THE CURIOUS MAN

This is a story of a man. 

A man not unlike most men, whose greatest desire was to have wealth beyond imagination, more money than he knew what to do with.

A common desire.

Having gone through most of his life either not having any money or having just enough to get by, he, like most men wished for a better life for himself and his loved ones. He hoped for the day they would not have to worry about money, or the lack of, ever again.

But it was not necessarily the desire to be rich that led him to the shack that fateful afternoon when he thought to himself “I have nothing to lose” 

But the very simple thought of “what if?”. “What if there was something that could be done?, what if there was a chance that he could have all the money he’d ever need, what if…?”

He had heard about the man they called “the wailer”.  The man was not sure exactly why the wailer was called that but it was whispered that in this particular part of the forest where the wailer’s shack stood; every night sorrowful cries would be heard coming from it. No one was ever seen going in or coming out of it, so it was always speculated that it was the old man crying out for his soul that he had sold to the Devil in exchange for life eternal.

He had also heard stories of how the richest families owed their wealth to the wailer, stories no one could prove, nor could they dare ask those in question.

No one really believed those “fairy tales” as he called them. “But what is the harm?” the man thought. “What if it is true what they say…?”

Of course he had heard about ‘the consequence’. It was also whispered that those that sought the help of the wailer would indeed be helped but there was always a catch.  “Sure there had to be” The man thought, “there always is for everything, why should this be any different?”

It was not hard to see why many believed this man was centuries old; he looked it. He was small, bony and dressed in rags with old dry skin, but his eyes, they were as clear, healthy and white as a new born, and they did look sorrowful, every movement he made was slow and agonised.

The shack itself held little more than sack cloth and bottles containing substances the man would rather not think or speculate about, and a fire right in the middle of it.

 “I can never seem to get warm” the wailer mumbled as he rocked himself, arms across his chest so his hands held on to his shoulders, back and forth. He was pitiful, the man thought.

All it took was a few drops of his blood, which the wailer drew by biting the man’s thumb and sucking on it, then he spit it out into an old calabash bowl and drawing some of his own blood the same way, he spit it into the bowl as well, this, he did astonishingly fast. Then the wailer mumbled “the earth as a witness” as he bent to get a pinch of soil and threw it into the calabash.

The wailer closed his eyes as he slowly swung the calabash in a circular motion, making the contents swirl, he looked into the calabash as he said “once our business here is done, you may not come back, I guarantee that you will want to but only those who have never sought my help before may find me. The earth bears witness to this contract and acknowledges that you came of your own volition, it will make sure the bond is kept”

He then looked up and said:
“Your request has been accepted, every morning when you wake up you will find a sum of money under your pillow, I cannot say how much it will be. However you shall have to spend it all before sun set every day and only you may spend it. Forever!”
With that, the wailer stood and threw the calabash into the flames.

The man was still in shock after having had his thumb bitten and then seeing the resulting blood spit in to a bowl, he said nothing through the whole affair and left the shack clutching his wounded hand and feeling very stupid for having gotten himself bitten by an old mad man.

It’s a good thing there was no request for payment, otherwise he would have shown the wailer what was good for him.

He went to bed thinking nothing of his visit to the shack, he slept through the night but his sleep was troubled, he dreamt, but was not sure if it was a dream the more he thought of it later.

The dream was of his uncle, his mother’s elder brother with whom he used to go hunting in his childhood, he was a jovial man his uncle and a gifted story teller as well. He was seated at the side of the man’s bed, he had died 6 years earlier but he looked just like he did when the man went on those hunting trips with him.

“You caved my son” was the first thing he said to him with a smile.

“Did I ever tell you the story of the time I went to visit an old friend of mine in my youth?

I was back at the village then, my friend lived in one of the neighbouring villages. He and his family welcomed me very well as they had been requesting for months that I go visit them, they had a huge farm with plenty of animals and I relished at the thought of bringing home some cured game meat and fresh vegetables.

But that night as I slept I heard a loud thud and sudden pressure on my shin bone, I woke up to the most excruciating pain of my life accompanied by some very strange sensations, it felt like my shin bone was being pulled out, I couldn’t see it but when I held on to my leg the sensation stopped, the moment I let go, it came back, it went on like that for the longest time until the sensation went all of a sudden, in the morning I noticed I had a limp in that leg and it never went away, that is how I got my limp.

I left that village first thing in the morning and went straight home, I told my father this story and he told me that they were trying to steal my shin bone, they use them in rituals. I never visited nor heard from my friend again.”

“Why do you tell me this uncle” the man asked.

“Because I never told you, I felt I owed you this, but I guess it’s a little too late now” he said, still smiling…

When the man woke in the morning, he felt exhausted, like he had spent the entire night running.

He then scolded himself for failing to resist the urge to look under his pillow. There he found a dirty bag made of sack cloth. 

“Could it be?” he thought as he reached to open it.

