This story is by Wanda Kiernan and was part of our 2017 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the Summer Writing Contest stories here.
It’s a steamy Monday morning in mid July. New York City is in the throes of its first heat wave of the summer. We’ve had four consecutive days of 98 degree weather.
Underground it’s just as hot, if not hotter. It’s the perfect temperature to see and get rid of one more tunnel creature, if I’m lucky. Right now, I’m waiting for the uptown A Express on 34th Street. The station is packed. The train is late. The rush hour crowd is sweating. People keep leaning over the edge of the platform hoping to see the train approaching. If they’re not careful they may find themselves pushed to the tracks by a porcus arenna.
A rush hour crowd always brings them out. A packed station like this could bring out two, maybe three creatures. It’s a double edged sword. I’d prefer a normal crowd and one porcus. But this, this could be epic.
A train finally pulls in. When the doors open the crowd jams itself into the last car, and takes me along with it. It’s all in a day’s work.
Despite the raging flow of the crowd, I manage to end up against the back door facing the tunnel. It’s the perfect vantage point. A mix of morning breath and onion bagel wafts through the air. I hear a young couple behind me talking excitedly in a foreign language. They must be tourists thrilled to be caught up in a New York City rush hour. Less thrilled are the majority of people already late for work.
“There’s another train directly behind this one,” the conductor keeps repeating as he tries to close the doors. I’m thinking, no one really believes that as I keep my eyes glued to the rear window searching for signs of the porcus arenna.
As the train lurches forward the weight of the crowd shifts against my back, forcing out the air from my lungs with an “oomph”. I feel like I’m suffocating, but I keep my eyes peeled into the semi-darkness of the tunnel. The showdown ingredients – heat, crushing crowd, morning breath – are mixing together nicely. I just need one more element.
I start rubbing the magnetic strip of my MetroCard and silently chant “Lutum, Aqua, Boletus”. I say it three times.
The train slows down, then stops. The conductor comes on and says, “We are being momentarily delayed due to train traffic ahead. Thank you for your patience.” The crowd grumbles and murmurs obscenities. And there it is, the final ingredient, a train trapped between two stations.
Rush hour crowds don’t appreciate what goes into eradicating porcus arenna. To them it’s the MTA raising fares, and providing constant delays and overcrowding in return. But it took us Eradicators close to 60 years to come up with the right formula. In that time the porcus arenna multiplied, and there are a lot more to slaughter, ergo the frequent overcrowding and delays.
I see the lights in the tunnel flicker, and the rats scurry around like nervous nellies. And there it is, hovering in the tunnel about an arm’s length away – porcus arenna. It’s five feet tall, shaped like a bowling pin, and covered in sand colored slime.
The conductor comes on for the second time saying, “We are being momentarily delayed due to train traffic ahead. Thank you for your patience.” If I don’t wrangle the porcus arenna before the third “momentary delay” message, we’re going to be stuck here for a long, long time, and no one will even know that we’re gone.
The crowd’s underlying restlessness is starting to boil over. A women in a tan business suit is yelling at a young man to lower the volume of his music. “It’s so loud and annoying,” she keeps repeating. Her plea falls on deaf ears. Backpacks are being shoved, and ribs are being elbowed. The tourists are no longer having fun.
It’s time. I reach into my pant pocket and feel for the 1970 version of a NYC subway token, the one with the Y cutout. I’m ready to start my chant when I see two more porcus arenna appear. Change of plans. This is going to take the Diamond Jubilee token. It has more destroying power than the large Y version.
With the Diamond Jubilee token in my hand I silently chant “Cadeus, Villa, Lardum”. The token magically floats into the tunnel and starts to spin. The porcus arennas are unfazed. Their slimy sand dune colored skin starts to turn red. I chant faster. The redder their skin, the less powerful the token. I have to take them out, not wound them.
I hear the rumblings of the PA system again. The conductor is getting ready to make his third announcement.
“Cadeus, Villa, Lardum” I chant even faster. The token is getting closer to the creatures, but it’s not moving fast enough.
What I do next is against protocol, but I don’t have a choice. I shout out the secret words “Cadeus, Villa, Segmentum, Lardum” for all to hear. But no one pays attention. I see the token pick up speed and slice through the creatures. They put up a good fight as I keep chanting. They’re getting closer to the back door, their skin one hue redder than I’d like it to be. But as the conductor says “momentary delay” for a third time, the tide begins turn. The creatures are losing their hue and bowling pin shape. The spinning token is sucking them into a vortex.
As the conductor ends his announcement, the token falls to the floor and disappears, taking three porcus arennas with it.
I have enough tokens in my pocket to engage in more battles, but as I start to rub the MetroCard’s magnetic strip, the train starts to move.
I get off at 42nd Street feeling good. I head to my 9 – 5, an hour late, but I can blame it on the MTA.