The Striped Worm

worm2

#picturefiction #flashfiction

“Ow, what the hell?” Genevieve jumped up from her chair knocking it to the floor with a sound like the trump of doom.

“Phil. Phil!” Her shout finally punched through the sounds of battle in my headphones.

I pulled the right earpiece off and looked across the room at her. She was balancing against her computer desk, holding her right foot off the floor.

“What?”

“Something just bit me.”

“OK,” I started to pull my headset back into place.

“Don’t you fucking dare,” she said. “It really hurts. Look at my foot; I need help.”

I closed my eyes for a second and then removed my other earpiece and paused the game.

“Let me have a look,” I walked to where she was wobbling.

It must have really hurt, there were tears in Genevieve’s eyes. It takes a lot to make her cry and if whatever bit her was bad enough to prompt tears I almost expected to see a huge bloody hole in her foot. Kneeling for a better look I inspected her foot; no gaping wounds so it wasn’t some foot eating monster that had struck. There was nothing on the top or sides of the foot and after craning my neck I confirmed that the sole was intact. I was about to declare her hysterical when I spotted an angry red patch of skin between her big toe and the second one. Grasping the green painted nail of the second toe I moved it aside to get a better view.

The inner surface of the big toe was red and getting redder by the second. I could see that it was beginning to swell revealing what looked to be a thorn or possibly a stinger lodged in the skin.

I stood up and retrieved her chair.

“You’re going to want to sit. It looks like you got stung. There’s a stinger of some kind in your toe. I’ll have to pull it out.”

“What the hell stung me?” She said as I went to the bathroom to search for supplies.

“No clue – oh wait, remember that big bee looking thing that flew in here yesterday? I bet it’s another one. Probably crawling under your desk and thought your toe looked like the perfect opportunity for revenge after we killed its buddy.”

“Not funny. Oh my God this hurts.”

“Hang on, I’m coming.” I walked back to her carrying a pair of tweezers and some hydrogen peroxide.

Genevieve had her leg bent across opposite one and was picking at the spot on her toe.

“Don’t pick, you’ll just make it worse. Let me fix you.”

She sat back with a huff and stared at the ceiling. Genevieve hated the sight of blood, especially her own. The sting had already doubled in size since I had discovered it. The stinger stood like a flagpole from the surrounding tissue. It was a wicked black barb the size of a grain of rice. I could see some kind of fluid oozing from it.

“This might hurt a little but I’ve got to remove the stinger.”

She nodded and braced in the chair. Holding the toes apart and maneuvering the tweezers was tricky but with a quick flick and a gasp from my patient the stinger came free and was deposited in the garbage.

I liberally poured peroxide over the wound and it bubbled satisfactorily. Genevieve groaned as the disinfectant did its work.

“There, all better.” I crossed back to my corner and disappeared into my war game once more.

I had two build cycles to go before I could promote my keep to a full fledged castle when I heard Genevieve’s muffled exclamation.

Pausing my game yet again, I pulled off the headset to see what was wrong now.

“What are you doing?”

She was doubled over once more, prodding her right foot.

“It’s gross. There’s like pus or something. I’m gonna pop it.”

“Don’t squeeze it.”

I paused the game and hopped up. Sure enough her toe was now almost twice its size and the swollen sting site was topped with a bilious yellow-white head the size of a dime.

“Don’t squeeze, you’ll just make it worse.”

“But I want to pop it; it’s gross.”

“Just wait. I’ll get a pin and lance it. If you squeeze, you’ll just push any poisons into your body. Just hold your horses.”

Another trip to the bathroom netted me a pin, bandages and some cotton balls. Genevieve was once more prodding at her toe.

“Damn it Gen, stop squeezing it. Let me fix.”

She glared at me as if I had taken away her favorite toy. A few seconds with the pin and the wound was oozing fluid into a cotton ball. God, she was right, it was gross. There was a sour smell as the wound drained. Once it was empty, more peroxide and a bandage put close to the issue.

My armies were pressing into the territory of the Kingdom of Alsatia when I heard her calling my name again. Could the girl do nothing for herself?

“What now?”

“Can you look at this? I think I have a problem.”

She did have a problem, her foot and leg up to the knee were covered in hives. Little round red dots sprinkled her skin like an outbreak of teenage acne except confined to the lower leg.

“I think you’re having an allergic reaction. Are you having any breathing problems? Throat feel tight?”

“No,” she said. “Just itchy as hell on my foot and calf.”

