Worms – Andrew Duke

Four-million, five hundred forty thousand, three hundred two.

I think the scariest it got was right after I died. 

Don’t get me wrong, the moments right before were pretty damn terrifying, nobody likes knowing that their life is about to end, but there’s also a relief to it, you know? Maybe there’s an afterlife, and you’re about to get your eternal reward, or maybe there’s nothing and you’re just gonna stop existing, but one way or another, you don’t have to worry about basically anything anymore. The mortgage is somebody else’s problem, you’re not going to be stressed out about work, it’s all uphill from there. 

Do I sound too excited about the prospect of death? Look, I just mean that it’s something you can make peace with. You can look at everything you’ve done, sum it all up, and hopefully work through all the crap you need to and reach an equilibrium. It’s not like I wanted to die, but you roll with the punches, you know? I came to terms with it and got ready to rest.

Only then I was dead, but everything just kept going. I don’t really know how to describe it, I stopped controlling my body but I kept being in it, does that make sense? Like, I was still seeing the room around me, hearing people crying, all that, but I couldn’t get up and move, or tell people what was going on, or anything like that. And honestly, “seeing” and “hearing” aren’t really the words for it. My eyes were closed, and I’m sure my optic nerve wasn’t functional anyway after my brain got flooded with all that stuff that gets released when you die. I was just… aware of the space around me. Sensing it without senses. Weird shit.

I guess that wasn’t when the fear really set in, maybe I was wrong about that. At first it was pretty cool. A new way of looking at the world, a different kind of perception. I started wondering if this was what death was like for everyone, or if it was just me. If it was everyone, maybe we could communicate with each other, have some kind of cool dead people society. I could meet all those cool celebrities who died before I was born, yaknow? Or, if it was just me, if I was special, who knows what the limits might be? Maybe I could come back to life, be immortal, have some kind of cool ghost powers! All that stuff I said about accepting death when it comes aside, coming back from the dead would be amazing!

I kinda got lost in thought about all that for a while. The next time I started really paying attention to the world around me, it turned out to be the middle of my funeral. I didn’t think I had been thinking for that long, but I guess maybe time passes differently for you when you’re dead and you stop keeping an eye on the world. Or maybe ADHD just sticks with you even after death, who knows.

Point is, my funeral. Honestly, I wasn’t that impressed. Maybe my family didn’t like me as much as I thought, or maybe they just had bad taste, but the venue, the service, the flowers, all of it was just kind of… I don’t know, unimpressive. That sounds so silly, right? I’ve been dead for how long and I’m still holding onto my disappointment about my own funeral? Stupid. I’m sorry for wasting your time with that. 

The service isn’t as important as what happened at the end. The casket closes, the dearly departed goes into the ground, you know the standard deal. Well, that’s when I started to get scared. I’d never thought about it before, but I’d only ever been able to sense the things happening in the room with me, maybe slightly outside. That makes sense, right? You can’t see through walls, you can only hear through them a tiny bit, why would supernatural ghost senses be different? 

Caskets are a lot like rooms.

As soon as they closed the lid on me, everything got a lot harder to perceive. I could still kind of tell that people were around me, and even who a couple of them were, but it was like it was muffled. And I’m not stupid, I realized that if this was the effect of closing the casket, putting me in the ground was going to be a living nightmare. 

I wanted to scream. I wanted to move, fight, roll over, anything. Something to let people realize I was still awake in here! I would’ve cried as I felt them lowering me into the grave, but I couldn’t even do that. I just had to feel the casket moving slowly down until it stopped, six feet deep. And then I felt everything outside of the casket get quieter and quieter with every shovelful of dirt going into the grave until it was just… silence, darkness, whatever analogy you want to use. I couldn’t sense anything besides my new little seven-foot-long room.

That was the worst part. Just being stuck down there, nobody to talk to, nothing to observe, only endless time to spend thinking. I was so scared I’d lose my mind, you know? I’ve read enough books to know that good things don’t happen when you spend too long in sensory deprivation. I tried to take my thoughts off of it, recite whatever chapters of books I could remember, tell myself stories, “sing” to myself by just thinking really hard about music, anything, please, anything! I kept running out of things to think about, so eventually I decided to just start counting. You never run out of numbers, right? Just go another number up.

