It’s 04:24am and I am struggling to make sure this story rocks for you guys.
I do not believe in Halloween. That is because on Phantom Pages, EVERYDAY IS FRIGGING HALLOWEEN!
This is my third and final Poe rewrite. It also happens to be my favourite because it is my favourite Poe story.
I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.
Dig in, zombies!

COLD CLUTCHING HANDS

When you hear a statement like ‘I heard a voice from my past’, you mostly expect to hear the tale of a vengeful ex-lover.
In my case, I heard the voice of an old school friend back in my Kings College days. My shock and somewhat reserved pleasure of hearing from him again was obvious.
“How did you get my number?” I had asked politely and listening to the voice recount the tale, while I rummaged through the deep pockets of my memory, fuzzy as they are, to remember what my caller looked like.
All I could recall was a hazy face of a chum with whom I played pranks and sometimes has dinner with. We had seen a few times after our college days and slowly, we grew apart.
“I need your help Demilade…”
That snapped me back to the conversation right then.
I paused.
“My help?” I echoed, wary.
When a voice from the past calls you, asking for your help, you know there’s trouble and trouble is one thing I have had enough of.
“Yes, your help” he replied. “Can you please come over to my house? It would be easier to explain.”
I remember my silence at this. I was mute for so long, he said several “Hello?”s just to make sure I was still on the line.
A better part of me had been ready to cut the phone and switch it off for the rest of the day. A little part of me, curious little part of me, was intrigued.
I against better judgement, I decided to satisfy my curiosity. What harm could it do?
“I don’t know…” I began and his pleas began anew.
It’s important.
It’s a matter of life and death.
I had later given him no assurances of my coming, seeing was I was in a different state, but I remember telling him to text me his address.
For old time’s sake; that was the phrase in my head.
Weeks after that call, I was back in Abuja. I had forgotten totally about my proclaimed friend.
It was on a bored stroll that I remembered him and the address and quickly, I went through my directory to get it.
I contemplated on calling, but decided to visit instead. Past 6pm it was but I felt that wasn’t too late to pay anyone a visit. I didn’t plan on staying too long after all and he did say it was a matter of life and death.
That, was how I found myself, driving to No. 56 Mississippi Street, Maitama.

I must say, the envy bug took a huge chunk off me as I parked outside a gate, the number 56 beautifully decorated on the side of the wall. Even from without, I could view the large house. Rich enough to afford a house this nice? Again, I searched my memory on this ‘Old friend of mine’. Yes, I remember he did come from an affluent home. He must have done well for himself, I thought.
With a creak and a groan, the gate opened and a security guard emerged from within.
“Demilade Phillips” I said to his silent enquiry-a quizzical look- of who I was. “Tell your master, Demilade Phillips is at the gate”
The security guard cast a baleful look at me and my somewhat rickety old Corolla before going back into the building.
It felt like an eternity before the bigger gate opened and I took this as an invitation to drive in. I drove through, gaping at the actual size of the house.
It was even bigger than it looked!
The security guard, who had been following my car, pointed to a spot where some other cars had been parked. I must say, I hadn’t seen the latest Range Rover until that day.
How awed and somewhat intimidated I was to park my old, red car beside the black beast.
I switched off and got out of the car.
“The master would see you. Follow the path Sir” the guard admonished and left me to find my way.
As I walked, I began to notice how old and decrepit the house seemed. Paints on sides of the wall were chipped, revealing greyed plaster. Weeds decorated sides of buildings like verdant garlands and grew from the cracks of the paved footpaths.
The house was falling into disrepair.
“Demilade…” a voice said, breaking me out of my scrutiny.
I turned and stared at an unknown man; unknown to me for all of 10 seconds and I’m sure I must have had an idiotic look on my face.
Slowly, I began to see hints of a man I knew ages ago.
“I look a mess, I know” the gravelly voice said, smiling sadly at me.
A mess? He looked positively frightening!
Bushy beard, thin frame covered in a faded blue shirt that had seen the insides of a washing machine one too many times.
Of course, I didn’t say this. I could only manage a ‘Wow’.
“You sure have changed” I whispered, walking to shake his outstretched hand firmly.
“Been a long time. Dee” he said, calling me by my old school nickname.
I laughed suddenly. “Too long Roboto. Too long!”
Roboto, that is, Rotimi my friend.
I remembered him now.
And with remembrance came the burning question, “What happened to you?”
If anyone was ever a shadow of his former self, this man was. The chubby lad from our Floreat days wasn’t this emaciated man I was staring at. He sighed and motioned me towards the main house.
“I’ll tell you everything when we’re inside”
I acquiesced and walked with him in silence, our feet grinding the gravel on the footpath.

