Attack of the Green Vampire Worm!

it so happens that there’s no way an author can include every single bit of backstory, every tiny morsel of world-building, and still manage to tell a well-paced tale. there are always crumbs after baking and bits of batter clinging to the bowl.

i sweep all that up and dump it into a “frags” file, which, if you were to attempt to read it, would make me seem mad — well, madder anyway — like the scratchings on the wall of the lifelong prisoner.

ninja shoes
the correct way to mount a tiger
mocktopii make their shells from the detritus of the city

if i think an unused fragment is particularly juicy, i might move it to my junk drawer, sort of like an all-purpose idea cabinet (which is also where i house all the untamed ideas i post here from time to time).

but mostly my frags end up as the burnt runoff at the bottom of the pan: inextricably tied to the project in question, where they had not found a home, and so never seeing the light of day.

i thought i might air one out. here is an unused scrap from FANTASMAGORIA:

Around the room were basilisk toads, several species of wyvern (small, flightless dragons), flying foxes, golem sloths, little hulking bridge trolls, siren fish, and more. There was even a single, large unicorn skeleton with broken horn. Some specimens were poorly preserved in fluid and barely recognizable. Some were represented by a single organ. Some were mere piles of bone.

But despite the amazing diversity, the monster in the center was clearly the prize. Gilbert read the inscription again.

Verdus Vestidiae. The green vampire worm.

It was related to a group of smaller species, most of whom were invasive and infected large ungulates like cattle and horses. As the name implied, vampire worms lived off the blood of their hosts, a fine strategy for a small parasite, but not even a saurus could play host to the giant green.

In fact, it wasn’t until Diogenes Grippa, a naturalist living in the Gallegos Archipelago off the coast of the Savage Land, found a small population of the beasts that much of anything was known of their life cycle. What he described in a series of long, rambling letters left the scientific community in severe doubt as to his sanity.

He explained how the creatures lived, lying dormant in mud, water, or underbrush until prey approached; how they were all hermaphroditic, carrying both male and female organs, presumably since encounters between individuals were rare; how the gaggle of young, once born, burrowed into the body of their parent — a whole line of them wriggling into a long groove on their parent’s underbelly, literally forcing their way into the flesh — and there fusing symbiotically in a sort of reverse birth until they were large enough to fend for themselves.

He also described how they fed. The green vampire worm, when it attacked its prey, opened the slit in its underbelly, where dozens of squirming young — mouths agape — latched onto the unfortunate passer-by, dragged it inside the parent’s body, and doused it in an analgesic, antibiotic mucus that both prevented infection as well as numbed the prey animal, leaving it partially inebriated yet still conscious. With their hook-like faces buried in the victim’s skin, the young would then live off the animal, passing nutrients back to their parent, for days or even weeks as the unfortunate victim slowly starved to death before finally being ejected as a dry, desiccated carcass.

Gilbert knew all of this because he had read the letters, or copies of them, in a book of cryptozoological errata his father had found at a flea market. It was a gift for his twelfth birthday, and it was that book more than anything else that had piqued his interest in cryptozoology. But several years later, just as it was becoming an obsession, Gilbert had to choose a vocation, and Carl Tubers explained to his son there was no future in cryptozoology and sent him to engineering school.

Gilbert stood in front of the enormous specimen, admiring its perfect condition. Since it was an ambush predator, it could not be certain of it’s next meal. Diogenes had explained how the creatures could go into deep stasis, a complete metabolic remission, awakening only by the scent of blood, to which it was highly attuned. No one had believed him, of course, but then neither could they give any reason why he was wrong other than that such a thing was unheard of . . .

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“What Doesn’t Kill You” by Bill Mayer