Bending sliding, sliding bending, bending sliding. Repeat again, bend slide, and so on. The worm’s light receptive cells reacted to the unnatural shine of the fermenting machine.
‘Did you know? Contrary to popular belief, if a worm is chopped in half, it will not survive’. Wandy knew this instinctively because instinct is how worms get the idea about stuff. This worm’s general knowledge was quite good, for a worm. Bending, sliding, as Wandy burrowed its head under the plastic wall, it increased its speed, by taking an extra long stride. With so many predators, birds, badgers and baby gardeners (helping Grandad’s garden with risky plastic spades) Wandy instinctively knew it had to hide. The worm belonged to a species with such a wide lifespan (a few days to six years) … It had lasted this long, it would be a shame… Life is too short to worry about the past. Too short actually for the short fat worm Wandy used to tangle with, slurped and snaffled into the hungry mouth of a passing badger like a spaghetti main. Wandy the worm was sliding away, and leaving it all behind.
The worm instinctively knew the fermenting machine was its desired destination. It was so dark. So moist. So hot. So right! Wandy burrowed its tiny bristles into the mulch and pulled itself forward. Deeper, buried, safer. Its senses were on fire. Rich, fermenting fire! Wandy’s skin was alive with the exchange of putrid gases, it felt centimetres longer! Forward, curled, sleepy. Wandy had buried itself into a spherical ball, inside the remains of a discarded Victoria plum. It’s amazing how long those stones can hold their shape for.
‘Do you know? If us earthworms really sleep?’ Wandy wondered it felt like sleep but was it sleep? A sleep without dreams? All sentient beings need to regenerate, switch off their senses and reimburse the day’s energy supplies. Wandy, despite no sense of time, instinctively knew it had been in its dormant state for long enough, rested, time invested, with no purpose now than survival, in its new life, leaving it all behind.
Wandy spent a long time burrowed at the bottom of the compost bin. Familiar textures of the garden leaf. And new sensations of banana skins, apple cores, pineapple prickles… and tea bags. New variety, for this worm’s extra long colon.
‘Did you know, that with no ‘eyesight’ to speak of, burrowing earthworms can survive underground, especially within the confines of a fermenting machine?’ Wandy’s internal dialogue was intelligent ‘Gardeners need not hunt worms to speed up their process, earthworms will happily seek habitat in this decaying environment’. Wandy knew this, instinctively, of course, that is how worms get the idea about stuff don’t forget. Happily? That word needed careful consideration. The worm was safe and self-sufficient, it had slid away from past reminders of its previous tangle partner. It had no recollection of its egg’s nesting positions, Wandy’s children could be anywhere.It was happy in the hope, that those baby worms had the sense to seek solace in the soil sanctuary. Wandy had everything it needed. Self-sufficiency swapped for its previous animal behaviours. Surfacing when rain vibrates the earth, for an hour (no more) of transportation to another place. Wandy did not need to travel now, but habit was tempting, even if the worm had lasted that long. Yes. Wandy belonged to a species with a seemingly unfair supply of enemies, it was not expecting what came next, however. Who would have credited it? Worm on worm violence! Wandy was unable to settle, feeling uncomfortable in the knowledge there were enemies within, it just instinctively knew.
‘Did you know, that worms are hermaphrodites? I am neither boy or girl’. Proud was Wandy of this, but a partner was still required for worms to spread their genes ‘That’s what we’re here for isn’t it?’
Nature takes over, rain falls, beating its rhythm on the ground, the soil, the life-giving soil. Wandy, with no sense of time, spent long enough making its way to the surface. Bending sliding, bend slide, and so on tiny bristles pulling further. Coiling a path upwards towards the sky, the lid of the fermenting machine. Wandy had been expecting to come face to face with other worms, comrades, and counterparts, it could sense them, instinctively. But this worm had felt a sense of unease and was right to do so.
“Look at the size of it! Ha! Look at the size of its belt!”
Wandy tried to hide in amongst some leaves.
“No use in trying to hide! Look at the size of you, greedy worm have you been gorging our bounty on your way to the top?”
Wandy considered this question, before instinctively answering it. The decaying food had been all consuming, burrowing through had meant eating through, and of course, eating had meant depositing. That is what Wandy was supposed to be doing… There had been a deep orange coloured structure, it’s side had felt cold and smooth until Wandy reached the roughly cut, moist edge. The worm had stuck its head inside, pungent gases exchanged, an unfamiliar smell of matches. Wandy had recoiled.
‘I don’t think it likes our pumpkin!’ the skinny pink worm said to the even skinnier worm, with a bewitching black head.
“I was born inside a pumpkin, how dare you!”
The bewitching worm thrashed her tail. Minuscule prickles whipped Wandy’s flabby, pulsating flesh.
“I burrowed in here to hide… from death” Wandy defended.
‘Hide from death!’
