Terror will find you at the worst possible moment
Seth didn’t want to be here, but biology gave him no alternative.
He surveyed his surroundings. The honeycomb tile floor, perhaps white a generation ago, bent under the weight of black grime. The yellow glow that escaped from the flickering, humming fluorescent ceiling fixture revealed a hundred fractures along the floor, like a landscape after a violent earthquake. Seth spoke silent words of gratitude to the half-broken light. There wasn’t much he needed to see. There wasn’t anything he wanted to see.
Seth sacrificed his handkerchief to close the bathroom stall door. He pre-flushed the toilet with his foot.
He breathed through his mouth. When Seth was nine, his parents took him to a farm in Pennsylvania. You’ll see chickens, cows, sheep, goats, and horses! they promised. It will be fun. All he remembered was the putrid stench of manure. This restroom smelled worse.
Three cockroaches in a V-shaped formation scurried up the wall. Seth hoped that their plan wasn’t to drop down onto his head.
Please, let me be quick.
The damp, sour air made his job harder.
The door shook so suddenly that he almost leapt off the toilet seat. Seth hadn’t heard anyone approach, and thought he was alone. A few seconds later somebody rattled the door again. Jesus. Door’s closed and locked. That means the stall’s in use. You don’t need to do it twice.
The door shook a third time, harder, louder, and longer, as if this obnoxious door shaker was communicating an unequivocal order: Hurry up! The lock wobbled, the metal bolt bent, and the screws loosened.
Seth’s heart raced.
A low, guttural grunt vibrated the walls, shaking paint flakes off.
Go away! Get your own stall.
Seth looked under the door’s canyon-sized gap. Adding to his escalating discomfort was a pair of massive, bare feet coated with mud. Orange-yellow fluid, thick like motor oil, oozed from under the man’s toenails.
Who goes barefoot in a public men’s room?
The man banged on the door with his fists. Seth sputtered meekly, “Somebody’s in here.”
Fingers curled over the door’s top, pulling it outward. The lock bolt bent as far as it could without breaking.
Seth shouted, “I’m on the can. I’ll be out in a minute!” The moment Seth said “minute,” he wished to recall the word. He didn’t want the maniac to interpret “minute” literally and start a sixty-second countdown. Seth was not going to be out in a minute, not with his intestines cemented shut with stress.
Seth glanced at his watch. Forty-five seconds remaining. Why didn’t I go at TGI Friday’s? That bathroom would have been fine, clean, safe. I should have listened to my body. Now I’m in a stupid men’s room at some stupid highway truck stop, trapped with an insane Neanderthal.
Gotta go. Can’t go.
With five seconds remaining on his foolish self-imposed deadline, Seth risked yelling through the door, “Another few minutes, buddy. Okay? I’ll be out soon.” His voice shrilled several octaves higher than normal.
Why this stall? Maybe he’s a regular and this is his favorite, like how some restaurant goers insist on their table.
The man shook the door again, but more softly than before, like a thunderstorm that was winding down. The snarling almost became a purr.
The man’s feet were still fixed in place outside the door, looking like a statue that had broken off just above the ankles. Move away jerk, Seth thought. Move the fuck away from the door!
Four heavy thumps. The feet disappeared, the snarling mercifully fainter. The man was still somewhere in the bathroom, but Seth was grateful for any space at all.
He let out a low moan and gasped. His lips arced into a slow smile. He was done.
He flushed to telegraph a message to the man: “I’ll be out in a moment.”
Seth opened the stall door and walked through a wall of air that stank of antediluvian decay.
The man was no longer here. I guess he either didn’t have to go as badly as it seemed, or he was just an asshole who got tired of this game. What a jerk.
Seth turned on the faucet and jumped at the sound of the pipes clanging. He caught his breath and looked into the mirror, expecting his face to have aged a decade over the past ten minutes.
The door shaker loomed over Seth. It was not a man, but an enormous creature, something evolution had purposefully discarded. Its sunken eyes glowed red like they contained furnaces. Double rows of shark teeth crisscrossed the top and bottom of its mouth. Mold-blue veins rode along the entire surface of its camel-colored flesh. Its arms were as thick as an anaconda and segmented with two elbow-like joints.
The monster’s roar shattered Seth’s eardrums.
The creature wrapped a hand around Seth’s neck and lifted him off the floor. Seth squirmed, his legs moving in random directions as if caught in a windstorm. His belly expanded as the scream he was unable to produce remained trapped there.
After studying Seth for a few seconds, the creature hurled him across the men’s room. Seth smashed into the wall and fractured into a mess of flesh, blood, and broken bones. Just before everything went forever black, Seth watched the creature walk into the stall and heard the lock click shut.