EAU DE PUBLIC TRANSIT • by Folly Blaine

He entered the metro and slumped into a molded seat across from my wheelchair. I assumed he was homeless. He looked bad and smelled worse. It was the sort of funk that creeps up on a person — the kind that comes with cartoon tendrils wriggling through the air to push aside your nostrils and caress your nose hairs.

A young woman got on at the next stop. I don’t know what she was thinking. Seat near the door? Preoccupied with work? Regardless, she sat beside the man.

The doors chimed and thunked shut, which is when she noticed. At first she played it cool. A manicured hand pressed discreetly to her face. A small cough. Briefly, she met my gaze, saw the wheelchair strapped to the wall, and looked away. I knew the type. She cared too much about what other people thought to move. So the odor put its arm around her shoulders and drew her in. It teased its way down her throat and curled around her tonsils.

Meanwhile the man appeared to have dozed off. His head sank against his chest as a persistent wheeze-rumble erupted from his mid-section. The young woman’s eyes darted back and forth in panic.

“Move,” I said to myself. “Why won’t you move?”

She finally closed her eyes and breathed through her mouth. After a while she seemed to achieve some kind of self-deluding rhythm. I knew it wasn’t my business, but I couldn’t look away.

Suddenly there was a terrible screech of metal against metal grinding under tremendous strain. The overhead lights flickered and died; all the passengers were thrown backwards. As the car lurched to a stop, its interior was infused with morning light, blue-gray and weak. I straightened and peered out the window but couldn’t see what had happened. We were on a covered bridge; icy river water swirled beneath us.

The floor looked like an orgy gone wrong. Commuter bodies struggled to untangle themselves and stand. Seated passengers leaned over to retrieve briefcases and purses, umbrellas, and shoulder bags. Some rubbed bruised body parts or gingerly tested a boot-covered foot. No one seemed seriously injured.

A muffled voice came over the loudspeaker. It told us we had suffered an electrical short. We would be stopped until the engineer allowed us to continue.

“We apologize for the inconvenience,” the voice said.

A few people groaned. Several pulled out cell phones. Within minutes almost everyone in the car was muttering into their palms they would be late to work, “No, I don’t know how late. Ridiculous, isn’t it? Today of all days. It figures.”

Then I smelled it. The same odor emanating off the homeless man, intensified. I twisted in my chair, straining to see where he had fallen. Whereas before the smell had been a gentle, insidious waft, it was now a full-on fist-punch to the face. I couldn’t help myself; I gagged. And the young woman? Where was she?

The commuter types noticed it too. They sniffed at the air and recoiled. Some looked around for the source.

I saw it before they did.

I pointed at a shapeless heap by the closed doors and said, “There.”

The nearest man — a man of action, I could tell by his pressed slacks — nodded and knelt beside the pile. He grabbed a rolled up newspaper and poked the top of it.

Something skittered in the blue shadows. I couldn’t see clearly, but I could hear it, like nails stagger-tapping against a table top.

The man jumped and slapped at his arm.

“What is it?” asked a female passenger.

“Did I get it off?” He turned to her, eyes wide and crazy. “Did you see it?”

“I… don’t see anything.”

He shivered. “It was on my arm.”

“What?” asked the woman.

The man nudged the pile with his foot.

“Maybe you shouldn’t — ”

The pile exploded into a splash of wriggling, contorted fragments. A new smell leapt from the skittering heap like a blast, this one redolent of mildewed earth, brine and rotten things, decaying, secret things of former flesh. If I’d been standing I would have been forced to the ground.

Then the screams started. Screams of shock and pain. Little insect-like creatures burrowing under business suits, rappelling up trouser legs on thin strands of mandible-produced silk.

Beneath the disintegrating pile I could just make out the young woman. Her pale mouth opened and closed several times. One of the insect shadows circled her lips like a drain and took the plunge.

At first the bugs ignored my withered flesh, but then they grew bold. Although I could not feel them advance, I finally had to admit the strange lumps under my blanket were moving closer. The most agile suit-wearers were having a small success brushing the creatures aside, stomping their little heads to a pulp.

But my wheelchair was strapped to the wall. No matter how many lumps I smashed with my fists, they still came.

There was nowhere to go. No one to help.

So I closed my eyes. I breathed through my mouth. And I waited.


Folly Blaine is a writer living in Seattle, Washington.


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Every Day Fiction

  • Wow! Now that’s a weird one. Starts off almost literary and ends up gruesome horror – from normalcy to terror. I’m still checking for lumps moving under my skin.

    The only change I would make would be to reverse the order of the ‘throat’ and the ‘tonsils’, if you see what I mean.

    A chilling read.

  • Elle Marie Gray

    Well, the turn in the story sure took me by surprise. I wasn’t happy with its gruesome direction, but I respect the writing. While working in the garden yesterday, I disturbed an army of ants that began an attack on my bare feet and ankles so the feeling of assault was fresh for me while I was reading. Ewwww.

  • ajcap

    Wonderful use of words. Descriptive.

    Would have preferred a different ending. Instead of the narrator being so helpless, she ends up fighting the bugs off with a can of pepper spray or oven cleaner she had in her shopping bag. But that’s just a personal preference for strong women and happy endings. For a horror story, the ending was fine.

