We here at Waltbox (and by ‘we’ I mean ‘me,’ or rather I, Walt) are (am) excited to feature today a Halloweeny treat by none other than Michelle of The Green Study. She’s taken a break from what I like to think of as The Good Fight to get into the spirit of the season with us. If you haven’t yet checked out her blog, you must, because it’s quite good, it’ll learn ya some things, and it may even motivate you to wade into the fray of American democracy and help get things back on track. If you’re already doing that, well then check this out, and give her a shout in the comments below:
by M.M. Jayne
I left the corpse on the floor, a distinct warning to the others. I could see its limbs still twitching. It was the largest one I had ever seen, all winding meat and legs. Twitch, twitch, twitch. I caught another out of the corner of my eye and arming myself again with a broom, I beat at it over and over until its body was decimated. I knew there were more, in between the walls, under the ceiling tiles, behind the cabinet. They knew now, by my angry barks of fear and loathing, that they best stay hidden.
When I stomped into the kitchen, Arthur, my elderly neighbor, looked up from the paper with a cocked eyebrow.
“House centipedes again?”
I nodded grumpily. At least this no longer startled me, his coming through the kitchen back door, pulling himself up to the table for coffee and to mess up my newspaper. Arthur and his wife were close friends with the Halvorsons, before they moved into a condo and I bought their rundown Victorian. Arthur’s wife passed a year ago and one morning I came down half-asleep to find a groomed and bright-eyed Arthur sitting at the kitchen table. I shrugged and poured myself a cup of coffee. He’d been coming every day since, except on Thursdays when he got picked up for checkers and donuts at the senior center.
“Those damned things are everywhere in the basement. I’ve been running a dehumidifier for weeks.” I reached over and grabbed the sports section. Arthur was reading the comics.
“You know that’s what got Emily, right?” He peered over the paper at me, his filmy eyes wide and unblinking.
“You’re messing with me. Your wife had cancer, didn’t she?” We hadn’t talked much about his wife. I did see the obit. There was definitely no mention of house centipedes.
“That was the story we told. But they could never explain why her head was half-bitten off that morning she was found.”
I choked on my coffee. “Jesus, Arthur, now you’re just trying to freak me out.” I coughed and smiled weakly, waiting for him to break out in a grin. He solemnly stared back at me.
“I think it started with the screaming. They hate that. She’d turn on a light in the bathroom, see one of ‘em on the wall and just shriek her almighty head off. I’d come along with a broom and obliterate them. But they watch, you see.” There was a visible shiver in the old man’s shoulders.
“They watch and they see who’s killing their kind and then they summon the assassin. It waits until you’re in bed, tucked in under covers, trapped by your blankets.”
Okay. I can play along. “So why they did they go after her and not you? You’re the one who was killing them.” I waited for the storytelling to end in a punch line.
“I told you about the screaming. The sound vibrations rattled them something fierce. They could feel it in every leg. Plus, they knew she was calling for their deaths. I was just doing what she’d tell me to do.”
I needed to hit the shower. An adjunct at the local college, I had a history class to teach to a bunch of slumped down, texting freshmen. I shook out and folded up the section of the paper neatly, got up with a stretch and said, “I’ve got to get ready for work. Thanks for the tall, weird tale.”
He reached out and grabbed my arm with a veiny, large hand, saying with a desperate whisper, “I told you now. They’re going to know I warned you. They come in the dark.”
With a dry chuckle, I shook off his hand. “I’ll see you tomorrow, okay? Make sure you lock the door behind you.”
I heard the door click as I mounted the stairs. Arthur had gone.
When I got home that night, the first thing I noticed was that Arthur’s house was dark. Usually, every light in every room was on. I always put it down to loneliness and bad vision.
After our strange conversation that morning, I wondered if he was ill. Maybe that explained this morning’s weirdness. I knocked at his back door. No answer. It was unlocked. I went in, turned on the light, looked around. There didn’t seem to be anything out of the ordinary, but I didn’t want to startle the old guy. I called out his name. Nothing.
I went from room to room, flipping on the lights. Nothing out of place, but still no answer. I went into the room at the end of the hallway. It was a guest room, but I knew Arthur had been sleeping there since Emily’s death. At first, he looked like he was asleep, until I saw the red gashes on each side of his neck. Like pincers. His arms were tucked under the covers, his gauzy eyes staring in horror at the ceiling. I leapt back, my heart pounding. I backed away from his body, fumbling for my phone. I turned to go down the hallway.
Then I heard it, the clattering of a hundred legs, the sliding of a thick, flexible body, the clack, clack, clack of jaws, coming ever faster and nearer. And then the lights cut out.