Uduak The Time Stopper
Fifteen minutes. That’s all it had taken to kill almost everyone in the village. Well, to be honest, the attacks had started a few weeks back. But they were sporadic. People had been disappearing into the jungle. They had found only traces of splattered blood of the victims.
Most people suspected some sort of animal had been killing them off. Some thought a lion. Others a pack of famished hyenas. The tribal chief had even suggested an angry gorilla.
Bat Uduak knew it had been none of those creatures. He had been out with the search parties. He had seen the tracks. If you could even call them that. They had looked more like the tracks of a python. But there had been lots of them. As if a pack of pythons had been hunting together.
He had mentioned it the first time they discussed it around the community fire at the center of the village.
The chief had mocked him. “Do you know how stupid you sound, Uduak?”
Everyone laughed along with the chief. Uduak was so embarrassed that he left the fire immediately and went home to sleep. But the next day, he could still see people smirking when they looked at him. But only until the next victim disappeared. After that, they lost one villager every other day.
People had stopped venturing so far out. The attacks had come closer and closer to the village. They held council meetings almost every night. They had called in hunters and witch doctors from far away tribes. But so far no one had come up with a solution. Until yesterday.
An old woman named Zodwa had appeared. Dressed all in white. She had promised to resolve their problem. The solution would be to prepare a great sacrifice. Thirteen animals of thirteen different species. Goats, sheep, chicken, ducks, swans, peacocks, hogs, cows, monkeys, frogs, pythons, turtles, shrews, and even rats.
Zodwa would bleed them out in the center of the village and satisfy the appetite of this famished creature. She said it was called Umhyg’vhoxr.
She told them it was an ancient creature that appeared once every century to feast on human flesh. All she required for payment of her services were the seven youngest children in the village.
Uduak protested violently. His youngest child had been born only two weeks ago. But the chief had promised the children to the woman anyway, despite Uduak’s threats and his wife’s screams.
They had been to no avail. Uduak had made preparations. He planned to flee with his wife and child at the first light of dawn. But the chief sent ten of his mightiest warriors out well before first light to gather the children to the center of the village.
Uduak lay in his hammock and tried to comfort his sobbing wife. At first light, he walked out to the center of the village, where the old crone was making her preparations.
“If your sacrifices fail, and anyone else is taken by this creature, I will sacrifice you to it myself,” he screamed in her face.
The chief sent the warriors out to drag Uduak away, kicking and screaming his threats into the air.
They tied him to the center pole of the men’s hut.
He struggled to get free from the ropes as he watched the old crone dance and chant around the village center as the villagers brought her the animals. One by one, Zodwa sacrificed them and poured out their blood onto the dirt as the sun rose higher in the sky.
The old crone had marked off the village center into thirteen sections. She sprinkled the blood of the 13 animals of each of the 13 species over the 13 sections. Zodwa had gone into a frenzied trance as dark clouds rolled over the village sky.
Groups of villagers stood around nervously in small circles, whispering in hushed voices as they watched her. Uduak could overhear Danai talking in one of the closer groups. She wished the old woman would hurry and finish because the entire ordeal frightened her terribly.
Danai was his wife’s best friend. Maybe she would help him escape so he could save his son.
“Danai!” he said. Not so loudly that he was yelling and might attract the attention of anyone else, but loud enough that she would be sure to hear him.
A moment passed and no one came. He was almost ready to call her again when she appeared at the doorway.
“What is it, Uduak?”
“Please, help me get loose. Help me save my son. If not for me, do it for my wife. You know the loss of our only son will devastate her.”
Danai looked to one side and then the other. He almost thought she was going to do it. But her face hardened.
“Sorry, Uduak. Your wife is my friend, and I feel bad for your child. But you can have other children. But we are trying to save the entire village. I can’t sacrifice the lives of the entire village to save your son.”
She turned and left. Uduak tried to hold back the sobs that welled up in his chest. He leaned forward and tugged on the ropes that lashed him to the pole with all his might. Uduak twisted and pulled until they cut into his wrists and he had no strength left.
