by Elliot Harper
It comes on suddenly. My stomach starts to cramp. I grab it with my hands as though that will help, knowing full well that it won’t. I’m innocently walking along Kean Road in my hometown of Eastborough-on-Sea. It’s summer, but the sea breeze is keeping the temperature down. This is one of my few return visits to the place of my birth, and as usual, I’ve had one too many drinks the night before with friends I haven’t seen in months. It was a great night, what I remember of it, but right now I’m paying the price.
My brain throws out a random memory to help me out. There’s a public toilet at the end of the road. I’m sure it closed down years ago, but it’s my only hope. If I sprint, I might just make it.
I race past the graveyard on my left, the old stones and monuments looking dilapidated in the weak sunlight. I run as fast as I can, which isn’t particularly quick, especially in my condition, towards the end of the road. My stomach cramps again, and a small wet fart leaks out. I redouble my efforts, such as they are, and sprint faster.
There it is! I nearly cry with joy. The old public toilet, its doors wide open. I grin with relief that I was mistaken. They must have reopened it at some point since I’ve moved away. My stomach turns as I dash through the doorway and enter the building.
The place stinks of piss, which I guess makes sense as it’s a toilet. There are four cubicles ahead of me; I run to the first, but it is unmercifully locked. I try the second. It’s locked as well. Finally, I reach the third. It’s open! I bolt inside, slam the door shut and lock it. I quickly plop down on the moist seat and try to ignore the soggy grey coloured toilet paper that sits in piles on the floor. I also ignore the brown stain on the wall behind the toilet seat, as well as the filthy graffiti on the wooden cubicle sides.
I do my business. The less said about that, the better. Afterwards, I feel something close to euphoric. That strange elation you get after voiding the bowels in desperation. I sigh with relief which fills my nostrils with the smell. I gag and quickly pull the old metal chain that hangs from above and flush the contents of the bowl away.
To my dismay, the scent hasn’t dissipated. I try to flush the toilet again, but the smell remains. I take a tentative look between my legs into the bowl. It’s empty, nothing but cold swirling water. It must just be the smell of the building. I glance around my cubicle and up at the painfully bright artificial lights above that hum with electricity. I suddenly feel claustrophobic. The cubicle feels like a tomb; reminiscent of those old gravestones across the street.
Enough is enough. I’ve lingered here longer than I needed to, and the smell of shit is becoming overpowering. I turn to my left to grab the toilet paper, but to my utter horror, there isn’t any. I look around wildly, but all I can see is the sodden paper on the floor. Please, God no. Why me? I will have to use my boxer shorts. It’s the only sensible course of action. I get ready to do just that when the artificial light begins to flicker. The strobe effect stings my eyes. Great, that’s all I need.
Suddenly, I hear a noise from the cubicle to my left. I didn’t realise anyone was here! What must they think of me after what I’ve just done? Should I apologise? I’m mortified. The noise returns. A single low grunt. Are they pushing? Are they straining? They grunt again, but this time it is three low grunts in succession. Maybe they are having problems on the toilet as well? How embarrassing!
It hits me. They might have toilet paper in there! I’m saved! I ask. “Hello. Excuse me. Do you have any toilet paper in there? I seem to have run out?”
I wait for an answer, my left ear straining for a reply through the walls, but there is silence.
I try again. “Hello?”
Still, there is silence. I’m about to ask a third time when there is another low grunt and the sound of movement. Ah, they must have heard me. Thank God for that! I need to get out of here. The smell is unbelievable. I strain to hear. There is definite movement now. They appear to be moving around, but I can’t work out what they are doing. I lean further in and rest my ear up against the dirty wood. They seem to be shuffling around in there. What the hell are they playing at? Didn’t they hear me?
From my position, I can see the wet, grimy floor below. There is a small gap between cubicles. I retch as the smell of shit inexplicably intensifies. What is that? Why is it getting stronger? I see something emerge in the gap. At first, I can’t make it out. The hangover and the horrible stench are clouding my judgement, but then I realise what it is—a foot. No shoes, no trainers. Just a single naked foot, but this is no ordinary appendage. It’s long, at least half as long as an average person. The skin colour is oddly grey, pallid even. It seems to sag down to the floor. That’s not the worst of it. The toenails are long and yellow as though they’ve never been trimmed. Underneath the nails, I can see dark red mud. Long black hair protrudes from each toe. I gag.
To hell with this. I stand, half-pull up my jeans, all thoughts of my unwiped arse out of my mind. I unbolt the door and pull. It doesn’t budge. What is happening? I try again, this time I really grit my teeth and yank as hard as I can. Nothing. Not even a tremor. The door remains steadfast. I begin to sweat, a cold film that appears all over my body. This isn’t the toxins leaking from my system after a heavy night on the piss. This is cold, hard fear. To make matters worse the stink increases once again. I gag, then I retch and throw up slightly in my mouth. I lean forward and spit the contents into the toilet.
I dare to look back at the floor. The foot is gone, but I can still hear movement in the cubicle. Whoever or whatever it is seems to be shuffling around in there. What can I do? What can I do? The walls feel like they are closing in around me. The stench strengthens. I retch again, but this time I don’t throw up. I lean back against the opposite wall to the occupied cubicle. I push up against it. The wood is solid against my back.