“Have a seat” was all he said as he ushered me into his palatial home.
Palatial…and dead.
The drapes were drawn shut; gloomy. The furniture was coated with the gauzy film of dust. I could hear the rattling of an air conditioner in one part of the living room, whining as if taking its last breaths.
“Pardon the appearance” he said, breaking me out of my study and I smiled, sitting on a lumpy sofa beside him
We exchanged news and pleasantries.
Yes, I am an engineer.
Ah! Yes! I remember Tokunbo.
No, I ended up not getting married; bachelor for life.
The story of finding my bride kneeling between the legs of my best man, I left out. It wasn’t something I wanted to share just yet.
I threw his questions back at him.
He was an oil magnate.
Took over family business at death of his parents.
No, he wasn’t married.
He lived with his sister.
“Sister?”
And just as I was about to ask after her, a blood curdling scream rent the air. I shrieked, jumping out of the sofa I had reclined in with alacrity. Another burst of animalistic shrieks and screams filtered down and my skin puckered with goose bumps. I turned toward the direction of the sound, somewhere inside the house.

“What was that?” I asked in whispers, surprised at the calmness of my host, sitting still, watching me.
He smiled grimly. “My sister it seems, decided to say hello”
Quite shocked, was I at this revelation.
Embarrassed, I regained composure and sat down as obscenities and curses continued to rain down on us. After what seemed like an hour of madness, there was quiet.
I cleared my throat for the lack of anything to do.
Finally, the reason for the call was revealed.
I listened in morbid fascination to the story of how expensive vices rendered his only remaining family mad.
“Why didn’t you take her to a hospital?”
He shook his head and looked into my eyes. “Family is family. Couldn’t leave her in a mental home.”
How did he take care of her, I had inquired and her told me he saw to her needs, tough as it was. No one wanted to stay long in the house, ergo no servants. At nights, her screams got worse and frightened past domestic workers away. Not even the promise of a tripled salary could entice them to stay.
I was stunned at this revelation. No wonder the poor lad was in a state!
Rude of me perhaps, but it had to be asked.
“Why did you call me?”
He shook his head. “Truth, I don’t know. You came to mind one day. Felt the need to call you, to speak to an old buddy”
I received this news in silence and confusion. To speak to an old buddy? He continued to ramble on and I couldn’t hep but think that surely, he was getting as crazy as his sister.
I expressed my condolences to him and explained how I saw no way I could be of any help.
He got up suddenly and walked to me and holding my hand in a tight grip, he knelt in front of me.
“Just be there for me again. I need a friend again!”
I was quite taken aback by the gesture and the somewhat feverish light that I saw in his eyes as he stared quite intently at me.
I could do naught but agree to his terms.
He greeted my statement with a genuine smile and for a second, my heart went out to the poor, poor man.
“I have to be leaving now” I said, making a show of checking my watch.
He offered to walk me to his car and I agreed, glad to be leaving. We took a different path to the first and I noticed a garden that had a giant obelisk and a statue of angels.
I stopped to stare at the beautiful carvings, greying under the burden of the elements and age. He realised I wasn’t with him and walked back to me.
“Oh. you’ve meet my parents” He whispered.
“Your parents?”
He nodded and pointed out two open graves.
Ready-made for him and for his sister.
“How morbid” I commented and he laughed queerly, sending shivers down spine.
“Have to be prepared” he murmured and we continued our walk to my car in silence.
“Please come by more often” he said as I got into my car.
I nodded politely and shook his hand before closing the door and setting off.
That was how we met and I was determined never to meet him again.