I don’t know the names of a lot of the really big numbers, do you?

I was really just despairing for a long time, until you guys arrived. I didn’t even notice you at first, I was at around two million at that point, but eventually I started paying attention to the casket again and I noticed that it was a little worse for wear. My family hadn’t sprung for a metal one, thank goodness, that’s always a waste, but that meant that the wood was starting to rot away, and so there were all kinds of creepy crawlies inside. Including all of you!

I expected to feel really weird and gross when I noticed you guys eating me, wriggling around, living in what used to be my sinuses, all that, but I guess, if anything, I felt nice having something happening in the casket. It was so much nothing for a long time and now I had all of you as new friends! And not only that, it finally gave me something to wonder about, now that I’d long since given up on the whole “can I come back from the dead” question.

You all were eating me, but I still felt like I was in the same place, right? So that obviously meant that my soul, my seat of consciousness, whatever had stuck around after I died, wasn’t tied to whatever parts of me you’d eaten, yeah? Like, people think the seat of consciousness is the brain, but by then I was already missing a huge portion of brain, and I didn’t really feel like there was less “me,” you know? My grandpa was a preacher, and he used to say that the soul was somewhere in the heart. Well, at this point that I’m talking to you now, I have no heart to speak of, and I’m still here!

And then I started really thinking. What happens to people who get cremated? Do they sizzle away, stop consciously existing? Does their mind split into a billion different pieces as their body becomes particulate? Is there one single piece of ash that holds their mind? Hell, if that last one is true, is the soul tied to a single atom?

I am so glad I can talk to you guys about this kind of stuff and you really do listen!

So I finally had a new mission! An experiment. I was always shit in science class during school, but this one’s pretty impossible to get wrong, I hope. I’m just going to sit here and see where my mind takes me. Quite literally. So far, I’ve made it long enough that you’ve eaten all of me that isn’t bone, and I appreciate that, but now it’s going to get harder. I don’t know how long it takes for bone to crumble into dust, and I don’t know if or when you or some friends of yours will eat that dust, but I’ve got all the time in the world, right?

I know that I’m somewhere in this skeleton. The skull feels poetic, but that could just be me assuming because it’s kind of like the brain. It’d be strange if it was, like, a left pinky, but who knows? The seat of consciousness could be asymmetrical, it would’ve been that way if it was in the heart, so who says it can’t be the right patella or something ridiculous like that?

I hope it’s not in one of my teeth, I know those take longer to decompose than the rest of the skeleton. At least, I think I know that. Because of the enamel or something? I hope I’m not boring you guys, it’s just that there’s so much I still don’t know. 

The point is, I have a plan and I’m going to carry it out. I have a purpose again. And hopefully, eventually it’ll mean that I get out of this box again eventually, even if when I do I’m riding around in some bug’s digestive system. No offense. 

You know, on that note, I just remembered something my dad used to tell me. He’d say that every breath of air we breathe contains at least one molecule that Julius Caesar once breathed. I don’t know if that was true, but it was supposed to be about, like, molecules diffusing into the atmosphere and spreading around the world or whatever. Wouldn’t it be messed up if the living people are all up there constantly breathing in particles that have dead people’s consciousnesses in them? I hope if that happens I get inhaled by someone interesting.

Sorry, I’m rambling now. I just wanted to tell you the story, you know? Help you understand where I’m coming from. Because I’ve still got a lot of waiting to do, and “talking,” or at least thinking about words I would say, really helps. I guess you can’t actually hear me, and probably wouldn’t understand me if you could, but it helps.

It’s just a new version of counting, really. Something to do and to focus on so that I don’t just completely lose it from boredom. Hopefully I don’t run out of numbers this time, or if I do, maybe I can make up some new ones. One Wormillion, that’s pretty funny. I’ll keep it in mind when I get that high. 

I guess that’s the end, then.

Four-million, five hundred forty thousand, three hundred three.

I think the scariest it got was right after I died.