazaar, leaving the safety of seafoam and rust cotton awnings for the thick and loathsome canopy of the Sereke Forest.

Someone pushed him from behind, sending him tumbling into a deep pit, knocking his head and dirtying his clothes. The world spun from the drop, the cackling of laughter made him nauseous as the faces of Chebe Desumi, Hasim Ebissa and Deji Aduwabe peered down at him. Like vile crows they crouched around the edge and shouted their intentions to leave him to initiate the shrieking tree game.

A stupid game about a tree existing deep within in the Sereke that if called to when the forest went dark would shriek back a riddle. Anyone who answered incorrectly or, worse, attempted to flee would be swallowed up by the ground. They likely hoped the tale to be true but Mamo had no wish to play and said as much.

“You’ll do it or you’ll stay down here forever,” Chebe said, his lip curled with disdain. The boys made to leave then.

“Wait!” Mamo tried to scale the pit but it was dug too deep; an old hunter’s pit he assumed. “I swear if you leave me I’ll curse you!” he shouted up at them. “Cross a sowasah and the spirits will come for you.” Towards Chebe he pointed a trembling finger and lowered his voice as much as he could. “Your family’s goats will go first. I promise it.” Then to Hasim and Deji. “You’ll get it next, the both of you will.”

The things he said, evil and wicked, but Mamo spoke out of fear and desperation. Only Deji seemed worried at his ranting of revenge though ultimately left him screaming in the swelling heat of that pit. Beneath the branches overhead which reached out like spider legs, thick and gnarled, hiding the chirping birds that competed with the snarling, indiscernible voices in his head and whatever wild beasts that lurked within the forest. The thought so sickened Mamo’s guts that to ease his hammering heart he sat and began to sing.

Above him the sun began to set, darkening the forest considerably. And in the midst of a verse Mamo heard a tune like nothing he’d ever heard before. He scrambled to his feet, looking up and there, just at the edge, was the featureless shape of a man darker than any shadow with what appeared to be a wide-brimmed hat much like a city type staring down at him.

“Is someone there?” he called up to the motionless figure. “Please, I’m stuck.”

A strange fierce gust of wind came then, not from above but from below. Mamo yelped as it blew up the end of his shorts, jumping away from a hole barely seen under the dimming light of the forest. The hole, no larger than his hand hadn’t been there before and as he looked back up he found the man-shape gone.

He’d only now realized the voices were silent as that tune remained steadfast and to his horror, coming from that hole. Carefully, he edged close enough to feel another blast of warm air. It had a sickeningly sweet scent as it came in short, timed beats. As if the hole itself was breathing.

Madness must have already come for Mamo or worse, a child’s tale had been steeped in truth. His heart raced in disbelief. He didn’t want to die like this when he’d done no wrong. Alone and woefully misunderstood. Unshed tears burned his eyes as he bit down into the fat fleshy swell of his bottom lip, drawing blood.

“I don’t want to die.” The words snagged along his trachea as he labored a breath. The song stopped.

“Then live,” a voice as clear and crisp as any winter night rose up from the hole.

With a scream caught in his throat, Mamo sat there in the dirt, slack jawed with tears now streaming down his cheeks.

“The shrieking tree lives.”

Something in the ground chuckled, trembling the earth. “There’s no shrieking tree here, Mamo Wajin. I swear it.”

Breathless, Mamo hiccuped a sob. “How do you know my name?” And after a second. “What are you? Devil or spirit?”

“I know all that happens in this village. Every birth and death. Every act of kindness and cruelty. Every name and curse, including yours. For what I am, to you I am a friend.”

“But you’re not my friend.” A hateful thing to say but Mamo was not the type of boy who’d been blessed with companions. The voice didn’t seem offended by this.

“Oh but I can be if you allow it. I shall be your watcher and guardian. To the ether I’ll send those terrible voices that trouble you. But above all else, I’ll punish those who dare hurt you, even those who’ve left you here in this pit. The boy named Chebe, you spoke of his family’s goats. That is where I’ll start.”

Devil talk, but beneath those honey licorice words was an undercurrent Mamo could nearly taste, cold and sharp. The thing in the ground spoke with sincerity, a comfort Mamo was rarely afforded. Still he remained decidedly wary.

