I’ve ended many lives on rainy days, but never intentionally. I walked home late one night last week and noticed that the rain had broken off bits of leaves and branches from the trees and the twigs had settled on the pavement in an abstract crosshatching. I marveled at the pattern until I found myself under the light of a lamppost.
The world paused. My diaphragm erupted with a scream but the throat closed off the sound. I recoiled from the earth, willed myself to levitate. I didn’t work.
The horror: the light had revealed that the twigs were not twigs at all, but worms straining to find refuge from their flooded homes. Hardly moving, helpless, limp, wet. How many had I unknowingly trampled? I imagined the squish sound of their bodies under my boots and gagged. I wanted to bend down and kiss the ground, whisper I’m sorry to the worms and beg for forgiveness for that awful squish of death. As I tiptoed home as fast as I could, I pictured my body shrunken to their size, slimmed down to a segmented cylindrical tube. I cringed at the thud of boot steps and gasped for breath as the rain splashed down on my universe.
Once safely inside, I considered that if I was going to imagine myself as an earthworm, I might as well imagine myself as the coolest one I knew of. That of course would be Earthworm Jim, the only known earthworm to inhabit a robotic suit and combat the evil villains Psy-Crow, Queen Slug-for-a-Butt, and Bob the Killer Goldfish.
Created the same year that my younger brother was born, the 1994 game was one that we grew up with and fought over. In the early 2000’s— when we were deemed moderately mature— our dad momentously relinquished to us the life-changing SNES. Though younger than me by two years, my brother somehow always managed to hog the controller, adamant that he should play since he was better at it. He was right, but how could I improve if he never gave me a chance? Despite the never-ending argument, the status quo remained, but it allowed me to become well acquainted with the game manual. I poured over it, dumbfounded by the absurdity of the plot and the characters (what I later realized was satire, which explained the name of the damsel in distress, Princess-What’s-her-Name). I quickly grew to love the naïve but endearing worm. Since then my view of earthworms has never been the same.
I considered that maybe all of the garden-dwelling creatures could be super-worms too if only they encountered an ultra-high-tech-indestructible-super-space-cyber-suit that fell from the sky. Coupled with the worms’ physiology, the suited worm would be nearly indestructible. For example, when battling evil it would be very convenient to be able to regenerate parts of the body that might be lost in combat. Given enough time to recuperate, an earthworm could regenerate a lost head. Or if the damage was even more severe, one worm could become two worms, which would obviously put the species at an advantage when establishing an army. While that situation is probably not the most comfortable experience, numbers could be rapidly multiplied by copulation. Though the famous Earthworm Jim has a distinctly masculine name, worms are conveniently hermaphrodites. Take two worms, any worms, and in two to three weeks there’ll be a multitude of tiny heroes.
Even with a potentially rapidly growing legion, there would be no need to worry about food or shelter. In most terrains, food would be in surplus, since worms eat dirt. Gaining nourishment from microorganisms, decaying plant matter, and decomposing remains of animals, worms aren’t picky eaters; dietary preferences and restrictions won’t need to be taken into consideration because there are none. And where there is dirt, there is shelter. Earthworms burrow underground through contracting their muscles in waves, and in the process create a series of trench-like mazes, perfect for sleeping quarters and moving across terrain undetected. Water, salts, and gases move through the skin of earthworms by active transport, increasing their potentiality for stealth and displaying their evolutionary resourcefulness. No wonder the creators at Shiny Entertainment decided that the protagonist of their game should be a worm; it’s the only natural choice.
After relaying my recent reflection on earthworms to a friend, he told me that they are sometimes referred to as “earth dragons” in Chinese. While I love this title for the creatures, I know the valiant term of “dragon” is tongue in cheek. I have this picture in my head of vivacious superhero worms, but more than their resourcefulness, they’re known for being low on the food chain. Birds, snakes, mammals, invertebrates all prey on the defenseless worms. And humans eat them, too. Apparently they’re high in protein and Omega 3 fatty acid, and because of their earthy flavor, they taste great with cumin and curry. That almost makes them sound appetizing (I have a thing for curry), until I hear Earthworm Jim’s iconic exclamation, “GROOVY!” ringing in my ears. The idea of plucking him from his cyber suit and biting his head off is unsettling; that would make me no better than the bounty hunter Psy-Crow, Jim’s primary nemesis. No worm stew for me, thank you very much, I’ll stick with dancing around the sidewalk every time it rains.