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“Erit’s head is spherical. Her shoulders are thin, almost anorexic. Her skin is like the leaves of an ancient scroll, her eyes are like that of a mannequin.”

THE girl smiles. Not surprising, really. There seems to be something about the scent of forest and fire and a hint of lime, and the image of a well-built man placed unaffectedly, like a semicolon after the right phrase. A man in a tuxedo, a crispy white cotton shirt, and a black bow tie that brings a smile to a woman’s face. In this case, she was smiling long before she brought him into her bedroom. Anda has that effect on women.
“Do you know how I like my women?” he asks. His lips drag a slightly wicked smile towards the left side of his face. He can tell she’s trying to fight it, but he can also tell she’s smiling—from the way her pomegranate red lips tremble as she prepares to speak.
“No. Tell me how you like your women.”
He leans back and drinks her in as she sweeps her hair, a natural stream of ebony, over the right side of her bare shoulder so that it falls over her breast. Her sleeveless black taffeta dress dips in a V at the neck and doesn’t make it far past her thighs. The silver straps at her back meet a few inches below her backbone, revealing the rest of her back. The front of her dress catches her waist sharply. Delicate gold earrings dangle from her earlobes and caress her neck. Sultry grey shadows the top of her eyelids, a perfect sky over her almond eyes. Her eyes are perfect, like stars in the hands of God. And her skin….
“Beautiful,” Anda says, in a certain kind of rapture, “I like my women to be beautiful. Just like you.”
She turns away from him as if in mock piety, but not before he sees her eyes blush.
“Are you sure you aren‘t French?” she asks, sauntering away with her back to him.
Anda watches the dance of her waist as she veers away from him. The grey light seeping in through the open casement window of her room embraces her skin like a lover. He bites his tongue. It is the only way he knows how to keep the thoughts in his head from flooding over. There is no telling what can happen if he allowed the human soul to whom his spirit is bonded to roam free. Like a child orisha throwing a tantrum, it would unleash a million different versions of its voice on him, each one pulling him in seven or eight different directions at once. Anda wonders if this is how it is for all humans. Or maybe it’s just him.
But it’s easier said than done because as soon as he thinks this, a voice appears in the back of his head. And this time, thankfully, there’s only one version of it. He recognizes its timbre immediately. Lust. It floods his mind with things he should want to do. The voice tells him that she wore this dress so she could tease him with her long legs; it shows him how to make it work to his advantage. How to make her legs shiver like the roots of a great tree caught in an earthquake. How to sharpen his teeth against her skin, and show how quickly pain can become pleasure. How to baptize her in the rivers of her own flesh.
Anda bites his tongue again. All these thoughts in his head—it’s a surprise he can stay in bed. But as he watches the girl walk away from him, with that slow, confident saunter, that deceptive je ne sais quoi, he reminds himself that she knows exactly what she’s doing to him.
Anda is intrigued by the girl. He is glad to play along. He feels his hunger mount as he watches her legs cross, right over left with delicious care-freeness, like a local walking by the shores of an exotic island.
“Me?” he says, “French?” And just like that, he feels himself regain the upper hand in this little game of chess that they’re playing. His confident smile returns, his eyes become cunning and mysterious again.
“The Europeans may have colonized my country years ago but I am still as African as Africans come. It is not the French alone who have mastered the art of romance, my dear.”
Check, Anda says to himself, Your move.
It seems he has spoken too soon because she does something that upsets the balance of their interplay. It reminds him how little he really understands human emotions. How unpredictable they are. How fun.
A glint of mischief entered the girl’s eyes as she turns and starts walking back towards the bed slowly. “Mastered it, have you?” she asks, exaggerating her lips in a pout. When he doesn’t answer, she continues, “So…is this the part of the script where you ask me to take all my clothes off? Hmm, master of romance?”
The moment reminds him of how it had been when they first saw each other. Like everyone else in the room, he was wearing a tuxedo. The cut of it, sharp like a razor. Anda is always smiling; his teeth are perfect. His walk is powerful yet calm, with just enough motion in the shoulders to give off a surety that only a few men will ever have.
But what kind of man was he? Did he twist and slither his way towards his prey until they were entwined in his clutches? Or was he one of those in search of rarities, that one jewel to reward his curiosity and drive? Most women chose to believe the latter when they saw a beautiful man, but the girl played it safe. She actually tried to find out first before taking things to the next step.
He offered her his hand. “Hi,” he said in a voice that was deep and raspy at the same time, “My name is Anda.” No lines, no exotic statements. He had no need for them.
She held his stare. Her eyes smiled playfully on the surface, but underneath, there was a resolution and confidence that almost seemed to outweigh his. “Hello, Anda.” Her ambiguous demeanor had an effect on him. On the one hand, her greeting was short and formal, but on the other, her smile was warm and inviting.
Anda favored her smile with a widening smile of his own. “Aren’t you forgetting something?”
He laughed when she stared blankly at him. He bit his lower lip. “I guess not.” Still smiling, he asked, “Will you tell me your name?”
How did women choose their men. Was it looks? The width of his shoulders? His smile? Sex? Wealth? Power? Was it all of these things, or was there something else? Something dangerous and foreign. Something that told them that allowing this person into their life would change its course forever.
The girl’s eyes smiled with her lips. “And what would you do if I told you?”
And now, here they are. Anda wonders if she is still thinking the same thing.
Her eyes are smiling now as they did then. She asks him again. “What do you say, master of romance? Is this the part of the script where I take all my clothes off?
Anda laughs softly and looks up at her. “No.”
“Is that so?” she asks, moving closer and leaning down until her face is only a few inches away from his. Anda is sure she hears his breath.
The voice of lust rises again. This time, it is not just in his head.
Anda grabs the girl around the waist and pulls her down towards him, ignoring her shudders as his right hand reaches for her legs. By the time he reaches her thighs, she is hot as a bonfire. The only thing he wants is for his body to fill the warm void in hers and make her whole again.
“Anda,” she moans, arching her back as he spreads her lips on his. Grabbing her neck with one hand, begins to take off her dress with the other. Her hands reciprocate. They tear hungrily at his tuxedo jacket and shirt until there is nothing between them but skin.

