Hello! I haven't posted anything for quite a while so if you did follow me, I'm sorry for the abrupt lapse of nothingness. I've dabbled in writing short stories, novels, etc while absent and decided to post one of the short stories here. If you do read it through, feel free to leave feedback if the urge presents itself. This story is roughly 3K words in length. Here is: Bathroom Tile
There’s no mystery about it, I have a loose wall tile in my bathroom that keeps falling off. I won’t yammer on though. I’ll get straight to it.
I have a couple of glue options to hold this rebellious tile up. One of them is an off brand called Super Duper Stuff I got free by way of some promotion years ago. I used it once, but it can’t hold two sheets of paper together so going with the other glue makes the most sense. The problem there is it’s dried out. Just great, I’ll have to go with Super Duper.
I forgot that it stinks like old tomatoes as I dab some of it onto the beige wall tile and stick it to the empty space like the final piece of the easiest puzzle I’d ever done. I want to be satisfied with a job well done. We’ll see. I tidy up the bathroom and that’s the end of it.
As I shower, three days later, the tile falls off. It clatters on the tub floor as my body stiffens, hoping it doesn’t break. I’ll give credit where it’s due – Super Duper Stuff gets none. It doesn’t shock me.
After I step out of the tub I notice the spot where Super Duper failed. I blink, thinking it’s my vision. No, I see a black space, staring right at me. Now what is that?
The dark blot is nine by nine inches and shaking my nerves while an icy chill blows from the black void as if it were an open freezer door. The cool wind laps at my nether regions so I put on my pajamas. I sit on the edge of the tub, looking down at my new air conditioning vent as my fingernails chill in the current. The cold air reminds me of winter, which doesn’t make sense considering it’s July. The kitchen is on the other side of the wall, making this frigid breeze baffle me more.
I look down to find the stubborn tile lying unbroken. I look back up. How did this black space get here though? I want to test the shadowy opening by sticking my hand in, but my gut urges otherwise and I trust my gut like a best friend. There’s nothing to see in the square hole. No lights, wires, or pipes – empty. Using the towel rack, I pull while my legs lift my girth. Time to check the kitchen.
Luckily, the wall is bare on the adjoining side. No black square. No problem. Relief smiles at me as I go back to the bathroom to have another look at the starless black hole. It’s gone. Well I’ll be. All that’s there are the dried remains of Super Duper glue. I touch it – solid. I’m fifty-six years old and have never had a single delusion in life, but what I just saw or thought I saw broke my lifelong streak of being sane. Pushing that dark space from my mind feels impossible, but I’ll try. I leave the wall as is for the night.
The next day I don’t put the tile back up right away, which bothers me because I like to see things complete and in order. It’s the pitch-blackness I want to see again, but I don’t. Whatever it is must be my imagination. The problem here is, I don’t have an imagination. I cave in, go out and buy some real glue then try again. This time, I clean off the surface of the blank spot and put a thicker layer of glue on. I open the window after I finish to let the stench vacate. Why do they make all glues stink?
I have lunch while watching the news when a faint tapping noise catches my ears. I ignore it at first. Very little can stop a hungry man from eating. It doesn’t stop though. Think of a dripping faucet and you’ll get the idea. I finish my meal because cold food is for Eskimos. The tapping seems like it’s coming from the kitchen, which is fine by me I have to go there anyway to wash my dishes. I pass by the bathroom and hear soft tapping, but first I need to take care of these dishes.
On my way back, I stop outside the open doorway to the bathroom as a case of the jitters grabs me. The tapping doesn’t sound right. I step inside, slowly while looking straight at the trouble tile. It’s jiggling like a sledge is pounding on the other side, but there’s only a light tap. As I take a step closer a puff of cold air touches my exposed leg and again after each jiggle. What’s causing that?
This marks the second time in life that I see something that can’t be real. How many strikes before the men in white clothes show up? I believe what I can see and I can see that tile wiggle just as I had seen the dark void behind it. Uh oh Larry.
I sit on the edge of the tub, leaning over while pressing my finger against the jiggling tile. A weak vibration coming from the other side warns my fingertip, but it stops. My finger comes back as there is no further movement and the tile fits in with its neighbors once more. I’m not missing any vegetables from my cornucopia after all. No strike three for me.
Straining to push myself up, the mirror shows me something that sucks the breath from my lungs. It’s a thin, black stream of liquid trailing down from the mischievous tile to the tub floor. I twist around, but it’s gone so make it three strikes for my “going crazy” card. Back in the mirror, I stare at the same spot the wormy, black line had been, but it doesn’t show. Am I seeing things or not? This concerns me.
At night as I strip down before lumbering into the tub I swear a delicate tap knocks on the tile. I wait, but there are no further taps. About halfway through soaping I hear a distinct tap, which precedes the clatter of my favorite tile onto the tub floor. I glance behind me to see the black, drafty space has returned. An appointment would have been nice.
I finish the shower quickly, towel off and put on pajamas. I stare at the mysterious hole, finding it no longer amazes me. It’s irritating me. It’s keeping my bathroom from being clean!
