Jeff sat down in front of the lavatory door. It was the only seat available on his crowded morning commuter train. It’s Jeff’s least favorite place to sit on the train. Public toilets in any sense were just the worst possible places on Earth as far as Jeff was concerned. This idea of a toilet, so close to the rest of the commuting people just made Jeff feel dirty and covered with fecal matter and disease. He would resist the very normal temptation to freak the hell out though. It just wouldn’t be proper to start screaming at the top of his lungs in front of all these other morning weary travelers. So Jeff just stared at the lavatory door and prayed that it would remain shut.
He’d always been cautious around public bathrooms. Jeff was traumatized by a public bathroom as a very young man. He was just about eight years old and at the beach for a Summer Day Camp excursion. This beach was not some idyllic, pristine country setting, or glamorous California coastal paradise. It was a Chicago beach in the 1980’s; a time when the beach was slightly less horrifying than the prospect of nuclear annihilation with the Soviet’s. There was always a risk of stepping on broken glass at the beach, or the metal ringlets from pull tab beer cans. The beach was a place of unknown danger, secluded mysteries, and goblin-like monsters creeping in the shadows of a beach’s public restrooms.
Growing up in the big city there were always new experiences to be had and not all of them good. One such experience was the Day Camp Beach trip from the local Park District run Day Camp. Jeff considered the Day Camp about as interesting as a dental visit or an afternoon spent inspecting the riches of dung beetles. He hated day camp. It was bad lunches, bug juice, and almost ceaseless hours of accursed Dodgeball. The counselors were not very inventive in the activity department, so Jeff’s little group of squirts wound up playing Dodgeball all day. Jeff liked the days that they got to spend inside the field house doing something with arts or crafts. Those were the good days. There was very little threat of getting beaned in the face with a big red dodgeball in the field house confines. So a full day trip to the beach with Day Camp was hardly what Jeff considered “summer fun”.
The beach was crushed with the hundreds of other City Park District Day Camp kids all screaming and shouting and pushing. Jeff only had one friend out of the day camp kids, Conrad. And he couldn’t go to the beach trip because his mother didn’t want him to go. Jeff was envious of his friend Conrad.
The kids exploded onto the beach like they were being chased by the hounds of Hell yet Jeff wasn’t all that interested. He was an introvert then, very much like the adult introvert he became. He was contemplative rather than impulsive, he was quiet rather than brash, and he didn’t do anything without looking before he leapt. So when he got off the bus for Day Camp Beach day, he was on high alert for anything terrible.
Luckily for Jeff, the day wasn’t too bad. He actually had a little fun playing in the sand and learning how to make sandcastles that actually looked like the thing they were supposed to be. But as the day wore on he felt the terrible pressure starting to build in his guts. Soon he’d have to visit a public bathroom for the very first time, on his own. He’d been to parks with the old wooden outhouses that smelled like the rotting farts of a thousand beer shits before, but he’d gone with his dad, who somehow made the whole experience bearable through a constant stream of berating curses, “Just go already damn it.” His father wasn’t at the beach though and the pressure was starting to get a little painful.
The beach had a stone and brick public washroom near the edges of the sand and sidewalk. It was a red brick structure for the most part, but it was hard to tell considering the amount of spray painted graffiti covering the exterior. In the 1980’s, a public building was defined by the amount of graffiti that covered it. If there was a lot of spray paint and graffiti it meant “STAY OUT” if there was only a little graffiti it meant, “ENTER AT YOUR OWN RISK” and if there was just one or two little spray paint marks it meant, “DAMN KIDS”. This public beach lavatory was well beyond the level of “STAY OUT”, it was tattooed to the point of being an entryway to Hades from which there would be no return.
Jeff had to go though. There was no other place around for an eight year old, essentially on his own, since he’d long sense wandered away from the sandcastle crowds and the other damn kids. He would have to enter this forbidden temple of horror on his own.
The beach lavatory was dark. There were no functioning overhead lights. The windows were mere slits of sunlight that your eyes simply couldn’t adjust to. It was so bright outside that you were blind in this dark cavern of foulness. The smell hit Jeff first. It was gas but somehow solid. It was the smell of garbage on a sidewalk, in the sun, next to the corpse of an 80 year old man that had also crapped himself before the gangrene got to his leg. It was the sort of smell that would make Satan think twice about this whole, “Evil” business. Jeff tried to hold his breath but it was too late and the stink of a million shits had already entered his mouth.
It was dizzying but Jeff had to go. He had to just take care of his business. He’d never been into such a place before. He’d been in a few public bathrooms at restaurants and they were always pretty well maintained. So he’d assumed that a City like Chicago would certainly have public restrooms just as decent at the worst restaurants. Jeff was not prepared for the darkness, the pissy dampness or the odor of pure death this public lavatory presented.
Jeff moved passed the floor to mid waist urinals, which were just as tall as Jeff. They were not running like the ones back at school. These urinals seemed to be filled with everything but urine. Jeff felt the heat of the lavatory. It was Amazon hot in the lavatory. It was a cement swamp of foulness that didn’t seem real. It gave the darkness a hazy quality that Jeff had never experienced. He walked past the urinals toward a row of stalls. It was dark. It was quiet, except for the faint sound of water dripping somewhere. Jeff worked his way slowly past the first stall.
There was no door on the stall. It was a toilet, surrounded by brick, and the darkest mold and filth Jeff had ever seen. It was darker than the darkest night in that stall. It was a black hole of pure stink and fear. It was the bathroom the Grim Reaper used after a night of severing souls and drinking Tequila. It was unusable.
Jeff moved to the second stall. It too was missing a door but it was sort of bathed in a slim slit of light from a window overhead. It wasn’t right but Jeff just couldn’t see why. Even though there was light coming in, it was still a pit of blackness. An impenetrable darkness consumed this stall that no light could diffuse. Jeff stepped closer to the stall. The feeling of having to “go” had long sense passed. It had been over taken by fear and adrenaline. Jeff timidly stepped closer to the darkness in the second stall when the darkness suddenly looked up at Jeff.
Jeff screamed and stumbled backwards. There were white eyes connected to a heavily bearded face with crazy shaggy black hair covering its head, connected to bare shoulders and the shadowed nether region of a man sitting on the commode. The man thing shouted in surprise at the site of Jeff, but Jeff heard a growl. A hobo growl. So he screamed again and ran from the dark pocket of hell’s lavatory, leaving that man thing on the shitter and darkness.
The beach was a breath of fresh air as Jeff went scrambling across the sandy surface in a full terror run. He ran back toward where his camp group was and tried to blend in. He didn’t want the lavatory monster to find him. He figured it was best to blend in with all the other damn kids. Jeff just silently mingled with the other day campers until it was time to thankfully go. Jeff didn’t tell anyone about the hell hole lavatory. He kept it to himself. It was a seared memory in his young brain. It would make him the man he would be.
The train pulled into the terminal and everyone stood up to disembark. The lavatory door across from Jeff’s seat remained closed. Jeff shuffled along with the rest of the commuters but in the back of his mind he feared the man thing was probably behind that closed train lavatory door, still shitting, still sitting, and waiting for Jeff to return.