The road was bumpy, the bus dipping in and out of its potholes. the driver, whose skin resembled the night sky, kept flashing him looks through the mirror as though he was insane. He stared straight out of the window and ignored the flashing screen of his smartphone.
It would be Keira, He thought, he had left in a rush and didn’t offer any coherent explanation for his haste. He had gathered a few clothes and necessaries and shoved in his bag.
He closed his eyes and retreated into the alcoves of his mind; likening the bumps on the road to the rolling of a horses muscles underneath his saddle. Memories of his horses came back to him and he smiled, a stretch of the lips with some emotion hula hooping around it.
It’s been years since he had to come back, after relocating his family to the city he said there was no way he’d go back. but here he was now. Going back. Because of the news. They said they weren’t sure of what had happened, that the gods were punishing them for a transgression they brought upon themselves. His father was in that settlement and that was why he had to go.
The bus dipped so suddenly, that his eyes snapped open and he gripped fiercely onto the armrest, the way one does when a flight turns turbulent.
“How far?” He asked, his voice backed with a steel hammered by anxiety.
“Not too far, sir, just around that riverbend.” The Driver replied and started, perhaps to make conversation.
“Why would anyone in his right mind make a road by a river?” He asked, scoffing.
“It was actually a bush path leading to the connecting roads a couple of years back. Someone of influence must’ve paved it over in a bid to win something.”
“All these politicians” He muttered and faced his phone, sending a text to Keiran explaining everything.
The driver nodded and turned the steering wheel, and he gripped the armrests again so he would not lean into the window on the turn. The car swung around easily and he noted that the roads here were smooth. However, the growing pillar of dark smoke kissing the sky caught his attention and he turned to the driver.
“Faster” He said, his breath catching in his throat, the driver nodded and the car shot forward, the trees and shrubs blending into a green and brown wall.
He heard beatings of a drum and he turned to the driver.
“Do you hear that?” He asked
“Hear what, sir?” The dark man replied.
“The drums, I can hear the drums” He said, catching that wary look in the drivers eyes again. He turned back to the smoke and asked the driver to turn into the road.
He then came to realise that it was only his heart thundering away, it was so loud and insistent that he felt someone else would hear it. Goosebumps chased each other across his skin and he swallowed hard, trying not to panic.
“Oh God it’s true, they burnt it down” He muttered and got up, hoisting my bag over his shoulder. “Stop here and wait. Wait for me, ill send anyone I can find to you.”
The driver nodded and he got out of the car before it even stopped.
He coughed as soon as he got off, the smoke was thick but he could still make out some people moving about in the chaos. He ran into the inky mess, the travelling bag keeping time with his thigh. Some people staggered drunkenly, as though in shock and others just sat and wailed.
“Help us!” The cries came from all around him and He reached for the nearest being; a little girl, snatching her from her mother’s hand and led them towards the car “Go. Wait there.”
When he ran back into the chaos, he began to yell, ” Father!!!” He grabbed anyone he came across and pointed at the car, saying “Go, there’s a car there, wait with the others”. After running about a bit, he paused for air, leaning against what used to be a wall and tried to orient himself, checking for landmarks that would lead him to home.
“Hey you” a crackly voice came and he turned, ” You seek your mad father? He’s over there.” It was an old man, he thanked him and directed him to the car. He began to walk in the direction of the man’s pointed finger.
Another old man, this one familiar from a distance, sat in the smoking ruins of a house, drinking something from a earthenware jug. Tears cutting through the filth on his face.
“Father” He said, reaching out for the frail being. His fathers screech made him pull back and he froze. A statue made of flesh. Life imitating art.
His father was no longer in his body, his eyes had glazed over with a sheen of madness, and he looked at his son. Or looked through him.
“It’s too late, Nemitan, too late. I am destined to go down with this place. They died a horrible death, I let them die!!! and, Nemitan, in that last moment, they looked at me first, then they looked into the sky as though their eyes were watching God.”
He coughed a bloodied cough as his thin body fell off the ledge he was sitting on and Nemitan caught him in time, but it was futile as it was too late. Father had left this realm.
Nemitan emerged from the smoke bearing his father’s body in his arms, arms moving stiffly as rigor mortis set in. He knelt over him and cried for what seemed like a long time, while the land behind him popped and crackled. The essence of destruction staining the sky, its scent clinging to his skin, its kiss tickling his throat.
He found out later what had happened, a couple of young men from a neighbouring village had been caught and offered as sacrifices to the gods of the land.
They were buried up to the shoulders in the centre of the square and their noses and ears cut off by the priests, then their faces were slathered in horse dung so that flies could feast on their heads.
The strongest of them lived for two days before he died. A prayer for vengeance on his lips.
It was said that their god had answered their prayers. That the fire had begun from the bodies and spread by some means to the trees and houses, a child watched his mother burn to her death, rolling around in the dirt to stop the flames as her skin distended and wrinkled.
Nothing could kill the flames, they had tried everything.