“Why Are Worms So Fucking Stupid?”—

Kelsey Pursel

The worm seized its chance to breathe. Emerging from the dirt, it slithered onto the sidewalk. Its winding narrow tunnels had flooded and collapsed beneath the rain of a brief summer storm. The damp soil necessary for its survival became suffocating. The surface was supposed to be safe in the rain. Getting lost on concrete and drying out were not in the instinctual plan.

Now, the rain has passed and steam rises from the pavement. The worm remains on the sidewalk—a dried and shriveled, flat husk. It didn’t know it was a worm; it wasn’t sentient. All it had known was that it could not find soft earth to again dig its nose into to escape the sun’s heat and the circling, hungry birds overhead.

***

Two girls are crossing the street. They know what they are. They feel the eyes of passing strangers and giggle into their hands. Their matching ponytails lay plastered to their damp backs, covering the tan lines they had expertly crafted during their day at the beach. Every summer, they flock to their resort on the Pacific coast every summer to bask in golden rays and delight in the envious stares of other girls and lecherous boys not quite their age. Nothing bad can happen to them. Youth, looks, and their daddies’ money—the world is theirs. Tonight’s party is their only concern for the future.

“Ew! There’s a worm on the sidewalk—oh my god, there’s tons of them. They’re fucking everywhere!”

A gag followed Christina’s words. Her dramatic retching sounds were uncomfortably close to genuine.

“Oh my god, Bev, you just squished one. That’s literally the grossest thing I’ve ever seen.”

Beverly shrieks, jumping backward on one foot, keeping its tainted opposite aloft. Her damp, black, designer flip-flop hangs precariously from her I’m-Not-Really-A-Waitress-Red big toe. Hopping in place, she shakes her foot so violently that the flimsy piece of plastic and foam flies through the air, landing in the street. Beverly huffs, placing a hand on her hip. Her manicured fingers tap in sequence against the braided leather belt keeping her denim shorts in place.

“Whatever. My mom will just have to buy me new ones. There’s no way I was keeping that anywhere near me anyway.”

Her foot drops back to the sidewalk, but only her big toe rests against the hot, worm covered surface.

“Why are worms so fucking stupid? I heard that, like, they just come out of the ground to commit suicide whenever it rains. Like, people don’t know why they do it—they just do.”

Christina shrugs, popping her lip gloss stained bubble gum.

“It’s just like Maya Hollis last year—I swear she did it because she was failing chem. She was super uptight about her grades. Jessie said her dad would, like, break stuff if she came home with less than a B.”

Beverly pulls her lips back in a sneer.

“Yeah, but worms don’t deal with school and parents, so why the hell would they be like Maya? You know, I was helping her study, since I was like the best in that class, and I totally helped her get a B on the midterm.”

“Oh my god, you are so sweet. Like, she probably would have done it way sooner if you hadn’t been there for her.”

“I know, right?”

The two girls continue to chat as they wander down the sidewalk, tiptoeing around the myriad of worms now frying in the sun.

“Alright. It’s way too fucking hot out. Wanna go back to the room and blast the AC while we get ready for tonight? I heard Trevor’s going to be there, and I seriously need to reapply before he even glances at me.”

Christina’s head tilts. Her over-use of mascara had darkened the corners of her eyes. A lump of black crust had gathered there.

“Yeah, sure,” Beverly says, fanning herself with her hand.

It’s a short walk back to the resort. The hotel lobby is a cool sixty-seven degrees; the industrial-sized air conditioner positioned over the wide mahogany reception desk rattles violently as it kicks on, adjusting to the heat being let in as the front doors open and close with passing visitors. Small signs of rot decorate the drywall and paint around air conditioner, the overworked janitor will have to see to that soon. The polished marble tiles glimmer beneath the crystal chandelier overhead. Swarovski, of course. Beverly saunters up to the desk and braces her hands on the shiny wood. Pushing her underdeveloped chest out, she attempts to accentuate it without success. The pizza-faced bellboy behind the counter looks up with wide, saucer-like eyes. His gaze drifts from navel, to mosquito-bite breasts, to face.

“I’m looking for Adam. You know, the actual concierge—tall, blonde, with a three-piece suit that hugs every muscle? I don’t even know why you’re back there. Shouldn’t you be lugging bags up stairs or something?”

The bellboy nods dumbly, licking his braces. The air conditioner above them rattles and squeals, dropping its temperature another degree.

“Uhm, Adam stepped out back for a smoke break, I can get him for you if you want.”

Beverly maintains her disinterested stare. Beside her, Christina looks at her phone, swiping right at a steady pace. She pauses, bites her lower lip, and stares at the small screen with interest. The boy talking to them means nothing.

“Yeah, yeah, I’ll go get him,” he laughs nervously. “I was gonna go and bum a cig off him anyway, I can’t buy them yet but we almost always break together.”

Both girls lose interest halfway through his sentence, but perk up when a tall man approaches from behind the bellboy.

“Well, well, well, ladies! I didn’t expect to see the two of you for another few hours. You won’t see me complaining though.”

Adam leans forward on the counter, his photoshopped smile lovely, contrasting Pizza’s crooked, metal hinged grin. He looks at the bellboy, losing his charm and adopting the cruelty of a man who knows he can be without repercussion.

“What the hell are you bothering them for? You were supposed to be on the fifth floor over twenty minutes ago.”

Pizza-face stutters an apology. Adam interrupts.

“Whatever—I don’t give a shit what you were doing. Get the fuck out of here.”

Pizza-face exits. Adam turns back to the girls.

“So what can I do for you today, ladies?”

Beverly and Christina giggle, they shyly eye the older man’s suit, wrist watch, and perfectly combed blonde locks. The air conditioner sputters, the metal and plastic chassis shakes violently as it turns up its fan to drop another degree.

“Well, we’re going to a party later, and—ouch!”

Christina yelps, reaching up to touch the top of her head where a small bruise is forming. A bolt and flecks of chipped paint rest on the floor by her feet.

“Oh you’re fine.”

Beverly glances at Christina, then smiles at Adam coyly, leaning her elbows on the desk. Her crop tops neckline drops dangerously low. The pink frill of what is little more than a training bra peeks out while the sleeve slips down from her shoulder.

Adam grins. Beverly blushes. The air conditioner shakes. A metallic snap sounds throughout the hotel lobby—the heavy piece of air cooling equipment falls from the ceiling, breaking it’s fall on Beverly’s back.

Her ribs crack and splinter—all air escapes her as both lungs collapse. Underneath her mangled body, blood pools from where skin has torn and fragmented bone has pushed through lung and flesh.

Shards of plastic and drywall from the gaping wound in the lobby ceiling litter the floor around her, dirtying the marble.

***

There’s a girl on the floor of a hotel lobby, small and flat beneath the weight of an air conditioner. She’s stopped moving. Other resort guests circle her, pushing each other aside to see what had happened. Beside her, her best friend screams, pointing down at the blood now soaking into her designer flip flops.

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