The night air was chilly and the moon’s light paled in comparison to the bright orange street lights that illuminated the neighborhood. With no sound of dogs barking, crickets singing, I could have sworn I walked into an episode of the Twilight Zone. Everyone was tucked away in their beds, save for an elderly man seated on the sidewalk, puffing away his cigarette, seemingly in deep thought. For his age, who wouldn’t be?
I went to him and asked why he was up so late at night, but he laughed at me and replied.
“Boy, it’s quite safe around here.”
“What makes you say that?”
“I’m sure of it.”
“How can you be?”
“When was the last time you ever heard of a mugging or even a death in these parts? Hmm?”
I thought about it for a while, then shrugged.
He stared at me for a while and asked me to have a seat right next to him. So, I did. He continued puffing large quantities of smoke that rose in the yellow glow of the street lights and disappeared into the dark sky, looking up as they did. Then, slowly, he turned to me and told me the truth:
“I’m sure you think of the police have been out on patrol one too many times. But, without any crime in this particular neighborhood, there’s no need for them to be here then, is there?”
“Even still, shouldn’t they just be sure?”
“They aren’t, kijana.”
“Well, it’s their job. I mean…”
“They aren’t allowed here!” he blurted out, his frustrated voice ringing in the still air.
“Why is that?”
“Boy, it’s quite safe around here,” he repeated, fidgeting uncomfortably.
“You said that already.”
“Then just take my word for it. It’s safe and all that matters.”
“They aren’t allowed here? Who’s keeping them from here?”
“I really shouldn’t…”
“So, there is something…”
“Just tell me! Who is keeping them from here?” I probed, to his bewilderment. He then blew a huge out, sighed and stated with finality:
“HE DOES!” he screamed at me. I jumped back a bit, not expecting such a fire from an ember like him. he looked disturbed and uneasy, so I placed my hand on his trembling shoulder and asked him gently.
“He? Who is ‘he’?”
“The boy? The…boy, who, um…I don’t really know him, I just…”
“Please, just tell me,” I spoke, nudging him just a bit more.
“All I know is his story.”
“Please tell me.”
He continued, “There is a story, albeit exaggerated, of a young boy who lived in this very neighborhood. He was a quiet one, a loner in many people’s eyes and a depressed one in many other’s views. He was also a devout Christian, always reciting memory verses and with his Bible everywhere he went. He didn’t bother anyone, so no one bothered him.
Back then, this place was a living hell. Theft and murder were rampant, corruption was being taught to children as early as age 3 as a means of survival, and it was so bad that there was a curfew of six p.m. You had to be brave to live in these sides…you really had to be. And that was what our young friend discovered first hand. He too was walking home at night, frantically because he had already missed the curfew. He tried, boy. He really tried to escape the unseen danger, tried to run from his hidden demise. He did, but it caught up to him in the form of armed gangsters. They robbed him of everything, and when he screamed, they slashed his throat, leaving him bleeding to death. Before they got far enough, they heard him whimper in pain, and one of them was sure he heard him say something religious, one of his verses I believe.”
“What…what does that have to do with the heightened security?” I asked, although I somehow knew the answer. He fixed his tired eyes onto mine and puffed again, coughing a bit while he did so, let out a cloud and continued.
“No one is certain that the young man died, as his body was never found. However, the blood from his throat can still be found at his doorstep, and from the forensic team’s analysis, he should be dead. Should be, but isn’t for a fact.
From that day, people never walked out at night. No one was there to be mugged, hence there was some drop in insecurity. The thugs got desperate to a point where they liaised with some corrupt officials to rob the residents in their very homes. It took time for them to do so, but when they started, they never stopped. At that point, people appealed to the mayor of the town to do something. But what? Send more police to rob them? Appoint a committee to do nothing? Neighborhood watch? What could be done? Nothing, or so we thought until the mayor gave his first public speech to try to address the issue. It wasn’t so helpful, as he said the usual ‘we will bring them to justice’, ‘no stone will be left unturned’ and blah blah blah; but at the end, he quoted Proverbs 1:18, “These men lie in wait for their own blood, they waylay only themselves! Such is the end of all who go after ill-gotten gain; it takes away the lives of those who get it.”
The last part got people laughing hysterically. The church was never taken seriously, as it was alleged that the majority of the thugs were from there. Plus, the people who went in there to pray never actually offered any helpful solutions, so they were never considered in giving opinions or helping us. But when push comes to shove, any option is a solution.”
“Okay. So, the people were left to defend themselves. Did they find the thugs and beat them up or something?”
“No. But they were found, at least what was left of them.”
“What do you mean?”
“They tried to rob a church, but they found someone there, waiting.”
“Wait! Are you talking about the Parish Massacre?” I asked excitedly, only too happy to contribute to his story.
“That’s the one.”
“It was closed many years ago. I didn’t figure that it was because of that. So, who did it?” the man puffed at his cigarette again, looked left and right as if someone was watching them, then whispered.
“It was him.”
“The boy who was killed?”
