The sound of worms has been keeping me awake for days. Every morning
I fall asleep, and moments later
, the sound of worms, the grinding of millions of worms' millions of sharp gringy teeth
jerks me into back consciousness. I awaken coughing dry dusty dirt
from my throat, gasping for air
, and I can feel the fucking worms all around me. I wish I could remember my dreams
--they might explain why I keep burrowing into the dirt
before the worms
I work the night shift in the warehouse of a nursery supply company on the south side of Everything City. Most of the time, I work by myself, trundling pallets of potting soil and fertilizer from one side of the place to another. When it gets boring I do donuts in my sweet orange forklift. Every now and then I take it out on dembones avenue (yeah, I know, it's a seedy part of town) and drive around to entertain the street molders and pirated node dealers.
Two weeks ago, the owner got a deal on a gross of worm pallets. Each pallet has a wooden planter box about a foot deep and 4 feet square. The problem is, no one knows what kind of worms they are. He got them from a guy who deals with exotic imports, plants usually. Palm trees from the time of Lawrence of Arabia, Scheheradze's house plants, George Washington's Cherry tree, Ells can get almost anything. The boss says he probably has some shady connection to Spatial-Temporal Relocations, Ltd. I still don't know why he deals primarily in bot, but one thing I've learned since I came to Everything city is that it's a strange world in here. Very strange sometimes.
So anyway, the boss gets the worms as part of a package deal. He wants three old world tons of japanese ornamental sand from the time of Basho, and he's a cheap bastard so he bargains hard. (He's got to be, because the nursery supply business is seriously cutthroat--most of it is controlled by the molders)
"Alright, alright. I'll give you the sand, with the rakes, for five zorkmid a cubic cubit. But I need you take these worms off my hands. I've had them for a month, and the damn things are all gonna die if I don't unload them now," Ellsworth demanded.
My boss only saw zorkmid signs. He took it, worms and all. Made a tidy profit on the sand, and brought in fistloads of cash for the "Zen Monastery Garden Rakes." But the worms, the worms just sit in the darkest corner of the warehouse, collecting dust, drying up, and supposedly slowly dying.
The worms themselves are big, about as thick as a hot dog and twice as long. It looks like Ells dumped his kitchen trash and god knows what else in there; chicken bones, hamburger wrappers, and something that looks suspiciously like pork parts. And the stench, oh my god the smell, I imagine that Gettysburg, three days later smelled like this.
So anyway, these are not creatures we can just stick in a jar and call "Pet Worms." I wouldn't let my cat near these things. Nurseries don't want them--they take one look, sniff, and then politely decline.
And they don't seem to be dying like Ells claimed they were. I never throw anything in the planters; I stay away from them when I can. But when I'm in the forklift, picking up a pallet of the decorative crushed coral from Bikini atoll on the far side of the warehouse, I can't help but take a look. Pale, the color of uncooked sausage, they writhe about in what always looks like fresh garbage and pig parts.
I figured out that the damn worms were molding only a few days ago, about the same time that I started being able to hear them. I was out tooling along dembones, waving to the street molders and in general making a spectacle of myself in my vintage 1987 safety orange forklift, when Foxe waved me down. He's a street molder, but he doesn't usually use it to shoplift. Most nights he's down at Everything Park, putting on reality shows for the tourists.
"Nice ride. You know I could probably make that thing at least look a little cooler."
Foxe always makes fun of my girl.
"You know I won't let you near my sweet girl, miscreant molder scum."
After the pleasantries are exchanged, he tells me about his latest tourist girl conquest. They all swoon over him down at the park, like he's a rock star or something. Watch, the next big thing will be molder groupies. Grrreeeaaat, then it'll be even harder to get along as a norm in Everything.
I tell him about the worms. They are just too strange to keep to myself. When I tell him about the never ending fresh garbage, his eyes flash. (Really. Molders can be so pretentious.)
"You know, animals mold. Cats are famous for it. You've heard that story The Cat Who Walks Through Walls, right? That was real. They can mold, and they're molding the world to suit their needs every minute of the day. Remember when cats became more popular than dogs in the old United States? That was the culmination of a massive parallel molding project the cats had been involved in for years. You hardly even see dogs anymore."
He was right about the dogs, but I think that was more a socioeconomic thing than the result of some vast interspecies rivalry. Damn tech stock bubble turned out to be worse than the great depression and the dark ages put together. My grandparents lost a paper fortune, but we stayed more or less afloat. Others were hit a little harder. Lets just say that pets first became a luxury, and later, in the really dark times... Well, there just aren't too many of them anymore, ok?
Still, worms that mold? The whole idea made me shiver.
When I pulled my forklift baby inside, I could feel the worms from across the warehouse. I could hear them grinding away at their ill-gotten refuse. I ducked under gothic archways and crawled over Roman statuary to the corner with the crushed coral and the worms. Peering inside, I heard the worms. Silent for weeks, they were deafening now. They growled and fought like wild dogs over big chunks of pig. Fresh pig. Well, it was pink. It had to be pig.
The grinding intensified as I leaned over a little closer, examining the filth they fought over. Roiling amongst the fast food wrappers and banana peels were lumps of lightly haired flesh. I wasn't so sure that it was pig parts anymore.
I backed away slowly, and the noise diminished, but I could still hear it faintly, even back by the door. As I made my way home on the ETA (Everything Transit Authority), the noise of the worms never really went away. It was always there in the back of my head, a soft, never-ending grinding. At my house, in my bedroom with the 1972 Watergate Hotel blackout curtains pulled tight, the worms were earsplitting.
I could usually relax with some meditation exercises, at least enough to make the transition to sleep, but then, the worms seemed to go mad. They roared, grinding away at people they had shifted into their planters. And every morning, I sit bolt upright, and, I swear to god, I cough up fucking dirt, like I've been rolling in their planters with them.
I think they're molding me. Boss says that John, his day warehouse guy, hasn't shown up for a few days. The fucking worms got him, I know they did. He says that if I'm not too sick (I called in sick last night so I wouldn't have to be near them), he really needs my help.
I've been talking to Foxe about them, and I think I know how to get rid of them. It's not exactly noble, and I'm sure I'll pay for it the next time around the wheel, but I've got to get them out of my skull.
One week later. . .
I still work at the warehouse, and Boss hired a new day guy. He was complaining though, that no one seemed to be able to get any plants with any interesting history anymore. Ells, it seems, has disappeared from public life. For me, though the worms were a good thing. They helped me realize I'm not really a norm. Foxe says that the mere fact that I could hear them molding me was proof enough, and that being able to alter my scent and sound pattern in their primitive little minds was pretty advanced for a newbie. It might seem harsh to have altered them into Ells', but altering it into anything else risked harming an innocent--a mom or a baby or someone. But Ells, Ells knew what he was doing when he unloaded the worms on us. He knew what they were, and I'm sure, when he realized what was making that sound, and that the orange forklift had dropped off more than just a load of topsoil that night, he knew everything had come full circle. A person can only rob the past for so long before it comes catching up to him. I'm just hoping I'll be ready when it comes for me.
a part of the nodeshell world fiction project