Leaning back against the pole, Uduak could no longer hold back the sobs. He let out a loud wail.
“Shut up, Uduak,” said Tjaart, one of the chief’s warriors, who came storming over. “Zodwa says it will scare off the Umhyg’vhoxr. If that happens, the chief says he will come cut out your tongue and sacrifice your son himself.”
“Imagine if it were Mwangi, your son, who was to be given away to that old crone,” Uduak roared angrily. “Would you sit idly by while that witch fooled the entire village with her stupid rituals? She’s going to take our children, and people will continue to disappear. The chief is a fool to believe her.”
Tjaart slapped Uduak across the face. Pain exploded in Uduak’s head. Blinding him for a few seconds. He looked up and could see Tjaart’s mouth moving, but couldn’t understand anything the man was saying because of the dull roar in his head.
Uduak shook his head and looked down in shame at having been slapped while tied up without being able to defend himself.
“If I were not tied up, Tjaart, I would kill you with my bare hands. My rage and grief are so great.”
“You must not speak of the chief like that, Uduak,” Tjaart shouted back. “If you speak ill of him again, I will cut out your tongue myself.”
Then Tjaart moved forward and crouched down in front of Uduak, who was struggling against the ropes.
He placed his hand on Uduak’s shoulder and whispered in a hushed voice. “I’m sorry, my friend. I understand how you feel about your son. But you must let the chief do what he can to stop these attacks. It’s nothing personal. Every clan has lost a loved one these past few weeks. The life of your son is the price that is required to place an end to our suffering. Look on the bright side, your son will not die. He will live a good life and be well-taken care of in the care of Zodwa. Who knows? Maybe he will be trained by her and become a great mage himself.”
Uduak didn’t look up to acknowledge Tjaart’s words. He continued to sob quietly. Tjaart continued to squat beside him a while longer with his hand on Uduak’s shoulder until someone called him. He patted Uduak’s shoulder in acknowledgment of Uduak’s suffering before standing up and leaving.
Tjaart paused and glanced back from the doorway. His heart ached for the young father, who was grieving quietly. But Uduak still did not look up to acknowledge him. Tjaart held no ill will for the poor man. It was his first child. He had not yet lost a child, as Tjaart had. Three of his seven children had already passed on. He understood the grief that only a father could feel over the loss of his children. He felt bad for Uduak, but there was nothing he could do unless he wished to lose more children to this beast that was running loose out there.
After Tjaart had walked out the doorway, Uduak raised his head again to watch the Zodwa still chanting. She danced around the animals that she was sacrificing to the Umhyg’vhoxr. The woman seemed to near the end of her ritual ceremony. Having started with the smaller animals, she had worked her way up to the larger ones. Now, she was pouring basins of cow blood that the chief and his men were bringing her. Uduak moaned. This was it. The sacrifice was almost over, and then his child would be gone forever.
Uduak groaned again as he repeated his son’s name over and over. “Umukoro, my son. Umukoro, forgive me. Umukoro.”
He heard a slight rustle of thatch behind him. Uduak felt small hands pushing his hands back from the pole and tugging at the ropes. He sniffled and turned his head to see who was there.
“Danai?” he said in a surprised voice.
“Hush, man. Stay quiet,” she whispered as she tugged. “I couldn’t just walk in and untie you when you asked me to. Everyone would have seen it and killed me, along with the sacrifices. I snuck around to the back and waited for Tjaart to leave. But now I am here, you see. I can’t bear to think of Nkosazana’s child being taken by that crazy lady out there. She will treat him terribly, and perhaps even kill him. I couldn’t bear to have Nkosazana look at me, knowing that I did nothing to help save her firstborn child.”
“Where is my wife?” Uduak asked. “Why isn’t she here with you?”
Danai moved away from him, and he turned to see where the woman had gone. She was off in the far corner, pawing through items. She returned and Uduak saw she had a knife in her hands.
“She is tied up as well over in your home,” she whispered as she continued to saw away at the thick rope. “The chief is taking no chances. After you threw your fit, he had the parents of all seven children tied up in different huts.”