ANDA presses the side of his face against the girl’s back as she sleeps, and listens to her heartbeat. His arms are curled around her waist. Her shoulders heave calmly. He closes his eyes.
It feels good to be in the moment, to experience the endlessness of the present, and not think about anything else—the busy future or the grim past. Isn’t that what it means to be human? He allows himself to just be.
“You’re special,” he whispers into her back. “The most special person I have ever met.” The statement leaves a bad taste in his mouth. It is not quite a lie, but it certainly feels like it.
Anda pauses when he hears the girl’s heartbeat quicken. As though something inside her is still awake, listening to him as her body sleeps. He recognizes it instantly. It is her spirit, the life force of her entire being. That which, along with her soul, separates her from everyone else and makes her unique. He suddenly feels like a voyeur. He recoils from it and purses his lips. Even though he knows what he is, it feels strange to hold himself back from her, and even stranger to think that his greatest fear is not just the vulnerability he always feels with these humans. But more so, what would happen to them if he enters their life? The danger he is exposing them to. The thought shatters the already fragile state of mind that he is in, and drags him back into the past, where memories from the soul of this human he has mounted await.
He returns to the present when he sees the girl’s shoulders wriggle. She is waking up. He forces himself to kiss her nape lightly.
“Is that what you do?” she mumbles.
“What?”
Her back is turned to him but he can still hear the smile in her words. “Steal kisses while I sleep?”
And just like that, a wolfish grin flashes across his lips. He turns her and cups her chin and kisses the tip of her nose. “Yes.” And then her forehead. He sucks gently on her firm lower lip until they soften and spread.
The girl pulls her head back after a few seconds. “Anda?” she murmurs.
“Mmm?” He looks at her, a little worried. What is she going to say?
“You really should brush your teeth before you go to bed.”
Anda’s shoulders heave uncontrollably. A booming laugh bursts out of his chest. But as he reaches down to kiss her, a flash of movement catches his attention.
Out of the corner of his eyes, Anda sees a dark silhouette pass through the orange walls of the room. She starts speaking before she sees him. Her voice is urgent. Anda’s eyebrows furrow. How the hell did she find him!
“Anda, we have a—”
Before he can stop her, the girl in bed with him twists away from him and grabs something. There is a glint in the darkness, and then the lights come on.
“Stay right where you are,” she warns, moving away from the bed.
Dar pauses mid-speech and stares at the gun trained at her.
A gun? Anda looks from Dar to the girl and then back again. It is easy to see why she is so frightened. From where he is, Dar’s body looks like it is sliced in half. Anda rub his palm across his face. He can’t believe this is happening.
“I said, stay right where you are!”
Dar is wearing a midnight blue jumpsuit that fits her lithe body like an extension of her skin. Her eyes turn cold as she enters the room fully. They shift from the lamp to the girl, and then back to Anda.
“Anda, your friend has ten seconds to put that thing away.” She turns back to the girl with a sharp smile. “One.”
“Dar.”
“Two.”
Anda turns back to the girl but she is not looking at him. Her left hand is clasped around the gun’s handle. Her eyes are focused on her target. Anda starts getting out of the bed, careful so as not to alarm her. He is surprised she hasn’t turned the gun towards him.
“Five.”
Anda calls the girl’s name and stretches his hand out towards her. When she does not respond, he turns his attention back to Dar. She is the one who poses the real danger.
“Don’t do it, Dar.” His voice is angry, and rising. This is my sanctum. You have no right to be here. “I’m warning you. Don’t do.”
“Ten.”
Everything in the room becomes a blur as the girl fires the gun. Anda disappears in a cloud of green smoke a split second before Dar morphs into a silver silhouette that drops into the ground like lava and flows, shadowlike, towards the girl’s feet. He snatches at her, but before he can appear on the other side, Dar has already risen out of the ground behind them and aims a blow at the girl’s head. It will kill her if it makes contact.
The girl lets out a sharp breath as Anda spins her away from the blow. He reappears at the far corner of the room, beside one of the high windows. He takes her as far away from Dar as she can possibly be.
Still smiling, Dar takes one step towards the bed and sits down with her back against the headrest. She puts her feet up on the sheets and reaches past the reading lamp for the brown leather-bound book on the glass table beside her.
“Don’t open that,” the girl screeches.
Dar whistles as she flips the diary open. The words come at her quickly. She looks up at the girl. “Pathetic.”
Anda’s hands tighten into fists. His head is still reeling from Dar’s blow but he ignores the pain. He clenches his teeth and exhales a few times to try and calm himself before he asks her again why she is here, but before he can get the words out, he feels a sharp dig at his side. It is a practiced punch intended to crack the ribs. He looks with shock at his assailant.
Something flashes across her eyes as they meet his. Anger. But most of all, fear.
“Anda, we have to go.” Dar starts walking towards the door.
Breathing comes easier for Anda now that the blow to his head is receding. Minor injuries like this are the easiest to heal. He looks at Dar. Her hair is braided in a ponytail that dances just shy of the small of her back, a little above her slender waist. Her long legs eat up the space between her and the door like they aren’t even there. She pauses, with one hand on the door knob, and looks back at him. The mockery is gone from her voice now.
“The Creature has struck again.”
Anda feels the adrenaline surge through him. “Where? How many?”
“Enough.” Dar pauses again. “We have to go, Anda. Now.” And then she is gone.
Anda’s heart is racing. He turns back to the girl. She is standing with her back against the wall to her right. Her shoulders are tight. Her arms are at her side, hands balled in fists. She is as far away from him as she can possibly be.
Slow seconds pass before he is able to muster enough willpower to raise his eyes to the level of hers. But when he does, a chill runs through him. She is shivering like glass during an earthquake—it’s only a matter of time before she breaks.
He tries to move towards her. Her body shifts to the right. Her eyes dart to the ground where the gun lies.
Anda’s mind is a rat’s nest. On one side, he wants to stay and explain to the girl that he will not let anyone hurt her. The other reminds him that there is a Dark Guardian on the loose and every moment he wastes here puts more Guardians in peril.
The choice should be easy, but it isn’t. “I am sorry,” he whispers. And then he disappears. He heaves himself out of the mess that he has just abandoned her in.

