They walked toward the building that stood, a concrete bastion, as it began to rain. Behind them, their car sat squatly on the side of the Benin expressway, defiant in its refusal to go any further. Cynthia looked at Obinna, and then at the house. They were stranded, but the house didn’t seem like an option she should take.
The building stood a few feet away from the highway. It stood tall, an imposing structure that appeared to make the trees on its right wither in deference to its stateliness. At the beginning of the pathway that led to the front from the road was a small signpost that bore the name of the establishment.
Lightning flashed then and lit up the house for a second. Cynthia grabbed onto Obinna’s hand. The vines that curled round the house scared her.
“I don’t like the feel of this place,” she rasped, blinking as the steady drizzle beat down on her head.
Obinna turned to her and saw the fright on her countenance. He smiled.
“There’s no need to fear,” he said. His tone was jocular, reassuring, as he put his arm about her shoulders.
“It’s dark,” Cynthia hissed.
“Maybe because they aren’t expecting any callers,” Obinna supplied, the smile still in his voice.
The last house they saw was more than four miles back and the road ahead looked deserted. Their only shelter from the rain was in the house they were standing before. It wasn’t as though their car could move any further. The weather-beaten Mercedes had coughed and spluttered to a halt, after enduring the journey and all the stops they’d had to make along the way on their trip from Umuahia to Lagos.
Obinna hefted the bags and continued on toward the house. Cynthia tagged along reluctantly. A light appeared at the top window. Cynthia looked up at it. The light was yellowy and dim. It lingered for a moment, and then it disappeared.
“Someone is home,” Obinna observed.
Cynthia looked at her fiancé, then at the house and back to him. The light appeared by the window a second time and they saw the frame of a woman silhouetted against the mellow illumination. Obinna raised a hand to wave at her, to attempt to capture her attention, but the light was extinguished before he could make any such gesture.
“Come on let’s go,” Obinna said.
“Obi,” Cynthia said, unable to shake off her foreboding.
“Babe, you see why I keep telling you to stop watching all those Hollywood movies that show too much gore,” Obinna scolded gently.
Cynthia suddenly felt like a reprimanded child, and swallowed. She took a deep breath of fortification and followed after Obinna.
The stairs creaked as the couple climbed to the front door. Obinna knocked on the door while Cynthia looked around them. By the northern side of the house, she saw a swing move up and down as if someone was sitting on it and riding it. Lightning flashed again and Cynthia caught a glimpse of a child on the swing. It was a girl and she was staring at Cynthia.
“Obi!” Cynthia gasped, shrinking back into her fiancé.
The door swung open just then and she turned to see a woman standing in the doorway. Behind her, the room looked like the lights had just been turned on. She stared at them for a moment. Her hair was gray, her face was gaunt and her eyes like gimlets. Cynthia stared at her. The woman smiled coldly, revealing a set of brown teeth.
“Welcome to Half Souls Motel,” the woman announced in a voice that was paper-thin.
She shifted to one side, giving Cynthia and Obinna room to walk in. Cynthia looked back at the swing but didn’t see it. The swing was gone. The child was gone. In their place was a pool of water. Cynthia began to tremble. Seconds ago, the swing and the child had stood there, certain as the goose bumps now racing across the skin of her arms.
Obinna called her name a second time before she realized they were waiting for her. The woman stared at her, her expression as placid as a mask. Cynthia looked at Obinna, and then at the road. The downpour was becoming heavy. She hesitated for a moment, then sighed and stepped into the house. The woman closed the door.
Inside the house, the woman led them to the desk that stood by the stairs. The interior of the house looked a bit well-furnished. Obinna looked at Cynthia and smiled. He was trying to reassure her, to tell her that there were clearly no ghosts or demons lurking about in the house. She smiled weakly back. Two bulbs lit up the room, and they flickered frequently, dimming to a low wattage and then brightening just a bit every now and then. The woman explained that the electricity supply had a little problem but would soon be fixed. Obinna didn’t mind. He just needed a place for them to rest and get out of their wet clothes. By the morning of the next day, they would be on their way home.
Cynthia looked around her as Obinna transacted their stay in the motel. Decorative lamps hung on the walls and up the stairs. Underneath each lamp, she saw the portrait of people hanging in frames. Beside her, Obinna reached into his pocket and drew out his wallet. He fished inside it for the amount required and paid the woman. As she handed the key to their newly acquired accommodation to Obinna, Cynthia saw the people in the pictures turn their heads to look at them.
