"It used to be that I would fetch water from the well near our house."
"It was the only well for miles, so it wasn't unusual to see the neighbors drawing some as well - and they would smile, and say hello, and how are you doing, and we would make small conversation as the bucket slowly rose from the depths."
At some point, though - the atmosphere changed.
"I remember father, with his stomach sweltering under weight of the medals he'd earned. I remember him arguing, red-faced and drunken, with one of the men, and falling into the wall. The man was drunken too, and at first he tried to help me turn the crank; but then, he took one look at me - and fled into the woods."
Mother had left for the city ages ago - she'd gone to find a better life, and I like to dream she found one.
"I wasn't strong enough to bring father up from the well - and so finally, exhausted, I gave up, long after the feeble splashing had stopped."
"That sounds horrible!"
She said in the voice of the dapper worm, who flopped just as weakly in the mud.
"As you can see, a similar situation has come to me - I'll either drown here, or I'll run out of breath!"
Her voice was wavering from exhaustion and fear as she spoke for him, once again.
Above the two of them, rain come down, crystalline and harsh. Her clothes were heavy and woven of wool; but as for the worm, he had none at all.
"What can I do to help you, then? I'd give you anything I have - "
She knelt down amongst the muck, and plucked the worm gingerly from where a pool of grey ichor and water had swollen around it. With its funny voice it reminded her of father - and similarly, with the cuts that had been carved into it from the harsh weather, too small to fixate on.
"You shouldn't worry about me, my dear, but I can tell you there is a place not far from here where kindly scholars live. If you go there, they might be able to help you - maybe even help your father!"
But at the moment, all she could think of was how lonely the little worm sounded, and it filled her with a sorrow at the cruelty of the world. She scratched, and tore, and clawed at her arms - until to her delight, there was enough space for the worm to sleep.
"O' my dear child! You are far too kind, so I feel too greedy to ask - but my friends and family are also scattered around, could you perhaps rescue them, as well?"
She said joyously to herself, and began to stomp through the puddles. Sometimes the worms floundered in resistance, and other times they didn't move at all. But eventually they were all warm against the cold, and with their voices echoing around her ears she set off into the woods.
But she soon found herself hungry, and what's worse - she must be a bad host, as well. For the worms protested in their weak voices - that sounded so similar to hers - that they were hungry, too.
"Perhaps I can help with that."
She murmured to herself as something fluttered at her side. With whistling wings of burnished bronze, the moth darted to and fro.
"Not so far from here lies the scholars' house, where they study all the time. There is so much food there that it spills out from the storage, they have too much to eat! I'd show you the way myself if I could, but I'm wary of monsters amongst the trees."
The twigs in her hair fell to the side as the moth settled amongst the strands that remained, her wings a gentle thrum, her guardians two stern and stout beetles who'd made their residence prior; and a lazy pillbug that refused to budge.
"What wonderful hair you have here! It reminds me of my friend, the weaver - but she has been missing for a great many years, so I don't think we'll be able to replace your coat."
For, with trembling hands, she helped the moth's tiny larvae into her jacket, where they snuggled up to the tails of the worm families and ate contentedly of the fabric that was left.
Sometimes it was hard to see - for sometimes, the friends she kept closest clouded her eyes, and clouded her judgement. But she trusted them even when she couldn't tell where she was headed - and she felt the road underneath her, solid and true.
Up ahead lay a stalwart brick building, the kind that used to serve as a garrison not so long ago. It had been abandoned with all of the many books inside intact - though none could say why. She'd watched the people inside cautiously; they would eat and drink out of fine cups that reminded her of the ones her mother had loved so very much.
They didn't have bowls or silverware.
But they had so many books - so many she was jealous, and with that jealousy she could feel herself growing hateful, and envious, and cruel. They could hardly read, and yet they called themselves scholars. They were traveling bandits - but they were only people she knew still lived..!
"Sssh, ssh," Whispered the gentle tick, cautioning her in a voice that tried to sound like hers. "Maybe they weren't bandits, once."
"But they are now!"
She cried - then covered her mouth uneasily, certain someone must have heard; but only laughter and the clatter of cups met her ears.
Hobbled under the weight of all the friends she carried with her, she crept stealthily toward the window - relying on the whispers of the ants that served as sentries to tell when she should lie close to the ground.
The door slid open slowly, and she collapsed to the ground. Shouts of surprise and excitement filled the air, and in their good fortune the men inside did not notice the door close silently, and bolt itself shut.
It was the man with the thickest beard that noticed the itching first - but it was the man who tried desperately to keep himself clean-shaven who began screaming first. He'd opened his mouth to try to expel the tiny pinpricks of coppery beetle-shell from his throat - but there were too many, and they came too quickly, and the foam fell from his mouth to the floor.
To his side, the thin man with the unhappy eyes had stopped moving entirely - no longer struggling under the wall of wriggling wormflesh that cocooned around him.
The man who had ran first, ran again, throwing himself out the window with little regard to the glass shrapnel in his skin - promising to himself as he ran that whatever happened, he would live.
And as for the last - he was allergic to the stung flesh that rose in so many rings around him, and made it to the door only in time to realize it was bolted and locked; before the swelling around his eyes grew too intense to see.
Weakly, she pulled herself to her feet and fell onto the mattress there. Her companions ate and drink their fill, celebrating wildly - the moth freed itself from her hair and whispered her warm regards, as the tiny ant-sisters pulled a blanket around her and left her to sleep the rest of the night in peace. As she fell into a sleep, her eyelids drooping entirely on their own and feeling safe and secure, she saw the moth flutter over to one of the beetles and whisper in a voice that she'd never heard before -
"Unbolt the door."