“Not everyone knows my fiancée’s death wasn’t an accident. Even I didn’t know at first. Carbon monoxide poisoning is what they said. He left his generator set on all night, pulled a little too close to his bedroom window, they said. He died in his sleep, they said.” Amauche is looking down at her tied hands, but her gaze is unfocused, mind drifting somewhere in the past. “Victor was a deep sleeper; he never left his
gen on overnight, except for nights when I came over. He could trust me not to forget to switch it off.” Her gaze sharpens as her mind returns to the present. Her voice slips into a mournful whisper. “I couldn’t keep him safe.”
Dr Banji crosses his feet and clears his throat impatiently. “Is this what you discussed with your sister?”
Amusement slides across the face of the tied woman as she looks up at the man seated in front of her. Less than a minute after her sister had left, the doctor had returned to his office and begun to pepper her with questions. “Wow. Not feeling very empathetic this evening, are you, Doctor?”
He looks away. “I’m sorry about your dead fiancée, Miss Benson. But it’s important I know what you told Chisom or what she told you. The police called to inform me they are on their way here; two people are dead. The first is the maid of Chisom’s neighbour and the second is her friend. The murder was signature Ember Killer. And since you’re here, there are two other possibilities. Either we have a copycat killer or your sister…”
“I think you want details on the Ember Killer murders so you can write an academic paper on me.” Amauche interrupts, snipping the thread of the doctor’s concentration. He blinks slowly, and she smiles. “What a feather that would be in your cap, doc! The man to gain access to the mind of the first recorded Nigerian serial killer.”
The psychiatrist finds his voice, but it is coloured with dishonesty. “Of course not! All I’m concerned with is your well-being and the safety of…”
“If you’re so worried about my well-being, then please loosen these bandages.” Amauche says sharply. A frown gathers like a stormy cloud on the doctor’s brow and she softens her tone. “They really hurt, doc.”
He leans back in the seat, brow still furrowed in suspicion. Amauche pouts. “If I were not in so much pain, maybe I could tell you what you want to know about me before the police get here.”
The gleam in the doctor’s eye as he stands up is evidence of the lie in his last words. It is obvious he is already imagining what the front page of his academic treatise on the Ember Killer will look like.
Amanda hides a smile when he squats beside her, a small pair of scissors in his hand. “I’ve been thinking about it doctor, and I think you should write that book about the Ember Killer. People need to understand. They need to decide if it is psychosis or an evil spirit. I…I’m not quite sure myself.”
Doctor Banji’s hands shake eagerly as he leans close to her. “I’m just going to loosen the bonds a little…”
His words end in a pained gasp as Amauche leans forward abruptly and plows her forehead into the front of his face. There is a muted crunch as something breaks in his nose. Stunned by the pain, he rocks back on his heels, wordless, and she pushes forward again with more force. This time the sound is a mushy crackle as what is broken, shifts.
The doctor sprawls on the floor, blacked out by the worst pain he has ever felt in his life, blood bubbling over his lips as he tries to breathe through his shattered nose.
Amauche moves quickly, retrieving the scissors from his limp fingers and sawing through the bandages wrapped around her. Free, she hurries over to the window of the doctor’s office. It is the only window without bars in the entire hospital, a security oversight she noticed and stored away weeks ago. Before she climbs out, she hesitates, and then returns to the doctor.
He is still unconscious, breath rattling alarmingly in his twisted and rapidly swelling nose. She stares at him as he lies there, helpless, unable to stop her from doing whatever she wants.
“The Ember Killer finds number nine.” She mutters, her hands shaking as she moves around his body, doing what she returned to do.
When a nurse enters the doctor’s office twenty minutes later, she finds the window ajar and the doctor’s naked body on the floor, a pool of blood around his head. Words are scrawled in blood beside where he is lying. She kneels next to him, raising a loud alarm.
“She turned him on his side to stop him from choking on his own blood.” She tells the first two men that run into the office. They all exchange startled looks.
“I thought she was mad.” One of the men blurts.
“We don’t use that word here.” The nurse says impulsively as she peers beneath the eyelids of eth unconscious man.
“Why she naked am? And why she write the address of where she dey go for ground? No be kolo be that?” The other man mutters.
The howl of the wind coming in through the open window is the only reply they get.
The last three words written after the address scrawled beside the unconscious doctor tells them what to do next.
….TELL THE POLICE.
The taxi pulls away from the front of the front of the gated house where Chisom stands, hands crossed over her chest. She tugs her handbag over her shoulder and presses the doorbell at the side of the gate, heart racing. She knows the police have probably found her dead friend and will be waiting for her to return to her apartment. So she is left with only one option.