As usual, saying something is one; actually keeping to that word, another matter entirely.
After our brief and somewhat disturbing visit, I got an urgent call and quick as a bird, I was out of Abuja. I did try to keep in touch with my friend, a call here, a text there.
All pleas to come visit were of course null as I wasn’t even around. Granted, I had gone to Calabar for a convention, yet, my convention had ended a week ago.
What then was stopping me from going back home? Was I afraid of my friend, or the fact that the goodness in me wouldn’t allow me lie to him if he asked after my location? Why was I so afraid to ‘help’ him? Could I even be blamed? After all, I didn’t understand what he really wanted from me.
Be that as it may, I stretched my stay in Calabar for a fortnight and going on the third week, I decided I had had enough. I wasn’t going to let another man scare me away from my city. Absurd!
I was on the next flight to Abuja.
I did enjoy a week’s respite before he called.
“You in town now?” he had asked.
I was a grown man; I did not lie. “Yes I am.”
He had asked me to come pay him a visit and I politely declined. Open graves, mad inmates. I sure wasn’t going to go back to that house.
“We would go out for a drink?” I said, offering an olive branch but he too declined.
“I have a sister to look after.” he replied frostily, before saying his curt goodbye.
I must say, I did feel bad for a second but that passed and the wave of relief I felt billow through me made me almost euphoric! I was free!

Alas, I was wrong.
After a few days, I got a frantic call in the late evening. My heart leapt out of my throat and fled when I saw his caller ID. A part of me darned my old friend and curse my good upbringing!
Mr. Politeness.
I picked up the call.
“Demilade you have to come! You have to! Oh my God!”
He shouted and I could have sworn he was sobbing down the line. My pulse raced with worry.
What is it?
I kept asking but the call was cut short. Either he ran out of credit or the network was bad. It was a particularly rainy evening after all.
Fast, I grabbed an umbrella and walked to my car. Wipers on, I drove off to his house.
At the back of my mind, I wondered if I was making it a habit to be a knight in shining armour. My friend was no damsel, which made it all pretty disturbing, truth be told.
It seemed the guard had been given express instruction to let me in because he only had to stick his head out to confirm my car and without questions the huge gate swung open. I parked (next to the Rover again), but had no time to admire the car.
Umbrella open, I walked to the waiting figure who could only be Rotimi. He had no umbrella and the heavy rain pelted him with their watery missiles. Quickly, I rushed and shared my umbrella with him. I was about to chide him when I saw the look of abject despair on his face.
“She is dead” was the only thing he said and walked away from the protection my umbrella provided, oblivious to the chill and dampness. I followed him quickly and entered his home; still was as dreary as the first time.
“I have to bury her” his second sentence to me.
I held his arm, confused. “Bury her? It is raining! And it is night. Won’t you at last have a proper funeral service?”
He turned to stare into my eyes and the look I saw in his eyes stopped me. Here was a man who was dead already.
I wasn’t going to be able to reason with him, I realized too.
“Fine…” I murmured. “I will help”
I watched some of his stiff mien melt and for a second, I thought he was going to fall to his knees. He walked away from me and I noticed his quaking shoulders.
He was crying.
Embarrassed and feeling out of place, I stared at my wet trainers which had left a set of muddy tracks on the marble floor.
“She’s upstairs” he whispered when he had gained a measure of control over his emotions and together we walked up winding stairs to her room. He opened doors, switched on the light and the first reaction when I put my head in there was to run out of the house and never come back. The room stank of urine, faeces and and underlying smell of rot. On the walls were depraved scribbling and realistic drawings of the most obscene and bizarre images.
“She was quite an artist” I whispered awkwardly, for the lack of nothing better to say. He grunted in reply and pointed to the bed where a shrouded body lay.
I was unsure of what to do.
“Where is the casket?” I asked and he looked at me oddly.
“Casket?” he echoed and my mouth rounded in an ‘Oh’. He planned to throw her inside her watery grave that way. How…nouveau.
He moved to the other side of her bed and motioned for me to grab hold of the shrouded ankles. I must say, for a second, I baulked but then common sense returned and I wondered to myself what harm a dead woman could do to me.
A clap of thunder and a flash of lightning decided at that moment to occur, causing me to jump, startled. The fluorescent bulb flicked and dimmed and I felt the sudden need to be out of the room before it went completely dark. I lifted her ankles –how heavy they weighed!- and gingerly, we made our way downstairs. I could not manage the task of carrying an umbrella and a corpse so I resigned to getting myself wet.
He led us under the rain to one of the dug graves and without ceremony, we dumped her body in. He shovelled some sand in, whispering something that was lost to the sound of rain falling on the corrugated roof of the guest house nearby. He buried half way while I stood there, getting rained on, watching him mutter as he laboured. Our eyes met and as if noticing me for the first time, he stopped and walked to me, dropping the shovel.
“I can do this tomorrow Dee. let’s go in.” he shouted above the noise and I nodded, walking with him inside. I left another set of even muddier tracks inside the house but he didn’t seem to mind. Not that I was surprised.
He took me to the kitchen and we removed our shirts. In the kitchen sink, we wrung water out of them.
“Sorry for the inconvenience” he said, directing me back to the living room He disappeared and appeared seconds later with a bottle of Jack Daniel and two glasses.
“Rum” he said, pouring me a full measure. With whispered thanks, I poured the drink down, wincing and sighing with gladness as the warmth of the liquor hit the back of my throat.
He began an odd eulogy right then to the dearly departed. I said nothing, listening to him. I suspect he must have forgotten I was even sitting with him in the living room. He soon quieted and a hush fell. I was grateful for the silence, content to listen to the rain pitter patter furiously and soon I found myself drowsy lulled to sleep by the sound of raindrops.

