African StoriesEditor's ChoiceLife and General FictionNaija StoriesSuspense and Horror

The Unknown Number

The voice of a woman shouting at her maid droned from the speaker. Across the large TV screen, on the couch sat a woman, legs elegantly crossed as her fingers tapped against a sleek white phone. A phone rang. Without taking her attention from the phone, she said, “Honey, you have a call.”

“Who is that?” a man’s voice came from the opposite room.

With an irritated sigh, she picked up the phone from the table. “It’s an unknown number.”

“Pick it for me.”

She picked the phone and put it to her ears, “Hello, who is this?”

“Mummy, good evening ma,” a young voice resounded from the phone.

“Excuse me.” She frowned, “This is a wrong number.” She was about to cut the call, but the voice chirped in, “Mummy, it’s me, Linda. Have you forgotten?”

“Holy Ghost fire.” The woman threw the phone away as though it were hot stone. “Blood of Jesus, Blood of Jesus,” she began muttering, kneeling down and making the sign of the cross.

Her husband rushed into the parlour, following her cry of ‘Holy Ghost fire’.

“Honey, what is it?” He looked at her on her knees, hearing the words from her mouth, he was curious about what could make his spiritually lukewarm wife to go on her knees and start calling on the name of Jesus.

“Ghost,” was the only reply he got from her. She looked at the phone laying on the floor with fear-filled eyes.

Giving her a skeptical look, he picked up the phone. The call was still in progress, placing it to his ears, he said cautiously, “Hello.”

“Daddy,” an excited female voice bursted through his ears. His blood ran cold. “Who is this?” His voice took on a threatening tone.

“It’s me, Linda.” The same reply.

He stilled, resisting the urge to fling the phone and destroy it. “Sorry, this is a wrong number. We don’t know anyone by the name Linda.” He pulled the phone from his ears and tried to cut the call. But no matter how hard he clicked on the red circle, the call wouldn’t cut. He tried to switch off his phone but the phone wasn’t following his commands. He threw the phone hard on the ground, using his feet to crush it as hard as he could. The screen of the phone cracked,
The sound from the television speaker was replaced by the female voice. “Daddy, Mummy, why have you forgotten me? I have been waiting for you both to join me.” The voice was tearful and pitiful. The couple were filled with shock. This wasn’t possible, what was happening? The woman placed her hands on her ears still calling on the name of Jesus.

Unable to take it, the man switched off the light meter. Following darkness, a deafening silence descended in the house. The woman continued her praying, her voice raw and helpless.

The man switched on a rechargeable lantern, and placed it on the table. The woman soon concluded her praying and stood up. They sat down on the couch.

“Was that a dream?” the woman asked her heart still thumping.

“No,” he picked up his phone, the device was beyond repair. It was the only evidence of what had happened a few minutes ago.

“But the girl… is she really Linda? We—”

The man shook his head, “I don’t know. But I’m sure that it cannot be her. We buried her ten years ago. She was in the mortuary for three days before we placed her in a coffin, so there is no way she can be alive.”

“The voice is so similar to hers. What if—”

He cut in. “Stop thinking, it must be someone that wants to joke with us. Let’s go to sleep. Tomorrow, I have to get a new phone.”

He took the lamp and walked away. The woman stood up and scrambled after him, clutching the tail of his shirt.

=====================

Elizabeth tightened the blanket around herself. Her husband’s snores should have lulled her to sleep, but the call they had received kept on running through her mind. The voice of the young girl, whose voice was similar to Linda reminded her of the little girl, with her hair tied in two bunches, decorated by plastic, colourful flowers. The innocence with which she asked questions.

“Mummy, why do I have to go to school?”

“Daddy, what happens if I don’t eat for one week?”

“Mummy, why can’t human beings fly?”

“Mummy, why are we different from the people on the TV?”

