The helmintrobi (hɛlmɪn'tɹoʊbi) is a long, tube shaped stranger with lurid purple stripes and equally bright green lips. It possesses an unusual lack of facial markings, including eyes, making its thoughtless smile all the more vacant for it. Its fat, lolling tongue varies to some degree in length between individuals, but is always too long to fit in its mouth, and hangs limp except for the occasional amused twitch. Its arms display an even greater nonconformity, with a significant minority of individuals having one to three arms as opposed to the standard two, multiple arms developing on one side of the body, or rarely (approximately 3.3% of instances) generating with no arms at all. Such defects seem to neither distress nor sicken the deformed helmintrobi, which lives just as long and comfortably as a more typical specimen.
Its slick silicone skin is as thin as a grape's, pliable when pressed with force and vulnerable to cuts and tears. Its airy white flesh is something between foam and sponge, and while its skin possesses some regenerative ability, its inner tissues do not, these invisible scars remaining beneath its surface for the duration of its life. Its central cavity is filled with a psychoactive fluid slightly more viscous than milk, which appears only in part vital to the helmintrobi, able to survive up to 70% exsanguination before succumbing. This fluid, however, does not replenish.
Its voice is nasally, and can vary considerably between individuals, but is almost always unidentifiable in gender. It occasionally repeats overheard pleasantries1, but otherwise struggles to string together words, and mostly sticks to non-vocal chuckles, hums, and exclamations.
0.23% of helmintrobi generate with teardrop markings. These "repentant"2 individuals display no other notable differences from their companions.
The helmintrobi appears only in cities afflicted by a chronic and insidious illness.3 The criteria for what constitutes a viable "illness" are generously broad, with some infestations taking to cities wrought with poverty, while others appear where an unspoken mental health epidemic has taken hold, and still more are attracted to physical sickness and pestilence.
It emerges in interior areas, with a fondness for—but not exclusive to—occupied residences. It generates in enclosed, dimly lit spaces, preferring sprawling territories such as attics and ventilation systems, but occasionally appearing in certain locked cabinets or closets. Saturated colors slightly increase its likelihood, while exclusively greyscale decor repels it completely. Within these chambers, it appears first as a deflated skin the width of a palm, which over the period of a half hour swells and throbs regularly, as though being pumped by an invisible force. 11% of helmintrobi "over excite"4 during this initial stage, and rather than animating once fully formed, instead begin to swell more erratically before bursting open and leaving only a stillborn corpse.
The helmintrobi is an emotionally stunted strain, naive to the point of aggravation. It roams without obvious intent or intelligence, except to barely avoid stumbling into sources of bright light or open spaces. As it squirms forward gracelessly, it in turn vocalizes randomly, "oohing" and "aahing" especially when it encounters such minor stimuli as a shred of paper. Easily entranced, it turns these objects in its hands over and over, and does not seem to grow sated, returning to any given item of interest several times a day until it is finally destroyed by its constant handling.
Highly social, the helmintrobi readily congregates with others of its strain. Hierarchical behavior is unobserved, engaging with its peers only to chatter idly, groom one another, and explore each other's bodies in crude mockeries of intimacy. Unpredictably, large enough groups may engage in games of telephone, started when one individual becomes fixated on an especially interesting word5 or phrase, which quickly circulates until it becomes too degraded to be recognized even as human language.
A lone helmintrobi displays a subtly less active demeanor, but otherwise functions as normal, and even when one that once had great company finds itself alone, it shows no awareness that it has been left behind.6
Sporadically, a helmintrobi may become suddenly gripped with an intense and feverish terror without any tangible basis.7 While possible to occur at any stage in its life, younger helmintroni only very rarely experience this mania, while older individuals become increasingly prone with age. These fits last from anywhere between thirty-seven seconds to twenty-one minutes, during which the normally joyful strain turns violently self destructive. Its mindless laughter turns to choking sobs, and it clutches at its skin in tight fistfuls. Eventually, it begins to desperately pound at its own body, as well as the environment around it, though fails to find the strength to damage the structures it inhabits even in such times of distress.
Other helmintrobi avoid these seizing individuals, but only incidentally, as though repelled by some automatic reflex. They otherwise do not react whatsoever, except to sometimes repeat their companion’s screams among each other, and afflicted individuals are welcomed back when they just as abruptly recover, utterly unaware of their plight from mere moments ago.
A single helmintrobi may suffer from several bouts of mania throughout its life, and any given episode has a 15% chance of self inflicting fatal injury.
The helmintrobi fixates itself upon any sensitive it encounters, becoming immediately obsessed upon seeing one. It follows them to the best of its ability within its confined territory, and pushes clumsily past its companions to try and catch even a glimpse of one. When able to, it reaches its arms desperately through any openings it can find to try and touch them, pouring out of grates, under doorways, and through cracks in the wall to try and so much as tug at the object of its affection. When allowed, it even attempts to embrace sensitives haphazardly, arms coiling around them loosely.
Direct contact causes the intense tactile hallucination of squirming just beneath the surface of the skin, most evident at the site of the helmintrobi's touch. While not painful, the feeling is vivid enough to disrupt cognitive function and cause significant mental disturbance. Even after breaking away, the sensation persists, albeit to a lesser extent. The duration of these phantom infestations is correlative to how long contact was held, and becomes more difficult to shake off with each subsequent encounter. A sensitive who is touched only once for a moment may find the feeling gone within minutes, while a repeat victim may take weeks to find relief, and an unlucky few may be stricken with a permanent condition. Only the most iron willed sensitives are able to resist long weeks of this constant assault without completely destroying their bodies in an attempt to excise these unseen invaders within them.
When willingly touched by a sensitive, the helmintrobi experiences utter euphoria. It does not distinguish between a kind caress and a vicious attack, spluttering out happy songs of celebration even when its body is ripped to shreds. It cannot tolerate this joy for long, however, before it becomes overwhelmed by its own emotions and turns frantic. Only rarely does it survive this touch induced mania, with 97% of helmintrobi destroying themselves after such an encounter.
The touch of a manic helmintrobi makes the desire to tear out unseen parasites almost irresistible, and no sensitive is able to survive more than several days of such unrelenting urges.
When it encounters them, the helmintrobi displays the same attraction it has towards sensitives to any animal larger than a rat, as well as human corpses. It attempts to reach out and touch these items fruitlessly, and desists only when it realizes these "lessers" are not what it was hoping for. It still continues to check back on them regularly, as though hoping with each subsequent visit it might finally find satisfaction.
Every episode of mania is a brush with death for the helmintrobi, and most eventually come to end their own life during these lapses of self control. When allowed to age naturally, its death is heralded by a sudden decline in motor control over the course of several days. First, its tail goes limp and drags. Then its neck goes, head trailing awkwardly behind its body as it stumbles forward. At last, it loses the ability to move altogether, except to twitch its fingers, though even as its voice grows quieter its tone never becomes fearful of its looming fate.8
At the moment of its death its skin and flesh instantly turn brittle, crumbling to fine flakes at the slightest touch. Its toxic inner fluid, conversely, can take weeks to evaporate in full, and the death of even one helmintrobi can fill a space with the nauseatingly intense stench of artificial grape flavored medicine, an odor that never quite goes away even years later.
Its companions do not meaningfully react to a death within the group, and take great joy in making toys out of both the dead and the dying.