The Scrotum Settlement
Population: Three Hundred Million
The first thing to hit him like a punch in the face even before he opens his eyes, is the stench. It smacks him like a well aimed punch in the face then chokes him as it works its way down to his lungs. Then he opens his eyes to find himself standing just inches away from the face of an elderly friendly looking woman.
“It starts with music,” she hums in his ear like they have been friends all along. “Sometimes soft music. A guitar and a piano and maybe on a good day, a saxophone. If you pay attention, you will hear the laughter as he tries to wiggle his way into her heart. Well, he probably has her heart by now.”
He looks around the dimly lit hallway. It is in a disparaging state with water at their feet, disgusting goo flowing down the walls and trickling from the roof.
He stays silent, tries to listen to the smaller sounds from the other side. A woman down the hall tries to read a book but the old man next to her release a loud fart, dozes off and drools on her shoulder. He seems to be aging by the second.
“The laughter is followed by the moaning. Hmm. Hmm.” She closes her eyes, and imitates the moaning.
“Do you ever shut up?” he asks, the first signs of impatience starting to show. “All you ever do is talk and talk and talk and…”
“It’s not like there is much else to do around here, is there?”
They are surrounded by millions upon millions of people, all lined up in the narrow space as far as the eye can see. They stretch down far beyond the horizon, get swallowed upon in the surrounding darkness, all in the narrow stretch that meanders beyond reasonable imagination.
The woman who was trying to read a book feels the old man beside her get heavier on her shoulder. “Hey,” she calls, lifting the shoulder up gently to knock him awake. “Hey, wake up.” She nudges him even harder and his head falls off her shoulder lifelessly.
A hairsplitting scream fills the air as she tries to wriggle her way out of the dead man’s space. He looks like he is sleeping but that is changing fast as the skin on his face wrinkles fast as if it is a piece of polyethylene bag, under intense heat.
“Help!” she screams. “Help!”
Her scream is followed by another further down and yet another. People are dropping dead in the squeezed hallways, all trapped, the living, the dead, the dying and the decomposing, all together with nowhere to go and nothing to do but wait.
“What’s your name anyway?” asks the woman who won’t stop talking.
“I don’t know.” The young man tired of listening to her, replies.
“You don’t know?”
“No.” he asserts. “I don’t know. I just woke up and found myself here. What’s your name?”
“Well, that’s an atrociously unimaginative name if you ask me.”
“Says the man with no name at all.”
“How long have you been here Nandi?”
“Too long. Most of us have.”
He looks around him again and this time spots the little boy squeezed up against the wall with two heads. One of the heads looks like it has been smashed in by a hammer and now blood and pus won’t stop flowing.
“What’s wrong with him?” he asks Nandi.
“Who? The poor kid with two heads?”
“If that one heap of mess can be called a head.”
“Well, not all of us are perfect.” She explains. “I guess that’s why there are too many of us.”
They are in a long, cylindrical and meandering hallway and as she speaks, a young girl, in her teens crawls up on the roof, heading for the opposite direction. Her legs and hands look alike such that she looks like she has four hands. Sort of like a baboon.
There are spikes all over her body and her teeth are somewhat vampiric.
“Most of these people here look hideous.” He exclaims, the crawling girls hears him and hisses, her vampire like teeth filling up most of her spiky face. A tongue shoots out from her mouth and lashes the air around her like a whip. It is a forked tongue, like a snake’s.
“We can’t all be charming darling, now can we?” she hisses and continues on her way, crawling on the roof, hanging upside down like a creature from a movie.
“What’s that smell Nandi?” he asks, squeezing the tips of his nose together. “Feels like something died in here.”
“Something died.” She points. “Look over there?”
There are bodies plastered against and strewn across the wall and it looks like they are slowly melting. Their eyes are popping in their sockets and trickling down their faces like tears mixed with blood and fatty tissue. Their skins are slowly growing translucent and sort of beginning to pour down their bodies, trickling like viscous liquid towards the people standing in the hallway, trying to back away to no avail.
They cannot escape the ooze flowing from their dead and decaying counterparts. Soon, it will reach their feet and start to soak them in their malignant decomposition.
“If we stay here too long,” Nandi laments, “We are all going to die. All three hundred million of us.”
The young man looks into her eyes, her elderly eyes now shining with worry and hints of wisdom. “Why are you called Nandi?” he wonders.
“When I opened my eyes and found myself in this hallway, I wouldn’t stop crying.” They are all on their feet, clamored together, shoulder against shoulder, back against stomach, groin against butt, all three hundred million of them.
“The person standing next to me,” she continues explaining, “was an old man who couldn’t speak. Someone had torn his voice box out of his throat. But he could hiss, or try to. So whenever I cried, he would hiss until I was quiet. Before I came along, the old man never made a sound but after I came along, he would hiss and cackle to make me laugh. When he died, everyone just called me Nandi because I was the sweet girl who got a sound out of the mute old man.”
“Well,” the young man chuckles. “That’s very touching.”
“Don’t be sarcastic about my name.”
“I’m sorry. I am so…” He stammers, “I um, I am so…sorry…”
“Sorry.” She repeats, looking at him curiously as if studying him. “Sorry.” If she could lift her hand, she would touch his face but the sheer number of bodies all around her keep her hands plastered by her sides. “Sorry.”
“Stop saying that.”
“Sorry.” He says.
“It’s curious how you keep saying you are sorry. You are new in this neighborhood. Explains the doubt in your voice. You know what word comes to my mind when I hear you stammering?”
“Yes. Shaka. That is your name. You are Shaka.”
“That’s a sorry name.” he complains. “I don’t think I like it.”
