If you see an earthworm, run.

I’m serious. Hightail it out of there. Drop what you’re doing, leave behind any friends or loved ones, and just run. Don’t stop. Don’t look back. Just run and pray to God they didn’t notice you before it’s too late.

Now, you probably think I’m crazy. What the fuck is an earthworm supposed to be able to do, wriggle at you? Gum you to death with their tiny speck of a mouth? Maybe feebly toss some dirt in your general direction? Yeah, right.

I know it sounds crazy, but you have to believe me. Not for my sake – but for yours. Those fuckers are everywhere – nestled in gardens, burrowing under lawns, creeping under the foundations of houses – and I’m the only one who knows what they’re truly capable of. If you value your own existence, you’ll listen to what I have to say.

It started a week ago, when I was working my crappy nine-to-five shift at a local burger joint. We have a skeleton crew on staff most days, on account of the low volume of customers at our establishment. Turns out our burgers are so disgusting that even a small town raised on fast food doesn’t want ‘em, leaving our place on the perpetual verge of closing down. Yet somehow, some way, we survive, continuing to crap out lumpy burgers and wilting fries from sunup to sundown. Go us.

I was at the grill, flipping burgers and trying to ignore the aromas of greasy meat and artificial cheese as they mingled with the smell of the mold growing behind our drinks machine. This place is basically an OSHA nightmare: grimy floors, slightly less grimy walls, and a ceiling so stuffed with crap that adding asbestos would actually be an improvement. At least then you could burn the place down and leave it as a tax write-off.

As I was idly entertaining the thought of arson, my manager came up behind me and clapped a hand on my shoulder. “Cooper,” she barked. “Go mop the bathrooms. Jaime will take over for you here.”

Now, ordinarily you’d think that being asked to mop a rancid public bathroom would be the worst part of your day, and for most people you’d be right. But I am no ordinary fast food employee. I am a fucking virtuoso with the mop. I work that thing like a stripper works her pole, sweeping, drifting, and fanning the mop across the tiles until I’ve cleaned every inch of the floor. Well, “cleaned” in the abstract sense, of course, seeing as in this place dirty floors and clean floors look more- or- less alike, but I am a firm believer in the principle of the matter. If I’m assigned to mop the floor, then dammit if I’m not going to mop that goddamn floor. You’ve got to take pride in your work, after all.

So I marched over to the broom closet with a spring in my step, and soon I was in our literal shit-hole of a men's bathroom, doing my best to at least take off a few layers of muck. I stared at the wall absentmindedly, mopping away and trying very hard not to think about the stains on the toilet seats. And the ceiling. And the smell coming from the sink -

My stomach lurched. I fought back a retch, closing my eyes and focusing on baking bread, sunshine, warm puppies, anything that would distract me from the den of filth I was forced to clean up. Nothing worked. Gagging, I made a break for the nearest stall, dropping my mop and sinking to my knees in front of the toilet. After a moment of dry heaving, the contents of my breakfast and lunch finally landed in the bowl with a gelatinous sound.

Floating in the middle was a wriggling yellow earthworm.

“What the fuck!” I yelled, stumbling back and nearly tripping on the mop bucket. I stared at the worm as it slowly flopped and splashed around in the toilet, my brain stuck in a Tourette's loop of ohfuckohfuckohfuckohfuckohfuckohfuck. This couldn’t be real, I thought numbly. This couldn’t actually be happening. I couldn’t actually have thrown up a LIVE FUCKING WORM into a toilet, because that means I must have swallowed it at some point in the past, swallowed a live worm without even realizing it-

I could taste bile in the back of my throat. My gorge rose and I hacked out a couple of wet coughs over the toilet, my stomach too empty to puke again. The worm continued its futile attempts to escape the bowl, bumping against the toilet wall with its head (or its ass; who can tell?). When my shadow fell over it, however, the worm froze. Slowly, it uncoiled itself and lifted one end out of the water, pointing directly at my face.

I didn’t give it a chance to do anything else. I lunged forward and slammed my fist down on the toilet handle, watching with cold relief as the worm slipped down the drain. I let out a sigh of relief as it vanished, feeling stupidly better now that it couldn’t see me anymore. Good riddance, fucker, I thought to myself.

The bathroom door swung open behind me. “Hey, Cooper, you all right in there?” my manager said. “We heard some noises…”

I turned around, wiping the remains of the vomit off my chin and gesturing vaguely into space. “There was a w-worm,” I babbled. “A worm in my mouth – my mouth – puked it – lookin’ at me – big, bright yellow worm.”

“What are you talking about? What worm?” said my manager. “You ate a worm?”

“NO, I DIDN’T EAT A FUCKING WORM!” I screamed, globs of spittle flying everywhere. “I just threw up and it was there, right there in the fucking toilet! I don’t know where the hell it came from!”

My manager’s eyes flicked towards the open stall. “I don’t see anything.”

“Well, it’s not there now, I flushed it ‘cause it was looking at me but it was there, right in the middle of my puke and I had to flush it because it was looking at me and worms don’t even have fucking eyes, you know, so what the hell was it even doing looking at me…” I trailed off, realizing how I was starting to sound. Ranting and raving about live worms, yelling at my boss, and all the evidence flushed down the toilet. I took a deep breath and tried to compose myself.

“Look, Cooper, I think you should take the rest of the day off. I’m not letting you go back to work like this,” my manager said. “Go home and get some rest. I’ll do you a favor and forget this ever happened.”

I blew out a sigh. “Thanks,” I said, smoothing back my hair with one hand. “I think I could use a break right about now.”

I brushed past my manager and made a break for the door, feeling her eyes on me as I left.

