Caterpillar Man

Mike GristStories, Surreal 2 Comments

I fell in the hole on a Tuesday.

The hole is a hole in the road.  It’s not such a busy road, sure.  Maybe 50 people walk by a day.

I fell in by accident and now I can’t get out.  The sides are steep, and there’s nothing down here for me to eat but this damn banana tree and rat bones.

There’s a lot of dry and dessicated rats down here.  It doesn’t make any sense to me.  But, I have to eat, so I crack the bones and slurp down the dry marrow.  It’s like molasses, but not as sweet.

I see people walk by above me.  I’m reminded of the man in the well in the Murakami story.  Even in the day-time, I can see stars.


She came on the third day I was in the hole.

“Are you OK down there?” she called from up on high.  I could see she had blonde hair.  It haloed her head with the night sky behind her.  Her left eye was where Orion’s third star in the belt would be.

“I’m fine,” I said.  “Just, it’s rather cold down here.  Do you have any spare blankets about you?”

“No,” she answered.  “I’m afraid I don€™t.  Is there anything else I can do for you?”

I thought about that for a while.  She was clearly a beautiful woman, and I was enough of a gentleman not to expect her to bring blankets from her home just for me.

“No, no, thanks for stopping by then.  I’m quite alright really.”

“Well, sorry to bother you then,” she said, and moved away.

I wasn’t alright though.  The bananas were running dry and I was moving onto the apricots.  I’ve always hated apricots, except in jam.  Horrid, chewy things.

Oh, and the cold.

The first night I think I lost a finger to the cold.  It’s so dark down here though I can barely see.  Are these bananas I’m eating? I don’t know.


The fourth day she came back and brought me a flashlight and a book.  She lowered them down on a string, in a bucket.

“I hope you don’t expect any water,” I called up to her.

She laughed.

It felt nice to make a beautiful woman laugh.  It made the apricots less chewy and the stars more bright.

The book she had given me was called ‘How to win friends and influence people.’

“I found it to be very helpful really,” she called.  Her voice echoed down the hole’s sheer walls.  “Whenever I get stuck in a rut.”

“I don’t imagine it will help me out of this rut though,” I said.

“Well,” she said, “you may be surprised.”


I wasn’t surprised.

The book didn’t sprout me any wings.  It didn’t give me a ladder.  It didn’t turn the walls to rigging or the floor to a trampoline.

But she kept coming.  And that helped.

“Hello down there,” she would call, as she stopped by.  “I’ve brought more for you to read!”

“Hello up there!” I’d call back.  My voice echoed like a fog-horn around me.

She’d lower books, and sometimes a mug of steaming cocoa, down in the bucket.

She never brought me blankets, which I thought strange, but I didn’t ask either.

I was losing fingers at the rate of maybe one every few days.  I could feel them freezing solid knuckle by knuckle.

It made it harder to read the books.  I had to lie upside down on my back, legs up the wall, so I could pin the book against my chest with my chin.

I was probably losing toes as well.  But who needs toes?


She brought me books every day for a year.  I didn’t read them because it was too hard to read as I lost more fingers.

By the end, I had no fingers, and no hands, and most of my arms were gone.  My legs were gone to the knees.  I sat on a mound of books, and they kept me comfortable, and warm.

I called this up to her one fine day.

“The books are better than a blanket,” I called.  “They’re so warm and soft at night- it’s like a feather bed.”

She snorted at this.

“The books are not for sleeping on or keeping warm.  They’re for edification.  Please tell me you’re still reading them.”

“I’m afraid I don’t have any fingers or toes left,” I said.  “It’s become quite difficult to read.”

“Well that’s your own fault for falling in a hole,” she said.  “I didn’t make you do it.”

“I realize that,” I said.  I undulated like the worm that I was, so as to see her better against the night sky.

“What time is it now?” I asked her.

“I’ll tell you that when you tell me what the last book was about.”

“The last book?”

“The last.”

