There is a little man who lives in my refrigerator.
I just discovered him today. I caught a glimpse of the little man when I was looking for the cheese. Richard is always eating all of the cheese, but he swore there was some left on the second shelf. So while I was poking around, pushing aside the vitamin bottles and weird condiments we never use, I saw a tiny figure slip behind the box of baking soda.
I thought, fucking great, there’s a mouse in the fridge. But when I pushed aside the box, the figure had vanished.
I told Richard I saw something move inside the fridge. He freaked out and blamed me, saying I never throw out old food and that’s how you get vermin. I pointed out I don’t leave the refrigerator door hanging open, like some people, and throwing out food is wasteful when we have starving people in Kentucky.
Richard said we’d have to agree to disagree (I hate it when he does that—like he is so superior), so we sit down and watch some garbage Netflix series that we are committed to finishing.
I saw the little man again. It was definitely humanoid—he has sandy hair, and was wearing doll-size navy coveralls. This time he fled behind the Greek yogurt. I was quicker this time, but when I pushed aside the yogurt, he was gone.
Richard got home in a foul mood—Tim from work stole one of his ideas again. In the men’s room, Richard was telling Chris that it would be so cool to have a whiteboard in the bathroom so people could write down ideas they had while taking a piss. Tim overhead the whole conversation from the bathroom stall, and Tim (while shitting) texted the idea to their boss. Fucking Tim.
I didn’t want to upset Richard any more by bringing up the little man, so I asked if he wanted a taco or a blowjob or something. But he was still grumbling about Tim and that he just needed to drink himself “retarded.” I told him that “retarded” was a slur, and then he said I was oppressing his cultural heritage as a Bostonian.
When I opened the refrigerator today, the pickle jar rolled out and smashed to the floor. I swear I heard someone, something, giggle. I didn’t have any rubber gloves, so I picked up the big glass pieces carefully and put them in the trash, then mopped up the rest with a fistful of paper towels. I still managed to cut my palm. Even after using the pine cleaner (or maybe because I used the pine cleaner), the apartment smelled like a gross deli.
When Richard got home from work, I told him I thought I saw something in the refrigerator again. He immediately opened the fridge and started pulling everything off the shelves. I kept telling him it was no big deal, but he methodically took out every takeout container and half-empty seltzer bottle. He opened the wonky crisper drawer and emptied out a head of lettuce and eight wilted carrots. When everything was out of the fridge, I crouched down next to Richard and stared into its blinding white abyss.
No living thing appeared to be in the refrigerator.
After demonstrating our vermin-free appliance, Richard put back every item on the shelves (he refused to allow me to help, because he has “a system”).
After we went to bed, I swore I heard scratching and scurrying coming from the kitchenette. I put my pillow over my head, but the sounds disturbed me until dawn.
I was really groggy at work today and accidentally spilled my coffee on the copy machine. Instead of cleaning it up or getting help, I figured it would be better to pretend nothing happened and just go back to my desk. I’m pretty sure Julie knew something was up because she really pointedly asked my if I needed anything from Starbucks. I told her I didn’t need coffee because I’m on a juice cleanse. I can tell she doesn’t believe me, but this is a woman who honestly believes that diamonds are Jesus tears, so she is in no position to judge.
When I got home, I decided to not open the fridge until Richard got back, and then let him open it. Maybe the little man was only visible to the first person who opened the fridge in the evening. About twenty minutes later, I forgot my decision and opened the fridge to get some orange juice.
There was the little man, standing by the milk. He did not run, but looked me straight in the eye. His eyes were jet black, like rat eyes, and he smiled a cold smile at me.
I slammed the door shut.
Richard found me curled up on the couch, crying, watching the original Hairspray (I always watch Hairspray if I’ve had a bad day). At first he seemed sympathetic, but then he was annoyed when I told him I saw something that looked like a little man in the refrigerator. He asked me if this was some kind of manifestation of my old eating disorder, and I told him that was the dumbest armchair psychoanalysis I’d ever heard, and he said at least he wasn’t the one hallucinating elves in the fridge.
So I got up, marched into the kitchenette, yanked open the fridge, and started knocking things around, trying to find the little man. That’s when Richard grabbed me by the wrists and dragged me back to the living room. I kicked and screamed, telling him he had to believe me, I saw it. Richard left me flailing on the floor, came back with a pill and a glass of water, and refused to leave me alone until I took both. I only vaguely remember being carried to bed before slipping into a dreamless sleep.
