Entropy and much else haunts New York’s rapid transit system, one of the oldest in the world. The subway is fertile grounds for fear: the rats, the tons of dirt above your head, and the leaks you hope are water. And when you get home, you may find that bedbugs got off at your stop. Inspired, Andrew Duncan Farmer has written a collection of “Scary Stories to Read on the Subway,” with illustrations by Bats Langley.
Throughout the online stories, Farmer capitalizes on the fears particular to New York in the 21st Century. The subway slasher appears alongside a werewolf in “If You See Something,” and the story has fun contrasting a fictional terror with a real one.
Farmer’s stories also touch on a creature unique to New York public transit. Let’s face it, New Yorkers tend to dehumanize MTA employees. The only interaction we have with conductors is when we wedge ourselves into a closing door, implicitly daring them to smear us down the platform. The booth attendants are separated from the artists, financiers, and startup moguls by an centimeter of glass and miles of mutual indifference. Farmer’s depictions of these public servants are evocative, as when a passenger screams for the attention of an impassive attendant in “Insufficient Fair.”
Of course, indifference isn’t unique to public employees. Every day, hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers studiously avoid looking at any of the hundreds who surround them while they’re propelled forward in these human sardine tins. With our minds numbed from the recent sleep or the exhaustion of work, we begin and end our days with ritualized apathy, made ever easier by headphones and smartphones.
However, both in real life and in Farmer’s stories, apathy doesn’t always work. In “Courtesy Is Contagious,” the rider discovers that they’re sharing a subway car with the creep in their dating app. At least these passengers acknowledge each other.
These stories are fun, casting humor and horror in equal measure. The illustrations feature a subway system familiar enough to be disturbing. Try reading one next time you’re fighting exhaustion and alcohol while riding home alone at 4am.