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The Worm Bed

by Ron Van Sweringen

The worms were hungry. Mary Wilson’s body didn’t last two weeks once it was thrown into the bed and lightly covered with soil. A few heavy rains helped things along, producing a lovely slime for the crawlers to slither in.

Parker Jones checked his worm bed every day, monitoring the worms’ feeding progress. He smiled, wiggling a tooth-pick stuck in his mouth. There were only bones left of the girl. She must have tasted good, he thought.

The ramshackle building stood along State Road 163, near Waldosa, Georgia. A large sign, the lettering faded by the sun, stood on the metal roof. It read, “LIVE WORMS — the best fishing bait in all of Georgia.” It was a fact, everybody within a hundred miles knew that Parker Jones grew the best damn fishing worms. How he did it no one could figure out. Some folks said he just had a knack for it. Others said he fed them from his outhouse.

Two gas pumps painted red and white beckoned to the occasional passing traffic in front of Parker’s General Store. Parker Jones himself sat in the shade of a Georgia pine, cleaning his fingernails and waiting for the next customer to pull in.

Before long, a battered red pick-up skidded to a stop at the pumps, throwing up a cloud of dirt and gravel. Parker Jones watched from a safe distance while the driver and passenger clambered out.

Mavis Boone and his brother Howard, two good-for-nothing country boys. Parker knew them well. Well enough to keep an eye on them; either one would steal you blind.

“Howdy Parker.” Mavis Boone nodded, lighting a cigarette. He was a big-boned man with only one eye. The other had been lost to a broken beer bottle in a fight. Howard Boone was a carbon copy of his brother except for the one eye.

“What can I do for you boys?” Parker smiled. “Need gas or some worms?”

“Well now, funny you asked,” Mavis replied, reaching into his overall pocket and pulling out something rolled up in a red bandanna. “Remember that box of worms you sold me yesterday, Parker?” He smiled. “Caught me a mess of catfish, and I used up every worm. Funny thing though, when I got to the bottom of that box, guess what I found?”

Parker Jones didn’t like the drift of this and answered sharply: “No telling.”

Mavis held out the palm of his hand with the red bandanna in it. He slowly unfolded the material until someting small and round was exposed. “Know what this is, Parker?” He grinned.

Parker Jones stared at the object. Panic made his heart pound and the hair in his armpits itch.

“This here is an eyeball.” Mavis kept grinning, “A human eyeball.”

Parker Jones’ stomach turned over. Do they know? he asked himself. Then he rationalized: What I need to do is get that damn thing and destroy it.

“If that don’t beat all,” Parker Jones replied, wiping his forehead with his sleeve. “It’s a real curiosity, that’s what it is.”

“I thought we might show it around town,” Mavis said. “Some folks might even pay to see it.”

“Tell you what, boys,” Parker Jones offered. “How about I trade you a tank of gas and two cartons of cigarettes for that there eyeball. Hell I might even put it in the store for people to look at.”

“No, I don’t think so,” Mavis replied, “but if you was to throw in a couple of Slim-Jims and some of them pickled eggs, we’d have a deal.”

Parker Jones watched the old pick-up disappear. He clutched the red bandanna and its contents in his fist. “Dumb bastards,” he cursed. “Real dumb.”

Mavis laughed at his brother as they sped away. “Now why do you figure that old coot traded us a tank of gas and two cartons of cigarettes for my old plastic eyeball?”

Copyright © 2009 by Ron Van Sweringen

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