Michael J. Fox as Wormboy

The night we found the worm, my wife Geraldine and I were taking our dog Lunah down to Juri Commons to stretch her legs and take a dump. It was a nightly routine, often our last act before bedtime, coinciding with the sports segment of the ten o’clock news. But tonight this routine was to change our lives forever. Geraldine carried a flashlight and I a plastic bag.

The Commons is a little slip of park running diagonally between Guerrero and San Jose Avenue; it’s not much wider than a streetcar track, which is what it used to be. The older houses that back up on either side have oddly-shaped behinds, cropped-off at angles to let the old cars through. I’m not sure how long it’s been since the tracks were pulled up, but now it’s lined with tall hedges and accommodates a few patches of grass, a flowerbed; sandbox, swingset, slide and horizontal bars for the kids; and a few benches for their parents or guardians, not to mention the Spanish-speaking teenagers who congregate along the narrow trail in the afternoon to drink beer and pee behind the few pine trees. Despite the signs exhorting dog owners to pick up their own dog’s feces, citing the authority of some San Francisco city code , there are dog droppings everywhere. But Geraldine and I had lately been conscientious about such things. We liked to think we were responsible citizens of planet Earth. How little we knew. We deluded ourselves in imagining we could “care” for something we hardly understood, something so much larger than ourselves, so hideously populated, and with motives so obscure that even now—despite all our adventures—I feel I have only begun to scale the face of an ignorance that would dwarf Everest by at least as much as Everest is dwarfed by the rest of the planet.

Lunah squatted at the far end of the park, in a patch of grass which the drought had left dry. Geraldine speared her in the flashlight’s beam, and we waited. When Lunah ran off, I slipped the bag over my fingers like a glove and we advanced on the steaming turd to do our duty. It was over in a moment. I dropped the bag in a trashcan at the edge of the grass.

“What kind of feather do you think this is?” Geraldine said. I turned around and saw her aiming the flashlight at a small white feather with a grey tip.

“Seagull,” I said without thinking, though I’d never seen gulls in the park. “No, probably pigeon.”

“Or dove maybe?”


The flashlight moved a few inches and picked out another, longer feather. Geraldine gasped. On this one, the quill was glistening with wet blood.

“Look!” she said.

“Cat must have gotten it.” As I looked up the trail I saw more feathers scattered on the grass and in the flowerbed.

“Yeah, a cat.” The park was full of feral cats which sat sunning on the high walls and fences and ran at any human who came near.

They usually vanished at Lunah’s approach. Even now she was off scouring the hedges for them, snuffling noisily up and down the Commons.

Geraldine’s light found a wet clump of bloody flesh and feathers, from which she recoiled. I remained staring at as she moved off. Suddenly I heard her say, “Look at this.”

As I approached and saw the glistening thing in her light, I thought at first it was a long vein or a length of pigeon entrails dropped by the hungry cat—but there were no feathers near it, and its slightly bloody color proved to have a different source.

“Wow,” I said, “it’s a nightcrawler.”

“What’s that?”

“Just a big earthworm—they grow these things for bait.”

“God, I’ve never seen one that big.”

It was huge by our standards, longer than anything we’d ever found in our garden. A good eight inches of glimmery brown wormbody lay stretched out and reaching still farther over the hard ground where the grass had lost its hold. It had come up from a hole at the edge of the sidewalk path and was groping toward the shady, moister dirt under the hedge—as if it had encountered some obstacle under the earth and was forced to travel overground for a few feet to get to the rich wet soil.

