There is this building very close to our town’s football field. It wasn’t the only football field but it was the closest one to our house. It is said that the builder of this house is not known to our town’s people. No one lives there but every night, the house always has light with no NEPA wires attached to the house or even the sound of a generator.
This house doesn’t have an entrance way, no gate, just a round fence with no entrance to get in. There was an initial gate but had been sealed shut many years ago.
In 2012, a boy called Ebuka Nwokolo wanted to know who really lived in the house; he jumped the fence and entered the compound and never made it out. He was never seen again.
Every afternoon, one would see clothes hanging there. In the night the clothes disappear.
It was also believed that in 2005, a pregnant woman was seen standing at one of the windows in the house crying with her face and body full of blood. She was never seen again. Nobody knows how she vanished or left the house.
Just last year, some children playing ball mistakenly shot their ball into the house, the ball was shot back at them from the house, the boy that shot the ball to the house died mysteriously that same day.
Lot of stories circulated around this house but I never did believe any of them.
My little brother, Nduka and I went to play ball one late Friday evening against the instructions of our mother who went for an evening church meeting. We had not begun long when Nduka kicked the ball so hard, it flew over the fence and into the compound. I was tempted to leave it there but our mother would surely notice the missing ball and punish us for it so I decided to climb the guava tree next to the fence and jump in to get the ball.
When I got in, I looked at the old house, I’d passed it every day for the past six years since we moved here. It looked different from the inside the compound but it was just like all the other old white-painted buildings on the street. The front lawn weeds grew past my knees. If there ever was a path it was gone, buried. The brownish red door had that sun-bleached look and the window frames were more bare rotting wood than oxblood paint.
I heard Nduka’s voice call from outside asking if I had found the ball yet and I yelled back, “No.” I needed to go into the house to look for that ball.
I bit my lip.
A shiver ran through my body like an electric current. I waded into the late evening greenery, forcing my legs though it. Sucking in a breath as I knocked on the door, knowing there would be no answer. I twisted the door knob. On crossing the threshold the noise of the outside world disappeared. No birds calling. No winds swaying the trees. No human voices calling out to each other in a friendly chatter. Everything went silent.
The door slowly creaked close behind me without my knowing. The closing thud alerted me but somehow I didn’t try to open it to get out. An overwhelming sense of curiosity enveloped me. There was a long hallway and a single old light bulb lit the entire hallway. There were three doors on each side and they were all shut. The ball had to be in one of those rooms.
I tried the first door and it was locked. I tried the second and it was locked. The third one opened and like the hallway, was lit by another bulb. I saw our ball in a corner and I quickly grabbed it and hastened my footsteps to leave.
When I got to the main entrance, I heard a gentle voice call from behind me
I turn around to see no one. Strange. I had to be hearing things. I reached for the door knob when it spoke to me again.
“We can be such good friends.”
I got scared now.
I pulled at the door handle only to find it was stuck. A blue-white fog filled the room making my skin appear paper thin. My eyes fell to my feet that suddenly didn’t look like they were touching the ground anymore.
Was I floating?
The fog spread and fast, merging until it was solid white. Before I could move, my slippers were stuck fast and from behind came a cold wind. The light began to flicker, then the soft voice came again, but now right next to my ear.
“Don’t you want to play with me? We’re going to have the best time. Why don’t you take off your slippers and throw me the ball?”
I turned to face the hallway but it wasn’t a hallway anymore. It was an empty room. A strange light strobed and in the dark spells I caught glimpses of a figure that moved around me, rubbing little white painted hands together.
It chuckled like a little girl.
In moments the room was dark once more and the bulb flickered on again. I could feel the heat of it and there came a soft music, a nursery rhyme, but the words eluded me. I heard children’s voice playing local games and laughing with each other while the tune played. I saw nothing like children around me. I could literally see my own hands trembling around the ball that I pinned so close to my chest. The floor boards creaked behind me and when I turned. There sat a girl who should be around seven or eight in a rocking chair, dressed in a white pinafore with no shoes. She had her hair done like Simbi in the English textbook we read at school years ago.
She looked very human but her hands seemed painted by white chalks. Her brown skin was flawless. Her eyes big and charming. Her teeth complete and white. She was a beautiful little girl.
“Welcome to my home,” she smiled, “and to yours. I’m so glad you chose to come and live with me for your eternity.”
With my heart almost forgetting to beat, I let my eyes roam the room for escape options. The floors were solid oak plank beneath the dust, the walls were brick behind plaster, There was the front door, the window and whatever lay behind her in a kitchen that I didn’t see earlier. Before I’d made two steps away, my legs locked straight and I fell harder than a stone statue onto my face, tasting my blood that pooled on the floor.
