The Worms Crawl In

📅 Published on April 30, 2021

“The Worms Crawl In”

Written by Gabriel Black
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

Copyright Statement: Unless explicitly stated, all stories published on are the property of (and under copyright to) their respective authors, and may not be narrated or performed, adapted to film, television or audio mediums, republished in a print or electronic book, reposted on any other website, blog, or online platform, or otherwise monetized without the express written consent of its author(s).

🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available


Rating: 8.64/10. From 11 votes.
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Dusty Creek was a dried-up old town. It had been small since its inception, and smaller still since the draft had begun. You could run in to everyone you knew within the space of one hot afternoon, and by God, you knew everyone. You knew friends, and you knew enemies, and from day to day it was hard to tell the difference. At least, this was the case for young Billy Monroe.

Billy was a washed-out, pale-haired eleven-year-old boy, the runt of a pack of four local lads. The four boys, all roughly the same age, generally ended up playing together – not because of any particular fondness for each other, but rather that in a town of that size beggars could not be choosers. Because of this, the line between play and bullying was a vague and often unimportant concept.

The boys usually merged together in the town square. There was nothing to draw them there other than convenience. No butcher, baker, or candlestick maker – just a grocery of dwindling stock, an unfrequented haberdashery, and some faded posters advertising the benefits of a victory garden (a hopeless endeavor in Dusty Creek) and a woman declaring that we can do it (equally hopeless as there was nothing to do).

They had passing phases of interest, generally led by the whims of one Caleb Jacobs, a medium-sized, freckle-faced boy who was the unspoken leader of the pack. One month it was jacks, another month cards (though this was quickly put to an end by the hen-like ladies passing by, convinced that the boys were playing that morally corrupting game called poker). After that there came pirates, followed by jungle adventurers. These phases would always come on suddenly, only to snuff out just as quickly

All, that is, except marbles.

Who knows why marbles was a permanent fixture of the group – it simply was. A game could break out at any time, so the boys always carried their leather sacks of marbles. They generally didn’t play for keeps, as the boys wished to hold onto their own meager collections, though Caleb could sometimes convince them to risk losing their cherished marbles with a rough and condescending tone.

Billy Monroe was especially attached to his collection. Or rather, to a single large shooting marble.

It was a true prize – a two-color spiral snake marble, with twists of oxblood and pearly mint coiling just under the clear glass surface. It was miles above the others’ simple single colored agates and scavenged ball bearings.

It was a hot afternoon, just like every afternoon, when Caleb decreed a game of marbles. With some judicious brow-beating, he was also able to persuade the pack into playing a game for keeps.

A playing circle was quickly scratched into the dirt, and the boys were now carefully choosing which of their own marbles they might be willing to sacrifice. When Billy Monroe pulled his jewel of a marble out of his sack, he gave the marble a comically exaggerated kiss for good luck before nestling the treasure beside him in the sandy soil – well outside of the bounds of the circle.

Roy Jones, a broad, thick lipped boy with hands the size of pan lids, sneered at him.

“Why do you keep that ol’ shooter even though you never use it?” he drawled. “Doesn’t make sense.”

“What are you talking about?” said Billy. “I use it all the time.”

Roy clicked his tongue. “You know what I mean, when we play for keeps, like we’re doing now.”

“Well it’s lucky! It’s always been lucky. No sense in the world sending you some luck if you’re only going to give it away right back.”

Roy pouted. “I’m just saying that it’s not fair that you don’t use that shooter when we play for keeps,” he spat out.

Billy scowled. “How’s it not fair? I’m not breaking any rules using a different shooter. We can use whatever we want. Right, Caleb?”

Caleb nodded sagely, leading to a round of snickering.

“Roy just wants it for himself,” laughed Matt, a black haired string bean of a boy. “I don’t think you’d risk that marble either if you had it, Roy.”

Roy huffed at this call out. “That’s bullcrap, and you know it,” he growled. “Who would want that fussy old marble anyway? It’s just a stinking snake marble. Who wants those?”

Roy grinned darkly at his new train of thought. “Know what?” Roy jeered. “I bet those aren’t even snakes. You know what those colory bits looks like to me? Worms. Wriggly, crawly, slimy worms.” Roy barked a cold laugh. “Do you love worms that much, Billy? Like your gramps? I bet your gramps looooves worms. Comes home covered in them from shoveling worm food all day. Just can’t get enough of them.”

