An earworm gets Vinnie down. HM in 2020 Quill Awards - Flash Fiction category.
“How d’you get rid of an earworm?” asked Vinnie as he closed down his machine for lunchtime.
“What the hell’s one of them?” Ray was busy closing his own machine, the next in the line, but he paused to look at Vinnie with a mystified expression on his face.
Vinnie shrugged. “Well, it’s when you get a song running though your head and you can’t stop it. You must have had that yourself.”
Understanding dawned on Ray’s face. “Oh, that,” he said. “Of course that’s happened to me before. But why call it an earworm?”
“I dunno. Maybe because it gets into your brain through your ear and then bores right into it. That’s what it feels like, anyway.”
Ray turned back to his machine and continued with the shutdown procedure. But he returned to the subject as they sat down at the boxes between their machines and began to open their lunchboxes. “So what song is it?”
“It’s that bloody I’m Still Standing by Elton John. I only know a couple of lines from it but the tune keeps repeating on me. Driving me crazy, it is.”
“Oh, you mean this one.” Ray started to sing the song and Vinnie clapped his hands over his ears.
“Thanks a bunch, you bastard. I’ll never get it out of my head now.”
Ray grinned. “Sorry, pal.”
There was silence then as they tucked into their sandwiches. Later, when they were clearing up after the break, Ray looked at Vinnie with a rueful expression. “Damn song’s running through my head now.”
Vinnie laughed. “Serves you right,” he said.
That evening, as Vinnie drove homeward with the song repeating yet again in his mind, he began to sing quietly.
Don't you know I'm still standing better than I ever did
Looking like a true survivor, feeling like a little kid
Dum de dum dum, dum de dum dum dum
Picking up the pieces of my life dum de dum dum dum dum.
“Jeez, now I’m singing it too,” he said aloud. “And I don’t even know the words.”
He forced his mind to concentrate on driving and tried humming another tune to clear the worm from his brain. But whatever he thought of, the tune would dissolve at a certain point and he’d find himself singing, “I’m still standing…”
Once at home, Vinnie raided the refrigerator for a frozen meal, threw it into the microwave and hummed to himself as he waited for the “Bing!” that meant he could eat.
Better than I ever did...
Later, he had some respite from the song as he became engrossed in the television. Each commercial break brought back the tune to his mind, however. It was still running when he decided he was tired enough to go to bed, early as it was. Once there, he was quickly asleep, at last in a dream that was free of Elton John, spangled coats and goggle glasses.
It was late in the night when he awoke in searing pain. It felt as though something was boring into his head through his ear and he thought he could hear crunching under the endlessly repeated song hammering through his head. Then the crunching ceased and the pain eased away into the background. Still the song continued and Vinnie determined to see his doctor the next day. He fell back into fitful sleep.
There was no waking for Vinnie. The next morning found him sprawled across his bed, the pillow and sheets soaked red with the blood that had gushed from his ear in the night. His body still twitched but without purpose, the final struggles of unconscious reactions to the dawn light streaming through the curtains. As Vinnie’s alarm clock began its cheery and annoying refrain, all movement ceased in the body on the bed.
For a few minutes, the clock repeated its attempts to wake its master. Then, as though it had given up in despair, it fell silent. And now a soft, liquid sound could be heard. It was coming from Vinnie’s ear, the one that remained unburied in the crimson sheets. The earworm had eaten its way through the brain and was now emerging from the ear.
Slowly it came into view, wriggling its white, shiny and bloated body from the confines of Vinnie’s head. Like pus from a pimple, it oozed out its length until it lay, exhausted, on the cheek bone. It seemed to be taking stock of its situation, deciding on its next course of action.
Then it made up its mind and began to squirm across the cheek, extruding a long line of grey fecal matter as it went. Vinnie’s mouth was frozen open, as though he had screamed in agony as the last of his awareness was devoured by the worm and its song. The disgusting creature wriggled into the gaping maw, slipping with oiled ease over the lips and across the teeth. It disappeared into the darkness beyond.
Slurping sounds now broke the silence hanging in the room, sounds of slow but determined mastication of the juicy tongue that could no longer speak its protest. There was food enough here to support the worm through its brief life cycle.
Half a mile away, across the city, Ray awoke with a song running through his head.
I’m still standing better than I ever did…
Word Count: 892
For SCREAMS!!! May 11, 2020