By Trevor Newton
Vern allowed the blind to bend beneath the weight of his index finger. He squinted at the house across the street at the new neighbor–a man who claimed his name was Willy.
“Another bag of dirt!” Vern announced, throwing a hand up in befuddlement.
Trish, sitting on the couch and watching the Weather Channel, let out a long, drawn-out sigh. “They’re calling for rain every day next week. When is this going to stop?”
Vern peered over his shoulder at her. “It’s the tenth bag in three days!” he shouted. “What the hell is he doing with it?”
“Plotting our demise, I’m sure.”
“There’s something funny about that sonofabitch. I see his headlights coming and going at all hours of the night . . . Probably getting more bags of dirt.”
“Well, we just better alert the authorities!”
Vern stormed out of the living room and onto the front porch, partly to get away from Trish’s incessant sarcasm, but also to get a better look at Willy. Funny didn’t begin to describe him; his habit of constantly toting bags of soil into his home was enough for Vern to think the man was a few cards short of a full deck, but his skin . . . “Dear God,” Vern muttered, focusing on Willy’s complexion. It had been an odd purplish color since he’d moved in, but now there were also pink sleeves along his arms, as well rings all over his body–even the back of his head. “He’s some sort of alien.”
“He’s a worm.”
Vern nearly leapt out of his skin. Dalton Cruller, the mailman, strolled up the street with his mailbag hanging from his shoulder. “What did you say, Dalton?”
Dalton pointed toward Willy’s small four-room house. “That man’s a worm. Can’t you tell?”
Vern thought it over for a moment. The man, or whatever the hell he was —Willy—had walked inside and shut the door.
“Never a light on inside that house,” Dalton said.
Vern hadn’t noticed that, but Dalton was right. Now that he thought about it, he hadn’t seen a light on inside the house either. But a worm? Surely there was some other, more logical explanation. The man was probably some sort of body-modification freak.
“I see what you’re doing.”
“Beg your pardon?” Vern asked.
“Trying to convince yourself how ridiculous my assessment of the fella is? It’s all over your face.” Dalton chuckled. “I hope you don’t play poker, Vern.”
“There’s something off about that man, I’ll say that much.”
“You said he was an alien,” Dalton pointed out.
“I was just talking. I don’t know what the hell he is. He ain’t normal; that’s for certain.”
“He’s a worm, all right.” After a short pause where both men seemed almost hypnotized by the house, Dalton added, “Notice how it’s been raining or drizzling every day since he moved in?”
Vern mulled it over. Jesus, he was right again. “You’re saying–”
“Worms like it wet, don’t they? Ain’t never seen one that liked it dry. Have you?”
“Man don’t control the weather.”
“That ain’t no man,” Dalton said.
“Well, a worm can’t control the weather, either!”
“Maybe not the ones beneath our feet. But one that can morph into a human, drive a car, speak our language?”
“The dirt . . . ”
Dalton nodded his head. “Explains it, huh? I bet that house is full of it. His car certainly is.”
“What?” Vern’s gaze fell from the house and onto Dalton. There was an expression on his face that Vern couldn’t quite decipher–maybe morbidity mixed with fear and curiosity.
“He gets those bags of soil from Buck’s, across the street from the Post Office. I’ve seen him on more than one occasion . . . A few days ago I got the gall to look in the window of his car while he was inside. Full of wet, muddy dirt, it is. And when you see him driving down the road? Sometimes he’ll pack his mouth full of it.”
Vern shuddered; the very thought of mud inside his mouth nearly made him sick.
“We’re going to have to kill him,” Dalton said, looking Vern straight in the eyes. All previous emotions appeared to have melted away, leaving only the rock-hard surface of a man hellbent and determined. Another pause fell between them, this one a little longer than the last, and Vern felt surprised at himself for not outright rejecting the notion. It did seem rather rash, though. Simply running the creature out of town seemed a much more ethical approach. “I looked into his previous residences. One town about eighty miles north of here, and a handful in Tennessee and Kentucky. All experienced horrendous floods during his stay.”
“That’s when he’d leave, isn’t it?” Vern asked.
“You got it.”
“Like a worm brought to the surface after a downpour.”
Dalton nodded. “The rain’s definitely tied to his presence, but I doubt he wields any control over it. Who’d want to move around all the time?” After yet another long pause, he added, “We’d be doing him a favor. Who knows how long he’s been hopping around from town to town? Bastard’s probably miserable. May even want to die but hasn’t a clue how to go about it.”
“Floods devastate agricultural towns like ours,” Vern mumbled.
Dalton’s eyes narrowed. “Might never recover.”
Willy split the fresh bag of soil open and dumped it on the floor.
He could feel the tension in the air for the last several days. The townspeople were on to him. He was growing old–and his aptitude to remain incognitus wasn’t what it used to be. He’d made many stupid mistakes since arriving in Vickersville, including getting caught chowing on dirt and wallowing like a hog in a mudhole behind someone’s property. He’d been lucky to get away, but it didn’t matter–they were on to him like flies on stink, and while it might take considerable time for the entire town to become convinced, he knew a select few would be inclined to take matters into their own hands. It wouldn’t be the first time.
Willy knelt down and submerged himself in the soil, and before he knew it, he was crying.
