Full Moon, Black Mamba | Ikechukwu Nwaogu | Fiction

The time is twenty minutes past midnight.

I slither out of the house by my usual routes, pausing a bit to taste the air, and check for new happenings in the compound. The rat scrambles to the rubbish heap, sniffing and scattering , seeking something his finely tuned senses tell him is there. A few moments of scrambling yield a prize: the head and entrails of a fish, thrown out only so recently. This is the thrill of the hunt. With his meal in his jaws, he bounds a short distance away. He puts it down, and for a brief moment I
am treated to a view of what a statue of a rat is like, so still does he stand, sniffing the air. Finally, sensing nothing, he settles down to enjoy his meal, little knowing that he is doing his own version of The Last Supper. I slither up to the unwary
rodent, and inside my mouth, I make ready inch-long fangs. As he picks up the last of the entrails, his
peripheral vision catches my movement, and suddenly he is staring death in the face.

Beady rodent eyes gaze into flat, expressionless ophidian eyes, and for the briefest of moments, I detect a flicker of confidence in the eyes. Could it be that he has a defensive strategy? Rather not, evasion is more the usual option, but just then, the full moon slips behind a dark cloud. All that is left is the glitter of eyeshine, two pairs of eyes, nocturnal animals, predator and prey, hunter and hunted. I flick out my tongue and taste the air. Yes, it is there; I can sense it. Among the forty-something other smells I can perceive, it still stands out. The rancid, sweaty taste of fear. I flare my nostrils ever so slightly, enabling the super sensitive heat pits on the sides of my head to picture him: sweet, warm blood, gushing through his veins, his hairs raised slightly, making him appear larger. I taste the air again. The fear is still there, but there is a grim determination underlying it. He will make a break for it, or die trying. By the way, dear reader, if you can read this, then I’m probably dead. Then again, maybe you are dead, because it is only the dead, or my death, that can divulge this diary’s location, or the contents thereof. Science and scientists tell us of the evolution of species
from the primitive life-forms in the primordial ‘cosmic soup’, yet they fail to give us valid or satisfactory explanations to such phenomena as vampires, ball lightning, or the origin of cancers. They claim to have conquered earth, and deem space the final frontier, yet medicine leaves more questions than answers, and they still will not explore the Bermuda Triangle.

This testament is true. I know it to be so. I think I will be dead long before any other living pair of eyes reads this, for I intend to carry my secret to my grave, but that does not detract in any way from the veracity of the account.
I have always known I was different, even as a child, I just knew. I was not very different physically from any
other child, but I just knew I was not like them. My differences began to attain frightening proportions after
I turned thirteen. There is something about that age, maybe it is because of the physical and psychological
changes that occur at about that age, and the sense of navigating uncharted waters.

***

I remember it well .It was two weeks and five days after my thirteenth birthday, and I had been joyously
counting the first non-downy strands of pubic hair. The time was three minutes before one pm, and I was in JSS 3. We were nearing the end of a particularly interesting English Language class, when suddenly the ceiling caved in, bringing tons of cement and concrete down, and burying more than half the class in an avalanche of cement and classroom furniture from the class above us. It was a mercy that the students from the class were out at the Chemistry laboratories, and the class was empty. The carnage would have been indescribable. Our English teacher, Mr Akinnifesi, was the worst affected, as he was at the blackboard in front of the class. A large slab of concrete from the ceiling fell on him, causing severe head injury from which he sadly never recovered. Students from the class above us, who were on their way back to class after their chemistry practicals, on hearing the crash and seeing the scene, rushed in to help. An alarm was raised, and a crowd of volunteers soon gathered to rescue the buried students. I had been standing in class, having failed to answer a particular question satisfactorily, and as such, I was struck in the head by a large piece of concrete from the ceiling, and I went down.

Looking back, I do not remember any pain, shock or fear. My only recollection was of falling through a
long, dark tunnel, with the wind screaming in my ears and my limbs flailing for balance. I woke up fourteen
hours later in a hospital bed to find the anxious faces of my mother and several nurses staring down at me. I had
been found wedged in a seemingly impossible space under most of the rubble, unconscious but alive, with
bruises on my body and a large bump on my head being the full extent of the injuries I came away with.
The doctors and nurses fussed over me (a given, since my father was a consultant at the state general hospital,
and my mother was a well known business woman), and the next four days were a blur of tests, scans, and X-
rays. More awkward, and more personally disturbing, were the appearance of scaly skin on my upper arms
and back. My skin appeared to be flaking off, and the dermatologist could only attribute it toexfoliative
dermatitis brought about by trauma and the hormonal changes associated with puberty. Medications were
prescribed, which I took religiously. I was considered one of the more fortunate victims, as the sighting of a
long black snake in the debris only helped to fuel the panic, and more people actually picked up injuries
while in a mad dash to flee the serpent’s supposed location.

