The one-inch body of the razor worm is pale yellow, with a wide, cherry red
stripe on its back, two small, thick hairs on its head, like the horns of a
rhinoceros, and underneath ten or twelve tiny suction-cup legs. Unlike other
caterpillars, which feed mostly on tender leaves, the razor worm gnaws into
the stems of plants to reach their nutrient-veins, sometimes severing off
whole leaves which fall to the bed of the garden and turn brown and crisp.
During the Summer of 1994, the razor worm seemed to have no natural enemies
in Southern Arizona; no birds ate it, spiders could not overcome its strength,
and the caterpillars were impervious to the two insecticides sold at the local
nursery. If a day went by in which she did not search for them on her plants,
Louise Johnson would find dead leaves scattered over the beds of her garden
the next morning, glistening with dew. If she neglected her garden for a
couple of days, the breeze would carry the dead leaves from across the lawn
and up to her doorstep.
Louise's five-year-old son, Andy, was somehow attracted to the razor worms
despite continually hearing from his parents and his friends' parents about
how destructive they were. He admired the caterpillars' resilience and power.
Secretly one day, he captured a razor worm in a jar, hid the jar in his room,
and brought sticks and leaves in to feed it. He fantasized that any day now,
the compulsive adults in the town would kill off the last of the worms,
rendering the species permanently extinct.
He knew that when caterpillars ate enough, they shut themselves away in the
darkness of tiny capsules, then magically transformed themselvs into
butterflies or moths. Images of what a razor worm would look like in its
adult form infested Andy's mind: creatures the size of bats with blurring,
black wings edged in flame, lightning bolts for eyes, long, darkly glistening
legs ending in fearsome hooks. He imagined the creatures swooping down from
the twilight sky to capture cats and small dogs.
Before bedtime Andy sat holding the jar and watched the razor worm as it
clung to a thick branch in the jar. He urged it to eat, but the bug was
motionless, torpid from lack of fresh oxygen. Sensing its impending death,
Andy whispered at it to move. When his father knocked on the door to wish him
goodnight, Andy buried the jar in a drawer under socks and underwear.
He was tense as his father kissed him goodnight. He fidgeted, seemed eager
for his father to leave. His eyes strayed involuntarily toward the drawer,
and his father noticed this.
"Andy, is there something you don't want me to see?"
Andy stared up at his father, then turned down and shook his head vigorously.
His father walked to the drawer, reached his hand into the clothing, and felt
the hard glass at the tip of his fingers.
Andy watched his father from across the room; watched him stop, turn around,
and then smile.
"Don't let your Mom find this," his father whispered, then left the room,
Later that night his father drank cheap, drugstore tequila, and told his wife
stories of his brazen youth. When his wife became bored and went to sleep,
Andy's father drank more tequila, and the stories continued in his mind. When
the bottle was half empty, he thought about drinking in Mexico with his
friends years before: the prostitutes, the beaches, waking up at sunset to the
magic of tequila, smoking marijuana on verandas crowded with strangers, the
sense of detachment of being in a foreign country, the hypnotic nonsense of a
language he did not know constantly murmuring in his ears. He remembered a
slender, black-eyed Mexican girl and her salty, dark skin. An Indian, he
thought; someone told him she was a runaway from a Mexican state far South.
Dreamily he remembered flirting with her at a stranger's house, the two of
them getting drunk, her feeding him a tequila worm and leading him, stumbling
drunkenly, into someone's unlit bedroom where they had sex for hours. He was
amazed at how hot her skin was, and the thought whirled through his thickening
brain that she must have a terrible fever. Andy's father wanted to re-
experience all that, and he thought that if he could create a few powerful
similarities with that night in Mexico, he could bring his mind back there,
and masturbation might be almost as good as the real experience.
Andy did not hear his door open, but he heard it close. He awakened in
alarm, and thought at first that his father must have betrayed his secret to
his mother. He expected the light to turn on, and then to see her figure
standing in front of the drawer holding a pair of scissors, cutting up the
caterpillar. He waited, but the darkness continued. He listened for
breathing, but heard none; his eyes focused on the darkness, but he perceived
no motion. Believing that he had dreamt the sound, Andy relaxed, and went
back to sleep.
Standing in the kitchen, his father unscrewed the jar, lifted the luskish
caterpillar from the verge of death, and dropped it into his tequila bottle.
