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The bedroom was cold. Marc was wearing her thickest nightgown, dozing underneath two thick blankets she retrieved from a linen closet. Normally her room was warm enough to make such coverings unnecessary, but the heating had been stalled. Still, the girl had fallen asleep an hour earlier, since midnight had passed.
With a pattering sort of noise, a centipede scrambled across the wooden floor. The sound was faint, yet stood out in the relatively silent nighttime. The insect’s many legs moved hastily, seeking out the warmth coming from the bundle atop the bed. Marc was sleeping so soundly that she didn’t hear it coming nearer, even once its claws scaled the side of her bed and burrowed under her quilts.
But soon, Marc’s eyes did flicker open. She could perceive an odd sensation in her body, and was baffled by where it came from. Discreetly she reached down to her thighs, wondering if she had a mosquito bite somewhere. The curious sensation turned suddenly into pain, and Marc let out a soft cry. It was coming from the inside of her genitals.
“What the hell is happening?” grumbled Marc, sitting up and gasping. There were pinprick claws moving on her walls, like the feet of an insect. Without hesitation, Marc reached for it. When the little claws began to rake her soft, sensitive flesh, Marc’s yelps turned to a scream and she probed more thoroughly.
Is that a centipede in… there…?!
Finally Marc grasped the last few body segments of the invader. Though tiny, its rear-end spines dug into her fingers with force, a few drops of blood painting the bed sheet. Marc gagged in revulsion once the creature escaped her grip and continued to traverse deeper inside her. When she felt what had to be a bite, the pain grew and Marc’s reaction was a distinct wail. A few tears slid off her flushed cheeks.
Seconds later her door was opened. The intruder shoved her way inside- it was the white-haired, stout Rain, another resident. She was a bit red in the face, and wearing a jacket, skirt and scarf despite the late hour. When she spoke, her frown was pronounced.
“Marc, why the hell are you screaming like that?” she demanded, striding over to her friend. Once she saw Marc’s sweaty face and the beads of blood, Rain’s eyebrows lifted and her frown altered to a bewildered stare.
“Is something wrong?”
“Help me!” Marc shrieked, twisting in an attempt to extricate her invader. “Centipede…!!”
“Wait, a centipede?” Rain persisted, bending down closer to Marc. “Did it bite you somewhere?”
Confused, Rain switched on a nearby lamp to see better, her eyes darting everywhere. The blood drying on the blanket was between Marc’s sweating, parted legs, at last enlightening Rain to the horror.
“Get it out!!” Marc begged, repetitively. “Get that bloody thing out of me, it feels like it’s gonna tear me open!”
“It’s inside…? Ugh, goddamit, Marc!”
Utterly baffled, Rain inhaled a slow breath to control her shock. She hated the thought of her hands inside a girl’s body, but hurried to the next door bathroom and donned a pair of gloves from a first-aid kit. Meanwhile Marc lay on her side, twisted and moaning, her hands still reaching inside her body.
“Wait, Rain, not with your hand!!” she shouted the moment she saw the gloves. “Use something else!”
“What else did you have in mind?” retaliated Rain, eyes narrowing in impatience. Not wasting time answering herself, she instructed a firm “Lie still, Marc. And don’t be ridiculous. This is the only way I can get it out if it’s a centipede.”
“God, why me?” moaned Marc, shutting her eyes once Rain’s fingers entered her cautiously. The nasty errand was not an easy one. Rain’s attempts at grabbing the bug were either followed by a painful prick on her finger or a startled yell from Marc. For the brown-haired girl, the feeling of unfamiliar fingers inside her genitals had been one of the worst things she could imagine, but that was before the centipede found entrance.
“I can’t grab the damn thing…” Rain mumbled, pinching Marc as her fingers closed and making her seize briefly.
“Keep trying!” she urged, biting her tongue to stop squeals of pain. Obediently Rain reached more deeply, only faintly disgusted at what she was doing. The insect wasn’t hard to find, but the slippery feeling of Marc’s walls made it hard to grip anything.
“I can’t get a grip on it, Marc.” Rain conceded, withdrawing her hand. “You’re going to have to go to the hospital.”
