Theory of the Worm - Chapter Three
It was bright.
It smelled good.
There was a gentle breeze.
The ground was shaking, there was an earthquake.
Earth was going away.
His house was gone.
His family was gone.
It was bright.
It smelled good.
There was a gentle breeze.
His family was gone.
Mark sat straight up screaming. He couldn’t focus on the world around him. He was vaguely aware that the weird guy with the white hair was holding onto him. He thrashed around for a while, screaming and crying and trying to hit this guy who was holding him so tight. After what could have been five minutes or could have been two hours, he settled down just enough to scream coherently.
“Get off me!” Mark yelled, spitting out another word afterward.
“Mark!” the man said, quietly but powerfully, “Mark it’s okay dude!”
“Shut up! How can you even say that?” Trying to scramble to his feet, the young man was overcome with waves of pain. Both physical and emotional. Collapsing on the ground, he gave himself over to waves of sobbing, crying and screaming. After some time of that, he sat up to see the weird man holding out a handkerchief. “What’s this for?” he got out through sniffles.
“If I had a mirror I’d show you your face,” the man replied. “How do you feel?”
Disgustedly, Mark answered “What kind of a stupid question is that?”
“I mean physically. We didn’t exactly make a three-point landing there, buddy.”
Remembering how badly he hurt all over, Mark tried feeling himself. Everywhere he touched was sore. “Yeah, I’m hurting.”
“Where does it hurt the worst?”
Thinking about it, Mark answered, “It hurts everywhere. Talking hurts. Sitting here and thinking hurts.”
With a wry little smile, the weird man asked, “Does it hurt when you laugh?”
Chuckling a little in spite of himself, Mark answered, “Yes. Shut up. What’s your name again?”
“Walker,” the man stated plainly.
“That’s a funny name. First or last?”
“Yes,” Walker replied. “You know, you’re being a lot calmer than I thought you would be.”
Mark wanted to scream, but it hurt too bad. He just gave Walker a dirty look then lay down again. This turned out not to be such a good idea because the sun was up in the sky and there was no shade. He tried turning to the right, then the lefty, but it didn’t help. When he put his hand up to try to cover his eyes, his arm and shoulder hurt like crazy. Finally he sat up again, groaning every centimeter of the way, and looked up to see Walker offering him a hand.
Saying, “Don’t look at me that way, this wasn’t my idea either,” Walker helped Mark to his feet. “Come on,” he said, pointing to the right, “There’s a tree over there. At least there’ll be some shade there.” Mark tried to walk but for the most part Walker carried him over to the tree. It was a big one, obviously very old, with big green leaves. The shade under it made it seem a lot cooler, but Mark realized that it wasn’t really that cold.
“Where are we?”
“Wow,” was Walker’s reply.
“Wow, you recovered enough to wonder where we are. That was actually a little faster than I thought you would.”
“I don’t think I like you,” Mark responded. “Would you please just tell me where we are?”
“Well…” Walker shrugged.
Incredulously, Mark asked, “You mean you don’t know?”
“Oh yeah, I know,” Walker intoned. “It’s just that you wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”
“So you’re not going to tell me?”
“Well, if I told you…”
“Then you’d have to kill me?”
Chuckling, Walker replied, “No, I would definitely not have to kill you. In fact, part of my job is try and help you stay alive here.” Reaching over, he placed his hand on the small of Mark’s back. “Breath deep, dude.”
“Hey!” Mark tried to jump away. “Don’t touch me!” The attempt cost him, though, and he was forced to sit back down.
“Don’t get any funny ideas,” Walker responded. “Trust me Mark, this will help.” He cupped his hand so that his fingertips were touching one side of Mark’s spine and his thumb was on the other. Slowly, he ran his hand up Mark’s back. As he did so, the younger man felt a wave of, well, of something moving through him. It didn’t feel bad, but it felt strange. It started right in the spine and then moved outward through his body. The pain went away. “Better?” Walker asked.
Flexing his shoulders, Mark answered, “Yeah! Yeah, it definitely feels better!” He stood up and flexed his legs a bit, then looked around. After a second, though, he got a funny look on his face and turned to Walker, asking, “Just what did you do?”
Standing, Walker replied, “Ah, that’s an ancient secret.”
“Don’t jerk around, Walker,” Mark growled.
