Worms by Logan Markko

It’s Saturday night, but Mac doesn’t have any plans. He pours himself a glass of whiskey and settles into his recliner to watch the Adam Sandler movie marathon playing on cable TV. There’s a warmth to Sandler’s performances and Mac laughs for a few hours, making it through Billy Madison, Happy Gilmore, and some of Big Daddy, before passing out during the scene when Sandler teaches his roommate’s son how to urinate in public.

Ellie left him almost a month ago. His family and friends back in Pittsburgh warned him that moving to Denver with a woman he’d only known for a year was foolish, but Mac was in love and ready to start the next chapter of his life. He knows now that she never loved him the way he loved her, yet he can’t keep his subconscious from stirring up memories of Ellie as he sleeps, ruining even his dreams.

When he wakes up the next morning, the first thing Mac sees is the ceiling fan, spinning in circles above him. He fixes on one of the fan’s blades, following it with his eyes as it rotates around and around in an infinite loop. After an hour of lying in bed, his empty stomach finally forces him up and out of the house.

He cuts through City Park on the way to his favorite lunch spot, a dive bar on Colfax that serves all-day Bloody Marys. Bikers and joggers race past him. People are out walking their dogs and playing with their kids. Teenagers toss a football back and forth in long, lazy spirals.

The sun shines brightly and sweat drips from his face. He takes off his shirt and sits down on a park bench. His brain is dehydrated from last night’s whiskey binge, and he feels like he could curl up on the bench and fall asleep right then and there.

His stomach growls and he stands, stretches, and squints up into the glaring sunlight. To his surprise, there is an enormous blue-feathered bird perched in the tree above him. The branch it sits on looks like it’s about to snap under the bird’s considerable bulk — it must be at least five hundred pounds.

No one else seems to notice.

The creature stares at him without blinking, its powerful amber chest moving in and out in deep, measured breaths. Mac backs away slowly, the bird’s steely black eyes tracking every step he takes.

He runs.

Wings pound the air above him.

Something lifts him by his shoulders. His feet leave the ground and his legs churn into empty space. He twists his head around and sees the massive bird clutching him in talons that could tear the skin off his bones in seconds.

He screams and lashes out, but it’s useless.

They climb high into the air until the buildings beneath them resemble children’s toys strewn across a bedroom floor. One of Mac’s shoes falls off and he watches it tumble back to earth, feeling the warm sensation of urine running down his leg.

The bird tightens its grip, and though Mac struggles to breathe, he is not hurt. They fly on until suddenly, the bird swoops down towards a grove of trees. It narrows in on a giant oak, and as they get closer, Mac hears screaming coming from the tree.

The bird lands and totters across the branch. It picks him up in its beak and holds him over its nest. It is then that Mac sees them — half a dozen pink throats turned to the sky.  

He squirms, struggling to loosen the bird’s hold. Beneath him, the featherless nestlings wedge in tight against one another and scream for their mother to feed them. Barely old enough to open their eyes to the world, they are already bigger than him.

She lets him go.

Mac hits the floor of the nest and rolls to his feet. He tears a stick from the wall and waves it about. At once, the nestlings go silent. They tilt their heads to the side and stare at him as if trying to decide what he is.

After a moment of hesitation, the nestlings turn back to their mother. Mac yells and waves his stick, but the nestlings no longer seem to care.

The mother bird flaps her wings and flies off.

It strikes Mac that he could simply climb out of the nest and shimmy down the tree, but when he thinks of his empty apartment waiting for him, he realizes there’s no point in trying to escape. A wave of exhaustion washes over him, and he sits down on the leafy floor of the nest and closes his eyes. The nestlings step on him as they jostle for position with one another, but Mac doesn’t move. He tries to concentrate on Ellie’s smiling face, but the image refuses to take shape, and he dreams of nothing.

He’s awoken by a chorus of cries.

The mother bird is back, clutching a slimy worm in her beak. The worm wiggles furiously, but her grip is firm. The nestlings push against one another, competing for their mother’s attention.

The crying reaches a crescendo.

Each nestling gets a bite of the worm. They swallow their morsels greedily. When the worm is gone, the mother bird flies off and returns a few minutes later with another in her beak. Back and forth she goes, but the nestlings are never satisfied. They shriek for more.

Mac watches them eat until the grumbling in the pit of his stomach becomes so intense that he feels like he’s going to explode.

He stands up and elbows his way through the nestlings until he is directly under the mother bird; so close that he can see one of the worm’s many hearts straining against its flesh. It is fighting for its life. He throws his head back and opens his mouth, waiting for his turn to feast.  

Logan Markko lives in southeastern Michigan with his wonderful wife, their toddler son, and a 100-pound American Bulldog named Sam. His stories have appeared in Flash Fiction Magazine, Bright Flash Literary Review, Little Old Lady Comedy, and Potato Soup Journal’s Best of 2022 Anthology.

This story previously appeared in Potato Soup Journal (now permanently closed).