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“Eat your worms Grandad!” Zane and Ariana, the two brattish offspring of his only son, Thomas, were yelling at him again. They loved to taunt him at breakfast, and when they were feeling especially cruel they would flick a dead mealworm, still covered in dirty brown sauce, at his face.

Their frazzled mother, Grace, would admonish the children. She would sometimes slap them, particularly if it had been a bad night when the bulldozers had droned on unceasingly. Sometimes it felt as if they were coming right through the house, which was not unlikely. They got closer everyday.

Today even Grace joined the chorus. She had this sharp way about her, like everything was a confrontation. She was not unpretty. He understood what Thomas had seen in her. But years of squatting in poverty in a crowded town with putrid air, facing the constant threat of eviction from their illegal corrugated metal house, had made her drawn, anxious and irascible.

Her dark-circled eyes flashed at him and she stabbed her plastic fork at the dirty mess on his plate. “Ted, please eat your worms. I hate to see waste. I could have fed the kids more. They're growing kids. They need all the protein they can get.”

Growing into little monsters, thought Ted. He steeled himself for another run at the worms. In fifteen years of eating this shit, he still could not get used to it. The soft, slightly chewy texture, the earthy, soiled taste, the nausea and gagging as they slid down his throat. Ugh! Sometimes he had nightmares that the worms had been reanimated from death and moved around his plate, curling over each other as they tried to avoid his stabbing fork. If he held his breath, and let them slide down, he could almost avoid the taste. He could never entirely eliminate the reflexive gag as they funneled down his throat; he would have to live with that. There was nothing else to eat, not for protein anyway. As it was he was suffering borderline malnutrition. His sixty eight year-old frame felt as if it had aged a century in the last decade. Only one thing maintained his will to live....

“Stop that!” Grace yelled at Zane, as a flying mealworm splatted on Ted's forehead and dropped onto his lap. “You're wasting good protein!”

Today was a day for being cruel. Zane had a devilish glint in his eye and a twisted smile like a locust about to devour the crops. The kid had eaten too many insects, he was starting to look like them.

Ted ignored them and the kids merely giggled at their mother's onslaught. “If you've finished go out and play, and don't forget your masks.” The kids, still laughing gleefully at his humiliation, scurried out the door. “Mind the sewers!” Grace called after them.

As peace descended, Ted held his breath and popped some worms into his mouth. They refused to go  down smoothly. He had to bite, and got the full taste. He ended up coughing, his reflex action to spit the horrible creatures out. With an effort of will, he forced himself to swallow. He gulped at his water, but even for that Grace had something to say. “Ted, go careful. You know they introduced water rationing again.”

“Of course I know,” he shot back. “Grace, sometimes you talk to me like a child.”

“Just saying!” she snapped back, irritably. They were in that awkward moment when they were on their own and had to make conversation. Inevitably it turned to the same question.

“Ted, you need to get over this.”

“Over what exactly?”

“Making those horrible noises when you eat your worms. It's rude. You're setting a bad example to the kids. Prattling on about the good old days when you had chicken and steak and fish with vegetables every friggin' day doesn't help either. You make things worse.”

“I'm sorry if I offend your precious little darlings,” he said indignantly.

“Get off your high horse Ted. You know what I mean. There's no need to make a song and dance about it. It's all we have to eat. Deal with it. You don't see the kids gagging like that.”

He had to admit that was true. Yet they had grown up only ever eating insects. They had never cut through a sizzling, juicy steak, blood oozing out, the succulent taste like heaven on his tongue; or carved a freshly roasted chicken, the tender white meat, falling gently away from the bone. Ted salivated at the memory. He felt sorry for Zane and Ariana. They had never known the joy of eating real meat. Then again, he felt a burning envy. They ate insects as naturally as breathing and sleeping. They never gagged like he did. Their mind and body did not reflex in protest at the mere action of sticking these hideous creatures inside one's mouth. What had the world come to?

Almost reading his mind, Grace answered, her tone softening. “Look Ted, I know it's hard. Even I gag sometimes. It's just you do it all the time. You have to accept our station in life. We're never going to eat meat again. That's for rich people only. We'll never be like that.”

“You sound like you've given up.”

Grace sighed, as if she were humouring a recalcitrant child who refused to believe the truth. “I haven't given up. I have to accept the reality of where we are, otherwise I would go mad.”

“The reality is mad.”

“Look, Thomas is working as hard as he can,” she said defensively.

Ted had to agree. Working on the air pumps six days a week, trying vainly to improve the air quality, was physically hard work. Too little too late for humanity in his opinion. Tom's minimum wage as a labourer was barely enough to get by. Certainly not enough for a delicacy like meat.

