Centipede Girl
by Ada Hoffmann
Illustration by linda saboe
Don't touch by Linda Saboe

Says one Centipede Girl to another: Are you real?

Fleeting, that moment. Must be her reflection at the other end of the sewer, maybe in some metal, but she watches it just in case. Holding her breath, she gazes down the long dark tunnel. Wills her 'pedes to stay still a minute, though they never do. Splish goes the stinking water, up to her ankles, as the 'pedes scuttle up and down her legs. And at that tiny noise, her faraway reflection starts and darts away.

Breath rises in her chest, a smile splitting her invisible face. Moved when I didn't. Means she's real. Not really a reflection, but someone looking like her, taking up space. Someone that can be touched. And Centipede Girl wants so bad to touch.

She dashes forward, splashing, panting. The 'pedes squat, cling and sting, holding on for the ride. Splash goes the water as two or three of them lose their balance and fall, and they disappear with a fizz, becoming nothing.


Centipede Girl has hands, feet, teeth, a tummy, just like a real girl. Forgets they are there, sometimes. She is invisible, not through magic, but through layers and layers of 'pedes. Scrambling, writhing, waiting. Human skin never shows through.

In her memories, at five, she still has a face, but even then, the 'pedes crawl all over her. She drinks poison, when big looming parents say Now, listen to the nice exterminator man, and vomits blood for a week, but the 'pedes remain. Doctors shake their heads. Big looming parents slowly give up hope. And the 'pedes breed.

Lives in the sewers now, in their comfortable, dark stench. Tries going up in the light sometimes and is greeted with screams.


A horrible uproar of water, and a run that burns her lungs and sides, before she catches up to the reflection that is not a reflection.

Don't go! says Centipede Girl. Wait! Wait!

It turns to look at her, 'pedes shifting and squirming in the vaguest semblance of a head. It speaks hissing, as though layers on layers of hisses have to be put together just right to make the words.

Why wait?

Because you are like me, says Centipede Girl. Because you could be a friend.

An infested silence, as the other girl looks her up and down. Not exactly like Centipede Girl, after all. Bigger. Taller. A grown-up Centipede Woman.

Friend, Centipede Woman says, as though tasting the word.


You hunt?

I hunt, says Centipede Girl. More often she scavenges, faceted 'pede eyes spotting some half-rotten thing. But fresh meat pleases her more. She's learned to send one or two 'pedes out a short ways, keeping her mind on them so they don't disappear, luring in some hungry rat or lizard, then pouncing with strong human limbs.

Centipede Woman nods. Barely perceptible under the writhe of her face.

We hunt.


So long since anyone touched Centipede Girl. Maybe not since she was born. She has thought of it in her sweetest daydreams, the ones that hurt the most. Hands holding hers. Arms around her. Warm sides to lean against.

One time she climbs all the way out of the sewer. Tells herself the screams won't stop her. She'll hold him down, the first unlucky passerby, and grasp his hands in hers, just for a while, just long enough to remember she's real. But the screams turn to gags and prayers and bestial howls as she chases him, and she can't do it. Not brave enough. Lets him get away.

She watches now as Centipede Woman hunts. Centipede Woman gives gruff instructions. Stand like this. Watch more careful. Never get full if not watch more careful.

Centipede Girl half-listens. Other half longs for Centipede Woman's hands. Centipede Woman won't scream. Nothing to scream about. Nothing on her that isn't on both of them already.

She asks Centipede Woman every evening when the hunt is done. Will you let me hold your hands? Please?

You don't want that.

Makes herself pitiful in the asking. Lets the tears creep into her voice, if they like. I do. Please, I do. I want it so bad.


And the nights are silent. They sleep, on opposite sides of the tunnel, every day.


She is good a long time. Ignores the ache inside and keeps her hands to herself. Hunts and hunts. Does everything Centipede Woman says, till at last, after months, Centipede Woman hunts all silent by her side. Still moving, same as before, but out of words.

Two days. Three. No words. And the ache is a pounding raging thing inside her head.

Think we go two ways now, says Centipede Woman, after three days silent. Think this done. Taught everything. Done.

No, says Centipede Girl. No.

Yes. Sleep day, then in evening, go two ways.

And Centipede Woman falls asleep.

The thing in Centipede Girl's head pounds and rages, and though she knows it's a bad, bad thing, she creeps to Centipede Woman's side. Watches the rise and fall of the 'pedes on her chest. Looks up at Centipede Woman's writhing skittering face, down to the hills of her shoulders, down the throughways of 'pedes up and down her arm, over and under each other, down to the squirming brown mass that is her hand.

Takes a breath, and then she reaches down and plunges her hand into the 'pedes.

Centipede Woman's 'pedes skitter across the skin of her hand, probing it, tasting it. Shuddery, that feeling, even though Centipede Girl has 'pedes too. These ones aren't hers and she can't see through their eyes. But she brings her hand down anyway, right through the mass that should be Centipede Woman's fist, right down to the ground.

There is no fist. No wrist, no forearm. Just 'pedes and 'pedes and 'pedes.

And Centipede Woman screams. What is this? What is this you do?

Centipede Girl backs away. Doesn't know what to say, so just babbles. I'm sorry. I only wanted to hold your hand. I wanted it so bad. I'm sorry. Please.

You want my touch? says Centipede Woman, only half the 'pedes hissing. Other half screaming, eerie and shrill. Have my touch.

And just like hunting, Centipede Woman lunges.

Centipede Girl reels, bracing for the great slamming limbs of a woman, even though she knows better now. All that hits her are light little 'pedes, 'pedes upon 'pedes, until she staggers under the weight of such light little things. Centipede Girl screams, and the 'pedes scream, and blood billows in the filthy water.

Last she remembers, she is falling, collapsing, her limbs folding up into each other, and the bloody, mucky water rushing at her face.


Centipede Woman is gone now. Gone for a long time. Centipede Girl hunts alone.

Runs away now from mirrors, still water, anything to reflect her. Afraid of what she'll see. Once she does see herself, distorted, in a shiny metal panel. Looks the same as before. Just 'pedes. Feels different, though.

In her memories, she has hands, feet, teeth, a tummy, just like a real girl. But all she can see now are facets. All she can feel now is hunger. Sometimes she reaches through the 'pedes and paws at herself. Tries to remember her shape. Be real. Please. Be like a real girl.

But her hands go right through herself, and there are no bones anywhere. No more girl. Just 'pedes and 'pedes and 'pedes.

Centipede Girl © 2011 Ada Hoffmann
Don't touch © Linda Saboe