About the Authors
1 Amanda Farbanish, New Jersey – July 12, 2017
2 Lauren Harwyn, California – July 19, 2017
3 Sarah Karasek, Pennsylvania – July 26, 2017
4 Gabriella Sayger, West Virginia – August 2, 2017
5 Daniel Booth, California – August 9, 2017
6 Alyssa Jordan, California – August 16, 2017
7 Jeremy Grey, California – August 23, 2017
About Dually Noted
Dually Noted is TBL’s exciting group-writing project. New and established writers from around the world come together to create one ongoing story through weekly installments. If you would like to add the next section, shoot us your 500-word addition by Friday night. Our editor will publish the best submission at the beginning of each week.
Portal in a Public Bathroom
by the TBL Writing Community
Toilet of Youth
In a tucked-away bar off the side of a tucked-away road in a tucked-away part of the world, it was occasionally whispered that the toilets would fill with water from the Fountain of Youth.
Leo had first come to the remote town on the cusp of the mountains for one last research expedition. He’d wanted something, anything that would help reinstate him in the scientific community.
He found that something in the bar’s grungy bathroom.
“How’s our resident professor!” A local slapped Leo’s back, his smile full of crooked teeth.
Leo winced. He’d squatted here so often that the entire bar treated him like an old friend. His back stung from the affectionate whacks.
Leo raised his mug. “Waiting for the bladder to fill.”
How the Fountain of Youth filled the bar’s bathroom—if it did at all—was the topic of many rumors wafting along the bar’s hookah vapor and beer breath. Most agreed it had to do with the owner, Ms. Polombe. Despite her folds upon folds of sagging wrinkles, she had the gumption of a much younger woman. They said she bought the bar from the previous owner with sacks full of diamonds, though who the previous owner was, no one could recall.
The elderly believed it was the mountain god’s gift. On days when fog rolled thickly off the mountainside, the smell of violets would permeate the air, seeping into the locals’ hair and clothes. On those days, people would enter the bar’s bathroom and leave reeking of violets, their skin smooth and supple, as if they’d taken a bath in natural oils.
And then, on the foggiest of days, a person would walk into the bathroom and simply vanish.
For some reason, no one spoke of those days.
With people dunking their heads into her porcelain bowls and gargling her toilet water, Ms. Polombe established a rule: You could only use the bathroom after downing five mugs. Only when ya bladder’s fit ta burst, she’d say.
Leo was on his fifth for the day.
He knocked back the final ounce, slamming the mug on the wooden counter. “Done!” he announced, raising his hand like a proud preschooler. Today was his day. This time he’d collect a water sample that held something more than the stale remains of piss.
Ms. Polombe waved him away. “Go on then.”
He traipsed in and slumped against a stall, eagerly rummaging for his eyedropper. The door squeaked open and his shaking hands dropped it in the toilet.
Turning in bleary, drunken annoyance, he froze, nose to nose with a beautiful woman. Her skin glowed and her sleek black hair cascaded over her shoulder. A diamond winked in the flickering light.
The water shimmered. Swirling, it revealed visions of glassy-eyed people laughing by a fountain, slowly aging backwards, elderly becoming middle-aged becoming young adults becoming teens, tweens, and children, gradually winking from existence.
Hands rested on Leo’s back. And then he was falling, fading, violet water rushing warmly over his head.1
Ella dragged the swampy mop bucket into the bathroom, unfolding the yellow A-frame sign to block access to the door.
They should really get on the gender-neutral bathroom trend, she thought as she surveyed the damage. There was always a long line for the women’s toilets while the guys strode right in and, apparently, pissed all over the place and threw toilet seat covers on the floor before rejoining the fray.
She sighed as she worked at the multicolored wads of gum stuck to the urinal’s chipped porcelain edge. She needed another job. All her friends were out partying and here she was, cleaning up the mess left behind by people actually enjoying their Saturday night.
