‘I’ll be right back,” Lisa said as she finishes up the last of her extra large drip and pats her stomach. “Wayyyyy too much.”
“I told you to get a regular size coffee,” I point out and she snorts.
“Yeah yeah.” She stood up from the table. “I’ll be back. Unless the Sewer man gets me.”
“Sewer man?” I echo. What the hell was a Sewer man?
“Never heard of…girl!” She plunks back down in the chair across from me, palms facing up as she lays them out. Almost like she’s begging me to pay attention. “I was reading that this Sewer man? Well, he comes out of the toilets. You see wet foot prints first. He comes and if you make the mistake of asking what he wants, he just up and takes you. Piece by piece.”
“Takes you? Where?”
“Somewhere in the toilets, how should I know?” Lisa asks. She gets up out of her chair again and straightens her pale yellow blouse with misbuttoned panels.”Okay, I’ll be…back…ooooo”
She says this while stretching out her arms and wiggling of her fingers with an eerie crossing of her eyes that’s far too much like a zombie for my taste. My fault for the horror movie we’d picked for tonight. I wave her on and set back to work on my notebook. I’d put it down when she’d arrived and I was eager to get back to it for almost an hour now. Not that I don’t like Lisa. She’s fun. Gets me out of my shell. But she has this distinct knack for distracting me. It’s all about the bright eyes and large smile. Gets me every time.
I scribble fast and hard for a while, until I reach for my more reasonable sized medium cup of coffee and notice that it’s empty. Empty and Lisa still isn’t back yet. I chew on my lower lip.
No. Don’t even entertain that thought. It’s more likely that she fell in than anything spooky happened to her. Or she’s talking to someone. She likes to do that. A lot.
I pack my bag up and gesture to the waitress. “Have you seen my girlfriend?” I ask. “The woman who came in earlier?”
“The girl with the braids and the red glasses?”
She gives me a roll of the eyes like it is my fault that I lost my girlfriend and scoops up our empty cups. Without another word, she leaves me alone, not sure what to do.
What do I do? Do I wait here like an idiot?
“Come on, Lise,” I mutter and I glanced at the stairs leading up to the non-accessible bathroom. Never used and always clean, which is why Lisa likes it. I want to get back to scribbling but my brain is already catastrophizing the situation. What if she left me here? What if this was a fancy way of breaking up with me? Kind of a shitty way to do things but I knew what I was getting into dating anyone. People do shitty things all the time.
Finally, my own bladder starts knocking at me and I can’t ignore it any longer. I grab my bag and hers and head up the back steps to the bathroom. Chipped paint walls and bad caricatures of past staff members stare back at me. By the time I get to the top of the stairs, I’m huffing. My lungs actually hurt but I’m not sure it’s from the climb. Might be the sudden rush of anxiety.
“Lisa?” I call as I knock on the old plywood door and swing it open. The bathroom is modern enough though the light is dim. The sink is old-fashioned, two knobs on either side, and the linoleum floor is cracked and discoloured. But it is meticulously clean which eases my unease about being in a bathroom in the first place.
“Lisa? You here?” I call and I get no answer.
My foot lands in a wet puddle. Toilet water, I realize in a dull way, and I stare at it. There’s a series of wet foot prints, leading to the rear toilet stall, the largest of them.
In its flip flop my heart lands somewhere in the vicinity of my stomach and my stomach gets to my throat. I swallow it down and rub at my stomach.
Those footsteps though…
I set my bags down and head slowly after the footprints to the stall. They seem a bit large but that’s the way that prints go right? They spread. Right-left, right-left. My flip-flopped heart keeps banging away in my turned stomach. I head to the bathroom stall, one slow step at a time. Steps that last years. I wish I could see better. Things might be less…less….
I don’t want to go in there. My brain is long gone. It’s the smart one. I should go. Lisa isn’t in here. I should go. Everything is telling me I should go. Just go. Get out of here. Go.
That doesn’t stop me from reaching out and pushing on the stall’s mustard yellow door. I swallow as I do it. It creaks. Loud. I step into another wet foot print. It soaks my shoe.
“Lisa, please be in here,” I whisper.
The door swings open. My foot is soaked. I know what’s going to happen. I’m about to die.
“Boo!” Lisa shrieks as she springs out at me. It sends me scuttling back in the wet foot prints and I find myself falling fast to my ass. The cold linoleum hits me hard. Wet footprints soak through my clothing. In reflex, I reach for the bag to swing at her.
Lisa, on the other hand, is laughing so hard that she’s almost falling over in the bathroom stall. “Hollllleeeee shit your face!” she shrieks between brays of laughter. “Oh my god, it was just…just too much. I need a picture.”
Sure enough, she grabs her phone from her back pocket and snaps one or two of me sitting here. Looking like an idiot and soaked from head to toe, from blue sweater to blue jeans. Soaked in toilet water. The thought makes me spring up as fast as I can.
“That wasn’t funny!” I shout. “You scared the shit out of me!”
“Yeah, I know.” She’s still laughing and she lifts a leg to wriggle it at me. “Holy shit.”