  • Andrew Waters

    The writing is very direct and descriptive. There were some really great sentences. Excellent job. The twist was really a shock–not what I expected at all. Very creepy!

  • Johann Thorsson

    I really liked this one, especially since I didn’t see the ending coming. And very well written.

  • Strange story. The protagonist being wheelchair-bound doesn’t make up for singling out homeless people as the source of evil creatures. Neither does there seem to be any conflict, except for a subway car full of deodorized commuters who get nibbled to deaath. One star.

  • Rob

    Excellent. Smooth reading throughout. Descriptive. Fun. A good beginning (Everyone who’s ridden public transit has run into an occasional passenger who is disturbing.) And that one person who is too PC to move even through they wanted to. Then a twist into a completely unseen direction. From fun-to-creepy is difficult to pull off. Full marks from me. My only quibble was the use of ‘rappelling up’ since rappelling is specifically descriptive of sliding down. However, I think the use is instantly recognizable to a reader in this case(and sometimes rules are made to be broken)
    I look forward to more from this author.

  • Some really great phrases in here. Folly did a good job telling a story within the length limits. The tone caught me by surprise. It started out almost comical but ended up very dark.

  • My favorite line: a man of action, I could tell by his pressed slacks. Never a fan of creepy crawly horror, but come on in, the writing’s fine.

  • Tim

    I really, really liked it. For a moment, there, I thought the story actually WAS becoming a horror story, but then I realized what you were actually doing with the intense, drawn-out metaphor, and that was much better.

    Personifying the smell as creepy-crawlies was really effective. Bravo.

  • Stephen Rosenthal

    Fresh and finish it into a novella or novel. Lot’s of ways to go with this. From outer space, under the earth, etc. She survives the attack and the real hero comes in, it’s either new to the main character or he/she was already on case.

    5 stars for originality.

  • vondrakker

    NOW THAT’S DIFFERENT !!!
    Good hooks !!
    Well developed storyline.
    Good job Folly !!!!
    Five screeching lumpy smelly stars !!!

  • Kit

    Excellent writing. I didn’t want to keep reading because of the subject matter but I had to because of the author’s skill with words.

  • Amy Raby

    Well written and very creative. 5 stars for originality!

  • Liked how you got the feeling that there lots of people in the compartment by using unatttributed lines.
    The smell was well-described. I was gagging.
    Good surprise how the creatures appeared.
    seems like the start of something longer rather than a complete story.

    entertaining.

  • Rose Gardener

    I’ve been taking a class on the use of metaphors in writing and this (apart from being a good horror story with an unexpected twist) is skilfully done. The expanded metaphor which explores how society acts as if disability and homelessness were infectious diseases is turned against us. Surviving the train crash only to have your worst nightmares come true was classic misdirection. I especially liked how the wheelchair bound man starts out almost as a piece of the furniture, but the story ends with us identifying with him on a human level- tied to his chair, fixed to the wall, watching the horror unfold around him and knowing he cannot escape his torturous fate. Not one to read at bedtime!

  • My real question here is…
    Can an orgy really go wrong?
    LOL
    Makes me want to never ride the bus again.
    Wanted a bit more description of the smell. Her reaction was good but I didn’t get a clear idea of what kind of bad smell. BO, decay, skunk, there’s a lot of types of stink out there.

  • Eva Palva

    Lovely story. I enjoyed this a lot. Thanks for the read.

  • Once again, a story that I would never choose to read because I don’t like this genre. But well written and weird. A very unexpected ending. I agree with an earlier commentator that I would have liked it better if everyone were not a victim.

  • “Beneath the disintegrating pile I could just make out the young woman. Her pale mouth opened and closed several times. One of the insect shadows circled her lips like a drain and took the plunge.”

    Wonderfully gross!

  • kathy k

    Loved this. Great writing and imagery. A five, definitely.

  • alejo699

    Folly, you have a gift for bringing the unexpected. That’s not easy with someone like me who’s read a million horror stories. Clean, tight, and entertaining. Want more!

  • Jim V.

    Well written, very entertaining. Give it 4 stars………..

  • Thank you everyone who took the time to read my story, “Eau de Public Transit.” Reading your feedback has been extremely helpful and you’ve made my first time contributing to Every Day Fiction–not to mention my first story sale–a great experience. – Folly Blaine

  • FollyFan

    I really enjoyed the story and the unexpected turn. I agree with the comment that this story could be the start of a novella.

    For the most part, the descriptions were wonderful and vivid (I can still smell the homeless man). However, I would have liked more description of the bugs crawling on the people. I used to have nightmares about ants or bees crawling all over me. The description didn’t make my mind go quite there.

    Keep up the great work! I’m looking forward to seeing more!

  • JohnJ

    This story gave me the heebie-jeebies. Keep up the great work!

  • Well done– I think this is one you ought to expand.

  • Simone

    I agree with Kit. Five stars from me.

  • An extremely enthusiastic five stars. This was wonderfully creepy and intense, with a literary streak that gave it startling depth — told extremely concisely. This is a great example of what flash fiction can achieve.

  • Very freaky.

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