Anna O'Brien

Worm Girl

    "We cut you up and banished you," he says, meaty hands tugging at his beard. "We spread you around. One end there, under the tomatoes, the other in the marigolds, middle bits flung to the herbs and among the pansies at the border. It was supposed to teach you a lesson but we see you moving despite the dismantling; halved twice but still whole. Must admit, we're fascinated."

    He pauses to scratch a bug bite and to reflect on the surprising noon heat. Your lithe legs have been shed for segmented pink skin that pulls you deeper into the cool darkness. The lecture continues—a variation on a theme you know by heart, so you have now cast the four-chambered pump away. It's time to leave for good.

    "You grew too much, too fast on what we fed you. You burrowed too deep, too far. And what did you learn? Not what we told you. Not aeration, then propagation. Not compost and nutrients and supportive measures. Not an accessory to the whole. Oh no. Not you."

    Somewhere a car putters down the road. White linen sheets snap in the breeze, soft brown stains a clue of twice-bleached blood and lipstick.

    "Others watch. Others move their figures like you, pulsing and undulating through new soil not meant for them, across the garden, under the fence. To other plants. Moist pale bodies sluicing through like its nothing. Like what is here is meaningless. You. A role model."

    He places his hands on his hips; a gold band on his ring finger reflects the sun's glare. Your bangles: banished.

"Don't you care for your own? Don't you wish the squash to bloom? Don't you will the morning glories to open, to celebrate those heavenly blue mouths that feed us with their beauty? Don't you know your place?"

He leans a rusted hoe on the wooden fence that has knots like a thousand eyes. He wipes his brow and a phone's ring trills through an open kitchen window. Love notes in a loopy script discovered in a backpack tumble to the floor. His voice, though loud, grows muffled under all this luscious loam.

    "This can't be. You belong to us. We fished you out. We dangled you between our fingers for close inspection. Because of you, a dark line remains under our nails, against our core. Dirt—what you've created—taints us.

"We can't have this. We're repulsed by your new, sinuous curves, by the throbbing motion you make to get away into that new home you’ve made. A home of darkness, of decomposition. Why not stay put and do your work? We'll reap the rewards. We can taste it now, the snap peas almost bursting, the pumpkin blossoms like miniature sunrises. Almost too much, too good."

He looks down at his leathered arm and slaps at a mosquito. The earth's pulse takes over; you can barely hear him. The painful things you've left behind now make you light. Necessity breeds reinvention. You do not miss your mouth.

"It's grotesque, actually. Obscene. And so. We did what we had to do. Punishment to fit the crime. We've heard you may come back. As more than one. Others have done so, neighbors say. Sprouting new ends, creating again. Lazarus-like? No. Medusa's hair. But that could be our penance. We're not entirely blameless."

Your sisters. Your daughters. They're listening, too, or will be soon. You're all escaping.

He swats at another insect. Nothing is beyond reproach.

    "Go ahead then. Spread yourselves in the bed. Try, if you like. Grow again, we'll allow it. Just remember your lesson," he says, grabbing at his hoe. "We're here. Above you."

But now you hear nothing as you wiggle below his feet.

Anna O’Brien is a writer and veterinarian living in central Maryland. She is a contributing editor for the magazine Horse Illustrated and managing blog editor for the speculative fiction journal Luna Station Quarterly. Her fiction has most recently appeared in The Ginger Collect, Bewildering Stories, and Cold Creek Review and is upcoming in Cloaked Press' Fall Into Fantasy 2018 anthology. She loves, in no particular order, dinosaurs, dogs, hiking, biking, cacti, and coffee. You can find her on Twitter @annaobriendvm and on her blog:   

JD Thornton