What sort of obstacles might force a worm from the earth, I could only speculate then—and blissful was my ignorance. It was never a question I would have done much research to answer

I crouched down, and Geraldine with me. I had been grabbing worms since boyhood with very little anxiety, had even dissected one formalin-pickled giant when I was eight or nine, pinning it out in a cake-pan full of paraffin according to a manual borrowed from the library, slicing away with a brand new shiny kit of dissection instruments I’d gotten for my birthday. Geraldine had grown less squeamish of the things since she’d begun working in the garden, and now she got upset whenever a shovel blade sliced one in half accidentally. She always picked them up and put them in a safer spot of wet, freshly-mulched earth, knowing that they would soon be about their constant, useful work of aerating and fertilizing the soil.She always picked them up and put them in a safer spot of wet, freshly-mulched earth, knowing that they would soon be about their constant, useful work of aerating and fertilizing the soil.

“Look at it,” I said. “You never see them that big around here.”

Geraldine sounded as awed as I by its magnificent size. “It must be an old one, huh?”

“I guess so. Here, keep the light on it—I’m gonna get it. I’ll bet it’d like living in our garden.”

This was a good bet. I could tell by one glance that the dirt down here must have been a dry and unnourishing substance for the poor worm. I couldn’t help thinking that any worm would have been much happier in our garden—but especially this behemoth. As Geraldine held the beam steady, I noticed that it had sent even more of its length reaching out over the dry ground. There was a good foot of it visible now, and more coming up from under a tiny heap of dirt clods at the edge of the path. I didn’t really think about how I would carry it—drop it in a pocket, I supposed—they weren’t like slugs which instantly exuded a nasty slime when threatened, a slime that fierce scrubbing with soap and hot water and steel wool just barely removed. Still, I reached out gingerly, not wanting to harm the thing in the least.

No sooner had I touched it, about an inch below its probing forward end, than the worm spasmed and recoiled with incredible speed and deftness. Geraldine gasped, and I swear I had never seen anything move so fast—let alone something so long, soft and lazy looking. Where before it had been a foot long, at my touch it recoiled to a third that length, totally eluding my at best tentative clutches. Startled, I hesitated too long to make up for my underestimation of its speed, and in the next instant, those last few inches of wormbody were vanishing down into the earth from which it had come. I knew too late that I should have waited till the whole thing was extended, till it was far away from any easy escape, trapped on the hardpan between the sidewalk and the hedge. I scrabbled hopelessly at the little mound of clods, looking for the hole, but it was small enough to remain invisible, and there was no chance of pursuing the worm down into the earth—not yet, anyway.

I stood up reluctantly, wiping dirt from my hands, a memory of the moist body still lingering in my fingertips.

“I had no idea,” Geraldine was saying in amazement. “I never knew they could move so fast. I mean, the ones in the garden just sort of wriggle around when I touch them—they don’t take off like that.”

“It must have had a lot more of its body still underground to retract that fast,” I speculated. This thought was accompanied by a mental picture of the worm as being two or three feet long, like a young skinny snake. It had moved faster than any snake of my experience. “I wish I could have caught it. I would love to have that thing in the garden. Can you imagine how it would love it in our yard?”

She nodded, still aiming the flashlight at the soil where our hopes for a garden pet had vanished. “We’ll have to come back every night and look for it,” she said.

I thought this was a little ridiculous at first, but there was a wistful tone in her voice that I felt in my heart. It truly had been an amazing worm—we had both felt that. And since we came down here nightly anyway, what would it hurt to keep looking?

“I don’t suppose it’s going to come up again tonight,” she said.

“I doubt it. Not after an attack like that. It must have thought I was some kind of monster or big bird or something.”

“Good thing Lunah didn’t see it,” Geraldine said. “She loves worms.”

That thought made us whistle for Lunah. She reappeared from the hedges, tail wagging. As we headed back home, Geraldine flashed the light over the scattered pigeon feathers and shiny lumps of giblets; she must not have liked the sight because she soon switched it off and slid her arm into mine.

“I keep thinking about that worm,” she said.

“Me too,” I admitted.


