The sun shone down on the puddle of water, causing it to glow with a blinding, almost unearthly light. Moments later, tiny sparkling diamonds of liquid splashed in every direction, thrown into chaos by the bicycle tires flying through the previously calm entity. Upon the bicycle was a twelve year old boy, peddling furiously, his face shining with the joy of speed and youth. Seated atop the handlebars, clinging for dear life, was the boy’s younger sister. The front tire of the bicycle hit a pot hole, and the girl shrieked in fear of being thrown from her precarious post. The boy laughed and peddled faster, causing the playing card clipped to the back wheel to rattle even more furiously than it had been moments before.
After what seemed like miles to the two adventurers, the bicycle slowed to a halt on the edge of a dark, imposing wood. The girl scrambled down from the handlebars, her pigtails bouncing. The boy climbed lazily off the bicycle, and casually let it fall to the ground. The two walked closer to the forest, and stood side by side, gazing up into the treetops. The girl spoke first.
“It looks really scary,” she said, turning to look up at her big brother. “I don’t think we’re supposed to go in there.” The boy laughed and tugged on the closest pigtail.
“Don’t be such a chicken, Lexie,” he coaxed. “I’ve been in there before, and it’s got the best spot for swimming that I’ve ever seen.” The girl gazed adoringly at her brother, the big hero, and her fear of him thinking her a baby overrode her fear of the darkness that lay beyond the first line of trees.
“But Brandon, are you sure?” she tried once more to talk him out of his plan. “What if Dad finds out?” Brandon scoffed at her statement.
“Who do you think told me about the swimming hole?” he said. “Dad used to swim here when he was young.” Lexie’s face brightened at this revelation. If her dad had said it was okay, there was no possible way it could be dangerous. Her dad was even braver than Brandon was. She placed her hand in her brother’s outstretched palm, and the two of them walked from the stifling heat into the cool shade of the forest.
An otherworldly silence fell over the wood, broken only by the crunching of twigs and leaves under the young explorers’ feet. Lexie was unusually quiet, clenching her brother’s hand tightly and often gazing from side to side. Brandon strolled along, with the bravado of a boy about to become a teenager evident in his every movement. He felt confident and as if his father’s passing on of the location of the old swimming hole was a part of his transition into manhood. Most twelve year old boys wouldn’t allow their younger sister to tag along on such an important occasion, but Brandon was different from most other boys. He felt extremely protective of Lexie, and didn’t mind her being around. Her adoration and willingness to do whatever he said made her quite good company in his mind, and he took her almost everywhere he went. She was a good little sister.
“How far away is it?” Lexie asked, almost in a whisper. She was uneasy, the simple, uncomplicated fears of an eight year old rushing back to warn her that this might not be the best idea in the world. Brandon gave a chuckle, and tugged her rust colored pigtail once more.
“It’s not much farther,” he said. “Are you getting scared again?” Lexie halted rather abruptly, tugged her hand from his, and stomped one foot. She crossed her scrawny arms across her chest in a gesture of defiance and gave an aggravated huff.
“Of course not!” she exclaimed. “I’m just hot and ready to go swimming.” Brandon laughed again and started forward, choosing to let her pretend that her grandiose gesture had been believable. Lexie scrambled to catch up to him, and reached for his hand once she had. Brandon looked down at her, an unusual love filling his chest. He allowed her to grasp his palm, and the two continued their trek together.
Before long, Lexie spotted a large area where the trees had retreated and given way to a large body of water. The sun shone off the lake, causing the entire area to glow with an almost heavenly light. It made such a sharp contrast to the dimness of the forest that Lexie gasped in wonder. Brandon gave a tug on her hand, and the two took off running towards the water. They let go of each other’s hands at the edge of the trees, Brandon sprinting ahead to splash into the cool water, and Lexie halting abruptly at its edge.
As Lexie stood watching, Brandon’s blond hair disappeared below the surface of the water, popping up again after a few seconds, shining with liquid droplets. He wiped the water from his eyes, and turned to look back at her, a look of puzzlement upon his face. She shifted her weight from one foot to the other and waited for him to speak.
“What are you doing out there?” he called to her. “The water feels awesome!” Lexie crossed her arms again and voiced her concerns.
“What if there are snakes?” she asked. Brandon laughed and swam towards her. He climbed up on the bank and stood dripping next to her.
