The Vampire Queen1
July 1, 2017
Barbara of the Balloons
July 1, 2017

Worm Farm Ch 17-19 17

I wound up spending the better part of two weeks in the hospital. They kept me pretty doped up most of the time, I guess to keep me from moving around much. Each day, the orderlies would come in with breakfast and my pill, and the aides would come in after that to wash me, and help brush my teeth. They would turn on the TV and adjust the blinds. I always felt a bit clearer while they were there. They would talk while they were taking vitals and ask questions, and slowly it would get so fuzzy. Something was going on, something was wrong. Something was tapping on the wall of my brain, tap, tap, tap. I had forgotten something, but it seemed just as it was coming into focus, the fog would roll over me and when I woke up later most of the day was gone.

The next morning, I refused the pill that came with my breakfast. I knew there was something I needed to remember, and I was staying awake this time, no pill was going to get me today. As the aide was finishing with my teeth the door opened and Dan and this guy came in.

"Charlie! How are you doing? You look much better."

"Hi Dan, " I said, "Who's your friend?"

"This is my nephew, Phil, remember I told you about him?"

"Sorry I can't shake hands, Phil, but it's nice to meet you," I smiled.

"Phil's been baby-sitting the worms, Charlie, and he's getting pretty good at it, but he has some questions." I must have looked blank, and Phil looked uncomfortable.

"Phil, can you go wait in the hallway? I need to speak with Charlie a minute."

"Okay, Dan." And Phil left.

"Charlie, what's the matter? We talked about Phil coming to help."

"Dan, this is the first time something was all mine, now you and Phil come and take over. I thought we were friends." I was a bit breathless, and Dan must've thought I was going to cry or get up or something.

"We are friends! I would never do that to you! I told you, he hates living in the city and has wanted to come live out here for the longest time. I took him out to your farm because I needed the help. I couldn't spend all my time with the worms, and I thought maybe you guys could help each other out. I'm helping him with the parts I know, but when you get out of here, you'll still need help, and Phil needs a job. "

I took a deep breath and immediately regretted it. “Okay, he can stay, and if he works out maybe something can be done."

Dan called Phil back in and the talked about finding and processing the road-kill, and about the importance of wearing gloves around the worms. Phil said,

" I found that part out already, I was scooping kibble into the bed and one worm got right on the edge of the scoop. I tried to shake him off but he wouldn't shake, so I picked him up and he gave me an awful nip. He didn't break the skin, but I gloved up right after that."

We all laughed about that, me not as hard as the rest. I was having some pain, but didn't want to say anything. I still had something tapping on my brain and wanted to stay clear, at least until I figured it out.

Dan told me he had been really public about taking Phil up to the farm, just in case someone was hoping to trash the place again.

"And, say Charlie, you know what? We never did find the Drums boy. We looked everywhere and his mom called the relatives, but he must have run away. I hope he stays away this time!"

And with that the knock-knock-knock in my brain suddenly came clear. The Drums boy had never been found. I had a pretty good guess why that was-he was still hanging in the dungeon.

"Dan? How long have I been here? I mean, how long were the worms alone?

"The worms were alone one day, Charlie. Let's see, those boys ripped up the place," he said, counting on his fingers. “The next day the Drums boy came back and beat you up, then you stayed here after the doctor, then two days when nobody heard from you-I'm still sorry about that, by the way, I really dropped the ball." I waved that away. “Then I brought you to the hospital and today you've been here 11 days. The worms were alone the day you were admitted and the next day, but after that I started going up there once or twice a day to water and feed them. Then after that I brought Phil in, and he's keeping them good, with help from me."

So, Bobby had been hanging alone for probably two weeks. Two weeks. Fourteen or fifteen days without food or water. He would have struggled and probably jerked right off the box. So much for teaching him a lesson and letting him go. At least I had gagged him before I left him, and at least the dungeon was mostly sound-proof. But there was a dead guy, a mostly full-sized dead guy, hanging in my dungeon. If Phil stayed, how was I gonna get Bobby out?

I would have to get him down off the hook, but that would be easier than putting him up had been, and maybe I could lop the hook right off, no worrying about hurting the kid anymore. Although I would probably hurt my ribs again.

Then I would have to cut him up to get him out. Not that I hadn’t done that before, but this time there was a stranger on the property. But all that could wait. Maybe until I was back to how I was before. I had lots of time to think about it. Neither of us were going anywhere.

18

I went home three days later. Dan came to ferry me home and he kept up a running commentary about how Phil was doing the whole trip. It turned out that Dan was coming up to the farm early every morning, most times before dawn to drop Phil and his lunch off, and collecting him right around dusk.

“But, Dan, there's plenty of room in the house for Phil," I said. "Charlie, I couldn't do that! It's your decision, your house." "Okay, Dan, we'll see."

Phil helped Dan get me out of the car. They had removed the cast before they let me go home, but I was supposed to rest, and not lift anything heavier than a bag of sugar until the next time I saw the doctor. Phil had set up a chair, with pillows out by the worm-bed, and he helped me get settled there. "This way you can supervise without doing the heavy work," he said. Phil was probably 3 or 4 years older than me, but looked younger. It was pretty obvious that he wasn't used to hard work, but had stepped up and pitched right in.

Every day a couple of times a day I leveled myself up and out of the chair. I held onto the top of the fence and very slowly walked along the fence-line, I would go as far as the shack, carefully turn around, then hand-over-hand myself back to the chair. Bit by bit, I was getting stronger, and by the fourth day I could get myself out of the chair without holding onto the armrests. The next morning, I was out before Phil got there and scattered kibble. I didn't have much of a throw yet, but what I lacked in range, I made up for in intensity.

By the end of that week I could empty a full scoop of kibble into the worms. I was afraid to try and throw the food, my ribs were still very tender, but I took a mostly whole rabbit out of the roadkill and flung it into the pile. It was so satisfying to watch the worms boil up around it, and take it in.

Meanwhile, every night, in the time after dinner and before Dan came to get him, Phil and I would talk. To start I had asked him about his life, first in the city and now here, and where exactly he saw this job going, and then he asked me about my life. I said,

"I can tell you, but then I'd have to kill you." He started laughing, and looked at me funny when I didn't. I told him all about everything after I got out of the hospital all that time ago. He said,

"But Charlie, how did you come to be in the hospital?” I sat there for a long time, kinda looking out into the distance, then I said,

"I'm not comfortable talking about that now. Wait until later, when Dan comes."

Phil had a strange look on his face, but he nodded, and we went back to talking about mindless crap. For a while, we skimmed pieces of stuff from our dinners into the pile, sort of 'racing' the worms. Phil kept sending out bigger pieces and I told him he was cheating.

Later, when Dan came, I waited for him to walk down to us.

"Dan, “I said, "I want you to tell Phil about how we met."

"Are you sure, son?" I nodded, then I sat there with Phil as he listened, not saying anything. After a while, but before Dan was done, I got out of my chair and walked along the fence-line. I shuffled all the way up to the Honor shack, and lowered myself onto a box. It still hurt to hear how I had begun. Dan and the powers that be, had pieced together what they could about where I had come from and how I was treated, and because I had lived it, lived it and more than even they could ever know, I had no need to hear about it.

I waited almost until dark before I attempted to get back up and join the others. I had gotten kind of stuck on the box, but with some back and forth I finally got to my feet and holding onto the side of the shack, worked my way back to the fence, and down the line to where they sat.

"Are you alright, Charlie?" Dan asked. I nodded,

"Just a little stiff, could you possibly help me back into the house?" Dan popped right up and gave me his arm, and stayed by me while I navigated back into the house. He made sure I was alright, then told me he would be taking Phil home.

"Okay,' I said, "I bet he doesn't want to come back and help anymore. I bet..."

"No, Charlie, he still wants to work here. Phil is mad about what happened to you, and still wants to help you, if you still want him!"

"I do, tell him we'll hash it all out tomorrow. Thank you, Dan for bringing him here. You are a true friend." Dan grabbed my shoulder carefully and nodded, then let himself out.

After I heard them drive away, in spite of my stiffness, I walked myself down to the dungeon. As I had suspected, Bobby still hung there, just as I had left him, but dead. He had kicked himself off the box, and there were places he had bled, but all the blood had dried, long ago. Thank God the dungeon was below the frost line, because it kept the place relatively cool and there was no smell of death or rotting flesh. His flesh had begun to rot, of course, you could tell in the places where he had injuries, where the skin had contracted and pulled away from the bone. His skin was absolutely dry, and when I reached up and used my knife there was an oozing, but no squirting of blood. That in itself would keep the clean-up manageable.

I put down a tarp and some newspapers then got to work. I was hoping to get a chunk of this done before Phil came back. He probably already thought I had mental problems, no need to prove it.

I used the knife to cut the zip ties and soon enough the body slipped off the hook by its own weight. I got the loppers, and was careful, so as not to hurt myself again. I lopped off his left hand right through the palm. Then I repeated that action on the other side. I used my knife to slit the arms at the elbows, then used the loppers to separate the joints. I was thinking that if I could get Bobby down to a manageable size I could put him into the worms mostly whole. Once the worms had boiled up over him and taken him into the pile, they could take their time digesting him, with no one the wiser. I took his legs off almost the same way I had taken the other limbs, then went for my wagon.

It took some time to navigate the wagon down into the dungeon, but I had time, it was just barely dark outside. I went back up to the house, shuffling down the path with my body turned slightly away from the camera. When I got inside, I washed up and turned off the camera. I had something to drink and sat down a little, then shuffled myself back down.

I put some newspaper in the bottom of the wagon and laid the pieces of Bobby in the wagon bed, then I propped his torso on top. I got the wagon out to the doorway, then slowly wrangled it up to the worms.

It took nearly 10 minutes to maneuver the torso far enough into the pen that the worms could cover it. I sat there and watched it sink down like when you lob a big stone into a pond. In a matter of minutes, most of what had been Bobby Drums was gone.

I tossed the other pieces into the roiling mass of worms, carefully waiting between each throw, and making sure each piece was taken before throwing the next. When all of the pieces were in, I draped the wet newspaper and the tarp over the bed, and watched as they moved them from below. I didn't know if they'd take the tarp, but I had seen them ooze over something before, something they couldn't eat, but they still managed to separate the blood from it.

“Goodnight, Bobby,” I said.

19

When Dan brought Phil back the next morning, I was already out in the chair, dozing. I had gotten up earlier, and washed up good, made and ate breakfast and rinsed off the wagon. I was tired.

Dan wanted to know what I’d done to myself, he said I had circles under my eyes.

“I didn’t sleep too well last night, Dan.”

“Didn’t you take your pain pill?”

“No, I didn’t, I didn’t want to be fuzzy. I wanted to be clear to talk with you both.” Dan and Phil looked worried.

“Phil, “I said, “If you are sure you want to stay and work with a dopey head like me...I would be happy to have you here.” Phil started to smile. I went on,” I can’t pay you much, I’m just starting out, but you’ll have a roof over your head and you’ll always eat well.” Phil interrupted,

“Charlie, I don’t need much money...could you manage minimum wage?”

“Well, yes, and maybe a bit more.” I went on, “And Phil? Maybe if this works out we might talk about a partnership, later on down the line? It’ll be a lot of work, not so much in the winter, but the rest of the year.” Phil and Dan, and I admit it myself, were all smiles. I still hadn’t figured out how to, or if I would even continue to punish people in the future, but if I had to, I guessed I would figure out a way to do it, at the time.

So, Phil and Dan went up to get his stuff, and I cleaned out a bedroom and an adjoining bath for him. I had only ever really cleaned out the rooms I was actively using. My ribs still hurt, so I had to stop and rest a lot, but I got it done, almost as soon as they pulled up.

Dan looked at me, hard, and said, “Charlie, you overdid it, didn’t you?” I saw no reason to argue, and nodded.

Dan said he and Phil would move the stuff in, and let me rest.

I laid in the padded chair in the sun and dozed off.

For the next hour or so, the images boiled over in my mind. I was walking by the worm bed and leaned over to pick up a runner, and slowly toppled into the worm bed. No one was there to hear me, and it was so fast that I couldn’t cry out as the worms came up over me. For a minute I struggled, swimming through them, then I relaxed as they ate me. Fade to black. Then I was in the house, sleeping in the recliner. I woke as a lamp fell over, and looked at the place where it had been. As I leaned over the floor, the worms that were everywhere, eased up the sides of the chair and covered me like a warm moving blanket, then smothered me. All of a sudden, I was grinding up road kill and adding kibble to the grind when a bird perched on the edge. I waved my arm to scare the bird away and the edge of my sleeve got caught in the grinder, and slowly pulled me in. I actually saw myself going through and mixing with the kibble. All these thoughts moved through my mind like I had moved through the grinder. I felt myself grab for the edge of the scoop as whoever it was scooped me up to throw onto the worms. I held on for dear life, and shouted to make them see.

