Tiko cried for help. No one heard him. He had been hanging upside down for some hours now. A hunter’s trap had caught him as he was running away from a strange creature that he had not seen but heard its thumping. His head would occasionally feel heavy and he would lift his upper body up using his tied legs as support. He would feel week again and let loose and his head would feel heavy again. The cycle would continue. A rustling sound made it to his ears. Small steps in a moderate speed. It was not an animal this time. He heard the constant sobs that grew louder as rustling sound approached. He started screaming help. Out of the bush a small girl carrying firewood came out. She must have been lost. She seemed to know her way but was really scared. Crying. In the dark. Alone.
Tiko whispered in an attempt not to scare her even more.
She continued walking. Unbothered by his whispers. His frustrations now grew and he started screaming at her again for help. She continued walking and disappeared into the other side of the bushes and her sobs faded away. Tiko would later understand why.
The laughter bounced from one tree to another in a fading manner. They were nearing their destination. The thumping started fading in the opposite direction back into the forest. Survival was no longer the ultimate goal now. Whatever was following them had heard the laughter and gone back. Scared. He needed clothes or anything to cover himself. He was hungry. Thirsty. Weak. She slowed down and now began walking. The darkness allowed him some sense of security that maybe his nudity was invisible. It did not matter, he needed clothes. She seemed unbothered by him. She was used to it.
“It has gone back”
“Follow me. He is here.”
She did not answer any of his questions but continued walking. This was a strange scary place and survival was the priority at the moment and when he felt safe he would ask for answers. They continued walking but the questions were itchy.
“What is this place?”
“The spirit world. The living are the dead”
He absorbed that quite well for someone who had just been told they are dead. No one gets to hear that. What was this madness? Why was he having such a bad taste in nightmares? Why didn’t he have a memory of this world before? Sprit world?
“Death!” She said as if reading his thoughts.
“I am dead?”
“Humans on earth refer to it as death. We transition to more hardships. More sacrifice. Closer to the god but not as angels.”
Nothing was making sense before and this was not any better.
She continued, “Once humans on earth sacrifice us and do a ritual to send us back to the soil, we transition. We move closer to the god. Humans hope that we look after them while we are “dead” and by doing so they subject us to slavery by the god. The concept of birth is surreal. The god is obsessed with pleasing humans because they worship him even for deeds that are supposed to be their own hard work. He enslaves us and takes everything that we value…”
This information was not what he heard expected to hear. A god? Wasn’t death supposed to be a transition to rest? Was all he learnt a hoax. He could not process.
She went on further to explain to him that the birth process is just the god taking babies from the various villages in this world and sending back to his beloved humans who adored him and served him. Egocentric.
“There”, she pointed to what looked like a torch from a distance. It was a fire. It lit the edge of what seemed like a clearing. Huts were visible but disappeared as the strength of the light reduced. Human settlement. He breathed a sigh of relief. Clothes, water and if lucky enough he would get some food. The place was quiet except for hooting owl and the drunk crickets. All the doors were closed and no sign of life. The more they neared the more he felt despair. He was never getting any clothes. No food. Water? A sudden surge of happiness ran through him when he saw some rags hanging to dry. Those could do for now.
The time of birth. The time for sacrifice. Take away what doesn’t worship you and take it to those who will teach it how to worship you. Perfection. The creature with two bent horns started to walking towards the huts. It reached the first hut and sniffed, growled and walked to the next in a sequential manner until it reached the seventh hut. It sniffed, growled but this time stepped back and knocked. A plump figure opened the door and it cried,
“Why do you do this to us”
It was a woman. The creature did not react but instead extended its hand out as if expecting to receive something. The woman went back in , sobbing uncontrollably and came out with something wrapped in a white clothing. She handed it to her and a loud cry cut through the air. A baby. It would cry until it reached its new home.
He was on his new fashion. Some rags that were so dump and torn. Choice was not a luxury here. They finally reached the place with the fire. It was a shrine. Stones arranged to form a pattern of two bent horns. At the center was a boiling pot sitting on the fire.
“We tried building places of worship so he could be lenient on us but we failed. They have better places of worship”
He now understood that she spoke of the humans. Everything was starting to make some sense now and he was aware of the suffering. He still had questions. A lot of questions.
In a smooth transition two spirits jumped out of the pot and twirled around for two seconds and went back in.
“They have been waiting for you.”
“Every four years on the 29th of the second month, a baby is sacrificed. He is different from the rest. You will have to go in as they are impatient. I will explain the other details later. Go bow and drink”
He was confused but in denial. If it meant survival then he would do it. He started walking towards the pot. To an unknown. To dancing spirits. Inside a shrine of an egocentric god. He was scared. He did not show it. When he reached the center, she signaled him to bow. A split second was enough for the pot to shatter into pieces, fear rendering his body cold due to the sudden shock, everything going silent again and his body going warm again. He was rigid. He did not move for a moment before his senses bounced back. He looked back at her wanting to know what had happened. She was already gesturing him to drink. He looked back at where the pot was and a broken piece remained. It remained while the other pieces scattered. He took the water and drunk. Shaken. No longer thirsty but he felt the need to drink the water. He was willing.
“You are the second one!”, she shouted as he walked back.
“What just happened and can you explain to me if I just gave up my soul?”
“You are the second one. We have to find the other two?”
“The child has been birthed and four of us are going back to earth. Let’s find a place to sleep and look for the other two tomorrow.”
He was again convinced that nothing made sense. In the last couple of hours he had experienced events that had little or no explanation. Yes, sleep would be good enough to forget everything. He felt a need to ask her questions. Stay up all night understanding but he felt weak. He was hungry. He wanted to forget that a place like this existed and he was in it. Sleep would do him some good for a few hours. They slept hoping tomorrow would bring them some good.