Old Man Monroe, Billy’s grandfather, was the local gravedigger, a taciturn, long-faced man who seemed more at ease among the silent dead than his neighbors.

“Why do you keep itching for this damn marble, then?” said Billy. “I thought you hated worms. Or maybe you want to eat it? Can’t forget that yummy sandwich? Does Roy want a widdle snack?”

“Stop it!” Roy spat through gritted teeth, yet even as he spoke his insides spasmed. Roy’s stomach couldn’t help but roil at the memory, and the other boys laughed richly as he burned red from anger and embarrassment.

Last spring, the group had chosen to bring lunch pails to school in order to play jacks during the midday break. Caleb had deigned to offer Roy half of his ham sandwich, knowing that the quickly bulking boy couldn’t refuse a chance at rationed meat. Roy had eagerly chomped off a large, ravenous bite.

Within one chew, Roy realized that had been bitterly deceived, as a slimy, earth tasting paste gummed itself between his teeth. He dropped the sandwich, and as he gazed down he saw bits of worm fall onto his chest and stomach and the sandwich contents writhing and wriggling where they lay.

He had screamed so loudly that he attracted the attention of the entire square, from the busy shop keeper, to the hen hatted ladies, and even to Old Man Monroe, shuffling about doing rare errands that required personal interaction.

With some deep breaths and a careful swallow, Roy brought himself back to the present. The churning in his stomach morphed into a burning bilious fire.

“Well that marble didn’t do your Pa any good, did it?” he hissed. “That lucky marble. Bet it’s cursed. I bet your old gramps hates himself for giving it to him.”

“It’s not cursed!” shouted Billy, his face scrunched up and red. “And it was lucky! At least Pa came back to be buried in one piece. That’s more than you can say for your uncle,” he jeered. “Bet he wasn’t even blown up. Bet it’s a lie, that he ran off with some French floozy-”

Roy launched himself at Billy, punching him square in the jaw. It took a moment for Billy to recover, but he quickly hunched over and drove his shoulder into Roy’s stomach like some kind of crazed berserker. The movement forced a spat of bile up into Roy’s mouth, and he gagged as he fell hard onto his rear. The rest of the boys burst out laughing.

“Okay, okay, settle down, guys,” said Caleb, after he had had his fill of derisive mirth. “Roy, you shouldn’t have said that about his marble, and Billy, you shouldn’t have said that about his uncle. Truce, ok?”

Billy toed the ground. “Yeah,” he mumbled, “I guess.”


Roy was still coughing on the bile in his throat.

“Well, whatever. C’mon guys, let’s get out of here.”

As the rest of the pack shuffled away, Roy had managed to right himself. He brushed dirt off of his face with the back of his hand.

“I’ll kill you, Billy Monroe,” he growled. “I’ll kill you.”

* * * * * *

A week had passed, and another game of marbles had begun.

All resentment over the argument seemed to have been erased and written over with other petty squabbles and name calling.

The pack was once more gathered in the square, squatting by a circle of iron railing meant to protect the scorched and withered sapling inside of it. The railing was being used as a makeshift prison camp, a mighty fortress housing sun-bleached clothes-pin POWs. Their comrades had planned a rescue, but sadly they had all collapsed on the field of battle when Caleb demanded a game of marbles. What’s more, another game for keeps.

The boys reached for their leather sacks and emptied their contents onto the dirt. Once more, Billy took the beautiful marble and gently placed it at his side, safe and sound.

The bitterness that Roy thought he had forgotten bubbled up, and he grabbed the marble where it lay nestled next to Billy.

“You’re going to use it this time! Show us just how lucky it is!”

Billy squealed and grabbed at Roy’s wrists for the marble which he held aloft. When the side of Billy’s fist planted itself into Roy’s chest, Roy lost himself completely and shoved Billy hard.

What happened next was an accident. A solid plant, perhaps accompanied with a thump on the head, then running off in tears, and that should have been the end of it. That was supposed to be the end of it. But the luck of Billy’s marble soured that day. In one stumbling step backward, Billy’s foot landed on a cluster of marbles, sending him careening in a violent arch. In his fall, Billy struck the iron tree guard and landed in a heap on his side.

The boys were laughing, and as their guffaws turned into big huffs of steadying breath, they began to wonder at Billy’s stillness.