Uduak felt the tip of the blade nicking his skin as she came to the end. He flexed his muscles and pulled the rope taut to make it easier for her. The knife finally cut through the rope, and Uduak was able to pull his hands free.
“Umukoro and the other children are in the chief’s hut. Seven of the chief’s warriors guard them. Each child has its own protector. So be careful.”
He rubbed his chafed wrists for a second before grabbing the knife from her and sawing at the rope around his ankles.
“Thank you, Danai,” he whispered as he pulled the rope away from his feet. But when Uduak turned around, the woman was no longer there. She was long gone, having slipped out through the thatch wall the way she had come in.
“Thank you, Danai,” he continued to whisper repeatedly as he followed suit and slipped out through the thatch wall himself. “I will repay you for your goodness. I promise.”
Uduak walked straight out behind the house until he was well into the woods before cutting over towards his own home. He could see the villagers gathered into small groups in front of their homes as they watched Zodwa completing her mad ritual. She had finished slaughtering the animals and pouring out their blood into the hard clay ground of the village circle.
The smell of the blood of a hundred sixty-nine dead animals lay heavy in the air as Uduak moved downwind from the village center towards his home. He entered his home through the thatch wall as Danai had, still holding the blade that she had used to cut him free.
“Shhh, my love,” he whispered as he cut her free. “Let us save her son and escape from this place.”
“But where will we go?” she asked through sobs of her own.
“Anywhere we want. Far from here. As long as we have our son, it does not matter where we go.” Uduak whispered while going to fetch his gun from its shelf.
His wife’s face went pale when she saw the gun and asked who he planned to shoot. He didn’t intend to shoot anyone, only to scare them away from his son was his quiet reply. She was hobbling around the hut slowly as she gathered a few belongings. Uduak watched Zodwa as she began winding down her frenzied dance.
“Hurry, woman! We don’t have much time,” he whispered to Nkosazana. “I’m going to fetch our son. When you finish gathering your belongings, me down at the falls. We will cut downstream through the water to cover our tracks.”
His wife nodded silently as she gathered a few meager supplies in the kitchen. Uduak snuck out through the small hole in the wall and raced through the woods toward the chief’s hut.
Uduak heard loud screaming break out in the center of the village before he arrived there. He tried to glimpse what was going on out front, but all he could see were people running for their lives in all directions. He didn’t wait to figure out what was going on, but went ahead and pulled back enough thatch to see who was inside.
The seven children were all there. Lying side by side on mats that had been placed against the far wall. Four empty hammocks were strung parallel across the room, but there were no warriors there to guard the children. Uduak breathed a sigh of relief and pushed through the thatch to find his son. He rested his gun up against the wall and looked down to smile at his son.
Loud screams and smashing sounds filled the air. The smell of smoke began to fill the air. Uduak tiptoed toward the door to take a peek.
At first, he couldn’t tell what was going on. Screaming people were running in all directions. Massive clouds of dust filled the air over the village center, where the old crone had been just a few minutes earlier. Two of the huts over to his left had caught fire and were burning quickly.
The sparks from the burning fires floated through the air, landing on nearby houses. The houses burst into flames that rose rapidly and licked hungrily over the dry thatch homes. Then wafted into the air to be carried by the wind to the next hut.
Uduak could see other huts beyond the fire that looked like someone had flattened them to the ground. Loud crashing noises and screaming filled the dry, smoky air.
“What’s going on?” Uduak shouted at people racing back and forth. But no one stopped to answer him as they raced to put out the fires in the burning huts. Others attempted to pull out what little belonging they could before their huts burst into flames.
Beyond the dust and flames, Uduak saw what seemed to be a small dust devil of wind circling around the huts of the village in a clockwise direction. He couldn’t tell through all the dust and smoke in the air, but his house seemed to be burning as well. Hopefully, his wife had already made it out with their belongings. All he had to do now was grab his son and meet her at the waterfall.
Uduak turned back to pick up his son. He saw a woman race in through the door while screaming for her son.
“What is it, woman? The children are all right there.” Uduak shouted as he recognized the mother of one of the seven children who had been taken.
