François and his two colleagues, Fondzenyuy, and Murphy, stared at the gas siphoning system installed in Lake Nyos with excitement. Two very long polyethylene pipes set up vertically from the bottom of the lake to its surface emerged in the middle of a floating raft, on which the scientists stood. They wore gas masks, life jackets and boots.
“Are we ready to launch it?” François asked.
“Yes, the equipment is ready,” Fondzenyuy confirmed.
“It’s D-Day. You look a little nervous, Docteur François,” whispered Murphy, as the French scientist pinned his gaze on the water surface.
“Murphy, c’est comme si j’ai vu quelque chose…”
“What?” Murphy asked.
“I think I saw something move on the water’s surface over there,” he pointed. Murphy looked, almost squinting.
“I don’t see anything. Maybe it’s just the sun’s reflection, or you’re just eager to launch so that we can be done with this tedious project,” Murphy said.
François raised his voice, “Okay, on my count. Four, three, two, one, zero, initiate the process!”
Murphy pushed a button on the remote control. A buzzing drone flew upwards and mechanically unwound a pipe screw with its long spike. An automatic pump rocked back and forth. Water saturated with gas rose rapidly, entering the polyethylene pipes. The bubbles drove the gas-liquid mixture upwards, far above their heads, in a raucous frothy spray, like a fizzy drink being opened.
“Initiate!” François shouted once more. Murphy propelled the drone higher. It undid another pipe screw, triggering a second degassing of water which landed on the lake’s rippling surface.
“Et pour la dernière fois!” François boomed again, pumping his right fist in the air. A third siphoning ejected a strong water jet.
“Oui!” François celebrated their achievement.
“Oh, we did it. We made history!” Murphy cheered.
“Finally, after so many years of research,” Fondzenyuy beamed, switching off his video camera after filming the experiment.
“C’est incroyable. Quel exploit, et sans précédent. Le premier projet de dégazage au monde,” François bluffed with peacock pride. The men embraced each other. They took off their gas masks and stepped aboard a speed boat anchored next to the raft. Murphy rode it ashore, admiring the deep, still lake situated in a circular maar high on the flank of the Oku volcanic plain. He looked up at the natural dam composed of rock which surrounded the lake’s waters and remembered how they had hatched the whole grand idea.
They had all heard the news via international media that a volcanic lake had exploded in the central African nation of Cameroon, suffocating hundreds of people in 1986. It had been an unheard sort of disaster, so Murphy had immediately expressed interest in investigating the lake. His university, Harvard, teamed him with the acclaimed French scientist, François Dumas, as research leaders for the project. They had both travelled to Nyos where the lake was situated. Murphy had moved about, examining the remains of the victims which offered no clues—the corpses showed no evidence of bleeding, physical trauma, or disease, and no sign of exposure to radiation, chemical weapons, or poison gas.
He had been baffled, until he stumbled upon a small clue—all the lit oil lamps in Nyos had been extinguished. François had also observed from satellite images that the lake’s colour had changed from blue before the explosion to a murky reddish brown. He carried out tests and the results showed that the red on the surface was dissolved iron, normally found at the bottom of the lake. Fondzenyuy, a Cameroonian scientist who worked with them, had suggested a theory. He hypothesized that the sediment at the lake’s bed had somehow been stirred up and the iron brought to the surface, where it turned to rust after being oxidized by air.
The three men had built heavily on their gas theory. They attributed the release of carbon dioxide gas not to a volcanic eruption in the lake, as there had been no seismic activity in the area, but to the active magma chamber that fed the lake’s bed deep below the surface of the earth. They concluded that the lake’s carbon dioxide had apparently never left its bed. Instead of bubbling to the surface like in all other lakes, it had accumulated at the bottom. An event such as a landslide had surely resulted in the rapid mixing of the supersaturated deep water with the upper layers of the lake, where the reduced compression allowed the pressurized carbon dioxide to effervesce out of the solution. It had done so in a chain reaction and had violently released a gas cloud in what they called a limnic eruption. It was that gas cloud which had enveloped Nyos, Kam, Cha and Soghum.
Murphy had later tested water samples from the lake and realized that its carbon dioxide content was rising steadily again.
“Oh no, so what do we do?” he wondered aloud.
“Firstly, we will ask the Cameroonian government to raze all the neighbouring villages at risk and relocate them far away from here,” François said.
“That’s a good idea,” Murphy affirmed.
“Then, we will degas the lake,” he added.
