The pantry door is closed. Between it and the doorway to the hall is the centipede. It is enormous: one of the largest to be found in this climate. With its long antennae and its huge legs spread on each side of its body, it covers the area of an ordinary dinner plate. The shadow of various appendages doubles their already considerable number on the light-colored paint.
The body is curved toward the bottom: its anterior part is twisted toward the baseboard, while the last joints keep their original orientation--that of a straight line cutting diagonally across the panel from the hall doorway to the corner of the ceiling above the closed pantry door.
The creature is motionless, alert, as if sensing danger. Only its antannae are alternately raised and lowered in a swaying movement, slow but continuous.
Suddenly the front part of the body begins moving, executing a rotation which turns the creature towad the bottom of the wall. And immediately, without having a chance to go any farther, the centipede falls on the tiles, half twisted and curling its long legs one after the other while its mandibles rapidly open and close in a reflex quiver.... It is possible for an ear close enough to hear the faint crackling they produce.
The sound is that of the comb in the long hair. The tortoise-shell teeth pass again and again from top to bottom of the thick black mass with its reddish highlights, electrifying the tips and making the soft, freshly washed hair crackle during the entire descent of the delicate hand--the delicate hand with the tapering fingers that gradually closes on the strands of hair.
The two long antennae accelerate their alternating swaying. The creature has stopped in the center of the wall, at eye level. The considerable development of the posterior legs identifies it unmistakably as the Scutigera or "spider-centipede." In the silence, from time to time, the characteristic buzzing can be heard, probably made by the buccal appendages.
Franck, without saying a word, stands up, wads his napkin into a ball as he cautiously approaches, and squashes the creature against the wall. Then, with his foot, he squashes it against the bedroom floor.
Then he comes back toward the bed and in passing hangs the towel on its metal rack near the washbowl.
The hand with the tapering fingers has clenched into a fist on the white sheet. The five widespread fingers have closed over the palm with such force that they have drawn the cloth with them: the latter shows five convergent creases.... But the mosquito-netting falls back all around the bed, interposing the opaque veil of its innumerable meshes where rectangular patches reinforce the torn places.
In his haste to reach his goal, Franck increases his speed. The jolts become more and more violent. Nevertheless he continues to drive faster. In the darkness, he has not seen the hole running halfway across the road. The car makes a leap, skids.... On this bad road the driver cannot straighten out in time. The blue sedan goes crashing into a roadside tree whole foliage scarcely shivers under the impact, despite the violence.
The car immediately bursts into flames. The whole brush is illuminated by the crackling, spreading fire. It is the sound the centipede makes, motionless again on the wall, in the center of the panel.
Listening to it more carefully, this sound is more like a breath than a crackling: the brush is now moving down the loosened hair. No sooner has it reached the bottom than it quickly enters the ascending phase of the cycle, describing a curve which brings it back to its point of departure on the smooth hair of the head, where it begins moving down once again.