When the giant worm was discovered one Sunday morning suddenly ensconced in the central park of Tel Aviv, I was of course called in at once. Asher Bar-Yitzhak is among the foremost experts on "worms" - to employ the layman's convenient, if inaccurate terminology. The media was quick to dub me the dubious sobriquet, "Asher the Worm."The moment I saw the magnificent specimen, I became very excited. Nothing like this had ever been seen in the annals of Annelida - nothing approaching its colossal size. On the sixth day the Lord created creeping things, including the worms, I thought. But here He seemed to have gone to extremes, although the Biblical name for a worm "a strong red weave" might hint at it. I surmised immediately that the origin of the giant worm was extraterrestrial. Is it not written that the Lord is the Master of all the worlds? The largest Earth species can reach a length of 30 meters in certain ribbon worms; my worm (as I have come to think of it) was far too huge to have evolved on Earth. I was keen on trying to classify it and already was framing in my mind the parameters of an article for the prestigious publication Annelida Today. I only hoped I could finish with my research before the Frenchman Duplez would hear of the creature and try to get his prehensile hooks into it. You couldn't hide this worm for long. (In deference to the laymen among the readers of all that is recorded here, I employ henceforth the term "worm," although scientifically speaking, it is an obsolete usage by Carolus Linneaus and Jean Baptiste Lamarck for all non-anthropoid animals, and stems from the Old English word wyrm.) The worm's tremendous size would make it a household word greater than Godzilla. Once my cautious physical approach to the giant worm (in my case even more cautious since I move only thanks to my hands propelling my wheelchair) elicited no hostile move on its part, or any movement whatsoever (Was I too insignificant to bother about, or even notice?), I began to examine it in earnest. I quickly ascertained that it did not belong to the phylum Nematoda - the threadworms, roundworms, and hookworms. It resembled most closely the phylum of segmented worms, with bodies divided into segments or rings - Annelida - among which are the earthworms. It appeared, in fact, to be a giant earthworm. It was wonderful to examine what was a kind of ultra-magnified earthworm without the need for a microscope. The earthworms of Earth have been around for 120 million years. They enrich and aerate the soil. They lack a brain in the sense of the vertebrate brain, but have nerve centers (called ganglia); they also lack eyes but can sense light with photoreceptors. Worms are hermaphrodites (both sexes in one animal) but can cross fertilize. I assumed that these characteristics were also typical of the enormous specimen in front of me. The giant worm possessed a feature common to some species of earthworm: a tongue-like lobe above the mouth called prostomium; in its case approximately the size of the tongue of a whale, if the reader wishes to visualize the structure. The prostomium is actually a sensory device. Earthworms do not have a nose, eyes, ears, or hands to gather sensory information about their environment. Instead, they depend on their prostomium and sensory receptors on their skin to "feel" their way through the soil. This worm, as many worms, lacked true limbs or appendages; it possessed bristles for movement - on this creature the size of giant redwood trunks. There of course comes to mind of any science fiction reader (I delve myself) the giant worm that predominates in the Dune novels - those overinflated fantasies - I prefer my science fiction rational and not replete with a surfeit of sword, sorcery, and sand. Give me Asimov. It was my interest in - rational - science fiction which contributed to my assumption that the worm's origins were extraterrestrial and that it had arrived through a wormhole from a parallel universe. (Droll this "wormhole" terminology and coincidental - or was somebody prescient?) Parallel because a universe in which the giant worms possess many attributes of earthworms - and yet one in which other attributes are different or have been altered. Retreating somewhat from my dismissal of the Dune novels, I must admit they were not unhelpful in studying the giant worm. In the novels the Fremen have secretly mastered a way to ride sandworms across the desert. When it surfaces, the lead worm-rider runs alongside it and snares one of the ring-segments with a special hook. The hook is used to pry open the segment, exposing the soft inner tissue to the abrasive sand. To avoid irritation, the worm will rotate its body so that the exposed flesh faces upwards, carrying the rider with it. Other Fremans may then plant additional hooks. A worm can be ridden for several hundred miles for about half a day, at which point it will become exhausted and sit on the open desert until the hooks are released, whereupon they will burrow back down to rest. Fortunately for sessile yours truly, I didn't have to run after my worm - my wheelchaired status would rule it out. My acquaintance with worms also derived from the fact that I am an angler - a fisherman; albeit I do it more to allow me to think than to catch fish. I have a belt I tether to the wheelchair to keep me in it should the fish be a strong one. A worm was something I put on the end of a hook. Could the giant worm know this? Perhaps he possessed giant instincts which were still in their rudimentary stage in Earth worms; the evolution of worms in the parallel universe advanced over ours? Perhaps the creature was less impressed by my worm erudition than my skill at murdering worms. Suppose it could read my thoughts. I felt as if my knees were about to buckle. I strove to think positive-affection-for-worms thoughts. I did not succeed in doing so -- I was an expert in studying worms, not in feeling agape toward them. And I thought: somewhere in the vastness of space the wormholes that connected our universe