Everyone in my tribe knows of The Snip.
For the uninitiated, it is not much more than a cautionary tale to scare the young ones with- ‘Eat your food or I’ll send you to get The Snip!’ When I was a child, my friends and I would tease each other with it- ‘The village grandma will get Snipped before you do!’ It was as real to us as ghosts or monsters were.
But my idyllic childhood didn’t last forever, and as I grew, so did my motives and passions. I fell in love with the rich culture of my people, the way we put the community before ourselves. We were a small group, but we were mighty. I wanted nothing more than to devote my life to my people.
We are very lucky people, but the fortune we have been blessed with is a double-edged sword. We are never short of produce, our land is fresh and green, and our animals are healthy. Our luck did not go unnoticed, however. Our neighboring tribes saw our prosperity, and as their jealousy grew so did their violence. Our tribe had to find a way to protect themselves. And thus was born the Accamarra.
The Accamarra were the fiercest, most revered members of our tribe. They fought for us till their dying breath, and under their protection we could live in peace. They were my heroes.
The seven months of preparation to become an Accamarran warrior were the worst of my life. I learnt how to detach mind from body, how to fight with anything from bows and arrows to my bare toes, how to think of myself as a grain of sand floating down an endless cosmic ocean. Finally, only after I was stripped raw of myself and my soul deemed worthy, did the Accamarra elders allow me to receive the Snip.
Accamarran warriors were easily identifiable to both friend and foe, not just because of their physical prowess but because of their noses. After the months of training are complete, an Accamarran initiate becomes a true warrior after he survives the Snip. Shears are used to cut into the flesh of the initiates nose, just below bridge. The blades go deep enough to sever the nerve that lies underneath it.
Though the practice has been going on for generations, my bride-to-be, Pey, had been the first to deduce to science behind it. The nerve was connected to the part of the brain that processes fear. After the nerve heals, the warriors literally become fearless. Their brains are unable to process fear the a regular person does. When our enemies see that telltale V-shaped scar on the bridge of the warriors' nose, they drop their spears and flee. They know that fighting the Accamarran is a fruitless battle. And today, after years and years of wait, I would finally instill that same fear in my enemies.
I found Pey near the shores of the sea, as I had expected. She held me close, and I gratefully leant into the embrace. She smelt like home.
“I don’t want you to do it,” Pey said tearfully. “It’s a cruel practice and if the elders had any mind they would put a stop to it. I would tell the Accamarran themselves, but of course they had to run away and hide as soon as you became an initiate.” I laughed, holding her closer. It’s true that the Accamarran weren’t currently on the island, but that was because they had gone to find help to get us through the unexpected heat wave the island was facing. Soon, I told myself, I would be with them.
“This is my destiny, Pey.” I kissed the tears off her cheeks. “I’ll see you soon.”
The Ritual Hut was at the far corner of the village, right at the mouth of the jungle. I took in the sights of my home, thinking about how this might be the last time I ever saw the place I loved most. Many an initiate had been driven mad by the pain of the ritual and had killed themselves to stop the agony. I prayed that my training had strengthened me enough.
The village elders had gathered at the ritual hut. They were chanting in low voices, reciting ancient prayers of strength and courage. Wordlessly, I took my place at the center of the room and closed my eyes. I heard a metallic clank, which meant that the Accamarran head warrior had picked up the ritual shears and was coating it with herbs. Not herbs that would lessen the pain, of course, but rather ones that would amplify them.
The voices around me reached a crescendo as the shears were drawn open. I steadied myself. Whatever lay in front of me, I was ready.
With a definitive Snip, the shears closed around my nose.
Never again in my life would I complain of pain. An arrow to the head would hurt as much as a paper cut. I knew I would never encounter something as gut-wrenchingly unendurable as the inferno of agony that had erupted on my face.
I fought to stay on my feet as the elders left the room, my breath coming out in ragged gasps. As soon as I heard the door close, I sunk into fetal position, my mind seeming to break into white-hot shards. As the nerve healed, initiates were supposed to use their time on meditation and self-reflection, and come out of the ritual with renewed strength. At this rate I didn’t know if I would even make it out alive.