I rummaged around with my limbless body in the nest of books.  They were splattered and rumpled round with banana peels, apricot peels, and rat’s tails.  I tried to dig in the books with my nose and teeth, find a shred of paper I could read that wasn’t covered in garbage, but I couldn’t.  My nose wouldn’t dig, and my chin was useless.

“You didn’t read any, did you?” she called down.

“I did.”

“No you didn’t.”

“Alright then, I didn’t!” I shouted.  “I don’t have time to read books while I lose my limbs all around.  Look, there’s my thumb.  It’s sitting there black and frozen just staring at me.”

“You don’t need a thumb to read!”

“No, but I do need a forefinger.  Without that I’m worse than an ape.  And I don’t even have any forearms!”

She shook her head.  I knew this because the stars coruscated at the hole entrance, and a single golden hair drifted down from her head, glinting in the moonlight.

“That’s no excuse whatsoever.  You’ve squandered this chance.  You’ve wasted all my books.  You know they cost me half my salary to buy? Half my salary- working in that pit digging up words for you to read, hammering the pages together with rivets and bone, and what do you do? You sleep on the works I made with my own hands, and you slough off limbs like a lizard.  Well, I’ve had enough!”

“Wait!” I called.  But she was already gone.


No books came the nest day.  Or the day after that.  Or the day after that.,

The days and nights grew long.  The apricot tasted like filth.  My own fingers and knuckles seemed to stare at me grotesquely.  I began to feel the cold again.  It seemed to creep in between the spines of the books.  I felt it in my stomach as it rubbed its clammy hands across my pale hairless skin.

My nose fell off the next day.  My arms dropped off at the shoulder the day after, and my thighs the day after that.  It was like I was an ember thrown from her fire, dying on an arctic tundra, dying on a bed of ideas.

The next day my eyes began to freeze.

After my eyes froze I couldn’t see a thing.  For a time I still heard.  Then that too was gone, and I was truly a worm, with no lips.  I was a tube that rummaged in the paper trying to bite down on apricots.  There was not even any taste anymore, as my taste buds had frozen and fallen out already.  There was just the chewy endless sog of paper-tasting fruit in my mouth.  I couldn’t peel the bananas so I ate them with the skin.  I couldn’t peel the rats so I ate them head, tails, feet, and fur.

I felt a lot like a headless mouse, in the milk.  I churned the milk and I churned the milk and I made cheese.  But I didn’t make cheese, because paper is not milk.

Rather I lived as a worm in the bottom of that pit for a year and a day.


I would have lived forever in that state had it not been for the unique taste of one apricot.  It tasted like paper, as they all did, but there was also a flavor of something else.  Something I’d long forgotten.

It tasted of blue.

I ate more, and tasted more things that were not tastes.  I tasted the word- friend.  I tasted the word- love.

Had I adapted? Had I evolved? Was I ready to spring forth a butterfly?

I tasted all the books scattered around me and covered in my detritus and droppings.  I tasted Jane Eyre- fusty, polite, buttoned-down, free.  I tasted Shakespeare- rhythmic, like banjo’s in perfect unison, strumming movements in my heart I didn’t know were there.

I tasted all the books.  I felt all the feelings as if I’d read them with my eyes that had fallen out too.

Then one day my eyes grew back.

My eyes grew back andI came to see the pit and disgusting vileness of the state I had come to live in.  It was filthy, and splattered with filth.  Pigs would not live in that gross morass of turpitude.

Then my nose came back, and the smell made me sick.  Compared to the fine tastes, the varied tastes, the clean, aired out, living tastes of the books, the pit was a foul and stinking lair.

I wormed my way up to the wall.  I wormed my way to the other wall.  I heaved for the sky.  I stretched up, and up, but I couldn’t reach any higher than my chin or my forehead.

I was still trapped.  In this lair, in this pit of stink.

But I had the books.

I began to read the books.  And after I ate them with my eyes, I ate them with my mouth.  I ate 2 books a day at first.  I ate them and they tasted delicious and they filled me with hope and joy and ideas of things I hadn’t seen for the longest time.  Things I’d thought long-impossible.

