# # The Worms

Brother, I Can See Your Skull.

Brother, I Can See Your Skull. - The Coreyshead Blog

The Worms

The Worms - short fiction by Corey A. Edwards

“Esther discovers a worm on an old, hated quilt … and then the world.”

The Worms first entered into what you and I would think of as reality through a quasar catalogued as 3C 279. Quasar 3C 279 does not exist for this purpose nor had it been used so prior; it was just handy at the time.
A mere handful of pinkish-gray, banded, larval forms, no more than two centimeters in length, The Worms are more appropriately referred to in the singular for, despite the apparent lack of connection between bodies, “they” are “it” far more than “it” is “they”.

There was no one around to catalogue the quasar as 3C 279 when The Worms first arrived but, by the time we humans had collected its photometric data, The Worms was already here on Earth, embedded in a quilt.

One is tempted to imagine The Worms flying through space to reach us, as that is what we have been taught to think things do in vacuum, fly or, more accurately, fall but The Worms did not fly, nor fall, nor crawl; it wriggled. Yes, wriggled.
No one, not even The Worms, could determine whether there was purpose behind this wriggling journey but wriggle it did and, though there was no apparent hurry, the arrival from such a remote point in space to the unassuming blue of our planet took far less time than it would have were The Worms made of light.

What attracted it to our twinkling orb, if attracted it was, remains a mystery but, slowing at the Kármán line of our home’s protective shell, The Worms tasted the exosphere and, choosing a spot, perhaps at random, settled to the surface directly below it in no great hurry.
Down through the layers it came, wriggling along casually through the auras of the thermosphere and the traditionally deadly mesosphere, where it witnessed without much interest the fiery destruction of far more hasty particles. Sinking unaffected through the eddying currents and blustery bullying of the stratos and tropospheres, it paused and noted the increasing pressure and the varying mixes of the surrounding gaseous components: argon, krypton, xenon, iodine, ammonia, oxygen, nitrogen, and so on.
Penetrating a nimbostratus cloud, it realized the sudden delight of coalescing precipitation and followed the resulting shower down, dancing with it until the moisture disappeared as virga; turning to vapor at the heat of the approaching land.
The uppermost boughs of a maple-leaved oak tree tickled it as it drifted down, savoring the cool green, gnarled brown, and living wet of the aged yet, in comparison to The Worms, vastly more youthful Quercus acerifolia.
As it emerged from the canopy of leaves, The Worms was startled by a sudden interface with a shake-shingled roof and paused there a moment, half in and half out, contemplating. A wide eyed robin watched The Worms from her nest, similarly entranced.

Perhaps jarred back into action by the slamming of the screen door below, The Worms made the sudden decision to continue its descent through the roof and encountered a hot, dark, and dusty attic.
You might think that an awareness such as The Worms’, startled into curiosity by something as mundane as a shake shingled roof, might be bowled over by the further revelation of an attic. Instead, as you and I might do, it took only a casual glance in passing and continued on down through the ceiling, unimpressed.
A mouse, caught in the act of nibbling something that might or might not be tasty, paused in her gustatory investigations to watch the wriggling forms pass, her little, furry head twitching in curiosity and cautious fear. When The Worms passed, leaving not the slightest hint in the heavy dust of the dark and raftered surface of ever having existed, she returned to her nibbling, unconcerned.

Popping out into the home proper at the top of a seldom used hall closet, The Worms encountered the aforementioned quilt and stopped.
Had The Worms been a cat it would have been easy to understand why it stopped for, as a cat, you would have seen The Worms nose down, mouth open, eyes gone to slits, and head bobbing as it scented, scanned, and mentally ingested this new discovery but it was The Worms and not a cat. Its squirming, investigative ecstasy deep within the wadded cotton batting was difficult to interpret, much less see, even had anyone been there to notice.

