35 comments

Funny Teens & Young Adult Contemporary

The banner flaps wildly in the wind, threatening to free itself from the flimsy poles that hold it in place. ‘Welcome to the ANNUAL WORM FARMERS CONVENTION’ it proclaims in muddy brown text, though ‘WORM’ is composed of squiggly letters, some of which have eyes. I open my notebook, adding an item to an ever-growing list, Q: Do worms have eyes?


As I snap the notebook shut, I remember a conversation with my Dad when I was ten years old. I was sitting listlessly at the kitchen table, staring at a blank piece of paper when he walked in.


“What's up buttercup?” he asked.


“Homework. For tomorrow. I don’t know how to do it. I don't wanna a bad grade."


“Uh, huh."


“Mrs. Abbot wants us, everyone, to say what we want to be when we grow up. We have to write a paper on it. At least two paragraphs.”


I continued, “Katie says she wants to be a ballerina. Leslie wants to be captain of a space ship. Mark wants to be a race-car driver. But I don’t know what I wanna be.”


Dad shook his head and sighed. “It’s okay kiddo,” he said. “I'm thirty-six and I still don't know what I want to be when I grow up."


"Really?" I asked in astonishment.


"Yep. Asking kids what they want to be at your age is a silly question. So give them a silly answer."


"Like what?"


He paused for a moment, running a finger lightly over his moustache, then said, "Tell them you want to be a worm farmer.”


“A worm farmer? Gross!” I giggled.


🐛🐛🐛🐛


The battery level on the voice recorder shows three-quarters full. I check on the name tag dangling from the lanyard looped round my neck, making sure it’s visible over my wool coat. 'Erika Eastman. Journalist, Miller High School.' Though I didn’t become a worm farmer, I did discover that I liked writing. So now, five years later, I’m in a parking lot converted into an outdoor convention space about to interview worm farmers. I'm sure the irony would not be lost on Dad, but we've not had much time for our kitchen-table talks lately.


The parking lot stretches one-hundred feet long and about half as wide. At the entrance I see a woman, mid-fifties, sitting behind a folding table with a sign that says, “Gift Shop & Info Desk.”


Clocking her name tag, I say, “Good Morning Maggie. I’m Erika. I'm writing a local interest story for my school paper. About the convention. About worm farming.”


“Well, you’re in the right place,” Maggie says brightly, “How can I help ya?”


“If you could give me the program for the day, then I could—”


“Program?” Maggie laughs. “The program is that you can have a looksee when the stalls are set up.” She glances at the white canvas tents that line the left side of the lot. “Yep, they should be ready soon.”


“I guess that makes me the early bird,” I joke.


“What’s that now hun?”


“The early bird. The early bird catches the worm.”


“Oh, yeah,” she says. “But ya know, what about the worms?”


“What about them?”


Maggie smashes a fly to the table with her hand. “Gotcha, ya bugger!” she croons as she wipes her hand on the front of her coat, leaving little flecks of fly blood and guts.


“What about the worms?” I say.


“What about them?” she asks, before picking up her earlier train of thought. “Oh yeah. They say the early bird catches the worm. But what about the worm's point of view? Maybe we should be saying, ‘the early worm gets killed.’ Right, don’t be an early worm ‘cause you’ll be murdered dead.”


As I ponder this, she says, “The Earworms are on later.”


I'm clearly baffled. Maggie explains, “The Earworms are a music band. Made up of some farmers. We got a harmonica player, and a drummer, and a ‘lectric guitar guy. Zeb might even get up and play the kazoo. Would ya like to look at the books we got for sale?”


Before I can respond, she reaches under the table and brings out a book. Squinting, she tries to read the title. “Nah, not that one,” she says as she retrieves another. “Yep, this is a good ‘un,” she says as she hands it to me.


It’s a slim book, maybe 300 pages. I note the bold title, ‘THE FORMATION OF VEGETABLE MOULD THROUGH THE ACTION OF WORMS’ supplemented with smaller text below, ‘With Observations on Their Habits.’


“Ah, um, very intriguing,” I say, turning the book over in my hands, attempting to feign interest.


“That was Darwin’s bestseller, dontcha know? Sold more copies than that other book, whatsit called, the Original Species. I figured you might like it. You look bookish.” She adds.