THE girl slumps to the floor. She has just seen a woman walk through a wall, and a man that, until a few moments ago, seemed like an angel dropped out of the sky, disappear from plain sight. Still, she tries to make herself believe it is not possible. That things like this do not happen.
Her logical mind tries to make sense of it. Maybe it is the wine she imbibed at the cocktail party; but she knows she hadn’t drunk much. Or maybe it is a trick, some kind of ruse played at her expense. But why? And by who? It is not a ruse, her heart tells her, reminding her that only a few seconds ago, she had been in real danger, and that if Anda hadn’t been there, something terrible could have happened. Devoid of ideas, the girl allows herself to entertain the idea that, when all else fails, the only option left, however improbable, is the most likely.
She wonders if it is possible that there are people with special abilities like these ones existing in the world? And if there are, how many of them are there? What is their purpose? Their intent? Are they even human?
The girl starts as someone tugs at the doorknob. She turns sharply towards the sound and, with a quick jump, reaches and grabs the gun. She wonders if it is Anda making his return.
The door opens. All the breath leaves her chest. A paralyzing chill forces her mouth to stay open, leaving her with only one option. Stare, with heart in mouth, at the figure walking into the room.
The figure is more than a foot shorter than the girl is, barely taller than a human child at thirteen. She is wearing a hood over her face, but amidst the shadows, the girl can make out her lips. Thin. Like razors.
“Stop,” the girl says, brandishing the trembling gun.
My name is Erit.
The gun falls from her hand. Erit’s voice is inside her head. It is the most frightening thing she has ever heard.
My name is Erit, the voice continues, and I am The Guardian of the Mind. Tell me, little creature, do you know why I’m here?
The girl tries to scream as Erit’s fingers begin clawing through her mind, cutting through it like a surgeon with a scalpel. She tries to throw up defenses, but it wasn’t even worth the effort. She grabs her head and squirms as sharp pain drills into the middle of her chest, blinding her.
“What are you doing to me?” the girl asks again, frightened beyond reason. But her fear only serves Erit’s purpose. The girl tries to scream again. Erit makes the pain go away.
The girl opens her eyes. Everything around her is darkness. She wonders where she is. For good reason, because she is not in the physical world in the way she might expect.
Erit re-emerges from the shadows in the depths of the girl’s mind. She waits until she is a few inches away from the girl before sliding back the hood and revealing her head.
This time, the girl actually screams.
Erit’s head is spherical. Her shoulders are thin, almost anorexic. Her skin is like the leaves of an ancient scroll, her eyes are like that of a mannequin. Her head and eyebrows are shaved. The Nsibidi tattoo on her forehead glows like a beacon.
Erit smiles at the girl. Her heart stops when she sees Erit’s teeth—they are sharpened.
The girl’s body convulses. A single name comes into her mind. “Anda,” she cries weakly, “Where are you?”
Erit laughs harshly. The girl is not the first to call on that name; and as always, the one she calls is too far away to hear.

