[The Island of the Centipede – Chapter One]
Leaves in sunlight, touched by a gust of wind, scritch and skitter along the floor. They reach the edge of the pit. They leap down like cats, hunched and light and agile, and fall slowly towards Sukaynah’s maw.
They vanish into the darkness below.
And up from below comes the breath of Sukaynah, whose snorkel and prison this tower is: ho-ha, ho-ha.
“Sometimes I try to fish her up,” Martin says. “Because I would like to help her. But I’ve never used the right bait.”
Sukaynah’s breath is heavy and rasping. It scrapes along the brick.
Continuing the story of Martin, Sukaynah, the imago, and the Roomba (1)
“Here,” Martin says to the Roomba.
He reaches into his pocket. It’s full of wadded up fig newtons. He takes one out and tosses it to the Roomba.
The Roomba attempts to vacuum up the cookie. When this fails it tries to climb up on top of the cookie. After a long effort it manages to get itself stuck on top of the fig newton. It whirrs and whines helplessly.
“That’s bad navigation,” Martin says.
“!!” explains the Roomba.
Martin says, “Well, don’t look at me to help you. I think you should use this opportunity to evolve.”
The Roomba’s “Evolution occurs over the course of multiple generations” LED lights up. It plays a sorrowful tune.
Martin makes a face.
“Grind it down with your mobility!” he says.
As the Roomba hums and whirrs, Martin turns to the imago.
“Here,” he says.
He holds out another cookie.
The imago does not take the cookie.
“I think you’re an imago,” Martin says. “I think you’re in that cocoon because you’re evolving to the next stage of human existence—in,” he says triumphantly, “direct contradiction to the Roomba’s LED.”
The Roomba irritably extinguishes its “Evolution occurs over the course of multiple generations” light. It attempts to back up off of the cookie, to no avail.
“But,” Martin says, “it can’t be very much of an evolution if the post-person stage is unable to eat cookies.”
The imago is silent.
Martin makes a face.
“Maybe you don’t get a cookie, then.”
And he plucks two apples from the tree and sits down with his legs dangling into the pit and he looks thoughtfully down at Sukaynah far below.
Time continued to pass and still Sukaynah was not fed.
She cried, “Feed me sweet things! Pastries! Cakes! Cookies! Oh, feed me sweet things and I shall rise to devour the tower, the ocean, and the sun.”
At that time, a fisherman—Abel Clay—had moved into the tower, along with his family. He heard Sukaynah’s cries and was mightily amazed: but, “No way!” he shouted back down. “I like the sun!”
She heaved and wriggled in great rage, but he refused to feed her anything after the manner of her desire.
“Hey!” Martin says.
There is silence.
Sukaynah is a long way down but her breath fills the tower: ha-ho, ha-ho, ha-ho.
“Fruit,” Martin says.
And he tosses down an apple and it falls and it falls and then there is a great crunching and munching of teeth and finally a swallowing sound like the receding of the tide.
“Martin,” says Sukaynah.
“If I were a doctor,” Martin says, “these would totally keep me away. But I’d also be Doc Martin.”
Slowly, she says, “Do you sleep very soundly, Martin?”
“I sleep vigorously,” Martin says.
“If you sleep too soundly,” Sukaynah says, “then it is possible that very small people will tie you down underwater and build a combination tower/breathing tube on your face. Then a few thousand years later even smaller people will move into the tower and try to make friends with you. Your reaction might be best expressed as such: ‘I am unable to identify our common ground.'”
“Maybe you have sleep apnea,” says Martin.
“It’s a sleep disorder,” Martin says. “You can find more information about it on the Internet.”
There is a long pause.
“I do not think it is sleep apnea,” Sukaynah says.
It is June 1, 2004.
A cloud passes over the sun.
“Do you think it’s okay to destroy everything?” Martin asks.
“Yes,” says Sukaynah.
Martin munches on a cookie. He is thinking. “Me too,” he says.
Then he takes a newton from his pocket.
“Why,” she says, “you’re a good little boy after all.”