“Um, thank you? I guess," I say as I place the book back the table. "When does the—"


“Oh, we got gummy worms too!” Maggie exclaims as she places a glass jar full of worms on the table. “Would ya like some? They’re free.” She takes off the lid and reaches her fly-smashing hand into the jar, grabbing a large handful. “Whoops, I grabbed too many, can’t get my hand out,” she laughs. “Ha, guess I’m no smarter than those monkeys they trapped.”


“What...Monkeys?”


Her outstretched hand offers me the multicoloured gummy worms. I search for some excuse not to take them.


“Oh, thanks, but I’m off the sugar.”


She eyes me suspiciously, but says nothing, instead stuffing a worm in her mouth.


“Guess what I’m doing,” she says as she makes an exaggerated chewing motion while looking at her watch.


“Eating a gummy worm?”


“I’m waiting with baited breath,” she cackles, spewing a segment of worm on the table.


“Ha, yeah, I get it. Bated versus baited. Very funny.” 


“There’s something real special I’d like to show ya,” Maggie whispers conspiratorially.


“Oh, that’s very kind of you,” I stammer, desperately trying to think of some way to escape. “But, uh, I really need to—”


“Won’t take but a sec,” she winks. “It’ll be worth it.”


She motions me closer, her eyes darting around, checking to see if anyone else is watching. She reaches under the table again.


Curious, I lean closer. I can smell her sugary, gummy-worm breath.


“Okay now, you can’t tell anyone about this,” she says.


I nod in agreement.


Her hands wrap around a canister. It’s labelled, but I can only see the part that’s not obscured by her hands. Looks like ‘Mixed N…’ Mixed what? Mixed Nuts, maybe?


She tilts the can toward me as she lifts the lid. Something launches out, attacking my face. I scream, trying to bat the creature away. Maggie’s maniacal laughter rings in my ears as I stumble back.


The creature lands softly on the table and rolls a few inches in my direction.


Cautiously, I approach it. It's cylindrical, like the canister it came from, but longer. A speckled brown skin stretches over the coiled ribs. And then I realise. It’s one of those cheesy joke gifts where a spring-loaded, snake-shaped thing pops out of an innocuous can of food.


"Ah, the can-o-worms trick, it never gets old. Unlike me," Maggie says as she stands up and scrunches the worm back into the can. "Hey Earlybird, you been good company. Why don't I introduce you to the more interesting folks here, the ones who got good stories."


"Sounds great," I say, opening up my notebook and following her in the direction of the tents.


"But don't spoil the surprise," she giggles, tucking the can-o-worms in her voluminous coat pocket.


"My lips are sealed," I say, as I retrieve a vibrating phone from my bag. Recognizing the caller, I smile and tell Maggie I'll join her after I take the call.


"Hi Dad."


"What's up buttercup?"


"I'm on assignment. At a very special convention, for people who wait with baited breath...."

January 24, 2021 16:11

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35 comments

Michael Boquet
00:23 Feb 12, 2021

"Don't be an early worm cause you'll be murdered dead"... hysterical! Fun story. A little too silly for my personal taste, but well written and a very enjoyable read. :)

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H L Mc Quaid
08:52 Feb 12, 2021

Thanks for reading, Michael! It turned out sillier than I expected (usually I have elements of humour, but with a harder edge), so I can appreciate it's not to everyone's taste, but glad you enjoyed it anyway. :)

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Claire Lewis
00:25 Jan 26, 2021

Heather this is so CUTE. I love the light-hearted, playful tone. I feel like a lot of times it’s harder to write something more upbeat like this but you did it fabulously! Here are some of the things I loved: - Maggie. She’s witty, a bit of a puzzle, and has a jar of gummy worms. What’s not to love?? - Erika. (or just the characters in general, tbh) She’s driven and professional but still clearly a bit naive, a very believable high school aged character. -The dialogue in general is fun and I could clearly hear their distinct voices. I co...

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H L Mc Quaid
11:49 Jan 26, 2021

Hi Claire, Fantastic feedback, I really appreciate it. I agree with all the changes you suggested. Though I'm tapped out of worm-related content now, there's a surprising amount one can say about worms, so I encourage you to attend the next annual worm farmers' convention. :)

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Mango Chutney
22:52 Feb 10, 2021

Nicely done..! Loved reading this story..