There wasn’t anything all that special about the quilt. It was a simple, old, hand-me-down; big enough for a double bed, not worn but certainly lumpy. The underside was an off white or cream – it was hard to say – while the top was decorated with a five patch block pattern of faded green and orange. It was for this that it was stuffed into the top of a closet and all but forgotten instead of spread over someone’s bed, for Esther found it ugly.
Esther is Esther Weems and it was she who laid claim to the quilt or, given the vagaries of heirlooms, perhaps it was the other way around. She received the quilt the day her surname changed from Krahl to Weems and, much like her life, the quilt went from cheerfully packaged box to stuffy upstairs closet in under 6 hours time.
She’d known the quilt since childhood, having seen it on her parent’s bed from the day she was able to focus her eyes. For almost as long, she’d been told the story of its birth at the hands of her grandmother’s quilting circle and that it was destined to be gifted to hers the day she wedded. Further, she’d known just as long that she would pop the ugly thing out of sight the minute she had the opportunity.
And so she did, and it wasn’t but a few years later that The Worms encountered it and found it far more entrancing than she ever had. So entrancing, in fact, that The Worms remained within it for nearly forty years, engrossed; wondering at its design, sampling flakes of sloughed off skin, witnessing its continued and inevitable stale decay.

Meanwhile, in the house below, Esther Weems, née Krahl, also decayed.
Once a bright-eyed girl with dreams of the world and the impending gaiety of family life, the passing years of none of this reduced her to a drab, bent woman whose lips moved when she scrubbed but whom otherwise kept mum.
To her neighbors and church peers, she was “queer old Esther,” or “quiet old Esther,” or “poor, dull thing.” Some of the neighbor children, when the neighbors had children, had thought of her as “mean old Esther,” simply because she never smiled, at least not at them, not even on holidays at church. She only spoke at them if there was something to scold after, such as crossing through her yard instead of using the road or snitching strawberries and tomatoes out of her garden. Even then, they knew she wasn’t really interesting enough to be “mean,” nor old enough to be “old,” at least not back in those days and now that they’d grown up and moved on, they didn’t think of her at all.
The transformation from young girl to side-glanced crone was a startlingly quick one, seeming to happen in the span of a decade after her marriage to Elmer Weems.
Esther and her husband, Elmer, were brought together by sheer lack of alternative, their few peers from the sparsely populated county having shown the initiative necessary to escape the dusty fate that settled on those, like Elmer and Esther, who proved less apt.
Esther’s dreams had meant to lead her to such imagined ends, but proved incapable of taking her body along thus, when outside pressure became too much to bear, she knuckled under and married Elmer Weems.

Elmer was not a bad man. He was not violent, quick to anger, nor was he given to excessive drink, or prurient carousing. His failings were lack of imagination, excessive religious shame, and a faith in tradition that manifested as inertia.
Esther had known Elmer since her early school days. First as the boy most likely to make un-Christian noises during a test or lecture, then, as he grew into country manhood, as a mild carouser at church dances, offensive guard of the high-school football team, and the not uncomely, crew-cut young man who eschewed graduation by 14 months to help his ailing father run the family farm, the very farm she now shared with him – but how had it happened?

To be sure, they were aware of each other early on but only as much as they were aware of others. In a community as small as Brookston, there weren’t enough people, much less children, to be strangers with anyone, only yourself. Of attraction between them, there seemed little.
The notion to marry Elmer had come as a surprise to Esther in the form of a duty from her mother, who began hammering in the idea with pointed regularity after Esther graduated from high-school.
“There aint no shame bein’ a housewife and you need just get them dreams outcher head. That Elmer’s a hard workin man and he aint too bad to look at,” she would say. “You’re lucky he even considers a fool girl like you, given all he could have. You getcherself some children and everthin’ ‘ll be raht with the world.”
With this thought in mind and her father’s work-calloused hand in hers, Esther walked down the aisle and into the nothingness that life with Elmer promised.
The inability of the couple to produce any progeny, or even much joy in trying, further increased the glum nature of their union and both sank into a dull routine of an ever decreasing capacity to dream of a future any more relevant than that which they’d already lived.

