Daniel settled his body, gone lank this last month from roaming, no sleep, no food, just an odd wakefulness as if between time, juxtaposed between the heavens where the sun's heat was not weighted against the skin but remote and veiled as music playing in a dream. And cool was unimaginable, for nothing was quenched or sated, but drawn out hard and moving endlessly toward an unknown. He settled himself into a metal lawn chair. From where the water hit the seared lawn, no longer a spray but a constant stream, worms floated to the surface. Daniel saw them wiggle in the dead grass, the small, common angleworm that he could easily gather and take to the river's edge to fish. He could take the worms down and show the boy, Quinn, who sat on a plastic bucket with his cane pole baited and his line flung into the Hillsborough River, waiting for a bite.
"Give me one of your worms," Daniel said. He was ten now, hefty for his age, and it was springtime, the river spilling over with new life. "I'll trade you five of mine for one of them."
The boy flashed an impish grin that was sportive and gleaming white within his black face. He stuck his hand into the bucket and pulled out a sooty gray worm the size of a skink lizard. "This one's slick and mighty," Quinn said. "Gonna fetch me the biggest bass this river ever give up."
"Trade you ten for one," Daniel said, digging his heels into the muddy soil along the river's edge.
"Ain't trading," Quinn said, reeling in his line. "These here's magic crawlers, and there ain't no mo' where they come from." Quinn hooked the giant worm through its middle. It revved and squirmed, flared up mean, and Quinn jumped. "They's vicious too," Quinn said, shaking his hand. "They bites."
Daniel stepped closer to Quinn. The boy was naked except for a pair of tan cotton shorts hanging low on his hips and torn at the pockets. His skin appeared oiled and hardy, more protective than clothing, and his eyes were squinty in the sunlight. His hands were swollen past the wrist.
"You're all blown up," Daniel said, watching Quinn cast his line into the river.
Quinn squeezed his hands shut; they didn't close completely because the fingers were three times their normal size. "They's achy too," Quinn said.
Daniel stared at the hands and then at the shiny worms in Quinn's bucket. "Worms don't have teeth," he said.
Daniel leaned back in the lawn chair, still watering the grass and watching the angleworms float and wrap their bodies around the hay-colored sprigs sticking up from the lawn.
Worms don't have teeth.
Daniel ran home and told his father about Quinn's magic crawlers, how he was catching the biggest bass in the river, how the worms were so mighty they were biting him, and his hands were blown up like balloons.
"Worms don't bite," his father said. And Daniel knew that before his father sent the gardener down to the river to check on the boy, and he stomped on those baby rattlers, killed every one of those snakes left in Quinn's bucket, and they all died before Quinn, smashed beneath the gardener's boot, and the boy was taken to the hospital kicking and screaming, and swollen clear up his arms and into his neck.