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Story 4

C.A. Rose


Long before she wrote as C.A. Rose, she overdosed on The Twilight Zone and developed a lifelong passion for all things futuristic and fantastic. She also enjoys nature and spotlights her Southern heritage in some of her stories.

C. A. Rose lives in the Dallas Texas area with her husband and two aliens who let us silly humans call them cats.

She is currently working on a novel about dragons and has published the following stories:

The Dallas Writers Journal:

"Lords of the Plain", November 2012 issue

"One Feather", October 2012 issue

"Jalin, The Creek’s A’Rising", June 2012 issue.

"Carousel Dreams", April 2012 issue.

"The Ballad of Smokin’ Dad Harlan", March 2012 issue


The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature:

"Turkey’s Beard", December 2012 issue

"Tended", April 2012 issue.

In addition to all her other credits, C. A. Rose's short story Worthy appeared in Issue 8 of 4 Star Stories.

Greeley had a dream, but before he could realize it, he had to fulfill his familial obligation. Throw in an off-world robot blacksmith named Smitty, and you have Sky Worm.



Sky Worm

By C.A. Rose


Father once played his pipes and slept a sky worm to save the village. This happened at The Churning, when mile wide ribbons of colored air, usually high in the sky, came to the ground bringing air creatures.

And sky worms.

Now Greeley was the village piper but The Churning hadn’t come in years and years and might never come. He didn’t like practicing the complex tunes. If only he could leave this farming colony and become a Cirrus knight. Then he’d be important.

Lessons with wheezy old Thom, his grandfather and the piper before Father, were canceled today. On their annual pilgrimage, the men of the village tromped to the mountaintop to pray to the Goddess to keep the worlds of earth and sky separated. They stopped at the bend in the road to wave back at the women and children. Some mothers pumped the chubby arms of infants up and down and other women threw kisses.

Greeley didn’t cheer with the crowd because Father wasn’t among those going. He’d died after a bull gored his stomach, not a heroic way to die, not like a Cirrus knight in a sword battle.

Greeley skirted gossiping women in simple brown dresses and bright aprons to slip into the blacksmith shop. The robot, Smitty, looked up from the roaring blaze he stoked. Despite the heat, Greeley liked it here.

“Hello, Young Greeley. Will you kill my saw horse, today?”

Greeley grabbed a poker from a hook on the wall and planted his feet in front of his quarry. “This, is an evil lord that only I, the last Cirrus knight, can vanquish.” He feinted at the saw horse, retreated, then danced in to strike a thudding blow.

“Raise your elbow higher when you thrust,” said Smitty. Before being replaced by a newer model, he’d been a training robot in sword skills for Cirrus knights. Reconditioned to still utilize his strength, Smitty was posted in this remote backwater of the empire.

Sweating, Greeley used his sleeve to wipe his brow. “Your name wasn’t always Smitty, was it?”

“I don’t know that I had a name. Maybe a number. The rogue pulsar that deactivated all the electronics on this planet wiped portions of my memory board. But I do remember training young knights. Resume your attack.”

“I have to go. Mother will be expecting me for lunch.” With a sigh, Greeley replaced the poker. Smitty was the only one, or thing, he knew who had ever been off world. Greeley waved bye and crossed the rutted dirt road that wound through low hills and up to the mountaintop where the men had gone.

He entered his home of adobe brick where his mother strained her eyes over embroidery on a rich man’s coat. She’d sell it to traders who came to their isolated outpost once a year with the Imperium soldiers collecting tribute. Someday, he’d wear a coat like that -- after he rescued a lord with a treasure chest. He pecked her on the cheek, and tousled his little brother’s hair but ignored Willy’s clamor to play. Greeley slipped the pouch holding his pipes onto its peg by the front door.

“Let me see them.” Willy pointed to the pipes.

Greeley couldn’t say no to those shining blue eyes. “I’ll let you blow them because you’ll be starting your lessons after harvest.” The pipes consisted of five reeds of varying lengths, each producing a different tone. Leather straps bound them and Greeley’s name had been burned into the material. Made by Father, they were special, but he wouldn’t be making pipes for Willy.

“I want to be just like you,” said Willy. He puffed out his cheeks and blew a squeaky note.

“You’ll need more energy than that,” said Mother. “Come eat lunch.”

Turnip stew again and thick slabs of freshly baked bread slathered with creamy butter which melted in his mouth. Greeley’s stomach purred like the happy cat napping on the stone hearth.

The village bell tolled. Willy whimpered. Footsteps pounded outside and shutters slammed. Greeley stared at the window and gasped. A giant air fish hovered there, floating in a ribbon of thick pink-hued air.