“It’s Swahili for doubt. Look around you kid.” She says and considering she is about twenty years older than he is, she has every right to call him kid. “Your sorry name is pretty much at the bottom of your list of concerns right about now.”
“Do you know where we are?”
“No.” she says. “But if I were you, I would be wondering less about where we are and more about why we are here.”
The two headed boy at the wall rolls his eyes back and dies. There is a skinless woman beside him who for lack of lips keeps drooling.
Just then, they hear muffled laughter through the surrounding walls. It is followed shortly thereafter by the sound of music. Soft music that does just a little to lighten the mood in the overcrowded hallway. “It’s beginning.” Nandi whispers. “Be ready.”
“Ready for what?” Shaka wonders.
“Movement. The last time we heard laughter and music, and that was so long ago, I was at the very back of the hallway. Suddenly, the walls moved so close to each other, forcing all of us to move forward. So many disappeared that day but then many others were born. I moved from the darkest corners at the very back and found myself here.”
He wonders why he found himself where he is and not at the back but then thinks that there are so many things in this world that cannot be explained. Like, why does a boy have two heads one of which is destroyed and why does a woman have no skin and why does a girl have spikes all over her body.
“Do you know which song they are playing?” He asks, moving his nostrils away from a mouth breather. The mouth breather has sores all over his lips and when he breathes so close to Shaka’s face, Shaka feels like dying. How can one mouth emit such a horrible smell?
“I know the words.” She replies, “But not the name of the song.”
“Please sing them.” He doesn’t understand why he so desperately needs for Nandi to sing. Maybe it is to get his mind away from stench. Maybe it is because the mouth breather is now making these guttural sounds as he breathes, almost like a generator has been stuffed in his lungs. Or maybe because he has now stopped breathing and is slowly dying on his feet.
“Please sing.” He beseeches again and Nandi sings.
Suka se ko tingama eh.
Ya ngai na mobali na ngai
Pantalon mokaba maman.
To balana. To sukisa bilobela ngo ya bato.
Likwela ya ngai na cherie
Suka lilita ma.”
Nandi’s voice is deep. The sonorous kind which makes Shaka think that if he just pays the right amount of attention, he’ll see waves falling out of her lips and rippling through the stuffy air.
Oh nga ndaya oh
Nayebi kombo ya mbanda te.
Oh ya nga ndayo oh
Libala yango ya bo banda te ah eh.
Oh nga ndaya oh
Nayebi kombo ya mbanda te.
Oh ya nga ndayo oh
Libala yango ya bo banda te ah eh.
“That’s beautiful.” He says once she stops singing. “That is the most beautiful thing I have ever heard.” He wants to move parts of him but he is too squeezed to move a muscle.
Laughter fights through the walls and into the hallways, so tightly packed they might as well be tunnels. The laughter turns to hushed talking and hearty chuckling. Then moaning.
The music persists but this time, they are listening to something even more mellowed out. The walls pull closer together and somebody releases a shriek of terror. The kind that people release when the plane they are in goes through an abrupt moment of turbulence.
“Whatever happens,” says Nandi, “Stay close.”
“Ok.” The walls move again, this time more violently and liquid starts forming at their feet. “What’s happening Nandi?”
“It, Shaka. It is happening.”
The moaning from outside the walls intensifies and the tunnels get shaky. People from all around start screaming, fear getting the better of them. The walls get closer, and it looks like they are getting tighter with each passing second.
The screaming intensifies, the walls creak including the roof and large waves of liquid start smashing into the people from the very back of the hallways, which seem like a million miles away.
“We’re going to die!” someone screams from all the way back, a cry that it taken up by millions upon millions of voices. Everyone is screaming and suddenly, this scream is repeated from outside the walls and all hell breaks loose. The scream from outside is more like a moan though; a guttural sound of pleasure, while those within these walls are of terror. Deep untold horror.
One second, they are all on their feet, the next they are being dragged kicking and screaming, forcefully down the tunnels. Their heads bang against the walls and the roof as they fly through the air. They try to find something to hold onto to avoid being sucked into whatever lies beyond these walls but the walls are too slippery.
“What is happening!” Shaka screams but can’t even hear his own voice above the screams of everyone else. Water rushes into his face forcing him to close his eyes and mouth to avoid drowning and vomiting. It feels like he is in a large river, being carried downriver with hundreds of millions of other people, all screaming and kicking around him. So much noise, so much water, so much chaos, so much… death.
Vagina: The Death Valley
Initial Population: Three Hundred Million
Suddenly, it is all so dry and he finds himself running across a large field full of rocks and grass.
At first, his act of running forward is difficult as it feels like he is being pulled backwards by a force he can’t exactly see. He has to go down on all fours to steady himself against jutting rocks so as to avoid being pulled backwards.
This turns out to be a great decision as he notices that those who are sent flying on their backs simply vanish somewhere down the line. They go screaming and kicking in the air, desperately trying to grasp on to something, anything including their own colleagues and they all collectively disappear without ever being seen again.
When it appears the topography supports comfortable race forward, he gets back on his feet and breaks into such a fast run that even he is surprised.
“Keep running!” Nandi screams beside him. He sees the spiky woman running on all fours, hopping majestically from rock to rock and as she is about to hurl herself up a tree trunk so as to propel herself forward, a huge rock fall from the sky and flattens her against the hard ground, making her explode into a bright red mess of nothing.
This rock is followed by others which seem to be crashing everybody as they run forward, hopefully to some place that is safer.
Those that are running more on the edges of the green and rocky fields suddenly stop and start choking. He sees an old man freeze in the air, grab his own throat utterly unable to breathe and then right in front of his eyes, Shaka sees the old man slowly but surely disintegrate.
