SHORT STORY: Trapped in darkness

Friday April 09 2021

The dark, still night erupted in colour, lights, sparks and loud, obnoxious booms that sounded kilometres away. ILLUSTRATION | JOHN NYAGA


A sudden movement against the still shadows of the night caught Kiarie’s attention. The movement was so quick he almost missed it, only it was the hour of the night when nothing moved without sinister motives.

He stood up and reached down to lower the volume of his small radio, then hesitated. Better to appear none the wiser. He sat slowly down, a feeling of dread enveloping him, magnifying the unseen threats in the dark night beyond.

Sir and Madam had left Kiarie in charge of their palatial town home over the weekend, as they took what was meant to be a quick trip upcountry to visit their farm.

But that short visit had turned into an unwelcome extended holiday when a curfew and cessation of movement order to curb the spread of a global pandemic was suddenly announced by the president, effective only hours after it was announced. Sir and Madam were stuck in the countryside for the foreseeable future, and Kiarie, well Kiarie was in charge.

He quickly dismissed the rest of the staff for a week, meaning to have the place to himself. He strutted to and fro across the extensive property, lounged princely in the gazebo shaded with blooming bougainvillea in violent shades of pink and purple, he pranced about feeling his importance despite the fact that there was no one else around. But tonight, tonight he felt nothing but fear as he stared off into the shadows beyond his little watchman’s post, and wondered what he would do if indeed that was something he’d seen.

A gentle wind broke the stillness of the night, rustling the leaves of the foliage fence surrounding the house, setting them dancing, a motion that put Kiarie even more on edge as he peered off intensely trying to distinguish innocent movement from the threat that was raising the hairs on his head. Now he lowered the volume of his radio as the noise of the football match he’d been listening to was beginning to fray his nerves.


The wind was dying down, the leaves losing their momentum, the stillness returning… There! There it was again, the unmistakable figure of a person, darting away. He jumped to his feet, heart hammering in his chest and begun wringing his hands, his mind fumbling over one ineffective plan after another before finally giving into panic.

“Oh, they’re going to take everything and I’m going to lose my job,” he moaned quietly, thinking how that would be a death sentence in this economy, not to mention its state post pandemic…

“…Or kill me!” he interrupted himself mid-thought, now struck with the terror of his own mortality, and he would have crumpled and given up when a dog’s bark jerked him out of his despondency.

Kiarie perked up. He had completely forgotten the dogs! They weren’t really guard dogs, pampered and coddled as they were, but Kiarie had a mischievous secret. A whistle only the dogs could hear, that he’d used many a time to drive them crazy and in turn Sir and Madam too, whenever he was in a peevish mood.

He hurried into the little watchman’s post and rummaged in his things, pulling out the whistle, a short but sharp pen-knife that he hoped he wouldn’t need to use, a smoke to settle his hands and some matches. Then he ran to a large dog pen behind the gazebo and opened it.

Only one out of the four dogs was alert to the presence of intruders, the others slept peacefully, scratching at the air, engrossed in their dreams. Kiarie stepped back and blew the whistle with all his might.

The effect was instantaneous. The dogs were up and pelting away at full speed barking madly, before they were even yet fully awake. Kiarie smiled at his trick, and now emboldened, crept into the shadows of the gazebo and sat huddled on the ground, smoking and blowing the whistle intermittently.

“That should scare them away,” he chuckled as he heard one of the dogs howl with gusto, but his elation turned quickly to cold fear as a gun sounded and the howl turned into a whimper.

“Oh God,” Kiarie mouthed, snuffing out his cigarette as the dogs came yelping back to the safety of their pen, now one less.

Out of courage

Kiarie was out of clever ideas but more so, out of courage, not that he had ever had an abundance of it. He hightailed it to a small storehouse at the edge of the property, scrambled inside and sat shaking, hiding. After some minutes had passed and his heart rate slowed, he shuffled about to find a more comfortable position to pass his vigil, and stepped on something that crunched underfoot. Unwilling to feel about in the dark when this storeroom hadn’t been cleared in years, Kiarie pulled out a match and struck it, quickly looking around to get his bearings.

When the fickle light flickered out, Kiarie had a plan. The night was getting colder, the dogs were still barking, albeit not as fiercely. Kiarie crept out of the storeroom, his arms full of last year’s New Year fireworks, and begun running in random fashion across the large garden, stopping and crouching down every so often to plant one and light it. The dark, still night erupted in colour, lights, sparks and loud, obnoxious booms that sounded kilometres away. The dogs were aroused once again and even Kiarie, caught up in the moment, begun to scream and yell. It was a magnificent commotion.


The jail cell was damp and mould grew in the numerous crevices on the stone wall, some man-made, tally marks detailing the years, signatures, crude sayings; some natural formations where the steady dripping of water had worn away at the stone.

Two inmates languished listlessly on the bunk bed that dominated the room. The man on the lower bunk was reading loudly from a crinkled up newspaper cutting, and his companion on the top bunk leaned over to watch him, listening intently. When he was done reading, his friend grunted in disgust and spat a wad of spit across the tiny room.

“Old lying braggart! Defended the place alone! Ha! I’d like to see that old man stand up to us any day….”

“Cool down… Of course he’s lying,” the reader agreed readily, “Dogs from hell, guns, tens of men…that place was a fortress!”