Yesterday was the beginning of something we call Wormfall in our house.
Best as we can tell, the neighbor’s enormous old tree is infested with thrips. Whether they’re actually thrips or not is still up for debate, but our best Googling suggests that this is what the little beasties are. Every year near the earliest part of spring, when the tree is budding, a shower of wee little worms begins and lasts for nearly two weeks. You don’t know it’s started until you’ve spent a minute outside and suddenly find your clothes and hair dusted with tiny squirming things much smaller than a maggot, but no less repulsive. By time Wormfall has ended and someone (not me, oh no, not me) has taken a broom to the back patio, easily thousands of the things have died on the concrete. Even the birds eventually give up on trying to make a meal of the minuscule monsters.
I took the horrifying event as inspiration for an encounter in Heart of the Realm, the sequel manuscript to my first fantasy tale. Following is the passage that first introduces Wormfall:
“Wormfall,” he said in awe. He felt both Eloise and Lira take opposite hands and drag themselves up from the ground. The girls clung to him with a desperate strength as the trio took in the awful sight before them.
Jutting from a gaping hole in the earth, a giant mass quivered and shook, knocking back trees and crushing men with its astounding weight. As big around as a covered wagon, the worm was a sickly yellow-white stained by dirt and raw ore. Rather more fat than segmented, its body bulged and roiled as it flailed about blindly. The surfaced end of the weirding beast tapered off into a puckered hole the size of a melon, the only sign that the monster had a head at all. No eyes or nose or feelers, just a mouth like an enormous ass. As they watched, the beast recoiled in on itself then stretched upward, vomiting up a virulent green mass that flew through the air and caught a frantic stallion in the chest.
The wet globule stuck to the horse’s flesh, igniting the poor beast with caustic acids. Even as its hide caught fire and it reared backward in terror, the projectile uncoiled, revealing a puppy-sized replica of the adult burnworm. The newborn spawn writhed against the dying horse’s burned skin, burrowing its way into the poor beast’s body even as it screamed in agony and collapsed to the ground.
“That was Sunny Day. I rode him when we left Canon.” Lira’s tiny voice was flat and hollow. Rane felt her grip loosen before she crumpled to the ground in a dead faint.
“Wormfall,” Eloise repeated Rane’s word, awestruck. “The burnworms rarely come this far north to birth their clutch.”