Something colorful caught the corner of her eye, and she groaned, peeking under the drain cover to look for candy or condoms or whatever florescent annoyance had been left there.
A bright light burst from the drain. Ella only had a moment to shout before she found herself tumbling headlong into crushing darkness.
Was she passing out? If she was able to wonder, she must still be conscious.
She landed with a thud, and the world spun around her like she was the axis of the universe.
The air was cool and clean, a stark contrast from the ammonia-and-bleach smell of the toilets. Long, wet grass folded under her, and she clambered unsteadily to her feet to keep from getting soaked, wiping her hands on her thighs.
“There we are,” said a gentle voice, startling her.
In the dark field stood a curvy figure sparkling with tulle and body glitter. She could have been a patron of the club if she was a bit younger, but the club was far from sight; in fact, there was nothing around but the shadows of trees and shrubs.
Ella’s stomach clenched with fear. “Did somebody drug me?”
“No, child, I heard your wish,” said the woman matter-of-factly. “A girl named Ella wished to go to the ball, I heard it very distinctly. So, here you are and there,” she waved a simple willow twig into the darkness, “if you walk but a ways, is the palace.”
Ella snorted, but the woman only continued to smile blandly, and she realized this was serious.
The fairy godmother cut off her urgent protests. “You’ll need a dress,” Ella found herself struggling to grapple with an explosion of fabric, “and an invitation.” A letter sealed in wax was placed on the dress in her arms.
“I think you’ve confused me with somebody else,” Ella managed hoarsely.
“No, no.” The woman’s smile grew taut with apparent frustration. “I have answered your wish as you asked. Now, enjoy the party, darling.” She gave an affected little wave and vanished, quick as a blink.
Ella stood in the field alone, the smell of chemical cleaner still clinging to her clothes.2
The Porcelain Goddess
Stare long into the void and the void stares long into you.
The words spun through my head on a carousel, churning my stomach and numbing my brain. Or was it the bourbon? The room spun with Nietzsche’s words. Not quite Nietzsche’s words; it was an inaccurate quote. Was that why I took the last shot? I made to heave, came up empty, vowed never to attend another gathering of English and Philosophy majors, especially one at a bar. I tried to hold my gaze on a single black speck on the inside of the toilet bowl, but found it flittering all over my vision. My sweaty palms clung to the cool tile floor.
A gentle rap on the door broke through the muffled guitar riffage of the rager on the other side. “Lana?” a soft voice asked.
“Raven,” I growled.
“They’re playing your song, Lana. You okay in there?”
I gulped down an excess of saliva. “Acrid,” I said aloud, tasting my tongue.
“Right on. Well, I’m gonna get back to the party. Do one of those death growls if you need me.” She laughed.
I laced one hand through my green mohawk and let the other grip the rim of the toilet. I was taking in a deep breath, preparing to spew, when I suddenly remembered—the abyss. And when you stare long into the abyss, the abyss also stares back into you.
I birthed half-digested chunks of carrot, bread, and potato out of my throat, like some weird frog. When my mouth was finally empty, I tested the words out, keeping my eyes shut. They felt right. I said them again and again.
My eyes flew open. The toilet seemed to have gurgled the words back at me. I dipped my head down and shut my eyes, trying to listen. The smell was hideous; if that didn’t make me puke, then I didn’t have anything left. The deep pulse of a bass guitar crept under the bathroom door with some muffled Eldritch vocals and snares.
When I finally opened my eyes, I almost fell over. Where I had expected to see stomach bile confetti, there was a face peering back at me, inches from my own. I was worried that it was my reflection for a second, that I had become greenish and wrinkly, grown white wispy hair, knocked out a few of my teeth, and somehow made my eyes black.
Then she said, “I am the abyss, Lana, and it’s not polite to stare.”
I screamed like a bat outta hell. Like Dani Filth. Like Otep. Like a lion.
