The Centipede
by Joyce Faulkner

            “You are kidding, right?”  My husband cocked his head like a puzzled puppy.

            “It was huge.”  I held my hands twelve inches apart.  “It came toward me rather than running away—trying to bite me.

            “What kind of bug comes after someone?”  He set his briefcase down and gave me a hug.  “Have you been at the cooking wine again?”

            “No, I swear.”  I made a circle with my thumb and forefinger.  “It was about this big around with a black shell and a hundred yellow legs.”  I shuddered with my mouth open and my tongue out.

            “You counted its legs while it was trying to bite you?”

            He had me there so I changed the subject.  “I ran up the stairs and knocked on Eujin’s door and she came out and when we saw it climbing up the stairwell, we both screamed.”

            “Bet the neighbors loved that.”  His nonchalance was maddening.  I’d been attacked by some exotic beast and he thought it was funny.

            “Eujin gave me a broom and I smacked it.  When I pulled it back over my shoulder, the centipede was gone.  We were looking around, wondering where it went when I got the feeling I should look up the broomstick.  There it was, clinging to the straw.  As soon as it saw me, it leapt at me.”

            He snorted.  “Leapt at you?”

            “It aimed at my shoulder, but I dropped the broom and ran up the stairs to Eujin.”

            “What happened to it?”

            “It missed me and rolled down to the bottom of the steps.”

            “All the way down to the bottom?”

            “Most of the way.”

            He rolled his eyes.


            He took off his shirt and dumped it in the laundry.  “I didn’t see anything coming up.  Did it wander off?”

            “It started back up the stairs after us and big Alice heard us screaming.”

            “Big Alice?”

            “You know, the German lady that lives in the apartment below us.”

            “The Amazon in an Apron?”

            “We shouldn’t call her that anymore.  She rescued us.”

            “She did?”

            “She came out of her apartment to find Eujin and me clinging to each other on the landing.  The broom lay in the foyer and the centipede was crawling up the third step gnashing its teeth and shouting curses at us.”

             “It gnashed its teeth?”

             He had me there so I changed the subject.  “Big Alice examined it.  Iss preety scarree,” she proclaimed.  “Vait heer.”  She held up one finger and went back into her apartment.

             “I take it you waited.”  Men can be infuriating sometimes.

             “Where would we go?  We were cornered.”

             “You could have slunk back into your apartments and forgotten the whole thing.”

             “Are you crazy?  With that monster at our doors?  Anyway, big Alice came out with a can of Raid.  By then, it was starting up the stairs after me again.  It was personal, I think.”

             “Well, you bashed it with a broom.”

             “What did it have against Eujin?”

             “She was the accomplice.”

             I ignored him and continued, “Big Alice sprayed it from head to tail with Raid, but that only made it mad.  It made figure eights and circles, leaning back on its haunches and shrieking at her.”

             “It shrieked?”

             “Maybe it was more like a hiss.  You shoulda heard it.”

             “You shoulda recorded it.”

             I gave him a dirty look.  “Anyway, it tried to get at big Alice—running at her feet, trying to bite her.”

             “Maybe it was trying to chase her away.”

             “Even big Alice was taken aback.  She hurried into her apartment and slammed the door.  The centipede rolled onto its back and wiggled its legs in the air like it was laughing.  We were trying to decide what to do if it came after us again, when big Alice marched out of her apartment with a two by four and beat the darn thing to death.  She was still pounding on it and cursing in German when Eujin and I decided it was time to go into our apartments and close the door.”

             “Uh huh.  So how was the rest of your day?”

             Johnny never believes my stories the first time I tell them.  He has to get used to them, I think.  Anyway, Eujin and I learned from our Japanese friends that the next few weeks were “centipede season”.  They called them mukades and warned that they were poisonous.  Sure enough, they were everywhere I looked.  There was one in the pot that I used to make stew.  It reclined on its back fifty legs and beckoned with its front fifty, laughing maniacally.  I dropped the pot and left it lying on its side until Johnny came home.  The bug had long disappeared into the woodwork by then.  Eujin found one in her baby’s crib.  It gave fight and her husband Gene stomped it to death with his hand-tooled cowboy boots.  A fellow living down the hill woke to find one munching on his toe.  It swelled up and got infected—the toe, not the centipede.  In fact, everyone in the compound bumped into one of these snarling yellow-legged ogres except Johnny.  He continued to doubt their existence, insisting that we were all “suggestible” or “exaggerating”—even after a dinner party where Gene described his duel with one living under a sponge in their kitchen.

             “I think you don’t want to believe,” I said as we walked the ten paces from their apartment to ours.

             “Would YOU?”

             I unlocked the door.  “Coward.” 

“Of course.”

 He went into the living room to watch Sumo wrestling on TV.  I collected a towel and my terrycloth bathrobe from the bedroom.  Peeking into the living room, I saw that he’d taken off his shoes and was stretched out on the couch, half asleep.

 Our bathroom was long and narrow.  A stall with a western toilet sat at one end and a tiled shower was at the other, accessible through a regular wooden door with a glass knob.  The door opened inward.  I leaned in to turn on the shower.  Stepping out, I put my hair up and brushed my teeth.  A minute later, I reached in to test the water temperature.  Then I got undressed, stepped inside and closed the door behind me.

             A giant centipede was on the back of the door, between me and the way out.  I was trapped and naked.  It leaned back to look at me, grinning malevolently.  I screamed.  It dropped to the floor and darted at my bare feet.  I leapt into the air, my legs spinning like the Roadrunner escaping from a determined Coyote.  I don’t remember hitting the door, but suddenly it lay flat—broken from the inside out. 

Johnny fell off the couch as I ran shrieking into the room and climbed up on the dining room chair.

“What’s wrong with you?” 

The door bell rang.  “What’s going on?”  Gene yelled. 

“I’ll be right there.”  Johnny made for the bathroom to get my robe. 

“Did you SEE it?” 

I danced on the dining room table, trying to cover myself. 

He held up the robe.  “Put this on.” 

“Let us in, I’ll help.”  Gene called. 

“Are you okay?”  Eujin’s voice was a muffled soprano. 

“Did you SEE it?”  I eyed the chandelier wondering if it would hold my weight. 

“No, I didn’t see it.  Now put this on.”  He shook the robe to emphasize his point. 

“What if it’s IN the robe?”  Nakedness was preferable to the thought of a centipede inside my clothes. 

Sighing dramatically, he turned the sleeves inside out.  I gestured with my eyes and he looked under the collar and in each pocket.  Reassured, I reached for it. 

“John, Joyce!  Let us in!”  Gene knocked again. 

“Coming,” Johnny called over his shoulder as I slipped on the robe.  “Now get down off the table.” 

“NO!”  I rose up on my toes, ready to tread air again if he tried to bring me down.  He shook his head and went to let the neighbors in. 

“What is it?” I heard Gene ask before Eujin blew into the room and crawled up onto the chair beside my table. 

“What are they doing?”  I peeked over her head, not moving from my perch. 

“Going after the centipede,” she told me as shouts, clangs and thumps emanated from the bathroom, scuffling, more shouts and a final crash before Gene and Johnny came back into the living room—triumphant after their battle. 

“Come on down, it’s gone now.”  Johnny took my hand. 

I was hesitant.  “You’re sure?” 

“It fought like a tiger, gnashing its teeth and roaring, but Gene and I got him with a mop and hot water.  It cursed us for villains and knaves as it swirled around before disappearing down the drain.” 

“It gnashed its teeth?” 

I had him there, so he changed the subject.  “Come on, baby. You’re safe now.”  I crawled down into his arms.


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© 2015