The Harkin Worm
By Will Parkinson
“Yes and my eternal gratitude—ten thousand thank-you’s, inlaid with gold leaf upon stationary scented with lilac, or perhaps lily-of-the-valley…”
This will be my opening statement when I present the culmination of my feverous four years of research to the American Philo-Psychological Society, the boon of my career: The Harkin Worm. I had been lost in reverie during the entire flight, and I imagined myself descending a mountain, retreating from my isolation, with my new law etched in stone that I would present to the academy.
My career, thus far, has been disgraceful. My work had been described as a “literary contribution to the science of psychology” by the journal Modern Mental Forensics, polite society’s way of lumping me in with the psychoanalytic crackpots. They always insult with compliments. Not that anyone should blindly accept compliments anyways—they are always best treated with suspicion. No one selflessly doles them out, especially if they’re true, except to the dead. They’re too costly to one’s pride. And it’s also worth mentioning that my mind always carries further than my body, and I speak of this concerning both capabilities of action and movement in general. This is true of my career as well, that the mechanisms of psychology at present were themselves too wooden and stilted to carry the meaning and import of my work.
I had suffocated the woman in the seat next to me on the plane with my flabs of fat that spilled over the seat arms. I have been described as a portly, even a porcine man. Before the plane had even finished taxiing, she had stood up in agitation and was lunging with one knee in a vain attempt to get around my stomach. It also probably didn’t help that I had stress-sweated through my already tight suit, so that my tits were exposed through my white shirt and I had this fungal odor with hints of the garlic glaze from the three meals I had ordered before we landed. I was meeting Walter Pfuser, the chair of philosophy at St. John the Evangelist’s College, and I was nervous.
I have always been terrified of sex. It disturbs me as unnatural and threatening, like the androgynous and skeletal figure of a withered cancer patient. I have a memory of middle school when I overheard one of the older boys bragging about a porn video he had gotten ahold of. I fought back tears for two hours and eventually broke down into sobs in my algebra class and was sent home. During the period of my master’s program, I had rented an apartment near the campus of the fairly large university where I was studying at the time. One night, the young man in the apartment next to me brought a woman over. At first, I listened to them through the walls with morbid curiosity. But as the noises crescendoed, I was overcome with a deep and powerful fear and a sense of helplessness. I collapsed onto my bed, sobbing, flailing, tears, and snot streaming my face as I begged to God himself to make it end. I imagined them as fanged chimpanzees, pulling back their horrible and tight lips to expose their teeth, beating the walls to crack through the plaster and paint to shred me into strips of flesh and clothing. I could see their greenish-brown paws balled up into a fist at the end of muscular arm covered in black fur, smashing the wood paneling, tunneling through to my spartan living situation for blood. The next night, though she had left, I was so traumatized that I didn’t sleep again, and I sat in a reclining chair my parents had given me staring at the walls, completely emotionally drained into a daze. The idée fixe of my work up until now dealt with sex as a symptom of psychological disease. In my last paper, I even prescribed in vitro fertilization as the preferred method of reproduction in all people, a treatment to cure our species of the beast with two backs.
My cabdriver was waiting for me at the bag check with a sign reading my name: McDaniel. I had only a small briefcase with me that would have fit in the overhead, but I had packed a cheap pistol, a knockoff of a Walther M2, in with my clothes and notebooks, and couldn’t carry it through security. On one of the television sets above the baggage carousel, a scene was unfolding at one of the towers in the banking complex downtown. Police had blocked off the streets around the base of the building but stood alert on the concrete platform outside the entrance. They were refusing to enter.
It was a three months ago that I had e-mailed Walter Pfuser. “I believe I have made one of the most important discoveries in the history of psychology,” I wrote, “and I also believe, having familiarized myself with your body of work, you would take great interest.” A man with the mind of a boy, I explained, that had, through psychic disturbance in his thought patterns, transformed himself into a new creature entirely. A human parasite, a psycho-biological organism, the first of its kind. Psychology differed from the so-called hard sciences in that it was a field composed entirely of questions—and now I would bring it results. I linked him my recent works that had been published in the most prestigious journals I could manage, which didn’t amount to much. Walter Pfuser was not only tenured, but one of the most highly respected philosophers in the world and had recently published a book in which he declared that everything was the same. He had broken into the mainstream, entertaining pop scientists, late night show and radio hosts alike. I tried to convince him the Harkin Worm was detrimental to his field and even affirmed many of the claims in his philosophy. The Worm would reenergize the seriousness that had built his popularity and fame in the first place.