Grabbing the toilet plunger, I twist off the wooden handle and don’t waste time. I sit on the edge of the tub, gazing into the little, black window that keeps appearing like a nervous thief. The stick passes into the darkness as cool air blows in exchange. Can’t complain about the free cooling. I shake the handle once it’s in far enough, but nothing happens and the cold wind stops. I am seeing this. I’m alert, sober and fully aware of everything around me, the men in white coats aren’t here yet.
A frigid breeze huffs on my hand, pauses then huffs again. Rhythmically. Panic squeezes my chest, but I don’t give in, not while I hear the – breathing.
The fear puffing onto my skin has me tense as my hand grips the stick. I try to take it out, carefully, but the handle burns my palm when something yanks it into the gaping, black mouth. I see nothing in the void.
Paralyzed, I sit with my hand clenched as if still holding the stick. Snapping to, I feel dread pulsing in my veins while standing up. A distant gnawing, coming from the dark space, fills the silence. What is it?
My ears reaching out, trying to listen can only pick up some kind of biting frenzy like being in between radio stations. It stops as I peer at the blackness.
Out shoots the wooden handle like a stick running away from a dog and clacks against the sink vanity beside me. I stare at the plunger handle, noticing a gooey green substance covering the chewed parts. Disgust washes over me, as I smell something like rotten cabbage. Thinking it’s the slime, I want to throw away the gnarled stick, but one more peek at the wall can’t hurt. The black space is gone, again. I refuse admitting that a brief terror had rattled me. I pick up the stick by the opposite end, holding a wad of toilet paper under it to catch any dripping snot, go to the kitchen and throw it in the garbage bin. Good Lord. How many strikes now?
The next morning, I take out the kitchen trash first thing. I can’t believe I forgot to the previous night! Now, in the bathroom, I’m staring at the wall with its one missing tile, thinking whatever bit deep little gashes in that handle might try to test its luck again. I don’t want to put the tile back up with glue. That’s not working. Instead, I’ll go with cement.
I patch up the eyesore on the wall in no time and while it’s an easy job, I don’t like the look of it. With the hairdryer that once belonged to my beloved wife, God bless her soul, I use it to speed up the drying. Later I can touch the cement up with a bit of beige paint to make it look halfway decent. The important thing is to seal up the black spot once and for all. I admire my work, tidy up and that’s that.
It starts to dawn on me the men in white coats are closer than I think. If I don’t see the black hole again, I know I’ll be fine. That’s what I want, my ordered life once more marching along like honorable soldiers doing their duty for our great country the U.S. of A.
The following night, while smack dab in the middle of my shower, I hear a clear tapping. I trust the homemade barrier I’d made so continue soaping when a loud knock shakes my soul. Startled, I angle my head around to the cement piece, which is trembling like a battering ram is on the other side. It’s strong, but how resistant will it be? The bunting keeps coming.
Water droplets are splattering everywhere as I find staring at the shaking cement piece, numbing. The construction pauses. I listen. I fear whatever is on the other side has gone to get a better tool. Just as I turn to finish my shower, a heavy crack sends my sanity into a blender. I twist back around while catching an eyeful of pressured water. Blinking and rubbing the sting away I see a thin line angling diagonally from corner to corner on the failing cement piece. With another powerful crack, the blackness returns as the cement dives to the tub floor. The men in white coats are on my doorstep.
All I see is a blur shooting out from the dark gap. In my alarm I fall sideways, landing with a painful thud on the tub floor. My hip feels like its getting pinched, but that’s probably Larry’s homemade tile suffocating under my fat. I scrunch back against the faucet as I see, for the first time, a lean charcoal colored arm reaching from the wall with claws as gold as the sun. Terror chilled my bones. It’s searching.
It has an opposable thumb with three long fingers sniffing about. Inner greed suggests I try to collect the golden claws, but I send the thought away when the burnt looking arm with the expensive claws begins extending further into my world. I can sit tight and hope it doesn’t find me or I can act.
Leaning forward while trying to avoid any eyes peeking from the dark abyss, I reach out with both hands. This is it. I clamp my strong hands onto the foreign arm. It’s rougher to the touch than it looks, but I don’t let go. No screech, shriek or yell comes, as I hold tight to it, which feels odd. Not that this entire scene doesn’t. Does the thing have the capability to make noise?
Standing up while holding the creature proves difficult given my size and a slick floor beneath me with water beating down. My plan is to break the intruding arm at the elbow, hoping it retreats. The arm isn’t very thick so it’s worth a try. The wall, acting as my leverage, helps me get into position and to my surprise just as I’m ready to snap the creature’s arm like a twig – it relents trying to shake me loose. Has it given up, knowing I’m stronger?
The inaction of the rough arm breaks my concentration as the coarse brown hair on it begins to rise. I don’t want to know what this means. It’s too late. A dozen tiny pricks snap my hands open as the porcupine-like quills do their work. I pull my hands up, looking at them, expecting little red beads all over my palms, but there’s not one puncture. My rough hands are worth something.
