The noise was driving him mad. No, worse than mad. It was driving him so far around the bend he couldn’t think crooked, let alone straight — not even enough to find a word for just how crazy the sound made him.

It hadn’t been so bad at first — just some catchy tune. For an hour or so, Kipling couldn’t see what all the fuss was about this whole music lark. It was fun, not something that should be banned, or “treated” as fast as possible.

That was then.

Now, ten hours into his torture, the novelty had well and truly worn off. And Kipling had been so confident that it wouldn’t, he hadn’t told anyone and now it was too late to get the extraction procedure.

The music had become static as the earworm buried deeper into his skull and embedded itself. Now he didn’t need to tell anyone. Clara was walking up to him with a resigned look. There was no doubt in Kipling’s mind that she already knew.

“How goes it?” she asked in that slow, steady cadence she had.

It had always got on Kipling’s nerves, but he really couldn’t stand it now. She always talked like she knew everything but he’d never bought it. And now that he could tell she really did know something, she was insulting him by playing dumb? It boiled his blood.

Kipling couldn’t answer. There was something taking over him as well as the sound: an idea. A terrible, treacherous idea that grew increasingly attractive the more he looked into Clara’s dull eyes and her stupid face.

Rumour had it, she’d had earworms, once – not just one, but an infestation. They had caught her while she was asleep and it was too late for surgery by the time she’d woken up and figured out what was wrong.

The townsfolk said she’d lived with it longer than anyone else. They revered her for it, but Kipling didn’t. To him, it didn’t matter how long she’d endured — she’d been just as weak as the rest of them in the end, surrendering to temptation and passing the affliction on just to be free.

A smug feeling crept over Kipling as he thought about just how right it would be to have her suffer the reality of his earworm. She’d probably never had one of her own at all. Yeah, that’d be it. It had all started out as a lie to impress someone, maybe, and then word got out – so far and so fast she couldn’t bear to admit the lie.

He’d show her what it was to suffer.

“I’m just swell, Clara,” he said at last, his voice sounding oily even to his own ears.

His own damn, incessantly chiming ears. Hell, at this point, he didn’t even care if she deserved to be infected or not, he just needed space in his head again, and what better way?

As he leaned close to her, as if about to share a secret, the worm inside his head squirmed. He resisted the urge to flinch. How was this supposed to work? Supposedly you just got real close and it would jump host from the old to the new. Why wasn’t anything happening?

With sweating palms and pounding heart, Kipling grabbed Clara’s shoulders and leaned closer still. The worm in his head writhed manically and Clara gasped. The edge of his vision darkened and a rushing sound filled his head, the whirlwind of nearly four hundred beasts leaving her head and swirling towards his ears. The original worm in his head was consumed by the influx of creatures.

The cacophony of noise congealed into a wall of sound, blocking everything else out until he could hear only white noise. Clara stood above him, opening and closing her mouth with pure terror in her eyes, but he couldn’t hear her screams overt he hurricane in his own head.

Only a thin question whispered from the back of his mind, “How long had she survived like this?!

Ellie Rose McKee is a writer from Northern Ireland. She has had a number of poems and short stories published and has been blogging for over ten years, since her time at university. Ellie is currently seeking representation for her debut novel: Full Term. She lives in Belfast with her husband, cat, and accidental chihuahua.

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