When the idea of writing a Halloween House of Horrors story for Romantic Friday Writers challenge came along, I got excited. Mainly because it would push me outside my comfort zone. You see, writing or reading horror stories is not my thing. In fact, I haven't read a Stephen King type book since I was in my early twenties.
The second challenge was writing a 'haunted' theme. In Igbo folk lore there are no haunted house stories I can remember but there are plenty of stories involving haunted forests.
The freshwater swamp Edumanom forest actually exists in the Niger Delta region of South Nigeria. To my knowledge it's not haunted but for this fantasy story, it is. The story is not actually horror but I hope you enjoy reading it.
Title: Wild Guardian
Word count: 996 words
The Freshwater swamp of Edumanom forest was alive with sound and vibrant with colour tonight. The orange and violet of the setting sun turned the forest into hues of green, gold and purple.
The view was breathtaking. For a moment Ama paused, admiring the beauty of nature around her. This was one of the reasons she loved her job as a wildlife photographer. For as long as she could remember, she’d had an affinity to the forest.
The tranquillity of the dusk disintegrated when she started climbing down the makeshift platform again. An otherworldly shriek pierced the humid air. It was bleak, ugly and horrifying. In that moment, the swamp burst with furious activity, monkeys bounced noisily, birds settling in their nests for the night took flight in protest, frogs croaking and insects chirruping in chaos.
As abruptly as the shriek started, it ended. Cold shivers made Ama tremble as she descended and got into her boat as silently as she could. She’d never heard a sound like that before in her life. It hadn’t sounded human. She doubted it was.
The locals refused to stay in the swamp after dusk. In legend, it was a haunted forest where ghouls, phantoms and otherworldly beasts paraded at night. The guide assigned to her by the State Forestry commission, Timi, had warned her several times never to venture into the forest on her own. She hadn’t felt the need to fear it as everyone did.
Right now, though, she wished she’d listened to his words of caution. Palms sweating, she shoved off into a covering of water lentils, choosing to use the relatively noiseless paddle instead of the motor so as not to attract attention.
She’d hardly made headway down the canal criss-crossed with vines and roots when a mighty roar cut through the swamp. Ama froze as the world around her went still, all creatures silent. Every hair on her body stood erect and she held her breath.
Terrified, her eyes scanned the thick foliage, her palms clutching the paddle tighter. Whatever beast had made that sound was close—too close—she could almost feel the warmth of its breath on her neck.
A shadow moved in the dense undergrowth to her right. It was swift, silent and dark. Heart pounding, she put the paddle back in the water and started rowing. Fast. There was a creature in the forest stalking her. She had no hope of evading it if she couldn’t get out into open water quickly where she could gun the motor of the speedboat. Also the last rays from the setting sun were disappearing along with her chances of getting out safely.
Two things happened almost simultaneously, knocking the breath out of her. A large black cat leapt out of the shrubbery directly in front of her. A split second later, another cat, this time golden with black spot soared into its path. The two beasts collided in a battle of slashing claws and snapping fangs. Spitting growls and deep roaring reverberated in the mangrove.
Body trembling, Ama sat very still on her boat, her escape route now cut-off by the brawling beasts. Her hand felt for and found the knife at her belt. She’d learned to use the knife as part of her martial arts training. Yet, she didn’t feel very reassured at that moment. Whichever of the two ferocious leopards to win the fight, she didn’t feel she could defend herself from either.
Regretfully, she wished she had waited until Timi was available before coming to install a new roll of films in the camera. But she’d needed to do it today as she was going to be away for a few weeks and didn’t want to miss the hatching of the new birds in the nest.
Timi would’ve known what to do. He was smart and resourceful—not to mention extremely sexy, though that was hardly relevant at this moment.
Suddenly, the black leopard jumped and disappeared into the forest. The other one straightened—majestic—its body rising and falling as it panted, then turned and looked directly at her with sharp golden eyes. It raised its large head and released a piercing roar of absolute fury.
Panicked, Ama started the motor of her boat. Her mouth was dry and her body coiled with tension. A leopard was a clever predator. She definitely couldn’t fight it off. The only option was to try to outrun it in the swamp.
Her boat lurched forward with speed, hit a protruding root and catapulted her through the air. Her side hit a tree trunk as she landed painfully, darkness encroaching on her mind. The last thing she saw was a pair of yellow-gold cat eyes above her before she fell into the night.
Ama woke with a pounding headache. She moaned as she reached for her head. There was a bandage on her temple.
Slowly she opened her eyes and looked around. She was in her own bed propped by pillows. Her room was lit dimly by the small bedside lamp. Confused, she sat up abruptly. Her side and arm throbbed, her head swimming.
The door to her bedroom opened. Timi walked in; tall, broad-shouldered and a face so handsome and filled with a lethally-dangerous look in the semi darkness that her heart did a skid as it raced off.
“Embele,” Sweetness, he said in a rasping, deep voice filled with concern. “Don’t try to get up.”
Her cheeks heated at his use of an Ijaw endearment. His warm hands wrapped around her shoulders as he gently lowered her back to the bed. A soothing, drowsy feeling surged through her body.
“But how did...?” She struggled to form a sentence and paused to concentrate. “Was I dreaming of leopards? The swamp?”
Soft lips brushed hers tenderly. Tingly. “Sleep now. It’ll be clearer in the morning.”
As she drifted off, she saw them again, piercing into her soul with a smile—yellow-gold cat eyes.
Copyright Kiru Taye 2012
I hope you enjoyed it. Share your thoughts and don't forget to check out the other entries for this week's RFW challenge. Have a great weekend.