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Sammy found inspiration in a book he'd read about a kid his age who made a bet involving eating worms. Little boys are often quite disgusting creatures, but he had no intention of actually following in the protagonist's footsteps. The thought of eating a worm didn't sicken him like it initially did the fictional boy, though. He turned in his book report on Monday and quickly moved on to bigger and better elementary pursuits.

A few weeks later, Sally Johnson saw him kneeling over a puddle at a classmate's pool party. A drowned worm laid there in the splash of water that filled the shallow footprint in the cement. It had an almost bluish hue to it, perhaps from the heavy amount of chlorine in the pool. Little boys don't care too much about impressing girls at that age, but when they do make the effort, it often has the opposite effect. Of course, it's hard to say what his intentions were when she wandered over to see what he was looking at.

"Ew, that's gross; don't let it get into the pool," she said, her voice an octave higher than usual.

A smile, somewhere between a mischievous smirk and a shy, toothy grin, crept onto the boy's face. He leaned down and nonchalantly slurped up the worm from the cement petri dish. Sammy then followed up the dirty deed with a loud gulp and wiped his mouth across his forearm. Sally ran off screaming to her friends who were huddled up by the lounge chairs.

Word got around quickly and by the end of lunch period that Monday he had earned seventy-five cents and two Garbage Pail Kids for drinking a lumpy, curdled concoction. The boys at his lunch table crowded around him with mixed amounts of disbelief, disgust, and preadolescent respect printed on their faces. Sammy's popularity skyrocketed that day, but he soon discovered it was hard work keeping his new friends interested.

Over the next few days, all the boys and even a few girls in his class watched him eat a couple of juicy worms, a beetle, and a slug. The children's interest peaked and began an inevitable decline when he ate a Salisbury steak that severely broke all the conventions of the "five-second rule". He had drummed up nearly three dollars in dare money and a few knickknacks before the novelty of his act had finally faded.

His fellow classmates returned to their games of hopscotch, kickball, and four square. Sammy scrambled to find something else to draw them back. He knew he needed to up the ante, so he scoured the playground for something delectable and shocking. He was so anxious to get everybody's eyes on him again that he failed to think about the possible consequences of his next move.

***

Sammy shot out of his mother's car, kicked open the backyard gate, and clambered up into his tree house. Tears began to stream down his face as he paced back and forth in the rickety old fort. It had been the domain of his father and uncle many years before he was able to scale the ladder and enter the dark and dusty space.

Principle Miller told his mother she was still not entirely sure what had gone down and promised to call as soon as she knew more. The children were very upset, so Sammy was to stay home from school until they better understood the situation. Betty had never seen Miss Miller rattled before. There were rumors she had been a nun for many years before entering into public education. Betty figured anything that could make an old battleaxe like her flinch had to be bad.

His mother, looking flustered and older than her thirty-seven years, walked into the back yard after her son. "You come down here this instant and explain to me just what the hell happened at school. The principal says you ate a... a rat?" It seemed too absurd to her to be true, "I didn't hear that right, did I?" she asked, pleadingly.

Sammy stuck his head out the only window and yelled down, "It wasn't a rat! They're lying! They're all lying!"

His mother let out a sigh of relief, "Oh, thank God. Well, if it's just a misunderstanding then-"

"It was just a baby bird. It didn't have feathers or nothing. It was going to die soon anyway," he exclaimed between sniffles.

The look that sprang to his mother's face startled him for a split second. He had never seen her look at him like that before. It was the same look of utter disgust everyone at school had leveled at him when they heard what he had done. The kids who actually witnessed the act, well, one of them anyway, puked when they heard the hollow bones of the baby Robin crunching between his teeth.

The shock of Sammy's words unsettled Betty Dawson. She turned away from her son and awkwardly wandered a few paces toward the patio. The voice of reason in her head reminded her that she'd never fully understand little boys or grown men, for that matter. This was just another one of her son's weird phases and he'd eventually move past it. She took a deep breath and tried to think of a way to handle the situation.

Betty made a move to turn back to her son but threw her arms up in defeat instead. "Just... just stay up there until your father gets home. I can't even..." The bewildered little boy watched his mother retreat into the house without another word or even a glance in his direction. As soon as she was out of sight, his sniffling and sobs turned into flat-out bawling.

His foot lashed out at the old trunk that had been sitting up in the tree house since before he was born. A shot of pain fired up his leg as he drew back to take another kick at the box. He spun around and connected with the South wall instead. A loose plank gave a little and then kicked back, knocking him on his ass. Sammy rolled onto his side in pain, wiped a stream of snot from his face, and then laid there like a quivering lump for the next few hours.