It took him two months to reply: “Dr. K. McDaniel, I’m familiar with your work. (He had read my work!) I am interested in your Harkin Worm.” He explained that he was doing a podcast show in the same city as the Worm a month out, and that he would use the philosophy department’s treasury to pay for our flights and hotels. Better it goes to actual research, he wrote, otherwise, the funds would be looted by the undergraduate lesbian mafia for one of their little ethnic studies symposiums—or something to that effect. “However, I won’t be driving to the airport to get you. I am not your taxi.”
I pulled a sandwich I had prepared out of my briefcase in the back of the cab, which had now turned into a kind of panini. It had been squashed completely flat by my clothes and the gun, and the cheese slices had melted into the white bread. It smelled rancid, but I ate it anyways, wondering if this was the sandwich I had prepared before the flight, or one that may have been much older. I couldn’t see much, as my glasses had completely fogged.
“What do you think this is going on at the bank complex?” the driver said.
I ignored him. I was trying to organize my thoughts before meeting Walter Pfuser and didn’t feel like talking, especially to some cabdriving spic.
“You think someone is going to jump?”
“I think I’d very much like it if you left me alone,” I replied. “I am a very busy man with a very long night.”
He turned the radio up. Apparently, the police had attempted to expand their blockade but were unsuccessful, as the media had already rushed the one they had erected. A news helicopter had flown to the eighteenth story but would be forced to land soon.
The cloth in my shirt had dried enough to become greasy, and the stench turned ammoniac and acrid. I combed my sweat-drenched hair over with my hands as I approached the black rental suburban. I could see Walter Pfuser in the front seat. I slipped a ramekin of mayonnaise I had been fingering into my shirt pocket and opened the passenger seat door. I had to scoot in backwards and lift each one of my legs in individually, and finally haul my massive gut around, which I pulled inwards so that it’d fit against the dash. I was flushed, hot, and entirely out-of-breath. Walter immediately began driving before we even spoke. With great effort, I stretched my right arm over my blubbery chest towards him.
“Dr. K. McDaniel. A pleasure. Although, I’m sure Rebeca Earl has already told you plenty about me…” I said. He didn’t acknowledge the handshake or respond. “You know, Rebeca Earl, from the sociolo—”
“I know who Rebeca Earl is,” he snapped. “I just didn’t know that slut was still breathing.” That word sent a chill down my spine and I didn’t want to know any more. We rode in silence for the next two minutes.
“You know, I find this all very validating,” I finally said. “Up until you replied to my email, I was anxious over this whole ‘Harkin Worm’ business. I didn’t know if it was all just a gaseous interruption, wreaking havoc on my nervous system. I have a very delicate composition, even the smallest upset can turn the whole system on its back, so that I must recalibrate, and sometimes resulting in a whole malalignment in my work.”
The car was resting at a stoplight, but he immediately put the vehicle in park and turned on the hazard lights.
“Have you ever done monkey water?” He produced a spoon and a small pill.
“Oh, no thank you,” I said.
His sharp features were lit by the green of the changing traffic light, underneath his boyish brown hair. His expression was completely flat.
“I’ll be perfectly honest: you talk and think so slowly that I can’t understand a single word that you’re saying. This is Desoxyn. It will pep you up a little, put you on my level. You just open the time-release capsule, crush up the little balls. Mix it with the water and it should go easily up your nostril… and painlessly.”
He used a drop dispenser to wet the powder left by the little balls. A car behind us was honking now as I ripped the juice through one side of my nose and leaned back.
“I think I ought to pepper myself a little bit as well,” he said, bringing another dose to his face.