“Oh God!” she gasped, clutching at her chest and faltering back one step.
“What?” Obinna said, turning his head to her.
Cynthia stared at the pictures. The portraits stared placidly back, not moving.
But they had moved before, she was sure of it. She turned to the motel’s proprietress. The woman stared coldly back at her, not yielding any answers. She turned to Obinna. She wanted to get out of the house, but Obinna would not move.
“Come on, it was just the light casting shadows,” he said as they climbed the stairs.
The woman walked before them, leading them to their room. Behind her, Cynthia tried to control her fear.
At the door of the room, the woman asked if they would need anything. Obinna said they were fine. She nodded her acknowledgement and proceeded back down the small hallway and down the stairs.
Obinna shut the door behind them and turned to take in the room. It didn’t look bad. There was the bed, and a table by the wall with yet another decorative lamp on it. The bed was well made and the sheets looked clean. Cynthia stood by the wall with her arms wrapped around her. Obinna smiled at her. With time, she would see that there was nothing to fear.
Cynthia sighed when she saw that Obinna was going to remain unmoved by her apprehension. She moved to the bathroom, to take a look at it, while Obinna threw their bags on the bed and began to unzip his.
“Babe,” Obinna called as she moved about in the bathroom, taking in the clean linoleum and marble tub, “I seem to have forgotten my bath bag in the other bag in the car. I’ll just go back out and get it.”
Cynthia hastened out of the bathroom as Obinna closed the door, already on his way out of the room. She darted to the door and pulled it open; she was not going to stay in this room alone.
However, instead of the hallway beyond the room, a brick wall stood before Cynthia. She faltered back into the room, feeling a sudden lump lodge its way in her throat as she gaped at the wall. Her heart began to beat a fast tattoo as she felt a draft move about the room. It was icy and bore a whisper in it. Startled afresh, she whipped around to glance at the room. A portrait hung on the wall, by the bed. The woman in it was staring directly at her, her gaze unnervingly discerning. Feeling a surge of alarm, Cynthia stepped to her right and watched the woman’s stare move with her. Terrified, she walked backward, further into the room. The woman still stared at her, her gaze boring into her.
Cynthia was suddenly brought up short and stopped in her backward movement. Someone was standing behind her. She froze, as something with the weight of liquid dropped on her shoulder. Feeling a soft whimper escape her lips, she turned to the shoulder where the contact was made. The drop was crimson. Two more drops followed in rapid succession. Terror gripped at Cynthia’s nerve endings as it dawned on her that she was looking at blood. Feeling a scream work its way up to her mouth, she slowly turned around.
Her terrified scream never left her lips. Cynthia fell to the ground, a pile of charred flesh. Against the wall that lined the stairs, underneath a decorative lamp, a new painting emerged with Cynthia’s face on it.
Downstairs, Obinna stood looking confused. The lobby was no more. He stood in a hallway longer than the house could possibly accommodate. Down the hallway, a baby cried from one of the rooms within the house.
“Hello!” he called as he walked down the hallway, toward the cry.
Along the hallway, he found vacant rooms with open doors and blood stained walls. Dread, like a fist, began to clench in his chest. The cry of the baby became louder. He got to the room and found it open too. Inside the room, a woman was tending to a swaddled bundle. She turned and stared at Obinna coldly, her vexation at his intrusion silent but palpable.
Obinna immediately apologized for intruding and had begun to turn back into the hallway, when his eyes caught the sight of the blood snaking its way down the woman’s neck. He stopped and stared.
“Is everything alright, ma?” he asked as he stepped further in the room.
A chair stood in his way. He bent and pushed it gently out of his way. When he looked up, he was startled when he found the woman and baby gone. The breath escaped out of him with alarm, and he whirled around, now more than ready to get out of the room and possibly this entire building.
But then, he gasped. The woman was standing in the doorway of the room, her baby still in her arms. She stepped forward and the door slammed shut behind her.
“Please…” Obinna’s voice trembled as he sensed rather than saw the malevolence materializing before him.
The woman smiled coldly and said with a rasp, “You belong to us now.”
And the light in the room went off.
Written by Hilary