"When do you think you'll be going down?" A... asks.

"I don't know...." They look at each other, their glances meeting above the platter Franck is holding in one hand six inches above the table top. "Maybe next week."

"I have to go to town too," A... says; "I have a lot of shopping to do."

"Well, I'll be glad to take you. If we leave early, we can be back the same night."

He sets the platter down on his left and begins helping himself. A... turns back so that she is looking straight ahead.

"A centipede!" she says in a more restrained voice, in the silence that has just fallen.

Franck looks up again. Following the direction of A...'s motionless gaze, he turns his head to the other side, toward his right.

On the light-colored paint of the partition opposite A..., a common Scutigera of average size (about as long as a finger) has appeared, easily seen despite the dim light. It is not moving, for the moment, but the orientation of its body indicates a path which cuts across the panel diagonally; coming form the baseboard on the hallway side and heading toward the corner of the ceiling. The creature is easy to indentify thanks to the development of its legs, especially on the posterior portion. On closer examination the swaying movement of the antennae at the other end can be discerned.

A... has not moved since her discovery: sitting very straight in her chair, her hands resting flat on the cloth on either side of her plate. Her eyes are wide, staring at the wall. Her mouth is not quite closed, and may be quivering imperceptibly.

It is not unusual to encounter different kinds of centipedes after dark in this already old wooden house. And this kind is not one of the largest; it is far from being one of the most venomous. A... does her best, but does not manage to look away, nor to smile at the joke about her aversion to centipedes.

Franck, who has said nothing, is looking at A... again. Then he stands up, noiselessly, holding his napkin in his hand. He wads it into a ball and approaches the wall.

A... seems to be breathing a little faster, but this may be an illusion. Her left hand gradually closes over her knife. The delicate antennae accelerate their alternate swaying.

Suddenly the creature hunches its body and begins descending diagonally toward the ground as fast as its long legs can go, while the wadded napkin falls on it, faster still.

The hand with the tapering fingers has clenched around the knife handle; but the features of the face have lost none of their rigidity. Franck lifts the napkin away from the wall and with his foot continues to squash something on the tiles, against the baseboard.

About a yard higher, the paint is marked with a dark shape, a tiny arc twisted into a question mark, blurred on one side, in places surrounded by more tenuous signs, from which A... has still not taken her eyes.