41. Centipede Girl
Centipede Girl has hands, feet, teeth, a tummy, just like a real girl. Forgets they are there, sometimes.
This is the infamous “centipede story” – the one that my family loudly refuses to read. In their defense, it is a story about people who congenitally have centipedes crawling all over them. The core of the story is less about OH NO BUGS, and more about loneliness – but that doesn’t mean it’s a pleasant read.
I hate centipedes, actually. They might be my least favorite animal ever. (My primary partner, Dave, says that this is unfair to the centipedes – like spiders, house centipedes do good deeds by eating up all of the other bugs that would otherwise infest the home.) The story was inspired by a large centipede that crawled brazenly right out on my keyboard WHILE I WAS TYPING something or other to one of my RPG friends.
(“Brb hunting for giant centipede,” I wrote, after screaming and falling off my chair, and then losing track of where the thing had gone. The friend in question, whose changeling sorcerer had a habit of casting Summon Monster I to produce fiendish centipedes, was bemused.)
After this happened, I spent a few days hypervigilant and imagining centipedes everywhere, even falling off my body or scurrying up to help retrieve small items. At which point I decided that my bug-related misery had become outlandish enough to be worth sharing with the world. I added a poignant motivation for my centipede-y protagonist, and a weird, ungrammatical narrative voice (I blame the latter on the fact that I’d just discovered China Miéville), and I was off to the races.
“Centipede Girl” appeared in the Journal of Unlikely Entomology and was reprinted in Imaginarium 2012: The Best Canadian Speculative Writing – the first of my stories ever to do so, or to achieve any similar type of critical acclaim. This only made the loud declarations of “I’LL READ ANYTHING OF YOURS EXCEPT THE CENTIPEDE STORY, EW EW EW” even funnier.
Recently, though, my father announced to me that he has put a copy of MONSTERS IN MY MIND on the end table next to his chair. On evenings when he has the spare brain cycles (my father being even more disabled than I am), he intends to sit down and, bit by bit, read the full collection.
“All The Things,” he said loyally, “even centipede girl.”
Song Pairing: As chosen by Unlikely Story’s editors during their Year of Bugmusic, the theme song for “Centipede Girl” is Dolores O’Rioran’s “Centipede Sisters”.
42. The Changeling’s Escape
A winding aisle through pillar-trees
to lie in hallowed darkness
as the summer creatures hum.
This poem was inspired by an actual episode of autistic “wandering” that happened when I was old enough to know better, but evidently still didn’t. (I just assumed it would be obvious that the dark woods were freakin’ gorgeous and I need to go into them RIGHT THEN – or, at the very least, that my family would see where I went. Oops.)
The first draft of the poem was much more defiant against parents not understanding, etc, but that aspect of it didn’t resonate with readers. The version that was eventually published – in the now-sadly-defunct Ideomancer – tells a more satisfying, and also more fictional, story. There’s more historically plausible (and unrelated-to-my-actual-life) detail given as to why the child in the story would want to leave her family – but the focus also remains firmly off them, and on the present and future.