Time passed; how much of it I could not tell you. For seconds or hours or days, I was filled with all-consuming pain. I was lying on my back with closed eyes, trying to find the willpower not to kill myself, when the door opened. I sat up, momentarily startled out of my pain. The time of healing was an incredibly sacred moment in a warrior's life, and they were to have absolutely no contact with anyone else. The punishment to whoever disturbed me would be severe.
I looked towards the door, blinking away tears of pain, and caught sight of some...thing. It had darted away as soon as I had set eyes on it, but I got a good enough glimpse to know that whatever it was, it was certainly not human. Long, hooked talons sprung forth from its deformed yellow body, black feathers spilling from its head like a crown.
The simple exertion of lifting my head up had left me bone tired. I wanted nothing more than to lie back down on the floor and take a good long rest, but my conscience held me back. It was my duty to my people.
I propped myself up on all fours. I tensed my muscles, trying to find the energy to get up, when something hot, blisteringly hot, came raining down on my back.
I craned my neck up, just in time to see a burning log about to fall right onto my skull. Without my months of training I would have been flattened into pulp. As it was, I just managed to throw myself to the side as it came crashing to the floor.
My mind was in shambles as I pulled myself up. The creature, whatever it was, clearly possessed some sort of intelligence. A wild animal wouldn’t have the capacity to set a hut on fire.
With shaking legs, I stumbled out of the burning hut. The nerve clearly hadn’t healed yet; along with a pounding headache, the corners of my eyesight was tinged with red, as if blood was seeping into my sockets. I vowed to get message to the Accamarran if it took everything I had in me.
Then my heart sank as I realized there were no Accamarran on the island. With all of them gone to find help from the heatwave, I was the only thing standing in the way of the monster.
My heart pounding in a very un-warriorlike way as I scanned around me. The afternoon sun was pounding down on me, and the searing heat paired with my failing vision meant I could barely see three feet ahead of me. My gut twisted. I could not let me people down.
Then, as I turned around, I saw a bright yellow flash amongst the green of the jungle trees. The creature was standing stock still, staring straight at me. With no weapon and no plan, I went to it.
As I limped into the jungle my mind was whirling with questions. Was this what the Accamarran were actually protecting us from all along? Could all this really have been happening right before my eyes? How could I have been so blind?
The creature made no attempt to run as I came closer. Then, when I was just a few breaths away, it bent down. Seizing my chance, I leapt forwards. Just as I was about to grab at it, it threw something hard and pointed straight into my face.
I was driven to my knees. The impact had reopened the semi-healed nerve, and fresh, hot pain was rained down on me in unending waves. My mind went blank, all my thoughts turned into a single bloodless scream.
I might have stayed there forever, died there, if I didn’t hear the wail. It was the creature. I turned around just in time to see it hit it fall.
With no strength left to walk, I dragged myself over to its limp body. It had tripped on the thick forest undergrowth and was lying limply. It seemed to be a daze, murmuring to itself, a nefarious hiss that chilled me to the bone.
I knew what to do. The Gods had put me on this Earth, and I had finally found my purpose. I got up, my muscles ripping apart with the effort, and fulfilled my destiny. I folded my hands into fists and brought it down on the creature. I was well-versed in delivering death blows, and though this one wasn’t my best it was still served its purpose well.
As the creature breathed its last, I laid my bruised body next to its shriveled yellow one. We were going to die together, the creature and I. Perhaps we were not so different in the end.
And then I woke up.
The sun had long set, and the coolness of the night air was like a balm to my battered body. Belatedly, I realized that though my body was aching my face felt no more pain. The nerve had healed.
I got up. I was now an Accamarran warrior. My dream had come true.
Then, just when I was the highest, I’ve ever felt, I caught sight of the corpse of the creature. And just like that, everything came crashing down.
Later, when I would return to the village, I would find out that it was not just the hut of rituals that had caught fire. Every single dwelling was turned to ash, not because of the creature but because of the heatwave. The dry straw that made our roofs was like tinder to the sun’s merciless rays.
The true reason for the period of solitude while the nerve healed wasn’t to protect the initiate but rather to protect the village. After the Snip, the pain could drive you crazy. Could make you see things differently.
As the village was embroiled in flames, there was only one person who thought about me. Who risked everything to ensure I was safe. Who had the intelligence to draw me out of the village, the bravery to keep me there.
I stared into Pey’s lifeless face, blood already seeping through her bright yellow robes.
This work has been published in Beetle Magazine's August 2020 Issue.