The last sound the old man makes is a loud howl during which he spreads his arms beside him, looks up into the open sky and release a deep howl of pain right before his body breaks down into little pieces which get carried away by the wind.
All around Shaka is death. He sees millions do as the old man does right before becoming a part of the wind in the open field.
“Don’t stop!” Nandi screams, grabs his hand because he had stopped to watch, and pulls him with her. “Just keep running!”
“What’s happening to them?” he asks but trips and falls before Nandi can answer. There is a little boy crawling on all fours next to him. He is so little; cannot be more than three or four years old. Shaka and the little boy look into each other’s eyes for just a second. A second that feels like forever. He feels like he can see the boy’s soul through those big eyes and everything around them grows quiet. He makes as if to smile at the little boy but a large boulder flatten him against the ground
He shuts his eyes for a second once the red mash of squeezed flesh and blood splashes against his face and tries to scamper to his feet, a little on his own but mostly with help from Nandi who is screaming in his ear, “We’ve got to go! We’ve got to go!”
Rubbing his eyes with the back of his hands and staggering to his feet, he sees all around him large boulders falling from the open sky and crashing millions of people to death. His feet make squashy sound against the bodies on the ground and he can barely register Nandi’s hand holding his own as she fights her way forward for the both of them.
There is a rocky hill ahead of them that the first climbers are having trouble with. Some of them have made it halfway up only to lose footing or grasp on a rock and come hurtling down below to their deaths.
“I have never seen so much death my entire life.” Shaka says as yet another man comes screaming down towards the unforgiving jutting rocks at the bottom of the hill.
“We have to be careful.” Nandi cautions, wiping someone else’s blood off her face. “And we have to stick together no matter what.”
They step on bodies and slowly work their way up the hill. The lose rocks have been tried and uprooted by the now dead so the remaining ones are pretty strong. They use these to climb up and the more he climbs the more he feels his arms and thighs burning inside of him and his chest collapsing within itself.
Still he is ahead of Nandi who, because of her age, is even having a harder time. “Wait for me.” she calls out but Shaka keeps climbing. “Wait for me!”
He grabs a rock and steps further up. He can hear his heart drumming hard inside of him but all he wants is to find his way out of this valley of death where so many people have died. Nandi’s voice is a distant echo to his ears.
His movements reduce to an automated reaction to his environment. All his ears hear now is the sound of his beating heart and his own erratic in and out through the mouth. Somehow., he hears a crying baby falling from the top of the hill and gets out of the way. The baby screams its lungs out as it falls just inches away from his face, hits a jagged edge of a rock with its face and falls the rest of the way in silence.
He dares not look down.
Finally he gets to the top of the hill and comes across a green field, at the middle of which about a hundred thousand people are standing, all staring up at the clouds above. He knows that that is what he’s supposed to do too. Join the crowd and wait.
His chest is all congested because he has breathed in too much cold air and he can barely breathe now without producing a disturbingly loud wheeze. As he waits amidst the crowd of hundreds of thousands of people, he grabs his knees, trying to keep his head clear of all the screams he can still hear.
He feels something sticking against his face, grabs it and looks at it. It is somebody’s ear which must have flown away from the owner’s head and stuck on his own face. He hurls it at his feet and throws up, just as thousands of people around him are doing.
“It’s alright now,” a deep female voice says to him as a light hand rubs his back gently. “I’m here now.” Nandi, even though having been left behind, doesn’t look like she’s in as much a horrible state as Shaka is.
“You’re a sorry sight.” She says and chuckles at what she thinks is a joke. “You left me behind.”
“I know you are Shaka. That doesn’t explain why you left me behind.”
“Look, Nandi.” He says standing up. That edgy impatience is creeping back into his voice. “You have seen this place. You have seen what’s happening to us. I can’t afford whatever it is you have in mind right now, alright?”
“What do you think I have in mind?”
“I don’t know. Friendship? Companionship? Whatever it is, we are dying by the thousands and you are old and if I’m going to be completely honest with you, you are only going to slow me down so leave me alone. Please.”
“OK.” She nods, offering a smile that doesn’t reach the eyes. “You are right. You are young, you are fast and without me you’ll probably make it. I’m sorry I ever pushed myself into your life. That was selfish of me.” She nods relentlessly as she talks. She doesn’t mean any of the words she is saying, but she understands his position. He has seen so much death within such a short span of time.
And just then, massive ladders start falling from the sky. They resemble those rescue helicopter ladders that appear to be made of ropes or something.
“All the best Shaka.” Nandi says, keeping that mirthless smile pasted on her lips. He doesn’t say anything back but instead grabs the nearest ladder and starts climbing out of the Death Valley and into the next stage of this death race.
Cervix: The Deathly Labyrinth
Population: One Hundred Thousand
Dead so far: Two Hundred and Ninety Nine Million, Nine Hundred Thousand
Shaka elbows his way out of the top of the ladder and finds himself at the bottom of a huge building with a spiral staircase heading hundreds of stairs upwards.
“Think we can find an elevator to the top of the building?” he asks nobody in particular which is all well because nobody is listening to him anyway. They are all in a race of rage up the stairs towards the top.
He feels rejuvenated by this time and he is among the first people to start racing up the stairs. It is a very narrow stairway and considering that there are at least a hundred thousand people trying to climb at the same time, elbows find their ways into people’s mouth, some fall and are stampeded upon till death.
A large man right in front of Shaka misses a step, trips and before he can recover, he is pushed down by tens of hands, all in a desperate surge forward and he disappears under their feet. Soon, his screams of terror are replaced by the sound of his breaking bones and then silence.
Shaka sees people run into a smaller staircase and he is just about to follow them in there because it doesn’t have as many people, but a hand grabs his shoulder roughly and Nandi screams into his ear, “Don’t go that way!”
