Ride the Wild Worm by Mike Carter

Everybody loves to go to a rodeo.

Thomas Jackson Esq.
23A Lumley Guesthouse
Kingspeake, Oklahoma
United States Of America

Sherwood Gould
Yggdrasil House
Silver Street
Durham City
United Kingdom
DL13 7SQ

15th May 1999

Dear Sherwood,

Hello again, old friend. Hope you are well back in England, and savouring the warm spring rain and feasting yourself on street-bought fish and chips. Believe it or not, those are the two things I miss most about England. The weather over here does change gradually as you move from state to state, but generally on a day-to-day basis it`s pretty standard. And the standard in Oklahoma is Hot!

And, Lord, Sherwood, you wouldn`t believe how difficult it is over here to get anything approximating battered cod and potato chips from a street-store. They seem to sell burgers and french fries and, as far as snacks go, that`s about it. I do sometimes miss those lovely rolling hills and adventurous foliage of the English countryside, and all the fabulous things you can find within it. I was beginning to wish I`d decided on Europe for my destination; to cherish the villages and towns of the old countries, the architectural madness of the Bavarian chapels, the secret oddity rooms of the foul-smelling but beautifully decorated museums, the atmosphere and pathos of the lonely countryside where pagan traditions and fears still today run rampant.

But just last week, Sherwood, I witnessed a very strange -- impossible, I say -- occurrence and ritual, which I have been begging to get down on paper and send to you; a malign discovery which definitely compensates my decision to tour in America. I thought that perhaps your mind, much more versed in erudite customs and forgotten wonders of the bizarre than mine, might be able to make sense of it. My guess is that, much like the Hindu fakirs with their rope tricks, a mass hallucination was somehow administered to the dozens of ordinary people in the audience. Now normally, as you know, I would be devoutly against the use of hypnotism or mind-control, especially in a large-scale situation such as this. However, this was something different; this was something magic and strange, amazing and terrifying, and if offered the chance of a repeat performance I would now gladly offer my mind as temporary payment.

I know it has been a while since last I wrote to you, but I wanted to wait until I really had something that was worthy of your attention. I suggest you read what follows with your usual calm and unhasty precision, and at the end of it you may want to consult books or journals in order to check details and try to unscramble the clues as to the nature of this unreal circus. Please bear in mind that I have Xeroxed the bulk of this letter and mailed it to the Natural History Museum in London; if, as insane as it sounds, I witnessed those events in complete control of my consciousness, I hope and trust that the renowned museum will be able to identify as normal specimens the creatures that I saw. I have dreamt about them on three occasions since last week, and each time on waking I am reminded that they bear an uncanny resemblance to certain creatures of hyperbolic myth. I know that I need not go any further with these thoughts as yet; whichever mythical and esoteric direction my mind can take, yours will surely surpass. I will endeavor to get down a few thoughts at the end, but first I think it is about time I told you what it is that I actually saw.

In Oklahoma, even in spring, the days can get rather hot and fetid, and whereas earlier in the year and in slightly less warm locales I was up and about almost at dawn, filling my days with as much touring, sight-seeing and research as I could, in this unattractive hot weather I simply can`t find it in myself to venture from my room before four o`clock in the afternoon. Thus, many of the events and meetings that I had intended to peruse have been unfortunately missed.

It was on one mundanely hot Sunday afternoon that I rose from my restless bed after a previous late night rereading my favourite Machen tales. I was just about to head off downstairs for a shower and a rather late breakfast when I noticed a small flyer that had been pushed under my door. It seems to be the custom in these parts that any advertiser wanting to promote his wares can roam freely around hotels and guest houses, giving away flyers or sticking brochures under doors. Much of it is junk, advertising highly-priced novelty items on "limited" sale to gullible tourists. This flyer caught my attention however, as on the back of the main message were two words always guaranteed to get my attention: "SPECIAL EVENT." The front of the flyer was in much smaller text and the ink seemed to be smudged, evidently the produce of a cheap and ailing printer. From what I could read it appeared that later in the evening at a spot just out of town there was to be some kind of rodeo event, with horses, bulls, steers, and some "mystery surprise guests." Normally, I wouldn`t really be too excited at the prospect of a rodeo show, but seeing as I`d already missed most of the day and no other opportunities looked likely to present themselves, I thought I`d give it a try. The spiel about the "mystery star guests" didn`t intrigue me at all, as I guessed they would simply be either old stars of the rodeo circuit or else fading movie stars, probably from B-westerns which couldn`t afford real guns. But anyway, I had nothing to lose, and, after all, the asking price was only fifty cents.

