The worm did not get the ones that fled the city in those days before the walls came down and the siege went up. They escaped the worm, but only for a time. The conquering worm gets everyone in the end.
Those that escaped were the golden ones, the lucky ones. They found that golden hour that photographers love-the hour between too bright (when everything’s flattened and shadowless) and too dark (when everything’s swallowed up in shadow and dark). They were neither blinded by naivety and false optimism nor trapped by blind despair. They saw a way out and they took it.
They fled in cars, on bikes, or on foot. I saw one pimply faced boy, wide eyed in anxious fear, pulling his kid sister in a rusty Red Radio Flyer Wagon. They took to the streets and ran for the hills. The rest of us stayed in the Red Zone City of the worm.
Those that fled were labeled “Traitors!,” “Deserters!,” and “Cowards!” by the priests and politicians of the propaganda machine inside the walls. Even as the grey metal barrier came down around the city news pundits and political commentators were calling them all manner of vulgar epithets. Once those words on the public airwaves would have triggered apoplectic strokes among the guardians of moral virtue and family values, but when applied to the escapees, they became righteous and holy words, inspired by God himself if you believed the likes of Pat Robertson and John Hagee.
Those of us who remained were trapped, prisoners behind an iron wall, dreaming in unwashed beds.
Before the end, before we were eaten, we ate everything we could find: meat from the freezers and milk and eggs from the cooler before the power failed. We ate canned goods and dry cereals after that. We picked the backyard gardens clean. Those few weeks were days of easy picking, but they were followed by hard, lean days.
When we ran out of food, we ate the leaves from the trees. We ate flower tops. We ate grass like cattle. People ate mushrooms without regard for their potential toxicity. Squirrels and field mice and rats disappeared, then so did the pets-dogs and cats were eaten by the desperate. We drained fish tanks and ate betas and goldfish, bite sized morsels that did little to fill our bellies. We boiled shoe leather and belts. We peeled and ate dry flakes of wallpaper.
We dug up worms, but as hungry as I was, with every rib showing and skin taunt against my skull, I couldn’t bring myself to eat those vile, corrupting creatures. I knew that they would eat me in the end. I held one wriggling worm between my fingers and said, “You are my father, and my mother and my sister.” The voice that came out of my mouth was mine, but distant and old. I replanted that worm in the soil and laid down in the dust until night fall.