Jeremy unpacked the two crates of baby pineapples and stacked them on their sides in the bin. The sweet smell of the fruit put him in a good mood. Jeremy was humming ever so slightly under his breath as he broke the next exotic produce crate open and began to unpack its contents.
“F**k!” he screamed. The front of the store suddenly went silent and his coworkers came running.
Jeremy knelt on the floor cradling his right forearm and breathing in and out heavily. “Something just bit me,” he said in a strangled voice. He began to hyperventilate.
The day manager Lynnie Wendels pushed through the others wielding a metal stool. “Sit!” she commanded. She somehow got Jeremy onto the stool with his back bent over and his head down between his knees.
The others made a ring and offered suggestions. “Keep your head down, Jeremy! Just try to breathe, long slow deep breaths. That’s it, guy; you’re gonna be okay.”
“What was it?” Lynnie was still trying to ascertain what had happened. Jeremy raised his head and his face was damp from pain and shock. He held out his arm. “What in the -?” Lynnie didn’t finish the sentence. On the inside of Jeremy’s forearm, just above his wrist, two puncture marks stood out against the skin. The wounds were swelling and their red pulsated in angry color.
Jennifer Barker, one of the clerks, pushed into the circle; she was the employee responsible for medical responses to store injuries. “Hold these, would you?” Without waiting for an answer she handed Lynnie the store’s First Aid kit and a bag of ice she’d nabbed from the seafood vendor two shop stands down. Jennifer knelt on the floor by Jeremy’s stool and carefully swabbed the bite marks with disinfectant.
Lynnie took the ice bag and gently placed it over the puncture wounds. “You hold this right on those bites till the hospital people get here, okay? How are you feeling?” Lynnie looked at Jennifer and in a low voice said, “I think ice is the right thing to put on bites, isn’t it? Do you know?” Lynn pressed down on the ice pack as she talked.
“I feel like I’m about to throw up,” Jeremy said. “Oh my God, this hurts!”
“Was it a snake? What happened?”
When Jeremy shook his head Lynnie mistook the movement for a no to her question. Then she realized he was trying to shake off his dizziness. He toppled over, and she and Jennifer grabbed Jeremy and tried to keep him upright.
“The room keeps spinning. I feel like shit. It might have been a snake, I don’t know. I was unpacking the tropical fruits when I touched something that felt all scaly. Something moved under my hand, and all of a sudden it bit me. Everything got kind of blurry. I thought I was going to pass out.”
Underneath the see-through ice pack his arm was puffing up fast.
Lane Gray and Pablo Cervantes stood over an upturned plywood crate. “Lynnie!” they hissed. Lane waved her over. “Come over and look at this thing. Check this out!”
“I dialed 911 and they’re sending an ambulance. It’s on the way,” Jennifer reported, and Lynnie hurried over to see what the men were looking at. She peered inside the wooden crate and gasped, whispering urgently to the other two. They carried the crate over to where Jeremy crouched on the stool trying not to vomit.
“Jer,” she asked tenderly, “Jeremy, could this be what bit you?”
Jeremy leaned forward a little to see and Lane and Pablo made room for him. “In here,” said Pablo, and pointed inside the crate.
Jeremy bent over the crate and the lights overhead reflected off of a reddish brown iridescent shell. Something was curled up at the crate bottom with curved pincers at both ends. Connected to its shell were long feelers, and over one hundred yellowy-orange legs. It was the largest insect Jeremy had ever seen, easily as long as his forearm. The last time Jeremy had seen one was during a heavy rainstorm in Thailand.
Thai giant centipede, Khao Yai National Park, Thailand
When it rains centipedes crawl to the nearest dry ground they can find, including up in people’s shoes or inside boxes, bags and crates.
– from my short story “Punctured” in Broken In: A Novel in Stories. Available online at amazon.com, amazon.de, and amazon in countries everywhere.
Go to my post Despair Is An Exotic Ingredient to read more about Jeremy.
(All photogaphs can be enlarged by simply clicking on the image.)
More pictures from our trips to Thailand, and of Uwe’s photography, may be viewed at viewpics.de.