Dazed gray fluttered open, stirred from what felt like sleep. Her skin prickled with goosebumps where it made contact with the tile of the bathroom. It was unnaturally cold and her breath misted soft white. Finding some will to move, her hand glided slowly over her stomach, the ache long gone and her mind clear of the tempest it had been earlier. There was no paranoia biting the edges, no fast beating heart to snatch what was left of her breath. Shakily, she pushed herself to sit up and pressed her back against the stall’s wall.
There was a strangely eerie silence about the room despite the echoing hiss of running water. The fluorescent lights above were out leaving a dark grey hue over the bathroom versus the former mix of sun and artificial light of before. The walls were…stained? They appeared dilapidated, peeling paint and cracked tile everywhere. The mirrors were smudged with a thick grime making reflection impossible and the sinks were dingy, the metal rusted. Even the stall doors looked crooked from deteriorating hinges and the stale scent of decay was heavy in the room along with something she couldn’t identify. It took a moment but her eyes adjusted to this semi-darkness and Ayida pulled herself to stand, wincing at the ache in her body. Where had her tormentors gone? Had the day passed already? No, no, that would mean she lost time. She couldn’t start losing time again. If she did, Dr. Chandler would send her back to the hospital. He would have to…
Quickly stabilizing herself, Ayida took swift steps to the door only to slip in water and land hard on her back. She cried out at the sharp impact. To make things worse her blouse and skirt were now soaked, the fabric clinging uncomfortably to her skin in freezing layers. Groaning she sat herself up once again, looking in confusion at the stream of water. None of the faucets appeared to be overflowing – or running for that matter. But the stalls… All were open and empty.
Staring at the closed door, Ayida carefully got up as the small well of uneasiness was capped by a certain curiosity. The water flowing from beneath this stall was not a clear stream of a backed-up toilet, but a dark dingy red, like dye dripped into a puddle. Inch by inch, she came to stand before the door with trembling hands and shifty eyes.
Just leave. Just go to the door and leave.
It was late, it had to be. Her father could already be home. These were logical reasons to turn tail. Someone would be looking for her if she didn’t leave now.
However, giving herself good sound advice could not overpower the urge, the need to open that door. The source of the water… of course, that’s all it was. She just needed to see, needed to know where the water and red came from.
Ayida bit her lip and shoved the door open, and promptly screamed.
Oh god, oh god!
Ayida stumbled back, painfully rammed against one of the sinks, and nearly fell. The door swung innocuously on the screeching hinges; back and forth until the momentum died and it stood ajar. Inside the toilet overflowed – water gushed from the bowl in slow, creeping streams towards Ayida’s feet. There, a morbid centerpiece clogged the pipe and jutted four shattered arms and legs. Wedged against the sink, Ayida was unable to take her eyes off it as her mind struggled to comprehend what she was being shown.
Another stall slammed open, pulling Ayida away from the limbs. Her mouth parted until it was agape.
Inky black tendrils crept from the open stall, slithering across the floor like a mess of unearthed worms. Long, spidery fingers came into view and curled one by one around the edge of flaking beige, the rusted metal groaning beneath the pressure of supernatural grip. Fungi encrusted talons scrapped away the old paint in a screech that made her teeth grind against each other. Ayida’s hands fumbled behind her to touch the sink and feel her way from the sink to head to the door, keeping her attention on the thing emerging from that stall, praying she wouldn’t be noticed. One, scuttling step after another brought her quietly closer, but motion was stolen from her limbs by the sight of bald, paraffin head emerging past sharp knuckles to… sniff… a very audible inhalation of air.
With a lurch, the whole of it stumbled clumsily from the stall to settle in a feral crouch. Too many angles, too many joints in the wrong places. Its bones pressed out until shinning, papery skin pulled taunt over every sharp jut.
Ayida slapped her hand over her mouth to halt sound building in her throat. Utterly captivated, she couldn’t look away from how the creature unfolded itself. Belatedly, she noticed something held in its other hand, dragged across the floor like a child’s toy.
Tears streaked what Ayida could see of Brittany’s face between the monsters knobby fingers. She hung there sobbing uncontrollably, doe eyes pleading with Ayida for help. The thing lifted Brittany up to its face causing her to struggle almost tiredly. It was unbothered by her resistance. It placed a bony finger gently to the girls lips, the width of it encompassing the whole of her mouth. Ayida strained to keep silent, hands tight over her mouth, and forced herself to keep moving while it was distracted.
Stay quiet. Almost to the door. Just be silent… get out…
Ayida sobbed audibly into her hand as she looked down at her sneakers and frantically back up to the creature.
The creature craned its neck in her direction, twisting to face Ayida with a smooth, alien elegance. What met her horrified gaze was quite literally expressionless. No eyes, no nose no mouth. Just a smooth expanse of glossy skin and yet… Ayida could feel it’s gaze. Thought process seized under it. Fight? Flight? Neither of these thing registered. Even the initial shock slipped away. Any desire to leave, to run away, evaporated and left her body strangely numb. Mind and emotion disconnected from her body and that emptiness… oh she knew that emptiness. Knew it’s taste…
The creature slung Brittany against the back wall like discarded trash. It moved with preternatural grace towards Ayida, who should’ve been terrified, but she wasn’t. Instead, her hands dropped limply to her sides and bubbling calm took the place fear should’ve occupied. This lack of distress gave way to something else, to an urge.
It drew closer. Tendrils spread and crawled over the walls. In the creeping darkness, the sound of a thousand whispers tickled her ears – young, childlike in their tone. The blackness surrounded her, swallowing the room whole in a darkness so deep it muted all sounds, even the hiss from the overflowing toilet. The creature stopped inches away from her and began to right itself, stretching to full height – an impossibly tall specter looming over to touch the ceiling. It stared down on her, its tilted head swaying slightly with the curl and ebb of its appendages.
There was something growing in Ayida the longer she stared it down. Her heart calmed. Her breathing stabilized. She felt… calm? Fascinated…? Relieved…?
It reached for her.
-Harli V. Park –
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