“Thinking about that worm” was an activity that must have continued through that evening at a deeper level than I imagined at the time. Geraldine went to bed fairly soon after returning from the park, while I stayed up for an hour or so drawing cartoons, then sleepily pitched myself a bed on the sofa and watched Saturday Night Live through till one in the morning. By the time I got in bed the worm was far from my thoughts, but the worm itself had burrowed deep into the dark loam of my subconscious where it was to reappear toward morning in the form of a particularly strange and vivid dream.

Now when I dream, I guess I do it with a vengeance. Perhaps it’s because I have always lived wishfully half in a dreamworld, looking to dreams for inspiration, borrowing ideas for stories or drawings, faithfully feeding that nighttime beast that carries me so many strange and wonderful places. I always assumed that everyone dreamt as I do, and perhaps there are many like me; but I have come to believe that such dreamers are rare among the common crowd, if only because of the looks I get when I describe a particularly elaborate or impossible dream at my office job. Others, I guess, dream of people they know, familiar places, dreams that really aren’t much more remarkable than their waking lives—though at times they may fly, or change sex, or endure the usual dream transformations of landscape and theme. But my dreams are more like blockbuster movies—and indeed often literally turn into big-budget special effect confections. Movies for an audience of one; movies in which I am the writer, director, cinematographer, and usually the Star—all at once. (I suppose a Jungian psychologist would say that I play all the other roles as well.) And on the night of the worm, or rather the morning of the following day (for I had woken once when Geraldine got out of bed, and continued to stir and burrow under sheets and pillows against the brightening heat of the day), I found myself enjoying yet another of these productions, strangely comical yet darkly terrifying, in richer hues than Technicolor, and with—I hesitate to repeat this, though I don’t suppose I can be sued for copyright infringement for casting him in a dream— Michael J. Fox in a starring role.

At first Fox was nowhere to be seen; I guess the parts hadn’t been cast. The dream began with me and Geraldine in our backyard garden, where I was digging a hole to transplant a young tomato with its roots in a ball of soil, and Geraldine was doing something around the base of the big fig tree at the back of the yard, where she has planted sweet woodruff and violets inside a ring of grey stones. As I dug a hole for the transplant, the earth began to cave away from beneath, creating a huge pocket far too deep for my purposes. I supposed that as I dug a second hole for another tomato bush, I could use earth from that hole to help fill this one. But I never got that far, and the transplants were instantly forgotten.

For crawling around rapidly down in the hole was a blood-colored worm whom I recognized instantly from the night before.

I was happy to see it again, to think that it had traveled the several blocks from Juri Commons to come visit our garden. I leaned down to watch it more closely, as it curled and twined and wriggled speedily along the edges of the hole, diving into the dirt and weaving out again, stitching earth to air just as sea serpents are supposed to stitch air to water. The closer I got to the worm, the more it seemed to become aware of me. I put a finger in its path and it retreated slightly, as if only mildly surprised. Then it began to show a very deliberate curiosity.

As I drew my hand away, the worm followed, seeming to sniff me out, as if it recognized something about me. I supposed that worms were blind, and that it must have some highly developed sense of smell, but the dream explanation for this behavior was much more straightforward than that.

The worm had a face. I saw it quite clearly as the worm turned around to come after my hand. It was the stern little face of a bald-headed man in middle age. His lips were thin and tightly pursed, as if to keep dirt from getting in his mouth; but the effect was to give him a very humorless expression. Still, he didn’t seem dangerous, just very brisk and businesslike as he weaved around after me. I could tell he was still having trouble seeing me, his eyes squinting against the bright sun, so I kept my hand dangling down inside the hole. He pushed his face right up to my hand, and I could see that he wore what I thought were eyeglasses—little round spectacles with very thick lenses. They fit his face oddly, though, sitting off to either side of his squinting eyes where I thought they couldn’t do him much good in focusing. And in fact, they weren’t glasses at all—but headlamps. I couldn’t tell if they were fiberoptic or organic extrusions. He switched them on as he came up to my fingers, and tiny twin beams probed the shadowy earth and lit up my hand.

