“Squeezing By,” by Kajetan Kwiatkowski

Dec 20th, 2020 | By | Category: Fiction, Prose

There was nothing more dangerous than rounding a corner. As an older stickbug, Anise could feel her exoskeleton creak as she bent by even the slightest degree, she wouldn’t dare push too hard for fear of forming a crack along her delicate body.

Careful now, nice and slow. Anise had managed to get her head through, but it was her midsection that always got stuck. Just breathe. Settle into it.

The round walls offered no grip for Anise, instead, her long legs would have to awkwardly slide as she passed the pipe’s rounded corner. She had been traveling this strange maze for her entire life, and it was mostly harmless if not for these accursed turns.

One step at a time. No need to rush. Once her thorax had squeezed through, the rest was easy. When she could feel the tip of her tail slide across the bend, Anise chittered her antennae in celebration, sending the rhythm down to her abdomen. It felt good to be crawling on the next straightaway. It was real progress. After several days of slow-going turns, a new, long line of pipe always felt exhilarating.

I wonder what’s next. Maybe the exit is… Anise’s antennae drooped. Laying ahead on the semi-translucent pipe was a small egg. Anise approached, grappling the shape with her feelers and confirmed it was her own. No, this can’t…. How could this be?

She had been laying duds ceaselessly a few days ago and using them for navigation. Unlike her pheromones (which were absorbed by the tunnel walls), the eggs remained where they were laid and made for great track-markers. She thought she could finally avoid traveling in circles.

After lifting the egg to her mouth, Anise realized the bottom had broken off. She pried at the hole and sensed it was empty. It had hatched.

Then, from the tunnels far end, a small shadow approached. It slid in an awkward stick-bug stumble just like her own.

“Hello” the little one said.

Anise had not heard any sounds besides the pattering of her feet for the longest time. The voice felt strange, squeaky, yet she understood it perfectly.

“I’ve heard about you.” The child-stick said. “Are you the Big One?”

Anise didn’t know how to respond.

“Do you know where to go?”

With some measure of reluctance, Anise managed to approach the small creature. “You hatched from my egg.”

“I mean. I hatched from something.”

“Are these your egg remains?” Anise lifted the broken shell.

“I think so. I ate half. And I’ve been carrying that other half for later.”

Anise’s mandibles tightened. Carrying it? Her entire marker system could have been thrown off. “Do you know where you were? Where you came from?”

“Um…” The young bug looked at her with large black eyes. “I think I came from… somewhere close?”

Anise tensed her whole spine, feeling the old chitin creak. “We need to leave something. Something that indicates we’ve been through an area.” All of her progress was at risk. She had hoped that because the eggs weren’t fertilized -that they wouldn’t hatch. But instead she’s given birth to a clone of herself, just as lost and confused. “You need to stay in place, right where you are.”

“Stay in place?”

“Yes. You cannot move.”

“But. How will I know where to go?”

I will find out where to go, but only if you don’t move.” Anise stood tall, leered.

The young bug gazed at her height. “Wow. You truly must be the Big One.” She turned her head slightly, glancing behind. “Should I go tell the others?”

Others? Anise almost lost her footing. “No. Stay exactly here. I will continue, if I find the others, I will tell them the same.”

“Oh. Are you sure?”

Anise brushed by the child-stick, patting her down into a seated position. “If you stay here, I’ll come back and save all of you. But only if you stay precisely still.”

The young bug stared in awe, watching the long legs crawl overtop. She lowered her antennae, and then stayed perfectly still, just like a stick. “Alright Big One, I’ll do it. I swear I will not move until you come back.”

Anise crawled forward, a little more frustrated, but nonetheless determined. Up ahead came another bend in the pipe.


“Well it only took a month,” Jake sneered, “but the mother found her way out.”

The catchment net at the end of the maze jostled back and forth. The old stick-bug had tangled her legs and would periodically struggle.

“Good”, Devlin said, basically laying on the observation couch. “We’ve proven the chemical can improve their visuospatial memory. But nevertheless, we’ll need to start from scratch.”

“Why is that?” Jake asked.

“Well we’ve made the one insect a brilliant navigator,” Devlin got up, straightened his labcoat, “But all of her offspring are about as useful as paperweights. They won’t move, no matter what we throw at them.”

“Some kind of congenital muscle atrophy?

“Something like that.”

“What a shame.”

“It is. Phasmids don’t react great to this new version of the nootropic I guess.” Devlin yawned, cracked his back. “Interested in lunch?”

Jake took off his gloves and nodded. Both men stood up to circumnavigate the plastic labyrinth, following one side to the door. Because of the way it was installed, the labyrinth collided with the entryway, forcing both scientists to suck in their respective pot-bellies.

“It’s always a tight squeeze on the way out,” Jake laughed.

Devlin put a hand on his gut, “The trick is to hold in your breath. No need to rush.”


Ever since playing Sim Ant on Windows 98, Kajetan Kwiatkowski has had a lifelong obsession with arthropods. He’s fine when a fly falls in his soup, and he’s fine when a spider nestles in the side mirror of his car. In the future, he hopes humanity is willing to embrace such insectophilia, but until then, he’ll write entomological spec fiction to satisfy his soul. You can visit his website: www.EclosionStories.com and follow him @Kajetkwiat on Twitter

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