“My husband is dead. Everyone is dead. We are all dead.” She screamed at Uduak as she grabbed her child and ran for the door.
Another woman came in screaming for her child. This time Uduak grabbed her and shouted for her to tell him what was going on. The crazed mother struggled and screamed to get free, but he clasped her firmly. She finally fell, sobbing into his arms.
“Zodwa finished her incantation. And a whirlwind appeared from the direction of the river. It blew through the middle of the village. It sucked up the witch and her sacrifices. Then churned through the huts, knocking them down and sucking up all who were in its path.”
Uduak loosened his grip and took another look out the doorway. The mother yanked herself free and grabbed her child. She was gone by the time Uduak turned around. He could hear the sound of smashing huts getting closer. He raced to his son and squatted down to pick up his newborn carefully.
The stench of a dirty diaper assailed his nostrils over the stench of the dank, smoky room, but he didn’t bother trying to change it. He rose to his feet with his child and grabbed the gun with his free hand as he raced for the door. Not bothering to go through the back to avoid the warriors. No one was trying to stop him, anyway.
The thunderous smashing sound of something hitting the side of the hut roared around him. The thatched roof and walls came crashing down around him before he could get out of the building.
Uduak saw large dark tentacles moving in his direction as everything came crashing down around him. He felt the same slimy tentacles sliding over him and wrapping around his right leg. His knife came out of the sheath at his side, and he hacked it off. The blade cut through like soft gristle, and a loud shrieking sound filled the air.
Thatch from the roof and walls swirled around him as the beast churned through the hut. Then it was gone and everything fell silent. Uduak shook off the thatch that covered him as he rose to his feet to watch the dust moving back through the forest toward the river.
He breathed heavily with his hands on his knees till the fright had passed. Then Uduak remembered his son and began pulling back thatch to uncover the area around the hut. But his son was nowhere to be found. None of the other children were there either, as if the giant tentacled creature had snatched them all away.
He began pulling the thatch away frantically from the center of the house before sparks from other burning huts landed on it. Uduak searched desperately for his son. But the child was nowhere to be found. The only thing there was the floppy tentacle of the creature that Uduak had sliced off.
Uduak fell to his knees, moaning for his son. He stabbed the slimy tentacle with his knife and screamed in frustration and anger. Two other villagers came walking by in a daze as they gazed at the destruction and havoc that this vile monster had brought upon them. One of them began wailing loudly as the other tried to comfort her.
He walked through the dust and smoke toward the center of the village as sparks from the burning huts continued to waft down through the air. When he arrived at the center, Uduak saw that the creature’s swirling madness had put the ritual fires for the sacrifices out. Scattered ashes lay everywhere. But none of the sacrificed animals were anywhere to be seen, as if the monstrous beast had swallowed them up and taken them with him. Just as it had most of the villagers that were unfortunate enough to have crossed its path.
Uduak turned and walked toward his burning hut while screaming his wife’s name. He heard someone moaning and sobbing. Fearing the worst and expecting to see his wife’s broken body, Uduak was relieved to find that it was not Nkosazana. He could tell it was an older woman, but he wasn’t sure who until he pushed back thatch that covered her slimy, twisted body. The way she lay all crumpled and disheveled made it look as if the creature had vomited her out along its path.
It was Zodwa. Uduak roared in hatred. His first instinct was to drive the blade in his hand through her heart. But that would be a fate too good for her. Uduak wanted her to suffer. He wanted her to face the humiliation of recognizing what she had done.
He roared at her. A deep, primal roar, since no words could express the pain and anger that he felt. She closed her eyes and turned her face away from him until he finished. Smiled when she saw the chopped-off tentacle he was still holding.
“You follow that demon to its lair and kill it,” she whispered in a hoarse voice. “Gather the other men and finish it. The poison I placed in the sacrificed animals has weakened it.”
Uduak’s rage increased exponentially when the full weight of her words fell upon him.
“You mean you knew this would happen? You knew it would return?” Uduak screamed as he pressed the knife over her heart.
She nodded. “I remember when it came to my village. I have studied and waited all my life for it to make its reappearance. The more it eats the slower it becomes.”