I look down, but the arm must have slinked back into the dark hole when I examined my hands. Cold air pumps from the blackness as I turn off the water. I keep my eyes on the shadowy square, wondering what it’s doing in there. The cool wind is chilling my naked body so as I try to step out of the tub, the savage arm with its golden claw open comes out of the forbidding void like a striking snake. I can only hold my forearm up to block the frantic attack while the brilliant claws slash, leaving three nasty streaks of deep red behind.
The attacking arm hesitates. I don’t. Grabbing the arm, my hands are like two steel traps. Anger pushes me like a demanding coach. You got to want it, Keepers! Again, there’s no sound from the thing. I try to snap the struggling arm, but I can’t. I know what is to come this time so with my other arm I reach for something – anything – I can get at. My hand closes on a slick bar of soap. It’ll do. With the fragrant weapon in hand, gripping it firm, I slam it onto the creature’s arm a couple times. What am I doing? I feel the arm jerk more hectically. Success! I keep smashing until I hear a sizzling noise. Now what?
Breathing deep, I hold the soap back, seeing the cause. Bubbles on the dark skin, pop, forming a soupy texture while an acidic vapor fills the air. My eyes begin to water, I loosen my grip, and the arm retracts back into the black hole like a toy doll’s string.
I wipe my eyes with my forearm that doesn’t have any scratches on it then look at the soap, which has a grayish liquid on it. The burning in my eyes is too much so I toss the soap down. What kind of reaction is this? I get out of the tub and open the window as refreshing warm air breathes in. With blood running down my forearm, I stare at the wall while it performs a new trick. I hope the front door is locked because the men in white coats will want to see this.
The grout lines begin to darken into an inky black like the dark shadowy square. Spontaneous mildew! The black gelatin pushes through the lines very slowly like molasses. The hole wants to widen. Fear knocks at my door, but I don’t answer.
I wrap up my forearm with a hand towel and put on my pajamas in a hurry. Maybe I can wash the stuff off. I use the detachable showerhead to spray the goop, but the water only beads on it then anger gives me a shove. Stop dirtying up my bathroom!
I slam the showerhead onto the tub floor, regretting the action, but push forward anyway. With a quick swipe of my finger against the black gel, I jerk my hand away like as if something bit it. The black substance sticks to my fingertip so I turn to the sink for help. What am I doing? Cold water. Hot water. It doesn’t matter! The dark goo doesn’t wash off no matter how hard I scrub. I glance up into the foggy mirror as I’m scratching at my fingertip like it has the worst itch when my forearm begins to tingle. With my unclean hand, I wipe away the sight hindering cloud on the mirror and to my surprise the black goop stuck to it. There isn’t a trace of it on my finger. Relief patted me on the back.
However, I don’t want this filth to spread throughout my home. What can I do about it? I try to calm down when I notice the black gel on the wall stopping its advance. That’s better, but the tingling in my forearm begins to burn as I look down at the three little slashes.
I pop open the medicine cabinet, grabbing the peroxide then pouring it over the wounds. It stings like an ex wife’s kiss while a low hiss escapes from my lips. If it doesn’t hurt, it’s not working.
I turn and lean against the sink vanity, staring at the dark lines receding into the wall and disappearing. I wonder if it has something to do with the peroxide? The original dark spot remains though like a ghost that can’t move onto the next life.
The black streak on the mirror dares me so I try the peroxide on it. It remains. My nerves are spent. I bandage up my arm properly, dispose of the grayish acidic smelling bar of soap into an empty jar then toss it in the garbage bin. Returning to the bathroom, I tidy up and try a couple different cleaners on the mirror, but none of them work. I’ll have to leave it as is. I don’t want to, but I’m tired and out of ideas. The men in white coats are making noise outside. They’ll have to wait. I shut and lock the bathroom door then try to get some sleep.
In the morning, I check the bathroom to see someone had shut the door on the other side. The dark spot is gone as well as the black streak on the mirror. It helps me regain some sanity to see a bare patch of wall. I still have a handle on the situation.
There is no episode as I shower this night. As I look into the mirror, combing the few hairs I have left on my head, the black streak appears. I glance down at the bare spot on the tiled wall in the reflection and it’s still just an empty spot that needs fixing. Okay, at least it’s just the one – for now. I look back at the black streak, seeing something in it. I move my head closer, and see dark rolling waves crashing into jagged rocks in a forbidden sea. I stare for a short time then glance over at the hairdryer, neatly stored on the shelf next to the window. I feel cold.
What if I end up there? All it would take is a black hole large enough to swallow me up while I shower. It’d only take one of those gruesome arms to pull me in. I might consider paneling, but I’ll wait first.
One week later.
My forearm itches all the time. The three scratch marks have scabbed over, but it’s very thin. Once, a few days ago, my nerves played me wrong. As I looked at the three lines ripped into my skin, I swear the dark goop I had seen on the bathroom wall was beneath my skin, snaking around like squiggly worms. I keep a close eye on it now.
I have put the tile back up and it hasn’t fallen off yet. There hasn’t been any tapping coming from it either. The black streak on the mirror shows up sometimes, but I ignore it. I’m not out of my mind. I believe strange things can happen to anyone.
No monster is going to chase me from my home.