[The Island of the Centipede – Chapter Two]
“We make of this world,” says the girl, “a great and marvelous immensity filled with pureness and lightness and darkness and things that we do not understand.”
Her voice is reverent.
“It burns the skin of us like ice or fire,” she says. “It resounds in our ears like thunder. And we worship it, naturally we worship it, we look outwards and we give it homage, because it is so very wonderful things are.”
Tep is ignoring her.
He is sulking.
He is saying, “I can’t believe I have to fight Sukaynah.”
“Wow,” says the girl.
“I can’t believe that either! Also: where are we?”
Crack the earth.
Stir the sea.
From the west comes an outpouring of virtue to make all things right.
The Island of the Centipede
Normally being swallowed by a giant horror occasions great terror, uncertainty, and pain. However inside the throat of Sukaynah phosphorescent fungi manifest both light and slickness, producing an experience somewhat between that of a waterslide and Disney’s Haunted Mansion.
The house of Abel Clay rockets down her gullet and casts forth a great spray when it corners.
“We’re— that is,” says Tep. “There’s a giant, um, Sukaynah— the gibbelins—“
Sometimes the simplest things are the hardest to explain.
“We’re on the porch of a house in the throat of a horror under a tower in the middle of the sea,” Tep says.
Ink’s eyes light up.
Maliciously, Tep adds, “And you’re probably going to be digested, since you’re not a werewolf.”
Ink Catherly dips a finger in the fungus.
She tastes it.
“This is so much better than Hell,” says Ink Catherly, grinning ear-to-ear.
“Did you know,” says Ink, “that when you’re in Hell, you can taste things, but it doesn’t matter that you can?”
“What does it taste like?”
“Terrible,” says Ink.
Then she cups her hands to the sides of her mouth. She shouts, “Sukaynah!”
There is no immediate response.
“Sukaynah! I’m covered in intangible bugs!”
The house slows in its course.
The Tower of the Gibbelins
by Abel Clay
February, Tuesday 11, 1890, having abandoned all other concerns & let Emma’s garden grow over with dark vines I set forth to California & regions beyond. With the establishment of the rail I made this journey with fewer hardships than my grandfather & arrived without incident & with the graces of that Tyrant from whom I intended to claim satisfaction. For some weeks I traveled the coastal regions, discovering no chaos but locating several homes ravaged by disease & burying the residents therein & acquiring for the first time the loyalty of my dog Ned, formerly the associate of a family unfortunately passed. (See picture.) Naturally this close acquaintance with the dead chilled me with unease but a Responsible man tends to the damage done before the revenge for it & so strongly burned my purpose that fear could not turn me from these favorable actions that I have described.
May, Friday 5, 1890, I made my first encounter with the boy whom I now know as Tep, a child whose bestial personality has manifest certain physiognomic and physiological peculiarities. To wit, when not occupied in pleasant pursuits he acquires increasingly the stigma of the wolf & behaves in outrageous fashion. Remarkably in his hunt he sheds gunfire in the same fashion that a motivated man may shake off fisticuffs and, having earned his rage thus firing upon him, I ran for some days and became quite lost, wherefore I cannot accurately mark the location of the bridge to the tower of the gibbelins upon my map, but suggest to any who may come here by sea that its approximate location is here, see X.
May, Sunday 7, 1890, I am here and safe and seeking assiduously to discover the location of the Tyrant. At first I considered this tower with its fearful abattoirs a plausible location for His eminence but have had to rethink this after finding certain scripts that indicate this as the home of “gibbelins,” which if I am not mistaken are a tribe of the savages whose presence the Spanish first reported; yet if the Spanish had been here I would be much surprised as great treasuries of jewels reside untouched within the gibbelins’ vaults. Have found a volume, “To Serve Man,” apparently a cookbook & perused the recipes with great interest but the cooks have made some manner of jest and I am unable to penetrate it. Regrettably I am unable to return to civilization as a misstep in a cellar of bones has injured my leg substantially and I reckon at least two days’ travel beyond the bridge through hard ground before I find a settlement.
May, Tuesday 9, 1890, beneath this tower I discover Sukaynah’s terrible maw. (See illustration.) This creature whose great mouth opens as one of the tower’s foundations is no doubt the very beast of Hell herself but as I am seeking vengeance on the Tyrant who made things as they are & not the beast that corrupts them I have elected to leave her be & grant her such favors as she prefers that do not entail her devouring my soul or rising free of her confinement.
The girl’s name is Ink Catherly, but everyone calls her the imago. It’s because she’s covered in intangible bugs, she’ll tell you, and maybe that’s the truth.
Either way, she’s just announced it to the person who’s swallowed her.
“That’s mean,” says Tep, with fascination.
And Sukaynah is gagging.
“You’re the one who’s going to fight her,” says Ink.
The channel in which they rest is rocking back and forth; it grows apparent that for all the things Sukaynah is willing and able to swallow, she cannot casually gulp down someone covered in intangible bugs.
“She ate Ned, so she’s alpha,” says Tep. “I have to fight her.”
Then she grins, and says, “Oh, hey! Fig newton.”
She reaches out into the throat of Sukaynah.
She plucks it forth.
“Oh, don’t,” says Tep.
“It is one thing to fight her,” says Tep, “and buggy words are just buggy words; but fig newtons are fruit and cake.”
His expression is peculiarly solemn.
“Please put it back?” he says.
Ink smiles to him.
“Then in homage to that great immensity,” she says, “that surrounds us.”
And gently and with reverence she tosses the cookie; and Sukaynah tosses hers.