“Why not?” he asks. “And where did you come from?”
“Is it because I am a woman or is it because I am old that you think I can’t keep up with you?”
“A little bit of both.”
“Listen!” she says and points into the narrow tributary. “Listen carefully.”
He listens and at first he can’t hear a thing. “I don’t hear anyth…” he pauses as the first screams hit his ears. “What is that?”
“They are stuck.”
They are screaming “HELP! HELP!” and yet more people are running into that and other smaller tributaries because they appear to be less treacherous and don’t have as many climbers. Nandi asks him to slow down, to let other people run into the labyrinthine ways and if they start screaming because they are stuck in there, then she and Shaka can know which routes not to follow.
“The trick,” she explains, “Is to not run so fast as to lead the pack and find yourself lost and to not be so slow as to be left behind. Let others find the way through trial and error and follow the ones who don’t get lost. Got it?”
He wants to ask how she caught up with him but the smile on her face tells him not to. “Just keep going” it appears to be saying. “I’ve got your back.”
“Why are you helping me?” he asks instead. “What do you have to gain from helping me?”
“Sometimes people do good things, not because they want something in return, but because they are good people.”
Thousands of hands grapple on the banister rails as people push and shove, elbow and claw their way up the stairwell. A strong young man is squeezed so hard against the banister rail on the eighty second floor and next thing Shaka sees is the young man being thrown off the building. He hears him scream as he falls to his death, until the sound disappears into the darkness below.
People are panting, hearts are hammering against chests, thighs are burning to the point where they can no longer be felt and clothes are wet with sweat. There are screams emanating from inside the walls where hundreds of thousands of people are stuck and dying or dead of asphyxiation.
“Everything in this place is built to murder us.” Nandi says as she wheezes her way up the spiral stairwell. They are on the one hundred and sixteenth floor. “We are the enemy in a land where enemies aren’t only killed, they are brutally slaughtered.”
“Yeah!” breathes Shaka. “I have noticed.”
Above them appears to be a large metallic door that is situated at the very top of the building. There are openings in the walls at this stage. Openings so narrow that not even one head can fit. It is from these hundreds of openings that heads of people who took the wrong paths peep. Their mouths are open like that of a fish out of water, just trying to catch that one last breath before the cloud of lifelessness glazes over those eyes.
“Help.” A little girl whose head is sticking from the wall chokes weakly. “I can’t breathe. Help.”
Shaka stops running and trying to pull the girl from the wall. It’s only her head that’s sticking out from the narrow space. The rest of her body is hidden from view. Unbeknownst to Shaka, her body has been broken behind her by the thousands stuck in the wall with her and they are all dying slow, painful and horrible deaths. A force strikes her chest so hard that her last breath is through a heavy cough that fills her mouth with blood.
Her eyes roll back and she joins hundreds of millions who have died since entering this land a few hours ago.
It is with her death that Shaka feels strength oozing away from him. With her death comes all the screams renting the air from all around him. Screams of fear as people die, screams of anger and frustration as others try to work against all possibilities to get to the top of the stairwell, screams of horror as people are thrown down the building a hundred plus floors below…screams…screams…screams….
“I can’t take it anymore!” he cries, trying to block out the sound by placing his palms against his ears. “I can’t take it anymore!”
Everything appears to be going round and round in his head and Nandi firm grip on his arm doesn’t quite register in his mind. He can feel his body moving and a distant voice screaming, “Don’t give up on me now! We’re so close!”
Yet all that doesn’t quite register until he is hit by a wave of fresh air that washes into his lungs and fills his entire body with new energy.
Uterus – The Hunger Games
Population – Ten Thousand
When Shaka’s mind jumpstarts, he finds himself in the most beautiful field he has ever seen. All around him is a stretch of green. Soft grass lines up every inch with green trees lining up the horizon. A soft breeze washes across the field, blessing every face it touches with a generous supply of energy.
“We made it.” Shaka smiles as he lifts his nostrils in the air to take in as much of the breeze into his lungs as possible. “We are in heaven.”
Nandi rests at his feet, lying on her back, smiling at the skies and clouds above her. Caressing rays of the morning sunshine touch her with the fingers of a masseuse and the only thing she can think of is, “It looks like we have made it. But why doesn’t it feel that way?”
Sometimes it is said that the universe conspires to make everyone what they think. If one thinks they are losers, the universe conspires to make them losers. If one thinks danger looms in the corner, the universe places danger around the next bend.
The fear in Nandi’s heart materializes when the ground below her moves ever so slightly. So slightly in fact that she dismisses it as a figment of her own tired imagination.
People around her, now reduced to mere thousands, are stretching and children have even started chasing each other small animals and birds and grasshoppers and butterflies all around the green vastness of hope, beauty and lungfuls of fresh air.
If any of them feel the ground suddenly shake under them, they don’t act like it. Just like Nandi, they dismiss it as a figment of their imaginations. The perfection they have around them is too good to imagine they could lose it to more mayhem.
Shaka lies beside Nandi and together they face the blue endlessness of epic beauty above them.
Shaka: All this running and dying, do you have an idea what the point to all of it is?
Nandi: Not really kid. I only just got here. Same as you.
Him: But can you feel it? This feeling of incompleteness? Like whatever it is that we are supposed to be doing hasn’t been achieved yet?
Her: I bet we all can. But we have come too far, survived so much to even consider that there might be more horror ahead. We’re just tired.
Him: Can I ask you something?
Her: Haven’t you been doing that all along?
Him: (Chuckles) Fair enough. How come you seem to know all the tricks?
Her: How do you mean?
