They called her The Ember Killer.
Named after the notorious ‘ember months’, coined by superstitious Nigerians obsessed with the spate of fatal accidents and misfortune that seemed to thrive in the last four months of the year. Those were the months in which she began her murderous spree.
Mid-September had seen the discovery of what Amauche Benson claimed was the third victim, a French lecturer in the University of Lagos. The woman’s body had been found curled up under her office desk. A page from the bible was stuffed in her mouth and the number three etched deeply into her forehead with something sharp. A student had been reporting to the lecturer’s office for a third day of begging for an opportunity to resit one of the woman’s tests which she had missed. When there was no answer to her knock, she pushed the door open, to be greeted with the sight of the lecturer’s detached head, which rolled up against her Lady Gaga shoes. She only stopped screaming after she was sedated.
The murder had been widely speculated to be the work of ritual killers, although no one could explain why they left the valuable body parts behind or the number three on the severed head. The scrap of paper in the dead woman’s mouth was a page from the book of revelations, torn out from a small Gideon’s bible.
And I took the little book out of the angel’s hand and ate it, and it was sweet as honey in my mouth. But when I had eaten it, my stomach became bitter.
They found this same verse circled on the torn pages in the mouths of the next three people that were murdered in the month of October.
Oddly enough, the victims were all connected. The student who had discovered the lecturer’s body was found dead in her upper bunk, the number four scratched onto the brow of her severed head. Jostling for space in her mouth with the scrap of torn Bible paper was her iPhone, opened to her twitter page. Her boyfriend was found a week later, a bloody number five on his forehead, bible page in his mouth and his cold fists curled around a pack of Gold Circle condoms.
It took the death of the next victim – an obese Alhaja, owner of one of the largest poultries in Lagos, and popular for her fondness for loud and ostentatious gold jewellery – for the excruciatingly slow police force to realize these were no run-of-the-mill murders. The fifth victim had been the son of the Alhaja. When she was found decomposing in a load of sawdust behind a section of her poultry, as well as the number 6 etched above her staring eyes, twenty eggs were found on her stomach.
But motive was only known when the seventh body was discovered.
The aladura was found floating on a deserted part of the Lekki beach at dawn. The prophet’s white robes billowed, holding him up till the fishermen who discovered him dragged his body to the shore. His head had not been cut off completely and the police deduced the killer stopped sawing through his neck because the weapon snapped.
They only reached this brilliant deduction because Amauche Benson was found sleeping peacefully under a thatched hut not far from the shore, a bloody broken meat cleaver in her hand.
After she was rescued from a lynch mob and taken to the police station, she was asked to explain the motive behind the killings.
When she suddenly began singing, eyes opened wide, spit flying, a trigger-happy policeman screamed in fear and almost blew her head off.
“…7 swans are swimming, six geese are laying, five golden rings! Four calling birds, three French hens, two turtle doves and a partridge in a pear tree!”
Then the brilliant police found their motive. The twelve days of Christmas.
Each of the five victims represented a day in the poem and the Ember Killer had apparently tried to pick victims that mirrored the lines as closely as possible. The French lecturer was the French hen, the female student, addicted to twitter, represented the calling birds; the Gold Circle condoms in her boyfriend’s fist stood in for five golden rings; his mother was the allegorical golden goose; and the aladura was a floating swan on the beach water.
Why the bible page? The freaked out policemen asked.
“Just fucking with your heads, I guess.” Was her amused reply.
Not understanding a motive that did not involve greed or revenge, the police were only too glad to let Amauche be locked up at the infamous Yaba Left under the tightest security, pending her trial. They could not explain why a successful, beautiful journalist had suddenly snapped and become homicidal. The psychiatrists assigned to her speculated, ooohed and aahed over the atypical case. The concept of a serial killer was a novel one to Nigerians, and Amauche Benson quickly grew notorious. Her tragic personal history was combed through; a mother who killed herself, a father who abandoned his twin daughters at infancy out of superstitious fear and a fiance who died on the eve of her wedding. She was a classic case, ripe for a psychotic break.
The police patted themselves on the back for stopping her at the seventh victim.
Until Chisom Benson, the twin sister of the arrested killer, called her sister’s doctor with the bad news. The dead maid she found in her kitchen fit the pattern. There had been a number eight found etched on her forehead under the layer of powdered milk dusted over her.
Eight maids are milking.
The Ember Killer had struck again.
ABOUT THE WRITER:
Akpan-Nya, Alexandra Emem is a Nigerian writer and poet. Educated in the sciences, she has short stories and poems published in various blogs. She loves to scribble and play with original ideas and has a fascination for speculative fiction and children literature. Her interests include dabbling in flash fiction, travelling and sneakers. She dreams of writing norm-breaking bestsellers that will inspire deep thought and the occasional chuckle. You can see more of her work on her blog.