Mmiri Village Forest, Uyo
Ken never expected to wake again. He thought the last time he dropped his eyelids, he would never lift them again; after all, he had been infected. But when he stirred on the clammy foam of the couch, he instantly knew there was hope. His irrational and dangerous treatment had worked. They could stop this virus from spreading. Hopefully, not too many Nigerians had died since yesterday. The 42 million death toll he had seen on the TV yesterday still caused a chill in him. It was so staggering a number that Ken did not yet fully recognize its impact. Although he would have his fill of recognition in a while.
Ken coughed a little to expel from his airway the putrid smell from the couch and struggled to sit up. He still felt weak and a little feverish, but besides that he was okay. A drip was attached to his left wrist with the IV bag resting on top of the head rest. The hideous, brown curtains of the two adjacent walls were drawn, revealing large windows that allowed sunlight into the room. The air was dry and crisp, and Ken took deep breaths, feeling relaxed.
“Welcome back,” Tom said with a smile. He sat in the arm chair to his right with a drip of his own connected to his wrist. “Mary told me you saved my life.”
“Only because you risked it to save us, Tom,” replied Ken. “Glad to see you are well.”
“You ha hay good man, Kennedy,” a voice said from behind.
Ken craned his neck to see the man he had saved yesterday sitting at the dining, picking at the remains of what must have been a mountain of beans and plantain with a spoon.
“You save hay man hiven when he was not your responsibility to save,” he said. “For this, hi say thank you.”
Ken noticed the claw marks on his face had started healing. He looked clean, wearing a grey polo, and bore not even the slightest resemblance to the man he had saved yesterday. Ken gave him a wan smile.
“Maybe you could tell me your name, sir?”
The soldier appeared embarrassed for moment. He left his food and joined them in the sitting space. “My name is Ajayi Oluwatoyin Rafayat.”
“Hi Ajayi,” Ken said in reply. “My name is Kennedy Nwosu and this is my best friend, Thomas Mustapha.”
Mr. Ajayi cocked his eyebrow at Tom in surprise. “You a Muslim?”
“No,” Tom said. “I’m Christian. I’m also Hausa, hence the name.”
Mary came into the house, carrying a steaming plate of beans and plantain. She handed it to him. Ken took the plate and set it on his laps. The hot plate burned through his clothes, so…
“Careful,” Mary said with a warm smile.
Ken placed the plate on the table, then turned to look up at the woman. “Ma, I cannot begin to thank you for the kindness you have shown us.”
“There’s no problem, my son,” she replied. She sat down beside him on the couch. “With what is happening in our country, we have to look out for one another if we are to survive.” Ken nodded in agreement and then looked out the window. He could see the clear sky and the treetops. Everything seemed so normal out there, but he knew it was anything but normal. A deadly virus was killing helpless Nigerians out there and turning animals into beastly creatures. Ken smiled sarcastically. That sounded like a tagline for one of those Stephen King’s horror novels. But this was no story; this wasn’t a figment of man’s imagination. People were really dying. Living, breathing people were actually dying.
“I have to go,” Ken said finally, though still staring out the windows. Ken tried to stand to his feet. “I have to go and save her.” He fell back to the couch. Mary helped cushion his impact.
“My son,” Mary said. “You are still too weak to move. The virus is still in your system. You won’t be much help to anybody like this.”
“She’s right, Ken,” Tom said. “We’ll just be getting ourselves in trouble, what with all these creatures roaming the streets.”
For once, Ken agreed with him. He relaxed back on the couch and started eating. Mary rose and went outside. When she returned, she was carrying a mug of water which she set on the table for him. Ken thanked her and concentrated on eating. Each bite he took revealed to him just how hungry he was.
“Perhaps,” Tom continued. “A lot of things have changed since we left Umuahia.”
Ken stopped eating and stared at Tom. The way he had spoken caused an uncontrollable feeling of dread to settle on him. He said nothing and continued eating, expecting that whatever had changed would be communicated to him in time.
“Heverything we’ve learned thus far,” Ajayi said, “we’ve learned from the radio. Has hit turns hout, Mary’s husband had hay very powerful Hay M radio that has han himpressively powerful receiver.” Mr. Ajayi stopped and struggled with the next words to say. He dropped his head and kept silent.
“It’s bad,” Tom said softly. “Major cities have been claimed by the virus: Lagos, PH, Abeokuta, Benin, Asaba, even the FCT is gone. The only safe haven is the northern part of the country. In fact, the radio station that reported this is situated in Kaduna. According to them, the estimated death toll…” His voice trailed off. Even he struggled with the words to say.
Ken swallowed hard, his appetite gone. “What’s the death toll, Tom?” Ken said quietly, the feeling of dread strengthening over him.