and the parallel universe of the giant worms. Suddenly a voice - no, not a voice - a thought -- a sepulchral voiced thought -- came to me from the direction of the worm. I forgive you. You of your universe are - ah, defective. That was the word which caused me to recoil physically and retreat in my chair a few yards from it; the word affected me more than the fact that the creature could communicate by thought. (Was its super developed prostomium responsible for this ability? Or its super developed ganglia?) Maybe Earth earthworms could also communicate by thought, but their thoughts were too small to be registered on us humans? I thought of the worms at the end of my hook and what they might have been thinking. Immediately I banished the thought -- if the giant worm were to lash out with one of his tree-trunk bristles . . . I considered it best to divert this possible train of thought with a question; a verbally transmitted question since I could control verbal transmissions, unlike my thoughts. "Did you arrive from a parallel universe?" The question hung in the air - perhaps (I mused later) one of the most seminal questions in all of the history of science on Earth Precisely, it answered in its basso voice. I sensed it was pleased, or perhaps surprised, with my intelligent grasp of the fact. "How?" I inquired. What you call a spaceship- it travels through wormholes. What is it like?" It is huge- by your standards -- and it travels silently, propelled by what you would call gears, though much more developed. Fueled, by an atomic-magnetic—motor, in your terms. A more detailed explanation would be, alas, too complicated for you to understand. I let this pass; as usual when I was researching something, I cut to the chase. "And in your venue, the wor -- your kind -- are of such impressive size?" Impressive size and impressive intelligence. "And humans are also found there." Certainly -- it is a parallel universe. "And the humans are like us?" Smaller in size and less intelligent than you seem to be. They are what you would call "pets." "Pets!" Yes, but well treated. I myself - I sense you are displeased -- perhaps we should move the discussion elsewhere. I didn't want to move the discussion anywhere before I received an answer to another question: "Why did you come to our universe - to make pets of us?" His prostomium seemed to vibrate slightly before the giant worm replied to my question. In truth, yes, an unfortunate virus reduced drastically the population of the "humans" -- to employ your terminology. Involuntarily, I took two more steps backward. "You intend to capture us?" Somehow I felt I had offended the creature. As if his developed bulk was reflected in his developed sensitivity. No, force will not be necessary. Whereupon the giant worm projected out from a fold or pouch on its side (which, I surmised, contained a projecting device) a moving scene - suspended in mid-air! It showed what appeared to be humans, smaller in size than us homo sapiens, frolicking pleasantly, doing tricks (no other word will do): headstands, back flips, while a few giant worms looked on approvingly. I had to admit the humans seemed more than content with their lot. I tried to picture myself doing a back-flip, but banished the picture. "What's in it for us - we humans from this universe?" The creature paused before answering. Perhaps my unfortunate colloquial phraseology of the first part of my question required its translating it. No wars, a care-free life, plenty of time to frolic, mate, listen to music, read, without the need to work. And a life span quadruple what you have in your universe. Worm - as you think of us - and human co-exist in a wonderfully parallel arrangement. Except for the virus, I couldn't prevent the thought - thought control was proving a skill difficult for me to develop in so short a span of time. Did the worm frown - or did I imagine it? Yes, but we have that under control. Maybe - another thought I couldn't prevent. I have to sleep now, the giant worm sent me the thought. It seemed to me a non sequitur. Either it was tired, I reasoned, or it wanted to change the subject. The worm informed me that they sleep a week and are awake a week. (I made a mental note to try to research if earthworms sleep.) The United Nations held an emergency session to discuss the matter. The UN decision was to reject the giant worm's offer -- if it was an "offer" and not an "order" or "ultimatum": an hour was spent in which the delegates tried to characterize it, during which my recollection of my intercourse with the giant worm was probed. I was of little help; the nuances of intra parallel universe discourse overwhelmed by the sheer differences in communication method and - yes-size of the conversers. The "no" vote was by a rare almost unanimous vote -- only the English delegation, whose countrymen dote on pets, wanted to send a few volunteers "to test the waters," as their delegate phrased it. There still remained the implementation of the UN decision. Fortuitously the giant worm was in its sleep mode - a prodigious sleep as befitted a prodigious organism. While it slept the UN implemented its "pelagic" decision. A hundred bulldozers were required to roll the giant worm to the sea, five miles away. Luckily, it slept through the entire operation. They rolled him off Whale Point, and the whales did the rest. I couldn't help but conjecturing whether if the giant worm woke up at some point before the whales finished it, if, in its last sentient moments, it identified with the Earth worm on the end of the fisherman's hook. For my part, I gave up fishing for good. The giant worm's universe may be more placid, but our universe has its universe beaten by a mile when it comes to craftiness. Pets, indeed!
x x x
A wormy May to herald the middle of Spring for you, gentle reader. Squeamish perusers may find this story icky. I liked it well enough to include it in our line-up. Larry Lefkowitz is an Israel author new to our pages. Shalom, my friend. Stay a while and keep coming back. -GM