The day Esther pulled the forgotten, family quilt down off its high shelf was a day like any other but, having opened the closet in search of some old cloth with which to make into rags for polishing, her eyes caught the dim memory of childhood in the faded hues of this long-disliked bed cloth and so she was drawn to it. Even hated objects can carry a seed of sweet reminiscence and so it was with the sudden sight of the quilt.
Stretched by the effort, she worked the dead weight of the folded, heavy fabric back and forth towards her off the shelf. Unprepared for its mass, the quilt spilled from her hands, uncoiling down the front of her to the bare, dusty boards of the upper hall floor.
“Oh, bother,” she said.
Groaning a bit, she lowered herself to a kneel and began to collect the dense cloth to her, recalling the times when, as a child, her mother had folded this very quilt, fresh from the clothesline, into her lap while recounting the family story of her grandmother’s quilting circle.
She stared at the quilt’s design and shook her head: green and orange with little, three-string tassels of soft, pink fabric dangling limp and pointless from the center of each square. The joke was that the maker had to have been color blind but her mother always said that the uniqueness of the design was part of the point: “We’re all differ’nt inside, Esty, an’ not always pretty – but we recognize our own and love ‘em all the same because of who they are, ever’ last thread,” and with the memory came the feeling of her mother’s lips pressing tight against the hair on the crown of her head
Working the lumpy mass of folds back into a kempt square with her gnarled and spotted hands, Esther wondered at the lack of contrast between the quilt and her life and the thread of continuity that seemed to run between the two. The fabric in her hands was ugly and coarse, rough to the touch and stale, just like her life. It was but a collection of unremarkable, cast-off squares basted together out of necessity from another’s questionable vision to create a thing so utilitarian and distasteful that it ended up ignored and forgotten. She had never understood the romantic tradition that her mother had attached to it, just as her own romantic future with Elmer had proven a forced illusion; a burden to be borne.

Esther sat staring through the quilt down the narrow alley of her soul until her eyes came back into focus and saw, there in the middle of one of the quilt’s green and orange squares, a small, grayish pink worm. At first she thought it a remnant of a torn tassel but then it wriggled.
Now where did that come from?
Esther plucked the worm off the quilt and brought it closer to her eyes. The tiny thing thrashed, helpless, as any worm would do. It looked vaguely like the silkworms Esther remembered seeing hanging from the trees during childhood trips to her now dead Uncle Rich’s farm. It also reminded her of the maggots she had seen swarming the openings of the of unfortunate animals found along the road.
Wrinkling her nose and feeling an unlooked for burst of long-held anger, Esther increased the pressure of her fingertips, crushing the struggling form to a chunky smear.
The Worms found this action more interesting than the quilt they had been studying and so they entered her.

Elmer later told friends and family that it must have been a stroke.
When he came home that day, he knew something was wrong from the minute he turned into the driveway. Most of the contents of the back porch area were out in the lawn, laid out in an almost discernible pattern, or so it looked but, no matter how he stared, no matter how the potential meaning or order danced, there, tantalizing in its possibility, it was no pattern that Elmer could fathom.
The house was in similar shape. Drawers were out, doors ajar, boxes opened and emptied. Furniture was upended, moved to different rooms, and stacked in curious arrays. Every surface in the house – counters, floors, tables – had some odd collection of everyday objects made inexplicably remarkable by the grouping: food, clothing, tools, photographs all cheek by jowl with each other; inscrutable but somehow compelling. Elmer stood in the parlor, scratching his head in fearful amazement. Then Esther appeared.
Grinning, shoulders no longer stooped but thrown back, Esther’s eyes glimmered with life. Her hair was loose from its usual bun and sprayed out from her head like the sun’s corona drawn in a child’s hand. Her clothing was equally haphazard and askew.
“You musht be Helmer,” she croaked, advancing with a purposeful stride.
“Esther, what’s got india, girl?”
He tried to pull back from her but hesitated in his shock and she caught his head. He grabbed her wrists and tried to pull her hands from the sides of his face but was surprised by the uncharacteristic strength of will he encountered there.
Esther pulled his face to hers and gave him the sloppiest, most passionate kiss he had ever received. He spluttered and fell away from her when he felt her tongue probing his mouth.
“Esther!” Legs scissoring, pulling himself along the floor, Elmer made for the door, his eyes wide on his wife who stood, disheveled, a look of amused confusion on her face.