He nodded in approval.
“You see, a week after the speech, many believers congregated at the parish to pray, to encourage each other and to give each other hope. They did this all day until a minister told them to leave before six p.m., lest they fall victim to our friendly neighborhood fiends. They insisted on staying, but he insisted more on them leaving. So, they did, embittered by their prayer interruption, but at least they were out of the impending danger. See, someone spread the word that there would be a lot of people in the parish, so there would be many valuables to steal. Unfortunately, the thugs were in for a colossal disappointment when they realized that no one was there, except one. Some say it was the minister, seated on the third bench from the front, seemingly deep in prayer while crying. When one of them approached, they saw him choking himself….”
“Choking himself? Why would a minister want to off himself?” As soon as I asked that question, he stared, again, at me, expecting me to know what he was talking about.
“Have you not been listening to anything I say? He was holding his throat, boy!”
“How can you be so sure?”
“The same felon who saw him was the only survivor. On that night, people heard screams of agony and despair, cries of help, pleas of mercy. It was so loud and so nerve-racking that a good number of people slept with their hands over their eyes, and an even larger number chanting verses that they thought were appropriate for protection from the Almighty Himself…. It is said that the cries continued all night, but no one knows what happened in there…except him.
A few days later, the bodies were discovered, at least their remnants. Some looked like they were eaten, others had no heads. But on all their chests, there was a common carving, “The Wicked Among You!”
“It’s a Bible Verse. 1st Corinthians 5:13’, which says, “Expel the wicked man from among you.” I watched him shudder at this memory.
“Did you see it yourself?”
“Unfortunately. It wasn’t a pleasant sight at all, and it’s still fresh in my mind to this day.”
Like I said before, only one survivor remained, without a body part. When asked who or what did this, what they looked like and how they might find him, all he could say was ‘We deserved it. We cut him first.’
“Why did he say that?”
“It isn’t why he said it, it was how he said it. He repeated it over and over again, and after a while, it was discovered that that was what the minister was chanting, the same one who was holding his throat…”
“So, it was the minister? The boy whose throat was slashed?”
“How could it be? He was amongst the body count. Although, no one knows conclusively if he did it or was killed in the massacre.”
“And how does that tie to today? Shouldn’t that boy be dead then?’
“After that incident, there were reports of a man walking around late at night, sobbing softly and repeating a phrase to himself. These reports only stemmed from a few people who saw him before they reached their homes, and while in bed, heard screams so unbearable that they too covered their ears as they slept. As for the phrase, it was discovered that they were also verses of Scripture, with every person hearing a different one. These stories helped keep criminals at bay for fear of being killed, while they scared the police into believing that they weren’t needed here anymore.”
“Was he ever caught?”
“No. He never kept a timeline of when to show up, neither were there any records of him even living around here. All in all, his story keeps us safe to this very day.”
“One would think after all those years, the people would find another way to protect themselves, don’t you?”
“This system works. A bit of fear in the hearts of men has seen us safer than ever before.”
“Why rely on a single tale that children are told at bedtime?”
“It has to be. I’m burdened to warn anyone who might think of a life of crime to reconsider their ways, and I will continue to do so until I can speak no more.”
“Hmm…and if you don’t? What will happen then?”
“I fear he might just come back and claim the unfortunate soul who dips his toes in the pool of crime, or anyone even remotely associated with him.” The elder looked at me, his eyes a cesspool of pain and despair over the memory, wincing at having to tell it again.
“Son, like I said, his story is exaggerated over the years,” he said, coming back to Earth, “his life is an unknown cult within a few circles, and a tragic example of crime doesn’t pay. However, in all the versions you will hear, one truth remains constant. In all the versions, some details are removed, others are added on, but one thing is never changed…there are only three people who know the story, two of whom have seen him. They are the survivor of the Parish massacre, his late victims and the Executioner himself.”
“I see,” was all I could comment as I processed his story. He then stood up and leaned on his picket fence.
“You should head home now. You never know when he’ll be around.” I stood up as well, faced him and shook his bony hand.
“Okay. Some other time then, sir.”
“Take as much as you need. Really.”
“Thanks for your part in keeping the peace,” I said, waiting for him to walk to the front steps of his house. He waved at me as he waltzed in, the security light ushering him away from it, showing me his excessively bald head and a stub where his right ear used to be…
As soon as I got home, I noticed the tiles chipping at the porch, revealing the rough screed floor with a pale red barely visible. I made a note to call someone tomorrow as I tossed my bag to the couch and headed straight for the kitchen to get a glass of water. All that talking had made my throat sore, and I was to take care of it well since it hadn’t healed properly.
I stood in the middle of the room, looking at the open door, at the chipped tile. The memories of that horrifying night flooded my mind. All that blood, all that pain. Tears welled in my eyes. It wasn’t deserved, it wasn’t right what they did. But what was right was what came to them. All of them. They should have listened. I wish they would have. Maybe I would have spared them all…But at least the old man is keeping his end of the bargain, or else he’ll join the others…