“If there were any snakes in there, I scared them off by jumping in,” he explained. “That’s why you always jump into the water like that. Snakes are more scared of you than you are of them, and you have to make as much noise as possible. Then they’ll swim away and not come back till you’re gone.” Lexie turned this over in her head, almost ready to accept it. Then she thought of something else.
“But what if you jump on top of a snake?” she asked, her eyes wide. Brandon laughed again.
“Well, then you’ve smushed a snake,” he told her. “Either way, you’re perfectly safe.” Lexie thought about what her brother was saying and decided that, of course, he was right. She shrugged and smiled at him. Brandon grinned back.
“You want to run in together?” he asked. Lexie nodded and took his outstretched hand. The two gave a yell, and plummeted into the lake.
As the afternoon turned into evening, and the sun made its silent transition across the sky, Brandon wondered briefly why such a great swimming hole was such a big secret. They hadn’t seen another soul, and it was a perfect day to spend in a crisp, cool lake. Didn’t anyone else know about this place? These thoughts were quickly pushed aside by the games of Marco Polo, and the contests to see which could hold their breath under the water the longest. Occasionally, Brandon would let Lexie win a game, because in his opinion, that was just what a good older brother should do. He still won enough though to make sure his status as a hero was cemented in her eyes.
The sun had begun its slow descent behind the distant mountains before Brandon realized how late it had become. He hurried Lexie out of the water, momentarily dismayed at the thought of walking back through the forest in the dark. Lexie paused on the shore of the lake to gather up the brightly colored ribbons that had been tied around her pigtails, and had come undone in the hours of swimming. Brandon tried to rush her without conveying his growing fear, but he could tell that she had begun to feel uneasy again. He suggested a race through the woods to see who could get back to the bicycle first. Lexie quickly agreed, relieved to have been given a reason to run without looking like a chicken. She was a little afraid of the woods.
As the two ran through the woods, Brandon slowed his pace in order not to leave his younger sister behind. The forest was unusually silent once more, and he heard nothing but the sound of his slightly labored breathing. Then Lexie gave a sharp cry and tumbled to the ground. Brandon halted, his heart racing, and turned back to see what had happened. A root had worked its way up above ground, and Lexie’s sneaker had snagged in it, causing her to fall. Brandon sighed in relief and went to make sure she was okay. Lexie pulled her knee to her chest and watched the first drops of blood begin to leak from the scrape she had just acquired. She then looked up at Brandon, tears welling up in her eyes, but not yet falling. Brandon crouched down beside her.
“Are you okay?” he asked her. She looked down at her knee, then back up at him.
“I scraped my knee,” she said, looking back down at the blood. The shadows in the forest begin to grow darker and Brandon wanted nothing more than to get out of there.
“Can you walk?” he asked her. She looked dismayed at the thought of not being able to do such a simple thing. Brandon stood up and held out his hands to her, carefully helping her to her feet. She took a few tentative steps, and then smiled up at him.
“Yeah, I’m okay,” she said. The forest was growing increasingly creepy in its silence and Brandon was about to ask if she could run when another slightly
alien noise broke the silence. Lexie’s eyes widened as she heard it as well, and they both froze. It was a very low and deliberate disturbing of the leaves, a sound of slithering scales and hundreds of small feet making its way towards their current position. They both turned in horror, knowing they should run, but the curiosity of the young overpowering their limbs and causing them to stay. Brandon’s sharp eyes spotted the source of the noise in the growing darkness and he gave a sigh of relief. Lexie looked at him, her face pale, and her eyes growing huge.
“It’s okay,” Brandon said, giving a shaky chuckle. “It’s just a millipede.” Lexie crouched down to look at the insect making its way across the leaves, her mouth hanging slightly agape at the thought of being so scared by a bug that she’d seen a million times. The millipede continued on.
“Careful,” Brandon teased. “Don’t let it count your teeth.” Lexie frowned up at him.
“I’m too old to believe that,” she said, scowling at him. “A millipede counting your teeth won’t kill you.”
“Are you sure?” Brandon kept on teasing, trying to make light of how scared both of them had been moments before. “Because Dad told me that if you let a millipede count your teeth, then you’ll die.” Lexie scoffed at him, and turned back to watch the insect continue on.
While they had been arguing, the millipede had halted its progress, almost as if it were listening to their conversation. As they watched, it turned back towards them and began to walk towards Lexie. Brandon laughed.
“See, he’s coming to count your teeth,” he said. Lexie laughed as well, and both of them opened their mouths wide so the millipede could be sure to get a correct count. The millipede narrowed the distance between it and Lexie to about three feet and halted once more.
