James S. Dorr About 1050 words
1404 East Atwater
Bloomington, IN USA 47401
Active Member SFWA, HWA
By James Dorr
"Go ahead, I dare you!"
"The hell you do!"
So Arnold had been drinking with the guys in this place on the coast, and had gotten snozzled.
Hell, it was spring break! They were in a hotel bar, moaning about how there'd been plenty of girls around the pool every afternoon, yet none of them had scored yet.
They'd been drinking tequila, the touristy kind with the worm in the bottle, and, nearing the end, the worm had splashed out into Arnie's glass.
So Zack was teasing him. "It's the way the Mexicans drink it, man. You get the worm, you drink it too -- it's supposed to be good luck."
"Shit that," Arnie said. "It's disgusting, a fucking dead worm."
Bryce shook his head. "It's just plastic, you craphead.
Or maybe some kind of candy, I don't know, something that's meant dissolve in your stomach just in case somebody actually does drink it. I've seen it before.
And it's not even supposed to be a worm, just some kind of larva."
"It's still disgusting," Arnie said. "But, yeah, it looks sort of like it's plastic."
You know how it goes. After a few of the other guys razzed him too, Arnie finally chugged the stuff right down, worm and all. Made a big show of holding his nose. Making a face.
"So how did it taste?" Zack asked.
"You kidding?" Arnie said. "You mean you thought I would chew the damn thing?"
"It's getting kind of late," Bryce suggested. "Hot in this place too, you'd think they'd air condition it better."
"Yeah," Arnie said. "And I'm getting sweaty. Pool's still open, though. How 'bout we get in a final swim, then call it a night."
Well, you know the story. Of course it wasn't one of those plastic worms like the cheaper tequila brands use. This one was a real worm. And maybe it wasn't entirely dead either.
But what kind of worm?
That is, shouldn't the alcohol have killed it anyway? Or stomach acids? This must have been some worm.
But anyway all Arnold did was burp, which didn't endear him any better with the girls still in the pool, swimming.
In fact, none of the guys scored that spring vacation, not even in the two days they'd had left.
In Arnold's case, he still had the sweats, and so he spent most of his time in the pool, admiring the girls in their bikinis -- so that much wasn't bad. Even getting slapped by a couple.
But then back home and back to their college.
Arnie, who actually was a good swimmer, at least when he was sober, got laps in almost every Wednesday evening when the Phys Ed Building's pool was open to students in general.
He still had the sweats, though, even as the weather got colder.
"It's the dorms," he said once to Zack. "And the classroom buildings too, how they're always overheated in winter.
And then you have to be bundled up so much when you're outside, going to your next class. Everyone complains."
"You know, you're looking kind of pale, though," Zack said. "And there's that thing that's been going around in some of the other colleges -- this one too. It's all over Facebook.
Sort of like people just feeling off, like with some kind of cold, but complaining about sweating a lot too, yet not showing any kind of a fever. Maybe you ought to see a doctor."
I did go to the infirmary once, but like you say, with a lot of other people having colds too -- or whatever it is -- all they did was take down my symptoms, then give me a bunch of antibiotics."
"Yeah, but you still don't look that good," Zack said. "Maybe you ought to see a real doctor."
Arnold died the following spring, only a week before graduation.
But he'd been feeling bad enough by then that it had even begun to affect his grades, with him just squeaking by with a passing GPA.
More to the point, his parents were worried when they saw him Christmas and, now that he was dead, they insisted on knowing why. Even murmuring that they were considering suing the college.
They weren't the only ones. Other students, including Bryce and Zack, had been feeling ill that spring.
And students at other colleges too -- that was an odd thing, that it only seemed to be affecting certain students.
So Arnold's parents insisted on a full autopsy, while Zack, in the meantime, was being bothered among other things by dreams about that spring week the past year that they'd spent in Cancun.
Surrealistic dreams, of serpents choking him, squirming in nests -- he'd found out recently by coincidence that the name Cancun, in fact, was from the Mayan for "place of snakes."
And he dreamed, too, of worms -- nobody knew, it was found out after, where that bottle of tequila with Arnie's worm had actually come from.
A waiter had saved it, noticing that it wasn't a brand from the hotel bar and, as it turned out, a label that anyone recognized. Not one made in Mexico.
But what they found in Arnold when they cut him open was something more than just a snake or a worm.
It was part of him by then, having grown in his body, having replaced internal organs, his lungs in part, his entire digestive system from the esophagus down.
It was crypto- biology, something that shouldn't have existed even in dreams. It was bone and cartilage and skin, skin that became its victim's own skin.
And it was still alive. Unaffected by acid, by alcohol, by other chemicals -- chlorine was one of many they tried.
It was parthenogenetic, able to produce self-fertilized eggs -- they discovered this later -- but tiny ones, ones almost too small to see.
Eggs capable of free-floating in water, entering other bodies around them.
And one truly unusual thing about it, its ovaries, in thousands, had melded into Arnold's own sweat glands.
- END -