“No! Don’t! I’m here, I’m here, don’t throw me in!”

Dan put his hand on my shoulder to wake me.

“Charlie? Buddy, are you alright?”

I woke with a start. “Yeah, yeah, sorry Dan. I guess I was dreaming.”

“Well, calm down kid, you’re pale as hell and you look like you’ve been running a marathon! What was your dream about?”

“I fell into the worms, and they were eating me.”

Dan laughed, and said, “I guess they would! I often thought that maybe that’s what happened to Bobby Drums. Maybe he snuck back here in the dark and went into the worms by mistake. Nobody would have been here to hear him or help him get out, and I figured that, hey, the worms have to eat, too.”

“Dan?”

“It would have been justice, Charlie, or like money laundering. In with the bad, and out with the good.”

I just stood there and stared at Dan.

“Well, it was just a thought.”

The Worm Farm Ch. 15 & 16

15

On the way to town I tried to keep myself still and groaned a bit when Dan hit bumps. When we got there, he took me to the Doc first, and said he'd be back to get me. Doc had me sit on the edge of his table and got the nurse to help get my clothes off down to my skivvies. He asked me what I remembered and I told him. Doc said," I don't think he molested you, Charlie, at least not sexually" I blushed and he asked the nurse to leave for a while. " Your underwear is clean and dry, and there's no blood. Your face on the other hand is all bruised up, you lip is busted, and I think you might have a cracked rib or two. Someone really wanted to hurt you!" Doc stitched my lip and wrapped my ribs, he gave me a shot for the pain, and told me to relax until Dan came back. I kinda dozed out on the table, with the crinkly paper under me, and thought about the boy hanging in my dungeon. It occurred to me that I might not have to 'disappear' him. He got knocked out suddenly, and I had blind-folded his eyes before I hung him. Maybe I could teach him his lesson and then let him go, it would be interesting to see. The worms would miss him, I thought, laughing to myself, but maybe he'd give them something to remember him by.

I must have fallen asleep, because when Dan came he had to wake me up. Doc and he had talked about my injuries, and Doc really wanted me to stay in town for a few days, in case I had problems, but I told them I had to get back for the worms, and after a lot of back and forth, Doc allowed me to go back to the farm, on my promise to call twice a day for the next week , just to check in. I already had a follow-up appointment scheduled for 2 weeks from today. I promised and Dan helped me with my shirt and we left. Doc had fixed me up with some samples of pain-killers.

Before we went out to the farm, Dan offered dinner at the diner, and I accepted, saying I was too tired to do much after I got home. Dan said he would check around the house before he left, but made me promise to call if anything happened.

When we got to the farm, I didn't have to pretend to be tired and sore. After all, I had been beaten, and dragged over rough ground. I expected Bobby was in worse shape now than I was, because by now he'd been hanging by his arms for about 4 and a half hours. Dan stayed and talked to me a while, but I kept yawning, and finally, he poured a cup of water from the refrigerator for me and made sure I had the pills. "I'll call you tomorrow, son," he said, "Try to sleep as long as you can. The worms will be okay for a while." "I know Dan, I fed them this morning before they came." "Okay, Charlie, go to bed. I'll let myself out. Good night." I waved as he left. I waited to hear the patrol car leave and then waited another 15 minutes. Then I went down to him.

He was hanging there still but there were signs that he had tried to get down. I decided that if I didn't talk to him he wouldn't know who I was, and if he survived his lesson, maybe I could let him go later. Maybe.

I put a wide swatch of duck- tape over the blind-fold to make sure it stayed on, then I brought the hose out and sprayed him down with the cold well water. If he wasn't awake before he was now. I paid careful attention to his wrists where they had swollen between the zip ties, and to his clothing. He started mumbling behind the gag, so I reached up and pulled it off. He started cussing and screaming, so I turned the hose full into his mouth, thankful that the eye tape would stay on through his soaking. He shut up pretty quick. I slapped him full in the face, then backed off. He started yelling again, and I responded with the hose. We did that a couple more times, until his brain caught on. He got quiet. I put down the hose, dropping it so he could hear, then went for my box-cutter. I carefully cut his shirt off, and the tee shirt underneath it too. He said, "What are you doing? Who are you? Are you a pervert?" I picked up the hose and let it answer his questions. Then I dropped the hose again and started to cut off his jeans. He reached out with his foot and tried to kick me, and talked to the hose again. It took him three more times to let me take the jeans without being kicked. He was coming along. He whispered, "My arms- are they broken? They hurt so bad." I dragged a box over underneath the hanging boy and let him stand on it. It was low, he had to reach for it and wound up standing on his toes, but at least the pressure was off his arms. He tried to kick again, and I picked up the hose, and kicked the box away before I blasted him. He started crying, and said, "No, I'm sorry, sorry, please." So I gave him back the box. I left him his underwear. I brought up the hose and dialed back the nozzle to a trickle and put it to his mouth. He drank, then choked, so I took it away. He said, "more, please" and I gave him some more. "I'm hungry, too," he said quietly. I did not respond. I hadn't quite decided whether he was going home or to the worms. I told myself not to talk, and tried to figure out how to give him a lesson without speaking.

I left him then, and went up to the yard. I gave the worms their dinner, forked in some leaf mold and the now-dead minnows, and watered them well. I had fully intended to kill the fish before they went in, but felt bad that they had died because I forgot about them.

I made some burgers on the grill and sat out by the worms to eat them, every once in a while, throwing a chunk into their mass, like throwing bits to a pet. The worms weren't picky, the pile heaved and moved, like the floor of snakes in that movie I had seen in the hospital, and the bits disappeared, just like they were never even there. I saved one hamburger back. No condiments, but a bun, and took it down to the boy. He started when I opened the door, and I stood until he stopped swinging. I knew he could smell the burger. I went up and held the sandwich near his mouth. He tried to bite me, or it, and I took it away. I went for the hose, and I know he heard it, because he calmed right down. I held the burger to his face again and when he didn't lunge, put it to his mouth. He opened very carefully and licked at it. A choked, "please?" so I gave all of it to him, a bite at a time, giving him time to chew and swallow. I brought the hose back up, on the low setting and let him drink. I put the hose down, and put a bit of wood under his box so he could get more of a foothold, and went away, turning off the lights as I went.

I got back up to the house in time to hear the phone ringing, and hurried to get it before it stopped. "Hello?" "Charlie? Are you okay? You sound out of breath?" It was Dan. "I'm okay, was in the bathroom, and I guess I fell asleep on the toilet. Wow, those pain pills are strong." "Are you sure you're alright?" the deputy asked.

"Yeah, I was a bit sore, but I took the pill, and I was getting some rest. I suppose I'll see you tomorrow?" "I can't in the morning, maybe not at all tomorrow. We're out looking for Bobby Drums, seems he never came home. Maybe he ran off, maybe he's lying low till he finds out how much trouble he's in." "That's fine, Dan " I said,

"I'm gonna laze around for a few days, man the shed and get some rest." "Okay, Charlie, don't forget to call Doc tomorrow." "I won't."

The next morning, I hurt. I hurt so damn much, almost as badly as in the hospital after I had killed the woman and Sir. I shuffled into the bathroom and lowered myself gingerly onto the toilet, finished that and guided myself, using the walls for support, into the shower. The water hurt at first, then it was better. Not a lot better, but enough that I could get dressed. I held back on the pain pill. I didn't want to get caught groggy if I was with the boy, and I figured the pain would keep me aware, like it had when the woman and Sir were beating on me.

I went into the kitchen and made some toast and coffee. The coffee burned my mouth and I wound up spitting it out, thankfully into the sink. The toast hurt too, and I didn't want to think about maneuvering my sore body around to make a better breakfast. It was too bad Dan wouldn't be up this morning, he would've helped, but he was searching...for someone who couldn't be found, at least not yet.... if ever.

I waited a little, then called Doc. He asked me how I was and I was truthful when I told him that it hurt more today than it had right after. Doc asked if I had taken the pain pill. I said, "Not yet, it says to take it with food, and I couldn't really keep anything down yet." He asked if I had applesauce in the house, and I did. He said that would probably stay down and I could take the pill. "Then try to rest, boy," he said. " Rest is the only thing that will help. Maybe you can find someone to help out with the worms."

I had thought of that before, someone to come and help with the farm would be good, but what about the people down in the dungeon? There were still so many people that needed to be 'corrected'.

Thinking of the dungeon, I took the cold toast and spread some of the applesauce on it, saving the rest for later and went on down. He was awake, and muttering to himself. I poked at him, and he stopped. I went over and reached out with the toast. I waited until he opened his mouth, then pushed the piece part-way in. He bit carefully, and chewed, then he opened up for more. I felt like a momma bird, except the baby was hanging. When the boy had finished all the toast, I brought the hose up, and dribbled water into his mouth. I didn't want to get too close; he had been violent before and he smelled like crap-literally. I tapped his hip with the hose nozzle.

He started, and I waited, then tapped him again. He seemed to get the point, so I opened the hose up part-way and rinsed him off-starting at his toes. At least he smelled better.

I put down the hose and carefully rolled up the newspaper, set it near the door and spread some more under the boy. It hurt horribly to make the bends, but I managed.

"Where am I?" he croaked out, barely whispering. "Who are you and why am I here? " I had decided not to talk to him, if he found out it was me, I'd have to send him out to play with the worms. I was thinking how to teach him things, because it appeared he could learn-look how fast he got the hint with the hose.

I reached out and grabbed his mouth, like I had seen him grab his sister. I picked up the hose and pushed the nozzle into his mouth. He tried to drink, but I had the water off. I pushed the nozzle farther in and he started to shake his head back and forth. I pulled the nozzle out and slapped him.

"What? What? Why are you doing this? " he sputtered. I grabbed his face again and put the nozzle to his lips. He refused to open his mouth, so I pinched his nose shut and kicked out the box. When he opened his mouth, I jammed the nozzle in, farther than before, far enough to make him gag. He was wriggling like a fish on a hook and trying to push out the nozzle. I pushed farther, almost going down his throat. He was trying to scream around the nozzle, so I pulled it out and turned the hose on full and sprayed his face. Then I slapped him so hard I hurt my hand. He sagged in the bindings.

As soon as I could move freely, and I was sure he was out. I put new duct tape on his mouth being careful to avoid covering his nostrils, and the box back under his feet. I cut off his underwear and stuck a piece of duct tape on the hair around his penis-not all the way around, just on the thickest patch. I also put a piece on his balls and a long piece down the crack of his ass. I wasn't being a pervert, I knew from experience that those areas made a person pay attention. He would lose some hair and maybe some skin in the process, but if it worked, he'd keep on breathing. I cleaned up and turned off the light, and took my bruised body back on up to the house.

I ripped up the newspaper and flung it over the worm bed, forked in some loam and scattered pellets, then wet it all down. Those pieces of newspaper disappeared before I had coiled up the hose.

I went into the house, had some applesauce and half a pain pill, and gingerly put myself on the recliner. I pulled up a blanket and went away.

16

Someone was banging on the side of the wall, bang, bang, bang! I sat up fast, then sort of fell back down. The banging continued, and I got up, a little slower this time. I lowered the recliner with the handle on the side, and thought I was going to throw up. The noise continued, but as I could stand up, it became knocking on the door. Hard knocking, repeated knocking, but even though I felt every knock in my head like a hammer, it really was only knocking.

Using the walls along the hallway and the counters in the kitchen I pulled myself to the door and wrestled it open. Dan caught me as I pitched forward.

"Charlie! Jeez, are you alright? I've been knocking forever." "I know," I muttered, "you nearly killed me." "I was worried sick! Nobody had heard from you, nobody had seen you, and with Bobby Drums still missing, I thought the worst!"

"Could you please, please stop shouting? My head is going to explode." "Oh, sorry Charlie, I've just been so worried." Dan helped me lower myself to sit on the stoop. I kept holding on to the door jamb, seriously dizzy. "But, why were you worried? I called Doc before I took my nap..." "That was 2 days ago, son, two days while I was out running the county looking for the Drums boy and Doc calling the office every hour. I gotta call him, he'll probably want to see you." Dan used his cell to call Doc. "Yeah, he was home. No, he looks like crap, all pasty and sweaty. Wait, I'll ask. Charlie, Doc wants to know how many pills you took." Charlie held up one finger.

"Doc? He took one, yeah, okay I'll be bringing him in, I'll see you in a bit."

Dan had to help me out to his car, I just couldn’t seem to walk straight. Dan put me into the front seat and buckled me in without me doing anything to help. Dan was worried, he was also worried about the dried blood he saw on the back of Charlie's shirt. Something was definitely up.

Charlie lolled in the seat, asleep again or unconscious, Dan didn't know which. He decided to get him to the Doc as fast as he could. He called Doc as he drove. " Doc? It's me. We are on our way.... Should I just take him to the hospital? Yes, yes, he looks bad, really bad. He couldn't walk to the car, and he's out again. Okay, I'll meet you there!" When Dan reached the roadway he turned away from town, put on the siren and flashing lights and drove as fast as possible towards the hospital.