She grabbed me with soggy fingers and pulled me into the water. I could hear the same throbbing bass even as the toilet flushed around me.3
The Toilet of Tales
Sam gripped his hair in frustration. “Stupid Shark Week, how could you do this to me?” The McDonald’s employee backed away from his table, sweeping elsewhere to avoid the frustrated author.
The program Sam had watched was a study on the interactions of saltwater crocodiles and sharks on the Australian coast. A self-proclaimed Syfy movie enthusiast, Sam wanted to experiment with a different literary concept.
“A Shoc? A Crark?” He tapped his thin lips with the edge of the pen. Plastic thorns stuck out from the constant biting, scraping his cupid’s bow.
This is hopeless, he thought.
His notebook was filled with sketches, character profiles, and plot twists. He was trying to issue a challenge to the idea of a modern novel, wanting to pay an homage to Syfy and its fusion of creatures like the “Sharktopus” and “Piranhaconda”—but his would be even better.
“Why did I think this was a good idea?” he growled. The idea wasn’t developing at all. He stared at the page, the tenth one that he wanted to type into his computer later. He sucked on a fry.
The bull shark bit the scientist’s hand off. Then…
He truly could not think of anything. He pushed the tray away and grabbed his notebook. He stomped to the bathroom, ripping and crumpling the page. He was surrounded by stained tiles and overflowing trash cans circled with used paper towels.
Throw it in the trash? No, where’s the justice in that? In the mirror, Sam looked past his dark-eyed gaze into the open stall.
He tossed the ball into the toilet, flushing it. He sighed, staring at the vortex. Blub, blub, blub. Unsatisfied, Sam turned away. A tremor ran through his body. The plastic toilet seat quivered.
Sam glanced back into the clear water. A speck of a reflection appeared. The water glowed a bright faerie-green. He squinted, noticing an outline forming. Blue-ish grey, swaying side to side like a fleshy current, it sped towards him. His breath quickened with antici—
“IS THAT A—” Sam leapt back. Water splashed as a giant, twenty-foot shark torpedoed out of the toilet bowl. With sharp teeth and dark bullet-ash eyes, it launched itself into the air, its snout almost reaching the ceiling. Sam tasted saltwater.
He screamed, back flat against the door in terror. The shark snapped and flailed before flipping around, diving divinely back into the toilet.
Sam scrambled forward, the tail disappearing into nothing. A droplet fell from a single blonde curl into the water, rippling. He pressed the handle—flush—and watched the water swirl into its gulp. He stared in amazement. Something emerged at the surface, the glow disappearing.
“Oh my god.”
Sam retrieved the soggy paper, opening it to find his bleeding work. The massive bull shark torpedoed from the tank, biting Doctor Stern’s hand clean off.
Soaked and smelling like fish, he hurried out the door. He knew what he wanted to write next; he just needed his pen.4
Look, I’d like to say this was the first terrifyingly endless hole I’d seen in the men’s restroom, but I had lived a long life and had seen so many. First there was the blue-eyed Norwegian with the strong back and big forearms, full of ginger earnestness and little white hairs on his ass. Then came the hairy Pole with his wedding ring still visible, eager to get away to his little porcelain paradise, if only for a few hot minutes. And there was the Somali Muslim, who occasionally flitted his eyes up to mine as I shuddered in ecstasy.
It was cold today. The toilet seat had stung for a moment when I sat down, and my balls retracted inward a little bit. I began tapping the linoleum floor. I was casting a line. And then it had opened at my feet.
Slowly at first, the roiling darkness expanded, bunching at the edges like a herniated black hole. I saw stars through the portal—not unlike my usual Sunday morning here—but these gleamed with an intense, blinding light. I realized I was looking at a grand celestial asshole. A form gracefully hovered through the portal and grabbed the top edges of the stall. Then, with a wink, the portal closed. The figure towered above me, and he landed with a soft click as his platform boots touched the floor. He spoke.