I cannot say what woke me up but wake up I did. I stretched, wincing in my neck and m eyes alighted on Rotimi. I got up slowly, staring at my friend with a growing sense of foreboding. There he sat on a love seat, eyes open, glass clutched tightly in his hands, whispering to himself.
“Roboto…” I said, before approaching him.
He did not move to acknowledge me.
Was he asleep? In a trance? I drew nearer and tapped him.
“Rotimi…” I said, staring in partly worried and in part fascination at his unblinking gaze and moving lips. I leaned in closer to hear whatever it was he as mumbling.
“She is not dead. She is not dead. Only drugged her to sleep. She is not dead. Buried her alive. Drugged. Alive. Not dead. She is asleep. Drugged…”
She is not dead?
She… She was not dead!
My eyes widened as the import of his words hit me. I drew away from him sharply. Thunder struck and lightning obliged with its flashes.
As if on cue, the power in the house went off.
Gloom.
I felt fear begin to creep at the back of my neck.
His whispering became louder still. I could barely see him in the gloom and another flash of lightning revealed him. He was rocking back and forth.
My heart raced and I quickly stumbled my way into the kitchen where I had hung my shirt to dry off and hastily wore the damp shirt. it was time to make me exit
I heard the door bang open and close and I ran out of the kitchen and into the living room to investigate the noise.
My heart stopped.

Rotimi continued murmuring, oblivious.
Low cackling, muffled laughter; slow, shuffling footsteps.
The living room brightened with another lightning and I swallowed a scream.
A naked, muddied woman walked slowly towards Rotimi.
The light was gone just as quickly and we were plunged into darkness.
She laughed harshly, voice similar to the one I heard the first time I came to the house.
My mind put two and two to make four and my bowels lost control. I felt the warm trickle of urine run down my legs.
She wasn’t dead.
She hadn’t died!
I shook  as I kept still at the entrance to the kitchen, hoping the darkness covered me. I listened in horror as Rotimi shrieked.
Another brief illumination.
She had her hands wrapped around his neck, grinning in feral delight. Rotimi’s eyes bulged and for a split second, as his eyes roved, as if sensing my presence, our eyes met.
Darkness gladly descended.
I heard him choke my name.
Help.
I cowered in my hiding place.
I’m sorry.
I can’t.
I heard her scream in glee, accompanied by repeated, heavy thuds. His blood-chilling scream unnerved me and I stuffed my fingers into my mouth to stop myself from screaming.
I don’t want to see!
Nature disobeyed and the room was brightened again.
Her hand was wrapped at the back of his neck, blood dripping. Where Rotimi’s face used to be, a pulpy mass.
Blood and brain matter littered the floor.
She slammed his head on the marble floor again.
“Nuts. Crack me some nuts” she barked and howled like a wolf.
“Holy Mary Mother of God” I whispered tremulously.
Darkness was back.
I heard her ask a distinct question.
“Where is the other one?”
My heart stopped.