As the Deputy pulled into the Emergency entrance to the hospital, staff members were coming out with a stretcher, apparently Doc had called ahead to alert them.

Dan started to unbuckle the boy to lift him from the car, but the orderlies took over, putting Charlie on the stretcher and running for the ER. Dan parked and ran in and by that time they had transferred Charlie onto an examination table and were cutting off his clothes. He already had oxygen cannulas, and someone was taking blood samples. As they were cutting his shirt off, and pulling it out from under him it got stuck on something. They turned him to check and Dan saw a bone coming through the skin of the boy's back. That's when all hell broke loose. Bells were ringing, the ER on-call came running in with Doc, and people were pushing the Deputy, none too gently, from the room.

Dan went and sat in the waiting room, too wound up to read, or even to pace. That kid in there was special to him. He hadn't known him long, but he'd grown very fond of him. If he died from this, Bobby Drums had better run far and run fast. He should have broken the door down, he should have come up last night, even though it was late when they called the search for the night. "God, let him be okay."

Twenty tense minutes later, Doc came out to talk to Dan. "Is he okay?" "He will be, " said Doc.

"He's going up to surgery now, we have him stabilized. He had a reaction to the pain pill, probably what made him sick and dizzy, but he apparently did chores for the worms anyway, and one of his cracked ribs gave way and pushed through the skin when he bent over or lifted something. He has some internal bleeding, and we need to fix the bone, but he should come out of it okay. They'll be keeping him, at least a couple days, to check him out and regulate his pain meds. He's in good hands, Dan. Don't worry."

Dan called the office and told them he'd be staying at the hospital until Charlie was out of surgery, and then he'd be in. He sat and tried to relax, and thought about how he had met Charlie and how he had become his good friend. “This should never had happened," he mused. "He never should have been so far away and alone.'

Dan made looked out the window for a while as an idea came to him, then he made some calls. He had just hung up when Doc and the ER doctor came into the room. "Is he...?” Dan started.

"He's okay, Dan," said Doc. "We opened him up and stabilized the broken rib and checked the others. We put him in a cast to keep him still, and we'll be keeping him a week." " Can I go see him?" asked Dan. "Of course. Don't tire him out."

Dan walked into recovery and saw Charlie. He looked better already. He had some color in his face, instead of the pale pastiness from before. "Charlie? Are you awake?"

"Yeah, Dan, thanks for bringing me in. Doc explained everything." Dan smiled. "But Dan, how can I stay here a week? The worms will die." "I have a solution, Charlie, and I already set it up. My nephew Phil, is unhappy in his job in the city. I talked with him and my sister about the farm, and he's willing to come out and tend it while you're in here. If it works out, we're all hoping he can work with you." "But, Dan, he doesn't know how..." Dan interrupted, "I'm going to go and pick him up and bring him to the farm, I know a lot about the feeding and stuff-just from watching you, and I'll help. He's a good kid, Charlie, he'll keep your farm safe." "Okay Dan."

Dan left soon after that, and I tried to get comfortable on the bed. The orderlies came in and took me, my bed and all to the elevator and up to a sunny room. An aide came in with a menu, and helped me pick stuff for dinner, mostly broths and pudding, and put everything near my hands since the cast didn't allow any upward movement.

After dinner, which was more on me than in me, they washed me up, gave me a shot and I went away. Something was bothering me, something kept sliding in and out of my brain, but I couldn't catch it.

The Worm Farm Ch. 13 & 14

13

Later on, that same week, I drove the golf cart down to the wide part of the river to see if I could snag a few minnows and dip some loam for the worms. The worms had been good little workers, they deserved a treat. Even though Jerry was blubbery and fat, I can't imagine a long-time drinker would taste too good. Maybe he was like the rum cake they sell at Christmas, or maybe the worms had a Jerry party, I don't know.

I needed a little time away, so I put the honor system sign up, and went on down to the river.

I pulled right onto the edge of the river, right around this little outcropping of weeds and scruff. I wasn't hiding so much as I just didn't want to be bothered while I dragged the hook for minnows.

I snagged 6 or 8 of them and put them in my bucket, scooping some loam to put over them. Then I sat on the bank with my feet in the water and kind of zoned out. It was shady and a little breezy and I'd had an okay time. That was the best part of living on my own, with my own rules and my own time. There were always chores to be done, of course, but afterwards, my time belonged to me.

I must have nodded off because I never knew they were there until I heard the whimpers. I looked around for the animal that was making the noise, but stayed in my hiding place so as not to scare it.

There were two of them, and only one was an animal. A teenaged boy was pinching a little girl. She was crying and trying to get away. The boy said, "Shut up Sara! Mom told me to play with you, so we'll play!" The little girl tried to move away, but he held on tightly to her arm. "Bobby! You're hurting me! Stop it, stop it, I'll tell!" The boy pinched her hard then, and pushed the little one into the water. She floundered and before I could decide whether to make my presence known, the boy reached into the water and hauled her back out.

He pulled her near to him and pinched her really hard, all the while leaning away so she couldn't smack his hand away.

The little girl started to cry, she was soaked and trembling. "Bobby, I wanna go home now. I'm cold."

"Home?" he shouted, "Home? We haven't had any playtime yet!"

"But, Bobby, I'm wet, wet and cold. I wanna.."

"Shut the hell up, baby! Your clothes are wet? Let's take 'em off then!" Bobby grabbed the girl and held her down in the mud on the bank and started wrestling her shorts off. The little one was fighting and shrieking. I had made some plans in my head about how to fix Bobby, but I didn't want his sister to get hurt, so I stood up and cleared my throat.

"Hey! Are you guys all right?" I asked, "I was fishing farther down and heard a big splash. Did someone fall in?" Bobby stopped dead, like he had been electrocuted, an experience I could offer him later, actually, and said, "yeah mister, my sister fell in. I was just trying to warm her up."

"Aren't you guys Brian Drums' kids?" I asked, "Bobby and um, Sara?" The kids nodded.

"Well your sister looks pretty uncomfortable. What say I run you two home? I have my golf-cart. Just get your stuff together while I drive up to the landing and turn around and then come on up and I'll take you both home."

As I turned away I heard him tell her to "Keep your lying mouth shut about this, or I'll get you later. Mom leaves us alone a lot, you know."

On the way to town I tried to talk with the boy, but he was not interested in me, he grumbled a lot about my smelly cart, and how people should just leave him alone. I looked around, then stopped the golf-cart along the lane. "Hey boy, " I said, "You got something to say? If you're too good to ride in a golf-cart, just get off, I'll take your sister home. You can walk it."

"You can't take her alone! No one is home, she'll be scared being alone."

"Is that right? She looked pretty scared alone with you. I can fix that, though.” I took out my trusty cell and rang Dan at the Sheriff's office.

"Hi Dan, " I said, "it's Charlie. Yeah, I'm fine. Say, I found two wet kids up at the river and I offered to take them back to town, but the boy is too good to ride with me, or so he says. What's that? Wait a minute., that's right-Bobby and Sara. Okay, hang on a second."

I turned to the boy, "The deputy wants to talk to you."

I put the phone on speaker before I passed it over to him.

"Bobby, what's going on? Why don't you want to ride back with Charlie?" Bobby's face was brick-red, and he was clenching his teeth tight in his rage. "Deputy, I can take care of my sister, I don't need his help!"

"Bobby, just ride with Charlie and I'll ride out to meet you and take you two to your mom, it'll be okay, Charlie's a good friend of mine."

Bobby looked like he was going to spit. "Okay, Deputy."

I got off the golf-cart and looked under the back fender. I popped my head up and motioned to the boy. He really didn't want to come, but his anger pushed him. I held his shoulder and pushed like I was showing him something underneath.

"Kid," I hissed at him, "want me to tell Dan what you were trying to do to your sister?"

"I wasn't doing nothing! She likes it anyway! You don't know nothing, you're just a retard. I know, they talk about you at school, how stupid you are, living out here all alone. Freak!" I stayed calm, and said, "So you do want me to tell?" He shook his head no. Hmmm.

Bobby jumped back into the back of the cart and I got back behind the wheel. I told the girl we were meeting the Sheriff's deputy halfway and he would take her to meet her mother. Sara looked less terrified at that, and relaxed a bit in the seat. The rest of the ride was uneventful, until we saw the Sheriff's car coming up the track. I went around and helped Sara out of the cart, Dan coming to her with towels.

While Dan took her to his car, Bobby pushed at me. "Freak!" he whispered, "I'll fix you for this, she's my sister, and I'll do what I want. You can't stop me. No one can."

Oh really?

Dan came and Bobby took a towel and jumped into the car. Dan asked what was up with the boy, and I said, "I don't know Dan, I was resting on the bank and dipping minnows. I never would have noticed if the boy hadn't shouted at the little girl and then I watched him push her into the water. He seemed really pleased with himself when she started crying. I hope me deciding to rescue her and bring them back won't be a problem."

Dan said, "I'm sure it won't, I'll say something to their mother for as much good as it'll do, the kid’s been in trouble at school too, he's a bit of a bully, takes after his dad."

"His Dad is a bully too?”

"Not any more, I guess. I'd like to think there's a special place in Hell for people like him."

Dan and I shook hands, like always, and I turned to leave.

"Charlie?" Dan called.

I turned back, "Yeah?"

“Fishing this weekend? I've got a favor to ask."

"What is it?"

"No, not now, we'll talk later, let me get these kids home."

14

A couple of days after that, I came out early in the morning, as usual and saw the door open and swinging on the Honor shed. I wasn't too worried, I never left much out there, enough for folks to make change is all, but I loped over there to check it out.

The whole inside of the place was ripped up! The refrigerator where I kept my worms was broken up and the shelves were all over and bent, like someone had tried to break them by kicking through them. Dead and dying worms littered the floor and squished ones were pressed into the walls. Someone had taken a marker and written Faggot and Retard on almost every available surface. My cash box had been slammed against the doorframe, cracking it and bending the lid of the box in. The money was gone, too, and it made me angry, but the rest of it was just terrible for me. It took me back to before, when I couldn't have anything. And anything I had wasn't really mine. I got out of there and called the Sheriff. I had to leave a message, but my voice must have worried the dispatcher. Dan called back less than 10 minutes later.

I told him about everything that I'd found and he said he'd be out directly and not to clean up. He said we'd clean up later. So, to keep myself out of the Honor shed, I mixed up some kibble for the worms and fed and watered them. Then I swept around the outside of their pen, throwing the leaf debris into the worms.

"If I ever find out who did this," I promised them, "I will give him right to you guys. They deserve it, after what they've done to the shed and your brothers." Then I went back. "I will give them to you, but first ...

Dan pulled up in the Sheriff's van, the one he used to transport prisoners, and he and his friend Thomas got out. Dan went right over to the building and took a few pictures of the destruction.

He had a ruler to place near things for the pictures and Thomas drew a sketch to show all the broken bits. Then Dan went back to the van, put the camera and pad away and went to the back of the van.

“Charlie? Come over and help, please."

I went over and looked at what he had brought. There was a new to me used refrigerator, a rickety bookcase with drawers in the bottom, and a sturdy cash box, along with several boards and tools.

"I figure we can put it back together in a shake and restock it, so you don't lose any more income," he said. "And Charlie, you might want to seriously think about a camera or alarm system to protect your investment. The worms are great but they aren't like a dog." I started my little shiver, "I know dogs are out, but I worry about you. These guys could come right down and break into your house next!" I nodded, and asked him if he could arrange something. "That's why I brought Thomas," Dan said. "He does security in town and said he would help out."

“Thanks, Thomas," I said.

Thomas nodded, "No problem at all."

So, we spent an hour cleaning out the dead worms and everything else, and washing the worm goo off the walls. Dan and Thomas moved in the refrigerator and I plugged it in and moved the shelves. I went and got more cups and dipped new worms to restock. I went into the house and got change for the money box. I put extra cups and lids in the drawers of the bookcase and Thomas and Dan figured out the security cameras. They hung one above the door of my house, pointed at the driveway and the back of the worm shed, they hung another on the worm shed focusing across the beds, and Thomas put this neat camera, he called it a pinprick, in the worm shed and focused it on the refrigerator and the money box. They were all accessible by a monitor in my house and by laptop. Dan said if I wanted he could remotely access them by computer from the Sheriff's office.

"Let's wait on that, Dan," I said, "Sometimes I do stupid stuff out here, it’s bad enough being stupid when I'm alone, don't need an audience."

Dan laughed, then he talked to Thomas. "Could we set up a security transfer for emergencies? Like if Charlie is in danger, he could press a button and the feed would come to me?"

Thomas said that was easy, and set it up. I knew I'd have to be more careful with my guests but if something happened to me, at least the Sheriff would know who to talk to. We ran through the instructions and did some tests and Thomas said we were good to go.