I had the distinct impression that he knew me.

I wasn’t sure how to communicate with a face that small. It was smaller than a salamander’s face, though delicately drawn. I felt as if I were looking at a bookish little clerk or accountant; there was something quaint and even nostalgic about his appearance, which was something like a cartoon caricature out of the twenties or thirties. A figure Little Nemo might have met in Windsor MacKay’s Slumberland. What did one say to a worm?

I needn’t have worried about breaking the ice, because the worm quickly wove itself between my fingers and went twining along my arm like ivy growing up a pillar in a stop-motion film. The little fellow, if laid out, would have been about a yard long I supposed; but he moved so fast that it was hard to gauge his measure. I turned to Geraldine, who was delighted to see him again, recognizing him instantly from the Commons. The worm dropped from my fingers and went slithering toward her, and on its way burrowed under the grass with less trouble than you or I would descend the steps of a subway. We could see its trail as it sped along just under the surface of the yard, a tiny rippling wake of grass blades and pebbles. It bobbed to the surface frequently, weaving cobralike, frantically excited, as if trying to send us some message, but frustrated by the lack of a common language.

Our excitement was the equal of the worm’s, and our frustration just as great. The worm nearly tore up the garden in its haste and desperation, but Geraldine and I could only stand there helpless, wondering and waiting.

Then, without any apparent transition, the movie began.

I saw no credits, but I had a strong impression of the title.

It was called Wormboy. And it starred Michael J. Fox.

Now, a woman I worked with once told me, on a Monday when I came in with a particularly short yuppie sort of haircut, that I looked like Michael J. Fox, an actor I had never particularly admired and whose films I had with one or two exceptions religiously avoided. She must have seen me trying to writhe out of my scalp at this remark. I doubt anyone else would have shared her impression, except that she spent the morning teasing me with it while I did my typing, and word quickly spread down the narrow office halls, which share certain sonic features with those legendary cathedral galleries where one can stand whispering in a corner and be heard quite distinctly at the far end of the nave. Thus, by lunchtime, everywhere I went people were greeting me with, “Hi, Michael,” or saying, “Hey—I loved you in Bright Lights, Big City!” This, coupled with an ad for the latest Michael J. Fox film I had dimly noted during the prior night’s episode of Saturday Night Live, must have been responsible for the dream director’s decision to cast Michael J. Fox in the role of “Me.” I wasn’t particularly happy with the choice, but I was only a spectator by now; and I remember cannily figuring that Wormboy would have a better chance at the box office because of it.

As the movie began, a young-looking Fox was sitting in his living room, which was a really rather convincing set, resembling the living rooms of any number of college age guys. My mind was full of the backstory, which told me that Fox lived with a roommate, that they listened to a lot of rock and roll on the stereo system that took up so much of the room, and that Fox had a girlfriend of typical Hollywood beauty, being tall (but not too tall) and thin (but not skinny) and curvaceous (but not grotesquely so); she had long shaggy silvery hair, dazzling crystal blue eyes, and was—almost incidentally—witty and smart and ambitious. She looked a little bit like Stevie Nicks in the mid ’70s, though there was a fusion of other female popstars there as well. Anyway, this was Hollywood. Michael J. Fox didn’t have to date just some college girl he’d met at a frat party who would turn out to look sort of plain when she washed off her makeup and dark roots grew into her frosted hair. This girl was dazzling down to the bone, but she was somewhere in the background at first, because events with the worm were of primary importance, if only to get the movie off to a running start.

Fox was sitting in the living room pondering some sort of mental puzzle, engrossed in this fabulous problem. Now every other movie I’ve seen is forced to engage in some artificial method of revealing a character’s thoughts—whether it’s in flashbacks or in an even clumsier voice-over. Dream movies are different. In this dream, all exposition was accomplished by instantaneous telepathy. I knew exactly what Fox was thinking, because it was what I was thinking. And in a sense, I was Fox, despite the fact that I was looking at him from outside, in a sequence of close-ups and medium shots artfully arranged to emphasize his mental processes.