Mother tucked Willy into a corner behind her rocker. “Stay put.”

After grabbing his pipes, Greeley opened the front door, letting in a gush of pink air. The giant air fish had gone, but schools of tiny creatures flailing spidery legs floated in. He’d only seen the ribbon come down once before, when Father slept the worm. Today, he’d have to do it. He wasn’t ready. He wasn’t good enough.

“Go on,” called Mother. She whacked the spidery-legged creatures with her broom. “It’s thicker, but you can breathe in the ribbon.”

Greeley gulped. He didn’t want to suck in any scaly fish.

Mother smacked him on the rear. “Go on. You’re letting all the beasties in.” She knocked a yellow one out of the ribbon and it flopped, gasping, on the tile floor. “Go, play those pipes.”

Holding his breath, Greeley stepped into the pink air and climbed the ladder to the roof. From here he could see most of the village. The air smelled sweet and tasted like cinnamon buns. This might not be too bad. Mother slammed the door behind him.

 An elongated air fish with shimmering blue scales floated past and ghostly jellyfish drifted in the current, their tentacles illuminated with bands of sparkles.

The ribbon flowed into the pasture where the village herd grazed. Frightened, the cattle mooed, trotting back and forth and shitting all over. A school of giant silver fish descended on the fresh glistening patties, their mouths scooping up the poop. Greeley made a disgusted face. The fish thrashed around, pushing others out of their way and one’s tail knocked over a section of the fence. Cattle stampeded through the opening and into the village.

Behind them, a sky worm, longer than three wagons shoved together, dove at the school of silver fish. They flashed left together, then right, not presenting an isolated target for the predator. It gave up the chase and followed the cattle.

Greeley flattened against the stone chimney. The creature’s dark skin glistened in the pink air and its hideous mouth gaped open, exposing wicked fangs. It snaked into an alley, disappearing from his sight.

He lifted the pipes to his lips and blew a trembling note. Straightening his shoulders, he blew again, sending a haunting tune into the breeze. Greeley peeked around the chimney but he couldn’t see the sky worm.

Cattle stampeded through the village, one knocking over Widow Fuller’s fence and trampling her herb garden. She flew out the kitchen door screaming and flapping her apron. The cow bolted across the street, onto the wooden sidewalk in front of the tavern. The animal’s weight broke the boards, and it fell through, bellowing. Another crashed into a post supporting the awning of the General Store. The awning buckled and fell. The cow charged down the road.

Then Greeley saw it, the head of the sky worm. It reared above the blacksmith’s shop with a cow clenched in its jaws. White showed around the terrified heifer’s eyes. He wondered if his own eyes showed white.

 Greeley’s cheeks puffed out as he blew harder. The villagers counted on him to sleep the sky worm before it devoured the entire herd. He ignored the jellyfish and spidery creatures floating around the rooftop to play the haunting tune as Father had before him, and Grandfather before that.

After gulping down the cow, the worm swiveled its head toward the music. Its body undulated in sinuous waves as it drew nearer, its head bigger than a cart, its eyes the color of blazing coals in Smitty’s forge. Filmy fins rippled along its sides, propelling it closer, and the blackness of its skin seemed to suck all the light into it.

Greeley swung the pipes from side to side, as he’d been taught and the worm’s head swayed along. The beast floated just beyond their rooftop, transfixed by the melody and the motion of the pipes. Its eyes dulled and a white membrane crept from the corners. As told in stories, the worm was falling asleep to then drift away with the ribbon’s current. Greeley willed the worm to slumber.

Greeley cried out. Pain radiated up his leg where a jellyfish’s tentacle brushed against him, releasing stinging venom. Beneath tears in his pants, red welts rose. Greeley  kicked the jellyfish away, almost falling, and his pipes slammed against the stone chimney. They flew from his hand and slid into the roof’s gutter.

Tears stung Greeley’s eyes, but the worm’s eyes rekindled with inner fire.

It woke.

Sucking in his breath to ignore the pain in his leg, Greeley scooped up the pipes, but the wood had splintered. The notes came out as squeaks. Useless.

The sky worm’s jaw swung open. Its eyes flashed.

Greeley gasped and stepped backwards, into air. He fell from the gutter into a wagon of turnips, and his breath whooshed out. Turnips were hard. He wiggled his fingers, his toes, and looked up.

The worm’s fangs scraped on the roof tiles where Greeley had stood. It arched overhead and its flaming eyes bore into him.

Greeley flailed his arms and legs. Turnips flew out until his feet reached the solid wagon bed. He heaved off the end and scrambled beneath the wheels. There he tucked in as small as he could, feeling like a mouse cornered by a cat.