“And why would you do that for me?”

“Because when you speak into the ground it listens. And you, Mamo, spoke. Or do you not remember?”

“The hole.” Mamo grinned like a fool in realization. “So you’ll help me?”

The voice spoke as if beginning a song. “Only if you promise to return the favor in kind.”

Mamo didn’t need to think it over, he’d little faith in Chebe or the others would actually come back for him. Never mind that in his eleven years of existence he’d never gone near the Sereke so it would ultimately be the last place anyone would think to look for him. The thing deep within its hole was his only option and so he agreed.

“I promise,” he said.

“Then close your eyes and sing me your grief.”

And Mamo did just that, singing a song that birthed from pain. He felt every intonation and inflection just as he felt the ground beneath him soften. His body went limp, sinking into dark warmth that seeped into his pores, nose and mouth suffocating the song though it continued undaunted. He heard it sloshing about in his head like waves in a voice not his. Then he dreamed. In this dream a beautiful abomination the color of blood danced into nameless shapes and in the midst of it all a faceless man appeared. All red and all encompassing and on unseen lips in an unseen face Mamo’s song poured out.

His daddy was the one who found him, caked head to toe in deep earth, aimlessly wandering the outskirts of the grasslands crying and spitting up dirt. Between weathered and scared hands the man cradled him, muttering in his native tongue as a pain Mamo had never before witnessed disfigured his face.

“It’s alright my boy, I got you now,” his daddy whispered. “You’re right here with me so never mind anything else, you hear me?”

A terrible shaking burrowed into his daddy’s hands but Mamo never asked about it just as his daddy never asked about what happened to him. A silent pact between father and son though there were times Mamo caught the man watching him. Felt the heavy gaze on him even when he slept. The man finally spoke some many days later when they’d gone to the coast in search of bones.

“I would have raised you among my people had I the choice,” his daddy said as he laid bones half his size onto a printed tarp. “It should’ve been me.” He stared out towards the black water, his hands shaking. “I put this on you. Brought it in the village thinking nothing of it as if I didn’t know what type of power they got over a man. True, god awful powers.” The man turned, looking at him with the same dead look he had all those years ago when he appeared at the village gate one night dead-eyed and bleeding from the ears, body crusted in salt water. Mamo hadn’t been no more than a toddler but dreamed of that night often. “Did you see its face . . . the thing you let in?”

Mamo shook his head. “I only heard its voice. Daddy, did I do something wrong?”

The man’s face crumpled in anguish before he took Mamo’s hand into his own but didn’t say anything more.

“Filthy devil whisperer!” Chebe hurled the accusation with the same force he put behind his fist the day Mamo returned to school. The blow hit him right in the mouth, sending the ripe taste of copper exploding onto his tongue. “You put your evil on our goats! On my father!”

Too stunned to understand the words Mamo curled up on himself, shielding his face from Chebe’s angry blows as the others, his brother included, watched. He heard his sister’s scream before she charged through the crowd like some great warrior, barefoot and angry. Hasim and Deji had to pull a bloody nose and howling Chebe from up under her before she jumped on Yonif. Only then did a teacher intervene.

They’d gone to the Sirassi Food Market afterwards for red pork noodles before heading home and during the walk Mamo found the courage to speak when his sister remained silent.

“Noki, did something happen to the goats?” he asked.

Inoka’s face did that thing adults did whenever they were gossiping about something unsavory. Deepened more when they passed the grasslands where the fat-headed goats made their playground. There were no goats to be seen however, only a petering crowd and several over-encumbered wagons covered in blood-stained cloth.

“Something nasty got into Mr. Desumi last night and then he put that nasty onto the goats,” Inoka said. “Remember how many there were? A least a hundred, maybe two but most of them are gone now. Oh, he killed so many of them. Daddy said it was something awful. Mama’s already got a prayer circle going with Mrs. Desumi and the other ladies.”

As hard as it was to believe, Mamo’s sister was no liar and Chebe, damn him, was not prone to such violence for no reason. Mamo had caused this with his threats and the voice in the ground had done as it said it would. He just knew it.

Mr. Desumi’s violent behavior, turned out, was only the harbinger of Mamo’s vengeance bearing fruit. There were many in the village who blamed the man’s affinity for the bottle as the catalyst for the slaughter and by proxy publicly shunned Chebe but there were no vices to lay fault with for what came next.

