I found the young man, sitting low below the small bulb of the street lamp. He was homeless, his clothes disheveled, his eyes bloodshot, and his hair and beard caught and twisted in knots. I had seen him a couple of times before then, though never in such a state. He was...sadder than usual. I went up to him, and asked if there was something bothering him, more than the usual I mean. I made sure that I made that clear. He looked at me, his jaw slack, and his cheeks sunken.
“What...What time is it?”
I looked down at my phone and told him it was eight at night.
Upon hearing this, he put his head in his hands and began to sob.
I stood there, upset at myself for coming over to talk to him. What had I been thinking? What did I expect was going to happen? He stopped suddenly, his cries silenced, his breathing shallow. What he said next distresses me to this very day.
“I...I only have minutes...I thought I had more time. More time...”
I asked him what he meant, impulsively. The same way you respond with “I'm fine” whenever anyone ask you how you are.
“I am going to die...I thought,” he started crying again, “I had more time.”
I asked him what he meant, if he had tried contacting the authorities at all to tell them he thought he was in danger. He just shook his head, mumbling under his breath.
“I tried...three days ago. I told them that I was going to die again...they refused to listen to me. Said that it was impossible. But I insisted. I told them that I needed help. That it wouldn't let me die. But they ignored me. Called me crazy. They tried to tell the doctors. I got away before they got to me.” He was silent then, and began to rock back and forth, his teeth chattering with agitation.
I waited, and asked him to explain. Asked him what he meant, when he said he was going to die, but wouldn't stay dead. He stopped rocking and looked up and me.
“It punished me. Told me that I had to be punished. That this was the only way that would be fitting. It told me...it told me.”
I reiterated that I did not understand, but he just kept talking.
“The Tikoloshe...it knew my name. It said that I had been very bad...Oh God! The way it looked at me, at ME! Those...dead eyes. And all that hair, full of bugs, dripping with water. They were crawling all over me...I tried to smash them, to scream. But then they entered into my mouth, and refused to die. My hands...” he lifted them,and they were bandaged heavily in rags, but coated in blood. “I couldn't do anything to it...its mouth was filled with worms, and as it spoke, the worms spilled from its mouth and onto the ground.”
I tried to walk away, but he grabbed my leg, his speech quickening and his voice reaching out as shrieks.
I called for help, kicking and screaming. But no one would leave their homes.
“The Tikoloshe...it knew my name. Said that the only fitting thing was for me to die. Not once, but every night for the rest of my life. No matter what I did...even if I killed myself I would come back and die again at the same time every night. Like she died. Only worse. Because no one would believe me...No one...But YOU believe me. Don't you? Please, you have to believe me. You have to help.”
I was crying, screaming for help. He just kept kept screaming at me.
“You have to help! You have to!”
And like that his grip grew limp. He became very quiet, and slowly I stood up. He did not move for a long time, his body only trembling slightly. Then without any warning I heard the crack of bone, as I saw his eyes widen as his teeth were set on edge. He screamed, screamed like a child, his body body thrashing around. Then his body went limp completely, his chest ceasing to rise.
My hands were trembling, a deep ache in my stomach. I began to scream in horror, screaming and screaming until my voice was hoarse and my lumgs burned. I heard sirens, and the glow of police lights. I looked down at the ground, and saw the man shift, a heavy gasp of air thrusting its way through his chest. He looked at me, tears in his eyes. He looked towards the sounds the sirens, than turned and looked at me again. He said nothing, a shacky moan being the only sound he made. Then he scrambled to his feet and began to run, just as the police cruiser arrived.
I told the officer that the homeless man had tried to rob me, that I had managed to fight him off. I was taken to the hospital. They said that my leg was deeply bruised but otherwise fine. I have thought often on that night, and wondered if it really could have happened that way. I think he was mad, that he could have just believed he was dying. But even with that in mind, it is hard to forget something like that. Harder than you could possibly believe.
The legend of the Tikoloshe is attributed to South African mythology. It seems unlikely that the homeless man simply came by the knowledge randomly, and was likely educated at at some point The young man admits that he did not take the pulse of the homeless man after he had apparently died, and no further incidents involving anyone matching the homeless mans description have been reported. To this day this is the first and only known report of such a creature on American soil.