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Harry, a young centipede, faces danger and frustration when he is captured by a hoo-min and placed in a jar.
Harry was bored.
This is not something that happens often to a poisonous centipede. Harry was generally very busy about something or other. Chasing things like beetles, ants, and worms, biting them with his poison pincers, and eating them; running away from bigger things like snakes and rats trying to eat him; exploring in the tunnels; playing with George, his best friend; or just being at home in his nest-tunnel with his mother, Belinda.
As perhaps you know, Harry was not his real, Centipedish name. This was (are you ready for this?) Hxzltl. And George's was Grnddjl. And Belinda's was Bkvlbbchk. They're hard to say. But then, so is any word, if you leave the vowel sounds out.
Try it with your own name. Bet you can't say it in Centipedish so anyone would recognize it. I mean, say your name is Daniel; in Centipedish (which leaves out the a's, e's, i's, o's and u's) it would be Dnl. If your name's Rebecca, it would be Rbcc. If your name begins with a vowel, say Anna or Ursula or Oscar, it's even worse—I mean, how could you say Nn or Rsl or Scr?
But that's the way centipedes talk to each other—well, I say "talk," but it's more of a crackle. Too faint for human ears to hear. Often they just signal with their feelers. That's why they're rather strange, secretive, mysterious creatures. You're really lucky to have me to tell you about them.Where was I? Oh yes. Harry. Being bored for once.
He'd spent the early part of the night, since he woke up, helping his mother in their nest-tunnel.
He'd straightened out his leaf bed and rubbed his head on the earth floor to polish it.
Then Belinda had brought home astag beetle for their breakfast, and he had helped her get its massive jaws and its hard carapace off and had hauled them out to their rubbish—tip tunnel. Then, while they ate, he asked for a story and his mother told him one about a family of marine centipedes.
"Once upon a time, beside the great no—end puddle, there lived a family of centipedes that could swim."
The stories always began like that. Harry loved them. He thought marine centipedes—his distant cousins—were brll, not to say cl and wckd. But she cut the story short at the most exciting part, because she thought she heard something interesting bumping about on the no-top-world over their heads and scuttled off to investigate it.
That left Harry, tummy full of stag beetle, not feeling like moving much, wanting to know the end of the story—and missing George. Who was missing.
I mean, he'd disappeared. This was not unusual. George was a free spirit. He didn't have a mother (though he borrowed Belinda when he was lonely or hungry). No one to keep tabs on him and stop him doing silly or dangerous things.
So quite often, he went off and had an adventure on his own. Then he was sometimes gone for nights. Harry and George were getting to be big centis now (a centi is a child centipede). A bit like teenagers. So Belinda couldn't keep control the way she used to.
Harry lay on the floor of the nest-tunnel. He stretched himself to his full length, which was now about five inches. All his segments (he had twenty-one, with a pair of legs on each, forty-two legs altogether) felt lazy. And yet in Harry's head was an urge to go somewhere, do something, have an adventure.
He let himself play with the idea of going along the forbidden tunnel and Up the Up-Pipe into the Place of Hoo-Mins. He and George had done that once, when the white-choke (which was smoke) had driven them out of their usual tunnels and they had had to climb into the Hoo-Min's home up his drainpipe and very nearly never came back again.
But no. That was too scary. Harry had a healthy fear of Hoo-Mins. Whenever he heard the vibrations of their great feet thudding overhead in the no-top-world, Harry cowered down or ran to hide (even though no Hoo-Min could see him down in the tunnels). George, when he was there, laughed at him and called him a sissyfeelers, but Harry couldn't help it.
His father had been killed by a Hoo-Min. So you can understand it. Even if Hoo-Mins had not been the biggest, fastest, weirdest, scariest things around.
"Walking about on two legs like that," crackled Harry to himself. "It's not natural. They're not like anything else. They're not like hairy biters or belly crawlers or flying swoopers. They don't belong."
He had the vague idea that maybe they'd come from some other world. Not that he had any idea about planets and things like that. With his little weak eye-clusters he'd never even seen the stars. He just felt certain that Hoo-Mins were not part of the proper order of things.
They were just too much.
After a while, when Belinda didn't come back, Harry gave a centipedish sigh (which he did by making a ripple go all along his back where his breathing holes were) and got to his forty-two feet. He wandered up the nearest tunnel, and when he got to the end, poked his head idly out into the night air of the no-top-world.
If he hadn't been feeling rather dopey and full of food, he might have sensed something wrong and ducked back down again. But he didn't. The darkness was sweet smelling and the noises were all the ones he was used to'the faint sighing of palm fronds rubbing together, the rustle of little night creatures skittering about. Not even a night bird's cry alerted him to danger...
Harry the Poisonous Centipede's Big Adventure. Copyright © by Lynne Reid Banks. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.