The Blum home was only a short distance away, across an ever fallow field, which Elmer crossed with an uncharacteristic haste, running more than a few steps for the first time in more than twenty years. He arrived on the Blum’s porch red-faced and puffing, his blue work shirt untucked and calicoed with flowering blossoms of sweat.
“Esther’s plum loss her mine,” he wheezed, mopping his face and sun freckled pate with a yellowed handkerchief, “gone roun the ben!”
Francine Blum offered him condolences, assurances, and a glass of sun tea with a lemon wedge while Hubert Blum phoned the ambulance.

Having calmed Elmer, the Blum’s convinced him that Esther likely needed their help until the ambulance arrived, so the three of them crept back across the field, towards the Weems’, hopes held in check.
They found Esther in the kitchen, putting things back where they belonged, for the most part, and singing a sprightly song in an awkward voice. Seeing her neighbors and husband she blushed.
“Sho shorry,” she slurred, then gestured at the remaining disarray around her with open palms as if to say “what can a body do?”

First there was the ambulance ride, which, in retrospect, seemed unnecessary, then there were the tests, which proved inconclusive. After weeks of long drives to the city, the doctors could find nothing wrong with Esther, explaining it as an “episode” of some sort, which Elmer took to mean they couldn’t figure out a way to squeeze another dime out of either him or his insurance company and so he took her hand and drove her home.
He didn’t complain too loudly, though for, in the interim, Esther had improved. She remained a bit foggy, continued to be enthusiastically curious about the most mundane of everyday objects, and still smiled at the drop of a hat but her speech improved and she could carry out most of her chores with relative facility. Best of all, she never again tried to get fresh with him; they were seniors, after all! Before Elmer realized it, he was back to ignoring her most of the time.

Francine Blum never forgot the experience, however and, afterwards, there was something quite different about her once quiet, predictable neighbor and she pursed her lips almost daily over her tea about it.
Despite having known each other for over three decades, Francine and Esther had never been close, though Francine was always ready to pretend quite the opposite in the years prior to what she now termed “that day.”
Certainly they had loaned each other helping hands, swapped recipes, home remedies, shared rides to church socials and the like from time to time but it was all surface. Never had they shared a single, true moment of female bonding or understanding. Francine made it her mission to get that out of certain people and nearly always succeeded but, after 30 years, all she’d ever managed to do with Esther was convince herself that the woman was just a cold, odd duck.
Now, of all things, she had started waving at Francine from across the way. The first time Esther did it, she was standing in the middle of her yard across the field and waving with big, wide sweeps of her entire arm. The vision so startled Francine that she nearly dropped the chicken she was carrying straight into the slobbering mouth of the dog that circled at her looking for just such an opportunity. Now the woman was always waving and it made Francine wince.
And that wasn’t all.
Esther had taken to coming into the Blum’s yard unbidden with jars of preserves, strange, childlike questions, almost drunken behavior at times. Worse, she left Francine with the creeping sense that she was trying to bore into her with those queer, bright eyes of hers. Eyes she didn’t remember Esther having had like that before. Eyes that tried to get right in you and at your very person.
As a consequence, Francine Blum had taken to slinking about her own property.
When traversing the lawn between the house and the feed pens, she would shrug her head below the line of the hedge. Seeing Esther in the yard across the field, she’d stand behind a tree and count to fifty before daring another peep to see if the coast was clear. In the house, she avoided those windows whose curtains did not offer proper concealment. On more occasions than she cared to count, when Esther had come calling, Francine had lain on the floor of her kitchen, pretending she wasn’t home. It was embarrassing, unseemly, unsanitary and Francine resented her for it.
“That woman is wrong in the head, Hubey,” she would say to her husband over dinner, using the pet-name he’d long since quit telling her he hated.
“Oh, leave them poor folks alone, Fran,” he’d reply. “Neither she nor Elmer’s never been right in the head but they aint hurt nobody and they aint likely to start now. Why, both of ‘em’s ready for the grave more’n anything else, you mark my words.”
The women at church were more receptive to Francine’s paranoias and gave an even wider berth to the woman whom had never been invited to be part of their circle in the first place. Now, instead of tentatively placing her to the periphery of whatever function they had planned, they snubbed her outright – but if Esther noticed their special lack of attention, it didn’t show. If anything, she seemed happier than usual, infuriating the women to no end.

