This story is by Folake Owodunni and was part of our 2016 Winter Writing Contest. You can find all the Winter Writing Contest stories here.
He cracked his eyes open, letting in a flood of blinding, white light. He quickly shut them, grimacing.
Elon recognized his own voice, coming from his cracked, papery lips. His eyes shot open and he sat bolt upright, looking around and breathing faster. “I am free…” he looked at the broken stone walls of his unfortunate home and scrambled to his feet.
Elon brushed past the crumbling bones on the floor of the tomb. He slipped through a large crack in the wall and stepped into the blinding light. “I am free” he said again, a lump forming in his throat, his heart rising. But only for a time, a multitude of cold, cruel voices whispered from his lips.
Elon ran as fast as his legs would carry him. He tore past tombs and smaller head stones, leaping over the small cemetery fence and landing unsteadily on his feet. He didn’t have much time. He wanted to see Dinah, let her know he still loved her, let her know that she didn’t need to be afraid. This time, he remembered to grab a cloth from the tomb. Perhaps he would reach her before meddling locals called the leaders to report a naked man running through town.
Dinah and her new husband did not live far from the cemetery. Elon dodged behind a neighbor’s small house and watched her wash clothes, trying to calm his breathing. Dinah was bent over a large tub, rinsing a tiny robe. She stood up and squeezed, and turned to hang it to dry. As she turned, Elon saw her belly – large, round and full of life. He gasped and stepped back, leaning his head back against the wall. Dinah was pregnant. And it wasn’t for him.
Cursed adulteress, she must die! Elon clasped his hands over his mouth before more words could escape. “No, please…” he pleaded, squeezing his eyes shut.
Yes. She does not love you. You will never be good enough.
The voices broke through his lips, growing louder. Curse her… kill her…
“Hello?” Dinah’s voice floated through the small back garden reaching Elon.
“No” he said firmly, stepping out from around the corner.
Dinah gasped, clutching her chest and cradling her belly protectively as her eyes widened. She opened her mouth to speak but no words came out.
“Dinah, please, don’t be afraid. I won’t hurt you.”
“I-I-I-don’t, please,” she put up her hands and took a step back. Elon walked slowly towards her, his eyes fixed on her belly.
“You are pregnant Dinah,” his eyes brimmed with tears. “I wish…” he swallowed, reaching his hand out to touch her. Dinah stepped back. Hitting her shin against the edge of her large wash tub, she tripped and fell in, splashing heavily. Finding her voice, she screamed.
“Dinah, no, please don’t”, Elon fell to his knees, begging her. Barrak came running, with Mary, Dinah’s mother and two servants. They stopped dead when they saw Elon. One of the servants turned around and ran.
Looking fearfully from Elon to Dinah, Barrak spoke in the most commanding voice he could muster, “You do not belong here. Be gone from our home and never return!”
Elon slowly turned his head to look at Barrak. He stood up and planted his feet, breathing heavily.
He took your bride and ravishes her night after night, while you lay among the dead. He stole your land, and sits in your place. Even your own mother no longer knows you, finish this now!
Sweat poured down his bare chest as his face turned black. Barrak, stepped back, terrified.
“Please Elon” Dinah’s voice cracked, tears running down her face.
Elon suddenly stumbled back, looking around, his eyes wide. “No,” he pleaded with the crowd that had now gathered, “It’s not me.”
Dinah struggled to get out of the tub, rolled and landed on her belly. A servant came from behind, and quickly pulled her to safety.
“Dinah, I beg you! Don’t leave!” Elon reached out to her, willing his body to close the growing gap between them.
Curse the adulteress, the beast she shares her bed with and the child in her. Curse them and kill, the voices erupted from his lips again, dark, piercing and other-worldly. His body tensed and his eyes filled with blood. Kill!
Elon felt himself slipping. As Dinah disappeared behind a door, and the crowd, armed with shackles and chains, closed in, he gave himself up and became Legion.
