Randy was a portrait of self-control. He typed furiously to keep his mind off of his bursting bladder. His left leg quaked and sweat beaded on his brow. He brushed a damp clump of hair back into place and looked nervously out of his cubicle. He typed some more.
It wasn’t a deadline he feared. It wasn’t a tyrannical boss with plans to keep him late or work him over the weekend. It wasn’t even a woman he’d slept with from another department, one who might swing by to make his life miserable. He swabbed the counter with a wet wipe and tossed it in the trash.
“You okay, buddy?”
It was a co-worker. Randy looked into a joke rear-view mirror that was taped to the top of his monitor to see to who it was. People in the mirror may be more annoying than they seem, was printed along the bottom. He recognized the face as Sam. They’d worked together for several years.
“Fine, just busy.”
“You sure? You’re sweating, dude.”
Randy checked his face in the little mirror and wiped his forehead with the sleeve of his shirt. The pain in his full bladder twinged again.
“Fine. Lots to do is all.”
Sam shrugged and left him there. He said, “Lunch at twelve, don’t be late,” as he walked away. “Yeah,” Randy muttered under his breath.
He looked at the clock to see lunch was still two hours away. Then he looked at his coffee mug and regretted the second cup. He couldn’t stand it anymore. His chair rocked up on two wheels, almost falling over as he shot from his cube. Stray papers slid off the desk and floated, like autumn leaves, to the floor.
Randy cringed, focusing all of his energy on the ice pick in his crotch. He felt the moisture on his temples start to drip down the sides of his face. The noise of the office, droning on as usual with phone calls and clacking keys and Xerox machines, seemed to grow in volume.
“Morning, Randy,” a chipper voice said.
He didn’t compute who it belonged to, but nodded. He could feel the eyes on his back, the concerned looks on the faces as he passed by, sweating, walking in a stilted, gotta-go manner. Then he reached the break room, feeling like he might explode, wetting himself in a moment of embarrassment he would never live down. His feet drug the carpeted floor with a scrubbing sound, and then he stamped them as if they were asleep. It helped briefly with the pressure before making it worse.
“Shit, shit, shit,” he whispered with each subsequent step until he reached the bathroom door. His hand wouldn’t reach for the handle. He stood staring at it, biting his lower lip and without realizing grabbing his penis with his other hand. The flow had released from his bladder and was only damned up by a finger-and-thumb tourniquet.
His eyes lingered on that brass knob, sparkling in the fluorescent light. He gritted his teeth. The knob pulsed along with the capillaries in his eyes. He could see things swimming on the handle, tiny things with legs. Globular things with cilia or flagella that slid across the metal as if they were taunting him. Randy increased the grip on himself. His stomach turned at the thought of touching the handle, boiling bile at the top of his esophagus. He was going to vomit or he was going to piss himself.
Voices from around the corner distracted him from the handle. They were walking toward him; they would see him holding himself and perspiring like some schoolyard pervert. The footsteps tapped on the linoleum of the break room floor. In a moment, they would hit the carpet and it would be too late. Randy grabbed the handle with a grunt, bursting into the bathroom and rushing to one of the three stalls. The door swung mostly shut behind him.
“Thank God,” he whispered.
The bathroom was empty, but he didn’t notice. He was busy unzipping his fly around his gripping fingers, rolling his boxers down to reveal himself to the porcelain receptacle.
“Thank God,” he repeated.
Then he let loose, spraying urine on the wall and the toilet seat before gaining control and letting the painful relief consume him. His sweat-covered body shuddered in the air conditioning. When he was finished, finally empty, he leaned against the wall of the stall, from one cubicle to another, and closed his eyes.
Someone else came in. The creak of the self-closing arm on the door caught Randy’s ear. There were two voices, some he didn’t recognize.
“Catch the game?” one said.
Randy relaxed at the dull banter. They weren’t checking on him and that was all that mattered. He would be able to plan his exit. How not to touch anything before getting back. His mind cranked out ideas, but all of them stopped at the bathroom door. He could get out of the stall and wash his hands in the sink, even leave the water running, but then what? He had to touch the door handle. It was crawling with bugs… just like everything else.
