Nonfiction — “Blood Sucking Worms”

My father had many stories about monsters and his favorite were the Blood Sucking Worms. The story went like this: Three children (three of us) would be lost in the woods (why we were in the woods was never explained – we lived in the city) and fall asleep beside an old oak. In the morning, one of our number would be missing, usually Zach, the youngest.

The survivors would follow a smooth, greased path through the woods made by some slithering creature to a hole in the forest floor – the lair of the Blood Sucking Worms. Before we could initiate a hopeless rescue, a passing warlock (Dad himself) would supply us with magical weapons (Whatever we wanted, really. Dad was our genie’s lamp. We’d shout: “Give me a crossbow!” “A flaming axe!” “A cape that lets you fly!” and there it was). Then we would descend, avoid the monsters, fight the Mother of All Worms, rescue our sibling, and escape through dark tunnels.

Dad loved the part with the Worms. All this build-up was for the reveal of his creative achievement, which he would describe seriously, as if giant worms were a real lurking danger and we should be ready to identify them if the time should come. The Worms would emerge from side-tunnels as we crept in darkness: twenty-feet-long, fat, beige, muscular tubes coated in a grotesque sweat, gaping maws and translucent rows of eel-teeth. It would be years before I’d wonder how these organisms could sustain themselves on a strict diet of blood. Not even flesh; they excreted bones and meat behind them. Maybe this world had deep springs of blood, like reservoirs of petroleum, from which they fed. And how did they make these corridors if their meal wasn’t soil? Or did they burrow into the earth like earthworms, without drawing on its nutrients? How inefficient Blood Sucking Worms were.

But Dad was proud of his monsters. In our high school years, he would recall his process, which had begun long before we were born. He’d been a trucker then, before he parked his truck at Cal Poly Pomona and picked up a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering. Out in the Midwest, he’d spend the dreary days dreaming of monsters: the Goofie Golf Gobblers, the Darkwhorls, the Life Cravers. One day he spotted an irrigation ditch and thought that could have been made by a giant worm. The blood-sucking bit came from a doctor’s appointment. And Mother of All Worms? One night, the politicians on the radio were talking about Saddam Hussein and Weapons of Mass Destruction, about the invasion of Iraq and the Mother of All Wars.

Here, manifest, was a man of Creative Vision, a storyteller who harnessed the powers of association and imagination. He could have spotted irrigation canals and thought irrigation canals. He could have complained about having his blood drawn. And he could have percolated in fear at callous talk of mass destruction. But he didn’t, he didn’t, he didn’t. Instead, Dad lit my childhood with stories of other worlds and unfriendly beasts and helpful wizards and the importance of courage, compassion, and family – the virtues which separate us from the monsters.