When Theodore Wistang’s wedding ring slipped off his finger and went down the drain, into the garbage disposal no less, he knew he had to retrieve it. Even though it wasn’t his fault—it just slipped off in the soapy water during the dish duty—it would still cause an uproar not seen for hundreds of years. No doubt all war would break loose, especially if he said those horribly dishonest words, “It wasn’t my fault.”
Theodore closed his eyes and reached his hand slowly into the sink, praying the disposal wouldn’t suddenly flick on and chop off his hand and swallow his body whole. He got part of his wish. The thing didn’t turn on, but the drain did suddenly expand and suck down his body whole.
Theodore held his breath as he traveled through the endless winding drain, past the slime and sludge and hairballs and things he couldn’t ever recognize because they certainly came from the depths of hell and not from his world.
When he finally landed, he found himself in a world that made the inside of the drain seem like paradise. Theodore was surrounded by everything he could ever imagine had gone down the garbage disposal, all hacked up but magically pieced back together and left all scarred and bandaged, thrown together and sewn up by some evil doctor whose knowledge of sewing was next to none.
Pork fat, egg shells, chicken bones, puddles of grease, carrots, watermelon rinds, and thousands of other disposed food particles surrounded him, chanting in some strange language that sounded almost like the whirring blades of a garbage disposal. He tried to decipher what they were saying, but their voices were too muffled. The stench of all the rotting food blasted through the air, blocking all his senses. Theodore scrambled to his feet, but he slipped on a pile of moldy apple sauce and found himself on the ground and face-to-face with the king of all the rotten garbage, the skin of a Yukon gold potato. It didn’t seem all that menacing, but the thing gave off the air of authority. Theodore shat himself and vomited right on the potato’s crown.
“Are you kidding me?” the potato shouted.
Theodore closed his eyes and flinched, fearing the wrath of the great potato and its army.
“Hey, I’m talking to you,” the potato said.
“What is this place?” Theodore managed to mumble.
“Hmm, let’s see, it’s at the bottom of your drain, there’s a lot of rotten food leftovers. What do you think it is? It’s fucking Disneyland,” the potato said.
The rotting food surrounding the potato laughed. The laugh was tinny and cold and sent shivers up and down Theodore.
“I just want my ring,” Theodore said once the shivers had ceased.
“And I just want my filling back,” the potato skin said. Again the food particles laughed.
Theodore shook his head and gathered himself. He wasn’t about to be afraid of the unwanted leftovers of a potato.
“Give me my ring now!” he shouted at the potato.
“Give me my filling now!” the potato shouted right back before hurling some stray sour cream in Theodore’s left eye.
When Theodore had finished wiping the sour cream away, he noticed the army of food particles had closed in even tighter around him.
“Here’s how this is going to work,” the potato said. “You want your ring, and I want my filling. And I also want to get rid of most of this smelly junk.” A flap of the potato skin swept over the expanse of garbage. “You’re gonna help me get what I want, and then I’ll help you get what you want.”
“But how am I supposed—”
“Don’t be so dense,” the potato said. “You know what you’re gonna do with all this junk.”
Theodore’s realization made him vomit again, but this time he missed the potato.
The potato smacked him across the face. “Get over yourself,” it said.
Theodore shook his head and watched the trail of vomit-spit drip from his lips. He told himself to stay calm, that it was just a potato and that he could overcome this. His wife’s reaction to the loss of the ring would be far worse. A rotting potato he could deal with.
Theodore stood and told the potato he would happily comply with the demands.
“Very well,” said the potato, “wise choice. You may start with the meat scraps and fat.”
Theodore looked at the mob of meat scraps and fat as it started to back away in fear. He wondered why they didn’t just overthrow the potato right then and there. After all, how hard could it be to defeat the skin of a potato?
Theodore looked the potato right in the eyes and said, “If it’s okay with you, I’d like to retrieve your stuffing before I take on this pile of waste. You see, I just ate not too long ago, so I don’t think I have the appetite for it right now. But after my journey to recover your filling, I’ll be quite hungry.”
The potato returned Theodore’s gaze and nodded in agreement. “You have two hours to return with my filling,” the potato said, “or your ring is gone forever.”
Theodore agreed to the terms and offered his hand to the potato. The potato didn’t return the offer but instead directed a bread butt to assist Theodore in his return to the over world. “And make sure he doesn’t try anything funny,” the potato added quietly, just loud enough for Theodore to hear.
The bread butt showed Theodore the way back up the drain and through the garbage disposal. Theodore wondered what would happen if someone activated the switch while they were traveling through the metal blades, but luckily he didn’t find out.
“No funny business,” the bread butt said right before they emerged from the sink. Theodore was about to reply when he realized the bread butt had transformed back into just an inanimate bread butt. It wouldn’t’ve been able to hear him no matter how loud he spoke.
Back in the comfort of his kitchen, the rank smell of mold and decaying food remained in Theodore’s nose, as did the shit in his pants. He felt damp all over. For fear of being discovered by a family member, Theodore rushed to the pantry for a potato. He grabbed the first one he could find in the bag while he tried to devise a plan. The potato was smooth and hard, but it wasn’t a Yukon gold. “That old potato skin will never notice,” Theodore said aloud.
