A fleeing crowd hit Kevin as he reached the bay bridge. He squeezed through, but their abandoned cars filled both lanes and made him clamber overtop. Someone moaned nearby, trapped or injured, but there wasn’t time to aid them.
The worms were already too close.
Against the glowing city skyline, black pillars of night interrupted the lights where enormous worms burst through buildings. They were only twisting silhouettes from this distance, but Kevin had seen them up-close.
One minute he’d been hanging out with Jonas, and then the neighborhood went to hell. Their apartment roof collapsed under a twenty-foot worm covered in stretched-out human faces and a dozen squirming arms. Its patchwork hide spanned the spectrum of skin tones.
A worm made of corpses.
He didn’t see what happened to Jonas, just ran fast as he could down their ravaged street, worms everywhere. Jonas was gone. Only Lamesha mattered now.
Kevin tried her cell. “Don’t shout,” he told himself, waiting as it rang. “Stay level-headed.”
“You’ve reached Lamesha’s voicemail!” her voice chirped. “Leave a message and have a magical day.”
Kevin squeezed his phone. “Answer your damn phone. Are you thick-headed? This is no time to go AWOL.” She was probably editing her ridiculous meditation videos while the world fell apart.
Meditation had started their last argument. “I think it’ll help manage your anger,” Lamesha had said.
“I manage it better without this junk frying my brain,” he’d said, pointing at her yoga mat and laptop.
“This ‘junk’ makes me happy. I speak my will into the universe that you’ll treat me like you love me.”
He’d stormed out her door then, shouting his love like another four-letter word. He could’ve handled it better, wanted to, but she’d pushed his buttons. Love went both ways. He’d been too furious afterward to notice warnings about monstrous worms.
Now their fight seemed pointless. Nothing like the end of the world to open his eyes. She was too much an airhead to take care of herself. He had to reach her and get them both somewhere safe.
He was halfway across the bay bridge when a crooning call echoed from the skyline. Two distant worms faced each other, both far larger than his first. Their bodies swayed in a hypnotic dance, maybe a wormy mating ritual. It was almost beautiful.
But when the dance ended, their heads slammed together. Their wriggling pillars fused into one titanic worm large enough to crush the bridge should it reach out.
Kevin clambered faster over abandoned cars. He couldn’t believe Lamesha was putting him through this. If she was smart, she’d have moved in with him like he’d suggested a million times. He could’ve protected her.
Still could. He just had to make it to her place.
The sky chattered. A helicopter swooped past the bridge and roared gunfire into the city. Screaming filled the air as bullets struck buildings and worms alike. Whoever manned the trigger didn’t care. Pieces of worm fell away, black bits against city lights.
Kevin had seen the pieces up-close, too. They looked like dead people.
The titanic worm slapped the helicopter. It made a shrill whine, spun circles, almost righted itself, and then exploded across a skyscraper’s side. Golden fire burst through the windows.
Kevin charged for the bridge’s end. Splashing came behind him, an impossible mass having hit the bay. He made it to the street before crashing followed. No one moaned from the bridge now.
Up the block, around the corner—there, Lamesha’s brick apartment building nestled between two others. Kevin ignored the scarred bricks and hurried indoors. Surveying the damage would only feed his frustration.
Her second-floor unit’s door lay in splinters. Living room, kitchen, everything was crushed. The bedroom wall gaped open, letting in a tepid draft. No sign of Lamesha. Her laptop rested sideways on the floor. Kevin picked it up, unsure what he hoped to find. There was a video running on repeat in editing mode. Lamesha hadn’t had a chance to finish it.
She appeared onscreen, her nose puffy like she’d been crying, but she was putting on makeup to hide it. She flashed a brilliant smile. “Welcome to Online Guided Meditation with Lamesha! Speak your will into the universe for a magical day.” She turned to her roommate sitting cross-legged beside her. “We’re joined by Zana.”
“Let’s get started! Think hard about what you want. Breathe in the fire, breath out the desire.”
Zana breathed deep. “I’m willing egg rolls for dinner.”
Lamesha laughed. “I’m willing my boyfriend peace of heart, peace of mind.” After a few breaths, tears trickled down Lamesha’s cheeks. She made a fist and punched the floor. “He’s right. This is junk. I keep speaking, but he doesn’t get better. What good’s love when he makes me feel like trash?”
Zana grabbed Lamesha’s hand. “I know what you mean.”
“You know what pain does?” Lamesha asked. “It unites us. Someday all the broken-hearted will mob into one unstoppable body and rampage through the streets because we won’t put up with this shit for one more day.”
Kevin felt a change through the laptop screen as the universe shifted.
Lamesha’s and Zana’s hands melted into each other. Their bodies swayed in a familiar, almost beautiful dance and then merged.
And two bodies was just the start. Their flesh stabbed through floor, wall, and ceiling. Wet sounds echoed through the building. The video blipped and began again with Lamesha tidying her makeup.
Beneath Kevin, a quake tore the floor from her bedroom. He plummeted, screaming, and slammed hard against rubble, snapping his leg and spine. His scream shrank to a moan.
Still, a lengthy shape heard him and snaked through the debris cloud. Its hide pulsated, not made of corpses but horribly alive, a thousand hearts beating within its coiling mess of countless faces.
One looked familiar.
The video spoke. “Welcome to Online Guided Meditation with Lamesha! Speak your will into the universe for a magical day.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Hailey Piper is the author of horror novellas Benny Rose, the Cannibal King and The Possession of Natalie Glasgow. Her short fiction appears in Daily Science Fiction, Tales to Terrify, Blood Bath Literary Zine, and elsewhere. She lives with her wife in Maryland, where she haunts their apartment making spooky noises. Find her on Twitter via @HaileyPiperSays or at www.haileypiper.com.