Over the years, she had learnt to block out the memories of those times, but the call had brought them all out. She recalled how everything had happened. The three-day crusade that they had gone to in Delta state. Three days spent casting and binding spirits, breaking spiritual chains and defeating spiritual enemies. After the revival, they had booked a private consultation with the powerful pastor. It had been expensive, but with the long list of people who waited for the one-on-one session, it had seemed worthwhile.

When it had gotten to their turn, the family of three entered the office. The large office with exquisite decoration smelled of flowers. As soon as they sat down opposite the pastor, his eyes had stopped on little Linda, four years old at that time, she was playing with her fathers key holder, unconscious of the pastors eyes on her.

“Demon,” he had muttered, drawing the attention of her parents.

“Pastor.” Her father’s hands had tightened round her small body, pulling her closer into the safety of his hands.

“She is a demon. Sent to kill the both of you,” his voice echoed in the office filling the two parents with dread.

“It’s not possible, she is my daughter. How can she be a demon?” Elizabeth argued.

The pastor shook his head, as though sad at their ignorance. “She is the reincarnation of one your ancestral gods. She came back to punish you all for abandoning the family idols.”

“Ridiculous,” her husband had rebutted.

“How can there be such a thing like that?”

The pastor scoffed, then began asking them questions, “Does she cry during prayer activities?”

Elizabeth frowned. “A lot of children cry during prayer activities.”

“Well, it is different. Some children cry because of discomfort or hunger, but she cries because she is not comfortable with the prayers, because they disturb her. That is the difference between her cries and that of other children,” the pastor explained.

Her husband didn’t find the explanation acceptable. “Just based on a feeling that her cries are not usual, why should we believe you?”

The pastor was quiet for a while, then he pulled out a chocolate candy from his drawer. He walked over to where the couple sat, and stooped to meet Linda’s eyes. “Pretty girl.” He smiled, then waved the candy in front of her.

Little Linda frowned at the object, then used her hand to push it away. It fell from the pastors hand.

The pastor straightened. “I prayed over this candy and anointed it with the Blood of Jesus. Why wouldn’t she eat it?”

Elizabeth picked up the candy from the floor and opened it, trying to feed it to her daughter, but the child kept on waving it away.

“All children love candies. She was licking a sweet when you came in, so why wouldn’t she eat this one?” The pastor raised his brows questioningly.

“Maybe she is not hungry,” her husband said. His words were more to convince himself. He knew his daughter’s love for sweets and chocolates. Nothing could make her deny an offer of one, even from strangers, she would snatch it without thinking.

The pastor revealed his teeth in a grin. “Are you sure of that?”

“Well,” the man said hesitantly, “what are we supposed to do? We can organize a midnight prayer to cancel the plans of the evil one.”

“Yes, let us free our daughter from the hands of the devil,” Elizabeth put in with emphasis on the devil.

The pastor shook his head. “She is the evil one. Her soul has been taken away, what remains in her body is the evil spirit.”
The couple looked at the child with suspicious eyes.

“Linda,” the man called and when she looked at him with trusting eyes, the doubts placed in his heart by the pastor was dispelled. This is my daughter, he said to himself.

“You agent of the devil,” the pastor shouted suddenly startling the couple. His fierce eyes landed on the little girl. She began crying. “Wherever you come from, you must leave this body. Back to the pit of hell, where you belong.” The pastor began speaking in tongues and quoting the Bible. The couple joined him in prayers, the young girl kept on crying.

The prayer continued for three days. During the prayer sessions, the girl kept on crying, the pastor kept on binding. After the third day, the pastor gave them the sad news.

“No matter how we pray, there is nothing that can be done about the situation. The evil spirit is extremely powerful, and she has already occupied the body, and if we want to cast her out without harming your daughter’s life, it would be very difficult.”

“So, what is our next option?” The couple looked at him.

The pastor rubbed his jaw in thought. “I have no power over this. You can go home. I will contact you after I complete my twenty-four days of prayer and fasting.”

However, few days after they returned from the six-day prayers, they found their daughter playing with a knife in the bedroom. And when her husband had tried to get it from her, she had held it back in protest and a small struggle had ensued. Her husband had retained a deep cut from the struggle. Of course, they saw it as a sign that the ‘evil spirit’ was about to carry out her mission to kill them.