“That thing had not slowed down much, you stupid old crone,” he yelled.
“Your village was smaller than mine was. It wasn’t as gorged as when it killed my people. But it still slowed down some. And the poisonous herbs I placed within the sacrificed animals will weaken it. Gather the men and follow its tracks to its lair. Finish it off.”
Uduak looked around the village circle. Only a few women stood in front of their huts. “There are no men left in the village,” he laughed mockingly at the old crone. Pressing the knife below her ribs.
“Then you must kill it yourself. Eat the monster’s tentacle and absorb its power. Then you can kill the Umhyg’vhoxr before it regains its strength.” Zodwa whispered. “Then, after you kill it, continue to eat it. Start with its heart. Then you will be fast enough and strong enough to kill any more of those creatures that enter our world.”
“You are one crazy, old woman,” Uduak growled while looking down at the tentacle still in his hand before asking. “Should I cook it?”
Zodwa shook her head. She chuckled at the horrified look on his face as he brought it to his lips. Uduak bit off a small piece and chewed it tentatively. It was slimy, but sweet.
He took another bigger bite and chewed faster. The old woman smiled in satisfaction and nodded as she watched him chew. She placed her hand on his stomach and whispered an incantation over him.
“I’m sorry for the suffering I brought your people. I knew it would come, but I didn’t think it would do this much damage. I thought the poison would eliminate it more quickly.” she said shakily, with her dying breaths.
Uduak didn’t answer. In fact, he didn’t really even hear her as his body absorbed the essence of the beast the tentacle belonged to. He didn’t even notice the old woman gasping for her last few breaths of air.
Everything grew silent around him. The world seemed to slow around him. He tore off larger chunks of the tentacle and gulped them down without even chewing them up completely. Uduak breathed heavily as he swallowed the last bite and stood to his feet.
The old woman lay silent and still at his feet. He bent over to close her eyes. Then walked to the group of women standing by the huts. They stood still, like statues. It freaked him out at first. The entire world around him seemed to be standing still.
Then he noticed a bird flying overhead, only it wasn’t moving either. He looked around and noticed a grasshopper in mid-jump. It seemed to be floating in the air.
As he watched, Uduak could tell that it was still moving forward, but so slowly that he could barely notice it. He looked back at the women and noticed one of them seemed to be moving her mouth, but so slowly that he couldn’t tell what she was saying.
The sudden realization of what Zodwa told him sank in. He had absorbed the creature’s speed by consuming its flesh. Maybe now he stood a chance of catching it and killing it. He ran over to where he had left his gun and threw thatch around until he found it.
As he stood up and glanced over at the women, he could see the fear etched in their faces as they turned slowly toward him and threw their hands up into the air. He could hear the screams welling up in their mouths. Uduak smiled at the scene, even though he realized how grim things looked.
Uduak turned and raced down the path of death and destruction that the creature’s whirlwind had left behind. It wasn’t hard to follow at all. The spinning and swirling tentacles tossed everything in its path. Unlike its previous victims, the Umhyg’vhoxr did not hide its trail this time. Its path led straight to the river and the falls, where he was supposed to meet with his wife.
But it was too late. Her bag with their belongings lay just off the path where the creature had tossed it before swallowing her up. Uduak screamed at the falls before him. The monster’s trail led straight to the giant waterfall. He followed the trail to the river but lost it when it entered the water.
Uduak looked downstream, wondering if it had gone that way, but shook his head. It was in no mood to play games like before. It had cut a straight path to its destination. He looked up at the mist spraying up from the sheets of water and wondered if it had flown to the top.
It could move fast, but hadn’t flown before. He tried jumping himself. Wondering, almost hoping that if so, he had absorbed its power to fly. But even though he jumped much higher than normal, gravity still pulled him right back down, albeit slower and lighter than normal.
The only logical explanation was that it had gone through the falls. Was it back there watching him even now? Trying to hide from him.
Uduak walked up the shore toward the waterfall. The sheets of water barely moved as they cascaded down. He reached out a hand and placed it in the water. It split over his hand and water moved slowly to the sides of his hand as he watched it continue to drop slowly toward the river.
