The Conqueror Worms

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One day the rain just didn’t stop. As the flood waters slowly rose and coastal cities and towns disappeared, some people believed it was the end of the world. Maybe they were right. But the water wasn’t the worst part. Even more terrifying was what the soaking rains drove up from beneath the earth -- unimaginable creatures, writhing, burrowing...and devouring all in their path. What hope does an already-devastated mankind have against...the Conqueror Worms?
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One day the rain just didn’t stop. As the flood waters slowly rose and coastal cities and towns disappeared, some people believed it was the end of the world. Maybe they were right. But the water wasn’t the worst part. Even more terrifying was what the soaking rains drove up from beneath the earth -- unimaginable creatures, writhing, burrowing...and devouring all in their path. What hope does an already-devastated mankind have against...the Conqueror Worms?
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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
The Barnes & Noble Review
Put on your galoshes and head for high ground! A flood of biblical proportions is coming in Brian Keene's apocalyptic thriller, which pits the few remaining human survivors of a devastating 40-day rainstorm against monstrous adversaries nightmarish enough to give H. P. Lovecraft the creeps.

The Bible verse Job 14:19 -- "…the things which grow out of the dust of the earth and destroyest the hope of mankind" -- is a fitting theme for The Conqueror Worms. After most of the world's landmass is covered by floodwaters, previously unseen subterranean creatures (enormous squid, giant worms, etc.) rise up to wreak havoc on civilization and feast on succulent human flesh. As the land is slowly taken back by ever-increasing water levels, the last remnants of humankind -- like nicotine-addicted WWII veteran Teddy Garnett, Baltimore video store clerk Kevin Jensen, and crazed West Virginia redneck Earl Harper -- must find a way to survive the mounting pitfalls: starvation, sickness, insanity, nomadic gangs of killers, and a strange mold (called the White Fuzz) that is steadily covering every living thing.

Incredibly fast paced, emotionally charged, and gruesomely entertaining -- who doesn't love giant, slime-covered worms trashing cities? -- The Conqueror Worms can be faulted only for not fully exploring the cause of the 40-day rainstorm. Was it the greenhouse effect, some secret government weather project gone horribly wrong, black magic, divine retribution? Regardless, fans of postapocalyptic thrillers will enjoy this one -- gloriously horrific! Paul Goat Allen
Publishers Weekly
Just in time for picnic season, Keene delivers this wild, gruesome page-turner about two elderly West Virginia good old boys menaced by giant earthworms-and worse. Octogenarian Teddy Garnett tells this story of a global flood that has left humanity in tatters. Holed up in his mountain home, Teddy and his buddy Carl Seaton struggle through daily life, puzzling over things even stranger than a 40-day rainstorm, including the giant slime-coated holes that keep showing up in Teddy's yard. Before long, Teddy and Carl are fending off man-eating earthworms the size of buses. A helicopter crash nearby brings Kevin and Sarah, the last two survivors of an outpost in Baltimore, into Teddy's story; their tale makes up the even more bizarre second part of the book that explores, graphically, the insanity doom can inspire. It all leads to a slam-bang showdown back at Teddy's house with a creature so monstrous it scares even the killer annelids. The awkward framing story-a crushed, dying Teddy writing the novel in a notebook in the tale's aftermath-though a nod to H.P. Lovecraft and H.G. Wells (both obvious influences), can detract from the plot's urgency. Clunky dialogue also slows the action, but the enormity of Keene's pulp horror imagination, and his success in bringing the reader over the top with him, is both rare and wonderful, and more than outweighs these small concerns. (May) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780843954166
  • Publisher: Dorchester Publishing Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 5/2/2006
  • Pages: 326
  • Product dimensions: 4.10 (w) x 6.70 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Read an Excerpt

The Conqueror Worms

By Brian Keene

Dorchester Publishing

Copyright © 2006

Brian Keene

All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-8439-5416-7

Chapter One

For the second time that day (well, the third for me, and the
second for Carl), we shrugged out of our wet clothes and put
on some dry ones. Lucky for him we were about the same size
and he could pull stuff out of my closet. Our boots were
soaked clean through, and I cranked up the kerosene heater and
sat them next to it to dry out. Then, while Carl propped his
bare feet up and flipped through a four-month-old copy of
American Sportsman, I fixed us dinner in a pot on top of the
heater; a hodge-podge stew of deer meat, beans, carrots,
tomatoes, and corn. The aroma filled the house, and both our
stomachs grumbled in anticipation. My mouth was watering.

