THE DEVOURING by Sarah Sharp

After his reinstatement, the prime minister held a press conference, in which he spoke of the exciting times ahead and how proud he was to steer the country on to a new vision of prosperity and wealth. He also expressed excitement about soon being able to introduce to the nation his special allies who would help bring the nation to greatness.

‘A new future!’ he exclaimed. ‘A new beacon of hope!’

The exact identity of these allies, however, was not revealed to the nation until the following week, when a vast hole erupted in the middle of a quiet street in Bermondsey and a giant worm lunged out of it. Another was reported in Camden, and several more in Bow. The worms, by all accounts, merely lurched their heads around this way and that for a bit, before disappearing back beneath the earth – but people were understandably quite shocked. One man died of it; however, the papers were quick to point out that he had had a preexisting heart condition and the fatality could have occurred at any time.

The prime minister for his part was delighted, and addressed the nation once more with his benign look of paternalistic glee.

‘You see now the good friends who are here to protect us? Do not be alarmed. They are the watchmen of the cities. They are to live beneath us. They guard us.’

There were murmurs about interference with the drainage system and the increase in council tax if the worms damaged them, but by and large the country settled down again.

The next week, however, the worms resurfaced in some of the regional areas too, and this time they devoured some unfortunate people – even those who didn’t have preexisting heart conditions. There was some consternation about that, especially since one of the devourees was a rather elderly grandmother; but it soon transpired that the woman was not in fact that old after all and had been in receipt of some benefits to which she was not properly entitled, so again the matter settled down.

Again the prime minister addressed his people.

‘These are our friends,’ he said. ‘They would not harm us. It is unfortunate of course about the deaths, but as we see – they have a sixth sense for rooting out delinquents. One of the men, you know, was an anarchist in his youth.’

And so on.

Strange as it sounds, the nation soon got used to the presence of the worms: they came out only occasionally, and usually without doing anything more than looking around. Deaths were reported, but it almost always came out that the victim had in some way been a menace – either now or in the past – and in many ways people were grateful to know that these creatures appeared to have this preternatural ability that they did not, of sniffing out someone’s true colours. Many came to advocate the worms, saying that the streets were safer since this subterranean patrol had come about (many of those eaten were criminals – or at least people suspected of criminal activity – so it seemed foolish to say that the targets were arbitrary and the effect was not beneficial). The prime minister soon ceased to make public addresses about their presence – or indeed public addresses of any sort; and the country pottered on, much as it had done before, albeit now with a colony of giant worms below its surface.

In July however – and it was a hot July, a sticky ugly business that did nothing to improve tempers – it was announced that the prime minister had an important message to convey. There was some degree of surprise, as he had not been sighted for a while, and everyone assumed he was just getting on with the business of running the country. On he came: and how different he looked from his earlier appearances. His face was grave and his mouth was solemn. He said that while every attempt had been made to reconcile with the opposition, whose campaign against the government during the run up to the election had been decidedly bitter, involving several revelations of private scandals surrounding key figures in the cabinet – despite these attempts, the opposition had proven themselves to be only a hindrance to the progress and prosperity of the nation. Rather than seeking to compromise with the government, they had proven themselves sore losers, and were taking every opportunity they could to undermine and undercut the prime minister and the progressive changes he was trying to push through. They had even spoken against the worms, as if the creatures were anything but a benevolent presence in society.

Therefore, he had no choice but to deploy the worms to devour each and every member of the opposing party – and, naturally, all those who had voted for them too. The Devouring, as he called it, would commence at midnight.

Well, as you can imagine, not everyone was too happy about that. some people knew people who had voted for the other party; some people had voted for the other party: certainly nobody fancied getting eaten by a worm. Criminals and anarchists, yes – but not actual people. There were some panic protests but no one really thought it would happen: the media didn’t cover the protests as they didn’t believe in encouraging dissidents (and some of them, in any case, had voted the wrong way); and many of those who had voted for the ruling party were more pleased than ever to be proved right and wagged fingers at the panicking opposition, saying they had brought it on themselves.

At midnight the worms came, and there was carnage. There were far more of them than had been previously supposed, and they were more vicious than ever before. In the chaos, some right voters got mixed in with some wrong voters by accident – though it would later emerge that these supposed righters had in fact voted wrongly on the sly and been deceiving their friends as to their true leanings.

In the morning, the streets were sodden with blood. The roads were ruptured at every turn, where the colossal creatures had burst out of the ground. Blood and rubble abounded.

Those who had not been eaten counted themselves lucky, and were gladder than ever to call themselves supporters of the ruling party – now the only party – and which they did, loudly and forcefully, in case the worms should come back, and misunderstand them.

The prime minister did not make his next appearance until lunchtime or so, by which time the grey morning clouds had dispersed, leaving an uncharacteristically clear sun to shine brightly on the hardening crusts of gore daubed across the torn up roads. He carried still his sombre look of the day before – though there was perhaps a glint of hope now in his eyes. He turned once more to the nation – such as it still was – with his benign grave expression and spoke of his excitement in taking forward a country, now unencumbered by the dissidents and anarchists, to a new and bright future. The worms, having proven themselves so loyal and effective an ally, were to be given the privilege of coming to the surface whenever they wished, and of living above ground, if it suited them. He hoped it showed his commitment to the prosperity and happiness of this glorious country that he had decreed a worm for every home, to live among (or beneath) each family – the party approved best of families – and be guardian and keeper of it. He hoped that this would bring about a peace unprecedented in the country – and that the extremity of the previous night’s events would never again become a necessity.

‘We are your party,’ he said. ‘You voted for us, and in return we see you kept safe.’

At this, with a kindly smile, he turned to go; but on a second thought added one final note.

‘Remember, if you are with us, you have nothing to fear. These worms harm only enemies, never friends. Remember that.’

Soon after this the worms took up residence where they wished and the prime minister ceased with his public appearances.

~ Sarah “Sharp” Sharp, 2015

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