Grasping the potato tight in his hand, Theodore rushed to a drawer and pulled out a peeler. He went to work on the potato, not bothering to guide the skin into the sink. There was no point in sending anything else to that horrid world below. He didn’t imagine he’d ever use the disposal again.
When the potato was fully peeled, Theodore hurried to the fridge and pulled out a half-eaten tub of sour cream. He slipped the tub into this pocket and then rushed to the sink. The bread butt was still sitting there soaking up the residual soapy water from Theodore’s dish duty.
Theodore looked into the depths of the drain and wondered if he was just supposed to jump in or if there was some trick to it. Just to be safe, he pushed the bread down into the drain first and then called out to it.
“How do I go back down?” he said.
“The same way you did before,” the bread responded, its muffled voice echoing through the hollows of the pipes.
Theodore slowly reached his empty hand into the drain once again, hoping the disposal wouldn’t come to life. It didn’t, but the drain once again opened and sucked his body down. The bread butt clung to his shirt and asked if he had the potato.
“Yeah, I’ve got it,” Theodore replied as they accelerated much faster than the gravitational pull through the sludgy pipe.
Theodore and the bread butt landed in a pile of chicken parts and were immediately greeted by the potato.
“You have my filling?” the potato asked.
“It’s right here,” Theodore said, holding up the skinned potato.
The Yukon skin crawled closer to Theodore to inspect the filling with his many eyes.
“Not so fast,” said Theodore. “I need to see that my ring is safe before I give you this.”
“I don’t make deals,” the skin replied. “Let me inspect the merchandise.”
“No deal,” Theodore said.
“Then no ring,” the skin said.
“I can buy a new ring. Where are you going to get new filling if not from me?”
The skin hesitated and stroked itself in thought. “I’m a patient potato,” it said after several strokes. “I can wait. Eventually you’ll send one down the drain.”
“I don’t think so,” said Theodore. “I’m not using the disposal anymore. The only thing that’s coming down is water, and soon you’ll be flooded away. Now where’s the ring?”
The potato skin lifted a flap of itself and showed a shiny metal band that he covered just as soon as Theodore could recognize the gleam.
“Happy?” the skin asked.
“Very much so,” Theodore said. He handed the potato filling over to the skin. The skin breathed in and inhaled the scent of the uncooked potato body.
“Hmmm,” it said. “I’m not so sure about this.”
“It’s the best you’re going to get,” Theodore replied before grabbing the folds of skin and pulling them together over the potato body.
The Yukon gold skin felt the body of the potato and smiled. It was good to be whole again. In its moment of contentment, Theodore struck with his great plan. Pulling out the tub of sour cream, he coated the potato in the white substance and then scooped it up and took a bite. The Yukon gold screamed as Theodore ripped through its newly restored flesh. Theodore shuddered and grimaced as the slimy skin and uncooked body clogged his throat. He swallowed hard, sending the potato down into his organs, and then went in for another bite.
“Attack him!” the diminishing potato shouted with his remaining strength. The bread butt led the charge, but most of the food did not follow. Instead, they cheered the defeat of their mighty dictator. Theodore fought off the bread butt as he continued to devour hunks of the potato. The bread butt was relentless in its attack, but Theodore prevailed as he grabbed and crumbled the soggy, moldy slice.
With just one bite of potato to go, Theodore reached for his ring and slid it on his finger. Then he tossed the remaining piece of potato into the cheering crowd of food waste. He leapt into the pipe and soared away before the army of waste could finish the assault on the potato.
When Theodore emerged from the sink smelling of shit and mildew, his wife was standing in the kitchen pulling a snack from the pantry. She turned at the thud of his body slapping against the tile.
“What the hell?” she cried out at the sight of her filthy drenched husband on the floor. “Where did you come from?”
“Just doing the damn dishes and taking out the trash,” Theodore said.
“Take a shower when you’re done,” she said. “You smell awful.” She looked at him and then at the floor. “Take care of that potato skin, too,” she added.
He scooped it into his hands and walked to the trashcan.
“Don’t put it in there you slob,” she said. “Put it in the disposal. That’s why we have the damn thing.”
Theodore didn’t bother arguing. He figured he could take another potato any day if he had to. He tossed the skin into the sink and flipped the switch. The disposal devoured the potato and it disappeared, hopefully forever. When Theodore turned off the disposal, he swore he heard a little cheer emerge from the depths of the earth. The tinny echo bounced around the sink and he wondered if his wife had heard it.
“Are we having potatoes for dinner?” she asked from the other side of the kitchen.
Theodore vomited in the sink at the thought of ever eating another potato. Then he sent that down the disposal as well. This time he didn’t hear any cheering.
Nathaniel Tower writes fiction, teaches English, and manages the online lit magazine Bartleby Snopes. His short fiction has appeared in over 100 online and print magazines and has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. His story “The Oaten Hands” was named one of 190 notable stories by storySouth’s Million Writers Award in 2009. His first novel, A Reason To Kill, was released in July 2011 through MuseItUp Publishing. Visit him atwww.bartlebysnopes.com/ntower.htm
© 2012 Nathaniel Tower