After a brief breakfast -- although my host preferred to call it supper -- I left the house and slowly ambled down to the sandy main street of Kingspeake. I lost count of the amount of times I had to wipe my forehead with a cloth, such was the intensity of the evening heat, and I, an unaccustomed Englishman, must have been quite a sight to the native people who passed. I know these people are indigenous to this area and that all one needs is to get used to it, but I couldn`t shake the feeling that they were all somehow different from me, having a complexingly different metabolism which allowed them to stay outdoors all day in such ferocious temperatures.

I noticed something else strange about them, too, although this wasn`t until I`d made my way off the streets and onto the desert-like savannah that passed for the Oklahoma countryside. Wherever they walked, it seemed, there was always a little shuddering and shaking in the sand about six inches behind their feet; just a little unnatural movement in the sand and the dirt, following them wherever they went. If they changed direction, then their pursuing disturbance would do likewise; if they stopped moving, the sand would just settle back to normal, only to ripple again once the person moved. It was unnerving, I tell you, and even more so because it only seemed to occur with the men, between the ages of adolescence and retirement, and never with the women or the children, never with the myriad of old people who passed, and certainly -- for I checked, on more than one occasion -- not with me. After a time and a little surreptitious investigation, I put it down to the weight of the men -- usually big, strong individuals -- somehow pressing down on the sand as they walked. After coming to this odd but bittersweet conclusion, I thought no more of it until the phenomenon reappeared with nightmare intensity in my dreams.

It didn`t take long to reach the small arena where the rodeo was to take place. It was just like you`d imagine, just like you`ve seen on the television; a circular platform of raised wooden benches looking down onto a small sandy arena. There was seating for perhaps one hundred spectators and I noticed that the seats were being taken fast. I found myself an empty bench not too near the back, but not too near the front, either. I imagined that on occasion these rodeo stars borrowed "volunteers" from the audience and I had no wish to embarrass myself.

I must have sat there for perhaps twenty minutes waiting for the show to begin. During that time, when almost all the seats were filled, a young man came around collecting the entrance fee. I gave him a dollar, twice the required fee, even though I expected the show to be mundane, regular and not at all my cup of tea. I thought, however, that seeing as these people had took the time to organize the event I might as well show my support. The collector nodded his thanks to me and told me to "Enjoy." Shortly afterwards the show began.

Initially it was just as you`d expect. There were eccentrically-dressed men standing on horses as they galloped round the arena, there were men with obvious talents in the use of a lasso, there were a couple of painfully unfunny clowns doing a routine that would have had Charlie Chaplin spinning revolutions in his grave. After a brief break, there were a few barebacked riders doing their best to stay on the back of a frenzied horse, and some daredevil bullfighter impersonators. Then the clowns returned, and I almost got up and left.

But as soon as the thought of premature escape entered my head, the clowns cartwheeled off to mild applause and in their place walked a very tall man in a long black suit. Over a microphone he listed the names of the performers and offered his thanks for their great show. And then he started his practised spiel for the introduction of the "mystery surprise guests."

"Gentlemen and ladies, children and animals, prepare yourselves for the strangest and most mystifying rodeo event that you have ever seen. They say in Africa that there are things that man does not know, things that science cannot detect. And tonight, good people, you are going to see some of those things. The men performing this event have been specially trained and have many years of experience and under no circumstances should you try these acts yourself." He paused then and looked for a moment to be very old and jaded. I fancied that I could vaguely make out a faint shimmering in the sand just behind his feet. "But, of course, to practise these events, you`d need a really big mallet."

The announcer walked off to cheering from the audience and on came a huge man, not particularly tall, but very bulky, like a circus strongman. Over his shoulder he carried a large wooden hammer. At this point my interest had welled up again and I watched things intently. The big man walked into the centre of the sandy arena, hoisted the hammer over his head, and brought it crashing down on the sand, making a lot of noise and a lot of dust as he did so. After a break of perhaps ten seconds -- while the dust settled -- he did it again. Then a third time, before taking his hammer and walking off.