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H L Mc Quaid
09:07 Feb 11, 2021

Thanks for reading and leaving a comment! Glad you enjoyed it. :)

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Amanda Fox
15:58 Feb 01, 2021

The sheet Midwest-ness of Maggie made me nostalgic. This was cute!

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H L Mc Quaid
16:23 Feb 01, 2021

Thanks! I was going for a Western-Pennsylvania accent, which maybe isn't technically mid-western, but close enough!

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David G.
03:56 Jan 28, 2021

Really fun read! And funny too. Well done! I looked up whether worms have eyes. They don’t, so I learned something too. My main criticism is that the flashback kind of hangs. It’s a sweet story in its own right, but I feel like it needs to somehow tie in at the end. Something about what she wants to be when she grows up? Some lesson learned that she owes to her father or can report back to him? Definitely keep it light.

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H L Mc Quaid
10:11 Jan 28, 2021

David, man, you have a knack for pointing out stuff that I questioned myself, but then pushed away. The flashback was the seed idea for the story, which I then built around. After I finished the piece, I wondered whether I should take it out. But then I thought it added some relevant context. But you're right, the story would be better if I found a way to loop back to her Dad somehow. The question is, can I do that (in a way I'm satisfied with) before the editing period ends...I'll see. And thanks for your comments. It was fun to write, tr...

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H L Mc Quaid
10:28 Jan 28, 2021

Alright, I tried to loop back, see what you think, if you get a chance. I added 3 sentences. One after the flashback, about her Dad appreciating the irony, but lamenting that she doesn't speak to him as often because he travels so much. And then the last 2 sentences.

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David G.
01:36 Jan 29, 2021

I like it. It ties the story together nicely. What if the last line is something to do with a “silly question?” Like, “Dad, the answer is “at a worm farming convention. Now ask me a silly question.” Or something along those lines? Just a thought. Nice story!

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H L Mc Quaid
09:24 Jan 29, 2021

Nice idea. I changed the first conversation to him asking 'what's up buttercup' and then echoed that towards the end. Not sure it totally works yet, but it's getting there.

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David G.
03:10 Jan 30, 2021

I like it! Nicely done!

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K. Antonio
23:41 Jan 27, 2021

I love how this is such a quick read. The characters have such a distinct voice, super well developed. It can be quite challenging to write a positive or happy story, because well, it's hard to captivate people in general when you offer little suspense or thrill. But this was so joyous and amusing, it has it's own "pull". I saw that both Clair and Tom. gave you some advice. I echo what they said, though I totally understand the ending and get the idea of keeping the story short and sweet. If there is anything that I did notice, was th...

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H L Mc Quaid
10:35 Jan 28, 2021

Hi K. Thanks so much for your feedback. I removed a few dialogue tags where it should be more obvious who was speaking. And I agree that writing what I call a "silly story" can be challenging for the reasons you lay out. I was hoping that Maggie's antics (what will she do next?), would provide some measure of 'pull'. :) Also, the version you read was edited based on Tom and Claire's feedback, so hopefully I addressed their concerns about the ending. And I'm going to steal "Adorkable", great word. :)

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William Flautt
19:34 Jan 27, 2021

This was fun to read. I hope it does well. It addresses the prompt perfectly. I think the flashback to her dad worked really well for setting things up, and I definitely wanted to meet the other weird attendees at the end! I am a sucker for horrendous puns and slapstick, so this was right up my alley. Smaller stuff: Comma, not period: bad grade[,]” I said. Period & capitalize: Maggie said brightly[.] "[H]ow can I help ya?” Singular worm: They say the early bird catches the [worm]. But what about the worm['s] point of view Awkward: The Ear...

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H L Mc Quaid
19:55 Jan 27, 2021

Hi William, thanks very much. I fixed the issues you highlighted. The baited/bated pun was pretty horrendous, I'm glad you appreciated it. :) The monkey part refers to a monkey trap, where the monkeys reach into a jar of food and can't bring their paw out because the opening of the jar is too narrow. The monkeys refuse to drop the booty, and are therefore trapped. I suppose in the larger scheme of things, Erika is just as confused as anyone who doesn't know what Maggie is referring to, so hopefully it still works in the larger context of ...