I brought the battery-operated tape player into the living
room and put on some music, one of those compilation tapes you
could buy at the Wal-Mart for a dollar, with bluegrass and
country music for old folks like us. When the stew was ready,
we ate in silence, listening to Porter Wagoner's "Misery Loves
Company," Marty Robbins's "El Paso City" (the version from the
70's, rather than his 50's song, "El Paso"), Claude King's
"Wolverton Mountain," The Texas Playboys' "Rose of San
Antoine," and Henson Cargill's "Skip A Rope." Carl joined in
with Waylon Jennings for a trip to "Luckenbach, Texas" and
wailed about getting backto the basics of love while I
suffered and wished for some cotton to put in my ears. He
sounded like a cat in a burlap sack that had just been tossed
into a pond after being dragged across a hot tin roof. For an
encore, Carl sang along with Jack Green on "There Goes My
Everything," and I finally told him to be quiet and eat his
supper. He did, accompanied by burps and slurping noises.

Despite his terrible singing voice and even worse table
manners, it felt good to have him there. I hadn't realized
just how lonely I'd been until his arrival. I was surprised
that we didn't talk more through that dinner. For the last few
weeks, Carl only had his dog to talk to, and I'd been
conversing with myself. You'd think we would have been a pair
of Chatty Sarah dolls, but we weren't. The only sounds we made
were the grunts and sighs of contentment when we'd finished. I
guess we didn't need to talk. It felt good just to have
somebody there with me. To know that there was somebody else
still alive.

Carl pushed his empty paper plate away and let out a
window-rattling belch.

"Liked it, did you?" I asked.

"My compliments to the chef. So, what do you think happened to
all the folks that got evacuated? All of our friends, I mean?
Where did they go?"

"I don't know. Maybe they took them to White Sulphur Springs."

White Sulphur Springs had once been the site of the
underground Pentagon. I don't know if that's what it really
was, but that's what the locals called it. It was a government
base, carved into the limestone beneath the mountains; an
impregnable, indestructible concrete and steel bunker that
supposedly would be used to house our elected officials in
case of a nuclear war. Vice President Cheney had gone there on
September 11th, when the country fell under attack. They had
bunkers like that all over the country back in the sixties,
seventies, and eighties, before Ronald Reagan won the Cold
War; back when Iraq was still our friend and George Bush Sr.
was attending cocktail parties with Saddam Hussein. I knew of
one near Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, and another in Hellertown,
Pennsylvania, and a third in Gardner, Illinois. And then there
was the NORAD base in Cheyenne, Wyoming. But the one in White
Sulphur Springs was ours, and we had a strange pride about it,
even after it was decommissioned and opened up to tourists in
the late nineties. Of course, Earl Harper said it wasn't
really decommissioned, and was now being used as an advance
staging area for United Nations security force invaders, but
then again, Earl said the same thing about Sam Anderson's
grain silo down in Renick.

Carl undid the top button of his pants and patted his stomach.
He sighed with contentment. "That was a fine meal, Teddy. Best
I've had in quite awhile. I'm fit to burst."

"Glad you liked it. If we ever run into Nancy again, we'll
have to compliment her on her canning abilities. Most of that
was food I took from her cupboard."

"I reckon so."

"We'll have the leftovers for breakfast. And I won't even make
you do the dishes."

Carl looked around the kitchen. "What have you been doing with
the paper plates anyway?"

"Throwing them outside."

"But Teddy, that's littering!"

I pointed to the window. "Do you think it really matters at
this point?"

"I guess not. Don't suppose Smoky the Bear will be showing up
anytime soon."

He was right about one thing, though. It had been a good meal.
Damn good. And now I was craving some tobacco again. I think
the nicotine desire is at its very worst after you've eaten.

To distract myself, I cleared the paper plates and Styrofoam
bowls from the table, and put them in the trash. I'd been
carrying the garbage bags down to the tree line once a week,
and tossing them into the forest. Broke my heart to do so
because, like Carl had said, it was littering. But I couldn't
just let it pile up inside the house, and burning it outside
like I used to do just wasn't possible anymore.

Carl rubbed his arthritic knee. "So if the National Guard took
all those folks to White Sulphur Springs, you reckon we should
make our way there too?"

"You still got that old bass boat we used to take down the

He shook his head. "No, I sold it to Billy Laudermilk for
fifty bucks and few rolls of hay."

"Sounds like you ripped Billy off."

"He didn't have no complaints."