Later that evening, after Dan and Thomas had gone, I was feeding and watering the worms when I heard voices. Two boys rode up on bikes. I stepped behind the shed to see what happened.

"Well, they cleaned the place up really fast," said the first boy, "I guess they didn't figure we'd be back."

"I told you, the guy is a retard. Trusting and stupid, just looking to get robbed. I owe him from the other day. I owe him a beating, or worse. I wanted to play with Sara, but that guy’s almost the same as a kid. I'll settle for him, and who can he tell? It's perfect."

The second boy got pale and responded, "What? You want to have sex with this guy? You wanted to have sex with Sara? You are sick. I always thought you were strange, but you're sick!

I'm outta here!"

The boy got on his bike and pedaled quickly towards town. Bobby went outside the worm shed and looked around, then ducked back inside and took some worms out of the refrigerator and smashed them on the counter. I tapped on the wall of the shed and Bobby stopped suddenly.

He stuck his head outside and scanned the area and seeing nothing went back into the shed. He began to pull the things out of the drawers and smashed them on the floor, jumping up and down on the cups to break them. I tapped on the wall again. Bobby stopped and peeked outside again. I tapped, and he came all the way out and around the shed.

"You!" he shouted, "You asshole! Now you'll see what happens!" and he lunged out and cracked me one on the jaw. It really surprised me, and I went down. I fell right out of camera range, but Bobby was upright and still on the tape.

He started kicking at me on camera, then threw himself on me and was punching. I faked passing out, and he stopped hitting me. He rolled off me, stood up and started pulling my body towards the woods. I tried to be heavier and slow him down as he pulled in and out of camera range. This would be interesting later on for Dan. As we made the edge of the woods and he pulled me inside, I was lying on my stomach with my fists clenched beneath.

"Now I'll get what you wouldn't let me get from Sara, from you. I'm going to enjoy this, you jerk.

I always like it better when they scream." He turned me over and went for my belt.

I went for his head. I rolled him over and made sure we were out of camera range, then got up and dragged him over to the tunnel and down to the dungeon. I was thinking that he would be a bad one to 'disappear' because his family lived in town, but then it dawned on me. He came out here to cause trouble, he brought a witness-even though the witness had fled, and he said on the tape just what he planned to do to me. He was a perfect person to disappear. I zip-tied his arms together at the wrists and elbows and with the ladder hung him on the big hook, I blind-folded him and gagged him then went to clean up the scene and call Dan.

I struggled, for the cameras, out of the woods, having ripped my shirt and spread the blood from my injuries all over my face and shirt front. I limped over to the worm shed and from there to the house and got my cell phone to call Dan. I put some crying in my voice and told him some kids had come by and beat me up, and I needed help. It seemed I had only just hung up and Dan was there. When he pulled in I was sitting on my stoop and leaning against the wall. I must have looked pretty bad, 'cause Dan stopped and stared, then came and helped me into the house. He pulled out a kitchen chair and sat me down carefully, while he checked for broken bones.

"Do you want to go to the hospital, Charlie?"

"No, no I don't," I whispered, like my throat hurt. "Can you help me clean up? I need to see to the worms and check the shed."

Dan ran the water cool and wet a towel and wrung it out, then helped clean my injuries.

"You're going to have bruises, boy, and I bet this cut lip could take a few stitches, are you sure?" I nodded. Dan asked if I had seen who had done it, and I shook my head. "I don't know for sure, someone hit me in the head. But Dan, do you think the cameras worked?" Dan nodded, and after he got me a fresh wet towel for the bruises, we went into the living room and he keyed up the monitor. "Damn," he exclaimed, "That's Bobby Drums and Kyle Chester! Those kids are always together and picking on kids and the old folk. I think they might have bit off more than they can chew!" Dan ran the tape back to listen to what they were saying. He looked like he wanted to throw up. "Charlie," he said, "I gotta get this tape back to town. Are you going to be okay on your own? Why don't you come with me?" I shook my head no, and said, "I'm pretty tired and sore, I would rather go lie down for a while." Dan shook his head and said, "No, come in with me, son, we need to talk to some people and I'll run you over to the Doc, then I'll bring you back later." I thought about the boy hanging in the dungeon, and said, "Okay, I'll come"

Worm Farm by Helen Bishop (chapters 11 & 12)

Worm Farm- Chapters 11 & 12

11

When I got back to the farm, I did my chores and fed and watered the worms. Then while I swept up I thought about how to get justice for Denise. When I was good and ready I went down to him.

I went right up to him and with my knife cut off his underwear. He had soiled it, and although I knew he would hurt with it on longer, I wanted him to suffer, not me. I rolled up the soiled clothing in a bunch of newspaper and put some new stuff down. I looked up at him as I did that, and he was playing possum. I could tell from his breathing that he was awake.

"Are you ready to tell me why you hurt your wife?" I was close enough to spit on him. He shook his head and said nothing. I wanted to have a response, so I reared back and slapped him, as hard as I could. I bet he saw stars like in those old cartoons I saw while in the hospital.

"Okay," I said, "I guess you've made your choice."

I went over to the shelves and picked up a utility knife, sort of like a box-cutter. Jerry's eyes got really wide and he seemed to shrink back to the wall when he saw it coming. I laid it on his inner arm, right below the shoulder and carefully and quickly turned it and brought it across his bicep. His responding howl was muffled by the tape I quickly slapped over his mouth. He was shaking as much as his ties would allow, and was screaming into his gag. Then I reached over to the cut bicep and carefully pried up the sliced edge of skin and quickly pulled it up then down, tearing about a three-inch-wide piece of skin all the way across his now exposed inner arm, then off his arm completely. I picked up the knife again, and he sagged in his ties. I waited for him to come around, because of course; there can be no lesson if he was unconscious. I guess I was a nicer guy than he was, because according to all the reports, whoever had beaten his wife had kept the beating up long after she fainted.

Jerry pretended to be out for a while. I watched him ease his eyes open and look around, then quickly shut them again when he thought I was looking. I took a piece of paper from my pocket and unfolded it, facing me. I read, from memory now, because the paper was blank-"multiple contusions, old fractures, 5 broken ribs, 2 fingers broken on left hand, broken wrist on right...guess you have quite a lesson to learn, don't you, Jerry?" I said as I ripped the tape off his mouth.

"How do you know my name?" he blurted out, all faking apparently over.

"Oh, I know all about you, friend, and those like you. You feel justified to beat your wife, because she made a bad choice."

"Yeah, well, she makes me do it; I don't want to hit her! She's stupid, she makes bad choices like you said, and I get tired of showing her how to do everything every day! I only hit her when I need to make a point. Then she gets it!"

"The bad choice I was talking about, was marrying you. I guess she didn't understand that 'for better or worse' meant no better and only worse," I said.

He glared at me and shook his head as much as he could. "You're wrong; I'm the best thing that ever happened to her. She was lucky to catch me!"

"Have it your way, once more Jerry, but for the last time. Now, let's get started."

"Started? What are we starting?"

"You are going to be the husband you should have been, a good husband. A good husband protects his wife, right? So now, you will protect her by taking her beating. Not that we can take her beating back, but we can make sure you know exactly how she feels." I went over with fresh tape and slapped it over his mouth. "Let's start with something easy."

I went back into the tunnel for the tools I had arranged there. Taking hold of the small sledge hammer, I came back and hit him a good one in the right wrist. I swear I could hear him scream around the tape. While he was focused on his wrist, I took the hammer to the fist he had made of the other hand.

"Okay, that's the wrist and probably most of the fingers on the left hand. What's left?" I said as I consulted the paper again. "Are you beginning to understand how she really felt, Jerry? Is it getting through?"

Jerry was hanging in the ties and moaning. Blood from the piece of skin I had removed was starting to clot. I had done a job on the wrist because there were shards of broken bones coming through the skin. Good.

I decided to let him try to come to terms with his pain.

"I'll be back later. Maybe you can convince me that it was right to beat her. Maybe we can talk about the baby."

"There's no baby," he mumbled around the tape, "not anymore. I made sure."

I stopped just outside the room. I had figured he would deny his role in her lost baby, just like he had denied his role in her beating. I turned suddenly, and lashed out with the sledge. I swung wildly, but got him right in the crotch. This time he screamed so hard the tape ripped off his mouth, taking skin off his lips and off the bottom of his nose when it did.

I pressed my hand hard over his mouth to shut him up. I stood there and pressed, leaning into him while I did it. I looked him straight in the eye.

"Now we don't have to worry about any more babies, do we?' I said, and dropped the hammer onto the shelves and walked out, taking my chunk of skin with me.

Outside, I took a couple of deep breaths to get his stink out of my nose.

I walked up to the worm bed and laid that skin right on top of the pile. If I had blinked I would have missed it leaving. A mass of worms seemed to separate and suck it in. Gone.

12

Thank goodness I had thought to put the dungeon so far down under the barn! I stayed away for overnight to give him time to do whatever he had to, bleed out, get numb, or get a handle on it, whatever. The fact that he was proud of the fact that he had 'taken care of the baby' screwed me up. I myself had apparently been an unwanted child, and while it was true that I had it bad, and very bad, but at least I had it. This guy had murdered that baby before it even got to be a baby, and he was proud? I had to stay away. I couldn't give him a lesson and the time to learn it, if I just killed him outright, and I was mad enough to do just that now.

I knew, of course I knew I was going to kill him. That was the whole deal. But I was hoping to get him to admit he had made a mistake, before he had to go.

I mean, I too, was a killer, at least technically. Is the executioner responsible for killing those he kills? It is a job, like being a soldier, isn't it? Aren't I just a soldier, or just like a guy weeding the bad stuff out of his garden? I want these people to see what they are before they try to explain to the guy upstairs. I'm not killing them for a thrill, not like those guys on the news, I am trying to help the world, or at least my part of it, have a happier future.

It wasn't as if I enjoyed giving them pain and then feeding them to the worms, in effect making the whole circuit of the food chain. These people were only going to cause someone somewhere pain. That was their role in life. I was only here to interrupt the cycle.

His wife would have a happier future, if she lived. And if she didn't at least she'd be with the baby that she'd tried to protect, that had to be worth something. He wouldn't be with her and their child; I don't think there's a bright, welcoming light when your path goes through worms first, but I could be wrong. For that matter, I don’t think there’s one if you’re exploded out of existence either, especially if you were bad first.

I did my chores, emptied the old worms out and dipped out some new ones. During the dipping, one of the hugest worms attached itself to my gloved thumb and made a pretty good try to get through it. Apparently, the mass was starting to know that I meant food. That reminded me; I wanted to go into town for some heavier gloves. Before I did that though, I went down to check on my guest.

He looked a little grayer, hanging there in the ties. Apparently sometime during the time I was gone he had come to, and vomited all over himself. The vomit had run down his body and mixed on the front of him and on the floor with the urine and feces from before and the blood. He looked like something I imagine a first-grader could do with finger-paints and oatmeal. The stench was kind of thick, so I went off to connect the hoses. I rolled out a thick newspaper covering onto the floor below where he hung and ran the papers out to as far as I thought the splash might go. I decided to use the nozzle with the hard spray, so the cleaning off would go fast.

He came to as the water first hit him, and he roared out a word so guttural that it wasn't until later that I actually recognized it. He had called me a prick. He had stood there, attached to the wall with his ruined prick and called me one! I didn't know whether to be amused or upset, so I decided just to be thorough in my cleaning.

I stood pretty close to Jerry and sprayed the cold well water all over him. Some places didn't want to come clean, so I scrubbed at them with the carwash brush, and then sprayed more water. He kept up the screaming for most of his wash, and it was hurting my ears. I stopped the water.

"Do you want some more scrubbing? I can keep this up as long as you can," I told him. "Your screaming is getting old fast. Face it, the water isn't warming up anytime soon, now tell me, more scrubbing, or do you think we are done?"

"Done," he said, weeping. "Please, please, can't you stop?"

"Okay," I said, "You only need to ask."

I put the hose away and rolled up the soaked newspapers and carted them outside and around and into the grinder. They got sort of mashed together, being all wet, but I forked some of the compost into the grinder with it, and eventually everything was ground up and mixed together. I threw buckets of the mixture onto the top of the worm beds and suddenly the beds came alive with worms rolling over and through the whole mass.

When I went back down later that day, Jerry was awake. He stared at me from his place against the wall, and mumbled something from inside his ripped up lips. I got closer to hear him, but was careful not to get within grabbing distance.

"Is she dead?" he mumbled, "Please God, tell me she's dead. I did love her, I think once I loved her, but I'm sorry, so sorry. I didn't realize what I was doing, or I did realize, but didn't care. She always forgave me, she always came back. Tell me, is she dead? Let me go to her, let me apologize. Untie me, and let me go, and she'll give me another chance."

