Out of Order (an extract)

This is an extract of the story Out of Order, possibly one of my more scarier stories. By constricting the narrator’s view of what was going on outside, I hoped to ramp up the tension. It’s as much what she imagines is happening that scares her – until she finds out what is actually on the other side of the door that is…

Out of Order

The toilet door on the train says “Out of Order”; there’s a sign. I try the handle anyway, but the door stands firm. Probably for the best, really. I have to sit down, though, or I’ll never make the journey.

I find a spot between a man who smells like peanut butter and a fat, sweaty woman. There’s hardly any room to move my arms as I squeeze between them, but I try to remain calm. I clench my hands into fists and dig my long nails into my palms to distract myself from the push of my bladder.

The boy opposite has his legs stretched out into my space. He sways in his seat, his face an alcohol green though it’s only seven at night. On another day, I might have fancied him, but I can smell the sick on his breath from this far away.

The man next to me flicks over his newspaper and rests the read pages on my lap. The woman’s jaw clicks as she chews on a McDonald’s chicken sandwich, the mayo-smothered lettuce plopping into the carton as she takes another ginormous bite. I turn on my iPod, and the sounds of Kaiser Chiefs drown out the train as I close my eyes and try not to think about my bladder.

The boy sticks his legs out further and kicks me in the shin, laddering my tights. The fat woman stands up to throw her wrapper in the bin. She sits back down on my coat and pins me to the seat. I count slowly up to ten and try to take deep breaths, but the urge to urinate overpowers my resolve.

I look back, wistfully, at the toilet door to see a man come out of the cubicle. I pull my headphones down to hear the end of a flush from within.

I get up, pull my coat free from the woman’s behind, and trip over the boy’s legs as I squeeze my way past.

I change my mind when the door the man just pushed shut flaps open again and I see the confined cubicle inside. The narrow, filthy walls will be no bigger than those of my old wardrobe: once you are locked inside, there’s no way to get out … But then, a little girl in pink darts towards the toilet door, and my body threatens me into action with the familiar swelling sensation that comes just seconds before the gush begins. I rush to get there before her and close the door in her face with a firm click.

From the inside, it’s even smaller than it looked, and I have to squeeze around the toilet just to get the door closed. I try the lock – fine. I take a piece of toilet paper and use it to lift the lid. I test the flush – fine.

People say I’m anal, but I never like to piss on trains. I hate the way the tall walls watch me. They seem to come in closer as I sit, unable to move until my bladder gives me back control of my body. And with these old toilets, you never know if the door is properly locked or, conversely, if it will ever open again. Do you know what happens to your body when locked in an enclosed space for weeks? But any port in a storm, as they say.

Halfway through, the train juts to a stop and knocks me off the seat, but I can’t stop, and the last few seconds of urine splash over the rim onto my trainers.

That’s when the lights go out, and the train fills with darkness. The train grows silent, so the sound of my piss hitting the floor fills the train. I look through the frosted window, but there are no lights outside to help. I hit the wall where I remember the flush button to be, but it doesn’t work. I quickly find the toilet roll and then smooth down my skirt. I fumble around for the tap, but the dark walls seem to push even closer around me, and I know I will be crushed by panic if I don’t get out now.

There’s a noise outside, like someone kicking at the train door to get in. Then a smash – and the cold air outside hits me through the inch-wide gap under the toilet door.

The next sounds are confusion, frantic footsteps running through the train. There’s a heavy crack as if someone has dropped a melon on the floor, followed by something sticky being slapped over and over again. Then the screams begin. Not one person’s scream, but a sudden outburst from the whole train, as if everyone just witnessed an event that horrified them.

“Oh no.”

“Oh my God.”

“No. Please, no!”

I back away from the door.

I feel feet pound along the floor, confused screams and chaos – like everyone has decided they must get off all at once – and other strange clashes that you might hear at a particularly vicious game of rugby.

The train shakes.

I search around in the darkness for the lock and wrench it open, but then something crashes into the other side of the door. There’s the same noise you get when a punch bag connects with a fist, and then a hard object, like a head, smashes into the door again. I hear a loud slap against the floor. It reminds me of wet meat thrown onto a slab.

All is silent then, except for a strange gurgle coming from outside the door. A hot sensation spreads over one of my feet, and then the other. It’s too dark to see what it is, so I bend down and put my hand to the floor. It’s wet and warm around my feet, like a hot sauce. I reach my hand to my face and, ever so quietly, give it a smell. It has no aroma, but I can almost taste its vapour in the air when I breathe. A kind of iron-bitter tang, which reminds me of when you bite the side of your mouth. A wave of cold nausea sweeps up my body, but I remain still and try not to retch.

I’m being punished! I push the thought away, telling myself that this is no time to be irrational.

I hear the thud of footsteps, can feel them pound the floor as they tread through the quiet train – a number of them, but they walk slowly, calmly now. Some of them drag heavy items behind them as they pass, as if they own large tails or something even worse that I can’t yet imagine. I see beams of light through the gap at the bottom of the door as the invaders, whatever they are, pass by. That’s when I remember I’ve unlocked the door.

I hold my breath and grope for the lock in the dark. I find the cold metal and start to turn the latch. I move it with painful slowness to try to minimise the grate of the metal as it scrapes into place. It clicks ever so quietly as it goes all the way in, and I let out a long, silent breath of relief.

But of course, now I’m trapped inside this tiny box. An image of the wardrobe in my old nursery flashes through my mind, like a subliminal cut. I haven’t thought about it in a long time. I shake my head and try to concentrate. It must be the dark that has set off the memory, that’s all.

The beings walk up and down the train corridor. Each time they pass my door, I hold my breath and try not to move.

I hear one set of footsteps approach slower than the rest, and the tread of their owner’s walk is heavier than the others. They pass my door slowly. I make no noise that I am aware of, but a little later, the footsteps stop, shuffle slightly, and come back towards me. Light floods into the cubicle from under the gap in the door, as the creature stops on the other side of my hiding place. It exhales in deep rasps. I hold my own breath even harder and press my hands against the cold wood of the door to brace it shut. My heart pounds in my head, trying to escape through my ears. It beats so loud I hope that whatever is on the other side can’t hear it. The light moves upwards; I see it through the tiny cracks where the door meets the frame.

The door starts to rattle, almost coming away from the wall…

Read the full story in my collection: It’s Dark Inside

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