"Well, without the boat, I don't know how we'd make it.
Truthfully, I doubt there's much left in White Sulphur Springs
anyway. Remember, it's in a valley."

"You reckon that it's underwater then?"

"Not one hundred percent sure, mind you, but yeah, I would
guess so. I'm pretty sure everything else is flooded, except
up here on top of the mountain."

"So it's just us. And the waters are rising." His voice
sounded very small and quiet. And afraid. It echoed the same
hopelessness I felt deep down in my heart.

"No." I tried to smile. "It's not just us. We've still got
Earl to keep us company. Reckon he'll come over and apologize
for his rude behavior?"

Carl made a face like he'd just bit into a lemon, while
Skeeter Davis sang to us from my little stereo. She was
singing about the end of the world.

Time passed. It was a good night-the first good night either
of us had enjoyed in a long time. I lent Carl a pair of my
pajamas and hauled out the deck of cards. We stayed up late
playing poker and blackjack and war and hearts, and switched
back and forth between the country music tape and the radio
dial, hoping against hope to hear something other than static.

But we didn't. Just the white noise of dead air-and the rain
coming down outside.

Always the rain.

We talked a lot-about our missing friends and cars and
politics and football, and how there probably wouldn't be any
of those things anymore. I think that was what really brought
it all home to Carl; how he wouldn't be able to watch another
West Virginia Mountaineers game next season. We talked about
hunting and fishing victories of the past, and of our glory
days before we got married, and of our wives and women we'd
known before our wives, and eventually-the war.

We both grew pretty maudlin after that, and when Carl farted,
it broke the tension like a sledgehammer through glass. I
laughed till I thought I'd have a heart attack, and Carl
laughed too, and it felt good. It felt real.

We talked late into the night, bathed in the soft glow of the
kerosene lamp. I whooped Carl's butt at cards.

The two things we didn't talk about were what we'd seen
earlier at Dave and Nancy's house or the holes that we'd
found. The wormholes, as I'd taken to thinking of them, even
though God had never made worms that big.

We went to sleep long after midnight. I fixed up the bed in
the spare room, and gave Carl an extra flashlight so he could
see his way around. Then I went out on the back porch and
pissed. The rain had backed up the seepage bed, making the
toilet useless, and I didn't feel like making the hike to the

It was pitch black outside, and I couldn't even see my hand in
front of my face. I thought I heard a wet, squelching sound
from somewhere in the darkness. I froze. My breath caught in
my throat, and my penis shriveled in my hand like a frightened
turtle. But when I cocked my head and listened again, all I
heard was the rain.

Shivering, I shook myself off and hurried back inside. I made
sure the door was locked, and then I double checked it.

On my way down the hall to my bedroom, I stopped at Carl's
door to make sure he didn't need anything else. I raised my
fist to knock, then paused. His voice was muffled, and at
first, I thought he was talking to somebody. Then I realized
Carl was singing Skeeter Davis's "The End of the World".

"Don't they know it's the end of the world? It ended when you
said goodbye."

His crooning still hadn't improved. Carl sounded like a cat
with its tail plugged into an electrical socket, but it was
the most beautiful and sad thing I'd heard in some time. A
lump swelled in my throat. Instead of knocking on the door, I
shuffled off to bed. I climbed under the blankets and lay
there in the darkness, craving nicotine and missing my wife.

It was a long time before I slept.

When I finally did, Rose came to visit me.

In the dream, I woke up to find that the house had flooded.
Everything was underwater, and my bed floated on the surface,
gently rocking back and forth. The water level grew higher,
and my bed rose with it. I had to duck my head to keep from
hitting it on the ceiling. The bed swayed. I hollered for
Carl, but he didn't answer. I shifted on the mattress, and the
sudden movement caused the bed to tilt, spilling me into the
water. I plunged downward to the carpet and opened my eyes.

Rose stared back at me, as beautiful and lovely as the first
time we'd met. Her nightgown floated around her, the same one
she'd been wearing when she died.

She opened her mouth and sang. Each word was crystal clear,
even though we were underwater. That's just the way it is in

"I can't understand, no I can't understand how life goes on
the way it does."

Skeeter Davis. She was singing the same song that Carl had
been singing before bed.

"I miss you, Rosie," I said, and bubbles came out of my mouth.
But despite that, I wasn't drowning.

"I miss you, too, Teddy. It's been hard to watch what you're
going through."