That was the first episode. Through this and a number  of other events, I came to the horrifying conclusion. I was a snake! From time to time, I had sudden urges to swallow chunks of meat whole, to lie on my belly and crawl, and to crawl under doors and into crevices. I also began to find myself wondering about what it felt like to eat lizards, rats, and other rodents. By this time I was closer to fourteen than thirteen, and I was eager to experiment and learn more.  One fine night, at the time of the full moon, I prepared myself, and went early to bed, claiming tiredness.

In truth, I could not sleep. I lay expectantly for hours, waiting for midnight. When the alarm clock on the bedside table began to beep, I grabbed it and silenced it before it woke the entire house. I crawled out through the window, and stood stark naked in the moonlight. I tried to focus myself on the urges, but after fifteen
minutes of closing my eyes and trying to meditate, I was just a human being shivering in the humid night
air. I then relaxed, and almost immediately had the same intense feeling of falling through the tunnel once
again. I gave in to my impulses and soon found myself slithering around on the dew-wet grass.
This new world was a wilderness of sensations. Again and again, I stuck out my tongue, tasting the air. With
my serpentine nature came heightened sensory awareness, improved night vision, and a keener insight
into the happenings around me. From my place on the ground, I watched with fascination as a large owl swept
noiselessly to the ground, seizing a mouse and making off with it before the confused mouse could wonder
why its predator had seemingly streaked out of nowhere.

I loved this new world. Speech was unnecessary, facial expressions irrelevant. Only perception mattered, and I had some of the sharpest sensory organs in the entire animal kingdom. I slithered around the compound,
tasting the air almost every minute, and shivering in excitement from the sheer number of sensations I
perceived. After a long time, I crawled back to the window, and suddenly I was there, naked and shivering
in the chilly night air. That was the first episode. I soon found myself waiting for the full moon every month. I
craved the wind tunnel experience, and the sheer, vivid joy of sensations beyond description. It was my own
private world, a place where I could escape from the cares and stress of the world above. At a time when
most teenagers were finding and experimenting with drugs, alcohol, and sex, I had this, this deeper and more
bestial experience to find succor in.

Over time, I mastered my urges, to live with them, and finally, to control them rather than be subject to them. It was difficult at first, but time and practice helped a lot. On one occasion, I nearly let myself slip. I had gone
out drinking with friends, and was midway into my third bottle, which was virgin territory, as opposed to
my more experienced drinking buddies. Soon after, when I tried to rise, I found myself assailed by a curious
inability to stay stable on my feet, or perhaps it was the ground that was suddenly uneven. Whichever it was, I
sank to the ground under the table, and would have commenced trying to slither out of the room, was it not
for one of my friends who promptly pulled me out from under. Little did he know that, only a few seconds later,
he would have pulled out a long black snake.

***

Back to that night. As the moon emerged from behind the clouds, the air seemed to change. My tongue, dancing rapidly in and out between my lips, detected a new, yet familiar scent. Primordial instincts drew me, beckoned to a part of me that was previously dormant.

The rat, thinking himself safe, bolted for safety. Too late, too late by a second and a half. Tightly bunched
muscles sprang loose; inch long fangs struck the rodent in the small of his back, shooting venom into his
system. Panicked, the rat abandoned all thought of skill or stealth, and bolted like a demon from hell. But it was
enough. The accelerated heart rate due to the exertion would quicken the spread of the toxins through his
system, and in no time at all, we were going to have ourselves a very dead rat. Moreover, the signature scent
of my poison would be easy to trace. That scent again, stronger this time. I lay flat on the
ground, flaring my nostrils, tongue waving frantically, trying to locate the source of the scent. My senses
pulled me towards a small hole in a corner of the compound. To my great surprise, a young female was
molting off the last vestiges of old scales, sloughing off the skin like a silken undergarment. It was
indescribable, beyond sensation. No words can ever capture the essence of that moment. If I had been
human, I’m very sure I would have caught my breath. Visualise a young man, suddenly finding himself in a
boudoir, with the jewel of the sultan’s harem so unabashedly baring herself for his appreciation, and
you would have understood a tiny part of what the experience was like.

So I crawled up to her, and thus began an elaborate courting ritual, that consisted of entwining and
slithering over ourselves and each other. She was somewhat impressed by something I am not quite sure
of, but since I am not altogether a bad looking human (in that form), it is safe to say I had at least a little of
that nameless and elusive quality that intrigues and or excites females of a serpentine sort. So with the moon
shining brightly in the sky, the cries of night birds ringing in the still air, and the chirping of crickets providing a steady baseline to their songs, and the gentle rustling of the leaves above and below, we mated. I have had some experience of the sex act in humans, and it is extremely pleasurable. But this is sweeter yet. It is more than a mere joining of the sexes; it is more than a meeting of the sex organs, and it is not listless wrangling. The myriad sensations we reap from the mating ritual is more than what is humanly explicable, it is the apogee of sensations. So engrossed were we in our limbless lovemaking, that we were totally oblivious to the passage of time.

