Benjamin Hewitt: Splinters

“You’re a writer Jenny…tell me a story to cheer me up.”

“Okay so there’s a rock, and underneath there are two woodlice and they start to fight.”

“More detail.”

“Okay. So one of them is like an old man woodlouse with a chapped shell, and the other is a young female with a strong armoured back. Their little legs are hairy and grey. Their disconnection from the world of other animals has taken its toll and they’ve become aggressive.

“They live in this dark muddy dystopia beneath a rock on the northern edge of a cliff in Wales. Their precarious existence has turned them against one another. They engage in combat, and it goes on for hours. Then…

“…?”

“Then midway through the fight they enter a period of intense evolution.”

“Shit.”

“Each woodlouse attempts to evolve one step above the other, competing for superiority. The male grows thumbs and attempts to gouge the other’s eyes out. The female responds by growing several hundred pairs of disposable eyes all over her body. They both grow beaks and peck at one another.

They begin walking upright. They develop basic language skills. They double in size every eight minutes.

“What are they saying to each other?”

“Just cussing. He called her a bitch. She called him an asshole.”

“Right.”

“Because they’re so big, the rock that was once their home now becomes a weapon. They find other rocks in the nearby area and try to smash the armour on each other’s backs. They grow even bigger. They uproot some trees and use them like staffs. An equal weapon is always easily found nearby though, so there is an impasse. They put down their weapons and develop a variation on Bruce Lee’s martial art Jeet Kune Do, but using every one of their legs.

“Their evolution speeds up. Their size exceeds their capability to absorb oxygen from the atmosphere. The female louse, whose brain is, at this point, slightly more evolved, dives first into the ground. The male’s brain quickly catches up and dives after her. They both dig deeper, frantically but slowly, as the layers of the earth become more dense.

“The closer they get to the centre of the earth, the more immune they become to heat. The protective layer around their bodies melts the area around them and they leave a hollow tunnel behind. The earth spills into the void from either side.

“By the time the two louse reach the centre of the earth, earthquakes have destroyed the entire top crust of the earth and everybody is dead, except us.

“Me, you, and all our friends.

“And the lice.”

“Yeah, and the lice. But they exist in the centre of the earth, forever clamped together. Because of the compression of gravity they are unable to grow any more, and unable to move. They just exist, fused together with their rival in an eternal molten hug.

“We survive for like, a week. There’s no water because the heat released by the large tunnel has heated the crust to like, seventy degrees centigrade.

“But for that one week, it’s just us and our friends, and even though we’re starving and dying of thirst and heat exhaustion, we know for a fact that there is nobody else in the world alive, and it’s the best week of our lives.”

black tree

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Photo by Tomek Dzido