The Annelidologist

Last night I stood outside my neighbour’s crooked house, just beyond the street lamp’s little pool of brightness. Eyes closed, listening. I was trying to convince myself that the thudding noise I could hear was not the sound of several huge hearts beating in unison, but only my own blood thumping through my skull. As I stood there, I heard something else, the wet sound of some kind of flesh sliding over mud. I looked into the upstairs window to see a pallid shape slither past, caught in the moonlight.

I have to get out of this place.

My next-door neighbour moved in six years ago. I have forgotten his name, just as I have forgotten his face. He seemed a decent sort, a tad manic maybe. He and his wife had moved out here into the countryside to restart their lives after some kind of tragedy. I never asked for any more detail, they never told me. I had my own demons to live with.

He was a nice enough guy, but I would never have called him my friend. He was too difficult to get to know. Talking to him, you got the feeling that he was looking through you at something else far more interesting. He was a scientist of some kind, a biologist or zoologist I would guess. Not really my area. I tried not to take his attitude personally though, I know how things can be with people who are passionate about their work.

I did get on very well with his wife. Her name was Jan. I remember what she looks like, although we no longer speak. She came over to chat soon after moving in because she was worried about me rattling around that big house all by myself. We bonded over a shared interest in gardening.

That’s how the two of them met, I think. My neighbour was an expert on worms (or is? Impossible to say what’s going through his head now). It was at some sort of gardening convention, where he was talking about the use of earthworms as fertiliser.

He once told me that the earthworm was the most elegant being in all of creation. I nodded and smiled awkwardly.

I remember the day I noticed something was wrong, although I am sure the rot set in before I’d even met them. I remember that it had been raining, and that there were worms all over the place. I was just getting home when I heard Jan screaming. There was blood everywhere. He’d been doing some kind of DIY and had cut off his left thumb. I bundled the pair of them into an ambulance but we couldn’t find the thumb, so that was that.

My neighbour never made a sound the whole time. In fact, he was almost smiling. Before they closed the ambulance doors I heard him mutter something about it being “much more elegant now.” A shudder ran through me as I turned towards my home.

Jan left once it became obvious that he was doing it to himself. First another finger came off. Then he came home from the hospital missing his whole left hand. He blamed it on some ill-defined accident at the lab. I’d been to his lab once before. Textbooks and microscopes. The most dangerous thing in there was an incubator. Jan mirrored my scepticism but he wouldn’t change his story. He made a big show of being traumatised, and even joined a support group.

He started having to duck to get through door frames. I could have sworn that he was getting, not taller, but somehow… longer.

The day Jan left, I came over to borrow something, or return something; neighbour stuff. As I went to knock on the door I heard yelling and crying. Before I could react, Jan burst through the door, pausing a moment as we made eye contact. She looked hurt, furious, but most of all, frightened. Then she barged past me, threw her small bag into the back of her car and sped off down the narrow lane. That was the last time I saw her.

Concerned, I went into the house. All the curtains were drawn. I stepped into the living room, almost tripping over something wrapped in a black rubbish bag. Sat on the couch, smiling to himself, was my neighbour. Minus his right leg. Bloody tools on a side table. For just a moment, I admired how neat a job he’d made of the suture for a man with only one hand. Then the reality of the situation hit me, and I realised what was in the bag. I ran home, the gall rising in my throat.

I was left helpless by the situation. Consumed with indecision, I didn’t leave the house for three weeks. Sometimes I would look out of the window in the morning to discover a new addition to the pile in his back yard. The pile of objects wrapped in black bags. Sometimes big, sometimes small.

One day I woke up to a crisp, clear winter’s morning, to find the cobwebs had cleared from my mind. Possessed of a sudden resolve, I marched next door. I was going to offer him my help. To insist upon it. I was going to say whatever it took to get him to accept, and if he didn’t I was then going to march straight back home and call everybody I could think of who might be able to cure him of this rising madness.

My neighbour’s house sat at a slight angle, like it had started to subside. As I barged through the front door my feet sank into some kind of mud where the carpet had once been. I stared in disbelief as a few earthworms wriggled across my shoe. Everything seemed to be coated in a thin layer of slime. I shuffled into the living room, my resolve evaporating into the murky air.

I found him writhing on the couch, the elongated form of his limbless torso hanging off either end. There was something wrong with his neck. His shoulders seemed just to taper off into his round, bald head. I let out a gasp of revulsion.

His eyeless head turned towards me and let out a gurgle that sounded a little like “hello”. I saw what might have been a smile play across what was left of his mouth. I fled into the woods, and spent the night shivering in a ditch. Unable to sleep, unable to go home. Only the worms for company.

My neighbour once told me that an earthworm will eat basically anything organic, as long as it is dead. The dog went missing that night.

Don’t ask me how he was able to do all this to himself. I have no idea. That day I found him on the couch, wriggling in the foetid dirt of his former life, he must have been at least two and a half metres long.

Something about it left a mark on me. My mind’s eye refuses to turn away from that awful scene. Yesterday I looked down at my hand and wondered if I really truly needed so many fingers.

Last night I stood outside my neighbour’s crooked house, just beyond the street lamp’s little pool of brightness. Eyes closed, listening. I was trying to convince myself that the thudding noise I could hear was not the sound of several huge hearts beating in unison, but only my own blood thumping through my skull. As I stood there, I heard something else, the wet sound of some kind of flesh sliding over mud. I looked into the upstairs window to see a pallid shape slither past, caught in the moonlight.

I have to get out of this place.

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~ by Mr. Sleep on November 1, 2015.

One Response to “The Annelidologist”

  1. You have grown.

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