We were moving again, talking over each other, maybe not even at each other, but I could understand everything coming out of his mouth and knew everything coming out of mine even before it had left. He talked about his recent book, a libertarian podcast he had appeared on, a talk-show panel in New York where he sat with a Hollywood actor and a political pundit… all in the last month. One of his speeches had been posted on PornHub as a joke and had made it to the front page. There was a cryptocurrency, the PfuserCoin, “in the works” though he’d “never buy that shit,” he just liked the idea. “And where did you find your ‘Harkin Worm’?” he asked.
I explained he was a patient at a clinic I had worked in during my doctorate. “There had been a spat with a therapist—his last therapist. He wouldn’t give the details, but there had been a legal settlement. The therapist had a court order dealing with something he had written on the internet. Mostly harmless, or at least harmless enough so that there wasn’t a mess involving the police.” They tasked me with the initial psychological evaluation.
“What about the name?”
“It’s his name,” I explained, “though I’ll have to change it before publication. Patient confidentiality.”
“I thought to myself ‘negative-Siddhartha.’ The Buddha became enlightened when he looked upon another’s suffering. The Worm, conversely, is a victim of a life of luxury. A man imbued with evil because he knows nothing else but comfort—a new kind of trauma.”
I wasn’t aware for how long, but my extremities had been numb for quite awhile now, and so my tongue flapped loosely around in my mouth making me completely unintelligible, words coming out in rolling, spitting moans punctuated by bouts of laughter. I finally tried to regain my composure enough to alert Pfuser that a huge turd was lurching through my intestines, and quickly. “I don’t know for how long it’s been coming, but it’s painful.” I wasn’t wearing adult diapers. He pulled over quickly.
I went into a corner store bathroom. As I pushed down with my muscles, it felt as if three wine bottles had been tied together and were being pulled slowly but aggressively by a rope. It hit my sphincter as if it was a brick wall. All my muscles were taut from the speed, so that even my stomach and calves were stuck in a tense state, and including the entirety of my digestive tract, which must have been the size of any collection of veins in my arms at that moment. My vision became completely red from the pushing—and then faded immediately to black.
I began screaming. I was certain I had gone blind. I decided I had popped a blood vessel in my brain evacuating my bowels so aggressively. I must have looked terrifying, bawling out: “I’m blind, I’m blind!” with my piglet eyes turned completely black due to the drugs and the darkness. And then—the lights came back on. A backup generator, so that the bulbs were glowing weakly for two or three seconds, and then total darkness again.
When I was finished, I had trouble walking. The muscles in my anus were shot as if I had Charlie horse in my rectum. A man, the owner, was whimpering behind the counter. Walter Pfuser stood over him with his belt off, apologizing. I learned later that my screams had sent Walter into a fit of paranoia. Believing this was some kind of trap, he had removed his belt and whipped the man on the back of the neck with the metal clasp. We exited out the front door. People were crowding into the streets in the darkness. The entire city was blacked out. There wasn’t a single light, save for a helicopter in the near distance. It was loud enough so that it had to be some kind of police helicopter, and was equipped with a search light, which it waved up and down the side of an invisible structure in the distance, like some carefully controlled second sun.
In the vehicle, I began rummaging in my briefcase a second time for anything to eat. They say uppers typically kill the appetite, though that wasn’t my experience. I felt starved, and I even began turning over pens and picking at pieces of paper, thinking about eating them. I wondered what it would be like to unload my pistol and swallow one of the bullets. What would it taste like? How would I have to swallow to make sure that it went down my throat easily? Would I have to lubricate it? But then I remembered the cup of mayonnaise in my shirt pocket. I took the plastic lid off and began licking the ramekin ferociously, pursing my lips to suck the clumps off the side. I strained the muscle in my tongue so that I could guide it properly in the tiny plastic corners that rimmed the bottom and get any of the remaining sauce.
“What kinds of people does the Worm associate with? What are its friends?”
Walter Pfuser’s voice brought me back, and I realized I had been snarling and unaware of it.
“Friends…? There was mention of a boy… some militant nihilist that ended up shooting himself, a disciple of Mainländer and highly suspicious of Jews. Then there was an Indian with a ketamine problem… he was distanced from the group after he started playing with himself at one of his own house parties…”
“And his parents?”
