Preordained - Episode 1

Preordained

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Zululand was nothing but a tiny village. A place where the myriad of trees were even ranked higher in quantity than its inhabitants. For seventeen years, I'd occupied the small clearing, gawping through the makeshift window of my hut, as many gathered their belongings, vacating the village to seek greener pastures. Day by day, the population went through a depression, the inhabitants became more countable, whilst Mama and I were a part of the remaining few. 

"There's a lot more to life than this place . I need to leave, I want to explore the life beyond," My best friend Ashanti had said the night before her departure. And although, I'd given a small smile in return, my heart strongly disagreed. 

I did believe there was a lot more to life. But I also believed there was much more to Zululand than anyone cared to explore. The rural habitation wasn't the fanciest, but there was an essence I couldn't quite place my fingers on; an inexplicable sense of belonging. At least that was how I felt. 

Indeed, every one else was entitled to an opinion too.. 

"It's time," I whispered enthusiastically to myself, gazing at the sky overhead. The sun had set over the multitude of thick canopy, with that imperfect blend of a golden-yellow, and red-rose streaking off beneath the cloud that loomed

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. I could already picture Mama Yahimba taking her gentle steps out of her hut, with a tray of fresh fruits in hand, settling by the tree directly in front, and awaiting teenagers like myself to arrive at the same spot. I didn't intend to disappoint her either. 

"Mama, I'm off," I yelped once I'd ducked outside, watching her wave a goodbye. 

"Dont stay out too late," She warned.

I kept up a brisk pace as I walked through the familiar route. Everywhere was quiet, as always, the only source of _noise_ being that of the breeze that swayed the leaves. It'd been impossible to resist the realm of serenity the overall atmosphere had to offer, taking a stride through the complicated path that was unfamiliar by no means. But once I'd caught sight of the familiar cultural attire of the elderly woman, coupled with the teenagers that sat across, just behind the fire, a small smile had tugged at the corner of my lips. I'd made it in time. And that, in itself was refreshing in its own right.

Eagerly, I took a spot behind Nathi, one of my close friends, giggling softly as our eyes made contact. 

"The Zonke Forest," the old woman gave a dramatic start: a somewhat deep, hushed tone, intended to incite a scare. To many, the trick had worked, suddenly masking their expressions to that of the fear of the unknown, but not me. Mine, was more like an intense thirst of curiosity. At that point, the elderly woman already had everyone's absolute attention, and it really didn't take long for her to move along. "The forest is as old as life itself; memories dated back to our ancestors. I'm sure you are all familiar with its name, but I'm going to tell you why exactly it's forbidden to step foot in there."

"Back then, the forest used to be a part of the village also. It was a place where the hunters went to carry out their operations.. some days were harder than the others, the hunters sometimes couldn't do it alone, and that was the usefulness of the dogs. But then, one fateful day, the tables turned. Let's just say, the hunter became the hunted." She paused right after, gazing intently at the burning fire. My mind was running wild with imaginations, speculations of what i thought she'd say next. And the old woman seemed to be revelling in our sheer ignorance. She knew we wanted more. 

"There are a lot of theories regarding this, some even say it's a curse, but the fact remained that the entire villagers had woken up that morning, however, the dogs weren't dogs any more. They were bigger dogs. Longer canines, lethal glares. They didn't crave for the meat of domestic animals anymore, their needs had become larger, they were thirsty for human fluid, hungry for human flesh. Whilst those who were lucky enough had escaped the brutality, and settled right here in this land."

"Still, several years after it all happened, some strangers had walked into this same land, claiming to be lost. But the thing was, right after their arrival, the villagers had noticed one significant detail: the population was drastically decreasing. It baffled the village head, which explained why he'd secretly appointed some burly men to keep track of them."

Even more suspense. I was growing impatient by the minute, with my gaze fixated at Mama Yahimba, like that in itself would hurry the words out of her mouth.

Read " After Grad " by the same author ( Ishola Ubaydah )

. With others, the feeling must've been the same, however, I'd been too inquisitive to pay any mind to that. 

"And that was when it became clear. The bigger dogs weren't like they thought anymore. It seemed, like the specie they'd first experienced had gone into extinction, whilst the generations that'd sprung forth, were even more unique. They were called 'shape-shifters'. They could assume both the human form, and the other lethal form."

"The village was yet in another state of chaos. However, thanks to a wise man at the time, their weakness became known: Fire. They couldn't stand it. And that was how they were chased out. Ever since then, they never came back. Nevertheless, there's a possibility that they still exist in that very forest; there's also a possibility that they don't. But it's better to just stay off."

That was the climax of Mama Yahimba's tale, but it was the beginning of my own journey.

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