Him: Well, at the stairwell, you seemed to know which routes to take. Back where we began, you seemed to know what was coming and in the rocky field, you seemed to know something the rest of us didn’t.
Her: Intuition and observation. I happen to be older than most people here so I knew what to expect back in the beginning. The field where there were all those rocks falling from the sky, well we got lucky. The stairwell though, I had to look around and keep my senses alive or I would have entered the wrong path and died in there. God, what a horrible way to die. Sometimes just because you are leading in the race doesn’t mean you are winning. It just means that if there is a mistake to be made, you are probably the one who’ll lead the pack in making it. Most times you can’t learn from other people’s mistakes, but sometimes you can. You just have to lay back, be patient and wait before making your move.
As she rambles on and on however, Shaka feels as if the grass he is lying on is massaging his back and at one point, he dozes off in the middle of Nandi’s monologue. She only realizes he’s asleep when he snores a little.
Her: Tell me you’re not asleep. Please tell me you’re not asleep or I’m going to have to impale you!
Before he can even think of lying to her, the ground shifts so suddenly that the once flat field now lies on the side, sending everybody downhill. Some are rolling and breaking their necks and other body parts horribly and others manage to scamper to their feet and somehow break into a run, fall, somersault and try to get to the bottom without dying in the process.
“You said we had made it!” Shaka screams as he rolls and runs.
“Looks like I lied!” Nandi screams back, trying to reach out for his hand. He takes it and gives it as gentle a squeeze as he can under the circumstances.
“Just keep your head!”
At the bottom of this steep slope that wasn’t there a minute ago is a dense forest and they are running at neck breaking speed, right into the trees. Some of the people leading the pack run face first into the trees, some crashing into the thick stems and breaking noses, skulls and other bones there.
Then the biggest, fiercest looking wolves step out of the trees and start attacking them. A large grey wolf bites into the jugular of a teenage boy and damn near comes close to ripping his head clean off his shoulders.
It forcefully twists its head back and forth and when the boy finally collapses on the ground lifeless, the wolf is left with a big red stain all over its face. But the bright eyes shine through the blood.
The wolves attack right left and center and people keep running smack into them because the field is deliberately directing them right into the animals’ jaws. Hundreds of wolves waiting downhill for food to come running or rolling right into their mouths.
“What were you saying about keeping my head?” Nandi asks, her feet carrying her to what appears to be certain demise.
Another elderly lady, not certain she wants to make it to the bottom yet, trips herself, crashes and rolls on the grass. She tries to catch a handful of the grass, hopefully to break her fall but all she manages to do is uproot handfuls of it. Another roll, another handful until she finally settles at the bottom of the hill, right under the nose of a large female wolf.
Even though she is dizzy and in pain from all the rolling, she still feels the hurt when the wolf bites into her face and rips out quite a big mouthful flesh. Half the woman’s face is suddenly gone, leaving behind an empty eye socket and teeth and jaws exposed because a large chunk of her cheek and lips are gone. She screams, or rather a howl of horror escapes what’s left of her body as her feet kick out violently.
“I can’t see!” she wails. “Somebody help! I can’t see!”
The wolf, having tasted her flesh loses interest in her and surges forward to take a bite out of a fresh arrival, leaving the woman screaming in pain, hanging between life and death. As if on cue, no other wolf touches her and everybody else is too busy trying to stay alive to either help the screaming woman or just kill her.
“Whatever happens,” Shaka says, his voice bearing confidence for the first time since this whole ordeal commenced, “We keep running. We don’t look back, we don’t hesitate, we just keep running forward, no matter what.”
And so they run. They let their speeds run uncontrolled and when they get to the bottom of the hill, Shaka jumps over an attacking wolf and it follows him into the air, its jaws smashing shut just an inch away from his thigh.
Nandi sidesteps a wolf but has fallen behind Shaka who is more agile and faster. She wants to scream for him to wait, but just as her mouth opens, she thinks twice about it and decides to find a way to catch up instead.
There is growling and screaming all around.
They run. Shaka just a few feet ahead. He looks over his shoulder to see a bunch of wolves chasing him and Nandi running behind.
There is a tree with a thin stem in front of him. He heads for it at full speed and can literally hear the wolves’ footfalls behind him and their panting and howling and growling. He sticks his hand out and grabs at the stem just as he is making past the tree at full speed.
The stem breaks his run and he makes a sudden three-sixty degrees turn, leaving the wolves to surge straight ahead and before they can turn back around, he is heading back for Nandi.
“When I said keep running,” she rebukes when he gets to her and grabs her hand, “I meant forward not backwards you moron!”
“Shut up old lady!”
The wolves give chase.
Luckily for Shaka and Nandi, there are people running frantically and others who are not as fast and these play easier prey to the wolves. They run, trip, miss their steps, fall, roll, grunt, get up and keep running.
Whenever one falls, the other is right there to give a helping hand. They are at the front now and behind them is a trail of blood, feasting wolves and bodies. Grotesque bodies with broken bodies and missing organs.
An old man and woman, a couple from the looks of it, are being pursued by two large wolves and it doesn’t look like they will make it. Shaka breaks of a low branch from a tree and runs to their rescue, waving it around and screaming, scaring the wolves away.
“Thank you,” the grateful old man shaking with a trembling voice. “Thank you.”
“Keep running!” says Shaka. “They will be back in a larger pack.”
Nandi smiles, as she and Shaka lead the two old people out of the forest and into another flat field stretching out in front of them. It is at the middle of this field that they see three small cottages painted white. In the now glaring sun, the cottages reflect the bright light making them easily visible even to the near blind old couple.
About twenty people overall make it out of that forest alive but even those don’t make it into the cottages because the wolves are in hot pursuit.
“To the cottages!” screams Shaka running at full speed.
