A short story written by Christian Tanner
“The spirits, they’ll teach ya. You learn some things you wanna learn, and you’ll learn some things you don’t wanna to learn. And believe me, they are unforgettable. The main thing, child, is making sure you don’t re-teach ‘em. Because some things just cannot be taught, they can only be learned. Maybe you can save yourself before you make the journey. I was 22 when I first went, and I’d take it back if I could. I could have lived my entire life like everyone else, not knowing the truth that lies inside of Africa. When you travel away from Louisiana to Africa, you’ll learn what you need to learn. They won’t teach you anything you don’t need to know, and they won’t miss anything, eitha. Lemme tell ya, you’re in for a hellava ride. If I were you, I’d stay away and live a normal life because once you get there, you’re not considered human anymore.”
That’s the last thing Old Miss Willis ever told me. Some people will tell you they wish to have taken her advice. I’ll be the one to tell you that I was destined to do what I did. When you come face-to-face with your greatest fear, you’ll test your soul to see how strong you really are. Strength comes from your heart and soul, not your arms and legs. There’s a spiritual battle going on above everyone. You have angels and you have demons, they’re fighting all around you. Do you ever feel them?
I had been told that I am beautiful my whole life, but no one ever called me smart or intelligent. I tried to learn every day, but the only thing I hear is that I’m pretty. I accept their compliments, sure, but I’m not your average ditzy bitch who only wants to be called beautiful her entire life. I’m more than that, much more than that.
There was a voice calling my name from all directions. I heard the voice before and I’ve done my research, especially with Old Miss Willis. It was the spirit of a woman whose voice was soft and she was lost. She was leading me in the direction I needed to travel. For a while, she would only call my name. I’d answer, saying, “Yes?” or “What?” or “Talk to me.” But she’d never reply. For years, I spent every day waiting for the moment she would tell me something. Anything. Just whisper what you need and I’ll hear it. I’m a good listener, I promise, I’m not the type of person who simply waits for their opportunity to speak. I listen to what people have to say. Whether I take their advice, well, that’s a different story.
One morning while I was brushing my teeth, I heard her call for me. She told me, “You.” I practically killed myself trying to decode her speech. Toothpaste painted my mirror like Van Gogh trying to summon a new creative bone in his body by splatting paint onto a dry canvas. I yelled, “What?” And then, “Me?” While the toothpaste took the best of my speech, it didn’t matter, she couldn’t say anything else.
That morning left me peering over my shoulder for the next few days while researching how to contact the living dead. It took me a while to understand that I don’t contact the living dead, the living dead contacts the living future dead. And sure enough, she did. I walked from my living room to my kitchen when she said, “Attached.” That time the room stood still, I didn’t feel anything. I yelled to her, “Attached? Me? What do you mean?” What happened next I’ll never forget. It’s been years since it happened, but I still hear it in my dreams and it gives me chills even thinking about it. I yelled, “Are you attached to me?” When I said those words, the loudest ear piercing, gut wrenching, scream with the highest pitch chilled throughout my house and the energy practically killed me. It was like being strapped into an electric chair. I thought my heart was going to burst. The scream was like a little girl’s cry for help from being held captive for days. It was the loudest scream I had ever heard. Unintentionally, I yelled with the scream while I fell to the floor and bundled my legs in my arms. I cried almost all night. I cried myself to sleep.
When I woke up the next morning, the light from the sun shined on me through my living room window. It felt like the sun was shining a bit brighter that morning. I finally rose while I remembered what had happened the night before.
Paper and I didn’t get along very well for a couple of days while I wrote jargon and junk on paper for seven or eight hours a day. I was wrapping up, getting ready to throw some papers away and also store the necessary files in their appropriate folders. Before so, I had to pee. When I came back from the potty, there lied a piece of paper I had worked on only an hour before, however, it had been lit on fire. I was writing silly fan-fiction about Pulp Fiction and what happened to the briefcase after Vincent and Jules delivered it to Marsellus Wallace. It was titled, “My Love, My Life.” When I looked at the burnt sheet of paper, there was nothing but the title left and I took that as a word from the dead.
I rushed the burnt piece of paper to Old Miss Willis to see if she could do a little decoding. She told me she had the same issue when she was young, but she couldn’t solve it. Old Miss Willis knew this was going on but she’d hoped that I didn’t search for answers. She didn’t want to tell me because she was afraid I’d make the same mistakes she did. She was both right and wrong at the same time.