“That wasn’t very nice of you. You hurt my feelings. Are you one of those mean boys?”
My nose had swollen to the size of a baby yam and my face almost disfigured from the fall. After a few moments I felt myself lift into the air and rotate until I was upside-down. Blood rushed to the already angry wounds and began to drip freely. The ghost was playing jump rope by the rocking chair and had been joined by a cat who’s purring filled the room.
“If I bring you down will you play nice?” I felt my head bend into a nod three times. I wanted to speak but my voice died in my mouth.
In an instant she disappeared and her voice reverberated the room as she sang. Then she asked, “Are you hungry? Ah! Where are my manners, You must be hungry!”
I suddenly heard a pestle pounding into a mortar. She appeared few yards in front of me as she pounded only what I could imagine.
“Come. There’s plenty to go around.”
I didn’t remember moving my feet but I found myself moving towards her and her mortar. I looked inside to find a human head being pounded beyond recognition.
“Looks appetizing, doesn’t it?”
I was so close to losing consciousness.
She cackled again and her voice reverberated around the room.
I sat on the floor opposite the ghost, who smiled at me and produced a deck of cards. I felt the boards beneath my shivering skin and practiced looking out of the corners of my eyes. Maybe I could make a plan without being detected. The glass louvres were single panes. It would hurt like hell to be cut but once outside I could run for home. Then without meaning to, my eyes went to the fragile pane. At once my neck and head became rigid, frozen.
“Tsk tsk, I did warn you. Now look what you’ve gone and made me do…” The window became a wall. I felt my head being turned to the door, the door became a wall. I twisted to face the stairs, they disappeared. The kitchen entrance became an iron door, heavy and black.
“Now, pay attention, best friend, we have a game to play. The stakes are high, they always are…”
The ghost shuffled the deck and dealt the cards. “This is my favourite part,” she said as if we were watching a movie together. I felt my arms become free and I raised a trembling hand to my face. It was a mess, hot tears sprang from my eyes washing some of the drying blood back into my mouth.
“Take a card.” Without any conscious thought from me, my hand obeyed, turning over the King of Hearts. The ghost opened her mouth but instead of the giggling coming from her it radiated from her walls. “The king dies,” she said coyly, “but don’t worry, I’ll bring you back for the next hand.” I opened my mouth and this time the scream came out loud and strong. My arms and legs became under my control and I ran about the room searching for an exit. There was a trap door I hadn’t seen before. The bolt slid back as if were only installed the day before and I ran downwards almost falling in my hurry.
The basement was pitch black; I was as blind as if my eyes had been gouged. My body washed cold. I brought my fingers to my eye sockets; they were still there. I turned back to the stairs and tried to run up, but my foot fell through each one like it was a mere projection. So how had I walked down them? I leaned forward to touch the stairs and felt a fabric fall down my arm, soft and velvety. Cold metal touched my forehead, one grope told me it was a pointed hat, like a fairy tale crown. I grabbed it and a mirror appeared in front of me, glowing like a television screen. It was me, broken face and all, dressed like some picture book king. I swallowed.
“The king must die.” Isn’t that what the ghost said?
Without sight of any knife in the mirror, the image began to bleed from the neck. I raised my hand to feel the sticky warm fluid about my throat. I screamed; the image laughed. In a blink I was in dirty shorts once more, facing the ghost.
“Choose a card.”
My mind was starting to fail, like an engine that turned over and over, never kicking into action. I couldn’t formulate a thought. Every action could lead to more pain and there was no way out of this house.
No way out.
I brought my hand to my throat, no blood. I glanced at the floor, no trap door. My eyes went to the walls, the windows and doors were back, the iron door gone. I breathed. There was a chance. This ghost had limits. Maybe the window was always there, even if she made it look like brick. Outside was night now, my mother would be frantic. They’d interrogate Nduka by now and he’d tell them where to find me. And the strong men of the town would come looking for me. All I had to do was stall.
I turned to the girl. “My mom wants me home now, can I come back to play with you tomorrow?”
The ghost smiled like an angel. “How long do you think you’ve been here?”
“Try seven years!” “The neighborhood was plastered with your pictures. Your mother fell sick and died three years after looking for you. Your kid brother is on drugs. Apparently you left quite a hole in their lives.”
Something inside me… died.
… then I woke up with a startling jolt from my bed, sweating profusely as I looked around in quick succession. I was alone in my room again and it was all a dream.
I felt my neck and there was no cut whatsoever
I slumped back into my bed in relief to even my erratic breaths.
Unknown to me, in the large mango tree, just beside my window, she sat on a branch, knitting a human doll as she cackled and sang sweetly.