It was a bright, Monday morning and John leaned over, gave his mom a kiss on the cheek while they were stopped at a red light waiting to turn left into the school parking lot. They smiled at each other. "You know you can stay home today if you want, I'll call in for you."
"Thanks mom, but I've got a science test this afternoon. I'll be fine," John said and smiled. "Those crutches are pretty helpful, honestly. I can move really fast with them!"
Janice laughed. "Okay then."
The light changed, the radio, set to NPR, was pleasant fluff and John was early to first hour. Mr. Porter gave him a long, side glance, but John ignored it. Mercedes was absent, and John promised to take her a copy of the review sheet for Wednesday's test. "Remember, tomorrow is more review. Bite by bite," Mr. Porter shouted after the fleeing students. John waited until everyone else was gone and then stood up, wrestled with his back pack and thanked Porter for handing him the crutches. "Everything okay?" Porter asked.
"Yes, thank you." John said. He smiled. "It's nice out today, you should keep the doors open."
"Huh." Mr. Porter smiled. He said, "Thank you, I will do that. Thanks."
"Sure thing. See you tomorrow."
Mr. Porter said, "You've ah, you've got a booger hanging. It just slipped out."
John touched his nose and felt something wiggle in his right nostril. He snap-pinched his nose, but the wriggle went deeper, was gone. Feeling sick, he wiped his hand on the bottom of his backpack. He swallowed and asked, "Is it gone?"
Mr. Porter peered and moved his head. "Yeah, don't see it. Have a good day."
"Yeah. You too," John said. With every step-swing he took to his next class, John swore. His black eyes burned and he swore his gums were writhing.
Second Hour. Second hour he felt something writhing in his cheeks for the first half of class, before it inch-wormed slowly down his throat and sat at the base of his spine.
Passing time. John stopped in the mid ground between the two buildings and punched himself repeatedly in the crotch. "Get out get out get out," He said with gritted teeth. The maggot stopped moving.
Third Hour. Third hour the maggot slithered down his leg and tickled the bottom of his bad foot until he shouted involuntarily and got up and hobble stomped all the way to the bathroom. John ground his heel into the ground as hard as he could. He sat in a stall and took his boot off and contemplated stabbing his foot with a pen. As he thought it, the maggot scamper-writhed up his leg.
Lunch. John sat in the same place he always sat: outside, behind the building one's cafeteria, on the low cement wall. His mom had packed him a fancy bento box with barbecued beef strips and tiny rice and seaweed sandwiches, carrot sticks, cucumber hearts. He poked at the food with his chopsticks. He felt full, sick. His heart raced uncontrollably. Occasionally the maggot would wiggle in opposition to his heart beat and John could not tell if he was having a heart attack or going crazy or both.
After an eternity of wiggling and jostling organs, the maggot started fast crawling in circles around his right arm. After a few minutes, it burned. John whimpered. He whispered, "Please stop. I will do anything if you stop. Almost anything."
And the wiggling stopped.
"I won't . . .what do you want? Tell me what you want! Tell me!" He stood up, involuntarily. "If you leave me alone I'll leave you alone. Seriously. Get comfy and I won't try and hurt you or dig you out or send you back?" At John's last comment, the maggot twitched and wriggled into the crook of his right knee. John sighed and sat down. "Truce?" he asked.
"Who are you talking to?" Lisa asked.
John startled and knocked his crutches and bento box onto the cement. "Hey! Where's, uh, your friend?"
"Your lunch!" Lisa rushed over and scooped up the food.
"You go first," they said in unison. Then, again: "No, you. Go go." John clamped his mouth shut and stared at Lisa, who now also had a black eye and a split lip. He frowned, but said nothing.
Lisa said, "Here's your lunch," and handed it to John. "Matt? I told him I wanted to talk to you alone, he said he understood. We're just friends." John remained silent, but nodded. "Look. I need your help, now. Sarah says if those worms are free too long the world will end. I don't think it's that serious, but she's seriously pissed at me. I don't know how many there were, but Sarah got two of them and. . . " John couldn't concentrate. The maggot in his leg was twitching. John nodded and winced. More slowly, methodically, the maggot twitched thirteen times. "You didn't hear any of that, did you?"
"Whatever. You aren't --"
"NO! Look, my leg has been acting up. Worse than usual. I just had an episode."
John pointed at his bad leg. I didn't want to scream at you, so I stayed silent, but no, I didn't hear anything you said after, uh," The maggot twitched: Thirteen quick ticks. John winced. "I get it, I think. My leg,"
"You get what?"
"I get that I wasn't . . .that I caused. Friday. I messed up. Bad. And now there're smoke worms --"
"Maggots. Larvae, technically."
"Gross, huh?" Lisa laughed. "My mom always said I was the gross one." The five minute warning bell rang. "Look, no. I shouldn't have. I should have. It wasn't your fault. I wanted to impress you and man --man did I mess up."
John was quiet.
"So, can you help me?"
"I dunno. Can I?"
"I'd like you to."
John swallowed the sudden lump in his throat. "Well," he said, "Sure. Call me after school."
"You want a ride home?"
"Uh, got one, thanks. Call me though. No texting. We'll figure something out."
"Yeah. Really. Where's your next class? I'm in this building. Got a science test."
"I'm in building three actually. Gotta run."
John blushed. Lisa laughed. Twitched an eye brow at him and cocked her head. "Yeah man?"
"What!" he said.
"Uh huh. See you later Lisa." John stood up, sighed. His tummy gurgled. The maggot in his leg twitched, and he looked down, then he went to hug her, but Lisa was already fast walking toward the far building. He limped into his science class with half a many things. His teacher, a young woman with brown hair and a half moon face looked at him and frowned. She asked if he was alright, and he nodded. The test was easier than John had hoped for.
The maggot was still for the rest of the day, and his mother picked him up from behind the school. He stared out the window, quiet for the short ride back to their house. His mother made small talk about dinner, homework, the weather.
Lisa called while he was loading the dishwasher, and they talked about vague plans for tracking the maggots, and made solid plans to meet for lunch --she would skip the second half of her third hour class and eat lunch with him.
John took the review sheet to Mercedes' house. Her mother answered the door and apologized that Mercedes had troubled him so much. John laughed and stared at his shoes. "It's nothing. I'd like to help her study, if she needs it."
Mercedes' mother laughed, now. "She doesn't, John, but she might like someone to study with." She leaned in, "Friends, nice friends, are few and far between around her for her these days." It felt like the maggot in his leg was convulsing with laughter, at this. John grit his teeth and mumbled how that was too bad, but he would be happy to be a study partner. "I'll let her know, John." Mercedes' mom said with a smile. They said their goodbyes and John's mom drove him home. He did his homework and got ready for bed --brushed his teeth, went to the bathroom, changed into some cotton running shorts. He climbed in bed and realized the maggot hadn't moved since Mercedes' house. He wondered if it had died. "You alive?" He whispered. No response.
He went to sleep.