 

 

*************

Post image by Aaron Bauer via Flickr.

About the Author:

IMG_0931Stanley Onyewuchi is an electrical engineer with a deep-rooted interest in literature, technology and people. He started his career at Apple, but currently works as a Director of Sales in a Fortune 500, Silicon Valley-based company. In 2015, he received the Silicon Valley 40 under 40 award to honor his influence and role as a leader in his field. Although he has multiple literary interests, Stanley has always been fascinated by graphic novels and magic realism. He has published a few short stories, some of which have been entered for the Caine Prize. He has more than 80 others in his portfolio and three full length manuscripts which he continues to work on. You can contact him at ifeanyichu@gmail.com.

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3 Responses to “Until Only Shadows Remain | By Stanley Onyewuchi | African Fiction” Subscribe

  1. Hannah 2017/02/15 at 05:09 #

    Loved reading this! It ended too soon. I want more, please…

  2. Titi 2017/02/18 at 14:47 #

    Absolutely brilliant. Beautifully written and gripping. The story blew me away.

  3. Catherine O 2017/03/19 at 12:22 #

    This was an awesome read! It’s always nice to see Afro Sci or Horror. By all means, post a link to your blog or wattpad page.

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I hold a doctorate in English from Duke University and recently joined the Marquette University English faculty as an Assistant Professor. I love teaching African fiction and contemporary British novels. Brittle Paper is the virtual space/station where I play and experiment with ideas on how to reinvent African fiction and literary culture.

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