As Lexie and Brandon watched in growing wonder, the millipede’s body began to pulse and swell, quickly growing from a tiny insect to a monstrosity the size of a small dog. It fixed its beady eyes on Brandon, raised one of its small legs, and made odd dipping motions with the raised leg. It then fixed its eyes on Lexie and did the same. Brandon watched it, his mouth hanging open in awe.
“What is he doing?” he asked Lexie. Lexie rose slowly to her feet and backed away from the millipede until she bumped into Brandon’s chest.
“He’s counting our teeth,” she whispered at him. Brandon’s heart began to race, and he realized why there had been no other visitors to these woods this afternoon. He wanted to turn and run, but his feet were frozen to the spot.
The millipede finished counting, and its leg returned to its designated place. Then, as Brandon and Lexie stood frozen in horror, its body began to swell again. As it grew, it opened its mouth and the sight of its sharp, innumerable teeth broke Brandon’s paralysis. He grabbed Lexie’s hand and pulled her backwards.
“RUN!” he screamed, taking off through the woods, pulling her behind him. Her much smaller feet scrambled to keep up with him, and they flew through the forest. That unearthly stillness was now broken by an odd and terrifying roar that had obviously issued from the throat of the millipede, and they could hear it give chase with all the legs it had at its disposal. Lexie’s scraped leg began to burn, but she ignored it and kept running.
Suddenly, Brandon felt a skeletal object grab his shoe and throw him to the ground. He pulled Lexie down on top of him, and her momentum tumbled her forward. She flipped over him, losing her grip on his hand, and crashed to the ground about four feet in front of him. He kicked at the root that he’d tripped over, and looked back at their pursuer. The monster had swelled to the size of large truck, and was almost upon them, its gaping mouth like the entrance to a cave. Brandon scrambled to his feet, and then jerked Lexie to hers.
“You have to run as fast as you can,” he told her, turning her towards the way out of the woods. “Run as fast as you can and don’t stop till you get home, and don’t look back no matter what happens. I’ll be right behind you.” Lexie looked at him, her eyes wide, silent tears streaming down her cheeks. She opened her mouth to argue, but then saw what was behind them. She took off running for the entrance to the woods, exactly as her brother had told her to, never looking back. Brandon began to limp along behind her, hoping that she wouldn’t trip again. Then a rush of scalding heat knocked him back down to his knees, and he was overpowered by what one could only describe as the stench of death. As he turned to look into the monster’s eyes, his only thought was that he’d had no idea that millipedes were carnivores. Then he closed his eyes, prayed for the safety of his baby sister, and felt no pain as the millipede swallowed him whole.
Brandon’s bike was found on the edge of the woods, just as Lexie had said it would be, and a search party was dispensed to guarantee his safe return. It was the general consensus that Brandon and Lexie had stumbled upon a dangerous hobo or a child molester out in the woods, and Lexie’s outrageous story about a murderous millipede was her way of dealing with things that she couldn’t understand. Everyone was sure that Brandon had gotten away, he was a smart and resourceful boy, and besides: Things like this just didn’t happen in their town. Lexie knew that her brother had risked his life to save her own, and now she was safe in bed because of his heroic actions. Her parents were dismayed, but also were quite insistent that everything would be okay, and she just needed a good night’s sleep.
Lexie listened to the house grow quieter as the various members of the search party went home, and the mumbles from her parents room died altogether. She had stopped sleeping with a nightlight earlier that summer, convinced by Brandon that she was too brave to need one. The night was moonless, and no light fell through the windows. There was an absence of everything but perfect darkness, and Lexie couldn’t have told the difference had her eyes been open. She lay in the dark, her covers pulled up to her chin, eyes squeezed shut as she waited for a noise that she hoped to never hear again. All she could hear was the thud of her heart, and the occasional hum of the air conditioner as the central cooling kicked on and off. She was eventually lulled into a sense of security, and her mind clouded with sleep.
Lexie jerked awake, her ears instantly attuned to any foreign sound in the room. The tiny feet sounded different on carpet than they had on dead leaves, but she knew what was responsible for the disturbance. She held her breath, praying that she was just imagining things. Silence ensued and she began to be soothed by it once more. To calm her racing mind, she reached to turn on her bedside, mermaid-shaped lamp. The last thing she saw before the lamp crashed to the ground was the glittering of thousands of hungry teeth returning to finish the task that they had started earlier that evening.