To return to the first real home she ever had.
Feet shuffle towards her and she smiles tremulously as she senses someone peering at her face through a crack in the gate before it swings open with a rusty groan. The man staring out at Chisom is in his fifties, slightly greyed but tall and still strong, just the way she remembers him.
“My God! Chisom! What are you doing here this late?” Ebuka Benson exclaims.
She hugs him wordlessly, breathing in his familiar scent. She has always loved the way her stepfather smells.
Ebuka Benson had always been a very outgoing man. His wife Eucharia was the less social half of the couple who had taken Chisom and Amauche into their home, content with her prayers and religion till it led to her death. Ebuka had played his part as dutiful husband and, later, father figure to both girls. After his wife’s death, he had channelled his energy into local politics and had just begun to make some headway into the corridors of power before Amauche was arrested and branded as the notorious Ember Killer. Vicious rumours began to fly and some people speculated that his stepdaughter had been conducting rituals to aid his political ambition.
Bitter and disillusioned, he retired from active politics and almost become a recluse, keeping to himself and rarely leaving his house. This was bad for three reasons.
If something happened to him, no one would know for a long time.
His stepdaughter, Chisom, knew this.
The Ember killer had decided he would look good with a number nine carved into his head.
When Amauche climbs over the fence of her childhood home and enters the house, her stepfather is already dead.
His body is in the living room, the jagged stump where his head used to be still pumping blood onto the cream-colored rug. The machete he always keeps under his bed is beside him, coated with gore. Amauche pauses to pick it up before she follows a trail of blood to his bedroom, her bare feet leaving its own dirty track behind her.
She meets Ebuka Benson’s head sitting in the middle of his matrimonial bed, eyes turned upward. Chisom is kneeling on the floor, feverishly leafing through the Gideon’s bible that has been lying dusty in her mother’s bedside drawer.
Amauche’s voice makes her sister jump up and turn around in surprise. “Nine lords are leaping. I knew you were coming for Uncle Ebuka, the politician.” She sits on the bed gingerly, careful not to let the head roll towards her. “The image of a Nigerian politician climbing and leaping over senate chamber gates is pretty much burned into the mind of the average citizen. Funny. Apt.”
Chisom drops the bible and buries her face in her bloody hands. “I… I don’t know why I do these things, Amauche. Until this evening, I didn’t even remember killing all those people….”
Amauche stands up and walks over to her sister, pulling her into a tight one-armed embrace. “Shush, dear. I know, I know.” The blood of their stepfather soaks onto her white nightgown as Chisom clutches at her desperately.
“You’re right, Amauche. There’s something or someone inside me. It wants to hurt, to kill…”
“Just like you killed Victor last December, right?”
Chisom tries to pull back, but her sister holds her tight.
“He was the first. Not a very good representation of a partridge in a pear tree, but I guess the avocado tree by his bedroom window gave you that idea, right? It was easy to leave him asleep with his generator pulled close to his window, fumes directed in the right direction to fill his bedroom.”
Chisom moves her head from side to side in denial, but the yes that slips out from between her lips seems to startle her.
“And Aunty Eucharia was to be the second. Two turtle doves. She and her love for the harmattan season, because she could wear those itchy turtle neck sweaters we disliked so much.” Amauche continued, leaning back and smoothing her sister’s hair down with a smile. “But cancer got her first. So you waited for another Christmas to roll near and moved on to my favourite French lecturer from school.”
The faces of the two girls are close together, mirror images of madness. Amauche leans forward and plants a kiss on Chisom’s cheek.
“I didn’t kill Victor.” Chisom says in a whisper.
Amauche steps away from her sister. Her smile is like a wound in her face. “I know. I was there that night.”
She plants her feet firmly and swings her stepfather’s machete around with all the strength in her arms. The sharp blade embeds itself in the side of her sister’s neck with a thunk and moves on smoothly, stopping just before it passes through Chisom’s throat.
“We killed him.” the thing that lives in both their heads says from Amauche’s mouth when Chisom hits the ground with a dull thud. She giggles and steps away from her sister’s jerking body as police sirens fill the night outside the house where the Ember Killer has taken her last victim.
Amauche finds a small safety pinon the bed’s headboard and settles down to carve the number twelve on Chisom’s almost severed head. For after all, if the thing living in her head cannot find an actual drum or drummer, it would use the next best thing. The empty barrel it used to live in.
Twelve Drummers Drumming.
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.