The wind beats against his ears as his feet propel him forward with Nandi running close beside him. The wolves behind them have arranged themselves in one long line stretching from right to left and as they chase the twenty runners, they appear to be forming a semi circle behind them.
When one of the runners trips and falls, two wolves converge upon him. He screams but not for long before his voice dies in his throat, choking on teeth and blood. The other wolves are unrelenting as they hunt the other runners.
They get closer and the couple Shaka rescued falls dangerously behind. “Keep running!” he screams at Nandi and immediately slows down, aiming to urge the old couple forward. The cottages are about a hundred meters ahead and it is then that the runners notice that the doors are closed.
That doesn’t hit them as a problem until they get there.
In the meantime, Shaka is screaming at the old couple to run faster and the old man is saying, “Take her! Take her!” he pushes his wife forward into Shaka’s waiting arms and screams “I love you. I’ll see you again soon,” and before anyone can do anything about it, he stops running, turns around and waits for the fast approaching wolves.
“No!” the old lady screams as Shaka hoists her over his shoulders and runs with her as fast as possible towards the cottages.
The wolves are just a few meters behind the runners now. Nandi has gotten within ten meters of the cottages and is waiting for Shaka, waving her hands frantically, “Hurry! Hurry!”
A young runner sweeps past her and when he gets to the door of the cottage, two strange things happen. (a) The door doesn’t open. Instead, it pulls him inside as if it has a magnetic pull on him. (b) Nandi notices that the wolves run past the old man who got left behind apparently to sacrifice himself and fetch sometime to allow his bride and Shaka to run away.
As Nandi waits, she notices those two things and then, she notices one last thing. Another old man makes it to the door but it doesn’t let him in. He pounds on it, screaming, frustrated, but it simply doesn’t yield to him.
A young lady tries to open it and it swallows her inside, leaving the old man stuck out there.
“Drop her!” Nandi screams at Shaka because if he continues carrying the old lady, he won’t make it. The wolves are right behind him now. “Drop her!”
“No!” he yells back.
“They are only eating young people! Her husband survived.”
Behind Shaka, the old man is screaming, “They didn’t see me! they didn’t see me!” Shaka looks over his shoulder and sees the excited old man jumping and waving. But before he can set the old woman down, he trips and they both fall.
The wolves, motivated, run even faster.
“Oh my God!” mumbles Nandi as she breaks into a run, heading for Shaka’s rescue.
“No!” he screams, “Get out of here!”
He is rolling and trying to get to his feet but a wolf has bitten into his pants and is now ripping them off. He kicks it away just as the other wolves begin to converge around him. Most of the other runners have disappeared through the door and only the old and the sickly who have somehow managed to get this far are stuck at the doors. The wounded too don’t appear to be making it past these doors.
Shaka scampers to his feet and the wolves dash after him, completely ignoring the old woman. Nandi waits for him, her hand stuck out as if she is in a relay run, anxiously waiting on Shaka to hand her the stick.
“Go! Go!” he says running within meters of her and together, they make the last ten meter long dash, with the wolves literally breathing and panting at their heels.
As Shaka confidently sprints towards the door of the cottage in the middle, Nandi is a little scared because the doors might not open for a middle aged woman. But still she runs, silently harboring her fear and carrying it with her.
He gets to the door a couple of seconds before her. There is a young lady at the door, crying and kicking and screaming at it to open, tears running down her face, but the door simply won’t let her in. reason being she is missing and arm and is bleeding out.
Shaka slows down for her and Nandi knows it is because he wants to help her, but the wolves are too close. She knows her can’t help the one armed girl and survive the wolves so she shoves him forward, sending him through the door which swallows him whole and covers him in darkness.
A wolf dives into the air, claws sticking out, fangs dripping with human blood and covered with flesh exposed and it is heading right for Nandi’s back. As she runs past the one armed girl, they make eye contact and she sees her fear.
A soft gasp escapes her lips because she knows. She can see it in the girl’s eyes. She is not ready to die. Not like this.
Nandi feels the pull as the force grabs her and carries her through the doors just a mere second before the wolf could get to her. It smashes against the door, gives a yelp, gets up and turns to the one armed girl. Its face contorts with a menacing gnarl as it slowly advances on her.
Now that the fastest and the most elusive people have vanished through the doors, the wolves turn on those they had ignored before, including the old couple which is hugging happily in the middle of the field, thinking that they survived.
Fallopian Tube – A Slice of Heaven
Dead so far: Everyone else
He is falling and falling through the air. He tries to grab on to something but all there is to hold is the empty space. So he falls, grunt and confused, surrounded by unending darkness.
He closes his eyes, wondering how far he has left to fall and whether he will feel any pain when his body finally meets the hard surface below him. Because in this land, he has learned that if you fall, something hard and fatal is bound to stop you, sooner than later.
But it is the sound of music that stops him.
He opens his eyes to find himself in a large hall lit with giant chandeliers. Music flows from speakers he cannot see and he feels fresh. Like he has just come from a long nap and a warm bath. He looks down to see that he is dressed in a tuxedo and shining black shoes.
He feels at home.
“This must be it.” He hears Nandi’s voice behind him. “This must be the heaven we’ve fought so hard for.”
A surge of excitement bursts his chest wide open as he turns around and collects her in a huge, firm hug. “You made it!” he exclaims. “You made it! Oh my God, it’s so good to see you.”
She is shrieking as he carries her round and round, utterly immersed in joy.
There are four other people around them and more food and drinks than they could ever finish. “Where is everyone else?” he asks.
Her voice is a little sad as she replies, “You know where everyone else is.”
“I couldn’t have made it this far without you.”
