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 Category:  Horror and Thriller Fiction
  Posted: August 13, 2020      Views: 7

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Warning: The author has noted that this contains the highest level of language.
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A lonely man hears a voice from an empty bathroom stall.
"A voice on 16." by Michael Fraher



"None of these movies are even scary" James would regularly huff to himself as he viewed
his scary movie collection.

Like many pop culture nerds, James's horror movie knowledge was second to none.
Through all his time alone in his parent's basement growing up, he studied horror movies with an intensity of a third year law student a week before the Barr exam.

There was no terror a movie could serve up that could truly disturb him. "Psycho"? Seen it
many time; both the original and the senseless Vince Vaughn remake. "Hellraiser"? His old
DVD was worn to the bone. "Child's Play"? He could practically recite all of Chucky's
misdeeds by memory. And don't get him started on "Halloween". He could teach a graduate
student level college course on all the different continuities to even the most clueless of the
genre.

It didn't matter to James if was highbrow elevated horror movies such as Hereditary, The
Witch, The Lighthouse and midsommar or Brain dead schlock from the 80's like Ghoulies or
Basketcase, Candyman or even Pet Sematary, Never phased by the monsters: Freddy, Jason,
or Leatherface, he'd seen them all.

Through all those untold hours of viewing the greatest terror that Hollywood can subject on
someone, he has never known as much fear as felt pressed against the wall of the bathroomstall on the 16th floor, trying to make sense of the terrible voice coming from the last stall.

James had just shambled down the hall from his office to the lone bathroom his company
keeps on this floor in his lumbering, awkward and almost painful looking gait. He had torn
his left Achilles tendon not too long ago. It made every trip to the bathroom a chore.

The severe injury happened during an everyday occurrence that would be simple for most
people: crossing the street. But James wouldn't be as lucky as a normal person crossing thestreet. He was across the street from his office when he heard a ripping sound coming downby his left ankle. The pain made his body fold and he hit the pavement hard, directly in apuddle by the sewage drain.

"Looking cool as ever buddy" James thought to himself just before the pain hit.

He had never felt pain as intense in his life. It made the ambulance ride a blur that he couldbarely remember. His left leg never fully recovered and probably will not. No one stopped tohelp pick him up. He was ignored by the mass of people swarming by him, oblivious to him as he rolled on the ground holding his leg in agony.

The injury made walking difficult and exercise nearly impossible which wasn't helping his
expanding waistline. The extra weight made him look older. Unfortunately for him, his olderand heavier look made him a dead ringer for the Milton character from the movie "OfficeSpace." His co-workers had noticed the resemblance and had started to openly call him"Milton" to his face. No one at work ever called him James.

He tried to change his appearance to look a little more hip and less like a comic book nerd,
but his thinning hair, near sign correcting coke bottle glasses and early 40 year old paunch
wasn't helping the cause. His physical therapist had recommended an exercise routine to
rehab his Achilles tendon and he had joined a boxing gym with grand aspirations. He
imagined a trim version of himself, laced with cut muscle knocking out some stereotypical
meathead. Hot young gym babes in sports bras would look on with desire. But reality would
be the one landing punches. He managed 5 or 6 pushups and working the heavy bag for a
few short minutes before quitting. Shoulders burning, covered with sweat and sucking wind
he slinked off in shame. The beautiful gym girls he dreamed of impressing never even lookedhis way. It would be one thing if they showed disgust for sweating so heavily it looked hejumped in a pool, or mocked his heaving man boobs. But he didn't even get that. It was likethey didn't even see him.

His work life echoed his misguided gym attempt. Working as a computer programmer he
was almost twice his co-workers age, and no 20 millenial wanted to befriend the overweightmovie geek working in the corner. He had tried following them on social media and"friended" them on Facebook and Instagram. He was sure to "like" their posts and add
occational "LOL" at their memes they had created. He was about as successful as getting a
response from them online as he was in person. They didn't want to connect to him in any
social aspect. He never got the invite to Friday afternoon after work drinks at Foley's Pub
with the rest of them.

With his programming job, it didn't matter much what hours he worked and he found
himself shifting his hours later and later in the day and working on weekends. The less he
saw his co-workers the better.

He came to enjoy having the office to himself. He worked on the 16th floor of a 32 story highrise downtown. As far as he could tell, he was the only one in the building on these
Saturdays in the summer. Well, except the bathroom cockroaches. The lack of human activity meant the weekends were their time to rule the 16th floor.