For her part, Esther came slowly to her new life with the dawning happiness of a small child waking to a glorious Christmas morning.
Initially, she had no real idea of what was going on, couldn’t sense in any concrete way that she’d been taken over from the inside. The very notion that she was in the possession of an outside entity, what amounted to a handful of space worms, was so far outside her ken that it would have made no sense to her even if it had been explained. Instead, she simply went along for the ride, feeling like a passenger in her own body, a passenger wrapped in a thick, soft gauze who knew the town better than the driver but had never fully learned how to operate the vehicle.
Much like Elmer, she wondered if she’d not had a stroke of some kind, or was suffering from one of those multiple-personality, crazy spells she’d read about in a magazine once. Her own grandmother, she of the hated quilt, had gone a bit off, as they say, in her old age and eventually had to be put away in a home, so there was that to consider.
Watching from her surreal vantage point, however, Esther could quite clearly see that, if a bit clunky at first, whomever or whatever was in control of her body was not veering further off track with each passing day but, rather, slowly becoming more competent at being … well, at being her.
There was no question in her mind that it could be God as she was quite certain God would have spoken to her to reassure her or through her to spread his word to others instead of silently reveling in the simplest minutia of the everyday. Further, she was sure the God she had spent her entire life dutifully studying would never have taken the time to explore and enjoy the kinds of personal things – dirty things, her mother would have said – that she had long since given up but which the new tenants seemed eager to experience when the situation permitted it. She had to admit that she was, too.

If The Worms was surprised by this new way of experiencing the world – and it was – so, too, was Esther. The emotions that The Worms tapped into with its continual joy of discovery was fed in part to her, whether of a purpose or incidental, and even when she was laughing at its mistakes, she was enjoying its sense of wonder. Never before had she so clearly reveled in the intricate delicacy of a flower’s blossom, the rich, earthy smell of the world after a good rain, the way Elmer’s face relaxed away from his worry lines into that of his much younger self when he slept. Oh, she’d known of these things before, of course, but had not experienced them to the depth that she now did as if through new eyes. Colors burst and crackled, sound was tangible, pleasure swelled. Even soap suds popping on her wrists as she did the evening’s dishes was a sensation to behold in quiet and respectful contemplation. How perfect and tiny the bubbles all were. How bright. How fragile.
Helpless but not frightened, she sat back and let it, whatever it was, rummage through her days, her memories, and her range of emotions, ignoring those it found distasteful and returning again and again to those it enjoyed.

As the months passed, however, the newness began to wear off for both parties and Esther felt frustration at her inability to tell whatever was in charge of her body to take it off the farm, back to the city and on, farther, out of the state, out of the country, over the oceans, out into the world. She wanted to give whoever was in charge the world and then, through them, receive back the gift made better by their filter of wonder but the conversation ever seemed only one way and she was left helpless at The Worms’ diminishing interest.

The morning she woke to find The Worms gone, the desolation she felt was more complete than the joy of the possession had ever been. Another person might have taken on the role of The Worms and gone forward as Esther had so longed them to do during their tenure but she could not see that she was the vessel, not The Worms, and so she lay there in hopes that they might return. She lay there all through that first day, eyes shut, barely breathing, and would have continued had Elmer not bullied her to standing, to getting dressed, to going through the numb ritual or preparing his victuals. And so it was that she stopped. Stopped speaking. Stopped eating. Stopped cleaning. Stopped caring for herself. Elmer finally gave in and drove Esther back to the city.
“I told you so, Hubey,” Francine said, blowing into her tea.

Despite a diagnosis of depression, Elmer remained convinced that Esther had suffered another stroke and, unable to cope, had her put in a home. Unable to take care of it himself and cajoled by relatives, Elmer sold the farm and moved into the spare bedroom at his brother’s modest home in Columbus, Ohio.
Within the year both he and Esther were consigned to the earth.

That winter, a decrepit apple tree in a remote, Polish field, blossomed to produce a beautiful crop of apples that, had anyone seen it, made its snow-covered branches look like an impromptu Christmas decoration.
The winter after that, it hung as bare and skeletal as any other deciduous tree.

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