“Degas the lake! How’s that possible? It has never been done before. That lake is two hundred metres deep!” Murphy pointed out.
“Well, before airplanes flew in the air, they first flew in the brain,” François chimed, widening his confident eyes.
Murphy smiled and switched off the boat’s engine when they reached the bank. A young intern from Nyos called Nkwain, who was working on the project, hurried towards the boat.
“Congratulations, I saw the degassing. It was impressive,” he said and smiled.
“Thank you,” said Murphy. Nkwain helped the men out of the boat.
“So, what is next for the project?” the intern asked.
“We need to find funding to execute it,” François answered.
“So, if the degassing is done successfully, will my people be safe from another catastrophic outgassing?” Nkwain asked.
“Yes and no. We recently discovered that the northern wall of the lake is weakening. It may give way in a couple of years, releasing a lot of water and gas in a disaster which may exceed that of 1986. It can be reinforced with a lot of money and time, though,” Murphy answered.
Nkwain’s face fell. “Oh no!” the young man moaned.
“What?” asked Fondzenyuy.
“Our people are still resettling in the village,” Nkwain said.
“So they ignored our advice not to resettle there?” Fondzenyuy asked.
“Did the government not raze all the villages surrounding the lake?” François was perplexed.
“That was many years ago. The villagers have gradually started returning to their land, building new houses and cultivating old farms despite our pleas,” Nkwain told them.
“Est-ce que tu es sûr?” François asked.
“Oui, Docteur.” François felt it was like going to sit on a toilet bowl with an alligator in it.
“I think we should go and see for ourselves then,” Fondzenyuy proposed.
“Good idea,” François said.
The scientists walked to the construction site where a muscular, dark-skinned man was sticking wooden poles in the earth and giving instructions. Twelve others hammered planks with nails. They had already constructed a few wooden houses.
“Good morning, my people,” Fondzenyuy greeted. The men answered, barely looking back. The muscular man squinted at Fondzenyuy.
“You’re…Joseph, right?” Fondzenyuy asked. “I think we met last time.” The man nodded.
“My friend, I know they say there is no place like home but, as we earlier explained, Nyos is a high-risk zone. It’s not advisable to continue resettling here, please.”
“So what do you want us to do? Return to the camps?” Joseph asked.
“Em, yes, for now,” Fondzenyuy answered.
“We are not going back to that ugly place anymore. Goment has abandoned us. We can’t even farm near the camps because the soil there is not fertile. Even if it is, it is owned by other people. We are tired of waiting there with nothing to do, watching our children die of hunger, disease and neglect when our fertile ancestral lands are right here, unoccupied,” Joseph reasoned, pointing towards the ground with his forefinger. The other men nodded.
“Good point, Joseph. The problem is not with the village land. It is with the lake,” Fondzenyuy pointed at Lake Nyos.
Joseph dropped the wooden pole, placed his hands on his hips and bellowed, “What’s wrong with our lake?”
“That’s the world’s deadliest lake,” François informed him. “There are three hundred million cubic metres of lethal carbon dioxide gas at its bed. Another outgassing may occur at any time, suffocating animal life just like it did back in 1986—especially if we don’t degas it quickly. Even as we’re standing here, we’re all at risk.”
“The northern wall of Lake Nyos is greatly weakened. If it gives way, about half of the lake’s water will flow through this village and three others all the way to the Nigerian border. It will trigger another disaster, far worse than what happened in the past,” Murphy added, pointing towards the northern end of the lake’s circular maar.
“I don’t understand that your big book,” Joseph retorted. “There is nothing wrong with our lake. We have performed a sacrifice to appease our gods and the spirit woman who lives in it. Nothing is going to happen there again,” he told them.
“Why do you think your government razed all the villages surrounding it when the disaster happened?” François asked.
“Probably to enable you to keep testing the bomb you threw there,” one of the builders said. François gasped out loud.
“That’s ridiculous. Nobody tested a bomb in your lake.” Murphy shook his head and started scribbling in his notebook.
“Then what caused the disaster?” the builder asked.
“The lake exploded due to intense pressure, releasing carbon dioxide gas which suffocated people,” François repeated. Joseph shook his head.
“Tsiup! More big book I don’t understand. I was right here in Nyos when it happened, all those years ago, it wasn’t any explosion.” Everybody turned in his direction. Joseph continued speaking, lowering his voice to a moody baritone.
