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Rated: 18+ · Short Story · Horror/Scary · #2276929
A strange choice for a pet.
The Tokoloshe

Ride the train through Botswana and you’ll find that traders gather at every stop, showing their wares and supplying tourists with mementoes of their visit. It doesn’t matter how insignificant the station, they will gather and raise their offerings to the carriage windows while crying out the delights of their various items.

“Tiny tortoise! Tiny tortoise!” I remember as the sales pitch of one particularly loud exponent of the marketing art. The item he was selling was a small wooden carving of a tortoise, rather than the actual creature, but there were a few others who held live animals of appealing nature for inspection by the travellers. Bush babies were popular, their tiny, furry bodies and enormous eyes being almost irresistible to most tourists.

Being an old Africa hand, I’d seen such things before and merely watched the fun. Then I noticed the one fellow who stood apart from the crowd, small cage in his hands, but still and silent as contrast to the milling crowd. There was something mesmerising in the way he remained aloof from the general tumult.

I beckoned to him, urging him to come closer. He stepped forward, still looking up at me as I leaned out of the window.

“What’s in the cage?” I asked.

“It’s not for sale,” was his answer.

“I didn’t say I wanted to buy it,” I replied. “Just let me have a look at it.”

He lifted the cage so that I could see inside. There was an animal crouched inside, smaller than a bush baby, but furry and with the huge eyes of a nocturnal creature. It was lighter than the grey bush baby, with tiny humanlike hands and prehensile feet.

“That’s not a bush baby,” I said. “What do you call it?”

He looked at me with expressionless eyes. “Tokoloshe,” he answered.

I don’t like travelling with extra baggage, especially when it requires constant feeding, but I wanted this little animal. It seemed so sad in its rickety cage and I had thoughts of returning it to the wild.

“How much do you want for it?” I asked.

He repeated that it wasn’t for sale.

“In Africa everything is for sale,” I told him, reaching for my wallet. I began to leaf through the notes inside, counting aloud. When I reached twenty, he held up a hand.

“You don’t want to buy this thing,” he said. “It is bad medicine.”

“I don’t want it for medicine. If you must know, I intend to set it free at the first opportunity.”

He snorted as though he found this idea ridiculous. “Crazy white guy,” he said. “Fifty.”

“Twenty-five,” I countered.

In the end we settled at thirty-nine fifty and he handed over the cage and its occupant. The train started then and I watched him from the window. He did not move, just standing there, gazing as the train disappeared into the distance.

I ensured that the door and windows were closed before I let the animal free to bounce around the compartment for a while. It’s back legs were very powerful and it was able to take very long jumps from floor to overhead luggage rack The initial burst of activity from it made me wonder how I was to feed it. Then it caught a fly, ate it, and I had my answer. I persuaded some of the other passengers to catch any flies, cockroaches or grasshoppers they came across during the rest of the journey.

Once in Cape Town, I realised that a big city was not the place to let the little creature fend for itself. I kept it on as a pet until I could find a more suitable place for release. It had never displayed any fear of me and was quite obliging when I needed to put it in its cage for a while. Nor did it seem to have any escapist desires, being happy to bounce around my apartment and land on me when it wanted human companionship.

Eventually I dispensed with the cage and the tokoloshe lived with me, free to come and go as it pleased. I named him Manfred, in spite of the fact that I still had no idea of his gender. We existed in what seemed perfect harmony.

Then the company recalled me to England and I had to wade through red tape to have Manfred accompany me. I was close to giving up on the idea before the necessary licenses came through. The two of us flew to a new home in the grey and soggy land of my birth.

I think it was the weather that brought about the change in Manfred. The constant lack of sunshine and grey cityscape through the windows seemed to be draining him of energy and life. He stopped coming to me for companionship and his fur became very thin. Even so, the veterinarian assured me that there was nothing wrong with the little fellow.

Knowing that the vet had never seen such an animal before, I doubted his optimism, as Manfred sank deeper into his depression. All his fur fell out, leaving him thin and wrinkled, and he ate less and less. I tried other insect food but nothing interested him. He found hiding places all over the apartment and stayed in them for weeks.

In the darkest days of January, the apartment conspired against me. One night the toilet somehow became crammed with great wads of paper and I spent an hour getting it unblocked. Manfred was there, watching me from one of the high cupboards. I considered his apparent guilt but dismissed it. How could such a tiny creature have stuffed all that paper into the mouth of the toilet?

In the days following, several things went wrong and, each time, Manfred watched as I struggled with the effects of the disasters. A kitchen tap turned itself on and the resultant overflow flooded the entire kitchen. Curtain rails lost their grip on the walls and came crashing down, bringing the curtains with them. Saucepans that I had not left on the stove boiled over. Manfred watched it all from some high perch, never moving but ever present.

I started creeping about the house, hoping to catch whoever was perpetrating these incidents. My nights were spent in peering from hiding at a likely point for the next attack. And, finally, I caught him at it.

Manfred, screwdriver in hand, was attacking the screws holding my bedroom door. I would not have thought him capable of holding the implement so deftly, let alone having the strength to turn any screws with it. But there he was, the evidence of his ability the top half of the door already free of support and leaning drunkenly as the lowest hinge became loose.

I gave a yell of fury and leapt from my hiding place. Manfred whipped round, saw me and then ran for one of his boltholes. I swear he was giggling as he did so.

That night I searched for him without success. His hiding places were carefully chosen and always in the most unlikely places. The only time I ever found one of them was when I was actually looking for something else. I slept fitfully through the day and spent the night hunting him. And still the “accidents” continued to happen, each time a little worse and more time-consuming in their repair.

Sometimes I see Manfred in a darkened corner but he is too quick for me. Always he scoots off at the last moment, as though taunting me with his speed. And yes, I hear him laughing as he runs away.

I have sworn that I will not cease until I have captured the little bastard and dealt with him appropriately. What that means, I don’t know but I’ll think of something. In the meantime, I have stopped going to work and I sleep only when I have to. All my time is a matter of skulking around the house, lying in wait, and bounding from hiding on the rare occasions when I see him. I am desperately short on sleep but I dare not give up the hunt. If I give him enough time he’ll bring the whole block down around me, I know it. His last trick was to turn on the gas stove and leave it. One spark and the place would have been a black hole in the side of the building.

At least I know what I’m dealing with now. I googled the word tokoloshe and this came up: A Southern African dwarf-like water sprite. It is considered a mischievous and evil spirit that can become invisible by drinking water or swallowing a stone. Tokoloshes are called upon by malevolent people to cause trouble for others. At its least harmful, a tokoloshe can be used to scare children, but its power extends to causing illness or even the death of the victim.

I wonder, can one actually die from sleep deprivation?

Word count: 1,500
For Weekly SCREAMS!!! 07.22.22
Prompt: "I kept it as a pet."

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