[The Island of the Centipede – Chapter One]
There’s a simple fishing rod leaning against one wall. It’s made of white birch. The line makes relaxed loops like a backwards B as it travels the fishing rod’s length.
Martin threads a newton onto the hook.
“You’re probably wondering,” he says to the imago, “why I brought you here.”
The imago is silent.
“I wanted to explain to you, before anything big happened—like Sukaynah eating the tower and the sea and the sun or you coming out of your cocoon or someone bumping the Roomba’s End of Everything Button—just how very much I want to win.”
Outside the sky is blue and the clouds rush by.
Martin whips the fishing rod forward and with a sound like scree-ee-ee-ee-ee-ee the cookie falls down towards Sukaynah’s maw.
“People are unfinished,” Martin says. “They’re rough and raw and they look like the blobs that kids in elementary school make when they learn pottery in art class. They’re hopeless.”
The line stops descending. Martin pauses a moment.
“It hit the oak,” Sukaynah says.
Martin sighs. He reels up the line. He pulls the cookie back. Then he casts again.
“It makes me so angry,” Martin says. His face is just a little bit red. “Like, they’ll figure out that something is wrong and the first thing they do? They do it louder.”
The line stops descending. Martin pauses.
“The house,” Sukaynah says.
“Oh,” Martin says.
“You’re really bad at fishing,” Sukaynah says.
“It’s not my fault you’ve got a house in your snorkel,” Martin says.
“No,” Sukaynah admits.
Martin reels the line back up. He looks critically at the fig newton, takes it off the hook, and replaces it with a fresh one. He glares down into the hole. Then he braces and casts again.
“Mind the werewolf,” Sukaynah says, and Martin’s hands jerk and he almost drops the rod and in any event the cookie hits the wall.
“I am trying to fish and explain how awful people are,” Martin says.
The imago is silent.
“They’re also sloppy,” Martin observes. “And ugly! And the really young and really old ones are all wrinkly. And they’re always leaving their things all over the place. And they hurt each other. And they poison the earth. And they don’t eat their vegetables.”
He casts the line out with grim determination. It falls, falls, falls towards Sukaynah’s maw.
There is an angry bark.
“And some of them are werewolves!” Martin says, as if this were the capstone to his argument when in fact it is the smallest of incidents.
Time continued to pass and still Sukaynah was not fed.
She cried, “Feed me fruit! Green apples! Strawberries! Figs! Oh, feed me fruit and I shall sink to the depths and trouble you no more.”
But there was silence, and for a long time she was left there, to gnash her teeth and bewail her fate, until one day Martin came.
Sukaynah breathes: ho-ha, ho-ha. It stirs the dust on the floor. It blows back a lock of Martin’s hair.
“What would it mean,” she says, “If I may ask? Your victory?”
“I would sweep away the kingdoms of the world,” Martin says. “I would tear down all the monsters. I’d make a pile of their bones. I’d dispose of the people who couldn’t evolve. I’d rend the world, I’d cull it down to a remnant, and from its ashes I’d build the most glorious of Heavens.”
“Ah,” says Sukaynah.
Martin begins to reel back the line.
“And the gibbelins?” Sukaynah asks.
“Would you tear them down and make their bones a pyre?”
“You can’t punish the dead,” Martin says. His face is blank. “That’s like putting pebbles in your soup.”
“Then I do not think,” Sukaynah says, “that you should win.”
Martin finishes pulling up the line. The hook is empty. The werewolf has savagely eaten the fig newton.
He shakes his head irritably.
He rebaits the hook.
“I know,” he says. “I shouldn’t. I can’t. I wish I could. Thinking about it—it’s tremblingly nice. It makes my fingers warm and my toes curl. But I’m not going to.”
He casts the line. It falls, falls, falls.
His face, with no one looking at it, is almost open.
“Instead,” he says, “I’m trusting Jane.”