The worm’s scaly nose slammed into the wagon, its breath reeking of rotting flesh. Greeley yelped and slid to the other side. Mashed turnips dripped between the broken floorboards. Shaking its head, the worm tossed splintered wood and turnips.

“Run, Greeley,” called Mother from their doorway.

Willy squirted past her.

“No!” yelled Greeley. He grabbed the spokes of the wheel and shook them.

Willy charged the worm, thumping its tail with a broom, as Mother had the small spidery creatures.

With a hiss, it turned, rearing its head.

“Willy!” Mother’s voice ripped through the air. She ran out, waving her arms and jumping up and down.

The worm rotated in a giant curl, closing on her. She ran for the house.

Greeley reached out, grabbed his brother’s ankle and yanked him down. Willy scrambled under the wagon with him. Huddled together, Greeley hardly dared to breathe and clapped his hand over his brother’s mouth.

The worm’s nose rammed against the door after Mother. Clay from the surrounding bricks flew in a cloud, but the door held. The sky worm hovered there, hissing.

“Follow me.” Greeley rolled from under the wagon and jumped to his feet. Willy was right behind him. Greeley sprinted past the village shops, his feet pounding on the boards of the wooden sidewalk, his heart racing also. Something caught Greeley’s jerkin and hauled him off his feet. The worm! Greeley twisted, kicking, and flailing.

“Calm yourself, Young Greeley.” Smitty set Greeley in front of him at the door of his shop.

Panting, Greeley looked back. Willy was still at the wagon, his foot caught in the wheel spokes. Partially smashed, the wheel canted off its hub, protruding into the street.

The worm slithered closer to him.

With a squeak, Willy crawled back under, but his trapped leg stuck out. He grabbed behind his knee and pulled. The foot remained wedged.

Mother ran out, again. “Take me, beastie!”

The worm’s head swung toward her, but then it continued to the broken wagon.

She ran closer. “Here! Here!”

Greeley’s hands clenched. The wagon wouldn’t protect Willy from another hammerhead blow.

“Here, wormie.” Mother kicked its tail. With a hiss, the worm arched toward her. She backed, then raised her skirt and fled.

Slipping inside the blacksmith shop, and grabbing a glove, Greeley pulled a red hot poker from the furnace and rushed into the street.

The worm’s head snapped toward him.

What had he been thinking? Greeley stood his ground. The huge body undulated closer. His arm trembled.

He heard screaming like it was coming from the bottom of the village well, far and distant. Mother’s? Willy’s? His own? He seemed to be standing above his body, not attached to it, but watching.

Its fangs gleamed. A drop of the worm’s hot and slimy saliva fell on his hand. Greeley tipped his head back, back, until he stared into its fiery eyes.

It struck.

He danced to the side as he had when playing Cirrus knight. With every ounce of his strength, he swung the poker and hit its face. Flesh sizzled.

Roaring, rearing upward, it weaved above him.

He tensed for another swing.

The creature coiled backwards, then struck the wagon.

Willy shrieked.

“No!” Greeley hacked at the monster’s tail. Blood squirted. He swung again and again, flaying the skin off the soft fleshy body.

The worm writhed, pulling itself upward out of Greeley’s reach. With only the front of its body undulating, it floated away.

“Well done, Young Greeley.” Smitty took the poker.

“Willy!” Greeley looked around.

Mother held Willy in her lap, massaging his freed ankle. Greeley hurried to them, passing children who tugged at his jerkin and women who grabbed his head to kiss his cheeks.

Willy looked up at Greeley. “I want to be just like you.”

Greeley hugged him. “You’ll be a really good piper some day.” He didn’t say don’t be like me, the idiot who broke his pipes. Now he’d have to use Grandfather Thom’s old ones or purchase some from another village, something they couldn’t afford.

Smitty joined them and tapped Greeley’s head. “I recorded your fight with the sky worm and have streamed it to High Command as your application for knight training. That is if you approve, Young Greeley.”

“You can do that?”

“Yes, I am still functional as a trainer, and I will teach you, for you have heart. That is the essence of courage.”

Greeley’s eyes smarted. His words came out as if someone else said them. “I can’t, the village needs me as their piper.” His insides felt hollow where his dreams had burst. 

“Indeed,” said Smitty. “Until Willy is ready to replace you. Did you think training to become a knight would be fast?”

“Yes, I guess I did.” Greeley laughed along with the others as the pink ribbon of air lifted over the tops of the houses and trees. The sky creatures still swarmed within, hunter and hunted, but the worlds of air and earth no longer collided.

The End


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