His father didn't come home until well after dinner time despite Betty calling his office several times. "Your son did a horrible thing in school today and he needs his father to... to set him straight." The sudden flood of car lights washing over the backyard brought the boy to his feet. He looked towards the driveway and saw his father coming around the car towards the tree house. Sammy climbed down hesitantly when his father called up to him.

"Hey kiddo, I hear you went without dinner tonight."

Sammy picked at the dried snot on his upper lip. "Yeah Daddy, I got sent home early from school today, but I didn't do nothing wrong. They all lied."

Gary picked his son off the ladder and set him on his feet. He squatted down before his son. "Yeah, well, we'll talk more about that tomorrow. Go get washed up and we'll come tuck you in shortly." He stood up and tousled Sammy's hair. "Okay kiddo, off ya go." Sammy brightened up a bit and rushed toward the house. Gary couldn't fathom what had everyone so upset, but he would soon find out.

A little while later, Sammy laid in bed and listened to his parents angrily muttering back and forth. He was certain they were arguing about him. He didn't get what the big deal was. There were plenty of things people ate that he didn't like, but that didn't bother him.

The decision to keep his "snacking" to himself from now on formed while he was brushing his teeth. Of course, he was going to try new things. He felt like a dauntless explorer cutting his way through a dense jungle in search of an ancient city and he was excited to see what was up ahead.

He was actually disappointed everyone reacted so badly, less because they were disgusted by him and more so because they distracted him from properly savoring the delicious little morsel. The taste had been so much better than he'd expected, but it was the squishy yet crunchy texture that left him wanting more. It dawned on him as his eyelids began to feel heavy that it wasn't the attention of his classmates that he craved. He fell asleep to thoughts of what he'd try next, a little dab of saliva soaking into his pillowcase.

***

The next couple of weeks taught Sammy a few valuable life lessons. People, especially children, can be very cruel. Some predilections are better kept secret. And most importantly, dead things tasted nowhere near as good as living things.

Bugs were easy enough to catch, but baby birds didn't just fall out of trees every day. He decided to branch out a bit when he found some old mouse traps in the garden shed. Those first few mice were tasty, but they didn't hit the spot like the baby Robin had; something seemed to be missing. He figured he just liked birds better than mice until he discovered a live mouse caught in one of his traps.

The excited little boy watched the frightened and pained creature as it twisted and turned, trying to pull its mangled tail free. He wondered, given enough time, if it would eventually chew off its tail to save itself. The thought intrigued him, but he was too hungry to risk losing the squirming, squeaking morsel. He worried about the damage it might do to the inside of his mouth, so he took precautions to avoid that.

The poor rodent squealed in pain as he snapped each of its limbs. The four melodious snaps blended with its screeching to create a harmony that was better than any song Sammy had ever heard. He decided to go another route but was glad to have discovered the wondrous melody. Instead of trying to chew it whole, he bit its head off with one quick, deliberate bite. He instantly praised himself for the spontaneous action as warm blood gushed over his tongue and trickled down his throat.

The boy made a trip to the library the very next day and signed out some books on trapping live animals. Being careful not to alert anyone to his activities, especially his parents, he scrounged around the garage and garden shed for tools and materials. It wasn't long before he realized he had a knack, an almost instinctual ingenuity for building things.

***

Time passed and Sam settled into his new reality. He kept to himself at school, played the part of the odd but good son, and delved further into his "hobby" in his free time. He eventually ventured beyond just eating bugs and rodents.

Flyers of missing pets littered the small town. They weren't hard to miss taped to storefront windows and stapled to telephone poles. He worried someone would eventually link them to the kid who once ate a bird, but he gave people too much credit. Sam learned that memories and attention spans tended to be quite short.

Besides that, most people aren't willing to believe that depravity could live just around the corner. They're unwilling to pay attention to the sharp reality staring them in the face for fear of bursting their bubbles, leaving them naked and vulnerable in a cruel and unforgiving world. Sam hid in that blind spot. The harmless, nerdy oddball that kept his head buried in his school books had everybody fooled.

No one even batted an eye when he bought an old van. Their pedestrian minds considered the possibility of maybe a little pot smoke rolling out the windows, but never panicked screams for help. He'd been working on it most of the summer and hoped to have it purring like a kitten by the fall; he was so looking forward to college. A whole new place where no one knew him. He could reinvent himself, shed the label of the weird kid that ate bugs, and meat new people.



Written by Kolpik
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