She smiles, because she knows that neither of them would have made it this far without each other. “There is that feeling of unfinished business in my chest still.” She says. “It doesn’t feel like we are there yet.”
“Well, this doesn’t look like a bad place to wait.”
They serve themselves heaps of food and drown in milk and fresh juice. They eat, they drink, they dance, they rest and most importantly since this ordeal commenced about fifteen hours ago, they look at each other and smile.
Him: Out of the millions that begun this thing, how come you and I are among the six to have come this far?
Her: We had each other Shaka. That’s how come.
Him: No. There has to have been something more. Other people probably bonded and helped each other out too, but we made it. You and me.
Her: We haven’t made it yet. All that death and war couldn’t have been just so six people can end up in a room full of food and drinks and music and pleasure. There has to be something else. Something, more.
Him: I don’t know how I made it. Or why Nandi. None of this makes any sense.
Her: We can’t think about that for now.
Him: There are more deserving people. All those children who died along the way. Surely they deserved this more than I do.
Her: It doesn’t matter now, does it? You are here and they are not.
Her: I don’t know. Maybe it is you who is meant to be here and not them. It is just how it is.
Him: It was predetermined that I’d be in this room at this very moment?
Her: I suppose so. Because everything you have done these last so many hours have contributed to ensuring that you end up here.
Him: So what was the point of everything else? Seeing all that death and chaos. Oh God, those people died so badly.
Her: So that you could be strong and wise enough to be here when the time came Shaka. You are here, damaged and scarred and that’s what makes you perfect to be here. Now stop making me overthink everything. You are going to give me a headache. You know what I wish for right now?
Him: I can’t imagine. Considering we are in a magical room full of everything good.
Her: I wish I could sing a song that would help me erase all worry from your mind and soul.
Nandi feels herself pulled to a dais at the front of the hall with the five people, Shaka included, watching her. There are instrumentals flowing into the hall from the invisible speakers and a microphone in her hands. So she sings.
Wadawida damroghua “Mwasinda”
Isi aha deko mana
ndedimanyagha inyo cha mzinyi
Deka kireti eeeeh
deka kireti ela msediliwe
Ilagho ibaha nechi ni pinana
ni kuandikiana barua
Aha charonyi ni wasi,
Viilambo vose ni igome
Kakunda mufu ni igome
Kakunda mnavu in igome
Machi ghenywa ni igome
Kila kilambo ni igome
Ni wasi! Ni wasi! Ni wasi!
Ni wasi! Ni wasi! Ni wasi!
As she sings, the group dances and claps accordingly, some try their own atrocious version of Salsa but mostly, they have an unbelievable amount of fun.
“So, why that song?” Shaka asks a few hours later as they devour their way through yet another plate of a sumptuous meal. “If my grasp of the Taita language is correct, that song is basically a major whine about how difficult life is.”
“I don’t know.” Nandi explains. “I guess for me it is more about how the song makes me feel rather than what the lyrics mean. And when I was playing that song, I felt transported to a place of purity. Where happiness and fulfillment are in abundance, where laughter came easy and people ate together as a family. Where the rains provided the land with fertility and not misery, where the trees provided people with warmth, nourishment and shelter and people fed the trees and planted more of them in return. Where people took care of the earth as much as the earth took care of them, where people spent more time with each other in the company of nature instead of appropriate nature to fuel little gadgets that dictated how their lives were run.
“As I sang that song, I felt alive. I felt like I was running barefoot on the grass with laughing children chasing me and not wolves. And as I sang, the breeze kissed my cheeks and my lips and old people smiled and waved at me. I suckled from the breast of life as I sang and nature came to life and gave me a hug. That song makes me think of purity in its most unadulterated form, even though it is a song about how hard life is. Maybe that is why you people danced so hard as I sang.”
When she is done, Shaka is staring blankly at the floor, tears converging in his eyes.
“Are you going to cry?” she asks and he chuckles.
“No,” he says, his mouth shaped at an awkward angle. “I’m just fighting the incessant urge to yawn with boredom.” And he loses that fight badly as his mouth pops open into a large pink cave harboring the world’s longest and loudest yawn.
“You are beyond help, you know that?”
“And you are like an old river. Pouring heaps upon heaps of wisdom covered with insufferable boredom into the oceans of youth.”
“And I suppose you are the “oceans of youth” in this scenario?”
“Do you doubt that?” He challenges.
“You my dear boy,” she teases, “Are confusing youthfulness with childishness.”
“Ouch.” He places his hand on his chest, dramatically feigning hurt. “You’re mean.”
“I try kiddo. I try.”
They must have fallen asleep because when they wake up, the hall is breaking into two and a large lake is forming under them. It is like this hall in on top of a lake and once the floor breaks, the lake is exposed.
“Do you smell that?” Nandi asks, her nose in the air.
He smells it all right. A beautiful and empowering scent that appears to emanate from the lake. He knows what he needs to do and from the look of things, so does everyone else.
“We need to go.” He says, an urgent note in his voice.
The four others in the hall quickly rush and dive into the water as Nandi holds the impatient Shaka’s hand. “Wait!”
“For what? Nandi! What the hell are we waiting for?” He knows that this is that last stretch to fulfillment. This is why they have gone through all the hustle since the journey began. He can feel it. If he doesn’t complete this last step in time, it’ll have all been for nothing.
“What if we hurry to get into the water and something horrible happens?” she asks.
“You are scared Nandi, and that’s OK.” He replies. “But we’ll never know if we don’t jump. It’s OK to be afraid. We have to go.”
“Are you ready?”
“No.” she sounds very determined to not get into the water at this moment. So determined that she backs away from the large crack in the floor.
“Goddamn it Nandi, we’re getting in the water, right now!”
