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The Mindworm

He listens intently, his head cocked, as the liquid slides from the jug into the battered and filthy cup.

There’s no other sound making it to his ears as a grin splits the bottom of his face.

“The mindworm is the foules’ creature known to man…” he begins.

“…it eats ‘way all yer mem’ries, one by one. But firstly, it eats yer eyes.

Now this don’ has much ta do with the feedin’. The ole wisdem was dat if a man gots a mindworm in him, an’ were ta stay goin’ long enough, and have a gran’ big ‘venture, thats he mebbe starve out de damned creature… of cours’ where it go nex’ is ‘nother body’s trouble. So t’ese vile li’l devils starts eatin’ yer eyeballs firs’. Wi’out the sight, a man tens ta ‘member on the pas’, an’ the mindworm eats that ‘memberin’.

Shits nightmares too.”

The old man with the rags tied tightly over his blind eyes sips the drink slow, taking great care not to spill a drop. Then he starts again going on with his tale.

“Ev’ry man take a great care ’round a body harborin’ a mindworm, ever since long ‘go it says men got it puzzled out tha’ attackin’ the body cause a mindworm to make terrible visions ‘pear for all men nearby. Whenna las’ thing you ‘member be trouncin’ some poor beggar who wander’d into your village blind, and threated yer family with his scary green flamin’ empty eyes, then nex’ thing you ‘member is two hobgoblins jumpin’ out of yer crops at yer an’ ya kills dem dead, ’cause farmer gotta protec’ ‘is family. Den the fog clear an’ yer childs lie tore ta parts at yer feets, an’ yer be holdin’ the tool in yer own hands with their innards danglin’ from it, you knows that beatin’ was wrong. You ‘member back ta those time always and yer broken f’rever.

Only t’ing a mindworm love more den chewin’ on the ole ‘memberin’ box, de sole damned thing dat sates ‘is hunger, is bein’ strong spirits. It he’p fool the demon t’ing writhin’ in yer skull, an’ times you kin almos’ ferrgit the hurt when it slither ’round betwixt bone an’ ‘is nex’ meal.”

He takes another sip, longer this time, yet still ever so careful. The old man doesn’t act like he’s savoring the taste, more like the burning liquid is his duty, a penance for decisions made. And he continues…

“Dis time come you has ta move. You long ‘go sol’ everyt’ing fer more drinks you needs to keep IT quiet n’ ‘appy, any fam’ly you ‘as be far gon’, an’ friends only buys er makes yez the med’cine fer so long befores theys beginna’ git worryin’. ‘Cause de host jes’ has so much a ‘memberin’ to do fore his used up.

An’ so yer wraps yer hollow eyes, ta hide de sickly green glowin’ dat be de tell-tale signs o’ a mindworm. An’ you sets off ‘long de road fer de nex’ town if you kin fin’ it (or de road) You now be a travellin’ storyteller, tradin’ on what you kin ‘member, and de pity, ‘n’ tall tales tole fer gold an’ drink. Alway’ boastful an’ quick words an’ a smile an’ ever thirstin’.”

He tosses back the rest of the drink in one practiced motion. And he doesn’t shudder after the heroic gulp just taken that would easily drown and perhaps even pickle a fish. By now, there’s no moving away, you have to hear the rest of this terrifying tale. Or you won’t know, or get any sleep, because these are the things that are worth knowing, things that no one sane dares to speak. He starts back into his telling again, knowing the hook is in you….

“But Lord he’p yer if the town fin’ out jes’ how yer diseased, fer deys all dis’pear overnight. Which leaves ya ta find an he’p yezzelf at de Tavern, ’til de drink runs out on yez. Oh, ‘ventual de townsfolk come homes, but theyz keeps it plenty dry for a’leas’ a fortnight ta make sure ya don’ be back.

But mindworms be rare, ya knows, and almos’ impossible ta capture, let alones kill. The marrow of that bein’ the ‘almos’.’ They don’ burn an’ caint be crepts up on wi’ malice. I done hear tale of sorcerers sellin’ de dry up an’ preserved sleepin’ beastie for a princely sums ta kings an’ tyrants ta use on der enemies.”

The beggar dug deep into his rags for a single coin and slapped it loudly onto the bar. The barkeep poured another filthy cup full to the brim, The stuff was from the bottom of the barrel, I’m certain it would have blinded anyone with sight. Another first long sip complete, and he continued…

“De nobles’ cases wander into de desert with ’nuff drink ta make isso de mindworm be loss oncet dun onna mind an’ soul complete. No ‘nother body ’round so it crawl ‘way an’ dry up an’ c’coon dormants. De meanes’ try ta make inna big ’nuff city and ta git ‘nother body near de mindworm so’s twould be tempted ta go an’ eat elswhere. A’cause, bein’ blind and touched inna hed fer de res’ of yer life be much better den losin’ mem’ries bit by bit an’ den face yer long agonizin’ death. Or dey extort de villages an’ towns inta foul bargains, ‘specially fer dem leavin’, mos’ly.

Ah be c’nvinced this be de wors’ ways ta live, an’ de wors’ ways ta die. Alls lef’ be decidin’ whi’ ah yam. Damned an’ noble or damned and damnin’. Tha’s be de en’ of mah tale, stranger…” He trailed off.

I thanked him for his tale and I tossed two gold coins to the barkeep, telling him to fix my new friend up for a long journey. He bit them, one after the other and got busy wrapping a few jugs.

“Oh, thanks yeh kine sir!” he exclaimed. “This pack be jes de t’ing ta keep an ole fool storyteller goin’. May our King smile ‘pon yeh an’ de gods looks well ‘pon all yer heirs! A toast ta yer health an’ wealth! May dese be all yer dealt!”

I raised my cup but stayed quiet and gazed at the fire. I paid for another drink for myself, only the best of course, no blindness for me thanks, and toasted wordlessly to the happy traveler as he exited the Mountain Goats Tavern, thanking the gods he didn’t have a single, solitary clue who he was, and what he was responsible for. Perhaps happiness is all in the forgetting.

There was a thin sliver of bright white as the beggar left to be on his way, and the frigid wind howled through the cracks in the door, right then he heard an immense clap of thunder, and looked up from the floor to see taught cords of pink rope tacked to the rafters in all directions — trailing back to him ___________________________________…