Like me in the dream, and like me and Geraldine in waking life, Michael J. Fox had just had an encounter with a worm. His had surpassed any other encounter for dramatic content, however, for he had somehow narrowly saved the worm’s life. There is an old fairy tale about a fisherman who catches a magic fish, and the fish pleads and pleads with the fisherman to spare his life, promising him a wish (or three) in return; and despite the fact that the fisherman is hungry and his wife has been nagging him over his poor catches and threatening to run off with the milkman if he doesn’t bring home a big fish this time, he spares the fish, without really believing that he’ll get a wish at all, but simply because he is kind- (or soft-) hearted. Something of the sort had happened to Michael J. Fox, I gathered, before the film began—something like what I’d just dreamed about happening in our garden. He had rescued a worm and received in return some magical worm powers, and now he sat wondering what was going to happen next. I had the impression that whether he wished it or not, he was about to get some firsthand experience of the worm’s reality. His messy off-campus apartment, his beer-swilling bachelor lifestyle (and to be fair to Mr. Fox, this is only conjecture; I don’t recall seeing any beer cans in the living room, though his roommate might have been guzzling the stuff out of sight in the kitchen), his anthropocentric world-view—all were about to be overturned. He didn’t have to pop any magic worm beans or make any wishes while he rubbed the worm’s ventral surface. The worm would take care of everything.

All of a sudden, there was a thickening of suspense. Lights in the apartment dimmed and the shadows took on a darker, purplish luster. All the colors seemed richer, deeper, as if we were about to burrow down past the superficial substance of reality and get at the vital, nourishing essence of everything.

I remember feeling slightly frightened and even covering my eyes.

I expected something like a grueling “wereworm” transformation scene, with Fox’s legs fusing together painfully, his skin turning slick brown and blood-colored, soft annuli spreading up his belly and throat as his arms melted into his sides. I imagined him writhing about screaming and getting slime on the cheap vomit-colored carpeting and standard landlord-issue furniture as the transition to oligochaete (genus Lumbricus) became complete.

But if such a metamorphosis was actually occurring, it was not apparent to Fox, nor to me—and for a moment, our viewpoints were fused again, and there was no difference between us. I was both spectator and audience, an experience familiar to any dreamer whose brain has two hemispheres. What changed, from my point of view, was the world itself. Suddenly the dingy little living room seemed cavernous and atmospheric; a potent black energy crackled up in the corners and licked along the walls. I could see that I was still human in form, but I knew that actually I had become a worm. I had entered a worm-realm, body and soul, and although this world may have borne some large resemblance to the ordinary human world, that was only the product of convergent evolution. In other words, even worms might have living rooms, and attend college, and share bachelor pads with slightly oafish roommates; and this being so, there are only so many forms that such living rooms and colleges and roommates might take, and from a worm’s point of view all these wormworld things would be as common and familiar to them as our humanworld things are to us. But I and Michael J. Fox quickly learned that in other important respects a worm’s world differs wildly from our own, not the least being the fact that a worm’s awareness of deep, dark, unseen mysteries is almost infinitely greater than our own, and that every moment of their existence is fraught with the sense of things going on all around them—some of them barely comprehensible—to the same extent that most humans spend their existence making themselves snug and secure and inflexible, so that they might ignore everything that does not directly impinge on their living rooms.

In a worm’s living room, there was no chance of ignoring reality’s darker, more mysterious features. There was no illusion of safety, despite the continued presence of the stereo, now playing at high volume, like a soundtrack. And this imminent danger became apparent to me and Michael J. Fox at the very instant that the transformation into wormboy reached its conclusion.

