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Sunday, April 30, 2017

New Release: Rich Wink, Ryan Quinn Flanagan & Ben John Smith The last days of the worm (Tullamarine, Horror Sleaze Trash, 2017) 42 pages

The latest collaboration amongst British writer Rich Wink, Canadian poet Ryan Quinn Flanagan and Australian writer & publisher Ben John Smith The last days of the worm is a highly inventive futuristic crime narrative.

To help aid the reader there is a short explanation before the story begins:

“These people’s stories are tangled together like worms in a tackle
box. Yet there’s always one worm who’s destined for the hook.

In the not too distant future, a city bleeds ultra-light. Its inhabitants
go about their business as neon night owls. Private detectives and
assassins mingle in with the wayward and lost souls. In the centre of
it all Miss Sharlot “Kilowatts” Watson waits, unaware of the

The short story is divided into twenty-three micro chapters which alternate between the three authors. Asked about the conception and direction of the project, contributor Ryan Quinn Flanagan recently told me:

“The backstory to the worm seems to be the way we do things when the three of us work together.  Rich comes to us with the original idea or motivation, and Ben tweaks it to something a little new from the original concept, and then we go from there, searching out the art later.  

In the case of the Worm, Rich brought the original motivation for a new project, best as I can recall, and then it was suggested, possibly by Ben, we do a flash fiction piece. Then Ben sent along two short flash pieces he had been working on, and we agreed that the first one was a good place to start.  

Then I went next and introduced new characters, along with a reference that Ben took to name the female protagonist.  After that we all took turns introducing a new section that the others would answer with a new section either loosely related or introducing new characters in the story. The worm turned dark very quickly as we introduced and expanded upon each subsequent character and their violent interactions.

Nobody had a clear idea of where it was going, which was great, and we spurred each other on creatively to go further and further, having our own interior neuroses play out and drive the external landscape, very cool to be a part of.”

The last days of the worm is told in third person and the perspective alternates between the four main characters: the prostitute Miss Sharlot “Kilowatts” Watson, her lover Mitch, the psychopathic trans-gender Penny Pincher and the detective Gartner.

The narrative begins in the present and then flashes back in section 2 to 23 hours earlier, and subsequently collapses further in section 4 to 22 hours earlier, section 6 to 22½ hours earlier and section 13 to 20 hours earlier again. Section 14 returns the story to the present and continues chronologically to the denouement of this highly subversive crime tale.

The book is disconcerting at first but is relatively easy to read and requires at least two close readings to really get your head around what’s going on.

Asked about what the trio set out to do, Flanagan says, “We wanted to tell the tale of an amoral broken down cityscape set in the near future through the intertwined lives of these characters, ultimately having the monstrous city itself create its own resulting grotesque in the form of Wormboy.”

What makes this short story unique is its bizarre, extraordinary futuristic content. Wink, Flanagan and Smith have created a world set in the near future which envisions Channel Mortem- a 24/7 TV station streaming people continuously crying, including a meteorologist who failed to foresee the high pressure system the day the space station Challenger was launched and the Milk House, an albino bikie run establishment, where “all the dancers had to be lactating or they couldn’t dance there.” It is also a world in which Richard Branson has purchased the moon and in which companies have bought countries- that is, until the markets have crashed again.

Most interesting of all is the concept of Wormboy. In the near future, people will only visit cemeteries to dump the bodies of the dead. They will be consumed and defecated by massive worms. Here is a particularly graphic passage:

“The worm’s wrath: The worm ate everything but the body’s
rib cage. The pelvis took over 6 hours to blend into a fine
paste. The rib cage sunk into the gentle mud of the river
bank as Wormboy felt his stomach finally grow full. For
the first time in his miserable existence he felt satisfied. As
his perfectly round sphincter bleated and tensed his anus
prepared to expunge the first remnants of what would be
the final remains of a man named Mitch.

The vanquishing of the worm: the diarrhea sewer stream
came out of the worm’s asshole in long, stringy, wet,
liquid, runs. Mitch went into the worm and out of the worm
in mere moments. A whole existence propagated and
digested in under 12 hours. Wormboy shit out the feast like
a cat vomiting a block of cheese.”

Does it all make sense? No. Does the Wormboy have a cultural or metaphoric significance? I don’t know. Is everything tied up neatly? Certainly not! But that's the beauty of the project! 

Flanagan explained to me without much prompting how the project got its title:
“When the worm was finished it was small edits of spelling and grammar, along with reworking one section to make the physiology of Wormboy consistent.  We needed a title and Ben made a list of possibilities. The Last Days of the Worm was one of the names and really a no-brainer.”

The book is illustrated by Keelan-Ashton Bell, the Melbourne artist. Flanagan says of his involvement, “We sought out an artist who would be right for the project, and Ben enlisted Melbourne based artist and friend Keelan-Ashton Bell, who brought our characters to life visually, and really knocked it out of the park!  The images are not direct portraits, but rather moments or perceptions taken from certain scenes in the worm and us talking with Keelan about them. Then we put it together with an eye to featuring the amazing artwork.”

In The Last Days of the worm you will find some incredibly original lines. My favourites include: 

"The barmaid smiled as though garbage trucks had faces...The barmaid walked off as though ten centuries of pirates' gold was buried up her ass."

"School buses blow up all the time, some things can't be helped; a cesspool of human fat in the bottom of a slow cooker because mommy wasn't into hugs or perhaps a little too much. Who knows why anyone does anything?"

"What is this that compels a man to walk  into oncoming traffic with a
half-finished tube of toothpaste in his pocket on a Wednesday evening and a condom stretched over his head?"

Flanagan concludes in an up-beat and confident manner, “When it was finished, I think we all knew we had something very unique.  I know I have never read a book like it.  Personally, I think it is the best work we have done together to date, and quite different than anything we have done before. Hopefully it is a sign of things to come.”

The last days of the worm is a one-off, highly improvisational collaborative venture well worth the read. It sometimes borders on madness and the grotesque, but overall, it exudes an exquisite restraint which keeps your mind  firmly on the page.

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