And soon I was eating three a day.  Then four.  Then more, and more, until I lost count of how many I chomped my way through in a day.

And graduallyy the stench of the pit didn’t seem so bad.  And the stars above had begun to fade, and glimmer with the faint edges of blue in the blue sky.

I realized, I was getting longer.

Taller is for humans.  I was still far from taller.  I was longer.  I was a human tube of a worm, standing on its end, blooming out of the filthy earth in which I’d lain like a seedling for so long, reaching up for the sky.

I was several meters tall.  I couldn’t climb out of the pit.  I couldn’t dig my way out, or bounce my way out, or get pulled out.

But I could grow out.

I started upping my eating ration.  Soon all I did was eat.  I ate all day.  I ate through the night, and I didn’t sleep.  I ate books by the light of the moon.  I ate books by the bright of the day, as yellow crept in to the star-scape above, and I began to hear the sounds of the people up there, moving around.  I heard life.  I smelt croissants! Cofee! Double lattes!

I ate and ate and ate, and when I was done, I ate some more.  The book pile down below dwindled, and became just a stack, which became just a few books, and soon all the books were gone.

And I was still several feet short of the top.

I tried jumping.  It didn’t work.  I tried to stretch out my already long and spindly body further, but it didn’t work.  I was already over 10 meters long, towering up in that pit-hole.

There was only one thing for it.

I burrowed down inside myself.  I looked in that long stomach filed with ideas and thoughts and genius plans, and I dug out the memory of a book on science I had eaten.  It was a treatise on plant-growth.  It taught how to graft plants on to other plants.

I reached down and plucked up the first remnant of my left arm, the shoulder and bicep, in my mouth, and following the instructions from the book, I began to graft it to my left side.

I watered it with my own saliva.  I bound it with the golden hair that had fallen down so long ago.

I watered it and waited, and watered and waited and soon, I felt the first glimmerings of movement within.

I had a stump!

I reached down for the elbow and forearm, and attached it.  I reached down for the right limbs.  I reached down for mlegs, and I grafted them all.

When I was done, I stood for the first time in years.  The hole’s mouth came within reach of my re-grown arms.  I reached them up, stick thin, and applied them to the edge.  I tried to lift myself up, but my ten meter long body was far too heavy.  I couldn’t budge the weight of it.

So I began to shed the books.  I dispelled them.  I let them go.  They passed from me and every one felt like a loss and friend saying goodbye, but a friend helping me.  And I held on to the lip of the hole as my body shrank.  I took the enormous weight on my shoulder, and on my fingers, as my body slowly shrank up the walls.

The bottom of the pit was falling far behind.  Every book lost eased the load on my hands, and as I dispelled more, it eased and eased, and soon, my massive worm’s body was gone, and I was a man again.

I pulled myself up out of the hole.

The first thing I saw was the woman with the golden hair.  She was sitting on a boulder with a hammer in her hand, an anvil and a smith’s fire before her.  She was hammering the pages into a new book of words exhumed from the word-pit.

She looked at me and dropped the hammer.  I looked at her and almost fell back into the hole.

“You’ve been here all this time?” I asked.

“I was waiting for you,” she said.  “I was hammering a book on how to get out of a hole.”

I walked up to her, put my hands on the book.

“It’s finished now, isn’t it?” I asked.


I took the book from her.

“Then lets feed it to where it’s needed.”

I walked back to the edge of the pit.  I looked down.  It seemed like an awfully long way.  But at the same time, it seemed very small.  Like a dint in the ground.  Like a divot hole.  Like a hole a golf-ball might get stuck in.

I tossed the book in.  The hole ate the book.  And the hole closed.

I turned back to the woman.  She was standing with her elbow out.

“Care to take a walk?” she said.

“Don’t mind if I do,” I said, and walked over, took her arm, and off we promenaded into the day.



You can see all MJG’s stories here:

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Comments 2

  1. This one s very Mike. Mike I don’t know about Sci Fi, But i Swear to god you are good at it. Very good. Good enouf to keep me v interested. freaky n weird xxxxxxxxxxxxxx

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