“The Worm told me his father was a ‘fucking pussy,’ his words—I never met him. Again, I didn’t see much of the Worm outside of the clinic… it was all a very controlled environment. Liabilities and such. He was some kind of a lawyer, maybe even a corporate lawyer. He had to work in business. They had money, and the mother never worked— I don’t think she ever left her bed. Actually, I know she didn’t—the Worm said so.”
Walter began talking about the job of a lawyer in relation to his book. Laws on the books were a primitive concept, he said, because hierarchies, necessitated by value systems, were largely arbitrary. “It largely comes down to this: think about terrorism—so what? The building stands, it explodes. People suffer, or they don’t. What’s the axiom here? ‘Suffering is bad?’ And by the way, I don’t think you’d really want to make that claim. Isaac Newton apparently endured horrible neglect in his childhood. Van Gogh was tormented his entire life.” He had this idiosyncrasy when he was philosophizing, or maybe it was speed, where, when he got revved up, his fingers would start dancing in the air as if he was delicately but quickly playing one of Chopin’s etudes on an imaginary piano, raised just above and about a eight inches in front of his nose.
I realized Walter Pfuser’s expression never changed. He reminded me of a childhood friend that had been locked up when, suddenly over the course of a few weeks, he began believing aliens were chasing him. He was institutionalized for two months, and when he was released he had a completely flat and disinterested face at all times. He even spoke as if he was incredibly bored but knew there was nothing else to do. The major difference was that this old acquaintance of mine would suddenly burp in the middle of other people’s sentences, blow spit bubbles, and point out individual cars in traffic and ask if they were following him. Other than that, they had that same completely muted face.
The streets and sky were completely black and silent like a country road. The headlights were the totality of my vision, save for the singular helicopter bright like Venus in early spring, occasionally disappearing behind the skyscraper that was still invisible in the night. The road would lead us directly to whatever was happening in the banking complex. The night was hot and humid, and my sticky shirt had begun to itch, especially around the collar. My stomach began to ache from a buildup of gas. I suddenly remembered how hungry I was. I felt as if I was going to starve. I opened the glove box to see if he was hiding food inside of it from me, and then the center console.
“Dr. Pfuser, where are we?” My hotel was only four miles from the apartment complex in which the Worm was nesting.
“I’ve been lost this entire time. I actually can’t see a single thing. I can’t read any of the street signs.”
“I’m starved,” I moaned. I was lightheaded and weak. I looked at the clock on the dash. We had been driving in circles for 3 hours.
“Maybe if I can find a main road I can figure out how far we are from the Worm. It shouldn’t take long.”
I couldn’t wait, and I told him so. My appetite and nervous system were closely linked, and the former wasn’t easily satisfied, so that my thoughts would become noisy, soured by dozens familiar voices that condescended me in correlation with the intensity of my hunger. Then, images of a sexual nature would begin to creep in. A man’s ringed hand, running up a woman’s milky thigh, slowly lifting a black satin cocktail dress in the chiaroscuro of an orange, warm car light against the leather seating of a limousine. The slightly stubbled jaw easing open a mouth painted dark red, the tongue playfully but slowly probing between the teeth, the hand pushing the underside of the breast underneath the dress. I was beginning to panic as the visions grew more lucid and more real—my stomach turning and throat growing dry.
“I think I’d very much like it if you would pull over,” I squeaked, in the most desperate and commanding voice I could muster, “and so that I may get something to eat.”
We came upon a giant white grocery store that dimly glowed in the moonlight so that it only barely had the presence of a shadow. The parking lot was still one-fourth full despite the fact that the store, like the rest of the city, was devoid of light. The automatic doors were stuck in an open position. He parked the car and I entered alone.