“Over a hundred million,” came the whispered reply.
The plate fell off his hand and splattered its content on the brown rug. Ken didn’t bother to respond to that. All he thought was that this couldn’t be true. It was an absurd figure. One hundred million? Who was that reporter? Where had she gotten her information from? Whoever they are, they should get their facts right and not spread false news around. Ken wondered why some people were just too foolish to reason. He had always thought Nigerian reporters were simpletons and this was justification for his thoughts.
Ken refused to accept that number as truth. He shook his head absentmindedly, thinking that the harder he shook his head, the easier it would be for him to expel the thought from his mind. But even as he did so, even as he tried to refuse the claim and blame it on media incompetence, his scientific mind had returned to him with a logical conclusion. He slowly realized that not only was this number a possibility, but giving everything he had seen and experienced, the number could be conservative. The death toll could exceed that number.
“Has the government said anything?”
Mary gave a short laugh.
“Government?” Ajayi gave him a bewildered look. “Har you still hexpecting hay presidential speech?” Ken shrugged. “My dear,” Ajayi said, “hif we’ve not heard hanything by now, we must hassume that the virus has claimed the government.”
“The last we heard of the government was a coup d’état,” said Tom. “Just when the virus broke out two days ago, the army mobilized and marched on Aso Rock. It was as if they had planned it before then.”
Ken frowned. “Was it successful?”
“Yes,” Tom said. “But the virus reached Abuja almost immediately after. They didn’t rule for too long.”
“What bothers me most,” Mary said, “is why there has been no response from other countries. Nigeria has experienced a massive breakdown in basic social amenities. Power is gone. Water is gone. Even the cellular network is gone. News stations are gone too. No Cool FM, Ray Power FM, or Wazobia FM—they’ve all gone off air. For all intents and purposes, Nigeria has ceased to exist.”
A chilly silence followed.
“Has for me, hi want to know how hit hall started. Where did the virus come from? Hit must have been himported hinto the country somehow.”
“I don’t know how it came,” Mary said. “But I think my husband was among the first to get the virus because he died two days ago and there was no reported case of the infection before then.” Mary choked on her words and began to sob.
Ken’s interest was piqued. A lot could be understood about an epidemic by locating patient zero; the first person to be infected. It seems that it would be Mary’s deceased husband.
When she regained her composure, she said, “we saw something fall out of the sky and crash not too far from here. I told him not to go look, but he wouldn’t listen. When he returned, he had a high fever and systemic necrosis. He died less than three hours later.” Mary broke out in tears and left for the back room.
“That makes sense now,” Ken said aloud. Then he looked from Tom to Ajayi and said, “what we are dealing with is a weaponized virus. I want to take a look at that crash site.”
Tom nodded, but he said, “yeah, about that. There’s a little problem.”
A little problem? Ken wondered how what he saw was a little problem.
“They’ve been there since morning,” Thomas Mustapha said beside him. “We don’t know why they’ve not attacked.”
Surrounding the house, beyond the fence, were black creatures—the ones they had escaped from yesterday evening. Some idled on their claws, while others patrolled. But all had bright yellow eyes that glowered with hatred. Even in the distance, Ken could hear the scary, deep, throaty growl.
“We’re trapped,” Ken announced. He couldn’t know how many there were because even beyond in the trees, he saw black figures and movements.
“They know they can’t get in,” Tom said. “They also know we can’t stay in for too long. We’re going to have to come out sometime.”
“They’ve developed intelligence,” Ken whispered, baffled by his words. “How is that even possible?” They had barely escaped with their lives yesterday, when the ferocious monsters were dumb as a nail. Now they were smart—smart enough to mentally deduce that they couldn’t stay indoors forever. “Was there anything on the news about the creatures?” Ken kept his eyes on one particularly big creature that paced—yes paced!—at the gate.
“No,” Ajayi said. “Not hiven hay reference. No one has seen them. Hor rather no one who has hever seen them has lived to tell the tale, hi suppose.”
Ken felt despair. If Emma had survived the virus, could she have survived these creatures? Now that they were intelligent? Ken had to swallow to work out the knot in his throat.
“Come, Ken,” Tom said, guiding him back to the door. “It might help for them to think we have left and leave as well, if they didn’t see us too often.” Ken let Tom lead him inside, wishing he didn’t feel so helpless.
Throughout the day, Ken suffered from anxiety, fear, and despair. He became despondent and withdrawn, even when they discussed their plans for tomorrow. He ate supper in silence. At the end of the day, he retired to his couch and tried to sleep. His thoughts weren’t so merciful, for they tortured him with pictures of Emma, clawed to death, until he was able to find relief in the hands of a short, uneasy sleep.