A week after the goat killings Hasim went missing in the dead of night. A rug seller found him digging up holes on the side of a road just outside the village limits, delirious and babbling. Then a few days after the incident news came that Hasim, who’d been resting at the hospital, had taken a nurse’s unsupervised knitting needles to his own eardrums, rupturing them. When they asked why he’d done so he’d responded like this: “The shrieking tree told me to.”

Deji’s comeuppance concluded silently if only because of who his parents were. Mamo had only heard about it while eavesdropping on his mother’s calls. Apparently Deji had gone mad after a Sunday service when he’d been left to clean up the church on his own. And under the cover of night the Aduwabes had the boy sent off to a sanitarium in neighboring Buhera.

All this would mark a new beginning for Mamo, for some years later that familiar melody from the pit called him down from his room and through the red painted doors of the butler’s pantry. An odd title as they didn’t have a butler, only house-sister Fatima, but it was with one of her tallow candles that Mamo lit to descend into the cellar by way of the hatch nestled in the far end of the pantry.

“Hello?” His tongue vibrated in his mouth as the warmth of the cellar bore down onto him.

“Here, Little Mamo. Come to me,” the voice came, baritone wrapped in crushed velvet.

And though now a head and a half taller with a slightly gangly physique that had the ghost of  brewing muscle beneath a canvas of smooth ebony skin, Mamo raised his candle and press forward. Passing barrels of cooking oils and large sacks of grains and potatoes he went, slinking around two wine racks until he found the hole. It was precise and circular as if someone had drilled through the stone floor. Setting the candle to the side of it, he crouched to stare down into the dark abyss, frowning.

“Where have you been? It’s been five years.”

“And yet you did not seek me, not once.” The voice hummed. “I’ve come for the favor owed to me or have you forgotten?”

“No, I remember,” Mamo said, then as if remembering. “You never told me your name.”

“I did not.”

“Shouldn’t you at least tell your friend your name?”

“I am what I am, as you are what you are. No name nor title binds me but yet I am shackled, yearning for release from this filthy cage. Just like you.”

The truth in those words struck Mamo hard and fast, breaking the floodgates to feelings that lacked a proper name. He could only nod as something flickered inside of the hole, slithering by or so he imagined.

“If we’re truly the same then you’ll answer me.”

The silence that came hung thickly in the cellar that Mamo feared a fierce violence. But then the voice answered: “Ihdatuttu.”

The name tasted old, like something ancient spoken in his daddy’s native tongue. Like something he should respect. Fear.

“Now my favor.”

“What is it?” Mamo asked hastily.

“For you to sing my existence into the world. Nothing more, nothing less.”

An unexpected request certainly but Mamo would do it. This thing, this Ihdatuttu had rescued him from some unknown fate, keeping its word along the way. So what was a little singing when he’d done so most of his life? Still he couldn’t help his curiosity.

“And this will free you?”

“It will free us. You just have to remember to come back here once I’m good and ready. Now, will you take my existence within the warmth of your voice to sing to the masses?”

To this Mamo conceded and in turn was beckoned to hold his ear above the hole. It would bless his voice, it said. And with that blessing Mamo dreamed once more of things as frightening as they were bewitching. He’d recall later the feel of a million hands and arms holding his flesh to the stone while his teeth clicked together like a raging metronome.

“Tak, tak, tak . . . ”

The horrific noise rattled up from the cellar throughout the night and into the morning, leading his mother, now returned from work in the city, to find him curled up, teeth clacking incessantly and bleeding from the ears. Her piercing wail sent him into a fit as she dragged him from the cellar though she soon dissolved into theatrics, screaming at some unknown devil while waving about a crucifix pulled off the wall and demanding a recently-arrived Fatima to lock the cellar. Once recovered Mamo found himself forced to attend weekly services.

Ihdatuttu’s blessing dug into Mamo, planting a raging song so deep within him that no amount of church going would undo it. He let it out too, the song, out at the markets where his mother couldn’t stop his voice as she remained, like his brother, convinced he’d done something to that church boy. But still he sang and the people listened, showering him with coins and paper money that he needed several pots to carry it all.