“Well, for fuck’s sake.” Marc cursed under her breath. Her green eyes were squinted and wet. “You call 911, please… I can’t take this for another minute.”
Rain stripped off her gloves in careful order, pulling them off from the cuff upwards to avoid touching the outside. Promptly she dialed the emergency number on her cell phone (with her all hours of the day and night). Having to state the emergency was awkward, and for a moment Rain thought she heard a snigger in the background. There was nothing funny about the sweating girl lying next to her, moaning just quietly enough for the noise to fade into the background.
“They’ll be here in a few minutes.” concluded Rain, looking down at Marc. “Make sure you lie still, and don’t touch it anymore.”
“Am I gonna be okay? Centipedes aren’t poisonous, right?”
“Slightly. I hate to say it, but you might get a lot of pain and anxiety even after it’s removed.” Rain stated, a bit grimly. She was glad that she was starting to feel tired. If she didn’t fall asleep quickly, it would be a very long night for her.
“Will you be okay?” Rain asked, standing up. “I hate to leave you alone, but I think I need to go and wash my hands for, about, thirty minutes. But I’m getting up early tomorrow.”
“I’ll live, I think.” mumbled Marc. “Thank god you’re up, Rain. This really fucking sucks, though.”
“I’ll come see you in the morning, Marc, or when the doctors tell me I can visit.”
Once the wailing ambulance could be heard in the near distance, Rain felt she was able to leave. She comforted Marc with a hand on her shoulder for a few seconds, and a quiet reminder for her to keep still and not to worry. As thanks, Marc looked at Rain’s eyes and nodded, wordlessly.
The pain had dimmed somehow, but that worried Marc. What if the centipede had reached someplace that was impossible for it to escape? She whimpered aloud at the thought, but Rain was already gone. Holding her trembling body still, Marc waited as the sounds of heavy footsteps on the stairs reached her ears. She prayed that her ordeal would be over soon.
The operation was short, but more complex than anticipated. In the centipede’s attempts to secure a haven for itself, it had burrowed inches into Marc’s body. Small portions of her skin had to be removed, and the stitches would have to be removed in the future.
Marc was replaced to a recuperation room for the rest of the night. The anesthesia given had been mild, but she hardly twitched as eight hours slipped by. By the time Rain arrived, as she had promised, Marc had hardly woken up, and felt drowsier than she thought reasonable. A doctor declared her fit to return home with several doses of medication for any pain, advising that she move her sleeping location for the time being.
The next few weeks were spent gradually forgetting the incident. Marc was grateful that no one else had been notified of it. She relocated her possessions and bedspread to the opposite end of the hallway in which she had slept, and checked it for insects every night. The uncomfortable after pains of the surgery faded for many peaceful nights, to Marc’s relief.
Perhaps a month after returning home, Marc was jerked out of a thin, pre-sleeping trance by a lingering ache. She sat up in bed and switched on a light, wondering if it was a delayed menstrual period. Groping for many-legged invaders wandering her sheets again, Marc turned on the light and evaluated her entire room before she was satisfied, searching the corners with the most scrutiny. (According to Rain, the centipede that had bothered her had trespassed through one.)
When the pain didn’t decrease, Marc took a small dose of what remained of her pain medications. They stimulated the contented feeling of sleep. In fewer than five minutes, the room was dark and silent again.
Morning arrived slowly. The strange sensation in Marc’s body woke her earlier than her typical waking-up hour, the pain suppressant having faded away. Worried by now, the stretching girl wondered if she should bother waking Rain if she was sleeping, but told herself on the spot what she would do- call the hospital again. But why was the pain coming back now?
Something warm and familiar materialized underneath Marc’s midsection. Sitting up to look at it in the daylight, she realized a trickle of blood had escaped her. Marc sighed loudly in relief, thinking she was entering her next period. But the sensation did seem different from menstrual cramps as it intensified. Rather than a sort of warm soreness, it was a pronounced, internal itch, as though something was scratching at her body.
