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The Caribus

They say you can get lost in a good book.

This is, of course, not true.

Because it isn’t just books.

The Caribus are inside every story ever told.

Nobody knows where the Caribus came from. They may have been an idea that broke free from some ancient shaman’s mind, a dream that slipped its mooring and scuttled away into the world, hungry and cold. Or they might have come from outside, slipping through the edges of space like cockroaches spilling through a crack in the wall.

Long ago, before the printing press and The Tale of Genji, before papyrus and Viking sagas carved on runestones, when the first storytellers had gathered the tribe and told tales beneath the glimmering candlelight of the stars, the Caribus were there. They waited in the gaps between the words, like a tiger that pads and prowls in the long dark shadows past the edge of the flickering firelight.

They can never be seen, because they can be anything. Anything ever described in a story, whether through words or song or charcoal and ochre on the wall of a cave, can be hollowed out and made into a shape for the Caribus to wear as they hunt. They hide in words, spinning their nests underneath a foreshadow, or laying their eggs in the twist of an ending, or lurking behind the last full stop on the final page of your favourite book you read as a child.

They bide their time, until you’re tired and unable to fight back. Then, when a half-remembered fragment of story bubbles up in your mind, the Caribus will reach out for you with their claws or tentacles or grasping fingers. Once they have you, they will drink you and drain you until the remains of your life are nothing more than a rattling clutch of letters on the page of a book; a background character mentioned briefly and then forgotten by the end of the chapter.

So if you’re ever reading a book, late at night and warmly wrapped up in your bed, be careful that you don’t take a wrong turn of phrase somewhere. You might end up lost, while all the while there’s the sound of scratching at the back of your mind; the Caribus are clawing their way inside, and they are hungry.

The Caribus are inside every story ever told.

Even this one.

Patrick Magee is a genus of beetles in the family Carabidae. He is performing a one-man show Tincakes & Sausages at the Sydney Comedy Festival. You can follow him on Twitter.

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