“There is a spirit woman who inhabits Lake Nyos. That night the lake was bubbling. It sounded like the woman’s grumbling. My grandfather told me she was very angry. After some time, the bubbling stopped and then she violently emerged from the lake and killed everybody around it.”
François shook his head and mumbled to himself, “Ignorant fool,” before asking aloud sarcastically,
“Why did she get angry and kill everybody?” The other academics laughed.
“That’s because the gods of the lake were angry with us,” Joseph answered, fixing his gaze on Lake Nyos, ignoring their derision.
“That is sheer legend! It’s not what happened,” Murphy mumbled over his notebook.
“Do you think you know what happened?” Joseph scowled.
“Yes. We didn’t know before but after a thorough investigation, we do now,” François answered.
“When you weren’t here that night?” Joseph said, widening his eyes.
“Le fait que nous ayons été là ou pas n’a aucune importance dans nos recherches,” François snapped. He began walking towards Murphy, thinking of the best way to convince Joseph who was of protozoan intellect. He signalled his other colleagues towards him, so they could discuss how to deal with his science denial.
Joseph glared at the retreating white man who hadn’t witnessed that strange disaster yet claimed to know what happened. It was absurd. He laughed at the man, walked past the other builders and sat near a pole thinking, “How can he know when I was there? How can I forget the night of August 21, 1986?”
He was fast asleep on a mat while his grandfather was nodding on his chair when the old man started hearing a strange rumbling. He woke up and peered through the window into the clear moonlit night. The strange rumbling ceased for a couple of seconds and started again, waking Joseph. He looked around then glanced out of the window as well.
“What was that?” Joseph asked.
“I don’t know,” his grandfather answered.
The old man yawned and stroked his beard. Joseph walked past the lit oil lamp to the open window. He peered through it and then went to the door, which he opened, to find out where the noise was coming from. His grandfather rose from his chair and limped past his wife and great granddaughter, who were both sleeping on a small bed. He met Joseph at the door.
“Where is that sound coming from?” Joseph asked, scanning the horizon.
His grandfather didn’t respond. They both stared at the grass fields, at the silhouettes of trees on the tall hills spanning the banks of Lake Nyos. Joseph saw an unusual misty cloud mushrooming above its surface.
“It is probably coming from the lake,” he suggested. “I’m wondering why there is that strange mist.”
“It’s a sign,” his grandfather said.
“That sounds like grumbling to me. There is a spirit woman who inhabits Lake Nyos and other lakes in this region. I think she is angry.”
Joseph continued listening. The boiling sound ceased and there was silence, except for the breathing sounds of his grandmother and niece. Joseph waited. He turned to go when suddenly: Booooom! An explosion thundered through the night air. Joseph spun around, just in time to see the lake spewing a gigantic frothy spray, which shot up hundreds of metres of vigorously effervescing gases. They were both shoved to the ground from the shock. A huge water current spawned a tsunami-like wave which surged and scoured the shore of the northern wall, shattering trees.
His grandmother and niece promptly woke up and ran to the door to see what had happened. They only saw a white gas haze over the lake rippling with floating branches. They didn’t see a gas cloud spilling over the northern lip of the lake and sinking into the valley, totally hugging the ground along its path to Nyos; fast and furiously. Joseph’s grandmother and niece both inhaled a pungent smell like that of rotten eggs. And after barely a few breaths, they couldn’t even open their mouths because the stench had become unbearable.
Joseph’s grandmother tumbled by the door and lost consciousness. His niece started fanning her nostrils with her hands. Joseph got back to his feet and pulled his niece by the collar of her blouse away from the door. He shut it tight. They both panted as he placed her back on the bed and closed the window. The little girl struggled to breath and held her chest. Joseph wanted to tell her to calm down, but no sound came from his mouth. Instead, he coughed, took a few steps forward to check on his grandparents and fell. He passed out as a strange type of warmth swept into the house.
A ray of light shone on Joseph’s face. He woke with a start. Sharp needle like pains ripped through his eyes and nostrils. His ears hurt. He felt weak and nauseated. He ran his hands over his shorts and noticed honey-coloured stains patterned it. He also saw a starchy mess on his body. There were small wounds on his arms. He heard his grandfather snoring rather abnormally. The atmosphere seemed unusually devoid of all animal sounds. The flame in the oil lamp had flickered out.
He dangled towards his grandfather, shaking him. The old man moaned and tilted his head to the right. Sticky red liquids and lesions covered his wrinkled body. Joseph tried to talk to him but he couldn’t. He coughed, wiped his eyes with his fingers and walked over to his grandmother. He shook her but she didn’t wake up. His niece wasn’t breathing either. Joseph collapsed on her lifeless little body and wept.