"What? An old man, fooling with crossword puzzles and trying
to figure out a three-letter word for peccadillo? Afraid to go
out into the rain because he might catch pneumonia? Yeah, I
reckon that would be hard to watch. Must be pretty boring."

"That's not what I'm talking about, and you know it. Don't you
know it's the end of the world?"

"No it's not," I told her. "It ended when you said goodbye,
Rosie. Just like in the song."

"It's going to get worse. The rain is just the beginning.
They're coming, Teddy."

"Who is coming? What do you mean? The worms? I thought maybe I
was going crazy."

If she heard me, she didn't give any indication. Instead of
answering, she swam forward and kissed my forehead. Her lips
were cool and soft-and wet. I'd missed them, and I wanted that
kiss to last forever.

"They're coming," she repeated, drifting away. "You and Carl
need to get ready. It's going to be bad."

"Who's coming, Rosie? Tell me. I don't understand what you're
talking about."

"The people from the sky."


She suddenly bent over, clutching her stomach.

"Rosie? Rose! What's wrong?"

Convulsions racked her body, and her abdomen swelled, as if
she'd suddenly become nine-months pregnant. I swam to her, but
it was too late. She looked up at me, her eyes wide with
panic, and vomited earthworms into the water. They exploded
from her mouth, swimming around us. More of them slithered out
of her nose and erupted from her ears and the corners of her
eyes. Beneath her nightgown, in that magical place that only I
had known, the place that had given birth to our children,
something squirmed.

"They're coming, Teddy. They're coming soon!"

The earthworms wriggled through the water towards me.

I opened my mouth to scream, and this time, the water rushed
in, choking me. With it, the worms slid down my throat.

I woke up clutching the sheets and still trying to scream. My
mouth was open wide, but no sound came out. It felt like I was
drowning, just like in the dream. My heart thundered in my
chest, and my lungs exploded with pain. I fumbled on the
nightstand for my medicine, popped a pill, and waited for my
pulse to stop racing. I was glad for the pills, but they were
almost gone, and I wasn't sure how I'd get more.

My pajamas were drenched with sweat, and both the mattress and
the sheets were damp. At first I thought I'd wet myself, but
it was just perspiration. I shook my head, trying to clear it.

The last few wisps of the nightmare ran through my mind. I
wondered what it all meant, and decided that it was just my
subconscious, getting rid of the trash from the day; thoughts
of Rose and Carl's rendition of the Skeeter Davis song and the
worms from the carport. But knowing that didn't ease my fears.
Even then, I refused to consider the other things I'd seen. My
brain just didn't want to accept the weirdness of it. Probably
a defense mechanism of some kind.

After a bit, I sat up and lit the kerosene lamp. Rose's
picture stared at me from the nightstand. I picked it up and
cradled it in my arms, thinking about how we'd met.

In 1943, my sister, Evelyn, and her husband, Darius, owned a
five-and-dime store down in Waynesboro, Virginia. Rose and
Evelyn were good friends, and she was staying with them and
working at the store. Meanwhile, I had been stationed in
Panama and Galapagos for ten months, and I came home that
April for a seven-day leave. My visit was unannounced. I
figured I'd just show up and surprise everybody. I took the
train from Norfolk to Waynesboro, and got there just after
sundown. Darius, Evelyn, and Rose were sitting down for supper
when I knocked on the door, looking pretty sharp in my dress
uniform, if I do say so myself.

Darius and Evelyn were happy to see me, and they made a big
fuss. Rose kind of sat there quietly in the background until
things settled down, but I saw her right away. The first thing
I noticed when we were finally introduced was her smile, and
the second thing was her eyes. That was all it took. Just one
look into those eyes and I fell in love. Folks these days
(what's left of them,) may scoff at the notion of love at
first sight, but I'm here to tell you that it really happens.
It happened to Rose and me.

We communicated with each other that evening through stolen
glances, but that was all. There was no real opportunity for
us to talk. The next day, Darius and Evelyn gave me a ride to
Greenbank, where my parents lived. I told Rose goodbye and
that I was glad to have met her. As she shook my hand, I
thought that I saw a special look, a message just for me (and
later on I found out that I was right). We piled into Darius's
truck. As we drove away, I was surprised to find myself
feeling lonesome and sad, because I didn't expect to see Rose
again. My plans were to catch the train in Greenbank after my
leave was up, and then head on to Tucson, where I was supposed
to be stationed next.

