The first visitor arrived on a Wednesday afternoon. She coughed it up onto a crisp white tablecloth, leaving a small brown mark where it landed. The worm itself was completely unremarkable; no different from any you would find at the bottom of the garden. It lay there, all pink and curly, decorated with spittle and black crumbs of dirt.
The remarkable thing, of course, was that the worm had come out of Madeleine’s mouth – departing from it in an elegant arc, landing with a dull splat a few inches from her half-finished cup of English Breakfast and yesterday’s newspaper.
She perhaps wouldn’t have even realised that the worm had come out of her – out of her throat, glottal retch, through her lips, tongue dangling – if it weren’t for the slimy trail of drool it had left across her hand. She had raised her hand to cover her mouth, the climax of the cough, only reaching the spasming cavity in time for the worm to softly graze the middle of her palm. Embarrassed, Madeleine looked in disdain at the slobber, before her eyes drifted to the table.
Her eyes widened when she saw it, then settled, then blinked three times in succession. The earthworm writhed, its ribbed body stretching and coiling like an old-fashioned accordion. A silent hiccup escaped through her lips as her stomach twisted and eddied.
She stared at it for a brief moment more. Then Madeleine tore off the front page of the newspaper and placed it down over the little creature. It squirmed a little against its incarceration. She crushed the page in her fist and with a pop the wriggling fractured, convulsed and then stopped. She walked out to the kitchen and threw it in the bin before returning to her tea and newspaper, as if what had just happened was merely a dream.
The only signs that anything had happened would not have meant a thing to anyone. Not even a detective; not the small brown stain next to the tea cup, nor the gritty pink pulp smeared across the cover of the Daily Mail, nor the lump in her throat – which was growing.