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          He swallowed.
          Twitch. Twitch.
      Ian leapt from the chair, the bottle fell to the floor rolling, his hand clamped over his mouth. He tumbled between tables, knocked chairs, and flung himself through the men’s room door. He tripped, hit the floor, and groped for the nearest open stall. The fiery liquid burned his throat and nostrils, but it hit the water. Diane had been right, he was pathetic. He stared at the floor, tears welling in his eyes, his cheek resting against the coolness of the porcelain rim. Even the damn bathroom tile was spotless. Ian pushed himself up and wobbled on unsteady legs to the sink, turned on the cold water, and doused his face. He gazed into the mirror at his pallor hue and his unshaven face. He would not fall apart in this bar.
      Twitch, twitch.
      Cramps doubled him over and squeezed the breathe out him.
      Twitch, twitch.
      Ian struggled to stand. Another spasm pulled him to his knees.
Twitch, twitch. He fell to one hand, then regained his knees. “Help . . . me, somebody, please,” he croaked.
      The bathroom door swung open. The bartender and the woman stood framed in the doorway, grins plastered on their faces.
      Ian’s eyes widened. In the light, this close, he could see through them. Ian ripped open his shirt, buttons flew; his gut writhed. “What’s happening— ”
Pain ripped through him and he collapsed to the floor.
      The bartender and the woman stood over him, heads bobbing.

***

     Ian awoke at the same table from the night before, his arms stretched over its top. The bar appeared to be closed, the windows covered. He lifted his head; to his surprise he had no headache and no sick rolling stomach. His shirt lay open, the buttons missing. He stared a long while at his gut, but nothing happened. The woman from the night before stood next to him, a platter in her hand, her dark eyes bright, “‘ongry?”
     Hungry? He shouldn’t be. He should have the mother of all hangovers. But he was, and he didn’t. “Yeah.”
      She set a plate with a huge omelet covered in some kind of red sauce in front of him and walked away.
    “Thanks.”

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by C. L. Sherwood

    “Just swallow it. It’s dead. It’s harmless,” Diane had said the last time they’d come to Tijuana. To swallow or not to swallow – that’s the question. Diane never swallowed. In his drunken haze, he chuckled, a hollow meaningless sound, while the knot grew tighter in his gut. Twitch, twitch. Ian eyed the tiny larva-like thing with a black dot where its head ought to be bobbing at the bottom of the tequila bottle. Funny how it didn’t look dead. Funny how she’d always dared him to do it. How she’d always been daring him to do some fool thing or another. “Ian,” she’d said, “Tom’s just more adventurous, a more spontaneous man.” He tugged on the rim of his ball cap. A man with more hair—
      Ian tipped the bottle to his lips and gulped two large swigs, grimacing. The liquor trailed fire down his throat and into his gut, a feeling not unlike what he had in his heart. Eyes watering, he glanced toward the Mexican bartender in the dim light cleaning a large spotless mirror. A middle-aged woman with silver streaked hair, her ample body leaking out from her tight tank top and jeans. Several bland gray ceiling fans thumped and spun the moist, hot air in nearly empty bar. Funny, the last two bars he’d been in that night pounded with music and bodies. That was hours ago. Ian glanced at the bartender, again. The man was probably just waiting for Ian to finish and leave so he could close up. Too bad. I have one more swig to take before I go.
      He shook the bottle near the candle light; the worm swirled.
      “Go on. Do it. People do it all the time. No one’s ever died from it,” she’d said. Who cares? No one. Just me and the worm. He’d do it, anyway. He’d swallow the damned worm. At least he’d have that satisfaction. Too bad Diane wouldn’t be here to see him do it. She was probably with Tom right this minute, in his bed—
      Ian glanced at the worm in the bottle. Funny how it didn’t look dead. The black dot head pressed into a crevice along the bottom of the bottle and it twitched hard as it if at the end of hook. Ian lifted the bottle and swirled the liquid; the worm spiraled in the tiny whirlpool. “To Diane,” he said. He glanced at the bartender and presented a big-toothed grin. The bartender’s head bobbed, a yellow-toothed grin plastered on his tawny face; his chocolate eyes glinted and seemed to dance. The woman in the back of the bar stopped and watched, a too wide grin stretching across her too round face.
      Ian pressed the bottle to his lips, hesitated for a fraction, eyes darting from the head-bobbing bartender to the head-bobbing woman, and emptied the contents into his mouth. Tears welled in his bugged out eyes. Ian tensed, motionless, gripped the bottle.

     The food tasted amazing. And now that he looked around, he noticed how much crisper the edges of objects appeared. He sniffed the air: pine, bleach, shampoo, soap, bug spray, old shoes, cheese, onion, bacon, and perfume. Every scent more exact, more intoxicating. Maybe this little venture had cured his Diane sickness.
He paid at the register, giving the bartender extra for allowing him to stay. “Thanks for everything.”
     “Jou’re welcome, senior.”
      Ian walked to the door and opened it. Brilliant sunlight poured through. He glanced over his should at the bartender and grinned. No one ever died from swallowing a tequila worm. No, they didn’t. Diane’d been right about that.
      Ian closed the door and strolled toward his car. In his hand, the bottle of tequila glinted; the gold liquid sloshed; the worm twitched.


End of the Road
End of the Road by Connie L. Sherwood
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