He woke up, swayed to the door, unbolted it and halted. He did not push it open. He stooped and then sat on the bare earth for a long time, as he struggled to breathe. When his grandfather rolled over, it occurred to him that sitting there made no sense at all. They both needed help. What if he also died in his sleep? He was nevertheless terrified by what lay beyond the walls of their house.
He tied his handkerchief around part of his face, covering his nose, then partially opened the door. The afternoon sun seethed its incandescence on the plain, scorching the grass. He walked out after he observed that the misty cloud had cleared. He removed the handkerchief from his nose. He didn’t get the rotten egg smell when he inhaled anymore. The lake looked shallower. Tree branches floated on it. Its surface had a very unattractive rusty colour, which contrasted how it looked the previous day, when it was a scenic lake, with its blue hue glistening in the sun’s rays against the navy-blue skies.
He inspected the piggery and the goat house: every single livestock was dead. He decided to check on their neighbour, Ngwa. Nobody responded to his knock, so he pushed open their door and peeped. Ngwa, his wife, his grandmother and seven children all lay lifeless on different grass mattresses. A slimy liquid was smeared on their corpses which were covered in copious wounds, as if they had been trapped under a hailstone of fire. Joseph ran away, glancing at their wide-open window.
He decided to leave Nyos for Wum, a nearby village. He pushed out his motorcycle then went back and shook his grandfather. He woke up, looking frail and groggy.
“Where… is…?” his grandfather stopped in mid-sentence. Joseph knew he couldn’t talk well too. He slowly pointed in the direction of his grandmother and niece. The old man turned and crept towards his wife. He buried his head on her corpse and sobbed.
Joseph patted his grandfather’s shoulder and pointed at the motorcycle. The weeping old man didn’t move. Joseph held him by the waist and pulled him out. They both mounted the motorcycle and took off. The thought that they were leaving behind the corpses of their loved ones haunted them both. But they had to leave. What if a second explosion occurred? Joseph rode off casting long glances at the lake. His grandfather muttered in his throat,
Joseph remembered what his grandfather said, that the spirit woman in Lake Nyos was angry. He knew that the villagers believed it attracted evil, so they had nicknamed it bad lake. Its reputation stemmed from Nyos folklore which told of evil spirits that had once emerged from the bottom and killed everybody in its vicinity.
Joseph pondered why the spirit woman had become angry, as he rode past herds of dead cattle. He would ask his grandfather later. He caught sight of three gory corpses straight ahead. The old man gasped, and Joseph looked away but his eyes fell on two other dead bodies on the left turn of the road. He quickly wheeled the bike around them just in time. However, the motorcycle collided with the mortal remains of a muscular man on the right turn of the road and was thrust forward in the air. Joseph and his grandfather crashed into wet elephant grass. The bike bounced off and landed elsewhere.
They lay there, their weak screams barely sounding as moans, while the motorbike’s engine continued running. When they finally sat up, they were stunned by the sored cadavers of about eleven men. A putrid odour reeked from the dead bodies and punctured their nostrils, such that they felt they were inhaling and exhaling death. Joseph crawled to the motorcycle and switched it off. His grandfather whimpered and cemetery silence filled the air.
A hunter from Wum called Galega rode his bicycle from Wum towards Nyos whistling a melodious tune. The plants looked a lot greener that day. He had set up four animal traps the previous night in Nyos and was going to check on them. “What if I catch a cane rat today,” he thought, ignoring the dead dove on his path. He rode on until he saw the carcass of a porcupine and halted. He picked it up and put it in his bag. He resumed his journey, until he came across the carcass of an antelope. He examined it. “This is odd,” he thought. “Three different dead animals, almost in the same place.” He wondered if they had all been killed by lightning. It also occurred to him that he had not ridden past anybody as he continued cycling, until he came upon a dozen dead cows.
“What is happening here?” he exclaimed in a low tone. He rode past a motorcycle that lay on the ground. When he reached a group of huts, he decided to check on its occupants. As he approached, his probing gaze was swamped by the disgusting presence of mortal remains strewn across a courtyard. Galega abandoned his bicycle and ran in the opposite direction where he had come from. He heard one of the corpses near the stalks of elephant grass cough, as he sprinted pass the motorcycle. Galega looked around fearfully and screamed. The cadaver raised its hand and spoke slowly.