Her left foot is soaked to the cuff.
“So worth it,” she says.
“It’s not funny!” I insist.
“Sure it wasn’t,” Lisa answers and she grabs her bag. “Come on. I got to get home. I work tomorrow morning. Early.”
I need a second to compose myself. That was the least funny thing anyone had ever done to me and my heart still bangs away. “Thanks to you I have to wash up. I smell like toilet water.”
“Well, see you later?” she asks, batting those beautiful dark eyes of her. I want to say no, point out she hasn’t even apologized. I don’t bother. Maybe it was a funny joke and I just missed the punchline. Hell, I was the punchline at this point.
“I’ll see you later.”
“Ah, that’s my girl,”she says and she brushes a kiss against my cheek. I return the gesture, feeling stupid, and let her walk by. The door makes a thud as it closes and I head to the sink.
Fuck, I really feel stupid now. I pump my left hand full of soap, and turn the taps with the right. There’s no saving my pants. They’re soaked to the skin. But my skin doesn’t have to smell that bad. I scrub furiously and imagine all the germs I probably ingested just gulping in the air.
On its own, the bathroom stall where Lisa had scared me closes its door with a snap. Probably the breeze. I stay scrubbing my hands. That toilet smell just won’t leave. I scrub and scrub and it just stays there. Toilet water smell and all.
I’m not sure why I do it. I glance down and notice the foot prints just beside my own feet at the sink. Probably left over from Lisa’s little stunt. The bathroom stall closest to me wheezes open but that’s the draft from the A/C. I’m just catastrophizing again.
When I glance back up, a small man in a green slicker is staring back at me through the mirror.
“Shit!” I gasp and I whip around. I have to rub my eyes a few times. He seems real enough. Real enough I could touch his craggy face or pull on his shaggy mop of shock white hair. He only comes up to my chest. He’s staring with hard little black eyes. Like I shouldn’t be here. I glance down him and notice that he is thoroughly soaked.
Must be raining outside.
“Sorry, I’ll finish right up,” I say with a cheerfulness I don’t quite feel. Lisa scared that out of me. I’m not scared. I’m just tired. So tired of jokes.
He sighs. “Please. I’m not here for that.”
“Oh. What are you here for? Just want to read the newspaper?” I ask. “Or did you need, like, spare change?” That wouldn’t be too unusual.
He moves so fast I don’t even see his hand coming. His fingers catch me by the forearm and grip it with surprising strength. Painful strength even.. I’m too shocked to struggle. His palm presses against my bare skin, cold and clammy and his fingers pinch my skin in tiny folds between them. The pain is surprising too. I feel like my arm is in a vice. It pinches harder and harder.
“Hey, let me go!” I say and I give my arm a wrench.
He hauls back. This time there’s a loud crack. The pain becomes excruciating. I want to scream. Everything tells me to scream. But the most I get out is a squeak.
Then he begins to pull. Pull and pull and pull. One dragging step after another. He pulls on me until my feet start to slide on the wet floor. Until I skid in his footsteps. I squeak and struggle. It doesn’t do any good.
He just keeps pulling.
So I start screaming.
He ignores that too.
One slow step at a time, he pulls me towards the smallest bathroom stall. I keep hollering, hoping someone will help me. No one comes. I shriek and claw at the hand holding my arm, trying to pull free. He just keeps puling.
The door to the stall bangs open and he stops. Shakes his head. “You’re not going to fit, are you?” he asks me.
“God no, please let me go!” I shout as he releases my arm just a little. Just enough for me to sag down. I think my arm is broken. He stares at the toilet, then at me.
Then, with a nod, he comes to a decision.
“Not in one piece anyway.”
His grip tightens back on my arm and this time I scream as my arm is torn from its socket.
Lisa lay in bed, struggling to get to sleep. Her bathroom light flickered over her face but she hadn’t turned it off yet while she read her phone texts. It’d occurred to her that she might have been too mean. That thought only occurred because Cheri hadn’t responded to a single text. Not even the super romantic ‘you up’ that she sent her an hour ago while hoping for some late night scandalous texting. Scaring her like that might have been a step too far.
Lisa fretted. The phone never once blinked back at her with a message.
“Fine, suit yourself,” Lisa muttered. “I’ll just bug you tomorrow.”
Cheri would forgive her. She always forgave her.
The bathroom light snapped off on its own and Lisa sighed. The old house was getting to be more nuisance than anything. Its floorboards creaked on its own too. She swung her feet out of bed and winced at the ice cold of the hardwood. She stumbled along and flicked the bathroom light on.
Strange.The watery foot prints from her shower were still there. Maybe the A/C was making it hard for them to dry.
Grabbing a towel, she quickly mopped them up and reached for the light again.
Never once noticing the girl in the wet blue sweater. The one standing just beside the toilet. Watching her. She watched her mop up the footprints, watched her set the towel on the sink. Not once did Lisa look at her. She left the door open.
With her only hand, the girl snapped the light back on and followed Lisa into her bedroom.
One soaked footstep at a time.