The centipede emerges from a fog of incense.
As he crawls out of the kitchen into the living room, a beaded curtain clacks around each segment of his back as he wedges himself snugly under the sectional. Jostling his roommates, he gets comfortable.
They would complain, but he pays an equal share of the rent and doesn’t need a bedroom, giving them space for a studio.
These men don’t, however, strike the centipede as being as clever as his old friends. When he critiques their work, they sheepishly stare at their feet: “Man, we’re just trying to live.”
Nostalgic, the centipede hitches a ride toward the penitentiary. A trucker leaves him halfway to his destination. As he waits for another knight of the highway, he scours the ground looking for some small excess that has spilled from the cups of passing commuters who have worn a path between the convenience store and the gas pumps. Once he could count on chewing cotton filters of cigarettes butts, but now it is just a matter of fruitlessly licking cement.
Inside the prison, he wedges his long body against the corners of the cell as he continues to squeeze his heft through the bars. It is always a delight to visit with his old friends from the road. He searches the cement floor for pieces of ordure that might have fallen off their never fully clean body. He grumbles some greetings as his face glides over the floor looking for the sweet rankness of dingleberries.
His friend won’t draw the blanket from their body. He begins to say a few words about economics and Bataille, but his friend does not respond. He speaks louder, raising his thorax and propping his head on the bed. Still no response. Furious at being ignored, he uses his mandibles to tear the bedclothing off. He finds nothing but a pile of Reader’s Digest Condensed Books where his friend should be.
The centipede hitches towards home. At dusk, he finds himself stranded in a rest stop without a payphone.
The weather takes a turn for the worst. Snow falls like perfect geometric fissures and fills the space between his segments. He scurries into the culvert at the side of road and tries to cover himself with leaves. It is too small a space for his large body. His antennae brush alongside the dirt. As the chill bites deeply, he discovers the stash where high school kids toss their cigarette butts and roaches. He chews on these until the wheels of a white pickup truck crunch to a stop.
Two young men in farmer’s jackets heave him into the bed of the truck. Tight blue denim barely contains their muscular legs and outlines the rough heft of their genitals and round tins of chewing tobacco.
At the mercy of bored youths, the well-meaning words that the centipede intends don’t escape his throat. His bulk diminishes with his ability to speak. The boys wedge their fingers under his rings until they touch his silky, soft tissue. Pain and arousal make him pathic.
They sit with him in the bed. Passing a handle of whiskey and occasionally pounding his back or snapping one of his legs off. Their creamy cheeks become flush with cold and booze. Once the bottle is empty, they wrap chains around him and secure the ends of the chains to the bumper. As they drag him full tilt down the access road, his exoskeleton cracks.
In this moment, he chews ideas like cud. Neurons wrap around his mandibles. Dendrites working their way into the joints of his exoskeleton. The nuclei burst in flavors of possibility. But after a few seconds ideas are flavorless and he returns to the terrible present.
Eventually all is dark until it is not.
He had been laid on his back on a mattress in a basement somewhere in the exurbs. The surrounding building abandoned to the creep of kudzu. An armadillo burrows in the corner using its tiny claws to cut through cement. Its tongue flicks out of its snout and licks its moist little nose.