Galega halted, focused on where the sound was coming from and returned slowly, aiming at the body he couldn’t quite see in the elephant grass with his rifle. Joseph raised his head higher and their eyes met.
“What are you doing here?” Galega asked.
Joseph didn’t answer. Galega saw the suppurating wounds on his body.
“I’m sorry,” he stooped, examining Joseph. “What happened? There are corpses everywhere.”
“We… bad air!” Joseph said.
“What does that mean?” Galega asked.
“Bad… air!” Joseph answered, pointing at his nose. His grandfather coughed. The hunter skipped away again.
“Sorry… my grandfather,” Joseph pointed out in a murmur.
“Can’t you talk well?”
Joseph shook his head. His grandfather sat up, blinking.
“What happened to these people?” Mr. Galega tried to find out.
“I don’t… know,” Joseph said.
“What do you mean you don’t know?”
“Dead… fleeing… village!” Joseph’s words now flowed in fragmented manner.
“And the two of you survived?”
“Yes!” they both murmured.
“Survived from what?”
“Spirit woman… struck… Nyos…,” Joseph’s grandfather said. He went into another coughing fit. Galega helped them up and rode them to Wum on the motorcycle for treatment.
Wum soon filled up with survivors, who stumbled in with tales of an explosion and strange smells before they’d passed out, only to wake up and discover that almost everyone around them was dead. The spirit woman story spread through Wum like cancerous cells. However, other villagers believed it had been a bomb. Local officials called the governor in Bamenda town to report the strange occurrence. The governor sent rescue teams wearing gas masks and carrying cylinders of oxygen to the affected villages.
Local and international media covered the disaster extensively. The Herald newspaper reported that 3,500 livestock had perished and estimated the death toll at 1,746 people. It also indicated that many of the dead had already been buried in mass graves by some survivors. The Bamenda Post News estimated that 4,000 people had survived but had developed serious respiratory and skin problems. It also specified that a good number of them had already fled their corpse-filled villages. Some terrified ones were taking refuge in the forest. Immediate aid was needed. The BBC reported that hundreds had been gassed in a disaster after a cloud of lethal carbon dioxide escaped from a volcanic lake in Cameroon. Government officials said on national radio that the most likely cause was a volcanic eruption which leaked gas into the atmosphere. But The Science Observer said this was unlikely, as the volcano was believed to be extinct. The Guinness Book of Records dubbed Lake Nyos the world’s deadliest lake.
Shortly after they arrived in Wum, Joseph’s grandfather got worse. Joseph sat by his sickbed. His grandfather opened his mouth, but words didn’t come out. He shut his lips and smiled. He raised his feeble hands and Joseph bowed. He held Joseph’s head and caressed it. The old man tilted his face and stared at Galega before turning back to Joseph. Then his frail hands slowly fell, and the old man breathed his last breath.
“He didn’t tell me any more about the spirit woman. He couldn’t even utter his last blessings,” Joseph sobbed. Galega put his right arm around Joseph,
“Take heart my friend.”
“This is too much,” Joseph lamented.
“Weeh! Ashia. I’ll take you to see Tergum.”
“Tergum?” Joseph repeated.
“She’s our most powerful soothsayer.”
Galega led Joseph to the medicine woman’s shrine. Tergum the soothsayer wore a sackcloth gown and hung a raffia bag on her left shoulder. “Come in,” she ordered. “But walk backwards.” The men obeyed.
“Turn around and sit.” The shrine looked feral. Joseph saw skulls of dead animals and red pieces of cloth hung all over the thatch walls. He smelled numerous herbal concoctions in clay pots. Tergum gawked at Joseph, made incantatory throaty sounds and rubbed her palms. She flung something into a small pot and looked inside, then shook her head.
“When a tree produces seeds, they fall and grow around it. The Iroko tree of Nyos bore a special seed. But instead of falling and growing, it developed wings and flew away.”
“Tergum, please I don’t understand,” Joseph confessed.
“Your chief, where is he?” Tergum asked.
“He… we don’t have one. When our chief disappeared, his son who was supposed to return as his chop chair denounced the throne and went to white man country to learn big book. So, his brother became our chief instead.”
“Your chief did not only abandon his throne, he also failed to lead the people in the annual sacrifice for the gods of the lakes. So, they got angry and punished Nyos and the other villages that didn’t. You people will suffer until the day you do what the gods want!” Tergum prophesied. Then she untethered the two goats that Joseph had bought for her and went away. He felt disappointed that he couldn’t bring back their chief.