For at that instant, my girlfriend—whom I shall call Stevie, since I never learned her name—walked into the living room, and I realized that she was in great peril. My fear for a moment had no real explanation, for I had not yet scrutinized my surroundings, despite my ability (as spectator) to take in the entire room and Michael J. Fox’s place in it. I was too busy looking at Stevie, who was surrounded by a brilliant aura of shimmering silver light shot through with tourmaline streaks of storm-sea green and watermelon pink. I could tell that she was unaware of the transformation that had just taken place; that Stevie still walked in the ordinary living room and thought she was coming in to talk to her ordinary boyfriend, the ordinary Michael J. Fox. It was her very ignorance of the changed circumstances that placed her in such danger, for now that I was a worm—with all the power that implies—I was the constant target of pervasive scrutiny by dark forces I had yet to comprehend. I felt like a spy in an enemy land, traitors and counter-agents at every turn, snipers lurking in the shadows, fearing that Stevie’s innocent love for me would soon bring about her demise. She might step in the path of a bullet meant for me—if indeed bullets were even an alternative in the worm-realm—or be snatched for ransom, tortured until I gave up some bit of choice information I had uncovered as I burrowed through the hidden places of the earth.

My hyperactive dread allowed me to quickly locate the source of immediate danger, and as I turned around and saw the chief addition to the worm’s living room that had no parallel in the human version, I was suddenly outside Fox again, watching as a pattern of bright sparks flared across his face and through the dark air. This was something like fairy dust, and I suppose it indicated that he could see things beyond the normal ken—or that he was looking at some object of particular potency. He saw it before I did—but not before Stevie was snatched.

Too late for interference from me, she received her own initiation into the dark secrets of the underworld. She was gone from the room.

In a corner which it inhabited like a shrine, stood a tall statue of a woman, all of black—though whether it was cast iron or carved obsidian, ebony or jet, was not immediately clear to me, nor is it even now. There were aspects of all these substances upon that tall, cloaked form. She was shiny as liquid ink, yet did not glisten; she swallowed all the light in her corner of the room and gave back not a single specular glint.

She stood tall and mysterious and very proud, her legs set apart to give her a solid stance. Her head was cloaked with the hood of a robe made of the same stuff as she, which hid her features though not her feminine shape. The cloak flowed down from her shoulders, spreading wider and wider, fixed in a backward billow till it reached the floor. Beneath the cape was a pit of shadow, on the edge of which the black woman stood like a guardian. Looking into the utter black recesses of that cape, I realized that it was a portal into the underworld—the wormrealm’s underworld, which bears the same resemblance to our underworld that the dark statue bore to the furnishings of a typical college pad.

Wormboy did not hesitate on seeing this statue in his living room. Stevie’s screams echoed up from the bottomless blackness of the cloak. Michael J. Fox and I, acting as one now, called on some instinctive resources of worm power, and throwing myself down on my knees before the black goddess—Hecate of the worms, as I have since learned—I plunged down into the pit after her receding cries, extending my soft annelid body as far and as fast as I could without abandoning a firm tail-grip on the rigid statue’s legs. In the darkness, I had the advantage of familiarity; I did not need sight, nor my headlamps, to find her. I caught her in a coil and instantly retracted, only to realize that something had hold of her and was dragging her away. I wasn’t sure what it was, though some part of me must have recognized a primal nemesis, judging from the terror that rushed up in me as I poured all my strength into wresting Stevie away from her captor.

And then, in another instant, she was free, and we were hurtling back up the dark tunnel toward the living room again, and I tumbled backward with her on the ugly shag carpet at Hecate’s feet.

I looked at her and nearly screamed myself—but my terror ebbed because the change seemed so right.

The few moments of her capture had been enough to alter her forever, even as I had been altered. Some hungry thing with corrosive jaws had been at her face, not even waiting to kill her before beginning its feast—perhaps preferring her alive.