The sedative had not completely worn off by the time I got to the train station to get to work, so I popped an Adderall to counter the sleepiness.
This was a mistake.
I got into work feeling simultaneously exhausted and wired. I checked my inbox to see that a mass email had gone out asking if anyone had “accidentally” poured fluid onto the copy machine, because now the machine was not repairable and the management was “disappointed” that the guilty party had not come forward in a timely manner. Reflexively I gave my computer screen the finger, which happened to be at the same time Julie walked by my desk. She looked at me and smirked, expecting me to look sheepish. I locked eyes with her, not changing expression or putting down my finger. She got uncomfortable and ducked into the copy room.
That’s right, Julie. Keep. Walking.
When I got home from work, I took no chances. I stayed in the living room, watching TV while drinking a strawberry soda and eating a bag of chips (both procured from the corner bodega). The first person to open the fridge would be Richard.
Richard got home, dropped his backpack on the floor, and went to the kitchenette without so much as a word to me. I could hear him pop open the fridge door. He began swearing a blue streak.
From the couch, I asked if he saw something in the refrigerator. He said no, that was just the problem—the beer he had been craving all day was gone. Not only that, but that I (me, he was talking about me!) had the audacity to have left the empty can in the refrigerator.
I jumped up and ran into the kitchenette. Richard was holding the empty beer can in his hand. He crushed it and threw it down in frustration. I told him it was impossible for me to have drunk the beer because 1) his beer tastes like baby pee, and 2) I had not touched the fridge all day.
He asked me who could have drunk his beer, and I said nothing but gave him a look. He sighed and walked straight to the bedroom. I heard something rattle around in the fridge, so I sprinted right after Richard.
In bed, I wanted to cuddle, but Richard was in no mood, so I stole his long pillow and hugged it like it was my lover. My dreams that night were formless and suffocating.
We had an all-staff meeting—our boss Margaret was concerned about “low morale.” I wanted to suggest that maybe we could figure out a system where we didn’t have to do any work but we’d still get paid, but I don’t think that’s the answer Margaret was looking for.
So then bitch-ass Julie piped up and says that she could take on a more supervisory role, to “help out.” So I said that spying on people is not the same as being a supervisor. And then everyone looked at me like I had lost my mind, so I tried to cover by laughing like I made a joke, which just made me look crazier. And that’s when Margaret asked if I could meet with her privately.
In Margaret’s office, I said I had had it with Julie’s weird little mind games. Margaret told me she didn’t know what I was talking about, that Julie had never spoken badly of me or anyone else, maybe I was just imagining things?
And that’s when I started bawling. Margaret thought it best I take the rest of the day off.
I treated myself to a Uber, but instantly regretted it because that meant I would get home faster. And be alone. Alone with whatever lived in the fridge.
I sat on the porch outside my apartment building playing Candy Crush on my phone until it got dark. I got a text from Richard—he was going drinking with his officemates and would be back late. Fantastic. I bet his coworker Cassandra would there. I met her a holiday work party once—she smelled like a Victoria Secret perfume sample and looked like a babysitter in a porn video. She laughed at all of Richard’s jokes. After she touched his arm for the fifth time, I spilled a coke on her Payless sandals. Fucking Cassandra.
It was getting cold outside, so I went into my apartment building to warm up. I had planned to sit in the stairwell until Richard got home, but then I felt ridiculous. I was hiding from something that probably didn’t exist. What the shit was wrong with me?
I let myself into the apartment and turned on every light. I sat on the couch and put on Lord of the Rings. There was something soothing about Middle Earth that helped me go to sleep. I was nodding off until the Ringwraiths’ screaming jerked me awake again—I shut off the TV. I grabbed my phone and texted a “heart” to Richard, hoping he was on his way home and not drinking with slutface Cassandra. Richard texted back that he was at Whole Foods—he wanted to get some mac and cheese, but could I check if there was still milk in the fridge?
I put down my phone and tiptoed (why? I don’t know) to the kitchenette. I grabbed a butcher knife from the magnetic knife strip. I put my hand on the fridge handle, gulped several deep breaths, and jerked the door open.
The word WELCOME was written in blood on the bottom shelf.