Cursing foully, Marc threw off her blankets and stared more intently at the blood that was leaving her. Rather than being thick and dark crimson, it was cherry-red and thin, as if she has cut the skin on her knee, and the blood carried no distinct odor. Meanwhile the pain started to move- almost as though it were a conscious being- down lower in Marc’s body, making her emit a frustrated groan. Her phone sat five feet away.
Suddenly the trickle of blood thickened to a stream. A roll of pain knocked Marc onto her back with a weak, guttural cry like a whimpering dog. It had felt like one of her stitches had broken. Moaning a few obscenities, Marc winced and stiffened as the agony peaked. She was suddenly aware of the feeling of legs in her body.
The claws were not merely maneuvering their way out of Marc now. They were actively scratching the flesh, digging into it, welling up blood that stood out starkly on her pale pyjamas. The stitches were breaking and Marc could feel the agony spread through her. Tears rolled out of her eyes as she wrenched her head off the thick quilt and let out a pleading scream that barley articulated words.
The skin and flesh on Marc’s body was being torn before her eyes. At long last, the tormentor unveiled itself, crawling into the light with great effort on its weak legs. It was another centipede, but bloated to a huge size, and covered in bloody, whitish fluid. It moved slowly and clumsily on half-grown legs, like a fly would after it has been swatted.
At the sight or her tormentor, it became clear to Marc what had caused the scratching sensation within her abdomen. The insidious centipede must have left one of its eggs within her womb, and the hatched offspring had eaten the nutritive lining of her uterus. Immediately, Marc stepped shakily off her bed and tumbled onto the floor, where her vibrating legs refused to let her stand. The insect itself thrashed on top of the sheets, its bloated body making audible thumping noises.
Held in a shivering paralysis, the pain and blood loss forced Marc’s widened eyes to close. But her terror remained, coming in a garbled mantra for help. Soon even the floor underneath her vanished, and her racing heart slowed down. Even the hard floor underneath her seemed to disappear into the silent haze of agony.
Several rooms away, in her own bedroom, Rain had just replaced her jacket and scarf with a robe and pyjamas. (The hour of two in the morning wasn’t a late bedtime for her.) This time, she hadn’t heard Marc's screams, but had decided that checking on her friend was a good idea.
Somehow Marc seemed to detect Rain's presence. She lifted her head perhaps an inch from the uncomfortable wood, the green irises barely visible under half-closed lids. Small beads of saliva dotted the floor below her face, and her stomach and thighs were immersed in thick scarlet. The centipede was curled and lifeless, in clear sight on the bed.
This time Rain didn’t wait to alert medical help. With her bare hands, she picked up the heavy, dripping insect and quarantined it to a nearby shoebox before moving on to Marc. She had no difficulty calling 911 once more and stated the problem as bluntly as she could: “She has sustained severe damage to her body from an insect and is bleeding a lot. Please send an ambulance right away.”
Marc uttered something that approached words, but Rain silenced her with a hand over her mouth and a stern glance.
“Just stay still.”
Rain’s voice was feeble. Once more without gloves, she pinched Marc’s body to control the bleeding, nearly gagging at the quantity of the blood. It seemed enough to paint the entire floor. At her touch, Marc whimpered, but didn’t resist. Her face was flushed and sweating, her breaths loud. In the eternal minutes before the paramedics had reached the pair, she lapsed from some coherence to a deep faint.
Much like the first occasion, Marc was taken to the hospital without delay. The wounds were much more difficult to repair than the simple assault of a normal-sized centipede. Marc had to have her genitals significantly reduced in size, and her uterus was scraped for any eggs or larvae that might have survived the last invasion. The centipede that had nearly killed Marc in its search for more food was the first of its kind for the entire hospital staff- no one had seen anything like it. Because autopsies on the thing declared it a normal, if grown, species of centipede, it was almost as unexplainable for the doctors as it was for Marc in the end.
At the conclusion of the operation, Marc lay on the white blankets once more. Her face was peaceful and dreamless, her body relaxed. Below her, the soft pattering of an unknown insect’s feet made no noise on the shiny linoleum floor.
Written by Grizzly Bear