The horror is a worm that devours man for the sake of his abilities. So it is at least in my experience. To explain that, I first have to tell you how I originally learned the right fear from books.
I think I was not yet nine when I boarded the adult library for the first time unaccompanied. It was clear to me from the beginning that I could never secretly slip past the watchful eyes of the two coffee-drinking ladies behind the pay line counter.
So the night before, I organized the library card of my sleeping mother out of her bag. My first steps led me that day directly to the table of the two librarians. There I bravely declared that I should organize books for my sick mother, but did not give them an opportunity to answer, but immediately fled me further inside the premises.
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In retrospect, I must confess that I have probably never been a master of subtle deeds. In my defense, but also said that I was really, really excited that day in the face of the new, not-so-forbidden world that was going to open up to me. So excited that you almost thought I was about to sneak into a militarily guarded zone. But not on that day. On that day, it was just the adult library. But that should be enough to make my heart beat faster.
I knew where I wanted to go. I had previously used the large shelf of fantasy, sci-fi and horror books to tackle from afar. My mother was mainly interested in thrillers and romance novels that took their place right across the big room. Thus, the place of my desire until that day was always well outside my range of action. For it was not allowed for me to accompany them in the premises to move freely, and thus possibly disturb the readers present.
In my memory, the rain kept beating against the big window next to the shelf, which was to become my holy shrine to which I would soon spend the greater part of my free time. The first time, however, the excitement was far too great to pay proper attention to the assortment.
The loan book was limited to ten books. I had calculated that I would take the top three, if my mother, who was still a frequent reader at that time, should not come to me. So I quickly grabbed the thickest and most colorful specimens. The one with the most exciting titles. At least I think that my selection process at that time must have gone something like this. I do not know it anymore. I also know, until one of the books, not exactly.
The way out was uneventful, except for my thumping heartbeat and the thousand little deaths I died while one of the librarians stamped my mother’s credit card. Neither did the lady with the gray ponytail and rimless glasses give me a skeptical look when I finally handed her the books over the counter, nor did she want to know if these were really meant for my mother.
I think a small part of me was a bit disappointed at the time that everything went so smoothly. But most of me was jubilant when, soon after, I pedaled the not to be underestimated weight of the three books on my back, scratched home with my bike. But the jubilee should end on the same day, in the evening.
As I said, of two of the three books that I have cheated on that day, I no longer know the titles. But I’ll never forget the title of the third one. The best scary stories that night would open the door to a new, advanced dimension of fear, right from the first page and from the first page.
The story began inconspicuously. It was about a young boy who wanted nothing more than a pet. To prove that he could take responsibility for it, he should start small. His father, therefore, brought home a worm from his work in the lab. The worm mastered some tricks. He could swim circles in the water, crawl through a ring, and even sculpt certain patterns with his body.
The father explained to the guy that the worm was only a few days old and had learned nothing of what he knew in the traditional sense. This type of worm would have the talent of adaptation to the environment and evolution by eating its own conspecifics. That is, it was enough to educate a primal worm, then cut it into small bites and feed it to the other worms. By working through the worm generations in this way, each feeding one to the next, it would never again be possible to lose even a bit of the acquired knowledge.
In retrospect, of course, I wonder which father would ever come up with the idea of teaching his little son the concept of mutation through cannibalism. On the other hand, the father in this story was a scientist, and thus certainly anxious to offer his child from an early age on what he considered the best foundations and conditions for his subsequent life.
So the guy in the story, of course, soon came up with the idea to explore the learning abilities of his new pet. First, he got a spider from the garden, which he tossed to the worm, and then watched in fascination as the worm grew legs overnight and learned the ability to weave nets.
Again, of course, the question arises for me how and why the father managed to give his little son such a strange, mutated worm out of some obscure lab instead of a kitten. Which of course would be an indicator of the quality of the story for me today. But my young self-did does not ask these questions. It was too fascinated by the further, for him logical developments of the described action.
The guy from the story had soon worked his way up the feed chain. Last but not least, the little neighbor’s doggy found its way into the worm’s throat, which had long outgrown its terrarium and now lived in the garden. At the latest, it dawned on me for the first time on one of the most important differences between the world we create to keep children sheltered and those in which we behave as adults. Innocence does not always save one’s life. The loveliness is also no guarantee of actually being loved by everyone. But on the contrary. It makes you weak and vulnerable.
The little dog in the story had done nothing to anyone. He came running tail-wagging as the boy lured him, and in a little while cruelly grabbed his neck and threw him into the bush, where he knew his worm was hidden. The worm came the next day and licked his calves and face.
He yapped when the lad held up the stick and aborted the thrown ball, much as the little neighbor’s dog had done. Despite all the macabre twists, this story could have ended so, if it had been after me. But did not do it. In fact, she ended up with a scene in which the worm was sitting a little later, in the morning, in the lad’s chair, greeting his mother for breakfast with his voice.
Well, before that night, my contact with adult stories was mainly made up of wacky movie scenes, such as the one in which the Terminator performed his car operations, movie trailers for horror movies from the preview show with Frank Hoffmann, or the movie poster for Devil’s Dance which hung in the display of the city cinema. All things to which her own horror was inherent and undoubted.
A horror that could very well cause heart racing and nightmares. But it also had the advantage that the fear that he created was concretely nameable and therefore finite. And besides, one could boast in addition to the schoolyard with it, which extend at terrible pictures one could not stand, without looking away or even with the batting twitch.
It was not that important that at least half of what was said was just a decoration of the background noise that had been heard behind a timid hand. Their own, vague descriptions had to cover only to a large extent with those of the other children, who were usually even eager not to be caught in a lie.
The horror that unleashed this story with the worm, on the other hand, was of a different kind. Metaphysical, if you will. It was the kind that continued to breed in one. That was able to build on itself until it finally crept into the foundations of what was generally understood as the perception of reality. Or would understand later, if you were older and could already make a sense of it.
So it was the next morning, at this local breakfast table, where the adult I am now caught the little fellow at the time thinking how you could ever be sure not to be a worm that devoured its owner and now just continue his life. Until the day the natural lifespan was lived or something superior was found suitable for extinction.
I claim that this day I started to understand how some stories are not just stories, but so much more than that. The purest form of magic. Portals into an augmented reality. Training centers for the transcendental self. Depending on your taste – light or dark. Where the darkness in my eyes should always prove so much more attractive and powerful.
Very soon afterward, I returned to the adult library to further investigate this phenomenon and deepen my knowledge of it.
(Erik R. Andara)