The inside was completely black. Figures were sliding around me in the dark, behind the shelves, and occasionally their brown flesh would catch remnants of light from the outside, so that they had the sheen of a beaver or otter’s fur before vanishing into the opaque black. It would have been silent as well if not for the small and quiet noises of packaging being moved around, or the soft patter of feet. My hands were moving of their own accord and in separate patterns, waving on each side of me and striking at different objects like two snakes each with their own agenda. I was deep into a kind of frenzy. My left hand had torn open a cardboard box of chocolate snack cakes and fished one of them out, bringing it to my mouth still in its packaging. I hadn’t even noticed, and so I chewed the cake while it was still entirely in its wrapper and sucked on the squishy plastic while my right hand delicately massaged the outer wrapping of a bag of potato chips. I could feel their hard edge against the soft and thin polymer, and I squeezed the outside to hear one crunch. I began lifting things into the handbasket as the wrapper in my mouth slowly came undone and a sweet and bready dampened lump eased out. I had become voracious, so that neck and mouth were beginning to take on a life of their own, so that I could have gnashed my teeth onto and through the sacks of food. I imagined myself as a rat, chewing my way into a hole, sliding my body into a bag filled with grains, eating my way to freedom as I swam upwards, inhaling my meals while my belly, thighs, and ankles swelled. I imagined my teeth juicing thick globs of macaroni, drinking warm mouthfuls of my own saliva and cheese sauce.
I felt safe in the dark, and even free. I could tell I was in a wider area because the sounds of movement seemed to come in a wider range, and I had more pronounced movement. I was swinging my arms as I confidently waddled into the new space. I drew some round object to my lips, though too quickly, so that I rubbed it against my cheek briefly before nibbling at it, making small licks at the object. Then, I crunched through more than half of it and swallowed this portion whole so that its size, along with the texture of the skin on the object, immediately irritated my throat on the way down, even choking me a bit. I used my finger to force down the remaining portion to push down the other half, swallowing deeply. My neck lunged off of my shoulders, pulling the bones and tendons, towards a mound made up of these small orbs and I inhaled one whole then smashed it with my jaw. A seed or a stem or a piece of a core bit back against my teeth, but my neck swung like a flailing arm deeper into the mound, sucking up more and gnashing them.
Watch me feed. I must have moved to where they kept the frozen meats, because I could feel the cool refrigeration. The cold air actually felt sharp against my sweat, and I realized my hair was completely damp. I was so excited, in fact, that my heart was squeezing and pumping ferociously, so that it even energized the inside of my ears. I wasn’t certain what kind of meat was on that section of the aisle because whatever was inside the packages was raw and ground and mildly spiced—perhaps Italian sausage from the taste of the first bite. I had clawed a little tear into the side of one of the plastic packages and was squeezing a bubble of the ground meat out of the side which I was snapping at with my lips. Then, I grabbed both ends of the cylindrical package and pushed hard, and ran my tongue flat against it so as not to let any drip out, and when I reached the opening I began lapping it up as I flattened both sides with my hands.
Back outside, I could see Walter snorting another spoonful of the monkey water through the car window. As I sat back into my seat, my pockets crinkled, stuffed with aluminum packages of tarts and strudels.
“You know, this was almost approved by the Air Force,” Walter said calmly, matter-of-factly. “It was tested on fighter pilots who would need to stay awake for long flights. It’s perfectly fine—it’s harmless. They probably give it to children—and if they don’t, they will.” He had been reorienting himself and the directions to figure out how we could get to the Worm fastest—immediately through downtown. It was about ten minutes, even with congested traffic, because we were already directly outside the center. In fact, I could clearly make out the siding of the police helicopter that had been hovering at the bank complex skyscraper, the only light in the entire city. Now, though, a larger and second one had come up, and was circling the south and west sides of the building, while the smaller one alternated between the opposites. We were moving again into the black and solid night.
Now that my mind was clearing itself, the situation came to me in full force. Walter Pfuser! Imagine! In my own department I was the object of mockery, even though I was an associate professor I was relegated the introductory courses, often given to adjuncts and PhD students, and largely forbidden from discussing my work in class. And then? A joint publication with Walter Pfuser?
Walter Pfuser said: “I’ve heard Socrates’ ‘divine sign’ described as auditory hallucinations. Hamlet was a victim of major depressive disorder, resulting in the hallucinations of his father. Reductive, a bit, but still.”
“Does the Worm have a historical precedent?”
The intersections were suddenly filled with dozens of cars taking turns hesitantly on whether to go or stop at places where the streetlights usually managed the flow of traffic, honking, jerking their brakes as people darted into the street to cross.