He could wait until one of the others—the bacteria infested—came in and the door would be open long enough to escape.
He waited for the other two men to leave. They laughed and washed their hands without a care, but Randy knew better. When the door closer creaked again, he let the stall open, and pulled the door in with his shoe.
He scanned the room, even bent down to look under the other two stalls. They were empty, but his face was only a foot from the floor and he caught a whiff of stale urine. He straightened slowly, watching the floor crawl with life. Cold shot up his spine causing goose bumps on his arms. Randy rushed to the sink, seeing the same things swirling and rolling across the hot and cold handles. He scowled at the soapy fingerprints on the mirror, the mysterious, brownish drip marks in the sink, the wadded up paper towels on the counter and on the floor. He twisted the handle for the hot water and waited to put his hands underneath it.
The water wasn’t pure. Randy could sense it. The soap dispenser had a button to push, but it was caked with liquid soap, crawling with life—demonic, microscopic death that was just waiting to engulf him and eat him molecule by molecule. Waiting to get inside his body and rot him from the inside.
He detected a hint of color to the water and his paranoid eyes grew wider as he stooped for a closer look. They were there, little monsters, swimming in the stream amongst the aerated bubbles. Then Randy lost his balance.
His shoe slid, just a bit, on the wet ceramic tile and a purely involuntary action sent him into fits. His hand touched the floor to keep him from falling. He mouthed a scream, but nothing came out. His body jerked to stand, rigid as a piece of dehydrated spaghetti. Holding his hand up in dramatic fashion, he stared in horror. Millions of crushed organisms coated the skin of his palm; millions of others swarmed the tiny carcasses and began to devour them. It was only a matter of time before they would multiply and start eating him.
He looked at the water. Swimming. The soap, completely engulfed. The mirror, covered in spatters of miscellaneous liquid and fingerprints of the uneducated. Back to his hand. Had they doubled already?
He backed into the corner praying the door would open. He could rush to his desk and sanitize his hands, then go home to his pristine shower. No one came in.
The creatures ate, growing larger, then dividing. So many he could feel them dancing across his skin, moving up his wrist to the flesh of his forearm, headed for center mass.
“No,” Randy whispered.
He started to shake, rubbing one hand over the other in an attempt to slough them off like an old skin. They just grabbed his other hand, splitting and multiplying, covering both hands.
“No,” he said, his voice wavering like a goat.
He dug his fingernails into his palms, trying to scrape them off. Then into his forearms, digging curls of skin loose. The scratch marks filled slowly with blood, then dripped onto the floor. He watched the floor bubble with microbial excitement, closing in on the red drops. Then, like tiny vampiric ants, the mass crawled toward him, covering his shoes, then up under his pant legs to his socks and onto the skin of his shins and calves. Randy screamed.
“Get them off of me!”
He clawed at the flesh of his arms, then his legs, pulling his pant legs up and scraping meat loose from his lower legs. He shrieked with fear, oblivious to the damage he had caused to his own body, blind to the blood and chunks of himself that he held in his own hands. He pulled at his cheeks, clawing at his eyeballs and penetrating one. One fingernail came off in a vicious yank. Terror was his anesthetic.
Sam entered the room in a rush just as Randy’s shrieks were dying down. His skin was pale, bluish. He glared at Sam with the eye that still worked.
“Jesus, Randy, what happened? What’s going on?”
Randy continued to dig hunks from his body.
“Don’t touch me,” he said, croaking the words out like a bullfrog. “They’ll get on you. Don’t touch me.”
Sam shouted for help, bringing others to the office restroom. He dialed his phone, calling for help.
“Don’t touch me,” Randy said again. “Filthy.”
He kept repeating the word, filthy, as the blood drained.
~ Dan Dillard
© Copyright 2013 Dan Dillard. All Rights Reserved.