Stories emerged soon after he began singing, of village folk roaming far from their homes nightly, of unprovoked and disturbing violence and of some who’d gone missing altogether with only their dirty abandoned clothes to serve as testament to their existence. They’d remain stories too as none sought to make a fuss about it. All the while the more Mamo sang the more a sweeter song swelled from within the locked cellar. For a year he lived tormented, denied the opportunity to truly hear and sing with Ihdatuttu before eventually succumbing to a frightful madness that had him tearing up the floorboards in his room in desperation.

Inoka came first, bursting through the door as he wailed lyrics about black waters and crying moons. His daddy arrived next to wrest his bloody splintered hands from the smashed floor as Yonif and his mother watched, horrified.

“Oh my brother, my sweet brother, what has happened?” Inoka cried and tried to use those healing hands of hers as he thrashed around like a crazed wild beast.

“The devil, the devil has my baby!” his mother shouted and then ran from the room.

And Mamo’s daddy? Well, he only watched, holding his son’s hands in his own.

“Let him be, Inoka,” he said to his daughter. “Nothing can be done.”

At dawn Mamo was taken away in a private bus, the color of spoiled cream, to the same sanitarium the Aduwabe’s had condemned their son six years prior, all at the behest of his mother. There, they kept him on an unconscionable amount of medication as if trying to kill the music within him. Inoka, always his great champion, had gotten him released sometime after his nineteenth birthday though it took her marrying a well-to-do city doctor to do so. In that time Mamo learned to grind his teeth to keep the music caught in his lungs. He’d forget this trick some three days into his freedom while soaking in a tea bath, singing to himself when his spineless, bastard brother endeavored to drown him.

Stark naked and screaming, Mamo ran out into the night, his brother’s fingers etched into his throat. He’d leave Cesa by sun-up with the help of Inoka and her husband but not without stabbing a finger at Yonif.

“Damn your pitiful soul, my brother,” he said, then pointed at the ground. “It remembers and it will come for you.”

Inoka and her husband left him in Ebenelle and that’s where Mamo began to lay his roots. He got himself a respectable enough job, waiting tables at a lounge. There no one cared he’d been fresh out of the sanitarium just that he did his job until someone caught wind he was the son of a sowasah and could chat up the dead. A misunderstanding, of course, because Mamo only ever heard the voices but neither his boss nor those in their pressed suits and low neckline dresses cared about any of that. They wanted magic tricks and to hear “spirit talk” and mess around with things people like them shouldn’t mess with.

They wanted him to play along. And so he played. Figured out how to call the voices Ihdatuttu kept at bay and when he did he’d call the closest spirit forth from the ether and present it on his tongue with a thousand voices scaring the hell out of anyone who came back into the private rooms.

But Mamo didn’t come to Ebenelle to play augur for a bunch of rich types, he came because he felt an untapped madness brewing beneath the city’s surface and wanted to sing to it. Call him lucky but the chance fell right into his lap when one of the patrons caught him singing to himself as the lounge opened up. Turned out he was an owner himself and needed a stand-in for a singer at his club. The rest as they say is history.

Within five years Mamo had amassed a cult-like following. For the first time in his life he’d been seen, been heard, and he owed it all to his great and mysterious friend. Owed it to the being even more to finally return home and conclude their business. The opportunity came when his mother called him out of the blue to tell him that Yonif was getting married soon. How the topic switched to allow his mother to castigate his choices, calling his singing evil Mamo wasn’t certain so with quick reassurance of his attendance promptly hung up.

Beneath the cyclone of the whirling ceiling fan he remained, after staring listlessly at the east wall in his bedroom. There, as always, stood a dark shape seemingly burned into the floral damask wallpaper. The Red Man with the hat. Or at least that’s what he called it as it looked just like the curious shape he’d seen back in that pit.

At the sanitarium it appeared again though no longer from above but on the wall of his cramped cell. Of course he’d been barely lucid to truly say he saw anything and even if he had none of the orderlies or nurses would have believed him. Not the young man who tried to scratch holes into solid surfaces and screeched songs into the night. Now, however, he had his confirmation after three different apartments and thinking the walls were infested with black mold.