The next day, their relatives got the call that young Linda had died. When asked the reasons behind the sudden death, it had been ‘After a short illness.’ But Elizabeth knew, Linda didn’t die because of a sudden illness. She had been killed when her parents, who were supposed to love her dunked her in a basin of ‘holy water’. Or rather, water mixed with salt. The poor girl had kept on screaming and struggling, while her parents had held her still, casting out spirits.

It has over fifteen years since they had buried their four-year-old daughter. They had not given birth to another child after her death. It seemed like it was a punishment from God and they had resigned themselves to the fate of being childless. And now, with this call, a lot of feelings that had been buried were dug up.

Elizabeth stood up from the bed and watched her husband. How could he sleep after what happened? she thought. With a sigh, she went to the bathroom. She screamed as soon as she opened the door. Her husband woke up with a start and rushed to where she stood. He stopped with shock when he saw the sight that had pushed his wife to such a reaction.

Their supposedly dead daughter was sitting down in the bathroom floor, playing with a doll, a doll that they had burnt soon after her death.

“Mummy.” She raised her hands with a wide smile.

“Holy Ghost fire, back to sender,” Elizabeth started muttering.

Her husband stared at the girl with wide eyes. “Linda,” he called out with a tentative voice.

The girl looked up at him and began crying, “Daddy, don’t kill me. I will not do it again.”

He was sure, this was their daughter, but wasn’t she supposed to be dead? was this their punishment? He knew without doubt that their time was up. It was just starting, he didn’t know how long it would take, but he knew that they will know no peace for the days to come.

“We have to do something about this,” he told his wife who was hugging the Bible to her chest.

“Let us call that pastor. He will know what to about it,” she said, but she was afraid of making the call, unsure of whose voice would be at the other end of the phone.

He sighed. “We left that church after her death, do you think he would listen to us?”

“But we have to try. We can’t keep on living like this.”

As early as 6am in the morning, they set out for the pastor’s home. However, on getting there, they met the family in mourning clothes. The pastor had died overnight, no reason at all. The couple felt weak with helplessness. They got into the car, and decided to go to another church and seek help. However, things didn’t go the way they wanted. Every church they went to, refused to listen to them. They were either too busy, or the pastors were not in office. Even the Catholic Church was having a programme and they were not able to get to have a private consultation. It was late when they finally decided to head home. The road was unusually empty and quiet, theirs being the only car on the road. Elizabeth weary from the day’s stress dozed off, the voice of Sinach bursted through the car speakers.

“Mummy,” a voice slipped through her mind, pulling her from consciousnesses.

“Jesus.” She woke up with a start.

“It is here again,” her husband said, eyes flicking to the mirror.

Without looking, Elizabeth knew that the young girl would be seated on the backseat of the car playing with her doll. This time, she didn’t pray, she knew prayer wouldn’t help her. She reached over to the drivers seat and pushed her husband’s hands away. The car lost control and collided with a trailer which seemed to have appeared from nowhere. The car rolled over, glasses broke, the screams of ‘Jesus, forgive me’ could be heard as the car continued its impacts. It struck hard against a tree, the engine stopped running with a grunt.

In the car, Elizabeth could feel her soul slowly leave her body. Beside her was a young girl, the girl stroke her cheek carefully, a soulful look in her eyes.

“Mummy, why didn’t you kill my soul too? If you did, i wouldn’t have come back again. My body died, but my soul was always around. The pastor was right mummy. But you shouldn’t have killed me. Did you know, if you hadn’t killed me, I would have had a younger brother and a younger sister. They would grow up to be successful people, and we wouldn’t have died.” The girl sniffed, “the pastor saw what would happened if you had killed me, he didn’t see what would have happened if I had lived.”

Elizabeth could only stare in regret and sadness. They had destroyed their family by themselves, they had killed themselves. As she slipped away, she held her daughters hand, her husband pulled them into a hug and they slowly left the world.

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