I screamed, shut the fridge door, and ran out of the apartment, still clutching the butcher knife. I realized I had locked myself out without my keys or phone. I slid to the floor, trying not to sob out loud and bother the neighbors.
Richard showed up fifteen minutes later, carrying a Whole Foods’ bag and still tipsy. He was confused as to why I was crying in the hallway holding a knife. As soon as we were back in the apartment, I told him about the WELCOME sign.
He stomped to the kitchenette and looked into the fridge. He yelled at me to come over. I crept over and peeked in.
The blood letters were gone—all that was left was red smudges. Richard said the smears smelled exactly like ketchup.
He stormed into the bedroom, slamming around this drawer and that drawer. I asked him what he was doing, and he said he was going to sleep on the couch at work, I was too crazy for him to handle right now. I said oh, now Cassandra is the couch at work? And he was like what the fuck did Cassandra have to do with anything? I told him I wasn’t an idiot, this whole thing was a ruse to go sleep with Cassandra, and he told me I was mental and he was leaving.
I started sobbing and begging Richard not to leave. I told him I’d been under a lot of stress at work and I’d see a new shrink on Monday, but please don’t leave me alone here. He brushed past me, muttered he’d be back in the morning for some things, and was gone.
I turned the TV back on, found a marathon of That ’70s Show, and turned up the volume high enough to wake the dead. The canned laugh track was the perfect white noise machine to lull me to sleep.
When I woke up, the cable box told me it was already past noon. Had Richard already come and gone? I checked the bedroom—it did seem tidied up from last night’s chaos. I checked the bathroom—his toothbrush was gone.
My tummy growled ominously. I considered going out for brunch—but what if Richard had left me, for reals? What if he stiffed me on rent? I couldn’t afford to be gobbling down gourmet omelets and mimosas if my rent had just doubled.
This couldn’t go on. The little man in my refrigerator wasn’t paying any goddamn rent—he needed to be evicted.
This time I armed myself with a can of wasp spray—I didn’t know if I could bring myself to stab a living creature, but I could spray it. I cracked open the fridge, ready for anything.
There on the shelf was a little cake.
It was a pretty cake—dark chocolate frosting, bright yellow rosette trim. It looked expensive. Richard must have forgotten it in his haste to be out of the apartment. It would be a shame to just leave it—these kinds of desserts needed to be consumed quickly. Also, fuck Richard.
I took the cake off the shelf, and without bothering with nicies like silverware, bit directly into the frosting. It was heavenly—the yellow part was pure buttercream, and the chocolate was velvety smooth. Eating further into the cake, I realized it was angel food with a ribbon of raspberry filling. I sank to the floor, letting go of the can of wasp spray. I was a beast that understood nothing but hunger and the sating of that hunger.
I had eaten most of the cake when I realized that I had left the fridge door wide open. I looked up—the little man was standing at the edge of the bottom drawer. He was smiling at me, his arms folded across his chest. I felt dizzy—I dropped the plate, sending shards of chocolate-smeared china all over the kitchenette floor.
It hit me just before I passed out—Richard hated cake.
Right now, I am inside the crisper, next to what’s left of the lettuce. I gnawed on one of the carrots earlier, but it was really too hard and sour-tasting to eat. I wrapped myself in a tattered lettuce leaf—not because it’s particularly warming, but to comfort myself. My newly tiny self.
The light is still on in the refrigerator—the crisper is not quite in position and it’s keeping the door from fully closing.
I have no hope of being rescued from here. Eventually Richard will come back to the apartment to get a few more things, see the disaster in the kitchenette, and go pick up the cake dish pieces while cursing my name. He will notice the open refrigerator door, and most likely firmly shut it without even looking inside first.
I can hear the little man darting around above me, making the bottles clink and wobble. He is unable to contain his glee of having trapped me. But he cannot make his next move until the door is closed, and then and only then will he do his sacred duty of switching off the fridge light. After that, the refrigerator becomes his domain alone.
Whatever happens, I hope the little man who lives in my refrigerator is quick about it.
Katherine Bergeron co-edited/wrote the foreword for Like an Iron Fist: Dystopia Erotica (published by Circlet Press). She is also a regular contributor to Storytime at the Ape's Nest, Boston's monthly showcase of weird tales with live noise music accompaniment.