I eye the bowl. It looks like it contains spaghetti, but I’m not sure it does.
“Mum, what’s this?”
“Worms. Remember the other day you said you’d rather eat a bowl of worms than have my spaghetti again? Well, now’s your chance. Don’t worry, though. They’re all dead. I wouldn’t feed you live worms.”
I look at her. She has her serious face on. I think she means it. I try to apologise for what was obviously a stupid remark that, honestly, I don’t even remember making. She doesn’t listen.
“Pick up your fork and eat it. Or else your phone and PlayStation go in the bin, and I’ll tell that girl you like that you have a little willy.”
My mum can be cruel. Actually, forget can be. My mum is cruel.
I twirl my fork around in my bowl slowly and withdraw it. Wrapped around it are several dead worms coated in a grubby orange tomato sauce. I move it, glacially, towards my mouth. I look at Mum again. She nods, firmly. Dad sits at the other side of the table, a mouth full of his own, real spaghetti. He looks like he might be about to interject, but then Mum catches his eye and he thinks better of it.
I put the fork into my mouth. I’m very, very carefully making sure that the worms are not touching my tongue or the top or sides of my mouth. I look at Mum again. Is there one last chance of respite?
The look on her face tells me no. “Go on, dear,” she says, “swallow your food. But remember to chew it first. Twenty times to aid digestion!”
I think I’m sweating. I force my mouth closed and pull the fork away. The worms flop onto my tongue. They feel revolting, wet, slimy. I already want to gag.
I can’t. I won’t. But now I’m imagining everyone at school calling me Little Willy, and Annie certainly won’t do that thing for me that she said she would. So I will. I must.
I make my jaws start working. Slowly, at first, like a rusty clockwork motor. The worms pop and crunch in my mouth, bursting, their foul, dirty juices spilling over my tongue and down my throat. Bits of wrinkly skin coat my teeth.
My jaws go faster now. I want to get this over with. The worms become a pulpy mulch, tasting of muck and goo as they mix with my saliva.
I do as she says. The foul clumpy mess of dead invertebrates slides gradually past my tonsils and down my gullet. I feel it land in my guts and squat there. I pray for the stomach acids to do their work fast.
Surely that’s it? Joke over, right? I look up at mum.
“And the rest,” she says.
I glance at Dad. He’s already finished his spaghetti. He shrugs his shoulders. There’s nothing he can do, and we both know it.
So, reluctantly, I eat the rest.
When it’s finally over—it feels like years have passed, but the clock says it’s only been half an hour—I gulp back a glass of water and belch. The stink of it makes me feel even worse.
“Seconds, dear?” says mum.
I shake my head. She smiles, tells me I’m a good boy, and clears the plates away. A few seconds later, she’s back.
“You’ll never guess what,” she says, laughing. “What a fool I am.” She dissolves into giggles. Dad and I wait nervously. When she finally stops, she says, “I got your bowls mixed up.”
Dad and I look at each other. So that means it was me that had the real spaghetti after all, and he’s had…
He starts to turn blue, then purple, then green. His face looks like a ripe bruise.
“But don’t worry, dear,” says Mum, turning to me. “There’s plenty left for tomorrow. I’ll put it in the fridge.”
I shrink back into my seat and watch as Dad leaps up and sprints for the bathroom.
David Cook lives in Bridgend, Wales, with his wife, daughter and cats, where he writes while waiting for the rain to actually stop. He has been published in Short Fiction Break, Ink In Thirds, Spelk, Flash Fiction Magazine, Tales From The Forest, and Sick Lit Magazine, where he was nominated for the 2017 Pushcart Prize. He also featured in A Box Of Stars Beneath The Bed: The 2016 National Flash Fiction Anthology.