“Billy,” said Caleb, “stop playing possum.”

“You can get up now Billy, don’t be such a baby.”

The commentary hushed as they noticed a trickle of blood coming from his ear, and soon another streaming down his nose.

They didn’t move, they didn’t speak. They could only watch as Billy lay lifeless, his skin, shirt collar, and even the soil around him became stained with red.

The shopkeeper was the first adult to notice, as he had seen the fight and had stomped down the square to break it up. Upon seeing the scene before him, he let out a loud yell. A commotion was soon started, with some people shouting about the need for a doctor and others shaking their head over the mysterious whims of the good Lord.

As the adults crowded in, the boys were pushed away, as empty and dumb as the body crumpled on the ground.

* * * * * *

A brief inquiry had been held, and while Roy was subjected to the stern looks and long-winded scolding of the town doctor, it had been decided that Billy had died by Misadventure. Two days later, the town gathered to see Billy off to his final resting place. Old Man Monroe was not rich, thus Billy’s coffin was a simple pinewood box. The large nails splintered the wood around the place they had been hammered in, contributing to a vaguely warped and weak appearance. Monroe sat next to it, a gentle hand resting against it protectively as his neighbor’s rusted old cart, used in place of a hearse, trundled down the dirt road to the graveyard. Men had their hats off, women daintily dabbed at the corners of their eyes with their handkerchiefs.

Children were there as well, many of them bored or confused.

Roy was standing next to Matthew, the weakest of the group now that Billy had passed.

“I don’t get why we need to stand here and watch,” muttered Roy with a scowl. “I mean, we already know he’s dead, why do we need to look at his box?”

“It’s respectful, I guess,” mumbled Matthew, though he seemed unsure in the face of Roy’s strong opinion.

Roy suddenly grinned.

“Hey Matt,” he whispered conspiratorially. “Look what I got.”

Roy opened his clenched hand to reveal Billy’s spiral snake marble.

Matthew gasped.

“Roy!” he hissed in a frantic whisper. “You can’t keep that!”

“What do you mean?”

“You should give that back to Old Man Monroe, it’s important to him-”

“You’re talking horseshit,” hissed Roy. “It’s not like he plays marbles. He’s too busy messing around with worm food all day.”

“But,” said Matt weakly, “it belongs to their family-”

“Not anymore, Matthew,” said Roy. “I grabbed it fair and square.”

“Wait, did you take it when he died?”

“Sure,” Roy shrugged. “He wasn’t going to use it anymore.”

Matthew’s mouth hung agape.

“What’s the big deal? He was already dead; there wasn’t anything we could do to help him.”

“I mean, sure I guess, but still-”

“You gonna squeal on me?”

“N-no,” muttered Matthew, eyes downcast.

“That’s what I thought.”

There was suddenly a commotion. The wheel of the old cart had hit a rock, and the rickety old thing broke. The coffin slipped from the suddenly tilted floor, causing a splintery dent at the head.

Amid the panicked and concerned shouts of the adults, and as Old Man Monroe gazed helplessly into the crowd, Roy simply threw his head back and laughed, the marble twinkling in his hand.

* * * * * *

Some days had passed, and Roy found himself alone in his small attic room. Watery moonlight streamed through the window, and outside there was nothing to hear but the chittering cicadas and the occasional mournful hoot of an owl.

His mother would whip him if she knew that he hadn’t yet gone to sleep, but she was visiting her sister the next town over, and Roy simply couldn’t stop admiring his ill-gotten treasure.

He cradled it in his palms, feeling the slight chill of glass warm as it absorbed his heat. He held it in one hand, opening it flat so that the marble could roll gently over his skin. He held it between his fingers, angling it into the moonlight, thrilling at the rich glow of the colorful snakes inside.

Roy was only dimly aware of the heavy flap of wings and a sudden lull in the cicadas’ cries, but his attention was soon grabbed when he heard a noise alien to his usual experience. It was a faint, metallic snik.

What kind of sound could that be? he wondered. It seemed to have come from outside.

He pressed his face against his window, the glass becoming damp under the steam from his nose. At first he found nothing amiss, but then he saw something that made his heart drop. From his perch, he could just make out the flung open cellar doors, the old rusted chain which usually kept the doors closed flung carelessly aside.

