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The Squirming of the Fells

The cold chill of winter still lingered in the hills and highlands seven hours north of the city walls. The horses had been unhitched to gnaw upon the yellowed bristles of last season’s grass. The first day’s ride had been slow but uneventful. The one or two times they had been stuck in the mud had been trivial; a combination of the horses pulling and Lottie pushing seemed to do the trick. Emerson was beginning to think all the claxons sounding the alarm about traveling in the spring had been blowing hot air. Even accounting for the relatively slow pace of the wagon, they couldn’t be more than another three hours from Cleetus’s farm.

As Junie, Lottie, and Petra busied themselves chopping wood and making a fire, Emerson caught up with Malus checking over the wagon’s supplies.

“You’re really not holding a little something?” Emerson asked under his breath.

Malus made a face and shrugged, muttering the word ‘nothing’ as he searched the boxes and crates for something to eat.

“What about Petra?” Emerson suggested. “Do you think she’s packing?”

“Nah!” said Malus, reaching into a box of apples. “She’s not packing.”

“How can you be so sure?”

“I just am,” he responded. Malus seemed more focused on shining an apple against his shirt than engaging in conversation.

“You searched her luggage, didn’t you.” Emerson nodded knowingly.

“I did not!” Malus protested sharply.

“Come on, no need to be so humble,” Emerson winked. “You’re among like minded friends here.”

Malus’s mouth dropped for a second before he spat out the words, “You searched my room you bastard!”

“Give me a break, it could hardly be defined as a ‘search.’” Emerson replied with a casual air of dismissiveness. “It was nothing more than a cursory glance from the door. And quite frankly, the place was a pigsty.”

“Liar!” Malus accused.“YOU messed it up!”

“You see, I knew you you were going to go there – and do you know how I knew?” Emerson started to wag his finger. “Because you’re a paranoid dick, that’s how!”

“Perhaps I’m a paranoid dick…” Malus’s voice was on a steady rise, “…because you’re such a suspicious…”

“Martin! Emerson!” came Junie’s timely shout. “This is no time for name calling, we have a camp to finish setting up.”


“You know,” Emerson lamented after devouring a hearty bowl of campfire beans and molasses proudly prepared by Petra, “camping is so much dirtier in reality than it is in theory. I just don’t understand the appeal.”  The five of them sat on a log and two bales of hay brought to feed the horses. In front of them, a moderately sized fire blazed with a heady wood scented heat.

“Don’t be such a sourpuss, Mr. Lighthouse.” said Junie, deftly peeling a layer of toasted marshmallow from the stick and stuffing it in his mouth. “Take a look around at where we are, and try to relax.”

Junie then turned to the others. “Who knows a good campfire story?”  Petra’s hand shot up. Junie nodded, “Petra, go on.”  She didn’t really have to encourage the girl.  Petra jumped from her hay bale, then turned and faced the fire. Her face radiated in dancing hues of orange while at her back the impenetrable dark of night framed her gangly form.

She looked out over the dark fields, hands behind her back, then turned back toward the gathered folk.  “Have any of you heard the dreaded legend of… the Black Worm of the Fells?” she asked, almost conversationally.

Malus yawned.

She began to lean over slightly, as she intoned: “The black worms are fifty feet long, if they’re a foot… the front end is maggoty with teeth, and the back end… well, the back end is best left to the imagination.  Wouldn’t wanna upset the squire’s delicate sensibilities or nothin.”

Malus sneered.  Petra returned the sneer.

She continued:  “Most of the year, travelling through the Fells ain’t dangerous, just borin as hell.  But!  For a few weeks every spring, the rains soak the ground… and with the soakings, come up, squirmin and squealin… the black worms.”

Junie rubbed her arms while listening, Emerson leaned forward.  Lottie simply stared.  “Bull.” said Malus.

“Why d’ya think they built the train tracks so high up off the ground, huh crumb-bum?” Petra asked, turning toward the squire.  She tapped him once in the forehead, saying:  “Worms.”  He swatted at her hand.

She continued: “Only the Builder can help those who’re stupid enough ta travel by foot or by horse in the springtime…  ‘cept He wouldn’t, cause the Builder don’t approve of those who act without plannin.  So, they get eaten up.  Slowly.”  Petra grinned.  “It takes a hundred years for the black worms t’ digest ya, which gives ya lotta time ta wish ya’d taken the train.”

“Suffocation would pose an immediate problem.” Lottie responded curtly.

“The dreaded black worms of the Fells breathe through their slimy skin, which is why they can’t stay underground when the ground is soaked an… boggy…” Petra looked down at where her boots were squishing in the marshy grass, and paled slightly.  “…like… it is… now…”

Lottie stared at Petra, then turned to Junie. There was a pause as she sat there, tapping her chin.  “There are several incorrect assumptions in the story.” Lottie began, her eyes looking into the fire. “The bridge was constructed as an answer to overcome the topography of the immediate area of the Fells in a logistically feasible manner.”

