Warning: contains graphic imagery.
We’ve been quite lucky for today’s presentation in coming across a partially intact specimen of the rarely spotted myriapod sylva monstrus, or ‘stick monster’. While this particular specimen is unfortunately lacking the head and legs, it’s pretty rare to discover any extant examples of stick monsters, so we’re quite privileged on that front; not only that, but this one comes complete with a partially developed tail-flower (1) and several zygotic bloom sockets (2); we can also clearly examine the arrangement of leg sockets arrayed around the torso (3).
This particular specimen has no less than 54 sockets for fully grown legs, with an additional 12 zygotic sockets around the upper body where more legs could have grown, and 15 bloom sockets clustered around the tail area. Rather than sprouting legs, the latter would have given bloom to the ‘flowers’ with which the stick monster catches its minor prey, eg any variety of flying insect and, in more tropical climates, even small birds. In order to maximise their chances of snaring prey in this fashion, stick monsters have been known to sprout whole bouquets of ‘flowers’ from their tail region; in addition to the fully-formed tail flower, you can clearly make out the initial development of at least nine supplementary buds arrayed around the tail shaft.
As for the leg sockets, you can see that they are roughly arranged in groups of three, with each group spaced at intervals around the circumference of the torso. They’re not arrayed longitudinally in the way that, say, a centipede or millipede’s legs would be arrayed in a straight line; instead, each set of legs is offset clockwise or anti-clockwise around the torso, allowing the stick monster to use a rapid rotational burrowing or spinning motion (4) to propel itself along the ground, up trees, along branches and onto the shoulder of any passing humans. Oh, I forgot to mention: despite its naturally-evolved abilities for trapping insects and small birds, those are merely small snacks when compared with the stick monster’s real prey: human beings. This would be better demonstrated if you could see the head, sadly not preserved in this specimen, which supports a long, needle-like proboscis ideal for puncturing ear drums.
The stick monster, legs whirring through tree branches, will scurry along in pursuit of any human unlucky enough to be passing below it. In much the same way as a squirrel, it can leap from tree to tree, waiting for the opportune moment to strike. (As a side note, pity the poor squirrel who encounters a stick monster at full pelt. While a squirrel is at once too large to form an insect-style snack and too small to have a brain worth devouring, it can be lanced in passing by the stick monster’s proboscis – which, naturally, is dripping with poison. This poison will, at best, leave the squirrel only temporarily paralysed; at worse, it will induce blindness, bewilderment, loss of balance and, eventually, a slow, suppurating death.)
The unlucky human prey – more often than not joggers, given their propensity for disrupting the peace and quiet of the stick monster’s natural habitat with their thudding footsteps – might stop to catch their breath, and that’s when the stick monster will strike. Diving from an overhanging branch, they resemble falling twigs, especially when hunting in autumn – until they land on some poor sucker’s shoulder, immediately driving their spiked nose through the ear drum and straight into the brain. They maintain momentum by giving each leg one last kick – that revolving motion now parleyed into a very effective drilling mechanism – before detaching them in sequence, the better for allowing the knobbly torso to spiral into the warm pink mush of the human brain. (Yes, they will be devoid of legs at the end of this process, but no matter: they’ll remain unmoving inside the human brain for the rest of their life-cycle – anything from six months to three years – feeding off the human’s own cranial contents and eventually laying eggs that will burst open violently, with thousands upon thousands of tiny, splinter-sized, spider-like stick monster offspring – twiglets, in common parlance – pouring forth from the human’s ears, eye sockets and nostrils.)
The in-bloom ‘tail flower’, being at the very end of the torso, is the last piece of the stick monster to detach. Often, the stick monster’s first act after assuming control of the human’s motor functions (once all the thrashing and screaming has died down – it cannot be overstated that this is a far from painless process) is to make them pick up the flower and place it behind their ear. To fellow humans, this will appear as nothing more malign than a frivolous hair decoration; to other stick monsters, it’s a warning that this prospective host is in fact already occupied. Two stick monsters inside one human skull quickly becomes a grisly affair, which rarely if ever works out well for any of the parties involved – both of the legless monsters will thrash and churn the brain into a thick soup in their efforts to defeat one other, with the loser often violently expelled straight through the rear wall of the skull cavity, blowing the back of the human’s head off. The expelled stick monster, unable to survive with its legs removed, will die of exposure almost immediately; the victor will enjoy a few moments resting in the remains of the human head before the cessation of the human’s blood supply will leave them devoid of warmth and nourishment, perishing soon after. The human, it goes without saying, has already expired in the most agonising way possible.
The public danger of stick monsters has been successfully kept from schools, and for good reason – imagine the panic if children were made aware of the dangers lurking in every tree they pass beneath. Still, a few techniques have trickled through under some less terrifying guises, such as going out (particularly to the woods or park) in groups of two or more – only the most frenzied and psychotic of stick monsters would attempt to take down a human host with another standing close by, ready to yank it from its tunnelling mission and simply snap its brittle spine. Adult humans have also taken to plugging their ears with headphones when they go jogging in stick monster habitats, thereby preventing the predators from gaining access to their brains. In these cases, the stick monster would most likely land on their prey’s shoulder and attempt to begin burrowing immediately, shedding at least half its legs before realising the way is blocked and falling lamely to the ground. There, it would itself become a more easily hunted prey – any of its remaining legs, for example, would be plucked out by sparrows and other common birds for the purpose of building nests. Failing that, squirrels are a vindictive species not known for their forbearance from vengeance. Your humble tutor posits that the specimen we have examined today was brutally seized upon by a squirrel and its head snapped clean off at the neck (5), an action with no other purpose than to satisfy a wronged squirrel’s enraged anti-stick monster bloodlust.
Now, are there any questions?