"Living their best lives" James had noted when he found cockroaches the size of snickers bars swimming in the toilets the previous Saturday. Terrifying to think what else comes out whenthe workers were away.

James hit the *5452 code on the bathroom lock and the automatic door slowly swung open.
There were two urinals directly across from the entrance way of the small bathroom.
Typically there were four stalls available to the right of the urinals. However, the first two
stalls were covered with yellow tape with a "Temporarily Out of service!" sign hanging on the doors. But saying they were "Temporarily" out of service was a lie. The building was in a
constant of renovation to compete with the new luxury spaces in the city's seaport. They had so many projects going they had overextended themselves.

Those two stalls were out of service of weeks but they had abruptly stopped construction.
James had peaked through the cracks in the stall on the first stall to see the progress. He saw that most of the toilet had been removed and a giant opening of pipes to the sewer systemwere sticking up through the floor.

"Compete with the luxury buildings my ass", James mumbled to himself. The building
couldn't even manage to get them more than two working toilets. But that was no problem,
there was no one else in the bathroom as always. James crouched low to check for feet to
make sure and saw none.

James waddled over to the last stall on the very end and closed the door. He began to
unbuckle his pants to sit when he heard the noise for the first time. It could have been
confused for a cough of a two pack a day smoker. It was not unlike the gasps he heard fromhis grandfather just before he succumbed to lung cancer. But it had a wet quality to it.
Almost like someone to breathe while gargling. It was close. The sound was coming from thefirst out of order stall, three stalls down from him.

James started to re-buckle so he could go see what the sound was. As the only person on thefloor he would get endless grief if there was some sort of plumbing problem making that sound that he failed to report.

"Not catching heat for this one" James, grumbled.

He started to move towards the door when and stopped and froze against the wall. The
gasping sound was forming words. And it was speaking to him.

"I.....see.....you...." was gurgled/whispered from the furthest stall.

James backed against the wall and tried to stay rational. There must have been someone in
the stall when he came in, right? While the building is typically empty, the 16th floor does getan occasional weekend check in from the weekday building maintenance staff.

The voice was watery and gasping. Did someone need his help? Should he go to that stall to
check? NO. There was wrongness to this. There was no one in the bathroom when he came in.He was sure of it.

"Hello?" James called out.

"I.....SEEE....YOU......NOW" the voice replied. It came out louder this time.
A sound reminding James of submerging from the YMCA came from the furthest stall. Then
a plop as something hit the floor.

"I.....SEEEEEE....YOU.......CLOSER" came the voice.

James felt his crotch grow warm as wetness spread. He was standing frozen against the
wall, a mere 12 feet and three stalls from the voice. And the voice belonged to something thatjust came out of the sewer.

Years ago when James was in college he and his only friend, Gordon, mustered up enough
bravery to attend a frat party on campus. It was a half-hearted attempt to escape their
nerdom. James was fine with another Saturday night of poker and playing Madden on their
dorm TV, but Gordon had manage to talk him into some sort of social situation. As pale and skinny as Gordon was, he had more courage to expand his social circle than James had.

"We need to get out there man" Gordon had pleaded. "We are missing out. We are in college.We should be dancing and partying. Getting a girl's phone number is not impossible"

James knew that the odds of them dancing was almost nil, and forget about speaking to any females. But James relented. Gordon was right. They need to be seen on campus. Their dorm room would survive without them for one night.

James and Gordon made their way to the nearest frat house on the edge of campus. They
paid their $5, got their red solo cup and were shuttled down a short hall to the large dining
room that doubled as the frat's main party room that was already filled dancing co-eds.
Piercing loud techno music made the room vibrate with each beat. They settled into their
typical positions in the corner against the wall, away from most of the dancing.

After a few minutes, Gordon eventually decided it was time to head to the bar to get what
was surely a warm and skunked beer the fraternity was serving. Gordon moved to the bar
with his solo cup in hand. He took a few steps into the dining room towards the bar and saw a drunk girl dancing to him in his direction unironically dancing the cabage patch. Gordon did his best to duck under her flailing arms and almost immediately crashed into a frat bro,spilling fratbro's own warm beer all over the crotch of his pants.

"WHAT THE FUCK!!!!" frat bro bellowed. His hand curled into a fist and struck Gordon on
the temple dropping to the ground and the beating set in.

Poor Gordon didn't have a chance. He tried his best to fend off the onslaught but Frat bro
must have had him by one hundred pounds. Gordon managed gave a pleading look over to
James hoping for any kind of relief from the assault. James just locked up as Gordon's face
bruised under the barrage of punches. It was a full deer in the headlights moment as he wasunable to help his only friend. And that's where James found himself now. He should be
running for the door. But he was like a statue, alone in the bathroom stall.