At last, sated by the expenditure of our mutual passions, we parted. Communication, though devoid of speech, took place. We assured ourselves that propagation of the species was our prime responsibility, and that we had to do all we could to live up to it. As I crawled slowly towards the house, I tasted the air casually. My earlier prey had succumbed to the toxins, and was now lying dead somewhere close by, but not within sight. It would have taken a bit of time for me to find him, but a glance at the house, where a light had suddenly come on, made me realise that I did not have such a commodity in excess.

I followed my usual route, to the little used cluster of rooms at the rear of the house, and then in through a crack in the wall. I was going past the kitchen, when the lights suddenly went on, blinding me temporarily. There, clad in pajamas, still mildly groggy from sleep, was my Uncle John, who had probably gotten up to do some reading. He took one look at me, on the kitchen floor, and yelled. Soon the house was agog with noises doors opening and closing, feet clattering down stairs, and the like.

Let me provide a little background information. I live with my uncle, his wife, and their kids. It was a fairly
large house, with four bedrooms upstairs, and one converted bedroom downstairs. My uncle is a doctor, and loves to wake at night to read. The children, the eldest of whom is seventeen, are three, namely, Adesuwa, Susan, and Moses. I hastily ducked behind and under the refrigerator, when he screamed, then I surreptitiously made my way back to my room, and slid under the door, little knowing that Susan was coming to wake me. I was still lying on my room floor, stark naked, when she started knocking on the door. I knew she would not go beyond knocking. My room door is almost always locked, ostensibly due to the fact that I sleep in the nude because of the heat.

“Osazuwa! Come quick! Papa says there’s a snake in the house.”

I hastily began to dress, while her knocking
continued. I was just putting on a shirt when the knocking was replaced by a violent pounding.
I hastily opened the door. Glaring at me furiously, wearing his pajamas, glasses and an angry look was my
uncle John.

‘What the hell is wrong with you?’ he queried. I sent Susan to get you long ago.’

‘Sorry’, I mumbled, feigning a sleepy pose. You sleep too deeply, there’s a snake in this house, and you well know that there are children here. My wife is pregnant, and in her condition we can’t have that kind of menace here.’

I sleepily joined him in his search, which lasted until dawn, but I knew better. The snake was gone. Furious at not finding even a trace of the snake that he alone saw, he retired upstairs, promising all who cared to listen (and I did not) that he would call in the exterminators as soon as it was daylight.

For all I care, he can call in two million exterminators, and they can take the house apart, brick by brick and
shingle by shingle. They can strip the house down to its foundations, and spray it with enough chemicals to
kill every snake in the world. But one thing I know: Come next month, at the time of the full moon, there
will still be a snake in the house, and I will still be in a very deep …….”

The door slammed suddenly. Startled, the maid hurriedly closed the diary and dropped it in a drawer,
then pushed it closed. Turning to the bed, she began to straighten the sheets, hoping that the occupant of the
room would not notice her indiscretion. On hearing footsteps at the door, she turned, picked up her mop
and bucket, and made to leave. He waved her on, saying, ‘Go on, finish up, take your time’, before
making a beeline for the bathroom. He was tall, slim, and light-skinned. He moved gracefully, almost as if to
a tune. He had a quick smile on his handsome face, and his eyebrows were thick and dark. Emerging from the
bathroom, he walked to the dresser and opened a drawer. He froze when he saw the book, lying inside,
next to his other books, instead of next to his underwear in the next drawer. With a smile that did not
quite reach his eyes, he turned to the maid with the notebook in his hand.

‘Oh my God, I’m very sorry sir, please don’t report about this, I didn’t mean to pry, just that it was there,
and….. open, please don’t….’

She wrung her hands in frustration, and ran a hand through her thinning brown
hair. He suddenly burst out laughing.

‘Please, I need the job, ‘cause my children need to eat, and there are bills to pay, and…’ She tapered off,
surprised by his laughter.

‘You still don’t get it, do you?’ he asked. She turned to look at him, and stared in shock.

He was standing by the door, the key in his hand, and a long black forked tongue was darting out from between
his lips. She suddenly understood. With a scream, she fled from the room. His laughter rang out loud and long
behind her as she entered the bedroom. Seeing nowhere to run to, she immediately ran to the bathroom and
opened it. She locked the door, bolted it, and weighing her options, headed straight for the window, drew back
the curtain, and froze.