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  • Writer's pictureRachael Twumasi-Corson

In The Shadow of the Adze

The night the Adze took my sister, my childhood ended. Not because I wasn’t shielded from the terrors of it. Quite the opposite.

And it chilled me.

They wanted to protect us due to our youth. But youth had not protected Yaayaa. Would my sister still be with me if we had known? Perhaps we’d have been wise enough not to marvel at the wonderful greenish light of the fireflies and follow them into the clearing of the forest so beautifully illuminated by the crisp full moon. Perhaps I would have been spared the years of nightmares where a firefly Adze shapeshifted into a hideous part-man hunchback and shredded my throat with its claws, instead of my Yaayaa’s.

The day after the Adze came to our hut, I asked for spear lessons. Purely for my defence, of course. I wasn’t questioned further. 

Months of painful lessons became years until just after my seventeenth birthday. On the tenth anniversary of that darkest night, I walked to the lake by the clearing where it happened. I barely recognised my reflection. Where there had been puppy fat, my face was thin, almost gaunt, my chin patchy with a few hairs and the hair on my head flourishing like the forest palms. The softness in my torso had disappeared, instead I saw a warrior with a powerful, defined chest looking back at me. My head now seemed small atop the muscular frame built from years of daily training. Only training distracted me from what happened, from what I had to do. I looked away from the water and set down the coconut I’d been clutching, the hole at the top plugged tight with palm leaves. I wouldn’t need to wait much longer to avenge my baby sister.

Later that day, the chief deemed me ready to join the annual Adze Hunt. Perhaps a little early. The other men had married and had children. It was safer to be older. Innocence was a magnet for the gruesome vampiric shapeshifters.

The hunt started with the same speech I heard every year since they took away my Yaayaa. But this time I wasn’t hiding in the shadows to hear it. This time I could cheer with my fellow warriors. 

The chief began. “Today you become men, you become warriors.” We whooped and cheered. “The first hunt will be an easy one. You will take down a gazelle in your groups. Then, after we feast, we burn the Adze stronghold.”

Image: Encyclopedia Mythologica

“Burn them! Burn them! Burn them!” The other men around me chanted. Raising spears, Adze tools and torches in the air.

The chief raised his arms, calling for silence. “Beware of the firefly blood demons in their human-like form. If we burn them in their insect form we will be lucky. In their true form they are vicious and will slit your neck before you can gasp.” 

The crowd murmured. We well knew the glowing green Adze fireflies tricked children into following them where they could shift into their true jet-black hunchback form. We were taught to fear their sharp talons and the razor like teeth they got their names from. We weren’t warned that the Adze could possess a man and offer him more power than he could ever dream of. That wasn’t part of the training. But we knew many a hunter had disappeared over the years then been glimpsed around the outskirts of the village collecting herbs for some unspeakable dark art. Always surrounded by fireflies. And we knew that because of this, the chief gave the warriors so much palm wine after the first hunt that the second hunt always needed to be postponed till the following year’s first harvest blood moon.

After gathering our weapons, we left for the first hunt, walking past the little bowls of palm oil and coconut water outside of family huts, offerings the parents hoped would deter the Adze. I often wondered whether Yaayaa would still be around had my parents left the Adze their favourite drinks that night. But it was a senseless fantasy; the Adze forever thirst. 

Our chief had once captured an Adze as a firefly and starved it till it lost the power to hold its false shape. When it shifted back to its horrific hunchback form, the chief covered it in palm oil and set it alight, then he stabbed it in the heart with an iron spear for good measure.

The hunt began. We spotted a pack of gazelles across the savannah. Two big reddish-brown gazelles and their young. A female pack would be harder to hunt, but they’d be slowed down trying to hide their fawns in the tall grass.

We stalked as close as possible, giving each other hand signals until suddenly one of the big antelopes heard us and turned to run. They leapt away as we threw our spears through the air after them. We were only to throw a spear when hunting. We were trained to consider the spear a limb. Throwing a spear left a warrior unarmed and open to attack. But throwing a spear could mean a hunter would eat and feed their village. 

One by one we threw, until someone struck the larger of the two females. Enough to feed the whole village. The others escaped. The hunt was over anyway. We recovered our spears, tied up the gazelle with ropes and began to carry it back. Suddenly, a short man just a little older than me grabbed his spear from the ground and yelled, “watch this.” Then he threw it. It soared through the air and struck the calf at the back of the pack. The female with it stopped and nudged at it with her nose, then let out a low grunt and continued to run with the rest of the pack, slower now. I wondered if she grieved her calf the way I mourned my sister.

The man laughed and others high fived him, I presumed the praise was for his precision rather than his cruelty. I wondered why that precision couldn’t have been used to hunt the larger gazelle, going home with two large gazelles would have served us better than this skinny little calfling that would barely feed two children. I felt sick at the senseless killing. The celebrations that evening passed quickly. I ate a little but I’d lost my taste for meat over the years and I was too anxious about the evening to feel hunger.

I went back to the lake and picked up my coconut then carried it into the clearing beyond the Savannah. The fawn corpse was still there.

I dragged the fawn behind a tree. Then I shook the coconut and began to pull out the leaves. The firefly shot out and immediately began to expand. I stared at it. Its jet black skin barely visible in the darkness. Its claws twitching with weakness, with hunger. I pointed to the fawn and it immediately began to feed. Whilst it was distracted, I raised my spear ready to plunge it into the heart of this creature. Then we locked eyes. I didn’t expect to see into its soul and find an odd kind of beauty within. Nor to discover my freedom.

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