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Message from the Underground · Original Short Story ·
Organised by RogerDodger
Word limit 2000–8000
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The Earthworm: A Child's Tale
The contents of this story are no longer available
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#1 ·
So, as seems to be a trend for this round, this is another story where I feel the ending kind of lets it down. I actually like quite a bit of what is going on here, and I think about partway through the mood established really flourishes into a nice sense of eerie surreality that is pleasantly pretty affecting.

Which sort of becomes a problem when the end slams us into “it was reality all along, mother fucker.” I said it in chat, I think, but I much preferred this story as allegory rather than the titular Earthworm being metaphorical. And hopefully I’ll be able to sort of organize that into a somewhat coherent thought.

I think the sense of disjunction that occurs with the metaphor that occurs throughout the story is a little easier to deal with when this is just a grand and mysterious earthworm, rather than our decidedly less mysterious (but just as grand) Earthworm. The worm being magical allows for a slightly greater sense of disbelief to be easily lent, while the worm being a boy ends up causing me to ask questions. Especially since it is posed as a reveal, which encourages me to go back and find the clues.

And they are most definitely there and well laid, I feel. Maybe I was just a doofus reading the first time through, but I did bypass the clues as our worm being somewhat fantastical in nature, but could clearly see them looking back. But I think they ultimately end up raising more questions then the story was prepared to answer.

Looking back at the beginning, it really sort of amplifies my issue with the end in a few different ways. You start with a fairy tale beginning (quite literally), but the ending does not create a proper mirror for it (at least insofar as I see it, it has been a bit since I read a bunch of fairy tales). I realize you could be going for a bit of a subversion, but I don’t feel like it quotes get there either. The problem is that the story’s throughline just… doesn’t really exist?

That’s where I feel the big disconnect happens. I’m just not sure what the story is trying to say. There isn’t really an emotional or narrative arc that goes the whole through. There are definitely hints of them, but it doesn’t feel like you managed to bring them into the actual conclusion.

Anyhow, back to the body. You start off real strong, introducing idea and motivation. Like I said above, the ideas are pretty well woven here and you do a decent job of concealing your intention. But with foreknowledge of the end, I’m kinda positioned to ask “why?” Assuming I’m not really completely failing at this story, I’m not really sure what the twist here really manages that is better served by making it a twist instead of spelling it out more directly initially, aside from an “ah-hah!” moment.

(I also wish to aside here to say that I remain disappointed this was not a magical worm carving Lovecraftian designs beneath the Earth. Obviously I shouldn’t judge the story for what it’s not, but oh, for the road not travelled…)

With the departure of the family we have a potential idea, the connection between the earthworm and humans, but I feel this goes kind of underexplored, mainly because the two interactions he really has are short and kind of unexplored.

After the departure of the family is where my attention started lagging the first time through, and a second read doesn’t really seem to help. The time spent ruminating on the lost family and in a fairly straightforward “chase” sequence is really long and doesn’t do much to actually advance the story in a meaningful way.

Honestly, I think in the same way that Water is too long for the format, Earthworm is too short for the format. You could probably tighten up to sub 2500 fairly easily? Maybe.

Anyhow, the chase especially is where I sort of lose the plot of what is really happening, so that’s another problem. Like the actual action being committed doesn’t read cleanly either with a literal worm or a metaphorical worm, which really kinda amplifies the sequence feeling a bit flabby.

And then we roll into the end and, like I keep saying, I’m just not sure what to do with it. This is not to say that every story must give you some straightforward, clear answer, it’s just that I’m not sure what direction to take this. Like there is nothing for me to glom onto. The exploitation of art? The dual nature of humanity? The corruption of the innocent? Etc. There are things I think about, but none of them really read well into the text.

The reveal and the final lines and everything have a definite sense of poignancy – they’re good lines – but I just don’t think they stand up under scrutiny.

What I’m saying is this story really needs needs a stronger throughline to deliver a conclusion. I really do love the early half of this story, but I just think it loses steam as it continues. So tighten that up.

Or make it about a magical earthworm that summons otherworldly abominations.
#2 ·
A sort of reminder that the age tends to influence the artist more than the artist the age. I agree with Andrew that you didn't quite stick the landing. I hope to see more in future rounds, Author!
#3 ·
In which a good earthworm goes to war.

The ending is too ambiguous for me to be satisfied with. A part of me wanted to see some kind of status confirmed for the family that left the earthworm: Are they dead? Are they missing in action? Are they just very far away, safe and away from the war zone? Speaking of war: the theme is slightly unfocused—the defining trait of the earthworm is that he can sculpt and that holds very well even long after the family leaves, but when the soldiers start coming in, I have to wonder what their point is in relation to his sculpting ability. Why would the higher ups (presumably of a military sort) want a sculpting earthworm? Maybe because they don't have to pay an earthworm any salary, but I'm already making assumptions.

However, out of the four stories here, I think I could relate to this one the most in terms of tone and everything else. It reminds me a lot of childhood stories, which makes the dark turns later in the tale somewhat surreal. Granted, I was listening to some ambience while reading this, but still: it's nostalgic and a little dreamy reading this thanks to your style. In terms of reading experience alone, this one takes the cake and then some.

So, overall, this is a fic that's quite solid despite the depressing and somewhat unresolved ending.