His heart beat wildly in his chest as he stretched out his hand, intoxicated by the thought of what could be, if only, let it be, please let it be…
The bag felt heavy in his hand as he lifted it up from under the pillow, fear and excitement poured into his mind, he opened the bag and indeed it contained 12 bundles of cold hard cash. All in big bills, then into his mind like a cold chill came the warning, “spend it all before the sun sets”.

It only took 10 months before the burden to spend finally got too heavy for the man, every day he woke up with but one thought…”how do I spend it today?” Every waking moment of his life became about spending.

His family was now well out of financial trouble but he could never really explain where he got all that money. “I’ve been doing business” was not a satisfactory response for the local authorities whose interest he had peaked with his reckless spending, how does a man explain all that property accumulation.

It wasn’t long before he had to leave town, when having run out of ideas on what to buy, he went on a rampage, giving away the money to people he felt needed it, every time he gave the money to someone, they looked at him like he had taken leave of his senses, he found out that it was because the money was only visible to him up until he was about to buy something with it, the moment he gave the money to someone he wasn’t buying something from, the money turned into old crumpled paper… This money had to be spent, and by only him, as the wailer instructed.

People couldn’t stop talking about how he had lost his mind. And how it must have looked; the man, suddenly insanely wealthy went about the town giving away pieces of paper to the poorest of the poor, claiming it was money, the nerve of him!

The shame alone would have been enough to drive him out of town but that night he received a visit from the wailer…

He should have been scared, for it was indeed a scary sight, an old, presumed senile man appearing in the middle of the man’s luxurious bedroom, the fire was present and it seemed to be burning from the floor though the marble floors showed no signs of being burned. The man wanted to ask how he got in but he thought better than to do so.

The wailer talked first, he said ‘’you get to ask three questions’’

“Am I in trouble? the man asked”

“You are in trouble, you broke the rules” the wailer replied.

What can be done?

“You must leave this place, people are talking, no good comes out of people talking and speculating. Some of them have been very close in their speculation of what might be going on with you… you have one last question.”

The man wanted to ask about that night, the first night when he dreamed about his dead uncle, was it really a dream…? What had happened to him? But he chose instead to ask “what about my family?”

“You will have to figure out how to buy and send to them. Which reminds me, the deal was to help you and your family, no one else. You cannot help anyone else with this money that was a further breaking of the rules you did today”

The man woke in the morning not remembering how or when he went to sleep. He found no signs of the wailer. The consequence wasn’t so bad, he thought. Leaving town wasn’t so bad. He contemplated moving with his family but he did not want to subject them to the strangeness of his life anymore, he’d just have to arrange for what he bought for them to be sent here, which was easy enough.

In those months he that followed, he thought about going back to the wailer, indeed he tried to but as the old crock foretold, he could not find him, he didn’t dare ask anyone for help, those who did not already think he had gone mad would most definitely think…well he was not sure what they would think or do but he was sure he wouldn’t like it.

The day came when the man grew tired of spending, he grew tired of the money and thinking about how to spend it, this was what his life came down to now. He was lonely, depressed and ready for whatever consequence.

Being away from his family did prove to be more difficult than he anticipated, he found that as with the shack, he could not find his hometown when he decided to personally take home some groceries; it was like life had played a cruel joke on him.

He was in a town he didn’t know and had no time to get to know or to make friends, all that he could do was spend and think about what to spend on.

One morning, resigned to his fate, he put back the sack under his pillow and did not get out of bed.

He wished he had married and given his mother those grandchildren she so badly wanted from him even though she had plenty from his siblings as he constantly reminded her.

As he stared into space a story his uncle had told him on one of their hunting trips came to mind, he was not sure whether it was true or not but it had scared him for weeks and his mother was so cross with his uncle, she didn’t like it when he told the children ‘horror stories’. The story took place, like all of his uncle’s stories at the village in his uncle’s youth.

The village was moving locations because of the drought, on the day that the village moved his uncle decided to stay behind and wait for his dog that had gone away somewhere all day, this was against the advice of the village elders.

His uncle went to sleep in his old room and hours later was awakened by the sound of a baby crying, the sound seemed to be coming from the kitchen, he went there and as he walked he heard thuds like someone pounding something using a motor and pestle, the sounds got louder as he walked closer to the kitchen, he walked in but saw no one.

The noises where still there, in fact they were louder than ever, then from behind him he heard the voice of a man shout angrily “will you get that baby quiet woman!”.

His uncle did not look back, he jumped through the kitchen window and ran till he got to the new village. When he got there he found he could not talk from shock and having run such a long distance, they had to pour cold water on him to calm him down.

That story made the man smile now, he had asked his mother if it was true once, she said she didn’t know, since her brother was much older than her but she remembered that they moved villages in her childhood because of the drought.

The people that found the man’s body the next day say that it was covered in maggots that seemed to have come out from his own flesh, there were holes from which the maggots emerged and his body was riddled with snake bite marks.

The state of how he was found was kept a secret from his family who went back into a state of poverty shortly after the man’s death.

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