“Let’s try some antihistamines. That should keep it from getting worse.”

Another trip to the bathroom. I had the bottle of pills in my hand when Genevieve screamed. I raced to the living room to find her pointing toward the desk, an expression of utter revulsion on her face.

“What the fuck is that?”

I looked in vain. “Where?”

“Under the desk, on the right.”

I got on my hands and knees to look and spotted a small twig; then the twig moved. I almost screamed as girlishly as Genevieve. The twig was two inches long and thin. It tapered on one side and was banded with black and white stripes. It twitched and rolled over several times as if trying to move. It looked like some sort of worm.

I motioned Genevieve to stay put and ran to the sink to grab a plastic container. Using the lid I managed to push the weakly writhing worm into the container and moved to the light to examine it. The surface looked like it was covered with either fine fur or scales that flexed as it moved. One end of the creature was coated with a dull reddish-brown liquid. That end appeared to have torn skin as if something had been ripped away from the body; then a light went on in my head.

“I think I know what stung you.”

“A worm? Since when do worms sting.”

“Well it doesn’t exactly look like a regular worm; but it is worm-like. But see here, there’s dried blood and it looks like it’s injured. Hey, you know how a bee’s stinger is torn from its body when it stings? I bet this is the same concept.”

“Do you think it’s poisonous?”

“I don’t know. It’s been a while since you were stung. If it was, I think you’d be showing symptoms already. Take your antihistamines and drink a lot of water. We’ll keep an eye on you. If you get worse, we’ll go to Urgent Care.”

Genevieve sat and scratched and I conquered virtual kingdoms until it was time for bed. Her leg didn’t look any worse and no symptoms of anaphylactic shock or worse appeared so we decided to go to bed.

Morning arrived way too soon as usual and as we climbed out of bed I glanced at Genevieve and gasped. Every inch of her body from the neck down was covered with hives. Her legs, buttocks, stomach and back were red speckled moonscapes. Even her breasts had not escaped the ravages of the reaction.

“That settles that,” I said. “You’re going to Urgent Care.”

Genevieve wore her loosest sundress with nothing underneath as her skin was so sensitive and itchy that even her bra and panties were agony to wear. She scratched and squirmed the entire way to the medical facility. The doctor couldn’t grasp how a single sting of something could cause a body wide reaction. He said that normally it would be contained to near the site of contact. He looked at our weird worm thing, which had finally ceased moving during the night, and declared it to be unlike anything he had ever seen. Genevieve was prescribed powerful steroids and antihistamines. The doctor said they would fix anything. Otherwise he declared her healthy and in no danger so I took her home and then headed to work.

The day of a programmer can be either very sort or punishingly long. Today was one of the latter. I poured through thousands of lines of code searching for a bug introduced by one of the junior programmers and when I finally fixed it, the sun had set and I had put in a 15 hour day.

“Gen, I’m home,” I called as I came into the apartment.

A pained moan responded from the bedroom.

I strolled back to our room to see her lying naked on the bed. Every inch of her body was now covered in hives. From the soles of her feet to the edge of her hairline red dots festooned her skin. She kept shifting, unable to get comfortable.

“Didn’t you take the medicine the doctor gave you?”

“Yes,” she said and groaned. “I even doubled up on the antihistamines. It just keeps getting worse. Phil, I can’t take it much more.”

“Let’s get you to the ER.”

Genevieve convulsed and let out a small shriek.

“Oh God it hurts!”

I moved closer, wanting to comfort her, and saw that the swollen hives were actually pulsing. The inflamed skin was throbbing but it wasn’t in time to her own heartbeat, each bump flexed with its own rhythm. As I watched, the skin stretched further outward on each hive, expanding with every pulse. Hives on her areola pushed outward, giving her multiple nipples. Again and again the skin withdrew and then pressed outward. Genevieve screamed as her skin stretched and buckled. The hives expanded to the size of the tip of my little finger and all of them seemed to pause, straining for one final push.

A smell reached my nose, the same sour smell that had accompanied the draining of her original wound. At that moment every hive ruptured spraying bilious fluid outward, coating her body like the finale to some obscene pornographic film and I saw hundreds, no, thousands of small black and white bodies wriggling their way out of her skin. Genevieve collapsed, whether she was dead or just unconscious I could not tell. The worms all turned as if of one mind and began to crawl toward me. I screamed as they sprang from her body, hurtling themselves through the air toward me.

 

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