the wet

𝔗𝔥𝔢 𝔚𝔢𝔱

The centipede's tendrils are little leviathans swimming up my spine. I reach for the white paste, the stickiness that stands between me and the entrance’s cocoon wall. It carves itself through the roof of the cave, extending outwards like a fungus net that cannot be bothered. It molds to the shape of my hands, then breaks off. Docile like Father. I'm afraid of portals because they remind me of sphincters, tight and wet, contracting muscle ready to push me out.

It's been two days since I escaped. A moth watches me with eyes bulging out like flower bulbs. It hums, letting everyone know I’ve arrived.

I count my dirty fingernails and anticipate they’ll start falling off soon. I have a week left at most. Tiny centipede feet burrow on the back of my elbows. They like me. Teeth bite and gnaw on me before I shake free, spasm until the wormy carnivores fling off. I gasp and run, hurrying down the eggshell tunnel and tearing through the thick cotton-string material.

The other side of the cavern is safe and warm. I touch the walls, turn it into a fist, squeezing the dampness out of the fibers. A moan. I grope it again. The belly of the beast. It’s sweating.

“Are you alone?” the caretaker asks.

The musk is overwhelming. I can smell gases brewing further down, the walls closing tighter and tighter on eachother. This must be the esophagus.

“I'm alone,” I tell her. “Just me.”

The caretaker extends her hand. Her cap, shaped like a mushroom, drapes over her wrinkled cheeks with a faint piss glow. Fibers dangle from the brim forming a smelly veil. I can't count the number of fingers on her hand, but I feel the esophagus’ vines gently latch on to me. I can feel the palpitations, the unsteady pulse of the caretaker urging me not to go further.

“It's dangerous to go alone. Take this.”

The caretaker hands me a claymore. I'm not quite sure what to do with it. The hilt is heavy and I stagger trying to lift it up the ground. I don’t fight.

“You'll need it for the stomach. It's slippery down there.”

I use two hands and lift the blade to my face. It’s black, sleek, and hot to the touch. On the very end, an engraved six-eyed snake slowly spirals around the tip. It blinks.