I was reading a thread on Goodreads recently, and on it, was a picture of a rather nasty looking centipede that one of the posters had discovered in her house.
I was reminded of my own first face to face (or rather toe to face apparently) encounter with a centipede. For many years my husband and I lived and worked in the Pilbara Region of Western Australia. The Pilbara is home to a variety of insects and reptiles that seem to be larger, nastier and more plentiful than anywhere else in possibly the whole world.
One night, I was sleeping on a mattress on our bedroom floor. We were awaiting a new bed, so the floor was the only option at the time. I was fast asleep until I was awakened by a horrible burning pain in my big toe. Being a practical kind of person, I didn’t immediately panic. Instead, I waited for it to subside, (because of course it must have gone to sleep), and waited a bit more, and then decided after several minutes, that something else must be going on.
I turned on the light and examined my toe, only to discover that there were two rather large, red, fang marks in it. At that point, reason completely deserted me, and I totally disintegrated the bed in my haste to find out what had bitten my toe. (Visions of the Pilbara’s poisonous denizens were flashing before my eyes). As I
pulled ripped the sheets off, a large, revolting looking centipede, crawled out. I can still remember the shudder of revulsion that swept through me. Needless to say, the centipede’s life expectancy shrank immediately to a just a few seconds.
After I’d deposited the crushed corpse into the sink (so that there was appropriate evidence for my night shift husband in the morning), reason returned and I checked the first aid book. Ten minutes after the icepack had been applied, my toe felt much better.
Then I had to go back to bed.
Actually, then I had to completely search the bedding, flip the mattress, hunt through the bedroom and remake the bed completely before I went back to bed. It took a long time for the bedroom to feel more like a bedroom and less like a centipede breeding colony. Even now, thinking about it, I feel slightly edgy.
Centipedes, snakes, cockroaches, spiders, toilet frogs, normal frogs and legless lizards all made an appearance either inside, or just outside our house over the course of sixteen years.
I remember the damp evening when we went outside to smell the rain, only to discover that the front of the house was completely (completely!) covered in frogs. They were gone in the morning. I also remember the day one of our kids commented casually as we were leaving the house “Don’t step on that snake, Mum.” At which point I leapt vigorously over what eventually turned out to be a legless lizard. And then there was the time our neighbour vacated her loungeroom via the flyscreen on the front window because a brown snake had taken up residence there. She was still in her nightie.
I could go on and on, because if you’ve ever lived in a remote area of Australia, you’ll recognise that creepy crawlies were a daily hazard to be discussed and laughed about (after your heart stopped pounding) with your friends. Everyone tried to cap their friends snake story with a better one of their own.
As I write, I realise that I’ve left out the best ones – you know, like the time the lady got bitten by the snake in the hospital foyer, or the one where one of my patients asked “Are you going to do anything about that snake just behind you?” (The resolution involved a pair of crutches to hold the snake down and a wheel braced wielded by one of the GPs.) Maybe one day I’ll stop writing speculative fiction and write a Pilbara Memoir!