“Not that I know of, no.”
“The Worm is soft; you misunderstand this fact. It’s unfit for the gauntlet of politics. Nero had to have a spine, even as a ruthless lover of pleasure,” I explained. “The Worm is new. We are examining where the exact line between the present and the future dissipate.”
But what if it spreads?
“Is it genetic or environmental? Does the Worm breed?”
I knew what he was pressing at and I didn’t want to discuss the sex life of the Worm. Instead, I took the other angle. If the Worm was biological, it would have suffered in any other period, and immensely. It was not that the Harkin Worm was previously impossible to have existed, but rather that it certainly wouldn’t have survived, or adapted psychically. The more I spoke, the more I began to ponder the allowance of the Worm. I became acutely aware of the gun in my briefcase. Why had I brought it, anyways? I suppose I often took a pistol with me, even to the University where it’s discovery would have cost me my job. Just in case a situation with a student or a member of the faculty ever got too heated and needed to be taken care of.
Should I kill the Harkin Worm?
Traffic became sparse again but replaced by a magnificent crowd. Walter had completely let off the gas, so that the car moved at its default speed. We could only see them in the fan of light from the vehicle, so that they moved in and out of our artificial field of vision in a mass of faces and bodies. The crowd seemed to constantly ebb within two feet from the front bumper, as if we were slowly guiding a liquid wave of people away. Occasionally, a stray elbow or shoulder would press and patter against the windows on the left and right of Walter and I, which was the only audible sound save for the deafening blades of the two helicopters above. The entrance to the bank complex, being some seven or eight feet elevated from the sidewalk and street, was clearly visible. A man emerged from the large glass doors and lifted his hand with four fingers raised, mouthing (or saying): “There’s four!”
The crowd immediately shifted and pressed harder in the direction of the complex. A female reporter awkwardly but quickly strutted with her backside and thighs pulled in towards her torso to maintain her balance in high heels. The beating of bodies against the side of the car intensified, and people cutting out in front of the car were forced to come upon it more closely, so that they balanced against the hood with their arms as they moved across.
The larger of the two helicopters jerked its searchlight across the glass window sidings of the building, so that it refracted through the tinted windows with the power of a laser, breaking into a deep green from the panels it pierced. For just a moment, that sliver of green light cut across the crowd directly to my right, revealing them as ghoulish, expressionless, and lost, before the stoplight was quickly cut back towards the center of the building, immediately erasing the image.
We moved back out into the ring of traffic, which then slowly fell away also into industrial blocks and apartments, often with wooden ground-level balconies littered with discarded furniture and rusted grills, ugly plastic yard toys like a duck slide covered in grime. After two minutes, Walter wheeled the suburban next to the sidewalk, put it in park, and turned off the headlights. We had arrived.
When the Worm opened the door, still latched, I immediately remembered those shameful eyes that he refused to lock with another. He had learned some trick, probably in another clinic, to look instead at the person’s nose, but it was obvious enough to be noticeable and made it even creepier than the usual limp neck in people who lack confidence. In fact, he had a lack of sureness that reflected a total disengagement of the moment, as if all of reality was gossiping about him, including the trees, and he knew it—but he was also far enough removed, and for so long, that it could no longer drive him mad. He shut the door, undid the latch, and let us in. Walter used the light on his phone to illuminate the room.
The apartment looked like a homeless shelter had been burglarized. The inside smelled like marijuana, body odor, and some pungent and cheesy TV dinner had been recently cooked. There was a handprint of chocolate with streaming fingers that spread across the wall for four feet, leading to the light switch. The carpet crunched at my feet, due to these mysterious clear and dark brown balls of wax that had fused with the fibers. There was a disgusting beige and sea green sofa that had black clumps of what looked like tar stuck in the fabric and the back was leaking orange foam from a tear that went across the entire length of its back paneling. The coffee table was littered with different devices for smoking marijuana: a blowtorch, waterpipes with multiple compartments connecting to a single bowl, the water dirty wherever there was any.
