- The Storried Platform
WHISKERS OF DEATH – By Michael Chimaobi
Tales hold that this forest is home to spirits of nightmare, malignant beasts who roam about in the shadows of giant trees, whose breaths make the branches tremble. Monsters that roam, marching in the dark as though the night were their eyes, with claws that leave deep scars on the barks of trees, and snarls and footfalls that echo only in the abyss of death. Tonight is the night I walk through this forest, ALONE; it is a rite of passage into manhood in our hunting tribe.
Papa said that many people died in his time while touring the forest. That he did face one of those beasts, a black, vicious panther which held him in its stares as he stood, glued to the ground, moving in circles, snarling and hissing as ravens cawed high above him in savory of what would become a scavenge of a lifetime.
“I had my spear in my hand, and fear in my heart,” he said, “but in the end, the greatest battle was not in conquering the panther, the fiercest battle was the battle I waged within me.”
This rite lasts for seven weeks, each night dedicated to each youth, until all youths have ventured through the forest. I wonder why I am chosen first. I don’t even come close to the thirtieth bravest youth. I cower away from everything, EVERYTHING. I know I have to go through the shadows of death(to please Father), but I should’ve been chosen last!
Cold winds welcome me as I trudge on fallen twigs and dry leaves with my spear in my right hand. The moon has come to watch the stars.
There’s dead silence here, for I hear neither growl nor snarl of monsters. Not even chirps of crickets. They seem to have fallen asleep, or, maybe, there’s a wolf lurking in the darkness, moving light on its feet, waiting for the right moment to pounce. I’m a hunter, but, I feel hunted. Afraid.
I stiffen my jaw. Let’s do this once and for all.
“Where are you demons of Okohia? Show yourself if you’re brave enough!” I holler, drawing courage from a well of fear. I’ve journeyed halfway and yet to see animal tracks. I holler again, in even more daring tone. All I get around me are echoes, nothing more… Fear seems to have left me. I sit on a stump, happy to have brought my flute, playing all night, till the darkness fades away.
Mother is the first to see me as I emerge from the forest. Breaking into songs, everyone rejoices. Even the elders salute Father, he has raised a man.
When the rite ends, I finally sit with Father in our hut, taking palmwine, and admonitions.
“There was never a panther,” He says as I glared, bemused, “all those stories, they’re unreal. That bush is pure and void of evil. The only monster was within you. You were set to war against FEAR. Many youths don’t last there. They run back screaming. Some makeup false stories of seeing monsters. But alas, you passed the night in the camp of terror. You came out a true hunter, a man. This is the essence of this rite, to make our sons brave enough to tackle challenges and responsibilities. It is when you face your fears that you realize: there’s really no panther, no giant boar, no wolf, only illusions created by fear. It is only when you realize this, that you shall find the inner peace you seek…”
By Michael Chimaobi
Tales hold that this forest is home to spirits of nightmare, malignant beasts who roam about in the shadows of giant trees, whose breaths make the branches tremble. Monsters that roam, marching in the dark as though the night were their eyes, with claws that leave deep scars on the barks of trees, and snarls and footfalls that echo only