The Turning of the Worm
by Brian Douglas Moakley
I knew nothing of worms or oblivion when that damned old man entered Eddie’s back-room. When he put his four bits on the apple box, I thought he was just another down-on-his-luck grandpa looking for a shortcut at the breadline. So I showed him the queen of love and then shuffled the three cards in front of him.
He missed the switch like they all do. It’s not like he really had a chance.
With a quivering finger, the old goat pointed at the left hand card – the card I wanted him to pick. I flipped it. A ten of diamonds.
“Sorry pops,” I said, scooping the coins off the apple box. ”But you can’t trust Lady Love. She’s a crafty one.”
He shook to the core with a dry belly laugh. I had never seen a mark so happy after a routine shake-me-down. He extended a thin bony claw, and like a gentleman, I took it.
“You have a talent with your hands,” he said. ”But I wonder about your mind. I wonder how long it will take for me to consume you.”
That’s when the worm crawled into me.
My hand burned like I had pressed it against a hot radiator. I jerked it out of his grasp, forming a broken fist to belt him upside the head. A thin smile curdled across his ashen face and before I could wallop him, he collapsed to the ground in a broken mound of withered grey flesh.
My fist burned. When I opened it, I saw that my palm was sticky with a black tar and just beneath the surface of my skin, I felt the queer burning moving deeper. I thought I had gone goofy until I saw the creature – the worm – wiggle just underneath my skin.
It wasn’t going anywhere.
I reached for my pocket knife.
The screams decimated all of my senses. Not just two or three, but thousands upon thousands of men and women, both old and young alike. They drowned out my thoughts in a sea of languages that pined for the one salvation that kept them and myself – us – connected.
“PLEASE GOD, GET IT OUT OF ME!”
I tumbled into a stack of pickled beets, knocking the jars all over the back-room. Some of them exploded as they crashed onto the floor. The bloody carnage of the dead vegetables tripped up my feet, and I stumbled over myself. I expected the harsh slap of stained wood, but I never stopped falling. The floor swallowed me whole whereby I passed beyond light and thought.
I didn’t need to see it to know it was watching me. I could feel its detached amusement, wanting me to surrender while hoping I would not. My resistance was unforeseen, and what was unforeseen in the eons of its monotonous existence was new and thereby, interesting.
Give in, I thought. It’s so much easier if you give in.
It wasn’t me. It was my thought, but I wasn’t the thinker.
I opened my eyes to meet the stare of my tormentor and regretted it almost at once. I stared at its naked face although I use the word “face” with the very loosest of meaning. It had a face in the same way that a fractured rock might appear to have a face, but up close – past the point where imagination is effective, it stood in sharp contrast to all biological logic.
The creature was a mass of writhing tubes. Each wormy end opened like a flower to reveal long red barbs that moved back and forth as if sniffing the air. In the center of all its countless appendages, a serrated maw opened to regard me with a yellow jellied eye. The flesh around the eye undulated into itself as if it were eating itself over and over again. The mere sight of it made me want to vomit.
Give in, I thought. Close your eyes and let yourself be taken.
I meant to say, “never” but my hand burned with that repeating squirming pain.
You can never be free of me.
The worm was just underneath the surface of the skin. And to my horror, I saw and felt another. And then another. And soon, my skin vibrated as the worms multiplied.
You’re mine. To keep. To consume.
They traveled up my arms. Into my chest. My guts burst with a horrific itching as hundreds of them swarmed inside of me.
My throat tickled, and I coughed. The vomit was liquid at first, but soon thousands of white worms spewed from my throat. They moved up my legs to return from whence they came. I brushed them off, but there was too many. They crawled into my ears and throat anew. When they reached my eyes, all went black.
Beyond two dirty brick walls, I saw small pools of light illuminating cracked sidewalks. People strolled by the alley in pairs. Some arm and arm. Others, nearby but distant. I heard the nasal honks of irritated travelers. The squeaks of unmaintained breaks.
Eddie had dumped me in the back alley. He could explain a dead old man with a heart condition, but not the passed out grifter next to him.
I took stock of my hands and the black hole made it all come back to me again. It wasn’t a dream no matter how much I wanted it to be one.