As Roy puzzled blankly over this oddity he heard a sudden creak in the floorboards downstairs. His blood chilled, and for a long time he remained frozen. The steps continued, each tread sending a new shiver of panic up his spine. His hand began hurting, and he realized that he was clutching the marble so hard that his nail beds had turned white.

He stared at the marble in horror as a sudden realization came over him. The marble. It must be the marble. Billy had come back for it. How soon would it be before he ascended the stairs and crept into his room? All manner of folk tales and ghoulish myths flooded him.

Within a few minutes, though, the tread ceased.

Billy knew where his room was, and would know where to look for him. Roy swallowed hard as he realized that he needed to make an escape.

Roy winced at the creak of his door hinge. Poking his head out carefully, he didn’t see anything in the cramped hall. He carefully walked down the stairs, counting ten heart beats before silently shifting his foot onto the next step, a process which was becoming faster as his heart rate began to rise.

There weren’t any apparitions or ghostly moans. Maybe he could make it? He could go to the neighbor’s house and say there was a snake…

He reached the bottom of the stairs. Roy held his breath until it burned, attempting to guess at which floorboard would creak the least. He eventually screwed up his courage and pressed his toes forward, preparing for a whip crack to sound in his ears.

Roy was puzzled when no betraying noise came, but then horrified when he realized why. Instead of hitting the bare wood he expected, Roy had stepped into a squish of soft ground. A freezing coil of terror slithered up his spine as he tried to identify the substance. All manner of wild, nightmarish guesses sprang to mind, but it was a patch of watery moonlight by an uncurtained window that revealed the truth.


Once the realization hit, it was followed by an overwhelming stench. Somehow fear had blocked it from him, but now was practically holding Roy’s face into it. It was dead earth – a sickening combination of wet stone and rotting weeds.

Roy’s eyes roamed helplessly, and a pale wash of moonlight revealed the true horror. Trails of dank soil lead all over the house. Chunks of it, skids of it. All of it reeking of the grave.

Roy started to cry.

“I’m sorry, Billy,” he wept. “I’m sorry! Here – you can have your marble back. Is that what you want? It’s yours! I’m sorry!”

He held out the marble into the shadowy emptiness in cupped, trembling hands, hot tears dripping down his cheeks.

A dark, dirt-covered shadow rose over him. Roy gasped, burning and dry, just before a shovel bashed over his head, stamping out his short, miserable life.

* * * * * *

Old Man Monroe trod silently up the path to the graveyard. He was a strong man, and his burden was light on his shoulders. He soon reached his goal – a yawning hole rimmed with damp earth. Monroe was used to moonlight and had decided not to use a lantern. He gently slid down the side of the hole, gingerly placing his feet between the wall of wet earth and the pinewood box before removing the loosely nailed lid.

“Here you go, Billy.” The old man slid the marble into a gap between Billy’s stiff fingers, so that he appeared to be fondly holding it close. To the old man, it seemed that a small smile briefly ghosted over Billy’s lips before resuming their restful state.

He carefully climbed out of the hole after gently placing the lid back on, then once more scattered dirt onto the coffin with somber serenity.

He did not fill it up, however. There was yet one more thing to be done.

He roughly tossed a bloody mass into the hole. It was Roy, his mouth agape, his brains spilling out of his broken skull.

The old man reached into his pocket, ready to give another treasure.

Worms. Worms everywhere. He had spent hours plucking them from the damp earth, cooing at them with promises of a grand feast. He scattered them over the entire length of Roy’s body. Already they were wriggling and poking at the still-warm flesh, with one particularly curious specimen slowly burrowing into the pink pulp at his scalp.

As a final touch, the old man stuffed a handful into Roy’s open mouth. He spit upon the corpse, then cackled with a final departing message.

“Enjoy your meal, Roy.”

Rating: 8.64/10. From 11 votes.
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🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available

Written by Gabriel Black
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

🔔 More stories from author: Gabriel Black

Publisher's Notes: N/A

Author's Notes: N/A

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Copyright Statement: Unless explicitly stated, all stories published on are the property of (and under copyright to) their respective authors, and may not be narrated or performed, adapted to film, television or audio mediums, republished in a print or electronic book, reposted on any other website, blog, or online platform, or otherwise monetized without the express written consent of its author(s).

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2 years ago

hi it’s a good story

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