His first landlord thought him a madman as he recounted watching black mold seep through the walls, blooming like ink on wet paper, only to be told nothing of the sort was there. Then it happened again at his second apartment where he watched in abject horror as the stain reappeared, spreading and taking shape on the west wall. A scorch mark that looked more blood than burnt ash. It was only once he moved into his third, most expensive apartment that he finally realized the Red Man was neither an ill omen nor a madness of the mind.

Like some avatar, the Red Man with his fancy wide-brim hat in all his oxidized crimson glory loomed eternally over Mamo, manifesting only upon the wall that faced the direction of Cesa. Where Ihdatuttu dwelled. It also stoked something within him, snaking through his chest to tear through his bloodstream with thorns breathing life into a new tune.

It bubbled to life in his gut, making him writhe in his unkempt bed as he soaked his dress shirt through in a laborious effort to breathe. With a jerk, he rolled off the bed, crumpling to the floor while his gaze remained on the Red Man. He groped at the floor, pulling at the edge of the carpet to unearth the holes he’d made to let a chorus of one pummel his ears with its chant.

“Come to me, Little Mamo,” it sang.

Eager, he pushed his fingers into the nearest hole, feeling the shallow exhales of a hidden breath. A tune, fresher than any spring water wet his tongue and lips begging to be sung but he kept behind his teeth in a grin.

That night Mamo directed the band to play one of his old sets. “She Heard I’m Mad”, “Fire on the Mountain”, “No Promises Love”, “Bone Song”. They were crowd favorites at the Joy House, an underground nightclub that attracted all types of folk. Socialites, dream chasers, scammers, gamblers, lost souls, pure hearts. And then there was Mamo Wajin, the aloof singer who enchanted them with his voice.

Time after time, high upon his elevated platform he watched faces contort with rapture as the music took them over, poisoning them. Some even collapsed during his performances, further propelling him to notoriety. The Joy House flourished beyond imagination and in turn Ihdatattu dug deep into the city folk. But, like in Cesa, no one cared to speak about the poor souls who’d gotten caught up in Mamo’s whirlwind of choruses. Of those who’d ended up stark raving mad or dead, faces deformed and pale by some unspeakable terror. Ebenelle only cared about the music and so Mamo sang.

A roar of applause followed “No Promises Love” before the tantalizing hits of the snare riled those who had come to dance. They’d been aching to throw their cares across the floor. There was just something about ‘She Heard I’m Mad’ that lit a fire under them. As the gels fell before white lights, bathing the stage in red Mamo watched as tiny pinholes appeared beneath prancing feet. A faint whispering filtered from those unseen voids to duet the chorus. It spoke of promises he’d seen in his dreams and he knew as the first line of the first verse burst from the speakers that Ebenelle would burn.

When the song ended he announced his indefinite hiatus, much to the dismay of his audience but he held his hands up with a smile to calm their displeasure.

“I do have one more song, a parting gift for all you who’ve let us in and brought me so much joy,” he said and gestured to the band to begin a tune both disturbing in its composition yet oddly jovial in melody.

With bated breath all in the Joy House waited, making Mamo feel as weightless as he had in that pit, sinking beneath the earth. His hands curled around the silver barreled head of the microphone and its stand then he leaned in, staring down into the sea of expecting faces. Somewhere in the distance he heard a familiar song and saw the briefest glimpse of a dark figure in a wide-brimmed city hat at the back of the room. He parted his lips.

Someone started screaming.

The day of Yonif’s wedding Mamo walked into Cesa, whistling a bright jaunty tune as a quarter of Ebenelle continued burning, its angry black smoke blotting out the sun there. But Cesa and its inhabitants remained blissfully ignorant, bustling about in their festive patterns and bright palettes beneath a perfect, endless stretch of blue skies.

Inoka greeted him with a swollen belly and a two-year-old on her hip, smothering him with kisses and a crushing embrace. Her husband was absent due to business, leaving Mamo with very few who’d willingly entertain his presence. His mother, who had insisted he come, welcomed him tepidly. Yonif, on the other hand, hadn’t so much as nodded to him let alone introduced his bride, a short brown-skinned beauty who Mamo couldn’t tell carried her weight in her middle or was simply pregnant. Still, he gave his brother a pearly-white grin and hugged his soon-to-be sister-in-law before going around the back of the house. That’s where he found his daddy staring up at the sky, tucked away in a cane swing.