The worm plunged into the heavy, golden fluid and awakened. The alcohol
gripped its soft, fleshy body and penetrated it with stinging warmth. The
mouth of the razor worm dilated, and the mashed leaves in its guts soaked up
the alcohol. For a moment it felt searing pain; its body curled up
reflexively, forming a tight knot, and then relaxed. The caterpillar saw
glimmering waves of heat; its entrails burned. Then it saw a dark haze, and
felt temperatureless. It breathed the golden liquid into limitless lungs, and
said, "Surely this is a place of God." The two small hairs on the razor
worm's head seemed to extend, undulating, into eternity.
Andy's father swished the tequila worm around in the bottle, watching the
currents pull it around in a circle, then raised the bottle to his lips and
drank. His chest tightened, imploding with the fury of the tequila,
energizing him. He gripped the bottle by the neck and went into the yard.
The dark plants in the garden seemed to be stretching up to the bright moon
as if it were the sun. Leaves shimmered with light that his mind made
unsteady. Several large bell peppers looked like faces staring up at him,
their expressions lively with shadows and smooth, shiny curves. The shallow
hills in the field behind his yard looked like swells in a dark sea, and after
he sat on a bench in the garden he listened for the sound of waves striking a
She asked him to take her back with him, that runaway in Mexico. Her English
was a struggle with gibberish, her syntax a shattered skeleton with a few
patches of vocabulary, swollen by her accent. He pretended to think she was
asking something else, so he just said yes, I can, I will, oh, yes. His
assurances translated into touches upon her tiny shoulders, her breasts dumbly
entering the nests of his fingers and palms.
He felt the alcohol bringing the moonlight closer to him, embracing him.
"Lucia," he said softly. His vision fell on a row of pepper plants and then
doubled, each duplicate row swerving away from each other. His vision tripled
and wavered. "Oh, Lucia, Lucia. I brought you with me."
He remembered vividly pulling her loose t-shirt away from her pants and
sliding his hand across her tight, warm belly; sliding his fingers under the
buttons of her pants, then burying them in the dense knot of her pubic hair.
Andy woke up again, and stared into the darkness. He rose, feeling his way
to the chest of drawers. His fingertips found the drawer open, yet he had
seen his father close it. Someone had been into his room while he slept;
someone had been in his drawer. Andy reached into his clothing, feeling only
the softness of the fabric.
He passed noiselessly through the hallway to the kitchen, where he found the
jar lying on its side by the sink. Andy thrust his hand into the jar and
pulled out the leaves and branches which the razor worm had refused to eat.
As he stared at the vegetation in his hands, as his eyes became smooth with
tears of anxiety and betrayal, he heard his father's garbled voice outside the
house. He turned, and saw the kitchen door open to darkness. Stepping over
to the threshold he felt a breeze on his bare toes.
When he saw Lucia appear from the shadows, Andy's father was not surprised.
It was only her expression that made him uneasy; a look of cold condemnation,
a glare that raked at his mind, chilling him with the awareness of having
"Oh, no, no," he groaned, the objects around him swimming in hazy doubles,
the tumultuous anti-gravity of tequila making his brain float away from him
like a patch of foam upon surging waves.
"Will you forgive me?" he pleaded. The timbre of his voice was odd to him;
his voice was warped, and seemed to come from somewhere outside of him.
As he stared down at Lucia, her sternness made her unfamiliar to him. Her
distance added doubt to his recognition; he knew her mostly by touch and
response: her warmth, her needy cling.
"Go to her," the razor worm said from inside his stomach. "Love her."
He stepped over to Lucia, and embraced her. She protested, throwing her arms
against him as he brought her to the bed of the garden. He smelled the earth,
felt branches tangling their motion, and the smoothness of her skin rewarded
him. Her voice exploded animalistically, and he knew that he did not
recognize her because she was becoming primitive.
Andy's mother awoke to strange cries in the backyard. She looked out of her
bedroom window and saw bushes in her garden swaying and flapping as if caught
in a struggle between unseen combatants. The voice crying out was her son's.
She raced to the edge of the garden, and she saw her husband devouring Andy's
º º º
Aidan Butler lives in Los Angeles, graduated from law school last May, and has been involved in the creative effort behind Santa Barbara telecom publications since their inception in the late 1980's.