The Worm

— Jordan A. Rothacker

The Worm turns…  It is expected…
See the Worm… Arriving like it has never been gone…
See it arise and see it turn, the Conquering Worm…
It is here… It sees by knowing… It has no eyes…  No eyes, but a mouth at both ends…
An ass at both ends…  Both ends the same…  The Worm might not begin, but the Worm never ends…  It is here for you, for us, for me…  To eat, then shit…  To eat, then vomit…  It is all the same with the Worm…  All without turning…
And still the Worm turns…  It turns and it rears…  Its body is thick rings of muscle…  It is just a long lower torso on all sides…  Thick rings like abdominal muscles…  And covered in sharp wire hairs like nails…  That is how it sees, how it feels, how it knows…  With each turn and ripple the nail-hairs dig and trigger…  Antennae…  Divining rods…
Here it comes now…  The Worm is turning…

Peter closed the notebook.  He tried to write the Worm away but still it followed.  Notebook shut.  Eyes open.  Still the worm.  Sometimes it worked.  This was not one of those times.  The Worm went beyond the page.  The Worm was a page-eater.

Something sightless.  Something with no discernment between eating, vomiting, or shitting.  A rolling mass of muscles sharp to the touch, and with every move sightlessly knowing.  It was the perfect horror for Peter.

There is no way the other students in Study Hall could feel like he felt.  They read or wrote silently in their notebooks, being normal students doing homework.  Now as he rubbed his eyes, tried to rub the Worm from his eyes, and looked around, he felt so alone.  But Peter was never alone; there was always the Worm.

 

Peter’s mother meant well.  She meant well all seventeen years of his life.  She meant well when she wasn’t around because it meant that she was working hard to support her child and self.  She meant well when she was around even when she was telling Peter what to do because it meant she cared enough to take an interest in his life.  And she especially meant well when he was a small child and she read great literature to him every night in bed.  It so happened that one of the books of classic literature she read to Peter was a collection by Edgar Allan Poe.  This book was among the likes of Edith Hamilton’s Mythology and Aesop’s Fables and assorted fairy tales.  What she loved about the Poe was that his poems rhymed and flowed so well they were perfect for a child.  Sometimes she would move on to the short stories.  Some had poems in them.  “Ligeia” was one of these.  The subject matter was pretty dark, but he was so young when she read it to him she assumed he didn’t understand, maybe he just enjoyed the rhythms and rhymes from the poem it contained.  The poem was called, “The Conqueror Worm.” She only read him “Ligeia” three times between the ages of two to five.  That was all it took.

 

It grew from the pages of Poe, grew and changed with Peter over the years.  As if it expanded with his consciousness, it constantly bent and realigned its grasp upon him.  The Worm became the dark part of him, where all fears and anxieties went.  But that is just the psychology.  To compare the Worm to the imaginary friends of other children would not be fair to Peter.

For Peter, the Worm was very real in its presence and potentiality.  When he slept the Worm was there behind every image.  He would see a friend, or his mother, or even Superman, and the Worm would turn and that would be the new dream.  No more friend, no more mother, no more Superman, just the Worm, turning and eating and vomiting and shitting, all at once, every end, every movement.

Daydreaming was no different.  Each thought needed no more than three steps to connect back to the Worm.

 

By age ten he saw the Worm everywhere, in every blink, in either end of the blink, open or closed.  School was tough, but nothing was really easy.  He saw the Worm in his teachers’ eyes, turning around in the irises and threading through the pupils.  He tried to sing it away.  He fought his fears with art from an early age.  It was not consciously calculated, only a reflex, deep in his humanity.  No one had ever told him that “Ring Around the Rosie” fought the plague.  Not as didactic, his song, but nevertheless at ten he began to sing:

Fingers or toes
Or even a long nose
Anything can be
The Worm 

Fingers or toes
Or even a long nose
Anything can be
The Worm

Over and over to a crazy but soothing rhythm like:

Bum ba da da
Bum ba da da da
Bum ba da da…
Da Da!

But that is what it was like.  The Worm was everywhere and to the rhythm of:

Bum ba da da
Bum ba da da da
Bum ba da da…
Da Da!

He sang and sang under his breath and when he was lucky the rhythm took the Worm away from every finger or toe or even long nose.

 

Now, at seventeen, as he tried to write it away, he went through many notebooks.  The Worm was a page-eater and ate oh, so many pages.  Peter wrote everywhere all the time.  It seemed to be his only control, his only power, no matter how ineffectual, against the Worm.  When he was younger, scratch paper would do, but as this attempt gained seriousness he needed better equipment.  He thought the school bag and the constant homework given a high school student were good cover for the ever-present notebooks.  Cheap was okay, but the more plentiful the pages, the better.

Peter’s mother bought Writer’s Market books for her son and any literary magazine she saw that contained short stories.  She left them all over the house.  One day he would be a great writer, she believed.  She was so proud of how hard he worked, writing all the time.  And she applauded herself for all the great literature she read to him when he was a child.  She had no idea what she really put inside him.

Peter was the love of her life, her raison d’être, and his success would be her success.  This writing must come to something, he worked so hard all the time.  He must be a budding novelist, she thought, to fill so many notebooks.  She fought so hard peeking into just one, just one of those marble composition books stacked all over his bedroom.  Soon he would graduate and every college she suggested had a good English Literature program with Creative Writing.  He had such a solid foundation already, the love of literature she provided from a very early age and all this writing practice he has been doing.

 

This final semester of his senior year Peter had a pretty easy schedule.  After Study Hall his seventh and final period was Gym.  This was the highlight of the day.  He could run a little track and then load up his backpack and run home from school still in his gym clothes.  Running was good, there were moments when his mind cleared and there was nothing, not even the Worm.  And then the endorphins came and there was a slight high and another moment of Worm respite.

Today after Study Hall, then Gym, followed that same pattern of the semester.  Peter ran home with his backpack on.  As it was Friday, his mother would be home from work early and they could maybe go shopping together before dinner.  Since it would be summer soon, and then college, he actually wanted to spend as much time with his mother, when she wasn’t nagging him.

Peter walked into the house and called out a general greeting to his mother, wherever she was, as he headed towards his bedroom.  When he opened the door he found her there, sitting on his bed.  Every surface of his room, floor, desk, dresser, and bed were covered with open notebooks.  His mother had one on her lap and staring down at it she was crying and blinking rapidly.

Oh, what joy and elation Peter now felt!  Maybe he was no longer alone with the Worm?  Maybe it could even go back to from whence it came?  Maybe the Worm won’t win?

 


 

Jordan A Rothacker is an essayist, poet, and novelist based in Athens, GA where he received his MA in Religion and PhD in Comparative Literature at the University of Georgia. He is the author of the novella, The Pit, and No Other Stories (BHP/1888, 2015), the novel, And Wind Will Wash Away (Deeds, 2016), and the forthcoming work, My Shadow Book by Maawaam (Spaceboy Books, 2017).