From the left there entered a trio of men, all tall, quite muscular and wearing only a pair of shorts. Slowly, as soft piping issued from somewhere, the men began walking around the arena, occasionally stopping and kneeling down, as if in concentration. It was then that the surprise came as I saw a large disturbance in the sand just behind one of the men. Then another. And another. The three continued walking around, in no particular direction and every so often an area of sand seemed to rise out of the ground and then sink back in again. A very curious sight.

But just as I thought it couldn`t get much stranger, I saw my first creature from the sand. It bulked up out of the earth, spreading sand into the air and all around it. It was a worm, but it was by far the most bloated, overfed and freakish worm I have ever borne witness to. It was as fat as a bull, and I could not guess at its length as only one alternately concave/convex end was above the ground. As it moved along the sand, making strange grunting and wheezing noises, another two soon joined its strange dance. I tell you, it was amazing, astounding. To see worms or snakes or whatever they were as fat as bulls moving around quite domestically in that arena. And all this for one dollar! It seemed unreal.

But that was not all that I was going to see that day, for after a few minutes of the creatures dancing about, interweaving with the three men who were still walking around in an odd pattern, came the final crowning glory, or the primary horror, depending on how you look at it.

One of the men actually got onto one of the worms and rode it across the sand, much like a man would ride a horse. The other two followed with the worms seemingly allowing the men to mount them. Again, for many minutes, the riders and their strange steeds danced and cavorted in the now-narrowing light, and I couldn`t take my gaze away. And then the impossible happened and man seemed somehow to merge with worm! Human legs were somehow absorbed into the body of the creatures and they became like the product of some brain-damaged geneticist. Human-worm hybrid creatures, fat slithering maggoty bodies peaked with the upper-body of a cheering and waving man, these blasphemies of nature were now cavorting right underneath the sand, disappearing completely underground for a few seconds before coming rushing back through the sand again in triumph. They weaved and danced and cavorted for maybe a minute and then, without warning, all three creatures, their human torsos still attached, simultaneously dug under the sand and disappeared.

A loud cheering and whistling began from the audience and it seemed to me at that moment that I was the only spectator who was still mesmerized and shocked by what I`d seen. Everyone else just seemed to take it as natural what had occurred, and recognizing that the show was over, they began leaving their seats.

On the way out I questioned a few people as to what had occurred, but all I got in reply was a blank stare, and one man said, "Great show, don`t you think?" It was about then that I guessed at a mass hallucination, and for a few seconds I toyed with the idea of going down and talking with some of the organizers. But the call of a stiff drink was now uppermost in my mind, so I slowly retired to my guesthouse where I had a double brandy and hastened to bed.

I couldn`t sleep that first night, and I spent many hours trying to recall where I had once read of similar subterranean creatures. At last it came to me; I`m sure you have heard of the ferocious and treacherous dholes of certain Arabic myth-cycles. I believe they were popular subjects in stories of weird fiction in the nineteen-thirties. Perhaps, Sherwood, you would care to enlighten me as to the nature and belief of these "dhole" creatures. I plan, myself, when I reach New York to do some serious research into the subject and I may even take an unplanned detour to Miskatonic University in Arkham where I believe their libraries of ancient myths and cultures are rather extensive.

I ventured back to the arena the following day, but it was completely deserted, with only occasional litter and tumbleweeds dancing on the breeze.

Anyway, my friend, I hope this letter is of interest to you, and, if you are replying directly, then I ask you not to forward to the current address. I am moving out of Kingspeake later today, and will forward you my new address as soon as I settle. I am growing apprehensive of this place, and wish to stay here no longer.

Ah, but, Sherwood, I have not yet told you about the nightmares, the very reason for me wanting to step onto a Greyhound bus and get out of this area. For in my slumber I see once again the mighty worm-man creatures, dancing and diving through and beneath the sand. I observe again the little pattering motion of the sand behind the feet of the ordinary people and the manner in which these natives did not seem overwhelmed by such a strange show. But worst of all, and this fact is slowly making me doubt my sanity, I see myself walking through a vast desert, piled high with dunes, and completely bereft of any other living soul. And just behind my feet, perhaps six inches away on the ground, the sand is trembling.

-- Your humbled friend,

Thomas Jackson

Send your comments to Mike Carter


© 1999 Edward P. Berglund
"Ride the Wild Worm": © 1999 Mike Carter. All rights reserved.
Graphics © 1999 Erebus Graphic Design. All rights reserved. Email to: James V. Kracht.

Created: December 5, 1999; Updated: August 9, 2004