He was simply too old to keep this up any longer–hopping from one town to the next, forging checks and stealing credit cards. He was an abomination in the eyes of those who knew him for what he really was, including his own flesh and blood who’d died so many years ago–but if they’d only gotten to know him for his good side, his human side, he knew they’d have come around. He wasn’t all that different. He yearned for companionship like any other human, ached for it unimaginably . . . but it was never attainable.
How he’d been created was as much of a mystery to him as it was to anyone else. The thought had often crossed his mind during these last couple centuries to turn himself in at some sort of research center. But what would that lead to? A lifetime of pokes and prods, isolation not unlike those who found themselves incarcerated for committing a crime? And for what, exactly? He’d never be anything but a freak to them, to anyone. Their intellect would only mask a fraction of their undoubted disgust and revulsion. But he knew he could offer a great deal to the human race. While many of his activities were bizarre to them, he also had many abilities which they’d probably be desperate for upon discovery: Regenerative limbs, liquid-filled coelom chambers which acted as a hydrostatic skeleton to allow for humanly-impossible flexibility and protection against bone breaks–not to mention a natural immunity to cancers, diabetes, and congenital heart defects. The enzymes inside his liver even acted as repellent against high blood pressure. In reality, he was a marvel, a one-of-a-kind.
And yet he hated himself.
Wanted to die.
Willy scooped some soil into his mouth and chewed it. It was the only solace left in his life. He’d been binge-eating since he’d arrived here. Not even slightly, however, had he begun to gain weight . . . Yet another addition to the list of traits a team of scientists and researchers would be interested in harnessing. Humans were greedy, though; it would quickly devolve into harvesting rather than harnessing, calculating measures of various extractions and how thin they could spread them for capital gain. On the flip side, their fascination (and downright desperation) for currency baffled him. Over the years he’d witnessed humans perform and exploit everything under the sun in the name of profit. Their greed seemingly knew no boundaries. They would even fuck their own kind over if it meant another dollar in their pocket. And with such a pathetically minute lifespan, for what endgame? There was no such thing as mass-camaraderie for them, only toxic companionship for a select few. The thought of life that continued after their own claimed no real estate in their psyche: A ludicrous supply of selfishness pumped in from an unseeable void.
He rolled over on his stomach, buried his face in a mound of soil, and inhaled deeply.
Maybe it was a good thing, being a freak among those so utterly and unknowingly flawed. His physical and emotional buildup had far more pros than cons, especially in comparison to theirs, but a superiority complex would be a laughable silk to slide into. Whether or not he was the superior being, they had more than he did; others to care for and love, others to care and love for them. Yes, goddammit to hell, they had everything in the grand scheme of things, certainly everything he’d grown jealous over during his many years on this planet. Happiness and contentment. Attainable goals and well-paved social roads to traverse for a healthy dose of gratification.
He was just a mutant. Part worm, part man. A Worm Man.
His only primordial instinct, since birth, had been survival. Since his escape from that dreadful orphanage (in what would eventually become southern Ohio) in the Spring of 1831, rambling was all he felt destined to do. He’d acquired many skills along the way, some ethical and some not: But each and every one of them boiled down to an invisible, insistent instinct to survive. He’d assumed he would expire within the same age-range as his fellow semi-counterparts, but like many things, such wasn’t the case–an admittance to this arose on his one-hundred and twenty-sixth birthday in 1945, when Harry S. Truman was elected President of the United States following the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt. To him, it still felt like yesterday. Time never seemed to linger. Nor did it ever spring a leak. Possibly even a cure for dementia might reside somewhere inside this Worm Man’s collection of housed gore, he thought. It was around that time when the rain began following him–something he could never figure out, no matter how much he racked his brain. A curse? He didn’t know . . . but it sure felt like one. He always tried to get out of town before any real damage occurred.
Something crunched outside. Willy’s eyes flew open, his heart rate increasing, thumping against the stretched, sinewy canvas of his chest. A quick dart over to the window and a pullback of the curtains showed his neighbor, Vern Stencilton, and the local mailman advancing toward his home. Vern, a man who appeared so elderly and yet was probably only one-fourth of Willy’s age, wielded a double-barreled shotgun in his hands. Both appeared nervous yet determined. Those primal instincts weren’t absent by a long shot–the act of fleeing for his life was as present in his mind as it had ever been, but this time he felt a strange sense of discipline. It’d been a long time since he’d felt something new. In fact, he wasn’t sure if he ever had.
He was ready to move on in the most transcendent way. And there was his ticket, in the sweaty hands of Vern Stencilton. Going down fighting was yet another human trait he didn’t have. While he’d come to loathe so many aspects of human beings, he didn’t have a personal bone to pick with them. Going on a vendetta-infused rampage would do nothing for him. Instead, he strolled across his dirt-covered living room and unlocked the door.
He backed away and sat down on the floor, scooping up one last meal of delicious soil. When Vern pounded on the door moments later, Willy shouted, with a surprising amount of glee, “Come on in, neighbor!”
About the Author:
Trevor Newton is a former Private Healthcare Assistant turned Agricultural Team Leader. He’s had stories placed in anthologies such as GHOSTS, SPIRITS & SPECTERS, BLOOD & BLASPHEMY, WHAT MONSTERS DO FOR LOVE, and many more. When he isn’t writing, he fancies himself a vintage technology preservationist with the goal of breathing new life into broken radios, VCRs and Betamaxes. His home state of North Carolina provides much inspiration for all his tall tales.