I leaned toward him, hanging there on the wall. He stared at me and waited for my answer, when it didn't come, his eyes got wild-looking and he mumbled again. I had to get closer to hear him.

"You had her, didn't you? That’s why you think you have to do this! Right! I knew she was a whore, I guess she thinks I will just take her back, the lying whore."

"Wow," I said, "your apology didn't last too long, did it?"

"I've been trying to think why you'd care about her, why it matters to you about the damn baby, all I can figure is that it was your baby that I killed. Good, the lying shit. Screaming out that it was my baby, screaming even though I nearly beat her to death. I knew she was a liar! Well, she's done it now, the ungrateful bitch! We are over, over. My mom was right! She wasn't good enough for me-the lying small-town cunt!"

At that word, Jerry screamed out his rage, his wide eyes seeing his wife's imagined cheating. Understanding deep down that all the stuff he had accused her of had at last been proven.

I went up very close to him, and slugged him in the cheek as hard as I could.

"Ass! The DNA testing said the baby was yours! I never met her before I read about your crime in the newspaper. I see where you get it; your mother is obviously brain-damaged too. Who are you to offer then change your mind about taking her back? Why would anyone want you back? I want you out of here! You stink up the place!"

With that, I went to the storage shelves near the doorway, picked up a tool and returned to Jerry.

Jerry's eyes got really big as he focused on the tool in my fist. He started to say something, but his words were drowned out by the gushing noise his blood made spewing from the side of his neck. I brought the box-cutter across his stomach then, pushing hard to slice him wide open.

As Jerry bled out, I kept pushing more and more of the newspapers under him. He wasn't done dripping when I began to remove parts of his flesh, putting them into a trashcan to take out to the worms.

Over the next few days, I took Jerry out, a few pieces at a time, and gave him to the worms. I was a treat for them to get the meat fresh and not from the grinder. I sliced off as much of the boneless bits as I could, knowing the heaviest stuff would need to be ground up.

A few days after Jerry left, I went into town to get new gloves and stock up on supplies. While there, as usual I looked in on the Sheriff. We talked about this and that, and then I asked about the lady in the hospital.

"Oh,' Dan said, "she never regained consciousness, and passed yesterday morning. Doc said that she had too many internal injuries. Damn, I'd like to find that no account husband of hers and rip his head off!'

"Don't worry," I said, "That guy is probably long gone by now!"

Worm Farm by Helen Bishop (chapters 9 & 10)

9

I didn't know what to do with his clothes. It had me puzzled when I was working with the boy before, but this guy was fully dressed. I had ripped up the boy's clothes and buried them in the riverbed, hoping that they would rot and become a part of the loam itself. I didn't know whether to strip this guy's clothes off while he was knocked out, or take them off a bit at a time when he came to. Clothes were something I hadn't thought much about while planning out this stuff. It made me a little mad at myself. I must’ve thought that these people would show up naked, sometimes even I thought I was a dummy! I took an undershirt of my own and tried to put it through the grinder, but it got all balled up, and it was a chore to get back out.

Then I had a great idea! I went back down to the room and while the husband was still passed out, I took a knife and stripped him naked except for his underwear and socks. It was hard to do it around the ties and I made a mental note to strip them before I hung anyone else up. I took the clothes outside to my trash burner and burned them along with the trash. Up to a point I had put all my trash into the worms and composted it, but the aluminum foil and plastic trash I burned in small amounts in a metal can I had gotten for just that reason. The plastic burned hot and none of his clothing was left after the fire. I put his sneakers into the cart to drop off the road on my way to the river later. I had looked at the sneakers before I put them in the cart, but they weren't my size, so they had to go. I had noticed before there were a lot of shoes on the roadway, although normally only one shoe at any one place. His sneaks would go that way, and no one would ever connect them with me.

I felt a bit better after solving the clothes problem. It would be terrible to have made a place to take care of these problem people, to keep everyone else away from where I was doing it, and get rid of everything, only to be caught because of clothing! Well, I'd taken care of that. I went back online and read about domestic violence, about how the beater would separate the victim from family and friends, and do mental things to keep the victim unsure. I read that the abuser would hurt the victim, and then say they were drunk or high, and didn't remember anything. Or that it wasn't their fault; the victim had driven them to it. Then they would beg forgiveness, and the victim would forgive them, and the cycle would start again, but each time the abuse was forgiven, they would go a little farther in their abuse. Mind games? Sir and the woman were masters of mind games. And I appeared to have been the ‘poster-child’ victim.

I studied a little more and then went down to him.

He was awake and straining at his ties.

I walked right up to him, and got in his face. I was safe from him; I had tied him tight to the pegboard. I had tied his head also, top and bottom so he couldn't even move it.

"So," I said, "You're the big man that beat that lady."

"That wasn't proven," he blurted out, "um...what lady, I mean?"

I stepped back and slapped him, right across his mouth. "We don't lie here," I said, "Want to try again?"

He looked shocked that I had dared to slap him; he balled up his fist and strained to punch out at me.

"Can't do it," I said. "You're tied fast. Now I can show you how it feels to do what you've been doing to your wife." And I slapped him again. These were no little slaps, no little play slaps, I hauled back and gave him something, as Sir used to say, to think about.

"Now tell me," I said, "Why do you feel the need to hit your wife?"

"Ain't your business, man. What happens between the wife and me is my business. You get no say!"

"Wrong answer," I said, as I stepped forward to slap him again, but changed my mind and I went toward the shelves and got the roll of duct tape. I came toward him on the wall and I started unwinding tape from the roll. He seemed to pull back from my direction, and I watched him as I pulled off about 2 feet of the tape. I came at him with the tape extended and put it across his mouth as I tried taping his head more tightly to the wall. He was moving his mouth around, and sticking his tongue out-trying to make the taping impossible. I stepped back and pulled on the end of the tape, ripping it and some of his hair right off. He hollered then, and as he hollered I put the tape across the hairy part of his chest and pressed it down hard. Stepping back, I ripped it back off, pulling it hard like taking off a bandage. He hollered again and tears rolled down his cheeks as he watched the tape-sized swatch of hair come off his chest.

"Now," I said as I came toward the husband again, "will you fight? Or will you let me tape your mouth shut?"

"Go ahead and tape it," he sniffled. "Go ahead."

"Now I don't have to."

I wet a towel and wrung it out, then draped it over the shoulders and torso of the husband. He shivered when the cold water hit his chest. I cleaned up the tape pieces, laid fresh newspaper under him, turned out the lights and went up to the farm.

I ground up some apples and grapes from my refrigerator and put them into a wide mouth jar. I took the jar and a funnel down to him. I showed him the food and motioned for him to open his mouth. He shook his head, so I said, "In you or on you, but this is all you get for supper. It's your choice. You don't want to eat?" I took a fingerful and flung in toward the sore on his chest. "Never mind, you'll be ready to eat by tomorrow."

"Tomorrow?" he squeaked out. "I'll be dead by tomorrow. That's what you plan on doing to me isn't it? Killing me?"

"I don't know," I replied. "Is that what you planned for your wife?"

"I would never! I love my wife!"

"Sure you do, it shows." Then I walked out.

The next morning, bright and early, after I fed and watered the worms, I got in the golf cart and meandered down to town. I looked in at the Sheriff's office, like always, and when I saw Dan, I said, "Dan? Do you think it would be okay for me to take flowers to the lady in the hospital? You know, that lady in the coma?"

Dan looked at me puzzled, "Why Charlie, do you know her?'

"No, but she got hurt just like I did and I want her to know that someone cares."

"Well, she's in intensive care and they don't allow flowers. But we can ride over and check on her if you'd like."

"Could we go right now?"

Dan nodded and I loped out to the car.

10

On the way out to the hospital I asked about the lady. Her name was Denise Watkins and she had been pretty big in the local high-school, a cheerleader and homecoming queen, but not snotty like girls like that often are. She had volunteered at the hospital she was now lying in, and a bunch of the nurses remembered her. Dan told me that she had gone away to school, and met her husband in college. He had swept her off her feet, in a whirl-wind courtship and married her. She had quit college when he asked her to and because money was tight, they moved back to her hometown when her grandmother died and her house stood empty. A bunch of the town's ladies had gone out to the house a time or two to invite Denise to join the local garden club and ladies' auxiliary at the firehouse, but her husband turned them away every time, and Denise had never even come to the door. A few of the ladies had thought it not right, but the husband, his name was Jerry Watkins, had laughed and told them stuff about how they were still on their honeymoon.

According to the medical reports, Denise had been beaten, but more than just this one time. The doctor had figured that she had been beaten and strangled repeatedly, because of the old scars and bruising, and the things that showed up on the x-rays. Dan said it looked like she had been sexually abused as well, and he was 90% sure that the husband had done it, but with no witnesses they'd have to wait until Denise came out of the coma.

Dan said he had gone out to the house to talk to the husband, but even though there had been music on and the doors open, he wasn't there. Dan allowed as how he'd probably show up somewhere drunk again.

I told Dan I was interested because of what had happened to me, and how I was hoping to stop it, in my own little way, from happening again. He thought I meant the neighborhood watch, and that was some of it, but the rest of it was standing in his own waste in my dungeon.

I asked Dan, "Didn't anyone know he'd been beating her?" Dan said there had been some rumors, and the few times anyone had ever seen her out, she was always with the husband, and it seemed she was not allowed to speak. Dan said he and the sheriff had tried to see her, but her husband always turned them away from the door, with some talk of her resting, or away visiting relatives, even though all her relatives lived in town.

"Apparently, this time a trucker looking for an address had stopped and seen Denise lying halfway out her front door and called for the ambulance, " Dan said. "I think that bastard beat her, and then stepped over her to go out and drink and make an alibi! But I can't prove it."

"Can't you sweat it out of him like in the movies?" I asked.

"Wish I could," Dan replied. "But until he shows up, we can only wait."

We parked in the hospital's parking lot and Dan went to ask about Denise's condition, and if she could have visitors.

She wasn't allowed visitors yet, she was still in a coma. The doctor took Dan aside and he told me on the way back to town just what the doctor had said. It seems that Denise was in sorry shape. They were waiting until the swelling came down to do x-rays on her face, because they believed the left orbit was broken, as well as the hyoid bone in her throat. "He said that if she comes out of the coma, and that's a big if, she may never be okay again. He's pretty sure that there's a problem with her spine and it looks like she had been pregnant, at least a couple weeks. The sexual assault made her lose the baby."

"You can lose a baby from sex?" I was amazed.

"The assault was a sexual one, but not sex. Apparently, Denise was penetrated with something big that ripped her up and left splinters. That's why she miscarried."

I was feeling kind of sick, and so, it seemed was Dan. We were silent on the way back to town, each of us thinking just what we would like to do to Jerry Watkins. What a dirty trick that Jerry guy had played on her. She sounded like a nice girl and even if she wasn't, he had no reason to beat her almost to death. I would be her protector, as much as I could for now. I would talk to her husband and make him see the truth. Make him see that what goes around comes around. It had come around for the woman and Sir; it would come around for Jerry Watkins. I would see to it.

It occurred to me on my trip back to the farm that everything was on my side and against Jerry Watkins. No one knew where he was, not even him. For all he knew, he had gotten drunk and passed out on the hammock in his back yard, and woken up in hell. He didn't know me; I had never seen him at the farm. He probably didn't remember being slammed into his car's trunk, he had been unsteady on his feet and being hit in the head, I knew from my own past, sometimes made you forget the stuff that happened just before.