In the bloody aftermath, Dinah wept as she held her son, born too soon. He would die quickly, the midwife said, starved of air. His tiny wrinkly chest moved up and down in an arrhythmic pattern, reminding her of her relationship with Elon, full of false starts and stops.
He had never committed to making her his bride, yet all the signs of his love were there. When Barrak came into town and swept her away, Elon lost hope. As bitterness took hold of him, he sank deeper into the thick mud of suspicion and conspiracy. His business failed, then his health. Dinah didn’t know how it happened, but after she and Barrak married, Elon became possessed.
Everyone said he was an evil man, but Dinah knew Elon. He was fearful, suspicious, and even unpleasant, but he was not evil. Even with her baby dying in her lap, she knew he was not a killer. She could never love him again; not after everything, but she could not hate him.
Back in the cemetery, Legion broke a tomb. The tomb of Silas was large, carefully laid with precious stones. Silas had been a rich man, corrupt and wicked. Here, Legion rested, eating Silas’ leathery, decomposed flesh and using the bones to scar himself. He etched the number of dead townspeople into his right arm, putting two marks for the baby – a rare victory. Filled with Silas, he slept.
The next morning, Legion woke up to distant sounds of mourning. A family buried their dead on the far side of the cemetery. He tuned into the conversation of nearby tomb-builders.
“…Jesus. Some of them are saying he is a Messiah,” one said.
“Nonsense. That is a story they tell their children to give them hope in their miserable lives,” the other retorted, laughing scornfully.
“Laugh if you like but my mother-in-law said that he has power. He raised someone from the dead!”
“And you believe anything your wife’s mother says?” the second tomb-builder laughed again. Shaking his head, he picked up his tools and headed back to town, leaving his friend behind.
Legion was tormented. The Master had warned them about this – the Enemy was advancing.
As if on cue, Legion sensed the presence of his greatest Enemy. Jesus was near. His followers were easily dismissed – scared, unbelieving fools, he sneered. But Jesus was not to be trifled with. Anguish tore at him. He hurled a rock at a nearby tombstone, smashing it into pieces. Picking up a sharp piece, Legion dug into Elon’s left wrist and dragged. The pain felt good. The sight of blood trickling down his arm, slowly darkening the ground normally excited him, but not this time. Legion trembled.
Let us face our doom quickly. He licked the blood and walked out to meet Jesus.
When he saw Jesus, crushing pain wracked Elon’s body, bringing him to his knees.
Jesus and his disciples stopped. The disciples slowly stepped behind Jesus’ outstretched arms, terrified.
“What is wrong with him?” “He’s naked!” “He must be mad!” they whispered to themselves.
“Come out of that man!” Jesus commanded, causing the disciples to start.
Legion howled, throwing Elon’s body to the ground, his thin, sinewy limbs contorting grotesquely. What do you want with me, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, don’t torture me!
Jesus asked him, “What is your name?”
Legion, he replied, multiple voices echoing, for we are many.
“Come out!” Jesus commanded again.
Please, send us into that herd of pigs, Legion pleaded, not down to the abyss.
“Go,” Jesus said.
Elon quaked violently, his face dark and warped. He let out a tortured, high-pitched scream and became deathly still.
“Run, run,” the swineherd called out, leading the crowd past the cemetery towards the lake shore.
“Leave me,” Dinah gasped in pain as Barrak dragged her to the shore.
“We must witness it, Dinah, he is finally dead.” Barrak carried his small wife and sprinted the rest of the way.
He nearly dropped her when he saw Elon, dressed, standing next to his ‘killer’.
“Elon…” Dinah wrested her arm from Barrak and stumbled over to him. She clutched his face and looked into his eyes, searching for demons. There were none.
Elon covered Dinah’s hands with his and squeezed lightly before removing them. He was alive and he was ready to live like it.
Turning his back on the astonished crowd, Elon walked past the cemetery back into the town and smiled. He was never going back.