Old Miss Willis told me the spirit wanted to stop a demon in Africa who was terrorizing villages and killing innocent people for pure entertainment. Somewhere along the dead’s lifeline, they had become separated. She wanted to stop the mayhem. Old Miss Willis thought she could help, but when she got to a village in Central Africa, the whole village was on fire. The cries and pleas of people being burned alive haunted her until her last dying breath. She continued to search for the demon for two years, but she was always one-step behind. She never found the demon, but I came face-to-face with him.
Old Miss Willis led to her basement to show me a few things. We walked down the old creaking steps and into her crypt. She had maps and charts posted along the walls. She told me that she found a pattern. The demon was moving in circles throughout Africa causing destruction to every village that called its name. She showed me that the demon was moving to a village in Central Africa. If someone in the village heard of the demon, then someone would call upon him. And let me tell you, they did.
I left on a flight to Africa with a backpack and a dirt bike. Old Miss Willis told me I would have to travel by foot, but I thought I could make it with a bike. I studied the map during the entire flight. Finally, the plane landed at a small landing strip with a single building for plane repairs and fueling. Nobody was there, though. The pilot released the back so I could get my bike. I walked into the plane from the back then rode the bike down the hatch and I drove to the pilot. I took my helmet off and my dark hair flew in the breeze.
The pilot told me, “Good luck out there. You must be a special person for Darlene to call for such a flight. I flew Darlene for years, every time I saw her, her hair was a little bit greyer.”
Darlene was Old Miss Willis. Darlene Willis. I thanked the pilot and then I drove away on my bike. It wasn’t long before I hit the trees. I had to dodge bushes and bumps and rocks. It took a little while, but I could tell why Old Miss Willis told me to travel on foot.
I didn’t see the dip. When I hit it I fell off the side of my bike and almost broke my arm, but I shook it off. I finally stood up once I caught my breath and tried starting my bike, but I had no luck. I had to travel by foot. I walked through the night and into morning. The dusk sun was just peaking over the trees when I finally saw fire through all the limbs. The smell of smoke made it real. I ran as fast as I could toward the flaming village. I knew where I was, I knew I had made it. I only hoped that I wasn’t too late. When I took my eyes off the ground and away from the branches that were nearly hitting my face, I finally looked up. I found myself standing outside of the forest and staring at the village. It’s hard to explain what I saw, but there were shocking orange trails flying at top speed throughout the village. They flew into the wooden houses through one side, and then out of another, it was unreal. If you take a pencil and make a figure 8 or an infinity sign with the eraser as quickly as you can, you can see the trails of the pencil run together. That’s what the orange trails looked like. Villagers ran from their homes, searching for safety. During that moment, I could see the future. My arms rose to a V. I looked up at the blue and orange sky and I screamed at the top of my lungs. It was the same scream I heard in my own house. The orange trails began to fly towards the sky – combining as one – and like a roller coaster, the single trail turned and flew straight down and then flew towards me. Out of fear for my life, I ducked and covered my face, but nothing happened. I looked up and a man was standing over me, causing me to jump back while my heart sunk into my stomach. I grabbed for grass and dirt and scooted backwards, trying to escape the man’s evil stare. His face was pale and his eyes were dark with a deep purple and a crimson red. I stood up, shook off the fear and came face-to-face with him.
In a savior’s action, a blueish, white trail flew from behind me, grabbing the man, ripping him away like how Superman would rescue a woman from a man with terrible intentions. I watched the demon turn into the orange trail once again, and then both trails circled each other, becoming intertwined like two twisted pieces of cherry Twizzler’s. There was a bright explosion of light above the village. The light shined as bright as the flame from a welder’s torch, I had to cover my eyes. When I looked up and adjusted my sight, the light had become fainter. I could barely see, but I saw a man and a woman, they were walking into the distance. The woman wore a wedding dress and the man a tuxedo. All the light, plus the man and woman disappeared. If you love someone, especially if you both die on your wedding day, you’ll stop at nothing to find each other.
Some things cannot be taught, they can only be learned. You can’t teach a demon how to love, but they can learn. Even a demon can learn to love something. Even evil can have compassion.