I, alone knew where he was. I alone knew, or at least believed what he was. And I alone would make him pay.
The Worm Farm Ch. 7&8 7 He was awake. He didn't look scared, he looked pissed off. He started yelling at me and cussing, and I quietly said, "There's no need for that." "No need? No need, you damn dummy, let me loose or I'll punch you into next week!" I explained how I wasn't letting him loose, and he threatened to ‘yell this place down!' I said he could yell as long and loud as he wanted, no one would hear him. "I'll fight you and get away!" He shouted. "You're all the way over there," I tried to reason with him, "and I am over here. I could come over there and you still wouldn't be able to get to me, best give up boy." The boy wouldn't quit struggling. "Look up, sir," I said, "next time you wake up you'll be on the hook. Maybe then we can have a conversation." The boy looked up and got really pale. "You can't put me up there, you can't. I'll get away, I will, and then you'll be sorry!" "You're tied fast, son, how are you going to get free to get me?" "You have to let me loose. You can't keep me here. I got to take a leak as it is. Let me loose and I'll pee outside." "I'm not undoing you son, nature will have to make her call right where you're sitting. Don't be afraid to make a mess, it's easily cleaned up. Now, why were you rooting in my stuff?" "Well, duh! I wanted to see what you had, creep! Everyone knows you have a lot of money! I wanted some, and I'll be back after I get loose. That'll be better, actually, this time I'll bring the law, and I'll get your money in court. I'll say you kept me here to do things to me! Everyone knows you're crazy!" "Do I know you, boy? I never saw you out here before." "Mike told me all about you! Mike said he couldn't come along, because you'd seen him, but I could! You're toast, dummy, now I've seen your face and I can describe you to the cops! Ha! You'll never get away with it!" "But son," I said. "If I don't let you leave, how can you tell?" He just looked at me, with his mouth open. I left then, tired of his griping. He had acted as if it was the most natural thing in the world for him to take my stuff, just because he wanted to! I didn't understand where he had gotten that idea, but that was neither here nor there. He had made his choice to steal, and now he would have to live with it. Or not live with it. I had juggled with the idea early on of beating him to teach him a lesson, then letting him go. But he was right, he had seen me, and instead of that being his salvation it would be my chance to kind of try things out and eventually he would be the worm's dinner. Maybe in time he would see the error of his ways and be sorry. I thought I'd probably feel better about the whole thing if he was sorry. I hadn't done anything to deserve being treated the way I had been treated. He, on the other hand, did do something. But, I had come this far and couldn't back out now. I did some clean-up where he had ripped up my bait shack and swept up and fed the worms. When I finished watering the pile, the boy had been alone for about an hour or so and I went back down to him. He looked a little the worse for wear and there was a powerful smell of urine. He was sagging in his bonds, dozing and hadn't heard me creep in. I gave him a kick in the knee. "Ow! Man, why'd you do that?" He yelped, struggling again. "I wanted to talk to you," I said. "Well, I don't wanna talk to you; you better get me outta here. I'll tell the cops!!" He was spraying spit all over. I got up from the floor and started out. "Wait, man," he whined, "where are you going?" "Leaving, I don't need to hear this; all I want to know is why you felt the need to steal." "I didn't need to, I wanted to! Don't leave, man, let's talk about it." It appeared he had a change of heart. I went over to check his ties and he quickly tried to rear up and bite me! Me! I wanted him to see the error of his ways, and teach him something he could take to the hereafter! I stooped down and punched him as hard as I could. Then I took a piece of leftover wood and beat him like the dog he was. I was out of control, and he was unconscious when I finally stopped. I left him then, and went upstairs to walk around and cool down. I'd wanted some time to ease into this new line of work, but if I didn't get my wits about me it'd be over before it had begun, and all this hard work would have been for nothing. I made myself some dinner and sat out on the porch for a while to calm myself down. I went on the internet to read the paper, and then when I thought I'd be okay I went back down to the dungeon. It turned out he wouldn't be griping anymore or telling folks in town about me. He was dead. It was a big mistake on my part. It wasn’t as if I hadn’t planned to kill him, I had - just not yet. I figured it really wasn't my fault that he was dead already. I had planned to reason with him over a few days, even feed him somewhat to keep him alive a bit longer. I had meant to kill him, that part I took full responsibility for, but not so fast! He had tried my patience and I lost control. I would have to think long and hard about that and maybe change my strategy so it wouldn't happen again. But first I had some chores to do. I went and got the tools and cut him up as neatly as possible in the dungeon using the stack of newspapers I had collected. I had practiced butchering with the road kill and found out that it went easier into the grinder if it was sectioned up beforehand. I brought his pieces upstairs and put them into the buckets in the golf cart for the ride to the bed. I didn't need to do anything else to him, but I put him through the grinder and mixed him with the crumbles anyway. I figured that if anyone ever came looking, bone meal was easier to explain away than a skeleton. The worms would've worn that down eventually, but this was just as easy and got rid of it sooner. He was just a little fresher than my other road-kill. I had stripped off his clothes and ripped them up while sectioning him, and put them in the buckets for the trip later on to the river. Last of all I brought up the newspaper and ground it up too, and forked it into the mass. I wet down the bed and the pile of mixed kibble, and then locked up the house and gate. Later I took my bucket and shovel down to the river. When his clothes were buried in the soft loam of the near bank, I dipped my bucket and cleaned out the cart. Lastly, I dug a bucket-full of the slimy, river sludge to take back to the worms. Afterwards, when all the cleaning up was done, I took a shower and went to bed. As I lay there, I thought about what had happened today. I had been worried that I might not be able to carry it off when it was face to face. Killing my mother, if that was who she was, and that man she was with, had almost been remote control. I had seen them come up the drive and heard them run into the house, but I was gone for all intents when they died. I hadn't even made it to the funerals, not that it mattered to me but now I had gotten my taste of it. Next time I would be better, next time I would stay calm and in control. I could wait now too, and not be so eager. I knew there would be others, others that thought they could take my things because they thought I was damaged. I knew they would come, and I'd be waiting. 8 Over the next couple of months more and more people had come to my farm for worms. I was up early, just before dawn every morning to man the shack, and during any lulls I would feed the worms and clean up around the beds. Then in the mid-morning I'd go in and make lunch and bring it back out. I would use some of the extra time to grind up newspaper and leaves, and for walking around the bed to seek out worms making a 'run' for it. These I would pick up in my gloved hands and fling them back into the mass. I had started wearing gloves around the worms about a month ago. One morning I was picking up the stragglers and tossing them back in, when one worm bit me. He actually broke the skin and was slightly sucking at the wound. I guess they had used up all that boy and were looking for more of the same. By the way, the Sheriff had come out about that boy, seems he hadn't come home and somebody had actually wanted him back. Go figure. Anyway the Sheriff came out and asked if I'd seen him and of course, I told him there was just me and the worms here at the farm, but he was welcome to look around. He said the kid was a no-account and had probably run away and he was wasting his time. I got a great idea then, and sprung it on Sheriff Rooney. "I could keep an eye out for him," I gushed. "I could be like the neighborhood watch! If I see any problems I could call you straightaway, and then you or Dan could come right out! How would that be?" Sheriff Rooney smiled and said it would be fine. He had worried about me out here alone, he said, and he was sure that there wouldn't be much trouble, but he'd feel better knowing I was watching. So I figured if something happened and it wasn't too bad, or bad for me, I'd call the Sheriff, otherwise I would carry out the sentences in the dungeon. That would keep things sweet between the town folks and me, and would work out fine. About a week later, a group of teenagers went flying by on their bicycles, riding hell-bent for leather toward the river. They were whooping and hollering, and some of them gave me the finger as they rode by. A bunch of fishermen left the river right after that, and one or two stopped to tell me how the boys were ripping up the banks and scaring the fish. On their urging I went in and called the Sheriff. A little later Dan rolled up and waved as he passed my shack. About 15 minutes later, the kids all came out and one or two gave me the finger as they followed the Deputy's car back to town. I figured I had made a few enemies by calling them in, but I was doing my job. Except for looking for the next person to take to the dungeon, my life settled down into a kind of routine. I got up early for the fishermen, recycled the old worms and dipped new ones. I fed the worms, swept out the shack, and basically did whatever fix-up, clean-up that was around. I took to reading in the off periods, and it was for pleasure instead of to learn something. Helen, the librarian, had fixed me up with a list of the classics that she said I should have read in school, and I was working my way through them. I really enjoyed Robinson Crusoe, but found Dickens a little hard to understand. Helen had told me to write down whatever I had problems with, and then next time I was down at the library, we'd go over the list. I was meeting more people too, every time I rolled into town. I would always look in at the Sheriff's office, sometimes he or Dan and I would go to lunch. I would report on people I had seen that looked suspicious, or ask about stuff I had read in the paper and we would while away the better part of the afternoon. Days like that had to be planned for, the worms didn't need much, but they needed to be fed and watered on a regular basis. They were a big investment in time and money, and I didn't want to mess it up. One day I read in the paper about a man who had been picked up for being drunk in public. He had been charged, spent the night in jail and then was released. When the man went home, he was angry at his wife because he got arrested, and even though she hadn't done anything to get him arrested, and somehow the wife ended up in the hospital. The man said he didn't know how she had gotten hurt, and there was no one to ask, the wife was in a coma. They lived outside of town, and had no close neighbors, and there were no witnesses. There were pictures in the newspaper showing her injuries, and editorials about domestic violence. Apparently, domestic violence is when your partner beats the mean out of themselves by hitting you. Like Sir and the woman had done to me! It made me really angry that she had been hurt, and I decided to do something about it. I looked in the telephone book for the husband's address, and drove out there; well, near there, with my golf cart. I crept over to the house and heard music coming from around back. I peeked around the side of the house, and there he was. The guy was lying in a hammock, beer cans all over the ground under him, and he was passed out. I made a slight noise and he never even moved, except to snore very wetly. I cleared my throat, and nothing. Then I poked him to see if he would get up. The man had some trouble getting out of the hammock, even though I excitedly told him that I had just seen someone ram his car in the street. I had to practically hold him up as I walked him down the yard to the drive. "I don't see anything," he slurred, blowing his beery smell in my face. "It's over on the other side," I said, taking his elbow. "Come over and look." When he came around to the other side of the car, I turned and cracked his head hard off the trunk. He went down right away. I went for my cart. He was heavier than the boy had been, and harder to get in the cart. I pretended he was like moving the bags of cement and got him up onto the cart, then went around and pulled him farther on. Happily there were no neighbors, and after I got him in the cart and covered him with the tarps, you would have had to know he was there to see him. I chunked him a couple more times on the way back to the farm, just to keep him out in case someone was nearby when I had to move him. The farm was quiet when I got back. I drove the cart over to the shed and put a tarp down on the ground, then rolled him off the cart and onto it. I dragged the tarp and him down into the tunnel and back to the room. It took a real long time, and I had to stop and rest every once in a while, but finally he was there and I could tie him up. I slid him over to the wall, and with the hook and a rope I raised him to a standing position and tied him upright, face-front and spread-eagled to the wall.

The Worm Farm 5 & 6

Helen Bishop

5

One morning, I called the sheriff's deputy and asked if he had time to go fishing. He allowed as he was thinking about coming out to visit anyway, and sounding pleased said he'd be out later that morning.

We went for bait, and he helped me in my shy way ask the bait guy how many worms I should send for at first. They both acted like I was damaged, so they treated me carefully. The bait man said he hoped I wouldn't run him out of business, and I made myself look shocked, and stammered, "Oh no, sir, maybe I shouldn't raise worms?" He just smiled and said there was plenty of call for worms what with the river so close and for farming, and not to worry. I let them talk me back into it, and the deputy and the bait guy showed me how to fill out the order form and mailed it for me.

Two weeks later the post office called and said I had received some boxes of live animals, would I be home if they came out to deliver? I, of course, said yes, and they brought them right on out. I had ordered five thousand worms. Sounds like a lot, but I had a big worm bed and big plans for their place in my future. I had decided to let them feast on the dregs of society, or at least those dregs that I encountered.

One night I had knocked together a small open shed for the bait seller's shack. When my friend the deputy saw it, we couldn't do anything else until he showed me how to make it stronger. I could have done it myself by that time, but he felt better helping me out, and I felt better letting him.

Most of the people in town had gotten over my horrible appearance in that place and the events that had apparently led up to it. They would just as soon forget about it and me, and for those folks I had made it easier to forget, moving all the way the hell out to the river. But I did make some good friends there, too, what with the Sheriff and his deputy, the nurses and the other counselors, and so I had to continue my neediness and slow down any competence I was beginning to feel. I took out books from the library on a regular basis, though less often after I moved. I always got some ‘easy reading’ ones, and some picture books they told me were ‘coffee table’ books.

I was actually pleased to know that people really cared about how I was doing, although it was a new thing for me. So, I tried to call my friends at least once every couple of weeks, to stay in touch, and to stop them from making surprise visits to check on me.

I had put the worms out into their nice clean new beds, and five thousand worms is a damned amount but 20 minutes after I had first laid them out, they were nowhere to be seen. All those worms had burrowed down into the masses of ground newspaper. I scattered a bunch of worm 'kibble' mixed with road-kill from out of the grinder onto the heaving mass. It smelled terrible to me, but apparently not to the worms, because they came squirming out of the mess and the bed looked alive.

I waited for about an hour then I sprayed down the top of the pile with the hose, just like it said in the brochure from the worm hatchery. The mass quieted down after that but it gave off a gentle steam, like something was cooking underneath. I noticed that the smell from the mixed kibble was gone, too. There wasn't really any odor associated with it, except the wet smell of freshly turned loam. I found it rather pleasant, and was glad that there was no smell that might be questioned by anyone passing by.

I forked over some dirt in my side yard, right off the kitchen and mixed in some of the worm dirt to make it better. That afternoon I called the librarian to see if she could check the classified for a scooter or an old motorized golf cart I could use to get back and forth to town. She said she'd get right on it and unbeknownst to me; she called the sheriff and put a plan in motion.

The end of that week, the deputy called. "Charlie?" he said, "will you be home this afternoon? I've a load of newspapers for you and Helen (the librarian) wants to come along to see how you're doing."