It moved anew. I felt it boring through my wrist. It was as small as a chewed fingernail, smooth as a skipping stone, and it burned like a hot coal. I stepped out of the alley as the worm crawled into my forearm. I bled tears of sweat, making me look like a dope fiend struggling with the French fits. One woman drew her child close to her as if I might infect the little boy with my madness.
My pocket knife was gone. I needed something else. Something sharp. I saw the rundown diner across the street before I could smell it. All I could think was steak and eggs. It wasn’t the breakfast that enticed me, but the knife that came with it.
I started to step off the sidewalk, getting ready to kick up some dust when the sea of screams returned, blasting all the reason from me. I tottered on the curb like a drunk as I tried to push my way forward. I squinted through the internal avalanche of sound. My nose trickled blood. My ears twitched from the unheard pain. Each footstep felt as if I were wearing shoes of iron.
Mine. You’re all mine.
The worm was too deep.
I turn around back down the alley and ran as fast as my legs could carry. I passed Eddie’s shop turned a hard right towards another part of the street. A side door opened, and I stumbled around an exiting delivery boy. I tripped over my own feet and in spite of all my attempts to grab the slick brick wall, I fell hard. The dirty cement smacked the side of my face.
For the first time in my adult life, I was helpless. I was the one looking for the queen of love. The worm shuffled the cards in front of me, and it was asking me to pick the right one, but I wasn’t gambling with my paycheck or soup money, I was gambling with my soul and the worm intended to clean me out of it. The only thing to be done was to have a stiff drink, and say to hell with it all.
Mine. You’re all mine.
I didn’t need to see the man staring over me to know he was a bull cop. He grabbed my shoulders and jerked me to my feet. He stared at me with two hard eyes that let me know that he wouldn’t mind kicking my teeth in.
“You feeling all right, pal? Or do I need to teach you how to behave in polite society?”
I felt the worm move again. It was in my shoulder, chewing its way to my neck.
“Sorry officer. Sometimes I forget myself,” I responded, removing a wad of bills from my pocket and stuffing them into his pocket.
His scowl did the back-flip I was looking for. He was a con like me only with a different racket.
“You know any places around here a guy like me can get dip the bill?”
“What you’re talking about is illegal.”
“What’s it matter between friends?”
Another wad. He was milking me and liking it.
“Come with me,” he said. ”But if you do any more dance numbers, I’ll make sure you stay down.”
The screams were distant like a crowd on a distant rooftop and if I focused on the various cracks on the sidewalk, I was able to keep the nausea at bay.
I followed the cop in silence through winding city streets until we came to a small antique shop that looked derelict at first inspection. This place was a wreck, selling old Civil War rifles that probably didn’t work, moth eaten furniture long since dusted, and an assortment of broken knick-knacks that hadn’t been moved since the treaty of Versailles. The cop approached a thin wiry man with a clipped mustache that hung suspended over a fish-like mouth. The sallow man examined me for some time before he gave me a cadaverous nod. The cop returned to me with an open hand. In went some more bills.
“Mickey will take care of you.”
He tipped his hat, then strolled out of the store.
I followed Mickey to the back room where a woman who looked like the mother of Father Time sat, knitting a sock that was bigger than any foot belonging to a human or otherwise. Mickey pushed her chair aside without so much as disturbing the old woman’s rhythm, and lifted a floorboard. A staircase descended into a well-lighted place.
“Gambling isn’t ready yet. It’s too early. But the bar’s open for a few slugs.”
I passed him some bills and descended into the gin mill. It was a fair sized room divided into gaming tables and drinking tables. A burly man polished the bar while another worked hard underneath a roulette table. His feet twitched with every little adjustment.
The gorilla at the bar nodded and with that invitation, I laid out another wad.
“The hardest stuff you have. And lots of it.”
He grabbed a bottle of whiskey and slammed it on the counter. He grabbed a glass and slammed that as well. The gorilla smirked as he scooped up my money with a thick meaty paw.
The worm was half way up my neck. I could feel it pushing, slinking, and rolling inside of me.
“You okay?” the gorilla asked, not caring about the answer. ”You don’t look well.”
“I’m fine, thanks” I replied.
