The worms were ethereal blue, transparent, and began their disturbing existence by devouring The Subject's right eye. When first I saw them, I knew not whether they were biological or metaphysical, nor did I know how they came to be within the eye of The Subject. All I knew then was what The Housemaid had told me. She spoke of an eerie blue glow within a brown cavity in The Subjects eye and the way they twirled clockwise in a hypnotizing display.
It was well into the evening as the rain pattered an irregular rhythm upon the cobbled streets. The Subject's housemaid contacted me, a dumpy old woman with a permanent blush of burst vessels in her cheeks. She stood dripping, imploring me to make a house call and visit her employer who I shall refer to throughout as The Subject.
"He knows you're not a medical doctor, of course," she said. She had nervous yet caring eyes above her poor complexion.
I nodded. I was often mistaken for a medical practitioner. My work often resided in a hazy area fluctuating between the realms of botany, biology, cryptology, and even--especially--the aether sciences.
"The Subject knows you by reputation," she continued, speaking his name, which I ignored quite deliberately. I gathered from her posture and sincere tone that she was fond of her employer. "He's read your reports diligently," she said. "And now he insists you are the only one he must see. None other, says he. In normal circumstances, I'd've said he's daft, but I've seen them, sir. It's a strange illness. Unnatural."
"Why is that, exactly?"
"The worms," she said with earnest appeal. "They are not of this world, sir. They glow blue and slither about his eye, causing pain like you wouldn’t believe. I've never seen The Subject so much as admit to pain in my life. He may be thin and a recluse, but he's as strong a man as I've ever known. These strange worms are eating at him, sir, and he cannot bear it. He screams, sir. Screams clutching his eye, tries to pull the worms from it, but it cannot be done. Why, just hours ago he tasked me with the most frightening thing. He bade me attempt to pull these creatures from his eyeball, but my fingers slipped right through them. It could not be done, sir. Oh, how he suffers!"
"Is that a fact?" My curiosity was fully piqued. "Glowing worms in the eye. That is most unusual. I have heard of worms that glow, but I've heard nothing of these parasites as you describe them. And you couldn't touch them, you say." My skin tingled uncomfortably. "It's been a while since anything made me shiver," I said with relish. "Right then. Please enter. I must hear more of this."
With a final fraught look back, she conceded and followed me into my office. The room was filled with artifacts collected from previous mysteries, which I retained partially as reference should a future case require it and partially as souvenirs to think back on fondly.
I sat at my desk, rearranged specimen jars filled with amber embalming fluids, and placed a notebook on the desk. The woman fidgeted as I took a quill from a three-eyed skull at the corner--a remnant of a previous investigation that now served as a pen holder.
"What are all these?" she asked nervously.
"Aren't they in excellent condition? So ripe, they appear to still be alive, don't they? I've become quite good at preserving my accomplishments, I must say. Look at this hand here, perfectly preserved. I found this hand crawling about, strangling unsuspecting victims. The act of a serial killer, the papers claimed, but no. It was our friend here. No need to look so frightened, my dearest. You are a client and I will take the utmost care of you. These jars are simply creatures unidentified by biology. My work has me dealing with anomalies and conundrums of the strangest sort, and when my work is done, I collect the specimens, such as that strangling hand."
"Now," I said interlacing my fingers. "Let us begin. We should not keep The Subject..., eh, your employer, waiting long."
"His name is Mr--"
"No thank you. I don't do names of subjects. It triggers an empathetic part of my mind I find not conducive to my work. The Subject or employer will be fine."
"I... I see."
"Thanks. So, glowing worms in his eye, you said. And you attempted to remove them, unsuccessfully?"
"They are in his right eye," she replied. "Yes, attempted but I couldn't grasp them."
"Slippery? Or did they have too strong a hold on his eye and you feared damaging it?"
"Neither, sir. I couldn’t touch the things. I pinched at them, but it was as if they passed through my tweezers like ghosts. Could they be ghosts? I've heard frightful tales."
"Perhaps. Whatever the fact, they do sound like an interesting case. So rare a thing." I attempted to keep my mounting excitement concealed.
"There are several of them in his eye. At first, there was only one, and it was only a spot of blue at the time. We thought it a strange freckle and nothing more. But then it sprouted and more followed. Then the pain began, and when I looked again, I discovered a small pock in his eye. A hole. All in the space of this afternoon. Now several of the blue tails wriggle from the hole they've eaten. And when I left, the screaming, heaven help him, it was horrible. We must be quick to return. He needs help."
I scrawled some notes as she spoke and she glanced at the page then back to me as she shuffled in her seat. Then I paused. "Sprouted from his eye, you said? It didn't plunge itself into it, but sprouted from it?"
"Yes. Like a weed. And then they began to twist."
"Very strange." I rubbed my chin as I thought on this decidedly un-wormlike trait. "Take me back to this morning when one of these worms, as you call them, sprouted from his eye. Had he been up to any new activities? Had he visited a sick friend perhaps?"
"No," she shook her head. "He never leaves the house anymore. Hasn't for years. Inherited a fortune a few years back and ever since he stays holed up in the basement day and night doing nothing but reading old books."
"Very curious," I mused, tapping my quill against my lip. "You might say he's a bookworm." I smiled, but The Housemaid flinched at the innocent joke. "Apologies," I said. I tasted ink, realized I'd smeared an inkblot on my lips again, and attempted to dab it clean with a handkerchief. "One develops an inappropriate sense of humor in my profession, I find. Anything else you can tell me?"
"There is one thing," she said, concentrating hard. "But surely this couldn't be it."
"Anything might be important."
"Well, he's always collected old books and his tastes have suddenly become quite macabre."
"What are these books about?"
"Not the subject, sir. The construction. Books bound in leather of... of humans, sir."
I choked in surprise. "Human?"
"Quite so. He told me all about them. He told me that some time back, books were often bound in human leather."
"He said it was tradition for certain peoples of the world. A way to remember ancestors. It was an honor to be bound into a book, or so he told me. I have much distaste for the subject, so I didn't pay much attention.
"Since he discovered this, he began sending out errand boys in search of these sorts of relics. They found nothing of course. Apparently, most of these books were burned upon discovery. I can't say I blame them."
"I see. So much for the memory of loved ones."
"Well, I suppose. But not long ago, maybe three weeks back, he hired an antiquities specialist. Paid him six months wage and tasked him with searching the earth for these sorts of books. He received seven books two nights ago, each bound in human skin. He went down to the basement to study them last night and this morning returned complaining about the dust and a headache. Then the first worm sprouted from his eye."
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