‘Yes,‘ Wandy bowed its head. The two worms looked at one another, and then laughed a callous laugh. Who would have credited it? Mean girl pumpkin worms!
‘Who is this death you speak of, Fatty?’
Wandy lifted its head to answer, but not quickly enough for the spoilt worm.
‘Speak! Don’t instinct! I’m not a mind reader!’
Wandy opened its mouth, which was only designed for burrowing, forcing itself to form words it started to speak:
‘Death is when the short fat worm I used to tangle with was suddenly taken away!’
The two spoilt worms instinctively formed their own mouths into a shocked ‘O’ shape.
‘YOU? … Have tangled?’
Their puny minds no longer interested in death, gossip presented itself for investigation.
‘Yes,‘ Wandy hung its head with the shame of an off-white bride.
‘Who? … in the garden… would tangle with a night crawler like you!’
The pumpkin worms threw themselves into the bottom of the pumpkin’s inside, laughing and coiling. Wandy sniffed around for an escape route, sliding up around the pumpkin’s outer shell, too large for even Wandy to fit inside its mouth. It slid back down again, landing on the crisscross pattern of carrot peelings. Wandy heard whispering, and instinctively knew it was about itself. Wandy lifted its light receptors. Two snakes popped out of the pumpkin’s left eye.
‘Are you a girl worm, or a boy worm?’ One of the pumpkin worms asked a stupid question.
‘I’m just a worm’ Wandy answered.
‘Worms who’s names begin with ‘S’ are women, and worms who’s names begin with ‘H’ are men! I’m Sath, and this is Sote!’
Their names sounded sinful, their question confusing.
‘My name is Wandy’
‘Your name begins with ‘W’?! Oh, this is priceless! You’ve given yourself a ‘W’ name! You don’t look the precocious type! The only people who are allowed to name themselves beginning with ‘W’ are worms! You are doing it wrong! You haven’t understood correctly!’ Sath screamed, making little sense.
‘Well, I am a worm! Not a person !’ Wandy tried to crawl into the cracks of the carrot peel. Sath and Sote continued whispering and giggling.
‘We’ve got an idea! Seeing as you’ve stolen our soil, you can provide us with a service. Suck up the soil, so you look even fatter, and we look even thinner’ Sote said, it was the first time she had spoken. And Wandy had foolishly thought she was going to be kind! Not so, she was just as snide as Sath.
‘Yes, you’ll make us look good, sliding next to you, a big juicy fat worm!’
Wandy could have easily squashed these spoilt little worm-girls, but decided against it, instinctively knowing she was part of a plan.
‘What’s wrong Wandy? You don’t have to look good, you’ve already tangled… I’m going to rename you ‘Slag’ !’
Wandy was affronted. The worm had no idea what a ‘slag’ was, but it did not sound good. Wandy was not a slag, nor a slug, and not stupid.
‘Who, in the garden are you making yourself look good for?’ It was a risk, but Wandy had to say something these stupid worms had made themselves sisters, unable to do what worms do best… tangle...
‘For Grandad! Of course! We’re making ourselves look good for Grandad!’ Sath professed.
‘Yes, he lifts the lid, and…’
‘I like his plastic shovel the best, makes me feel like I’m living on the edge!’ Sote interrupted Sath, she would pay for this later.
‘The sunshine makes us burn, but we know it’s worth it because of Grandad. Of the way he makes us feel’ Sath coiled with romance. Sote slid her head next to her. If they were not so emaciated, their belts would be bulging.
‘Careful girls, you don’t want to tangle with each other!’
The two spoilt worms flung themselves apart, poked over the top of the pumpkin and spat at Wandy, but it was worth it.
‘You want me to eat as much of these rotting vegetables as I can?’
‘YES!’ The spoilt worms chorused.
‘Bring it on!’ Wandy folded itself in two and took an extra long slide up the side of the pumpkin, mouth open wide, soon filled full of mulch from the chopping board, tea bags batted away.
‘Bye, Slag!’ Sath said ‘Yeah, bye Slag!’ The two mean worms coiled and wriggled, dancing a snake dance that only they thought was attractive.
Time continued inside the adopted confines of the fermenting machine. Wandy’s instincts naturally returned to the sensation of safety. Most fools know that worms have a specific job to do as the underground saviours of mankind. For the next full moon, or so, Wandy minded her own business, recycling waste and producing soil. What goes in, must come out. Sath and Sote would leave her alone for so long, Wandy was left uninvited to their precious pumpkin. To be fair, that’s how Wandy preferred it. Occasionally, they would opt to remind the worm of their presence.
“Hey, Slag! Catch a teabag!”