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Beth Connor
23:44 Jan 26, 2021

I loved the lighthearted take on this- and there was certainly some laugh out loud moments. I have no major critiques- this was just one of those stories I was able to read, enjoy and not have some sort of existential crisis!

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H L Mc Quaid
13:13 Jan 27, 2021

Thanks, Beth. My writing doesn't exactly lend itself to deep, existential crises :0, so whenever you need a diversion, pop on over. And thanks for your comments, glad you could see the humour.

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Frances Reine
14:48 Jan 26, 2021

So much voice and warmth. What'll stick with me from now on is the dialogue. Thanks so much for writing something much brighter than my week :)

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H L Mc Quaid
16:41 Jan 26, 2021

Thank you, Frances! It makes me happy that I've brightened someone's day. I read Old Worlds and enjoyed getting into a just-go-with-flow mentality, though I did try to offer some constructive suggestions, for what it's worth. :)

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Frances Reine
17:15 Jan 26, 2021

Thanks so much for everything. I'm extremely grateful.

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Tom .
01:09 Jan 25, 2021

It seemed rude not to return the favour. It is a warm fun story. It is inventive and smart. What I think went well was how you engaged the reader and immersed them in the set up. The language and dialogue flows and reads authentic. What I think would make it even better is it needs a smarter ending. The can of worm joke is great but to end it with a minor triumph for the protagonist would leave the reader with a greater satisfaction. It has the space for one final interaction with our budding journalist winning the day over her gift shop ter...

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H L Mc Quaid
01:16 Jan 25, 2021

Thanks,Tom. 😁 I'll have a think about a revised ending. I set a challenge for myself for these Reedsy prompt stories to get as close to 1000 words as possible, while still telling a complete story with a satisfying ending. I'm not always successful. Especially with this one. I'm hoping I'll have a moment of inspiration before the editing period ends.

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Tom .
01:22 Jan 25, 2021

3000 words is a luxury, but to do more with less tends to bring success

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H L Mc Quaid
10:56 Jan 25, 2021

Okay, I've had a go at 'softening' the ending. I think it works better?

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Tom .
11:54 Jan 25, 2021

Yes that is far more satisfying. An alliance, very clever.

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H L Mc Quaid
12:19 Jan 25, 2021

Thanks again for your help. :)

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Cathryn V
20:55 Jan 24, 2021

Hi Heather, What a breath of fresh air!! This is absolutely hilarious. You're a very clever writer and such a creative take on the prompt. there's so much I love about this story, from the back story with her father to the description and characterizations of Maggie. The flow is smooth, the plot is great. Suggestion: it's really clean already but there are a few extra words that could be cut. eg, her eyes darting rapidly around -- maybe "her eyes dart around" (rapidly implies dart); "I’m fairly certain she used the same hand to smash th...

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H L Mc Quaid
21:52 Jan 24, 2021

Hi Cathryn! Thanks so much for reading and taking the time to comment. The back story with the father was taken straight outta my life (it's weird how I'm remembering all kinds of stuff from my past that I'm using for the stories). I removed "rapidly" and the "I'm fairly certain..." BUT, I add that Maggie used her fly-smashing hand to reach into the jar. I've never used that modifier before, I hope it makes sense. haha. Many thanks again for the critique. I'm glad you liked the story. I read your Barefoot in Maine story earlier today, a...

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Cathryn V
23:53 Jan 24, 2021

Thank you for that link. I am always open to new suggestions for improving my work. And my creative process can definitely use a boost! The stuff we write always comes from us and our experiences, right? I wrote a memoir, as yet to be published, but feelings and specific memories flooded out unbelievably. I can't imagine popping out the story "Early Bird" in such a short time. Amazing.

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H L Mc Quaid
00:24 Jan 25, 2021

Writing a memoir terrifies me. 😱😱 Go you! Yeah, for better or worse, the Reedsy stories take 2 to 3 hours for the first draft. But I aim for a 1000 words, not 3000. And for my day job I'm used to writing fast (non fiction stuff),so maybe that skill is transferrable! 😁

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H L Mc Quaid
19:55 Jan 24, 2021

Tried a lighter story after the last one, which got um, a bit dark. 😂 It might be so light that it lacks substance, tho. As always, feedback is welcome.

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