Petra scowled as the mechanical girl continued:  “The downslope and upslope between the city wall and the outlying plateau is such that a conventional roadbed would make the grade impassibly steep. The long viaduct style bridge is the most efficient means to make the area passable.” Emerson regarded her with feigned interest, Junie continued to eat marshmallows, and Malus sneered with his usual disinterest.

“Additionally, there are no current examples of local fauna of that nature. Any group of creatures that large would necessarily have a dynamic impact on such a limited ecosystem, and merely having a large enough population to provide for fertile breeding pairs would present a problem for available range and food.”

Emerson and Junie began to elbow each other at the automata’s mention of breeding pairs, while Petra shot daggers with her gaze at Lottie, arms crossed.

Lottie leaned her head slightly to the side. “Additionally, with no sighting of either live or dead specimens, no signs of substantial tunneling activity, and no impactful losses of livestock in the area indicate that this is a folk tale intended to frighten small children or explain a wholly unrelated phenomenon.”

Petra poked Lottie’s arm with an outstretched finger. “What if the holes get filled back in?”

Lottie turned to face her “No indications of disturbed earth or excavations.”

“What if the worms eat the other dead worms up?”

“There would still be some evidence.”


Lottie cocked her head for a moment, then responded: “A defining feature of most species of worm is a lack of external organs.”

Petra turned to the artificial girl.  “Huh?”

“Well, this has been fun.” said Malus dryly as he stood up. “But I think I’m going to go for a walk. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Wait a minute.” Emerson cocked his head. “Why are you going for a walk in the middle of the night, in the middle of nowhere?”

“I just want to see the stars away from the light of the fire is all.”

“It’s cloudy.” Emerson pointed up. “And I felt a raindrop on my cheek.”

“Listen, I don’t have to explain myself to you.” said Malus as he strapped on his sword and adjusted his belt. “I just want to go for a short walk.”

“Wants to polish his sword, more like.” Petra snickered, lighting her pipe.

“Fine, go for a walk, but take Lottie with you.” Emerson said slyly. “You can’t be too cautious out here. You heard Petra’s story.”


“I don’t think the chamomile is working so well anymore.” said Emerson as he sat on the bedroll inside the tent. “Here I am at the start of a vacation and I’m all stressed out.”

“Do you know what I could do right now to take the edge off?” Junie asked..

Emerson looked up wearing a smirk. “Perhaps I better not risk a guess, Miss Ginsburg,” he replied

Junie laughed. “I was going to say a shoulder rub,” she wiggled her fingers. “Might I?”

“Miss Ginsburg…” Emerson paused, allowing the moment to linger.

“Yes, Mr. Lighthouse?”

“ I love…” just then a tremendous crack of thunder seemed to cleave the air causing both Emerson and Junie to jump at the unexpected clap.

“I believe we may be in for a spot of weather, Mr. Lighthouse.”

“Indeed Miss Ginsburg.”

“So what was it you were going to say?” asked Junie. “Before the thunder?”

“I was about to say how much….”

Suddenly from the direction of the campfire they heard Petra’s warning shout. “Worms!”

Junie and Emerson locked eyes for a moment but it was brief. Junie dove for the pillow and grabbed her gun from beneath it.

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  1. Doc Miggins Doc Miggins March 28, 2013

    I travel the northern road several times a year, but never in the spring.  Did none of you read up on the area before travelling?

  2. Mr Tenk Mr Tenk March 28, 2013

    I need a popcorn machine and some high powered optics that will sent up to the north rampart. Stat.


  3. Ceejay Writer Ceejay Writer March 29, 2013

    Aww.  Emerson should remind the rest of the party how rude it is to interrupt a speaker!  Important statements can be missed!

    Tenk, I like my popcorn heavy butter, light salt. I’ll bring paper napkins.

    (I will be following this adventure *avidly*)


    • Deyni Taverstone Deyni Taverstone March 29, 2013

      *wonders if she can throw some M & Ms into that extra buttery popcorn*

    • Ceejay Writer Ceejay Writer March 29, 2013

      *glances at build up list, screams like a girl, remembers she IS a girl, screams more*

      I’m just gonna roll with it from here. Maybe dabble a bit but that back stuff means I need more that 24 hours in a day. 

  4. Mack Blackwell Mack Blackwell March 29, 2013

    You know, I read that back part once before but it didn’t have the same significance. We definately are going to want M & M’s in that popcorn. And Slushees.

  5. Rhianon Jameson Rhianon Jameson April 1, 2013

    *Takes a sip of brandy and adjusts her reading glasses as she settles in for this tale.*

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