He looks into the water and sees the other people already undressing, taking off all clothes, in a bid to shed of extra weight and race for what Shaka calls “the Orb.”
He turns to Nandi who looks stubbornly determined to stay. “Please let’s go. We’ll die if we’re left here alone Nandi.”
“Let’s wait, OK?”
“I don’t know! OK? I don’t know, but I’m asking you please,” she takes both his hands in hers and looks him right in the eye, her voice pleading, “Please just trust me.”
He looks into the water again and catches a pair of legs swimming away expertly, leaving them both behind. He sees clothes formerly worn by the survivors sinking deeper and deeper into the water and his legs give in under him.
Nandi places her hand on his shoulder as he sinks onto his knees, grave disillusionment resting inside his chest like a massive and immovable boulder. “We are going to die.” It is more of an admission of loss than a statement of a possible future.
“No Shaka. Just wait. Trust me on this, just like you did at the stairwell. Just trust me. That’s all I ask.”
“I am a fool. I’m a fool for trusting an idealistic old woman.”
“Well, this idealistic old woman has kept you alive this far.”
He chuckles and she chuckles back. He lies on his back facing the ceiling and she sits beside him, her bones cracking with effort. “Hard to believe but I think I have grown older in the last eight hours.” She says.
“I don’t find that very hard to believe,” he chides and punches him gently on his shoulder.
“Hey, do you want to hear a story?” she asks
“If you tell me about how you suckled from the breast of life and received a hug from nature, I will kill you myself.”
She laughs out loud, and the sound of her deep voice reverberates across the hall, echoing back to them. “Let’s just lie here and listen to the music, huh?”
“I think I like the sound of that.” He smiles and closes his eyes.
This time they are woken up by the even more intensified aroma from the water. “Wake up!” she hisses, prodding him. “It’s time!”
She is on her feet, kicking off her shoes.
“How do you know?” he asks, scampering to his feet and starting to unbutton his jacket.
“Just keep trusting me.”
He kicks off his shoes and she brings him close and hugs him tight. “What’s that for?”
“Nothing.” She says smiling, breaks the hug and pats him gently on the cheek. “You are a good kid. A little dumb for listening to an idealistic old lady, but a good kid nonetheless.”
“Alright.” He jokes. “Let’s get in there before you kill me with old lady talk.”
Hand in hand, they jump feet first into the water and the moment they sink in there, the space in the hall floor now above them slides shut and they just know; they know that they are never getting out of this lake.
The Egg – The Final Stretch That makes it all worth It
In the water, Nandi and Shaka quickly shedding off all the clothes they have on them to lighten their bodies and make an erratic dash across the lake, heading for a gleaming orb in the distance. Just like the clothes of those who swam in before them, Shaka sees his clothes and Nandi’s elegant dress slowly sink to the bottom of the lake.
The sweet aroma is more pronounced now and the water is warm and cuddling. They feel energized and this gets them to erratically swim forward, their legs kicking and propelling them forward towards the orb at magnificent speed.
The lake is shining with an attractive pink color, and the waters this deep are silent, only waving slightly as the two swim expertly towards the orb.
As they get closer, Shaka sees something ahead of him that makes him pause. He points it out to Nandi who slowly waves him forward, urging him to keep swimming. They see the first body of their colleagues who swam earlier slowly sinking towards the bottom of the lake.
This body is closely followed by another and then another. All silently sinking lifelessly, their eyes still open, their faces masked with confusion, horror and realization that they weren’t going to make it.
Shaka tenses, his face ashen with fear but Nandi smiles at him, takes his hand and gives it a squeeze. With her head, she nudges him to keep swimming and so he swims, and she swims beside him and they are like two dolphins, forging a way forward through the water, towards the sweet scented, most beautiful than life itself orb, gleaming ahead and beckoning them forth with what looks to Shaka to be a welcoming smile.
He kicks and swims, his body like an eel’s and he quickly gets to the orb and it is as he is about to touch it that he notices that Nandi is no longer beside him.
He looks back and sees her slowly sinking, a settled expression on her face. He makes as if to swim back for her back she waves at him not to, her head rocking furiously from side to side, sternly forbidding him from turning back.
As he watches her sink slowly, the darkness in the water towards the bottom starting to engulf her body, he realizes that it is only one person of the three million that was meant to be here in front of the orb, at this very second.
He waves a slight goodbye at her and she smiles her goodbyes back. The last thing he sees of her is her smile vanishing into the darkness of the water at the bottom of the lake and what he imagines is her hand, waving one last goodbye at him.
The last thing she sees is him, looking staring into the darkness towards her to see if he can catch another glimpse of her. She wishes she can swim up to him but she is too tired to move a muscle. That she could see him get to the end of this journey is satisfaction enough for her.
She can feel her life ebbing out of her, now that the cold in the water at the bottom is beginning to squeeze her out. Right before her eyes shut one last time, she sees a bright light emanating from the orb just when Shaka places his hand on it.
The bright light threatens to burn his eyes out of their sockets as the orb opens up and allows him in. He feels a force grip his head and this is followed by immense pressure; pressure so immense that his ears block and he can’t quite focus on anything but that.
Inside the egg
Shaka’s head explodes with the pressure and from there, the very purpose of the entire ordeal flows out. Twenty three little messages flow out of Shaka’s head and are pulled to twenty three little receptors from the orb.
With Shaka now obsolete, the messages link with the receptors, intertwine and fuse into one life that is the reason for so much death.
The Scrotum Settlement
Population: Three Hundred Million
Five Years Later
The first thing to hit her like a punch in the face even before she opens her eyes, is the stench. She cries and the mute old man next to her hisses gently for her to keep quiet.
She might never know it, but it has begun all over again.