A short story by Jeffrey Wengrofsky
The sun pours its wrath on my back with the passion of a thousand vendettas and I sizzle, slowly evaporating, and melting slightly under beams of radiation. A bus farts noxious, toxic black clouds around my face. Wrapped around my sweaty hand is the handle of a plastic bag with a potato pudding for my grandma, as per her instructions: “If you’re going all the way to Brooklyn, be sure to pick up a potato pudding, like last time.”
Then, as her wrinkled hand pressed a few wrinkled dollars into my hand, “And be sure to get a receipt.”
As I walk, a hole opens in the sidewalk and I descend, cursing life above ground. The hole gets larger until I am completely enveloped by its stinky darkness. I close my mouth, lest something solid waft into it, be it bug or mite of dirt or floating hair of beast. I glide effortlessly down the stairs, despite not being able to see, a token already in my hand.
Soon, I stand on the subway platform, occasionally shifting the weight of the pudding from side-to-side while I wait. For a moment I try to be fully still with eyes closed, listening for a sign of life, senses reaching out to the faint whisper of air preceding the train, every nerve and every hair, poised in hopeful caress of its faintest trace. I begin to analyze sensory data.
A soft drip is detected from across the tracks, by the station’s retaining wall. Opening my eyes, I scan in the direction of the dripping to see a slow, blue ooze — some super-viscous cocktail, like a cross between Afro-sheen and anti-freeze — forming a nearly continuous stalactite-stalagmite against the wall. The sound lightly hits the far wall and I close my eyes again, imagining the dripping all around me, none getting on me or, thankfully, on the pudding.
“Ah…” I am not alone. I turn, tracing the sound to behind a tiled wall. Gripping the plastic bag tightly, prepared to strike a would-be assailant with the pudding, I leap dramatically around the corner. The light is faint. A half burnt out lightbulb pulsates with a weak, but rapid strobe. Squinting forward, I see the outline of someone. I approach, straining, to see an old man – his bald pate, his dropped pants – bending over. “Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhh…” and the air swells with the distinct odor of the body cavity – decay, organs in distress, undigested meat, death, cancer – a testimony to a life of shitty food and shitty drugs. I rapidly withdraw, hoping that the pudding isn’t contaminated.
Returning to my faithful watch beside the tracks, I peer again into the thick, black murk, yearning for mechanical salvation. My eyes slowly adjust and come to make out the faint outline of movement. An orgy of wanton Saturnalia pulls slowly into view: rats fucking all around me, everywhere flaunting rat pussy and rat cock and rat anus, gyrating and grinding in the tunnel, squealing and moaning without modesty, with rabid-acid globs of slimy rat cum shooting everywhere in the hairy darkness. I turn away.
The florescent bulb above my head blinks out a nervous rhythm. The world is on and off. Off and on. My head pulsates along with the binary. I am thirsty and sweaty. I swoon and adjust the pudding in my hand. Sweat rolls down my face, collecting at the tip of my nose, mixing with snot, and drops slowly toward the floor. Grazing the subway floor – home to millions of subspecies of micro-pest, many still not catalogued by scientists – it does not break. Instead, it hangs in a thick cord of mucous from my nose, a pendulum so heavy that I feel its weight pulling my head in a semi-circular motion. Putting the pudding between my legs, I close my nostrils and blow out chunks of green goo. My right hand is sticky and smelly. I disgust myself and, smiling, I am also amused that I disgust myself.
Two bright white eyes are looking at me. With the angelic phosphorescence of a thousand drug stores. The eyes approach, GROWING, until I am engulfed in their illuminated grace. Light enters through my eyes. It converts thought into data for marketing research until all of my desires and dreams – some so intimate that even I am not aware of them and others so of-the-moment as to be no more than mere wisps – are stripped naked and hosed down by the light, interrogated, hunched over in fear, fully ashamed, cowering and whimpering.
I tried to tell all of this to grandma, but she was none too pleased that I’d somehow lost the potato pudding.
Jeffrey Wengrofsky is a writer, actor, and filmmaker in New York City. He curates the Secrets series of short film festivals. Secrets of the Dead is seeking horror films for a Halloween 2020 screening, and Secret Treaties is looking to attract cynical, dystopian films against politicians for a screening in early 2021. See filmfreeway for details.