Wednesday, December 3, 2014


Turn of the Worm
By David Castlewitz

Children of all types, sizes, and ages were thrown in the pit and the worm enjoyed eating them. Sometimes they were hairy-faced, their bodies covered with scars, their eyes full of fear; these were tasty, though the muscles somewhat stringy. The worm didn't like the ones that screeched. Screams made its long articulating body vibrate so much that it couldn't rest even after the noise stopped. Long-haired children with soft and delectable bodies were the worst screamers. Sometimes, the worm scurried to a far corner of the farthest room away from the deep pit, to a room where the screams didn't touch it. Later, when the child slept, the worm returned. This was a good strategy and it ate in peace.
Several times, fuzzy-faced children dropped into the pit and the worm tried to nurture a friendship. It sought to hear them speak. It sought to dance with them. It wound its body around their legs, luxuriated in the slime that oozed from their bodies, and let their tears of fear warm it. But these children never lasted very long.
Lying coiled in the middle of the deep pit, the worm retracted its thick eyelids, raised its knobby head and looked up at the circle of light whence came the children. When young and inexperienced, the worm didn't know to move away from the light. It stayed coiled, head raised, eyes wide, and watched the children fall.
A few landed on its body. The sudden pain brought an angry roar that made the sides of the pit shake. Small rocks vibrated loose and trickled to the bone-littered floor. Aching from the assault, the worm squirmed away to nurse its ache while the victim who'd caused it struggled to its feet or crawled on hands and knees to a corner where it huddled in darkness.
The worm always found them later and ate even if its innards throbbed with pain.
Slithering through old bone-cages helped ease the hurt, the worm learned over the course of its first few years. The rough material massaged the leathery skin. Back and forth it slid; against gristle and dried sinews and old skin turned to rawhide. While the worm tended to itself, any victims watching from an ineffective hiding place whimpered or cried, their body releasing a pleasant stink the worm sniffed with joy.
When a strange child jumped feet-first into the pit and landed with legs apart, an odd stick-like thing in one hand, the worm reared up from where it lay coiled, opened its toothy maw and stuck out its tongue to taste fear in the air. That it tasted nothing, annoyed the worm. Fear smelled hot and enticing, with a tangy flavor that lingered at the back of its mouth and brought saliva to the tip of its long black tongue.
The strange child's hair splayed out from under a shiny cap that made the worm gag when it lapped the hard material. With a roar, the worm pulled away from the child, drew itself high above the cap, but not far enough away to avoid a sharp sting across its leathery body. The child's stick, glinting in the light from above, struck again; the hurt was worse than anything the worm ever felt before. Yellow liquid seeped from its tail. Another strike severed a piece of the worm's body.
With a dry-throated scream, the worm opened its maw wide, its front row incisors dripping spit, and attacked.
The child's head covering tasted of metal, a substance the worm detested. It ingested the body, but the torso stuck in its throat and the worm coughed up the mangled corpse. After that, it feasted on the arms and legs only, and found that even these had that sickening metallic taste it abhorred. A yellow-white scab formed where the worm had been cut and the indigestible parts of the child oozed from the wound, creating a burning sensation that lessened over time.
At the side of the pit, in a shallow pool of slime, the severed piece of the worm squirmed and stretched and wiggled. Soon, a pointed tail appeared. An oblong head with two round eyes and thick eyelids grew. As did a small mouth with tiny sharp teeth and a black tongue.
This second worm feasted on what remained of old meals, ingesting tiny bones, bits of leather, and even the waste the first worm had ejected from under its scab, where a tiny sphincter had grown to exercise control over bodily secretions.
The first worm watched this new entity and when a crying child dropped into the pit it taught the newcomer how to feast. It slithered close to the warm body that had once been part of its own and had become an entirely new thing.
A companion.
They'd share the pit, the worm thought. Happily. Because this new creature, so much like itself, would be a much more amiable friend than any of those crying, frightened children.

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After a long and successful career as a software developer and technical architect, I have turned to my first love: SF and fantasy. I have published several stories in Weirdyear, Farther Stars Than These, Fast Forward Festival, Encounters and other online as well as print magazines. Search the web and you’ll even find some of my earlier military history articles. My longer work can be found at


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