‘The Centipede’s Wife’ by Adam Marek

Story premises don’t get better than this: a wounded man is trapped in a cabin with a giant centipede that won’t eat him because he smells like the centipede’s dead wife.

The centipede had been marching through the forest when he heard a scream and went to investigate. A man was caught in a bear trap. The metal jaws had made a mess of his right leg, biting in deep with rusted teeth and dead leaves. The man had forgotten his agony for a second when he saw the centipede, then redoubled his efforts to prize the trap open to escape. The centipede was joyous. This much meat would provide food for a week, but as he leaned in close to paralyse the man with a nip from his toxic pincers, he smelled something familiar. Something in the man’s sweat and fear reminded him of his wife. 

This brutal, heartbreaking story is so cleverly constructed, and such a great example of Marek’s technique of fusing the incompatible – in his words ‘making mayonnaise’ – that it really sinks its teeth into you (sorry, I couldn’t resist). Plus Marek makes it all feel so effortless, like this kind of starting point is the most natural and obvious thing in the world.  

Published in Instruction Manual for Swallowing, Comma Press, 2007

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