After a short visit with our folks, Darius and Evelyn returned
home. I spent the night in my old bedroom, but I couldn't
sleep a wink. All I did was lay there in my familiar bed and
think of Rose. I couldn't get her out of my head. By dawn, I
knew what I needed to do. The next morning, during breakfast,
I told my parents all about her and what I'd made up my mind
to do. They understood, and I spent the day hitchhiking back
to Waynesboro. Once again, I arrived after sundown, and when I
knocked on the door and saw Rose, my heart sang. I'd been
worried she might not be there.

I asked her out to a movie that night, and she said yes.
Neither of us had any idea what film we saw. To this day, I
couldn't tell you what it was. We sat in the back row and
pretty much had the place to ourselves. We never looked at the
screen. Instead, we talked the whole time. After the movie was
over and the lights came up, we walked home very slowly under
the full moon, and talked some more. We were awake until one
in the morning, but before I said goodnight, I kissed her


Excerpted from The Conqueror Worms
by Brian Keene
Copyright © 2006 by Brian Keene .
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 23 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 23 Customer Reviews
  • Posted January 13, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    So Much More Then The Title Implies

    Brian Keene's "The Conqueror Worms" is to the horror genre what Billy Joel's "Scenes From An Italian Resturaunt" is to pop music. "The Conquorer Worms" is a woven tale of a world in the midst of the appocolypse. The appocolypse as only Brian Keene can envision it.

    The first part of the story tells the tale of the worms. That story leads to a flashback to Baltimore, MD where other creatures are reaping their own havoc. The story then winds up back at the worms. Anyone familiar with Keene's storytelling knows that rarely is there a happy ending.

    Pure Keene. Honest, Dark and wholly entertaining. Don't let the title throw you off, The Conqueror Worms is that and much more. This is the end of the world people, the kids aren't eating the worms, the worms are eating the kids!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 27, 2008


    This book is really interesting and easy to read. The characters are very realistic and the scenario is even somewhat believable and thought-provoking. It's rather original and refreshing.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 13, 2007

    Rain Rain Go Away

    You've never read an end of the world book like this! Keene's twist on global warming, the Cthulhu mythos, and homage to B-movie monsters gone amok is good fun.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 6, 2006

    Okay but.....

    The Conqueror Worms is basically two stories that converge. The Third part of the book has the characters from the first two parts working together which led me to think 'why just make two separate novels out of it'. As I read the second part I thought this could have been a novel unto its own. I get the feeling Mr. Keene didn't have enough ideas to make two complete novels so he combined them. This is not so much a monster tale of man vs. creature but more a tale of the end of the world. It was an entertaining story but I was expecting something a little more like the movies Tremors or Predator and not an apocalyptic yarn. This was my first book by Mr. Keene and I am intrigued enough to read some of his other stories.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 27, 2006

    Keene is King of Apocalyptic fiction

    One day it starts raining and never stops. Along with the rain comes super tornadoes, massive earthquakes and monster tsunamis. Farmlands are submerged and cities are flooded or washed away. Every inch of the planet is affected. Scientists can't explain what is causing the phenomenon. The Polar Icecaps eventually melt and soon the only safe places on the planet are on mountain tops. Teddy Garnett and his friend Carl Seaton are two elderly men that live in the mountains of West Virginia. They spend their days trying to stay dry and debating on what is causing the global catastrophe. They soon discover that the rain isn't the only thing that they should be worried about. Weird sounds from outside are waking them at night. A unknown fungus is starting to grow all over the plants and animals that are still alive. Giant slime coated holes are popping up outside Teddy's house. They soon find themselves fighting for their lives against giant man eating Earthworms. The old world is passing away and a ancient evil from deep within the earth is rising to lay claim to the planet. Brian is one of the best new horror authors in the game today and The Conqueror Worms is one of the reasons why. I was hooked on the first page. I story is original and moves at a very fast pace. The cast of characters in The Conquer Worms are very believable. I especially liked Teddy Brian made him jump out of the pages. A lot of people that read this book say that Teddy reminds them of their grandpa and I totally agree. He is one of the most memorable characters of any story I've read. Fans of apocalyptic fiction or horror in general must grab a copy of The Conqueror Worms. It is one heck of a ride that never disappoints.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 29, 2006

    Keene's best yet!

    Keene finally cuts loose with this, his fourth novel. Combines the tight narrative voice and mature writing of Terminal with the balls-to-the-wall pacing and sheer horror of The Rising and City of the Dead. There's also a nice and appreciated nod to HG Wells.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 19, 2006

    It's not about zombie worms....

    ....but it is one of the best post apocalyptic novels I've read.

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