I’ve always hated earthworms, you know. Repulsive slimy wriggly little monsters. I know they’re supposed to help turn over the old soil, redistribute the nutrients from all the rotting things, but I can’t see them like that — like they’re helpful. I can’t believe some people think they’re cute. They don’t even have faces! They just wriggle through the earth, all around us, endlessly eating. Multiplying.
I used to see them all around, when I was a little kid, you know. And not where you’d expect to find them, either. Always inside. I would lose, like, a ball under a table, and crawl under to get it, where it’s just a little too dark to see properly, and I’d put my hand in one, or sometimes several, all slimy and dirt-covered like they had just come out of the ground. I would be doing the dishes, and pulling the last one out of the bottom of the sink to rinse, and a worm would wriggle out from under it, as if the thing had been trapped there, and crawl down into the drain so fast I only just saw it go. I thought I had imagined it, several times.
But it kept happening. When I was ten, my great uncle died, and we all had to go to his funeral even though I’d seen him maybe twice while he was alive and he didn’t seem to like me much. But there was a viewing in the funeral home and I went up with my mom and dad and my little brother, and I looked in, and his whole face was just crawling with them. And I know earthworms don’t eat people. I don’t think they were. It was more like they were, I don’t know — caressing him? The way they crawled over his face, leaving him all wet. I was transfixed. I thought I was going to throw up. But my family, who were standing right next to me looking at him, didn’t seem fazed at all. And when I looked at him again, the worms were gone.
I had nightmares for weeks after that. Even during the day, sometimes it would feel like one of them was crawling over my hand or my ear or down my — well, I always flinched wildly and looked all around, but I never saw one on me. I still saw them in odd places, though. Always slipping out of sight.
Eventually, though, I grew up, I buried my great uncle’s memory, finished high school and went off to college. I didn’t see a single earthworm — outside of where they’re supposed to be — for at least a decade. Until about two months ago.
Back in May, I went to this rave in an abandoned warehouse with a couple of friends, and they pretty much abandoned me to get high off their asses with a couple of pretty girls. A rave’s not much fun on your own, so I went wandering Bronzeville late at night. I can handle myself alright, so I didn’t figure it’d be dangerous or anything.
I saw this streetlight up ahead, flickering dull orange, and in between one flicker and the next, a man appeared. He was wearing a brown pinstripe suit and a matching fedora that concealed his eyes. He just stood there as I approached, not moving a muscle, until I got right up to him, when he turned and started walking away before I got a proper look at his face. I was curious, and bored as hell, and so I followed him. I don’t know why I didn’t say anything to him. I think I knew he wouldn’t answer.
He led me north into an old train yard. There are lots of those in the city. Some part of it, I think was still operational, but there was no one and nothing but a few rusted cars where he led me. He opened a similarly rusted utility door onto a dark stairway and proceeded inside. It was damp, uncomfortably so, and smelled faintly of mold, but it was cool, too, and I began to think of the creeping things that might be crawling through the Earth around me.
We reached a room, faintly lit by an ancient bare bulb in sickly yellows and oranges. The walls and ceiling were concrete but the floor was dirt, and the room was bare save for a sculpted dirt slab with a polished, new wooden coffin sitting atop it, fresh flowers arranged all around, just like they had been at my great uncle’s funeral.
The man stopped next to the table and took off his tie, and then his suit jacket. Finally, he took off his hat, and I stopped dead. There, pitted and swollen and rotten, was my great uncle’s face, eyes and lips and remaining teeth transfixed in a beatific smile. I saw his arms properly, then, and they were crawling with more worms than I had ever seen, flowing and circling over the flesh in endless, mindless patterns. He pointed at the coffin, and I realized that it must be my coffin, and he or whatever power sustained him now had chosen me to share his fate. To feel the worms embracing me forever as I felt them even now creeping up around my ankles, cold and damp and dirty.
I turned and ran, back up the wet and molding stairs. They seemed to take longer than they had going down, even though I was climbing them as fast as I could, and I heard the Earth rumble and felt it shake all around me, as though something was coming, rising out of the depths, mouth wide open —
And then I saw the door, still half-open, and I tore through it and ran all the way to the nearest Redline stop, twelve blocks away. When I got back to my apartment I showered for three hours, but I still felt that crawling, clammy touch.
Ever since then, I think I’ve been — pursued. I keep seeing worms, little ones, wriggling just out of sight, or just in the corner of my eye. I haven’t gone back below the earth, not even down to a basement. In fact, I try to stay off the ground as much as I can, but I know it’s no use. I know they’re coming for me, that he knows where I am, and that I can’t keep above ground forever.
And I am so, very afraid.
Archivist’s Note: Three months after giving this statement, Mr. Ingersoll stopped attending his job at the Board of Trade. All further attempts to contact him have been met with failure.