Month: May 2014

So spoke the centipede – an old and weird story.



So spoke the centipede

“When you awake, you will remember everything.” So spoke the centipede without looking up from its meal. The horrific many-legged succubus was perched on the corpse of a familiar toad with its maxillipeds buried deep into the hapless amphibian’s flesh, though the masticatory movements of its mouthparts didn’t hinder its ability to address me. Overhead, the technicolour vortex was beginning to close. “You must go now, before it is too late,” intoned the demonic myriapod, its voice arriving in my head without perturbing my eardrums. Stifling the urge for a backwards glance I ran swiftly past the pillar of salt, ran with winged heels away from that macabre scene, and hurled myself headlong into the vortex.

Flickering fluorescent lights bathed the classroom in antiseptic whites as Bertrand Russell, my 1st grade teacher, lectured us on the evolution of philosophy in Ancient Greece:

“Heraclitus espoused a painful doctrine of permanent flux; a doctrine which modern science is powerless to refute. Which of you can tell me the name of the Greek philosopher who did, however, attempt just such a refutation?”

Hands reached for the ceiling all around me. Evidently I alone was unable to summon the answer to this apparently elementary question.

“Ah yes, Billy?”

Silly Billy the blighter I hadn’t seen since we were boys; this Billy didn’t look like my Silly Billy but he was Billy the blighter all right.

“That was Parmenides, Mr. Russell. Parmenides maintained that nothing changes.”

“That sounds a little preposterous though doesn’t it Billy? For example, if I incinerate this rather unpleasant centipede here,” said our distinguished didact, rapidly reaching with forceps of ferrous alloy into a small tank on the blackened bench beside him and removing a writhing centipede which ineffectually but audibly and repeatedly stabbed the steely forceps with its venom claws, “it will cease to exist, will it not?” He dropped the cranky critter into the incinerator and it was instantly immolated, emitting (no doubt) a silent scream of almost anthropic anguish. “You see, Billy? Something has changed – no more nasty centipede!”

“Yes, sir.” Silly Billy looked at his shoes.

“Wrong, wrong, wrong, you over-educated aristocratic British toff!” screeched Parmenides. “The thing that can be thought and that for the sake of which the thought exists is the same; for you cannot find thought without something that Is!”

“Thank you for your contribution, Parmenides,” the 3rd Earl Russell calmly replied, “but you simply cannot draw a metaphysical conclusion from language.”

The door suddenly splintered into a quadrillion quarks and the sound of gunfire filled my ears. Outside, the battle to determine the fate of the Multiverse was heating up and I knew I must rescue the ashes of my ally and get them to the Underworld. Valiantly I vaulted a dozen rows of desks, dodged past Parmenides throttling Bertrand Russell, and snatched the claws of the carbonised creepy-crawly from the inferno of the incinerator. My heels began to flap and I exited stage right with one thousand and one Arabian militants hot on them. My capture imminent and inevitable, I daringly disassociated into one thousand and two tiny toads; the toad called “me” sought shelter under a red rock whilst the multitudinous militants, distracted by the decoys, all apprehended an anuran automaton (one each).

It was dark and damp under my red rock and I detected a sound – a whistling as air of blowing across giant spiracles. I turned and found myself face to forcipule with a monstrous myriapod. I tried to escape this abhorrent ambush but the subtle centipede greedily grabbed ahold of me with a dozen spiked appendages and clutched me crushingly to its armoured underside sighing “Om, nom, nom, nom, nom.”

“Wait!” I cried, “I am a friend to the centipedes! See how I have rescued the remains of one of your conspecifics in order to ensure the proper burial rites are performed!”

“Boy,” the maxillipeds were motionless but I recognised the voice of my captor, “you have seriously misunderstood nature. To me, this conspecific you mention is little more than competition for food and you are little more than the latter.” The legs pierced my sides and back and blood began to weep from my wounds as I was shuffled inexorably along a conveyor belt of limbs toward the nightmarish scythes upon which I would shortly be impaled. The poison in my warty skin was useless as prayer against this prehistoric predator which had been haunting the recess of the Earth and my unconscious for four hundred million years. “Do you see? You were fated to be food. Parmenides was right, nothing changes; you have always been my meal and I have always been consuming you.” A perfect sphere of viscous venom extruded from the tip of a claw and luminesced in the light that emanated from the entrance to this subterranean dwelling place of primal fear, a crack of light beyond which lay a wide and wonderful world of infinite “elsewheres” I’d rather be.

Opening my eyes I relaxed in the warm water; it was decades since my last bubble bath. The light caught the bubbles as they flitted and floated towards my contented countenance, each containing a miniature rainbow-suffused universe. As a spherical sufficiency approached my nose, I spied between me and the rows of my toes, a fatal prescience of the end of my road – a chitinous chilopod consuming a toad.