3rd Place – January 2021

Red Wigglers


Diane J. Windsor

Lou set the box on the kitchen counter, and excitedly ripped it open. There they were! The beautiful new batch of red composting worms. They were safe and snug in their bed of earth from the worm farm, but she’d introduce them to their new home in a few minutes. She and her husband, Wayne, had built the worm towers together, by drilling holes into pieces of PVC pipe, and sticking them in the vegetable gardens. That was “before.”
Now, it was “after.” Before, she and Wayne had built their dream home together on the one-acre lot in Van Alstyne, Texas. They chose every detail together, from the exact shade of the hand-scraped wood floor, to the pebble flooring in the huge shower of the master bathroom.
It was perfect. The builder had included a sodded area in the backyard, but Lou was most excited about the space beyond the sod. This was her blank canvas – she could plant anything she wanted out there. The many flowers that bloomed attracted a plethora of pollinators – bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds. During the summer months the garden just exploded with color. Lou had planted cannas, cone flower, and zinnias, and the pollinators just flocked to them.
And, they had all this space to plant all the veggies their hearts desired. The cucumbers were Wayne’s favorites. He’d grab one off the vine and start munching. He was picking a few for his lunchtime salad when “it” happened.
Lou had been at work, and Wayne was in the house alone. This was not unusual, since he telecommuted 100% for his job. He went out into the garden to fetch his lunch, clutched his chest, and fell face-first into the cucumber patch. The doctors called it “The Widow Maker.” It was certainly true to its name.
By the time Lou came home from work and found him, it was too late. Not a thing could be done to save him. There was just enough life insurance to pay for a green burial at a natural cemetery. Lou saw no need to bury Wayne in a mahogany casket in a grave lined with cement. For $2,500 he was wrapped in a shroud and placed directly in the earth.
There was no way Lou could pay all the bills that came with this house on her income alone. But she refused to move, because it was where she and Wayne had planned to spend the rest of their lives together. She was able to make four mortgage payments before the little she had in her savings ran out. A few months later the letters from the bank started to arrive. They talked about “foreclosure” and “eviction.” Lou decided the easiest thing to do was ignore them. She would just stay in her house and eat the vegetables she grew in her own garden.
Lou opened the back door and stepped onto the patio, holding the box of wigglers and the compost pail full of tasty scraps. She gently dropped the worms into the towers, and covered them with eggshells and vegetable peelings.
The tower began to shake! She had never seen anything like it before. Inside the PVC, the worms were quickly devouring every last bit of scraps that Lou had added.
When it stopped moving, she removed the screen-cap and peered inside the tower. She gasped – she was shocked to see that it was completely empty! Her new wigglers must have been starving.
She hurried to the kitchen and looked around to see what she could feed them. There was plenty of newspaper, so she started with that. She found an old potato, and some leftover pizza and chicken. These worms were in for a treat! Again, as soon as Lou dropped the scraps into the tower, the worms devoured them.
From inside, Lou heard the doorbell chime.
“Who could that possibly be?” she muttered to herself. She wasn’t expecting a soul and she certainly didn’t want to talk to anyone. On the way to answer the door, she checked herself in the mirror. Her dark, shoulder-length hair was a mess. It was greasy and flat. She did her best to pat it in place. Her skin was pale, and her eyes looked sunken – the circles beneath them were shadowy and dark.
“Screw ‘em,” she said out loud. “What do I care what those arrogant jerks think about me?”
Lou opened the front door.
A thin young man stood in front of her. He wore khakis and a pink button-down shirt. Lou didn’t care for men who wore pink. An identification badge hung around his neck, and she could read the words, “Integrity Bank” on it, clear as day. Oh no, she thought. This couldn’t be good.
“Ma’am are you Louise Harrison?” he asked in a high-pitched, nasally voice.
“Yes,” she replied sharply. “Who the hell are you?”
“I’m with Integrity Bank, ma’am.” She did not like the way he said, “ma’am.”
“Ma’am, I’m here to escort you off these premises. This property has been foreclosed by Integrity Bank.”
“Oh, really? You’re here to kick an old woman out of her home. I’m sure you feel pretty good about yourself.”
“Ma’am, I’m just doing my job.”
God, she hated the way he kept saying ma’am. And then, before she could react, he pushed his way through her front door and into her house!
“Ma’am, I’ll give you fifteen minutes to pack a bag and vacate the premises. You are eighteen months behind on your mortgage, and you need to leave. I know you’ve received all of the notices we’ve sent you. They were delivered by registered mail, ma’am.”
Ma’am, ma’am, ma’am! He was driving her crazy! Who did this little twerp think he was? This was her home – hers and Wayne’s – no one else’s.
Lou reached out her hand and it came in contact with the cast iron skillet she used to fry her eggs. She heaved it with one hand, and clocked Mr. Pink Shirt on the side of his head. He crumpled to the floor noiselessly.
So. That was that. He wouldn’t bother her anymore. But what was she to do with him now?
Lou grabbed his ankles and began hauling him across the polished floor toward the garage. Luckily, he wasn’t very heavy. She spread a tarp on the garage floor and rolled Mr. Pink Shirt onto it. She figured that was a good first step. But, now what? What would she do with the body?
Then she remembered how ravenous her new red wigglers seemed to be. Would they? Could they? She knew they could eat a bit of chicken, but there was a lot of meat here – not to mention bones and internal organs.
There was only one way to find out. Lou reached into one of the pigeon holes installed above Wayne’s workbench. She found a pair of pruning shears – the metal blades were pristine. Wayne always took excellent care of his tools.
She bent down toward Mr. Pink Shirt, and easily snipped off his thumb. Lou wrapped the thumb in a blue shop towel and carried it to the backyard. She grabbed a garden trowel and began digging in the worm tower, turning the compost and some of the worms. She dropped the severed thumb so it was located at the bottom of all the other goodies. She covered it well.
Within seconds, Lou noticed motion in the tower. She grabbed the trowel and began digging again. The thumb was nowhere to be found. For some reason, this particular batch of red wigglers was extremely carnivorous. They ate more than veggie scraps and eggshells, and they ate quickly. This was the answer to her problem.
Lou spent the rest of the night chopping up Mr. Pink Shirt, using the shears and Wayne’s sharpest saw. She finished at 3:45am and wasn’t even tired. Throughout the night, she made trips to the garden to nourish the red wigglers. But there was so much meat, they couldn’t possibly eat it all in one sitting. Lou decided that the large chest freezer would be a good place to store the meat until the worms were hungry again.
She spent the next couple of weeks feeding the wigglers and emptying the freezer. Soon, there would be nothing left of the butthead who had tried to take her house.
At ten on Saturday morning, just as she was placing the last of Mr. Pink Shirt into the worm tower, the doorbell chimed. She opened the door and welcomed the sheriff into her home.
“Thank you for your time, ma’am. I’m looking for a representative from Integrity Bank. A young gentleman, slight build, who was on his way out here, last anyone heard from him. He’s been missing for a couple of weeks. Did you happen to see him?”
Lou wrapped her hand around the handle of the cast iron skillet.

Writers’ workshop and writing group