The date was going badly even before he showed her the worms. He took her through a side door
in an unassuming skyscraper in midtown, down a dimly lit flight of wooden stairs to some kind
of brasserie in the basement. A server went by with octopus tentacles on a hot skillet. The smell
of grilled meat mixed with a sweet fermentation, as if someone had just spilled a gallon of
kombucha. “You said you liked synthwave, right?” he said over the music. “No, I like metal.
Real people playing real instruments,” she said. There didn’t seem to be many drinks behind the
bar. Nearly all the shelf space was taken up with big jars full of pickled vegetables. The
bartender gave them complementary shots of mezcal with a strange smoky liqueur. Her date
ordered a “November Bravo.” “This one was all over Eastern Europe in the early nineties,” the
bartender said, taking down one of the jars that she had thought were for pickling. He opened the
jar and with a small set of tongs took out a jet black worm tied up in a slimy knot. “Bottoms up,”
her date said as the bartender effortlessly slid the worm into his ear canal. He sat in his barstool,
grinning like a toddler, vibing to the electronic music. “I needed that. I was starting to dissociate
today.” She looked at the jars again, and saw they were swimming with worms, ring worms
sleeping at the bottom, long worms whipping around in the middle, tape worms, hookworms,
worms as thin as thread. “Something for the young lady?” the bartender said. “We’ve got some
cool Spanish ones from the 1890’s, very rich stuff.” “I’m fine with alcohol,” she said. “Are you
sure?” her date said. “Yes I am. I mean, I’m not judging you guys or anything, but I don’t want
any worms in my head,” she said. “What do you mean?” he said. “Haven’t you got some
already?” “No,” she said. “Of course you do,” the bartender said. “You’ve got worms just like
everybody else. We’ve always had worms. Soon as you’re born they take to you, though
goodness knows how.” He brought out a black device in his hand like a key fob for a car, and
before she could object he held it to her ear and switched it on. The key fob emitted a faint but
high pitched signal. She felt something in her cranium, the sulci of her brain quivering and
unwinding. “Yep, with the right worms you can conquer the world,” the bartender murmured.
Something small yet powerful was busting out of her skull. Her date took her hand in his. “Keep
‘er steady,” the bartender said, who now had a pair of tweezers waiting outside her right ear. It
felt like she’d gotten too much water in her ears at the pool, and they started popping. Never in
her life had she so desperately wanted to blow her nose. Her right ear came unblocked, and
something slithered out. She screamed. “Got ‘em,” the bartender said. He held the prize
triumphantly in his tweezers, a fat three-inch long creature speckled with bits of her earwax.
“Wow, an American Lima from the Cold War era, at least. Real throwback flavor. Are you guys
interested in selling? I can get the manager,” the bartender said. Her date clapped. “Jackpot!
What a great night,” he said.
Alex Lanz lives and writes in Brooklyn. His stories and essays have appeared in Passages North, Babel Tower, Full Stop, and other places. He is on twitter as @alex_lanz1