Beneath her fringe of silver bangs, the skin of her face had been gnawed and acid-etched away, leaving a slightly sunken mask of gore-clotted bone in which her lovely blue (but bloodshot) eyes rolled frantically, and flaps of bloody skin sucked in and out like curtains in a breeze above her nasal passages; the muscles stretched across her jaws lay bare, her gums stripped away to the bone, so that my Stevie would always be grinning no matter the look of horror in her eyes.

Even as she stared at me, however, I knew she was stronger now; however brutally, she had been prepared for the risks of the worm-realm. It would be very difficult to surprise her now; in fact, now she was probably more suited to our surroundings than myself. I felt very grateful that I would no longer have to explain our position.

She took my hand, her aura surging silver and green around her, and we both stood back from the silent Hecate at whose heels the ground gaped. I was not sure what to think of its presence, for it seemed to hold the potential both of great power and great danger. I felt equally confident, though, that there would be no removing it from the living room—not unless and until it was ready to go.

My roommate came into the room just then. He was an older man than I’d expected, elegantly dressed all in black, very trim and cultured, not at all a beer swiller. His hair was golden, cut short, and he wore a short beard. He was decked in gold chains and jewels, and they flashed on his fingers as well. And as he came into the room, speaking in a very deep voice—loud enough to rise over the almost deafening music from the stereo—I instantly knew that he was one of us, and that there would be no misunderstandings now. He seemed to realize that we had only just arrived, Stevie and Michael J. Fox, who was now beginning to lose any particular resemblence to Michael J. Fox or myself, and instead was becoming simply the protagonist, Wormboy, a cipher or narrative conduit into whose persona any spectator might vicariously inject himself.

We followed my roommate down a hall toward the back of the house, and a very ordinary hall it was, with plaster walls and more of the same horrid carpeting running through it. But as we came into a room at the end of the hall, I realized that simply because my roommate was also a denizen of these realms, that did not make him trustworthy. I seemed to hear laughter all around me, some of it my roommate’s, but most of it apparently sourceless. I spun around to check the dark corners and lofty ceiling of this new room; Stevie pressed herself against me, searching the other direction, and thus we protected each other’s backs. But that was not enough, for threat pressed in from above and below, from all sides at once, and I felt how ignorant we were. Despite the gift of the worm’s powers, I had none of its hard-won knowledge of this place, and I had no way of recognizing which of the many strangers I might encounter would be friend, and which foe. Who was I to believe? How could I survive?

From the shadows emerged perhaps a dozen figures, all dressed in rich garments, decked in jewels like the roommate. I knew they were underworld nobility, demon princes and ladies, a convocation come to welcome us to the worm-realm—come mainly to catch us off guard while we were still new to the place. The alliances forged here and now might rule the rest of our stay.

As their laughter crescendoed, so did the music, and I had the disorienting thought that this movie was turning into a rock opera—a horror/fantasy musical. I could hear myself screaming, singing, “I’ve gotta get out of this place!” And all at once I was wheeling up out of my body, spinning through the darkness into light, and with the soundtrack still thundering in my ears, I opened my eyes to find sunlight slanting through the levelors, the bedside clock reading 9:45.

My God, I thought. The worm came for me. The worm came for me. Like inspiration rising from the well, the worm had risen from the earth, and in one touch had injected me full of darkly textured visions, only a taste of its powers.

Only a taste, already fading against the reality of Sunday morning traffic on noisy Dolores Street, the chuckling of pigeons on the eaves, the smell of brewed coffee. I hummed the music I’d been hearing as I woke, but it faded quickly. The visions, however, had a strange internal logic that made them easy to remember. They began to play over and over again in my mind, as I tried to remember every detail, burrowing into the memories and trying to sort out the sequence. Thus I savored my new worm powers.

Of course, they were weak in the waking world. But I was determined to nourish and build them. I would start by telling Geraldine, by making them real to her—thus testing their consistency. I had only had a taste of the worm powers but I was hungry for more.

Everything would be different now. The worm had turned.