“I know he works hard, Grace, I'm proud of him. It's not his fault the world has gone to hell. I blame my generation. Far too often we turned a blind eye to what was standing in front of us. We were interested only in the next buck. Greed and selfishness got us here. We chose to ignore the smog, the choking emissions, the tundras melting, releasing all that methane. Christ, we even had a President who refused to believe climate change was anything other than natural.”

Grace rolled her eyes in a 'here we go again' gesture, but Ted was now on the high horse she had asked him to get off from.

“What's more,” Ted continued, now in his stride, “We let the population go unchecked. In fact, the developed nations positively encouraged it! Afraid that as people lived longer there was not potentially not enough working population to support them. So we bred more people. Now, halfway through the century, we have twelve billion people. The earth can't sustain that many people. We stripped all the farmland away. No wonder we are forced to eat this shit.” In a pique of anger he tipped up the plastic bowl. It clattered to the concrete floor, the worms spilling out.

Grace glared at him balefully. “I have had it up to here with you,” she cried. “I'm going to tell Thomas when he comes home. You're worse than the kids.”

That was saying something. Maybe he was worse than those little brats. “I'm going out,” he said huffily. He grabbed his mask and stomped out into the street. The mask served two purposes. The first was the reek of the open sewers that ran through the side streets but occasionally spilled onto the main street. Then the stench was hideous. Generally the air had a slightly metallic smell, something to do with the filters they used at the treatment plant. It was thick and dense with carbon and impossible to breathe without the filtered masks. Some days the smog was so bad you could not see for days. This little piece of hell was now home. Welcome to 2050. With people like his grandchildren running the world in the future, he saw little hope for humanity. Things had become really bad, but they were only heading in one direction. He felt really old today, but at least he would not be around much longer to see mankind's degeneration. Mercifully he had one great pleasure that made life just about bearable.

At that thought, with a renewed spring in his step, he walked past rows of illegal corrugated iron houses, past the bulldozers that roared in the night, randomly tearing down some of these jerry built constructions, oblivious to the families inside. That was another thing. The Government did not care about poor people like him and his family. Surplus to requirements, a drain on society, parasites illegally taking up valuable land, as if his family could live on thin air. These shanty towns would all be torn down eventually. It was always a relief to take a walk out of the damn place. He looked around sheepishly, checking no one was observing or following him, and walked along a route he knew well.

It was a long walk, but worth it. A patch of deserted waste ground, choked by weeds ten foot tall, their stalks bending under their own weight. To the casual observer, it looked like the whole patch of ground was covered. He knew better. Still breathing heavily through his mask, he looked around conspiratorially again before plunging into the impenetrable jungle of weeds. The casual observer would see him plunge in and disappear, but it was a well worn path he had created. Burning with anticipation as always, he pushed aside the weeds until he neared the clearing. There was his salvation. A tiny area of farmland where the chickens he lovingly reared ran around, procreated and produced beautiful fresh eggs. Truly delightful. He would boil them on the fire he made, using water he surreptitiously took from the family barrel, and crack them open, savouring the gorgeous runny yolk and egg white. This was as close to heaven as he could get in this hellhole. Enough to live for.

Still savouring the thought, he reached the clearing when he was greeted by a sight he least expected. His two grandchildren stood in the clearing, smiling mischievously at him. He knew that look. Worse still, three heavily armed militia from the Ministry of Food. His beloved chickens were squawking and struggling in a nylon bag.

The tallest militia removed his vizor, revealing narrow, hawkish features. “Mr. Edward Jennings, I presume. Your grandchildren have been very helpful. It's a felony under the Clean Food Act to breed meat for private consumption. I have to confiscate these. I'm arresting you for the crime of illegal breeding of meat products.” His twisted smile was supplemented by taunting eyes. “Don't worry, they serve fantastic dung beetles in prison.” He heard the two sidekicks guffaw under their dark helmets.

Without warning the tall militia officer stepped forward and placed his electric baton against Ted's neck. Ted instantly fell in a crumpled heap, the electricity burning through his body, making him jerk like a marionette. As he convulsed on the soft ground, the officer handcuffed Ted and read him his rights.

“You don't have to say anything but it will harm your defence in court if you don't confess now. Your grandchildren will be well rewarded,” the officer said finally. As if he cared.

As he was led away, he saw one of the officers give Zane and Ariana two eggs each. He saw their eyes light up as if Christmas, that long neglected tradition, had come early. Perhaps, he thought, they were not as keen on insects as he thought they were.


Paul Michael Dubal settled in Ontario in 2008 from the United Kingdom with his wife and two children. His day job takes place in the corporate legal field in Toronto but he is even more creative outside the office. Paul’s first novel, Crimes Against Humanity is a critically acclaimed thriller about human trafficking in Canada. He has recently completed the explosive Dictator of Britain trilogy, a dystopian vision of a near future Britain. Paul's books can be found on Smashwords at and Amazon Follow Paul on Twitter: @pauldubal and Facebook: Paul Michael Dubal



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