I downed a hefty slug, enjoying the trail of fire that burned down my throat. The physical pain was a relief. I hoped that damn parasite felt it as well. I took another bolt and then another. My teeth tingled. My fingers buzzed.
I heard faint echoes of the screams but they were distorted. I had another slug in celebration.
The room began to wobble like I were a sailor attempting to navigate the Horn of Africa. The gorilla looked at me with concerned eyes, although his expression was all apathy. I was half way through the bottle.
“You want to take a break?” he inquired.
“Are you kidding?” I said. ”It’s not even lunchtime yet.”
I could feel my stomach twist and contort like the faces of the creature – the worm – I had seen in the darkness of nightmares.
I filled my glass again. I tried to raise it, but the gorilla slammed my hand back on the bar.
“You’ve had enough.”
Our eyes locked like two wild dogs.
“I’m just getting started.”
“Get out,” he barked. ”I don’t want some drunken Mic stinking up my floors. “
I tossed my final wad on the bar, not caring the amount or even so much as what I was paying for.
The gorilla started at the money, giving me enough time to take that final slug. It no longer burned. I was well past drunk, easily in blackout territory.
“I said you’re done. Beat it. And take your dirty money with you.”
“And here I thought we were just getting along.”
He didn’t punch, like I expected. He pushed me backwards. I slammed into the roulette fixer who clasped me in arms that felt like iron.
“Take ’em out, Frank. With the rest of the garbage.”
The bruiser dragged me up a staircase like mismatched luggage, then tossed me out the back door. I crashed into rows of trashcans, knocking them all over. My elbow slammed hard against the ground sending mute shock waves through the rest of my body.
The worm watched me, reading my thoughts but not understanding any of it. I could feel its confusion.
“You want to know how you win at three-card monte?” I muttered, riding my stream of thoughts. ”It’s quite easy. You don’t play.”
I started my way down the sidewalk, pushing past a throng of people. My head was flooded with the screams, but it didn’t matter anymore. I was beyond the point of caring or feeling.
I stumbled into the street. Brakes squealed, and I heard the distant cracking as metal interlocked with metal. Cars smashed all around me in attempt to avoid me, but I was without injury or care. I stumbled to the nearest car, and jerked open the door. The doughy driver in a pinstripe suit put up a brief fight, but I managed to pull him from the vehicle, not caring about his condition when he hit the street.
I slipped behind the wheel as the voices pillaged all my senses. The worm was deep inside my head. So close to its goal.
I giggled, then slammed my foot hard against the gas pedal. I took a sharp right turn, almost running down a family.
The voices were deafening. They were so loud that I couldn’t hear the screams from the people on the sidewalk. Nor could I hear the screeching of breaks from all the other cars on the road, desperately trying to avoid me. The only thing I registered was the tell-tale crash of a truck clipping the back end of my car.
The car swung out of control, spinning and crashing into the corner of a building. Another crash rocked my right hand side. I fell out of the driver’s side door, and flopped along the pavement like a fish drowning in air. I heard a distinct pop from one of my legs, and my ribs exploded like fireworks. My hair went sticky and moist. I spit out a few teeth as well and what looked to be a bloody tea bag.
The world passed in and out. Minutes passed in blinks. The last thing I remembered was young woman looking at me with both shock and kindness. Her face was as white as the overcast sky behind her. She had never seen a broken man.
She reached out to me. Her fingers were white as silk. She touched my forehead and started to recite some prayer that I could not hear, nor did I want to.
I extended my hand to her and she took it.
And the worm moved again.
I didn’t hear her scream at first, but her once beautiful face contorted as if a vice were crushing her head. She jerked backwards, then clasped her ears as those unmistakable screams filled her thoughts. As she disappeared amongst the throng of onlookers, I wondered if my own screams were with her as well.
Issue #4 Contents
Bed and Breakfast
The Silver Apples of the Moon
C Was for Cat
Jack Campbell, Jr.
Skin, Before and After Packaging
The Turning of the Worm
Brian Douglas Moakley
Brain Douglas Moakley Brian Douglas Moakley is a writer who lives in a small town in Connecticut with his wife and two children. When not writing, he produces Lets Play videos as well as teaches how to write interactive fiction.