The pile of clothes on the cold tile floor was exceptionally large that night. The off-white layers of ticky-tacky paint were all that was left on the closet shelves. The poorly made- and especially poorly assembled- brown bookcase stood awkwardly erect and empty at the foot of the painfully small bed. All my books had been meticulously organized, boxed, and shipped via media mail days before.
The room couldn’t be more than an eight by six, but for the ten months prior it had been my own person fortress of solitude. I went to this concrete cave to study, to chat with friends back on the mainland via Skype, and to escape the tropical heat. It had just begun to feel like home, yet I was set to leave for good in the morning. All that was left to do was pack the heaping mountain of clothes which arose at the foot of the child-sized bed in front of the naked book case.
That’s when I saw it: Fear’s Nightmare. As I reached down to grab the summit of mt. Procrastination, which was my neon green “Colegio” jersey, I saw, out of the corner of my eye, an actual monster under my bed. I hadn’t got a penetrating look at the horror but what I saw was sufficient. Maybe it was the tell tale slithering-creep that gave it away, or perhaps it was the dark silhouette that triggered memories of my college roommates’ rubber toy monster of the same ilk. I’m not quite sure what gave rise to my tacit surety- for such is the nature of tacit knowledge, after all- but In an instant I knew the genus of the vicious intruder.
The monster? A Caribbean Giant Centipede. It’s location? Well, of course It had just swam into my clothes pile. Though weary from a long ten months away from home, and exhausted from fare-wells and planning my move, the immediate mission had changed from gingerly packing clothes, to hunting a primal and ancient enemy.
What’s so bad about this Centipede, you ask? What makes it “Fear’s Nightmare”? Well, the Caribbean Giant Centipede, or Scolopendra gigantea in the Latin, has around forty reddish-orange legs that can best be described as “slender witch fingers”, each equipped with it’s own claw at the end of a waxy turbercle. It’s body is comprised of twenty or so segments, armored with an organic teflon exoskeleton. It’s color is a nauseating maroonish-orange, which, accompanied with it’s slithering-creeping-swimming motion will engage and confuse your sympathetic nervous system immediately. It’s observers can expect to experience a paradoxical flight and fight instinct all at once.
This terror can grow up to twelve inches long and it’s venomous! Not to be confused with poisonous, venomous means that the creature actively injects venom into you, rather than poisoning you once you’ve ingested it. I’ve heard their bite is exceptionally painful and the victims need hospitalization.
These demons are carnivorous cave dwellers. Their diet includes tarantulas, roaches, lizards, frogs, snakes, mice, bats, and even small birds. That means the normal creatures associated with fear are afraid of this thing! This is the beast that haunts our fears’s dreams and at this point in the story it’s swimming through my clothes.
I called out to my roommate, “Micah! Come here man!”
Hearing the pain in my voice, he appeared in a flash. “What’s up man, are you ok?” he asked.
“Nah, not really, there’s a monster in my clothes” I said in dismay.
Micah could see the crazy in my eyes as I barked out orders at him, “Get the tongs and a couple knives, bro!”
Micah returned shortly after with a couple of dull pressed steel kitchen knives, a medium sized stainless steel pot with a copper bottom, and our set of lightweight tongs with the unsatisfyingly thin and concave handles. We began removing articles of clothing from my mountain, starting with the neon summit. To my shame, I must admit that Micah used his bare hand as a claw machine while I used the tongs, but if I might offer a short defense, I had seen the monster while he had only heard tale of it- for all he knew I had merely been seeing things.
With knives at the ready, we got down to the last piece of clothing, a baby blue polo shirt, and still no sign of the primitive intruder. As I grasped the folded collar of the polo with my cheap tongs I shouted to Micah, “kill it!” and then with a swing of my arm, a snap of the wrist, and all the pomp of a magician revealing his prestige, I uncovered the- nothing.
It wasn’t there! We had deconstructed the entire protuberance of clothes and yet Beelzebub was no where to be seen. At this point Micah was not the only one in the room who thought I was less than sane. I desperately scoured the room looking for any potential hiding places. With my smartphone on flashlight mode, I laid on my bed with my shins running parallel to the wall (since the child sized bed was only wide enough for the length of my thighs) and I peered down over the side of the bed and into the dark abyss beneath where the tormentor had originally sprung. Again, no sign of him.
The brown bookcase, perhaps? No luck, it was tight against the wall with no room to hide behind and it’s base was flush to the floor with no space for the monster to ambush from. That’s when I remembered the pea soup colored hamper I had inherited from the previous renters. It was nestled behind my door, out of sight and out of mind, until now when it enjoyed more attention in one night than it had received in the previous ten months.
The position of the bed, and the newly excavated clothes made it impossible for both me and Micah to look behind the door and under the hamper at the same time. Micah bravely took the lead with a knife in one hand and the copper bottomed pot in the other. I was forced out into the hall way with my imagination running wild.
“Ahhhh!”, Micah cried.
“What is it? Do you have it?” I replied.
Micah indeed “had it” but as I stretched around the door and hunched over Micah’s back I saw that he had pressed the monster down against the cold floor tiles with the mouth end of the pot, hoping to trap him inside. Yet the diameter of the pot was about six inches and the nightmare must have been eight to nine inches long. At the distal end of the pot was the tail portion of the invertebrate and closest to Micah was the antennaed business end of the monster. It’s shiny black jaws- like two curved thorns- audibly snapped with rage as it blindly thrashed about looking to punish whoever or whatever was at work in pinning it to the floor.
The next moment something primal welled up in Micah and I; for a moment we were guided not by the light of our reason but rather by a rage kindred to that of the very monster we were doing battle with. Without saying a word, Micah and I were both on the same page. He passed the handle of the pot to my outstretched hand and with both of his hands on the hilt of the blade he severed the monster’s head. It took some doing but the deed was finally done and a moment later the head- still snapping, mind you- was safely in a white plastic grocery bag, soon followed by the still wriggling and writhing body.
Finally, with the situation more to our advantage, our reason returned and we did what any rational person would do- we beat the plastic bag with a thousand blows from a metal pipe until it’s contents were mere jelly and then tossed it in the trash out by the curb.
It definitely wasn’t one of my finest moments, nor was it the way I pictured spending my last night in Puerto Rico, but it certainty was an adventure and I wont soon forget my run-in with fear’s nightmare.