“I’m not, dude. I really can’t tell you what I did.”
“Because you don’t know or because you’re not allowed to tell me?”
Looking straight at Mark, the tall man answered, “Yes.”
“And you can’t tell me where we are?”
Shrugging, Walker replied, “I told you, you wouldn’t believe me if I did tell you.”
Angrily, Mark burst out, “Then try me!”
Looking off, Walker said, “I can’t. I’m sorry, I don’t make the rules, but I have to follow them.”
“Yeah,” Mark intoned. “Yeah, and I still really don’t like you.”
Walker picked something up, and it took Mark a minute to realize that it was his backpack. “Hey! What are you doing in there?”
Rummaging through the bag, Walker pulled out a candy bar. “Eat up, bud. It may be a while before you see food like this again.”
Ripping the snack open, Mark realized that he was starving. “How long have we been here, anyway?”
His face getting an odd look, Walker replied, “That actually doesn’t matter.” He drew out the first word.
Mark tried to say something, but he had shoved the whole candy bar in his mouth at once and couldn’t do anything more than make a sort of muffled grunting sound.
“Yeah, I know. Look, we need to get going.”
Swallowing the chocolate and peanuts, Mark looked around. He had settled into a sort of numbness, which he was actively trying to keep going so that he wouldn’t break down crying, but even taking into account the present circumstances, this was getting to be a little too much. “Go WHERE?” he practically yelled. “All I see for miles and miles is grass and trees and hills! Where are we supposed to be going?”
Pointing out across what Mark had just described as ‘miles of hills and grass and trees,’ Walker said, “We’re going that way. It’s going to be quite a walk.”
“And what if I don’t want to go?”
“I don’t expect you DO want to go, but it’s not like either of us has much choice.”
Steam practically coming out of his ears, Mark yelled, “And I’m getting tired of that, too! What do you mean by that?” Walker just looked at him. Mark continued, “I get that I don’t have many choices here. I don’t even know where I am! But YOU, you have got to have choices!”
With a look that was half apology and half defensiveness, Walker said “No offense, but if I had choices, well, let’s just say that I don’t want to be here any more than you do.” With that, he stood up and pulled Mark to his feet. Handing him his backpack, Walker told him, “Don’t dig into any more food for a while. Trust me, I don’t know how long it will be until we find some and you don’t seem cut out for the nuts and berries thing.”
Looking into his bag, the younger man saw three candy bars, two granola bars and a small bag of potato chips. Suddenly he wanted to rip them all open and devour them. He looked up at Walker, who had started walking away, and thought for a second about running in the opposite direction, but then thought about it a little more. Where would he go? Who else did he even know here? But he grabbed a candy bar and tore it open, stuffing it into his mouth before running after Walker. He was going to just throw the wrapper on the ground, but after looking around him he knew he would feel guilty about doing it. Hurrying to catch up, but not too fast because he wanted time to chew and swallow the junk food, Mark fell into step beside the taller man. He tried to keep up but it was not easy. The long-legged Walker obviously had experience with this and didn’t waste any time. He strode quickly and decisively. After less than half an hour, Mark was tired. Huffing and puffing a little, he said, “I need to stop for a bit. You’re going too fast.”
Stopping abruptly, Walker said, “Yeah, dude, I am. But we have quite a ways to go and it gets cold here at night.”
This prompted Mark to look in his backpack again. He went through and found several t-shirts, two button downs, one sweatshirt, one extra pair of jeans and his jacket. No socks, no underwear. “Will any of this help me?” he asked.
“Yeah, a little. But it doesn’t need to get very cold here for you to feel it in your bones.” He looked up in the sky. “It’s past noon. We’d better get going.” Then he started marching again.
Mark noticed that Walker was not longer using words like ‘dude’ and ‘buddy’ but didn’t want to ask why. The taller man’s whole attitude was now more of an all business one. The younger man, on the other hand, wanted to stop and think about what had been happening, to cry and bang and hit and wail. But he couldn’t do that now. He looked under a tree that they were passing, and noticed several birds pulling worms out of the ground. He hoped that he wouldn’t be reduced to eating crap like that. Walker was right, he wasn’t cut out for the ‘nuts and berries’ thing.
copyright (c) 2014 christopher w neal
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