[The Island of the Centipede – Chapter One]
The baited hook falls, falls, falls.
There is a pause.
There is a great crunching and munching of teeth.
“Perfect,” says Martin smugly. He glances slyly at the Roomba. “See, if you had a better set of lexemes, you’d be able to admire that cast.”
The Roomba’s “I don’t want to get eaten” LED lights up.
There is a swallowing sound like the receding of the tide.
“I’ve got her,” Martin says.
Here is how it came to pass.
The morning of June 1, 2004, had gone well for Martin. Sukaynah was placid, made happy by the falling of apples. Mei Ming, insofar as he could guess, was giving serious contemplation to his ideas. Jane, overwhelmed by the task of piecing together histories in the broken lens, was uncharacteristically quiet. And there, shining amidst the aisles of Costco, he’d found a flat of delicious Fig Newtons: 125 packages of 24 cookies each, bundled together, 5x5x5.
The flat shone like the stars.
He took it home to the tower and set his purchases on the counter. Jane descended like a vulture, but—
“No,” said Martin, flush with the power that was in him.
“No,” he said. He held out his hand. “Not the cookies,” he said.
Jane pouted, but Martin did not bend. She tried to sneak around him to the cookies. Martin stood firm, like the sentryman of Heaven.
“You can’t eat 3000 cookies by yourself!” Jane protested, driven at the last to the employment of reason. “You’d turn into a cookie. And explode!”
Martin said, dramatically, “I’m willing to take that risk.”
But Jane’s star was in ascendance. She made her very best face at him. He trembled under the power of that face. Her eyes bored into his. “You have to share them with everyone in the tower,” she said.
“I have to?”
And sometimes Martin wonders why he made her, why he shaped her from the ruin that he’d found, why he’d bothered to bring an ending to the firewood and to Bob: but not today.
On June 1, 2004, he loves her; and with gloatful satisfaction says, “That’s more than 2800 for me.”
And against the glow of that brilliance Jane can offer no protest.
Martin leans back. He prepares to reel Sukaynah up. He spins the wheel on his fishing pole. It turns easily at first but then it slows down. It gets harder and harder.
“Will you keep your promise?” Martin says.
He’s sweating as he struggles with the line.
“Glugnuh?” Sukaynah says, meaning: Promise?
“Because I gave you a cookie,” Martin says.
“Ah,” says Sukaynah.
“You said that if anyone fed you cookies, that you’d be able to break free, but that you’d have to eat the tower and the sea and the sun.”
“‘orry,” Sukaynah says. “‘ut, ieyah.”
Martin is sweating. He’s trying to reel Sukaynah in but he’s making very little progress.
“Because I have to admit,” he says, “I don’t actually want you to do that. And also, this isn’t working very well.”
“‘y ‘ot?” Sukaynah asks, meaning Why not?
The Roomba’s “Newton’s First Law?” LED lights up.
Martin glances at it. He shakes his head irritably.
“Hush,” he says.
The line goes still and trembling.
There is a momentary hush.
Then there is anger from below. There is a thrashing in the sea. The hook tears loose and Martin falls back and Sukaynah shrieks, “But this isn’t a cookie!”
“Newtons are fruit and cake!”
The tower shifts, the tower shakes. The Roomba slips free from the newton on which it is impaled. The imago slumps to lean against the tree.
The crust of the world cracks.
In the distant west there is a sound: Whump!
“Oh,” Martin says.