"Sure, I will," I said. "I wanted to ask you about a garden anyway." The deputy let him know they'd be out later that afternoon. I swept up and put off feeding the worms so I could show them when they came. Around about 2 that afternoon, several trucks came rolling into my yard. I recognized them as my friends from town. Suddenly glad that I had disguised all my questionable hidey-holes, I went out to meet them. Deputy Dan Jenkins called everyone to order. "Charlie," he said. "A lot of us in town are happy about how you've worked so hard to turn your life around, and we wanted to do something for you." "But you've all done so much..." I interrupted. Dan waved his hand and continued, "We have been talking about it for weeks. We thought about getting you a dog, a puppy really, but puppies are a lot of work and we weren't sure how you'd feel about a dog, after what..." Dan's voice faded off. Helen jumped in, "So, when you called about the golf cart, we all got together and found you a nice used one and Dan and the Sheriff had it gone over at the garage. We all worked on spiffing it up and now," she waved toward the back of the nearest truck, "This is our gift to you!" Dan and some of the other men wheeled out the neatest little golf cart from the rear of the truck. It was newly painted in a barn red color that was resistant to weather. It had a roof-like cover, and they had rolled up plastic 'walls' so I could use it in the rain. They had even fashioned cargo tie-downs, so I could secure the road-kill and other things I picked up.

It was the nicest thing that anyone had ever done for me. And I was happy to let them do it for me, because I had planned to help the town later, in my own way.

The other people who had come out from the town had brought box-lunches and tarps and blankets to sit on in the field and we had a picnic. Afterwards I gave them all a thrill by dumping all the picnic waste, excepting the bottles and cans of course, out onto the worm beds. Those little guys made short work of the scraps, and some of the men came up to me later to ask about them. I showed those who were curious the ways of the giant worm bed. I showed them everything, well almost everything. I demonstrated the grinders and showed the worm 'kibble' and how I mixed it, and I dug up a bucket of the bed to show them the healthy worms. I went to throw some more kibble onto the pile, and some folks came up to help. Most of them were impressed by what I had accomplished. A couple of teen-aged boys stood slightly apart from the rest of us, and were whispering and looking guilty. I kept an eye on them without seeming to, and then a little bit later everyone took their leave.

6

I loved having the golf cart, and for the next couple weeks I went everywhere in it. For my first trip, I carefully drove down to the town's hardware store, parked outside and put a nickel into the meter. The owner came out and told me I needn't, but I said I knew that was what was right, and he said 'Good," and led me into the shop.

I told him that I was worried about passersby and other people falling into the worm bed. I also told him that I was scared to leave my home open when I drove down to town. He helped me figure it all out. We drew pictures and hemmed and hawed and hashed it all out. He said that I’d need at least a five-foot high fence all the way around the bed. I would need a lockable gate, but the gate would have to be wide enough to bring the golf cart through, because the stuff for grinding up the road-kill and mixing the kibble would need to be inside the fence. He also set me up with a few good deadlocks for the house. I bought a lot of them; I told him I might think of other things to use them on later, so I wanted an assortment. He told me of a guy in town who could come out to install the fence, and after some more talking we set up the appointment.

When the fence man came out to the farm, he brought his nephew, a teenager named Mike. Mike spent more time asking me about the operation and everything than he did helping his uncle. He was the one who suggested the 'honor system' for my bait shack. He said I wouldn't have to get up so early for the fishermen; they could take their own bait and leave the money.

Even though I didn't think so, I told him that it was a great idea. Mike walked around the whole farm, pointing at this and that, and asking how much each thing cost. I don't cotton well to that kind of talk, but his uncle was setting my fence and I tried to be neighborly. I told Mike I wasn't comfortable talking like that and he blurted out, "But you're rich, ain't ya?" Mike said he didn't mean anything by it, but then his uncle called him and he went over to help.

The fence came out great and Troy, the uncle, showed me all about the locking mechanism for the gate. He said, "and you can put a camera right there and train it over the beds and see anything that happens from inside." Mike said, "Now Uncle Troy, Charlie don't need that." Then I got nervous again.

Dan had told me what plants grew well around the area and came out to drive me to the local nursery. I got some tomato and pepper plants, and a bunch of seed packets. Dan thought I was moving too fast and told me so, but I told him that I wanted to live off the farm as much as I could, and maybe I could sell tomatoes in the bait shack as well. He said that maybe that would be good, and we went back to the farm.

Dan dropped me off and I put the plants in the ground.

Later that week, I noticed more foot traffic going past my farm toward the river. I fixed up the bait shack, and put in an old refrigerated unit to keep the worms in. I also got a metal box and put twenty dollars in change in it, and put it under the counter. I painted an old board, and in my shaky lettering wrote "WORMS- 15c each or $1.50 a dozen. And I put it out leaning against the shed.

I did a little bit of business that first day and I put a couple extra worms in each dozen. I was hoping the people would think it good was just business practice and not think it was because I was dumb or couldn't count.

The next day I was out bright and early, mixing up the kibble and feeding and watering the worms. I recycled the cold worms from the cooler into the kibble and dipped out a few more.

When I walked back up to the bait shack, I heard a noise and saw bike tracks in the dirt. Coming around the side of the shack I saw the bike and saw the back end of someone going through my stuff. I slammed the countertop, and the kid jumped a mile.

"What are you playing at, friend?"

The kid dropped what was in his hands and made to bolt. I cuffed him on the side of his head and he went down like a stone, dropping the open change box when he fell.

It took some doing to get the boy down to the dungeon, and I thanked the townspeople several times under my breath for the gift of the golf cart. When I got him down there, I sat him against the wall, and tied him tightly to the run-out stake and the tie rings. I thought about stripping him naked, but I figured that could be saved for another time farther along. I made sure the bonds were tight, then went back outside, carefully closing everything behind me. I really wanted to watch the boy, but I had chores and he would wait.

I spent some time in the bait shack with my tools dismantling the boy's bike, and put the pieces into my buckets and drove on down to the river bank. I threw those pieces as far as I could from several places along the bank. Then I dug up some of the loamy sludge along the bank to give to the garden and my worms. I thought with all the stuff that got into the river, it might be like fertilizer in a way. I drove back home, and cleaned everything up, went and washed my hands, and went back down to the room.

The Worm Farm 3 & 4 
by Helen Bishop

 

The Worm Farm:
I found out later, much later that they had a lot of insurance on the house and on each other. Apparently, there was no missing person report for anyone around my age anywhere in the area, and the local doctor said that Anita had come in for a pregnancy test, and requested somewhere to go for an abortion around 17 years ago. So, unless I "fell off a space ship" the sheriff and the courts had determined that I was her next-of-kin, and so I inherited. I still had no name, but the nurses had called me Charlie. Charlie, I became. They told me that I was the lone survivor of the "accident" and that I had some pretty bad injuries, so I'd have to stay in the hospital for a while. The doctors and nurses, and later the sheriff told me that I had been found outside, with a handcuff on my wrist, with some very serious injuries, and it looked like the explosion, if that was what it had been, had blown me clean out of the house. They weren't sure what had happened, and the sheriff had muttered "there wasn't enough left to fill a small sack", but that the bartender had said that my parents had been at the bar earlier, and after receiving a phone call, had gone flying out. No one had known what to make of me at first. No one knew anything about them having any children and the handcuff was disturbing and hard to swallow. After the sheriff had asked what I remembered, "Remember, sir? I was in my closet..." the questions had mostly stopped. They trotted in the counselors, and psychiatrists, and I answered most of the questions with the truth or my version of it, and if it got too close to the night of the "accident" I told about being bound and gagged and started to cry, and they left me alone. The food had me sick at first, and the nurses joked about "hospital food", but there was so much of it, food that I had never even tasted before, that I almost enjoyed the stomach upsets. After all, I was throwing up better food than I had ever eaten. After about four months, they put me into an assisted living home, and the nurses came to me. The counselors had to buy me everything, because I had nothing. Of course, I could afford it; the "parents" had some good investments, besides the house and each other. The counselors helped me to get a social security card, and talked about a tutor to help me regain whatever I had lost. They were impressed that I could do a lot for myself, like vacuum and run the washer, but all those slave years had made me efficient. I tried to dumb myself down whenever they were around, so there would be minimal questions. I got the tutor and the social security card, we had to guess at my birthdate, because apparently, I wasn't in the system anywhere. They did everything they could to help me. They treated me with sympathy, and like I was "slow". When they explained something to me, they used simple terms and even drew pictures. The sheriff and his deputy came by to take me fishing. We always had to stop and get bait on the way. It gave me an idea. In a few months, I told these people who worried so much about me, that I wanted to find out about stuff. I wanted to start my own little place, so I would have a job, and not be such a burden on everyone. I wanted to live in my own little house, and take care of myself. They were helpful and said that I showed 'spunk', but they cautioned me to go slow. I told them I wanted to become a worm farmer. They all did everything they could to help me. Someone knew of a little farm outside the next town that was available to buy. Some of the locals helped me check it out and make the down-payment. Some people from the courthouse helped me to set everything up. I was introduced, at the library, to the internet. I spent long days looking up different kinds of worms and how to farm them for bait. I was the first one in the library most days, and sometimes even the last one out. On days when the library wasn't open, I cleaned up at the farm. I was always drawing pictures, to figure out what I wanted, and how I wanted to do it. I had almost figured it all out. Everyone was so helpful whenever I had questions. I acted shy, and it must have been a good act, because they all were very gentle with me, and my tortured feelings. None of them could forget the details of my past, or the handcuff, and I developed the habit of going very still and starting to tremble when something didn't go my way. So very still, and sort of scared-looking, like I was waiting for the punch or the slap. With all my experience, it was very easy to do, and it was very effective. 4 Over that first winter, I spent a lot of time in the outbuildings on my farm. One of the sheds I had made into a kind of tool shed, and made racks for the ladders and rakes, and a worktable to keep all my tools, as I got them, on. I hung peg-board and carefully drew around the tools with white paint, so my friends would see how careful I was being. Everything in its place. I also dug up the dirt floor of that shed. When my friends asked, I told them I wanted to lay some concrete so I could park my tractor in the shed. I didn’t even have a tractor, a fact pointed out to me many times, but I had it in my head that a tractor would be needed, so I made the space. I also got some help making one of the shed walls into a wider door. It was a lot of work, back-breaking work, but for the first time in my life, or in the life that I could remember, I was working for me. I went to bed exhausted every night, but it was good, because it was to my benefit. Right about then was when I told my friends that they should try to call me, before dropping in to visit. I said I expected there'd be times I was outside, or out in the barn and not at the house. I told them that because of the colder weather, I would worry about them wandering around looking for me, so it would be better if they called first. One of the counselors got me a little cell-phone. It was a cheap one, with pre-paid time, so they could keep tabs on me. I promised to call every few days, so they wouldn't worry. Now, I could really plan my future! I waited for a few weeks while the weather started to warm up towards Spring, planning and drawing and giving my friends time to get out of the habit of their almost daily visits, those things I was planning would be hard to do alone, but easier without witnesses. I had decided, long ago it seemed now, to make those other people-the ones like my mother and Sir-pay for their ways in this life, just the way their victims had to. The worm farm would be my smoke-screen. In fact, the worms would be my partners, willing or not. Worms are carnivorous. They will eat dirt and leaf matter, but they will also eat flesh. This fact was revealed to me when one of the people helping me set up the farm had said that maybe I could get some of the county's road-kill sent out to me. I could put it through grinders and mix it with the worm crumbles. He said it would help the worms to grow bigger and hardier. I guess flesh is flesh, and the worms won't care if it was deer, or coon, or anybody else. I didn't wind up laying a cement floor in that shed, only a wooden one much later. Not until I had dug out the entire floor, dug down about fourteen feet, dug a tunnel out to the side, then dug a great root cellar. I laid cinder blocks in for walls, reading books to figure out the way. I made the "root cellar" about 12 x 12 feet with 10 foot high walls. I put a cement floor in there, and that took a lot of planning and pictures and looking up directions. I took a rake to the floor of dirt and carefully took out all but the smallest rocks. Then I got bags of sand delivered, from the hardware store, enough to cover the floor to five inches deep. That doesn’t sound like much sand, but believe me, it really is. Then I had bags of Portland cement delivered. I had spent almost one whole afternoon at the hardware store discussing the ‘care and feeding’ of cement. Larry, the clerk at the store, had told me I could buy a bunch of bags for fixing up stuff, like making a patio, and putting in a mailbox and stuff. He said they could deliver it and as long as it stayed dry I would have it when I needed it. He insisted that I should order a lot, (I think he got a commission) so I did, and they delivered it right to the farm. The guy even put all the bags right into the shed I had cleared out for the stuff, right after he told me I should put a couple wooden pallets down first. I mixed those bags of cement, 2 or 3 bags at a time, right in the basement and shoveled them onto the sand that I’d carefully tamped down. I spread each wheel barrowful, starting all the way in the back corner and bringing it forward. I did a bit at a time, letting each section set before I started another chunk. When all the sand was covered with cement to a depth of 4 inches, I mixed another three bags, a lot looser than the first bags had been mixed and made what they had told me was a ‘skim’ coat, effectively leveling the cement pad, and I carefully planted a set of dog run-out stakes and rings in the floor before that skim coat set. I had also set meat hooks and tie-rings in the cinder block wall while I had laid it, then painted the blocks with that white water-proofing stuff from the hardware store. I ran a heavy-duty extension cord down into the room and ran it up the side of the wall. I hung one of those reflector type lights off it so I'd have light to work, and other things. In the room directly under the shed, I had laid cinder block floors and walls as well, making it a mirror of the root cellar beyond. In this room of course, there weren't any rings or hooks, only shelves, and these shelves were some of my earlier attempts and so were crudely made. I put a few old books haphazardly on those shelves, along with some old jars and bottles, and paint cans. A little more smoke-screen. I made a good framing for the ceiling, and then covered it with wood. The wall with the tunnel to the 'dungeon" as I was now calling it, was heavily batted with insulation, covered with wall-board, and I had attached more crudely made shelves to the board, effectively masking the door to my dungeon. I was wondering how to get water there, for the clean up afterwards, but had determined that laying newspaper on the floor, then burning the paper would be an easier way to do that. Or, I reasoned I could use the dirty newspaper in the worm beds. Blood is blood, I was sure they would like the meaty-flavored treat. Because my friends were curious, although well meaning, I had also laid a sidewalk from the house out to where the worm bed would be and put a cement floor in the shed closest to the worms. I put up saw horses and used posts and string to mark the places they would go. I left the string up while I slowly excavated the marked-out areas, then dug them out a little at a time, over a week or two, so my visitors would have something to see when they dropped by. My friends told me that they were glad to see I was taking my time and doing things right. I also laid out the strings to where I would excavate for the worm bed. I planned on making it the size of a garden plot at first, figuring that I could make it bigger if things worked out. I dug down about a foot and hauled the dirt away in the wheelbarrow. I went on down to the hardware store and asked the clerk about what to lay at the bottom of the bed. The research had recommended plastic or peat moss, but I didn’t like the idea of plastic, because I thought it would get too hot but I didn’t want to let the worms just dig themselves away from me. The clerk at the store recommended some stuff called landscape cloth, a kind of woven mesh stuff that would let any overflow of wash seep through, keep the worms from escaping, and keep the heat down. I ordered enough to line the plot I had now, and the same again in case of future diggings. Now that the dungeon was set up, I spent long hours cleaning and decorating my house, and long, hard hours setting up for the worm delivery in the early spring. I had the librarian help me write an ad for the bulletin board, asking for old newspapers that I would grind up for the worm bedding. I needed an enormous amount, as I would need to have enough to regularly grind and fork into their beds. The librarian said I should ask for leaves too, year-round-to add to the newspapers and to change the mix for the worms. People, she said, would be glad for somewhere to take them. I went on the internet and bought almost every book there was about worm farming. I also sent for a lot of worm catalogs. I made my choice- red wigglers. They had everything going for them: they grew fast, they ate anything that didn't eat them and they reproduced at an alarming rate. If something happened to fall into the beds, the vibration would bring out the worms for dinner just like those fish that can strip out a cow in minutes. Worms weren't as fast as that, but there would be a lot of worms. I also bought this electrical shocker thing; I figured I could use it to electrocute fish before I threw them into the worms. I don't know if fish have feelings, but it seemed cruel to throw a live fish into a mass of carnivorous worms. Time passed and I called my friends less and less, and got comfortable being alone. I would go out on the farm for bracing walks while I thought about how I could do what I felt I had to do. While I was still thinking and planning, winter melted into spring.