It was my turn!
I forced my quaking legs to move, trying to fix a cordinate on where she was when the room was last illuminated.
“WhereisheWhereisheWhereisHE! NUTS! CRACK YOU LIKE A NUTS!”
I heard her move and quickly, i inched my way to the door.
My mind was disoriented. Which way was it?
“NutsNutsNuts” I heard her whisper. Was she nearer?
I swallowed a scream, urging myself to think. I stumbled on furniture and cursed mentally.
She had heard it.
Her shuffling was getting faster.
Quickly, I moved away, feeling a stool under my palm and suddenly knowing which way the door was.
She was quiet.
I stopped and listened.
She was quiet.
I walked slowly towards the door and at that moment, another brightness.
A figure stood before me.
Her black eyes gleamed, yellow teeth exposed in a grin. Her matted hair fell over her face. obscuring an eye, hands akimbo.
“And where did you think you are going?” she whispered to me.
“Oh shi…” i groaned, stepping back.
Quicker than a flash, i felt her cold hands seize me by my shirt.
Panic seized me.
I screamed, pushing her away with a might born out of fear and grunting in satisfaction as i heard her hit a chair.
I scrambled for the door, hands shaking as I tried to find the handle.
She screamed and lunged for me just as I found and yanked the door open. For a brief second, I felt the cold clasps of her fingers at the back of my neck before I ran blindly, out of the house.
She followed me.
I heard her scream as she came out in pursuit.
I pumped my legs as fast as they could carry me, praying to the Almighty I got to my car. I squinted frantically, trying to locate the huge Rover I knew as a landmark.
Found!
I ran towards it and heard fast footsteps behind me. My hands fumbled for the keys in my pocket as I ran towards my car and I unlocked it. I literally flew at the handle, yanking and jumping inside, slamming the door and locking.
Thud!
I heard her body slam on my window and even in the poor light, I saw her glimmering eyes and smile and my eyes widened in horror when I noticed the stone in her hand.
My fingers fumbled with the keys as I heard her first smash, trying to break my window open.
“Come on!” I shouted at the car as I stuck the keys in the ignition and tried to start.
The car wouldn’t start.
I tried again, muttering frenzied encouragements.
Smash!
I shifted away as the window gave way, broken shard of glass showering me.
She stuck her hand in the hole and tried to grab my, managing only to hold on to an ear.
I screamed.
I felt long nails dig into my skin, drawing blood. She was going to tear my ears out!
With a scream of triumph, my car came alive and without a thought, I reversed, and nodding with a grim smile of satisfaction as she screamed, letting go of me as the jagged window lacerated her arm.
Loud blasts of my horn summoned the guard and immediately he had the big gate open. Without a warning to him, I sped off into the night, not even sparing a glance backwards.

I fell sick after this.
Due to the chill of standing under the rain or due to the horror I experienced, I do not know. It could have been both.
After weeks of self-medication, treating my ear, I got better.
I left my car and moved away from Abuja, going to Lagos to stay with my family.
I do not think I will ever come back to Abuja.

She is out there, waiting.
Some nights, I wake up in cold sweats, afraid. For a few seconds, I believe I see her beside my bed, eyes glimmering; fingers stretched out towards me.
Would I wake up one day to feel her cold fingers closing around my neck?

—————————————————————————————–

Inspired by The Fall of the House of Usher by Edgar Allan Poe.
That’s it with POE!
This is a thank you to all who have read and helped me with words of encouragements and creative criticisms. It is always great to know I have an audience to sound out my crazy ideas on.

Please, do not forget to vote for Phantom Pages here for Best Writing blog http://nigerianblogawards.com/vote.php. If you had voted On Monday to Wednesday last week, please vote again because your votes were not counted. 😦
I would really appreciate it if we could make this happen!

Tomorrow begins a new month and I can’t wait to get writing new things!

Do comment and have a wonderful Halloween celebration if it’s your thing.
I’ll be sharing one cup of rice to every child that comes to my door for sweets. How’s that for a treat?
^.^

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