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H. L. Nelson

A War With No Backbone

I was just trying to mow the lawn before a heavy rain. Pulling the mower out of the garage and around to the back, I readied my headphones and iPod. As I picked up stray debris from the overgrown grass, I noticed it in the far back corner, near the fence's gnarled knothole.

I walked closer, saw a mass of something. When I stooped down, a bunch of pink-purple earthworms, maybe a hundred, animated like wriggling entrails. Most were holding what appeared to be tiny machine guns, though I thought I remembered from 8th grade Earth Science that worms don't have hands. I rubbed my eyes a few times. They were wearing army fatigues, had on small helmets. A miniature war was waging on my lawn, and I'd had no idea. I expected to see miniature humvees, but there weren't any.

What I did see is that the little buggers had torn up my lawn by creating trenches. They'd constructed barracks and bunkers using dead grass blades and twigs from the maple. I calculated the cost of new sod, labor, and the overall expense of this invertebrate invasion. Then I realized there wasn't much cost to me, really, since this was such an unused part of the yard. I could easily use the toe of my shoe to tamp down all their hard work, spread a little grass seed in the trenches, then cover them over. This war really wouldn't affect me much.

There were worms in civilian clothes, a few with long blonde and brown hair. They didn't have guns, and were squirming behind the group of tougher-looking ones. I could tell by the tough ones' agitated swaying that things were about to get real.

Then, pop-pop-pop! Tiny machine-gun fire erupted, and I was hit in the calf. It hurt less than the bbs that my little brother and I had shot at each other as kids, but it sure was annoying. Rubbing my calf, I backed up a bit, then retrieved a chair from the porch. I sat down to watch from a safe distance.

What appeared to be the head worm, maybe a Lieutenant Colonel, on the defensive side, the one that had civilian hostages, was shooting continuously from behind a little dirt bunker. His side clearly had more ammo, more grunts, more everything. I wondered: Who funded worm wars? What were they fighting for? Could a worm grieve? These questions haunted me for about five seconds, until I realized I needed to check my email.

Going inside to do so, I heard the newscaster say Sarasota County had an hour before the rain began. I ambled back outside, looked at the sky, then at the wounded worms. A retreat order had been issued on the offensive side, or they had all just started to scatter because they were losing. Badly. For a second, I thought I heard the sounds of tinny screaming. Some of the worms tried to help their fallen comrades. I got in closer to see, taking my chances on being hit again. One worm's insides were shredded, hanging out of his boneless body, and his buddy had wrapped his upper length around the injured one's middle, was inching him toward their side. But they moved so slowly that the Lt. Colonel from the winning side just mowed them both, them all, down.

Mow, yes. Walking towards the house, I got the machine. I pushed it to the back corner and started it. I peered around, over my fence, then realized no one was watching, no one cared. Whistling "Taps," I mowed before the storm.

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