Joseph relocated to one of the camps the government had built. Most of his immediate family and tribespeople had died. All his livestock had perished. His farms were still intact, but he couldn’t go back to work there because the place had been razed and access was restricted. Earning a living became increasingly difficult, if not impossible. He suffered from serious respiratory and skin diseases. Instead of spending time on his farms, he spent it in hospitals treating his ailments. He lived in the camp unhappily, waiting for food and medication by relief agencies. He hated that he had become a permanent recipient of aid from charities. And as if that wasn’t bad enough, he noticed that their aid packages kept diminishing as time passed. He even heard reports that some government officials were stealing part of it.
Tergum’s words kept ringing in his head, “you people will suffer until the day you do what the gods want.” Disappointed, he decided to return to Wum and consult Tergum to ask her what the gods really wanted.
“Bring back your chief and convince him to lead the Nyos survivors to the annual sacrifice to appease the gods of the lakes,” she had said.
“But he is in white man country,” Joseph protested.
“He is back. He lives in Yaoundé. Find him.”
Joseph organized a small delegation and they travelled to Yaoundé to look for their chief. They investigated thoroughly until they found him. They explained all what had happened and convinced him to return for his coronation and the sacrifice. His custodian brother had died in the disaster, so the prince accepted their request and returned. He was enthroned in the abandoned palace of Nyos, and finally led his people to the lake for the sacrifice of the gods.
Later, on the coronation night, several scientists drove to the lake with equipment to set up the degassing system. The next day, some Nyos survivors started returning to their ancestral land. The men built new wooden houses while the scientists assembled their lake degassing system. When the scientists learned of the resettlement, they advised the people not to return to their homes, explaining the dangers posed by Lake Nyos. But it all seemed to have fallen on deaf ears.
After talking the issue over, the scientists went towards Joseph’s team. François spoke first.
“Guys, you have to return to the camps, please. It’s for your own safety.”
“No way,” Joseph snapped.
“Joseph, we’ve pleaded for too long. If you don’t leave now, we’ll go the hard way. We shall inform the government to evict you,” Fondzenyuy warned.
“Shut up! You think I’m scared of Goment? They treated us like faeces. Inform them!” Joseph screamed.
“Young man, don’t tell me to shut up,” Fondzenyuy pointed his forefinger at Joseph’s forehead, who pushed it away.
“I said shut up, foolish man. How can you tell your own tribesmen to abandon our village and resettle in a place of suffering when you live comfortably in town? Huh?”
Fondzenyuy slapped Joseph’s right cheek. Joseph punched Fondzenyuy’s face and kicked him. Joseph’s friends charged at Fondzenyuy, who fell to the ground and covered his head with his hands. Nkwain went down on his knees, pleading, but Joseph’s friends shoved him away. Murphy and François started a quick backward retreat in order to keep away from the impending attack. Suddenly, they both felt a sharp gust of wind coming from behind them, raising a throng of green leaves from the lake into the air. They turned around and looked. Numerous misty, human-like figures were hovering above the surface of the foggy lake.
One of the foggy beings, a gigantic one, began to rise, levitating towards them slowly. She glided over the whistling leaves as if floating on a flying mat. The men all stood stone-still, rooted to the spot in disbelief. Their hair stood on ends. Their bodies developed goosebumps. They stared at the soaring woman’s glittery garments and her enigmatic beautiful face, as she loomed over them like a genie. All the villagers knelt down and bowed, including Nkwain. They all started mouthing incantations. François and Murphy watched the mystical creature, their mouths agape, wondering if what they were seeing was real. Fondzenyuy sat up and got to his knees too when she levitated towards him, although he didn’t join the men to recite incantations for her. He only stared in bewilderment, sweating profusely.
Fondzenyuy felt a pang of shame for telling his own tribesmen and women to relocate to the camps. But Nyos was a high-risk zone. He believed his people had been trapped between the devil and the deep-blue sea. François glanced at Fondzenyuy, thinking: “Was the blurry image I saw on the lake just before the degassing that of this spirit woman? Was she the one Joseph had been talking about?” Murphy mused that maybe it had not been right for them to ridicule the villagers’ beliefs about Lake Nyos, although he strongly felt their gas theory was correct.
The misty creature started to recoil and retreat, vanishing slowly amidst the foggy beings. The degassing system suddenly released a strong water jet into the air when she floated pass it, with nobody running its machinery.
“Bad Lake” is from Of Passion and Ink: New Voices from Cameroon