James felt himself retreating into himself. A wave of helplessness and shame flowed throughhim, much like the night years ago with Gordon.

James had helped a mangled Gordon to student health services and sat with him as the
doctor patched up his bruised and swollen face. Gordon's right eye was blackened and shut.His nose purple, crooked and taped up and his lips split. His face would surely be a tough sight to look at for weeks. But that wasn't what James had trouble looking at. Gordon's one good eye stared at Gordon over the doctor's shoulder. Gordon's look of disappointment andabandonment bore into James. It stuck with him to this day. Gordon was his only friend andhe had frozen and abandoned him when he needed him the most. James knew that deepdown he was a coward. And no amount of horror movie knowledge was going to make up for it.

"I.....SEEEEEE......YOUUUUUUUU" the thing moaned/gurgled loudly.

It was close now. The sound had moved from the last stall to the next one over from
James. Whatever it was, it was sliding underneath the partitions towards him. If James bent
down and looked and looked under the stall, he would surely see it. Water was spreading
across the floor that had come out of the toilet with it.

James knew he only had precious seconds before it slid into his stall. He did not want to
find out what happened then. James though of his horror movies he loved so much.

The movies in which you barely saw the monsters were the scariest ones, right? The shark
from Jaws, the Xenomorph from Alien and the monster from Cloverfield are only glimpsed
throughout the movie until the final reveal of the big bad terror at the end. The reason
movies use this trope is because your imagination pictures with something more ghastly than anything that a talented director or special effects whiz can conjure.

But this was real life. The thought of seeing whatever came out of the toilet and was
making the wet hissing gasps would crack his sanity. He needed to snap out of his paralysis
and make a move now.

The bathroom door to the hallway only stood 18-20 feet away. He was overweight and had
a left leg that barely functioned. Not to mention the cramps in his lower intestine. He never
had a chance to relieve himself before he heard the voice.

Regardless, an unexpected shot of determination flowed through him. He wasn't going to
stand by like with Gordon as the thing approached. He steeled himself to sprint as fast as he could towards the door.

He wasn't going to stop there. He was going to go home and grab his things and leave the
city. He didn't want anything to do with this place again. He could find a new job with coworkers who didn't ignore him and called him by his real name. He could meet a girl who
would see his positive qualities.

Anything was possible as long as he could get away from the thing crawling towards him.

James undid the lock on the stall and pushed open the door and flew out of the stall at his
maximum speed. He took four quick steps. The bathroom door and safety were so close. Thething in the stall was on his right and already behind him. James only had to pass throughthe area where the urinals were and he would be out the door.

James felt a wave of relief. He was going to get away from the thing. He still had no idea
what it was. What kind of abomination would come out of the toilet and speak to him?

He didn't care. It wasn't his problem. He was free of this place and whatever came out of its
pipes.

He was only a few steps from the door when his right foot hit the puddle of water formed
when it came out of the toilet. His legs shot from under him, putting all of his weight on thebad leg. The familiar ripping sound came again down by his ankle as he re-tore his Achilles.His leg buckled and folded in half. He struck his head on the sink as he fell to the ground.

Darkness gripped him. When he came back to consciousness, he was back on the bathroom
flood in the spreading puddle. It took a few instants to blink away the remaining black dots
clouding his vision.

He was unsure on how long he was out cold. He tried to test his left leg for any kind of
function, but it was useless. An excruciating bolt of pain shot up his leg on every attempt tomove. Not that it mattered much. He had wrenched his neck when his head struck the sink.Turning it in an direction was pure agony. He lay paralyzed staring at the ceiling of the
bathroom.

He wasn't even able to move to look when the creature began to crawl up his legs. He could
feel tentacles as it pulled itself up his calves. Suction cups gripped his skin through his pantsas it moved his knees and past his crotch. He could feel three rows of sharp teeth beingdragged up his torso as it settled over James. Two tentacles grabbed James's shoulders pulled hits face up to James and looked eye to eye.

James looked up into the things beautiful blue eyes. They looked almost human. And what
James saw surprised him. It looked at him not with the mockery and contempt that James
saw in most people's eyes. He could see compassion, pity and sympathy deep in the eyes of the monstrosity.

"I.......SEE....YOU......JAMES" came the voice.

And it opened its mouth, exposing its rows of teeth, getting ready to feed.

"Finally, someone sees me" was James's final thought.



Horror Writing Contest contest entry
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