The ride home left me a nervous wreck, with every bump and pothole in the road making my stomach heave and reminding me of the taste of wet worm still on my lips. After what seemed like forever, I pulled into my driveway and bolted from the car, my hands shaking so much I could barely turn the handle of my door. At last I made it inside and flopped down on the couch, for once not caring about its musty smell. I had bigger things on my mind.

Don’t think about it, I told myself firmly. Obsessing over it won’t solve anything. Just let the fucking thing drop already and move on with your life. Besides, you’ve got the day off now, might as well enjoy it.

I grabbed a remote and turned on my TV, committed to relaxing and putting the worm out of my mind.

My resolve lasted for all of five seconds before I leapt up from the couch, ran over to my laptop and searched for “earthworms”.

I looked through page after page of results for any information on what had happened to me. It seemed like a long shot, but I figured this was better than just randomly asking around about strange worms that live in your stomach and stare at you. My eyes glazed over as I scrolled through paragraph after paragraph of useless information, learning more about earthworms than I’d ever wanted to know. Blah blah blah, earthworms live in dirt and compost, blah blah blah, eaten by birds, snakes, bears, foxes, blah blah blah, worms are hermaphrodites (huh, didn’t know that), blah blah blah blah.

After sifting through five pages of results, I gave up and typed in “yellow earthworms” instead. My heart leapt into my throat when I saw caused by arsenic contamination in the first result. Oh great. Bad enough I threw up a live worm, now I had to worry about the little fucker poisoning me, too. This day just kept getting better and better.

I leaned back in my chair and tried to process everything I’d just learned. Nothing I’d read seemed to explain why a worm would be hanging out in my stomach in the first place, much less surviving getting doused in stomach acid. Earthworms aren’t tapeworms or parasites; they’re not bred to live inside a host and generally prefer soil to living tissue. It didn’t make sense. My research seemed to be turning up more questions than answers as to what exactly this thing was.

Even weirder was the yellow coloring. None of the yellow arsenic-flavored worms in the images I saw matched the one I’d seen in the toilet. That worm wasn’t bright yellow like a caterpillar or even the dull gold of a wasp. It was a sickly piss-yellow, its colors thrown up like a warning sign to anyone who dared come in contact with it. Danger, the color seemed to say. Poison. Stay away.

I shook my head for thinking like this. It was a worm! A tiny, helpless little worm that could barely even move on its own. One flush and it was gone; I had nothing more to worry about. The whole thing was long over.

So why did I still feel so uneasy?

My obsession with the worm continued long into the night. I lay sleeplessly in my bed for hours on end, thinking about how many other nasty little surprises could be lurking inside my body without my realizing it. An image of a seething mass of worms convulsing in my stomach popped into my mind, making me feel sick to my stomach yet again. I counted myself lucky that I hadn’t been able to eat anything since getting home; I didn’t want to have to throw up again and find out what else was lurking in my body.

And then…my nose itched.

It wasn’t a normal itch, like the tingle you feel before a sneeze or the clogging sensation you feel when there’s a particularly large piece of snot up there. This was a full-on twisty, turny, maddening itch that made me want to claw my nostrils open just to make it stop.

Oh fuck. No. Please. No. Not again. Not here too. I thought to myself, squeezing my eyes shut and reaching up into my nostril with a shaking finger.

My fingertip touched something cold and wet, which immediately curled and twined itself around my finger in a noose-like grip.

With a cry, I yanked my hand away from my nose, watching in horror as a blood-soaked yellow worm came out along with it. Shaking my hand furiously, I sent the worm flying into the wall with a loud splat.

A low, strangled croak came out of my mouth. I was beyond thought at this point, beyond all rational explanation or investigation and straight into denial. I sank to the floor and put my hands over my ears, rocking back and forth as I tried desperately to wake up from this nightmare.

The itching continued. I could feel little spots of activity all over my body, particularly in my arms and legs. Rolling up my sleeves, I could see dozens of raised lumps in my skin, wriggling their way towards my hands.

In desperation, I sprinted over to the nearest wall and started beating my arms against it, hoping to crush the worms inside of me before they could do anything else. Despite my best efforts, however, whatever amount of muscle and flesh there was between me and them was enough to protect the worms. I didn’t accomplish anything other than give myself a few nasty bruises.

The skin around them was growing tighter and tighter as the worms entered my hands. I could see the individual ridges on their midsections squirm from side to side as they moved, growing increasingly confined as the space around them narrowed. Eventually, with no more room to move, they burst through the skin, creating dozens of red holes in my hands with worms spilling out through all of them.

I moaned in pain and stared at my hands, perversely fascinated by the scores of worms making their way through the bloody openings and dropping to the floor. The pain was incredible; it felt like there were thousands of tiny mouths all throwing up at once through the holes in my palms. I gritted my teeth and hoped like hell that this would pass.

It didn’t. Rather than slow down, the flood of worms sped up, a slurry of red and yellow passing through my tattered hands. Twin eruptions of pain in my feet confirmed that the same thing was happening down there, too.

I staggered to my feet, another itch spiking in my right eye. Yellow briefly filled my vision as a worm crawled out of my eye socket, shoving my eyeball to one side as it made its escape. A worm in my left eye soon followed suit, pushing past my left eye as it slid out. I became dimly aware that I had gone cross-eyed and barked out a hysterical laugh.

As I shambled around my house, worms streaming from my eyes, nose, hands, and feet, I caught sight of something sitting on my coffee table.

It was a bird.

A large bird, almost the size of a crow, it had curved talons, beady black eyes, and a strange yellow coloring on its wings and plumage.

It was colored the exact same way as the worms.

The bird cocked its head and stared at me. It might have been my pain-addled state, but it almost looked…amused.

As it spread its wings and flew straight at me, I finally realized the truth.

These worms weren’t using my body as a food source.

They were using it to hide.

Written by Zagredeus
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