The Conqueror Worm–(My Own) Short Story

Guys! I wrote something! Writers block, temporarily conquered. Finally.

It would be fair to say I am obsessed with Edgar Allan Poe. I did a report on him for sixth grade that ended with me building a two story shrine alluding to his famous stories and poems and me wearing my mom’s old prom dress and giving a speech as the dead Lenore. Admittedly, I haven’t read many of his short stories (not really sure why), but I am IN LOVE with his poetry. And I don’t usually like reading poetry.

Last week, when I curled up with my mom’s lovingly annotated copy of The Complete Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe, I stumbled upon a poem I hadn’t read before, The Conqueror Worm. And I fell in love.

Then I got a weird idea: what if I told the same tale, but as a short story?

And then I did just that.

I took a few creative liberties, though I don’t think they affect the overall story much. This is my interpretation of the poem, God knows I’ve probably missed parts of it, please feel free to kindly tell me I’m wrong in the comments. I tried to mimic Poe’s voice, but also keep my own. The careful eye can catch lines from the poem, as well as lines from other poems. Again with the “I’ve read his poems a lot.”

You can find the actual poem here. My sister recommends you read it after, but I really don’t care. I’m curious to hear what you guys think.

Hope you enjoy!

The Conqueror Worm:

It is a gala night.

I was in the front of the throng entering the theater, so I must fold myself into my chair and twist my knees to the side as the rest of my brethren flood in. A glittering hem catches my knee, tugs once, then gently releases, swept along with the current as it’s owner sweeps past me. Hands jut out, gestures that don’t mind my face. Purses swing from elbows as a convict from a noose. It’s a sea, and my cursed punctuality has condemned me to be trampled, helpless kelp as the rest of my peers flood in late, sharp-toothed sharks that will cut through me without pause unless I bend myself carefully out of their way.

The theater is our tide pool, or perhaps an oceanic cave, secluded from the rest of our city, it’s own thriving, throbbing mass. But if this is the sea, the waters are tinted gold.

Everyone shines here—men in golden suits drawn in sharp lines and iridescent gowns of swaying, feminine curves. No one wears black, except of fabrics made to catch the light and sparkle, alluding to the stars. Gorgeous is the status quo; we know not of diamonds in the rough, but to sneer at the roughest of our diamonds. Beauty shouldn’t be a competition, but it is tonight—it is always. We can humor ourselves by ranking us above the greedy, jealous monsters of below, but the observant eye knows this is nothing but a joke.

The theater is a sunset halted, perversely captured, inverted, and transformed to build four walls and a roof for our pleasure. Blood-colored seats—dark enough in the dimmed light to be black—highlight our finery, acting as the velvet cases in a jewelry store. We are pride and wealth tonight, playing at being blessed. Behind me, gold appears as the walls meet the ceiling, then snakes along in the trim, blossoming into dramatic swirls and patterns as the gilded serpent approaches the stage. The shuttered curtains are dark, contrasting and framed by opulent designs, carved gold taking over for glistening paint, emphasizing the luxury of the creator’s art.

For sure, it is a gala night tonight.

The orchestra breathes its first breath, haunting, foreign music urging the last figures to their seats. I strain to recognize the tune, but it is of the sphere below, not from our clouds. Curtains twitch, then shuddering, surrender their vigil, revealing the first scene.

The sets do not glitter. They are artfully rendered, but too solemn to be attractive. Tragedy lurks in shadows, creeping up on the actors, who stand oblivious, playing at love and wars. Panic leans over my shoulder and cackles in my ear. My shoulders clench, I tighten my grip on my arm rests, white knuckles like strands of pearls. I want to shout, to warn the actors, but they would not hear me even if it were written into the script.

That is the point, I realize.

The play rushes forward, dragging gasps from my lungs, banishing the blood from my face, whipping my heart into a gallop. These actors are my brethren, but not entirely, not tonight, not as they ape the rulers of the world below. They are victims, at the mercy of storms of weather and human cruelty alike. Blood stains the stage, and I’m too caught up in the drama to remind myself it is a clever fake. Actors fall off the cliff of life, some jumping, more pushed, from that kingdom by the tumultuous sea.

My hands jerk to my face, but I pry my fingers open, for I want to see that tragedy which I have never seen before. I curse the veil I must wear, wanting to see completely, to honor the horrors in front of me. But I wear the black lace always; the veil is the only piece of apparel we all wear but that does not shine. It is built into our culture to protect us from ourselves, from the pain of always looking but never allowed to touch, never able to bandage the wounds of the world below.

It is too much, the horror, the helplessness, the frailty of those creatures below us against the omnipotence of fate. And it is torture itself to see my own depicted in these scenes with cursed honesty: for the play writes have named us mimes, revealing our impotence as they blunder around the edges, removed from the tragedy, unable to stall the hand of the universe’s rage.

The plot is a dance of the fateful trio: Madness, Sin, and Horror. The creatures of below are both at their mercy and are their mercenaries, in the flesh.

Drums beat with heavy, quickening hearts. Armies clash, emperors fall, mothers turn from sons and sons stab brothers in the back, dooming each other to Plutonian shores.

The stage stills. The last actor falls, like a stubborn drop of dew—and we would think it was the end. I’ve drowned in tears and I want to be alone.

But there is more to the story. The rulers have fallen, their kingdoms have crumbled to time and powers they couldn’t imagine. We, the mimes, mere puppets, have failed. They died calling us saviors, trusting us with their last breaths, but don’t they understand we are powerless to stop their suffering? We are divinity incarnate, but the world below does not trouble itself with following our suggestions. We are all kelp, truly, watching the ocean swarm around us blushed with blood, doomed to watch from our scenic solitude, forevermore.

A new empire rises from the ground, thriving in the blackness of Death, devouring the corpses of those who ruled and fell before with venom fangs. They are crawling shapes, blood-red, wriggling, lacking the elegance and poise of their predecessors—but also born without their predecessors’ tremendous ability to destroy themselves. They take the reins of the broken world, writhing but winning that mortal battle, that spiked fever that is life. The orchestra strikes its last, lasting note, that almost is a paean.

The lights go out and the gold is washed from the theater in a crashing wave of blackness.

The closing curtains ride the wave, a stormy funeral pall.

The play is over, but the story is alive, in the shadow between heartbeats, in the pause between inhalations and exhalations, where my own death slumbers—it shall not ever be forgot. I sob at the injustice—that those below would die, that the filthy, writhing creatures would be champions, that we would have to watch. Beside me, in front of me, throughout the chamber, faces glisten with tears, the way we played at wearing jewels. True to the mimicry of the play, we are struck dumb by the horrors we have seen tonight. How could we brutally enslave words and put them to the task of describing the devastating, motley drama of deaths we just were witness to?

No one moves as the curtains wrinkle to expel the play writes. Solemnly, the two angels stand before their stunned heavenly audience, and remove their veils. Understanding slinks between the seats: that was real, that was Earth. The pair do not cower before our rage, rage that they showed us the truth we have taught ourselves to avoid. We seraphs asked for a play of hopes and fears, and they showed us humanity of the world below, below our damnèd heaven. They have unveiled us with their show of life, and we angels sit, stunned, blinking at the sudden light.

How was this a gala night?

They affirm that the play is the tragedy “Man,” and its hero, the Conqueror Worm.

 

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