He watched it with mesmerized fascination. Then shook his head to draw his attention back to the task at hand. He walked around the sheets of slowly dropping water and found a ledge moving along the back of the falls until he came to the center.
There was water running along the back of the wall here, but part of it was darker than the surrounding area. Uduak placed his hand through the slow-running water and once again watched it part for him to see a tunnel inside.
The furious man stepped through quietly. Careful to place each footstep slowly in the pool of water that gathered at the base of the tunnel so as not to make much noise. The light coming through the water falling behind him lit up the tunnel with a soft white light.
Uduak could see that the tunnel widened immediately, and a dozen steps led up into the cavern ahead. A soft reddish-orange glow lit up the inner chambers above him. He let his senses adapt to the dark environment around him.
With each step upward, his senses adapted to the cavern. He could tell that this was a much deeper perception than he had before, consuming the creature’s tentacle. He wondered what he would be able to do after consuming the Umhyg’vhoxr’s heart. His senses tingled with excitement as he moved slowly and quietly up each step.
He could see dark tentacles moving slowly against the reddish glow. Uduak gripped the gun tightly in his hands, wondering what it would look like and where he should shoot it.
Low squeals and grunts came in longer, and longer pauses until, finally, it fell silent. Picking up bits of rotted wood that stood against the wall, Uduak tossed them past the creature into the center of the room. Its tentacles twitched slightly at the sound, but other than that, the beast made no other sounds or movements.
Uduak continued to move slowly and silently up the steps, but once he arrived at the top realized there had been no need for stealth. It disappointed him killing the monster would be this easy. He would have enjoyed fighting this creature to the death.
The creature barely moved when he poked a tentacle with his knife. He pointed his gun at the beast, but wasn’t sure exactly where to shoot it. The mass of tentacles seemed to come from everywhere.
He poked and prodded, finally locating the mass the tentacles came from. He pointed his gun in the general direction and pulled the trigger until he had no more bullets. Then came the hard work of cutting off the tentacles one by one because he wasn’t really sure that the bullets had done anything to it.
The giant mass that was left was slimy and gross. But he continued to cut into it. It had organs he had never seen before when he was cleaning the game he hunted. But he recognized the heart when he came to it. It was larger than his head. Eating it took more than one meal to consume it all. But he knew he was different when he had finished.
Uduak had wondered if the poison the old crone had used would harm him when he ate it. But just like with the tentacle, the flesh was soft, slimy, and sweet.
A large stone table lay in the center of the cavern where Uduak pulled the tentacles to lay them out. It wasn’t a hard task with his newfound strength. The flesh of the Umhyg’vhoxr didn’t putrefy like he had expected or was used to with other animals he had hunted. Maybe it was because of the cool, damp environment, or maybe it was because of the nature of the creature’s makeup. But Uduak stayed in the cave until he had consumed the entire thing.
Between the flesh to eat and the water from the falls, Uduak felt no need to return to his village. He didn’t attempt to venture deeper into the cavern’s tunnels until he had absorbed all the creature’s powers. He sensed that there were more of these things down there. Someday, they would attempt to come to the surface.
When they did, he would be ready for them. But for now, Uduak was content to stay where he was. Each bite of the Umhyg’vhoxr allowed him to sense that he was avenging the death of his wife and son, as well as the entire village.
When he was ready, he would return to shambles the creature had left his village in. He would take new wives. He would have more children. And when he felt ready, he would hunt more of these creatures and feed them to his wives and children.
And when they had absorbed these powers, they would exact their revenge against the entire race of these creatures. They would save other tribes and villages from their dilemma and be revered for their speed and power. He would bring all those villages together under his rule as chief. And his sons would be princes over each tribe and village.
Uduak stood at the edge of the falls and roared a loud war cry into the tunnels as a warning to those Umhyg’vhoxrs that hid deep within its caverns. Then he turned to climb the path back to his village with the last two tentacles slung over his shoulders. He would feed them to those who had survived the attack of the Umhyg’vhoxr and together they would rise from the ashes to rule the world.