The man looked to Mamo with a fleeting smile before turning back to the sky, then said, “I guess it’s about time for you to do whatever it is you’re here for.”

“Yes sir.” Mamo nodded.

“Inoka, she’s got a baby on the way. I can’t do much but I’ll not have her there.”

Once again Mamo nodded before he knelt in front of his daddy, taking his hands into his.

“All those years ago, when you came home the way you did . . . did you see its face? The Godkin?” Mamo asked.

The man shook his head, eyes looking haunted. “I ran before it appeared but I heard that infernal voice all the way home. And I’ll tell you what, whatever it was, is . . . it ain’t no Godkin.”

Rising up, Mamo kissed the man’s cheeks. “He’s coming at sundown. Take Inoka and go.”

His daddy didn’t reply, just sobbed silently before Mamo let him be.

Yonif didn’t want him coming into the church to witness the union so Mamo remained up on the hill, overlooking the tail end of the ceremony as the procession headed back towards the house. Everyone would go change and prepare for the night’s festivities. Everyone except for Mamo who slipped behind the church with a shovel he’d taken from the groundskeeper’s shed. There he began to dig, first with a stick, just as he’d done as a child until the ground opened up before his eyes. A song he knew better than himself leaked out into the afternoon air.

“Ah, Little Mamo, my sweet friend. You’ve come for me,” Ihdatuttu called from the earth.

“Are you ready to be free?” Mamo asked.

“Yes, free us,” that sweet voice tittered.

Picking up the shovel Mamo continued on as his friend sang. Curiously despite digging a pit the hole remained the same size as if sinking further down yet Mamo continued on until he had something as deep as a grave and perfectly circular in its creation. Ihdatuttu went quiet just then, before a low whine, almost inaudible, tickled Mamo’s eardrums before all the voices that had gone silent on that fateful day slammed into him ruthlessly.

Driven to his knees as the voices squirmed through his head like vengeful worms Mamo peered into the hole. And he saw. His heart skipped several beats before it lurched, quickening abhorrently as his breath came out in ragged puffs.

“You see me. Good,” Ihdatuttu purred. “Now, help me up.”

Mamo thought to scream but instead found himself pushing his hand into the hole, sinking his arm down into the warmth until he lay prone with nowhere else to go. He felt a hand then or what he perceived to be a hand, quite large and uncomfortably warm latching onto his. Then another encircled his arm just below the elbow and pulled. Mamo pulled back.

The festivities had already begun by the time he arrived, beneath an expanse of white paper lanterns. They shined down upon him, his tall frame cloaked in red standing out like an ungodly fire. Atop his head, a wide-brimmed hat cast his face in shadow, giving his beaded braids the appearance of hellish tendrils slithering out from some unknown abyss that was his face and down his proud shoulders.

Not a single soul noticed how he moved with an unnatural grace through the throngs of revelers, straight towards the head table. Someone had just finished speaking, giving kind platitudes to the newly-wedded couple before the emcee recovered the microphone and returned to a proud-looking Yonif’s side. Mamo recognized this man as Chebe Desumi. Time had chosen to be much kinder to him than his old friends it seemed. But his voice made Mamo twitch in foul remembrance as he began to speak, waving a glass in the air.

“Who else wants to go next?” Chebe asked. “Come on, don’t be shy . . . ”

His voice trailed off, face twisting horribly as Mamo climbed the steps to pluck the microphone from a trembling hand.

“What are you doing here?” Yonif tried to stand, anger and fear marking his features but Mamo settled a hand upon his brother’s broad shoulder, digging his fingers into muscle and forced him back down into his seat. All in the tent fell silent now seeing him. Finally, Mamo looked up from beneath his hat. Someone let out an audible gasp and he grinned.

“We have a song,” he said. “A song for you all and it begins like this.”

And then his teeth clicked. A terrible and beautiful sound.

Tak, tak, tak.

About the Author

Bibi Osha lives on the East Coast where she writes speculative fiction typically set in imaginary non-Western worlds. Outside of writing, she can be found glued to her headphones listening to music, talking about video games and speeding around the house in her electric wheelchair.