They would throw a tattered teabag at Wandy (I bet you didn’t know that worms could throw) They would tease, torment and tightly squeeze any remaining self-respect Wandy had. And she had quite good general knowledge for a worm do not let that be forgotten. Like bored housewives, Sath and Sote dismissed their rightful recycling occupations and promoted themselves to the management and murderous manipulation of Wandy- the worm that had once tangled. As mentioned previously, sometimes the abuse was direct: “Hey Slag” this and “Hey Slag” that. But mostly, the bullying was slippery, secretive and spiteful. Not only was Wandy never invited into the pumpkin, regular pumpkin parties would take place, for other members of the fermenting machine (beetles, centipedes and stray spiders) This always took place in full view of poor Wandy, who was never welcome. Still, the worm had to admit, survival would be worth it. Wandy had grown so long and lived so long, it would be a shame to say goodbye to life now. Sath and Sote’s inescapable sarcasm started to prove stressful for Wandy. The worm tried to bring peace, even trying to suck up to the pumpkin worms, bringing foraged gifts from in and around the compost bin, seeds and so on. But the bullying continued, and became snide; were they saying things for Wandy’s benefit? When usually they worked in pairs, sometimes Sath and Sote would split up, and pick away at Wandy’s subconscious.
“You know that present you gave Sath?”
“Well, promise you won’t say I said anything, but she didn’t like them. Wrong seeds, you see. Silly Slag, better luck next time!” Sote sneered.
Then another time, Sath cornered Wandy to complain about her own inability to burrow in a straight line.
“I just can’t slide straight, Slag, know what I mean?”
Straight lines had never occurred to Wandy. Zig-zagging happily- but Sath’s words had stolen any remaining smiles. Wandy lay awake, sacrificing her dreamless sleep, thinking over Sath’s words. Did she mean that for her? Was this survival? Or was this suicide?
With no sense of time, Wandy could not tell how long it had been, but for a species with so many enemies, it was not long before mild peril arrived at the compost bin.
The plastic lid flung open, revealing the sun. This lid never ever opened in the rain. Sath and Sote wriggled, flirted and coiled. In her excitement, Sote even expelled a little soil. And then Grandad spoke:
‘Hello, my beauties, making me some compost for my borders?’
Wandy thought the two mean worms were going to faint with Grandad-mania. She had to admit that his voice had a rather soothing quality. Enjoyment of the human voice came all too soon, though, the worm had come to expect enemies and was all prepared.
‘Grandad! Grandad! Look at my plastic spade’ A softer, baby voice spoke. Wandy knew she must not be tempted by these sweet vibrations and slid off the pumpkin, into the safety of the leaves.
‘You be careful, little one, now what’s this?’ Grandad looked down into his compost bin and frowned a furrowing frown.
‘He’s different today, what’s wrong?’
‘He usually swirls a big stick around!’
The two pumpkin worms squealed, their strong sense of entitlement easily squashed. Wandy was now on the inside plastic edge of the fermenting machine, safe in the knowledge this was where she was meant to be.
‘I did tell your Grandma not to put your Halloween pumpkin in whole! It’s too big for any worm to swallow! No wonder these two look a bit skinny!’
‘What’s he saying, Sote?’ Sath said. But it was too late. Grandad lifted the pumpkin out of the compost bin and rested it on the wall.
‘Heeeelp!’ The pumpkin worms squealed, of course, they could not be heard.
‘Grandad, Grandad! Do you want my plastic spade?’ The baby gardener said.
‘No, Jemima, I need to find some gardening tools to cut up your pumpkin, you help Grandad, and look after these worms’
‘Oooooh!’ enthused the baby gardener.
‘Ahhhhh!’ Screamed the worms
Wandy heard everything, it peeped through the little crack in the fermenting machine’s plastic. Sights, lights, and gases, the worm could instinctively tell what was going to happen next. Wandy could hardly bear to be reminded of previous entanglements, but the little girl’s fingers were just like short, fat worms. Jemima picked up Sote in between her thumb and forefinger, lifted her arm, cocked her head back and opened her mouth.
‘Jemima! No! Don’t eat the worms! Put it on the grass please, there’s a good girl!’
‘Put me back in the fermenting machine please, little girl!’ Sote’s silent worm voice meant nothing to Jemima.
‘See, I told you I was Grandad’s favourite!’ Sath said, but it was too late, pecked and picked in a Blackbird’s beak like hors d’oeuvres. Just like that, she was gone.
‘Birdy! Birdy! Grandad! A bird just ate that worm!’ Jemima giggled. Wandy watched on.
‘Very good, stand back now, I’ve found something to smash the pumpkin with’
And just like that, it was gone.
‘And I’ve got something to cut worms in two with!’ Jemima said, and just like that, Sote was gone.
Grandad carefully threw the pumpkin pieces back into his compost bin. The movement of the decaying waste made Wandy bounce to the top.
‘Well, look at the size of you! You’re a beauty! Jemima! Look, look at this gigantic worm!’
Wandy froze on the surface of the bin.
‘Put the lid back on Grandad, and then it can make some soil!’
‘Right- o Jemima! What would we do without worms?’
And just like that, Wandy was happy.
From Quirky Tales to Make Your Day, my short story collection available from Amazon