THE WORM TURNS


Just how far Alice actually ran she really didn't know. "I am so glad to be away from her," she thought as she slowed first to a walk and then collapsed at the side of the road. "And I didn't" "even get" "one bite" "to eat." she panted out loud as she caught her breath. "What am I to do now? Where am I to go? Well, I really can't stay here." And with that she stood up and looked around her.

Alice found that she had come to the edge of a large desert. The trees and bushes of the land where she had been had disappeared as she came over the top of a low hill. Before her was a rocky ledge that led down to sand that stretched as far as she could see.

"I wonder if this is the beach," said Alice aloud. But she could not see or hear any ocean. Indeed, the dry, hot air of the desert made her remember how thirsty she was. Probably, she should have turned and gone back to the grass and trees, but Alice really was a brave little girl and the rocks and the sand did look interesting, so she picked her way down to the edge of the sand.

Alice had not quite reached the sand when she heard it. At first the sound was very faint but rapidly grew louder. It was like the sound of a high wind and an airplane and a speedboat all rolled into one. Even though the air was so warm, Alice suddenly felt cold. It was difficult for her to tell where the sound was coming from until she saw the sand being pushed aside in the distance. As she watched, the disturbance grew larger and moved directly toward her. It seemed to her as if there was some huge thing pushing its way rapidly just below the surface of the sand.

Alice took a step backwards without thinking and fell into a large hole in the rock. Fortunately she wasn't a bit hurt, but when she picked herself up and looked back there was a tremendous bulge of sand just in front of her and the noise was deafening. As she watched, something pushed its way up through the sand and the sand fell to the side in a roar; then everything fell silent. She finally saw what was creating all the commotion. It was so horrible that she screamed in terror and fell back in the hole.

There towering over her was the head of a giant worm with a huge, triangular shaped mouth with long, sharp teeth that opened and closed as if trying to tear a bite out of the air. If it had been an ordinary mouth on an ordinary worm, Alice would not have been half as frightened, but this worm was hundreds of feet long. Its mouth was large enough to have gulped down an elephant with one swallow. As the head swayed back and forth the hot breath of the beast almost overwhelmed her with the stench of rotten garbage perfumed with the odor of cinnamon.

"Please go away!" wailed Alice, but the worm continued to tower over her as she cowered in the hole.

Finally the worm seemed to find something that caught its attention off to one side, and its horrible head swung ponderously away from Alice. She was beginning to feel she could breathe again, when suddenly a brilliant burst of light came from what appeared to Alice was a single eye above the mouth and focused on the rock about 60 feet away. Where the light touched the rock surface came a loud explosion with rock flying in all directions. Fortunately, Alice was unhurt by the explosion—just shaken up and covered with sand and rock fragments. As the dust cleared away, Alice saw that the light and explosion had created a pit in the rock—a pit like the one where she was cowering, trying to be inconspicuous.

The worm turned back toward Alice, and its hot foul breath once again engulfed her. It swayed back and forth for a time, then suddenly stopped with its mouth directly toward her. At this Alice clambered out of the hole and began running away from the worm. Another huge explosion hurled her to the ground. As she struggled up she saw that the worm had just blasted out the hole where she had been a few moments earlier. She screamed and turned and ran and ran and ran—finally reaching the forest and collapsing under a tree. When she managed to look back, the worm had turned and was burrowing under the sand and moving away from her.

Alice sobbed and shook in horror.

"Say, don't let that nasty ol' worm frighten you!" came a voice.

Alice turned and through her tear-filled eyes saw the familiar bearded head with no neck—the read/write head. This time he was not grinning however.

"But, but it tried to kill me!" sobbed Alice.

"Naw, it isn't that smart—probably thought you were just a bad bit or something," replied the head.

"What was it—is it?" asked Alice.

"A Worm! What else?" said the head as the grin returned to its face, then he recited slowly:

"Ooey Gooey was a worm.
   A mighty worm was he.
"One day he crawled upon a diskette track,
   The head he did not see.
OOEY GOOEY!"

And with that the head made a horrible face then laughed loudly.

"Well, I know it looked like a worm. But I have never seen a worm that big before." Alice said. She was beginning to feel better now. The experience of a few minutes before seemed like it had occurred many weeks earlier. The good-natured disposition of the read/write head helped her to feel a lot better.

"Actually, it's not at all that big—you're just so small!" stated the head with a big grin this time.

"My sister says I am too little to do things and go places with her, but I know I am bigger than a worm. I am really a big girl!"

"How do you know you're big? How can you tell if you really are small or large? Size is all relative. Would a big girl be scared of a teenie weenie worm?" asked the head.

Alice did not quite like this line of the conversation, so she abruptly asked, "What does the worm do, anyway?"

"Well, it blasts holes in the rock. If you think you would like it 'to bite the dust', it really does!" And the head gave a big grin. Alice was not amused, so he continued. "Look, you can see how they all lined up."

Alice stood and looked back toward the rock and sand. Now she could see several rows of holes or pits marching across the rock. From this distance they did look small. Some holes seemed to be missing in each row.

"What are the holes for?" she asked.

"They store information."

"Oh, those are the ones that are filled," exclaimed Alice.

"No way! The holes that you can see are the ones. The missing holes are zeros, of course," replied the head. Then he quickly added noting Alice's puzzled expression, "The information is stored in the pattern of holes—a little bit here and little bit there!"

Alice thought this was very strange, but even odd things seemed not to surprise her any more. "What kind of information does the worm put in the holes?" she asked.

"Whatever is sent to the worm!"

"What happens to all this information that is stored?"

"Well, it just sits there until the worm returns to read it. You see, the worm can only write things once but can read it many times," said the head.

"I suppose when it gets tired of the information it can erase it and start all over again," Alice stated quietly.

"Oh my no! The worm can never reuse the rock again. It is not as clever as I am!" boasted the head. "You see, I can write and read and rewrite as many times as I want, but not the dumb worm. He can't even 'wreck a nice beach!'"

"What happens when all the rock gets used up?" asked Alice innocently.

"Hmmm. That's a good question. I am glad you asked it. It is really very simple. I would really like to answer you, but I have to—to go now—right now! Uhhh! Here's looking at you kid! Just remember 'Disk too shall pass!' Ha, Ha, Ha! So long!" And with that the head went flying away and disappeared.

"Wait!" she cried, but it was no use. "That wasn't very nice of him," Alice thought. "I have a riddle for him that I thought up:

'She is an article before a corner.
   Unity leads to a small ocean.
Finally appears the missing grade.'

And he didn't even wait around to hear it. He really is not at all nice," she pouted. "I haven't met many really nice people. And I haven't found any thing to eat." With that Alice started walking through the trees that seemed to grow thicker and darker.



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