The Worm Farm 
by Helen Bishop

 

The Worm Farm:
The Worm Farm by Helen Bishop 1.

Fire should be an easy thing to start. Fire setting is an old art. No talent is required to start a fire these days. A match, a lighter, the stove-top all make the starting a certainty. But this fire had to be simple as well as difficult. This fire had to burn clean, hot, and completely, its origin had to be undetectable, and it would start with an electric clock.

The set up would be the longest part. The act of filling the room with enough fuel, or explosive, enough to burn everything, enough to leave no trace, enough so the simple act of the alarm clock being plugged in would begin the end. That was the most difficult part.

Then afterward, there would be another part. This part would be even harder to grasp. Not for me, of course, but for the others. I would be there, but would not be able to watch the fire, and then not able to enjoy the moment. No smiling, no laughing, after all fire is a dangerous thing, not to be laughed at. People would be watching me, because I would be the center of attention.

This untraceable fire would make me an orphan.

Over the years, from my hidey-hole I had heard the television. It was my endless companion because it was always on. In the beginning, I figured they forgot to turn it off, later its droning covered any noises I made when their ‘friends’ came over, not that it saved me-any noises were dealt with as soon as those people left. Sir loved those old detective stories, and then they morphed into those forensic stories. I learned a lot, suspended in my chains, listening through the locked closet door. I learned enough to make a plan.

I had enough of the torment of living with my mother, if that was who she was, and her husband. Yes, he had a name, I had heard her use it, but I was to call him "Sir". Sir and my mother had made it their goal to act as if I was there only for their needs. If something happened to me, so what? I wasn't even sure that I was "her" child, maybe she picked me up in a parking lot somewhere. There were no pictures that I could find of a younger me, no pictures of a baby me, no pictures or history of me at all. She had never taken me to a doctor or dentist or to school. To my knowledge, I had no one other than her, and him, and if this fire accomplished what I hoped it would, any connection to my so- called family would be severed. I was their slave, if I didn't do their bidding, I did nothing. Eating, sleeping, or breathing. I had no rights, and it all could be taken away. It was my choice, and I chose to become an orphan, with their consent, or not. When I was ‘bad’, they would leave me, suspended in my chains, cuffed and gagged, locked in the closet. Out of sight, out of mind. When I wasn’t, they would let me roam around the house, not freely, of course, just enough to be able to work- to run the washer, to clean up after the dogs.

Wednesday nights they always went out. It was so routine that Sir didn't even lock me in my closet anymore. Where would I go? The dogs were in the house, they were in control when he was gone, and they knew it. He pampered them, fed them choice bits of his meal, and he used them to torment me. He trained them to growl and lunge if I made a move towards Sir, or anywhere they figured I shouldn’t be. The old man praised them every time they left me frightened or weak and gasping for air. I let them have their doggy moments, if all went as planned, they would be out of my life tonight as well.

I went into the bathroom, as soon as they left for the evening. I opened the medicine cabinet and took out all her pills. I knew some of them made her sleep, and some were for other things, but I wasn't sure which were which. I could read a little, that's why I thought I had been someone else's child in another life, but these medical names were beyond me. To be safe, in case the fire didn’t erase all evidence, I took a few out of every bottle. I broke them up with the stick from the plunger, and opened the ones that were capsules. When I had mixed it all together in his shaving cup, I added enough water to make it sloppy, and then took it into the kitchen.

From the refrigerator, I took out the dog meat. I mixed the drugs with the meat in a big bowl, then put it all out on the back porch and let the dogs out. I didn't want them bothering me during the set up.

Sir had played at being a hunter. I had been threatened with the guns often enough so I knew where they all were in the house. I got the rifles, guns and all the ammunition and piled them in the living room for fuel. Our house was rather messy, she was not a good housekeeper, and of course, all the cleaning and chores had fallen to me. For the last few weeks I had let a lot of it go, leading up to tonight. It had earned me a few more punches, but it was less to get ready for the fire. He had a whole set-up to refill his shotgun shells. I had been taught to use it, so Sir didn't have to spend less of his precious time drunk and watching television. Each time I had refilled the shells lately, I had saved a bit of the black powder out, and stowed it under the rugs and the dog's papers in the living room. Every time the old man fell asleep smoking I didn't know whether to hope he would set it off or not.

I would be free after the fire. They would be dead, I would be alone. But I knew a fire as big as I needed would bring out the locals. Even if it turned out that I was her child, I had never seen anyone else that I could remember. Whenever someone came out to the house, I was quickly put into the closet, bound and gagged. Who were they hiding me from? I didn't know. But I did know that for me to show up unscathed after a fire that left only me would be hard to explain. I would have to be injured, and amnesia couldn't hurt, especially if it was made up.

Someday, I told myself, I would be the one to hurt others like them. No one good or innocent should have to suffer to live. I alone would be the one to make the decision of who got hurt, and how. After, of course, I got rid of these people.

While I was readying the house for its death, I thought about how to injure myself, 'in the explosion' but in a believable way, a way that wouldn't take me all the way out of commission, but would keep all questions at a minimum. More and more to work out, but the work was worth it, if it went the way I wanted. And if it didn't, how could it be worse than it was already?

In the meantime, I spread and spilled and squirted things throughout the living and bedrooms, being careful to leave my closet untouched, the bindings and gag easily seen inside. Sir had reinforced the door against escape long ago; I hoped the reinforcements would hold against the explosion.

I took the alarm clock in their room and carefully 'chewed' at the cord with an old, broken pocket-knife I had found in the trash. When the cord was raveled enough to show the inner wires, and I had bared some of those, I put it under the edge of a bunch of papers underneath their bed. Plugging it in would be nearly my last move.

2

Going into the bedroom that should have been mine, but belonged to the dogs, except for the closet, I took a pillow and wrapped my shirt around it, then pushed it through the window pane, hard, smashing the glass and watching it fall outside in tiny pieces. I actually took a piece of the glass and scratched my arms and face with it, hard enough to bring blood out in some places. Hard enough to hurt, but I had long ago learned to hold myself against pain. I knew I had to be convincing, but stay alive. If I died getting rid of them, it would be poetic justice. I wanted justice, just not that kind.

The bar they always went to was about 10 minutes away, by my figuring. I, of course had never gone, but he always drove back plastered, and by his condition on his return, I figured he couldn’t have driven any farther than that.

I would have to wait for them to get home to start the fire, to make sure they were in it. I looked out to the porch, and the dogs were all asleep. If I got her and Sir back real soon, the dogs would never know what hit them, and some would probably have a chance to survive, being that they would be outside whatever happened. I decided to do something I never had dared. I used the phone. I had heard Sir and her call there often enough, always asking about ‘specials’ and about who would be playing. They had called this afternoon about tonight, and I hadn’t heard anyone use the phone since. I crossed my fingers and pressed ‘redial’.

"Hello?" I almost whimpered, my voice so soft that the man answering the phone said to speak up, "Is my mom there?" "Who's your mom, kid?" the bartender asked. "Anita," I answered, using the name Sir called her. "Just a second, kid."

My stepfather came to the phone, as I knew he would. He used to beat on her, before they had both started beating on me, for fun. I knew he'd never let her answer the phone in a bar.

"Who is this? Well, speak up!"

"Stepfather?" I almost cried, "There's a small accident here..." "Accident?' he roared. "What accident?" "The dogs, sir," I whispered. "The dogs knocked over the re-loader, and there's powder all over the place. I tried to wash it up..."

"Damn fool kid," he muttered. "Get in your place, we'll be right there!"

I ran to finish what I had started.

I plugged in the alarm clock, smelled the electricity and saw the beginning curl of smoke. Then I ran into the kitchen, blew out the pilot light on the stove and opened the gas jets full. I made a long line of lighter fluid, on top of the newspaper trail I already had made from the kitchen stove all the way to the window that I had broken out, in the bedroom by my closet.

I clipped one of the handcuffs around my left wrist, and after putting my glassy shirt back on got up on the window sill, and pushed myself out of the room onto the ground just outside. A long shard of the broken glass buried itself into my thigh and it was bleeding pretty good. All part of my set-up, better than I had thought. It burned, but I left it where it was.

I got back up with the lighter in my hand.

Now I heard his car fish-tailing up the drive. He must have been in an unholy rage by the way his car was all over the lawn. He slammed to a halt, and wrenching her out of the car, he dragged her along with him into the house. I heard him shout, "What the hell?" just as I lit the trail of fluid.

The flames ripped through the bedroom and entered the living room and kitchen. A loud floomp almost moved the house off its foundation. I was blown back onto the ground.

I never got to enjoy the fire.

****

When I came to, there were burning bits of the house all around me, and my clothes had caught fire in a couple places. I felt limp, like I had no strength, and like I imagine I would have if I’d ever had a bad sunburn. The sound of fast approaching sirens cut through the roar of the flames. Then I went away again.

I woke up as they were loading me into the ambulance. A paramedic was busily trying to remove the handcuff from my wrist.

"Who else was in the house, son?" he asked gently, Your family?"

"I don't know," I said, "the man and the woman went out tonight."

"The man and the woman?" The paramedic seemed confused. "You mean your parents? What are their names?"

"I don't know," I said, "they never told me any names"

"Well son, what's your name?" he asked.

"I don't know, sir, they never told me."

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