The light which has been flickering throughout this whole ordeal suddenly goes out plunging the cubicle into darkness. I quake in terror, my entire body shivering, my teeth practically chattering. I notice that it’s not purely dark. There is a slight tinge of blue to the blackness, probably a security light or one of those lights to prevent heroin addicts from finding a vein. The blue light doesn’t alleviate my terror, if anything, it intensifies it.
The shuffling in the next cubicle has continued, but now it stops. I had gotten so used to it that the silence it has left since it ceased is more frightening. I hear a low grunt and then a thud. From where I’m standing, I can see the outline of two feet now. They are facing me. They must be pressed right up against the wood. Seconds pass. I’m frozen solid in dread. I can’t move even a muscle. The smell deepens again—a new level of filth. My nostrils are filled with it. I want to throw up, but I still can’t move. I’m just stuck where I am—pressed up against this disgusting cubicle wall.
My heart leaps when I hear a pop and the artificial lights return to their annoying flickering. This time it’s faster. More intense. It is like the strobe lights in a nightclub. It makes my head spin. With the light I can now see the feet; they are exactly as before. Each as disgusting as the other, those long yellow nails, the black hair, the ashen skin. I hear a succession of grunts and then a scraping sound. What is happening now?
I don’t have to wait long to find out. I see it at the gap at the top. In my fright, my mind throws out a useless question. Why do these kinds of toilets have gaps at the bottom and the top? Surely, it would make more sense for there to be no such gap. Of course, I don’t know the answer to this. I wouldn’t be able to answer the simplest of questions right now. I piss myself. I can feel it warm my jeans and pool down in my trainers.
What could be worse than those ghastly feet? Two hands, that’s what. I watch as the fingers slowly peek out at the top of the cubicle wall and grip the edge. One finger at a time. Agonisingly slow. It seems to go on forever. They are torturing me. This realisation makes me want to weep. Why me? Why now? Why today? I’m an okay guy. I haven’t done anything wrong. I’m just an average Joe. Just an everyday kind of guy. What did I do to deserve this? I feel numb, as though I’ve gone into shock. Maybe I have. Or maybe my brain is trying to shield me from what I’m seeing.
The strobe effect continues while the last finger finally grips the edge of the top: long grey fingers, black hair from the knuckles, pale skin. I would give anything to be able to cry. Just one little sob. Is that so much to ask? I can’t even close my eyes to block it all out. The strobing suddenly intensifies. My head begins to pound. I hear a grunt, and then another one, and then another. The wooden cubicle wall across from me begins to tremor, vibrate and then rattle. They are shaking the whole thing. The noise is horrendous. What are they trying to do? What is happening?
The terror becomes so intense that I finally force my eyes closed. It takes a monumental will, but I squeeze them shut. It’s the only thing I can do. If I can shut out the outside world, it won’t exist. If I don’t see it, it isn’t real. It’s not real. It’s not real. I can hear the rattling; it becomes so loud it becomes my everything. My whole world. The darkness and the rattling of the cubicle wall. What do they want? What do they want? I grit my teeth. Hold on. I can move my mouth. I strain as hard I can. My mouth begins to move. I can do this. I strain again until finally, I blurt out what I’ve wanted to say.
“What the fuck do you want?!” I scream it at the top of my lungs. It’s so loud I feel it echo around the toilet.
“Sorry, mate. I need to get these toilets closed up at five. You need to be out of here. No messing around now.”
What was that? A person? A real-life person? I find that I can open my eyes. The light floods in and shoots pain to the back of my retinas. The light! The light is back. Gone is the strobing. Even better, so has the stench of shit. I’m still pressed up against the cubicle wall. I slowly relax and step away from it. The door to my cubicle rattles again, but this time it’s the man knocking on the door. I breathe a sigh of relief. It’s fine. It’s all okay. Nothing is wrong. I’m alright. I wipe my sweating forehead with my hand and shake my head. What the hell just happened? I don’t want to wait around to find out. I need to get out of here sharpish. I snort and pull the door inwards ready to apologise to the attendant.
I stop dead. There is no one there. The light above begins to flicker anew. This time I don’t mess around. I bolt straight through the open cubicle door. I race past the two empty ones to my right. I slip slightly on a damp patch at the floor but I right myself quickly. I can see the door ahead of me. Its wide open. The wonderful outside world is there. I can see the blue sky. I can smell the fresh air; it wafts in on the cool coastal breeze. It’s only a few steps away. I continue to run. It’s still just a few steps away. I redouble my efforts. Why don’t I reach it? Why does it remain a few steps away? What is going on? The door remains open inwards. In slow motion, the door begins to shut. It creaks—the squeal of it echoing off the walls. I try to run faster, but I don’t seem to make up any ground.
What can I do? What can I do? What can I do? The door continues to swing shut, but now I notice something. My heart leaps into my mouth. Those long fingers. They grip the door. Whatever they are attached to is behind the door. This time I do sob. Why me? Why me? Why me? The door suddenly slams as if thrust closed by a tremendous force. The bang vibrates throughout the toilet. I stop running. The room is plunged into darkness once again. The strobing lights suddenly vanish. I hear a low grunt and a slap. Then another. And then another. The sound becomes louder each time. They are coming for me. I let my head slump down and close my eyes.