Walter Pfuser gasped. He removed a small voice recording device I didn’t even know he had and began speaking into it. “I’m with Professor of Psychology K. McDaniel. We’ve arrived at the Worm’s location. It’s incredible.” He looked like the first explorer to study an ice cavern. He was already moving through the apartment like he owned it, picking up discarded pill bottles off of the kitchen counter and reading them aloud: “Clonazepam. Take two daily for anxiety or as instructed by a doctor.” Adderall. Something kind of muscle relaxer. Something for depression.
“Well?” I said from the inside of the refrigerator, “This is Dr. Pfuser himself— go on, tell him about your mother.” I was blindly scavenging.
The Worm was deeply bitter. “It’s funny, watching you both strut around with this air of superiority, like your proud of yourselves… your privileges.” Its words came out like a cautious twig prodding a swamp to find its depth.
Walter was so beside himself with ecstasy at the entire scene that he was riffing into the recording device. “Imagine,” he said into it, “reality made manifest as a kind of rubber machine, or maybe each part composed of a fatty and fleshy material, ergonomically designed—” he paused, examining the worm to take a calculation, “—ergonomically designed for a man 6’1, 6’2. Each movement draws the worm in deeper itself a kind of blanket of warmth, relaxing its muscles even adapting itself to the worm’s brain. The creature is suspended in a state of constantly wanting and constantly receiving.”
The Worm was scolding me now: “You couldn’t even imagine. Suffering itself is a kind of blessing. I’m the only man in the world with this curse—the cursed with the blessing to have anything I could ever want. All I ever had was opportunity, all I ever had was safety and comfort. I’ve been coaxed into my own trappings!”
“What about the body?” Walter said.
“Tell him about the body,” I told the Worm.
“The body is inseparable from pleasure—” the Worm said. It explained that pleasure was its body, as was its entitlement to good things, which it had not only grown accustomed to, but inseparable from. Because of this, it continued, everything outside of its own endless demands, and even the success of others, was physically harmful to its being. “I am a modern victim of corporeal punishment,” the worm said. “Every act of ascent in others is my own lashings. The nature of my suffering is that I have never suffered.”
Walter repeated the line back into his device: “The nature of my suffering is that I have never suffered.” He looked amazed, circling the Worm with a look of distrust like a crocodile handler, the skulking Worm defeated and collapsed in the center.
When we had finished, I watched the traffic dispersing from whatever had happened at the banking complex. The excitement had ended, the helicopters had landed, and now the crowd had split up and poured over into side streets, slowly exiting and plainly visible from the landing where Walter and I stood. The power was still out citywide. A few frozen chicken nuggets I had claimed at the grocery store had melted in my back pocket, which was now damp.
Walter was calm and contemplative, and yet also beside himself, which was easy to see even in someone so unemotive. Seeing Walter so impressed was, in fact, the zenith of my career, unfolding right now, and even justified the toil and humiliation I had endured back at the academy. I considered myself a success, and even a budding legend. Not in the making, but in the moment. How many of my own colleagues had ever won the recognition of any academic that wasn’t some blatant and self-aggrandizing stooge? What, for once, did their opinion matter? And to have the gall to demand that I, K. McDaniel, not speak about my publications—when I’d be read by their children, their children’s children!
Whatever transpired downtown struck me as idiotic, especially since these people were so near a major event, even the most major in this early century at least, in psychology. Only a few blocks! Of course, like the light of a star, the biggest events in academia always take place years before they reach the ears and eyes of the public.
I imagined myself at the bank complex that night instead, pacing back and forth behind the large glass doors at the entrance, seeing the commotion and hysteria outside. I’d step out into the video cameras, reporters firing thousands of questions over each other so that they melded into a deafening white noise, the spotlight of the helicopter illuminating my glasses, so that they shined bright like bulbs themselves in front of my piglet eyes.
“I think I’d very much like it if you’d all please be quiet and direct your attention to me,” I’d say. “My name is Professor K. McDaniel, Doctor of Psychology…”
And who was that, next to this pale whale with the sticky bangs? Why, it’s Walter Pfuser!
I’d be glowing in the light, like a suited, pear-shaped angel engorged at the hips. I’d tell them: “Look at me, look at me! Ladies and gentlesirs, I would like to present to you the most important discovery in modern psychology: The Harkin Worm…!”