“Come here often?”
His voice was gravelly, inviting. As I looked closer, I noticed he wore a velvet cape that didn’t reflect any light. My eyes struggled to adjust. The only thing I could make out was his incredible lips. They had a permanent white marble gloss that held the same starry light as the portal.
Before I could compose myself enough to respond, he started slowly sinking to his knees in front of me. His nails were long, but ordered into long points. His skin was a deep royal purple.
“Who are you?” I heard myself ask.
“I am the incubus. More like the succubus. Because I suck old men. And their souls. Out of them. Get it?”
I tried to nod but I felt paralyzed.
“This—this is my last day on earth, then?”
“Yes. You’re coming with me to Hell after this,” he said as he took me in his hand. My chest started to hurt.
“But why Hell, what have I done?”
“What do you mean? You’ve been a great man, this is your reward. An endless stream of incredible blowjobs for eternity.”
“Oh. So no fire and brimstone?”
“Only if that’s what you’re into.” He licked his lips. I started to wheeze.
“Wait, why doesn’t everyone want to go to Hell?” I managed to gasp out.
“Not everyone is into Demonic blowjobs. Some people are squares.” He plunged his head down fast.
“Oh—” My head fell back and my heart exploded. I drifted blissfully down the river Styx.5
A Day in the Life
Every Tuesday night, Death liked to haunt the local bars.
No one could spot a reaper, of course, so he was free to passively watch men and women quench their thirst on malt scotch or a fine glass of rye whiskey before dabbling in things like the green witch haze. Whenever someone ordered absinthe, the bartender would covertly prepare the concoction with a fancy glass and a slotted spoon.
Occasionally, Death felt a peculiar tug, a certain kind of desire.
If Death had a tongue, it would ache to taste the green anise, the sweet fennel. He quivered at the thought of lips wrapping around cool, sticky glass.
Death was a peculiar reaper. The others didn’t care about their charges or this fickle little planet. They didn’t care about the mouthwatering drinks or the beer-battered fries. They didn’t notice how some humans loosened after so many hours imbibing, how their smiles would gently hook, how their eyes would soften.
Death noticed. And he yearned.
The others labelled him a D-grade reaper. He needed to be reminded of his place, they said. No more carrying souls through dimensions on a whim. Death now had to use a portal in a grimy gas station bathroom.
He accepted this demotion. It wasn’t like he had a choice.
One Tuesday, Death followed his favorite alcoholic to a local bar. The man rolled up his shirtsleeves, exposing pale, muscular forearms, and got to work on beer and whiskey and some vile looking pink drink before eventually, inevitably, ordering a glass of absinthe.
Death watched his neck work to swallow the alcohol in one quick head toss. His black hair had been slicked back, but a few strands fell loose when he threw back another drink.
The man was handsome, Death thought. And miserable. He’d had a sad life.
Death reluctantly watched it end.
After the man collapsed and choked, Death bent down and hovered near his mouth. The sight of his dead body disturbed Death, but he didn’t know why.
He slowly extracted the man’s soul, tugging it through his lips and inhaling deeply. Recently, they had given him a mouth and a temporary body for this very reason. It was a vessel that could pass unseen while transporting delicate cargo.
He carefully rolled the soul around in his mouth, enraptured with its essence.
The trip went by too quickly, but Death savored every moment. Eventually, he arrived at the right gas station. There was only one bathroom, and it was empty. He opened his new, foreign mouth, and spat out the soul as gently as he could.
The soul hit the toilet water with a light splash. Death knew he had to flush it, but he didn’t want the bright—if somewhat damaged—soul to go alone. So, Death did something he was probably always going to do.
He stepped into the toilet with the soul and flushed them both into another dimension.6
In the clear, fountainesque water that sat still in the toilet bowl, he could see every possible way the night might have played out. As it was, Brian had stumbled through the rough molehill terrain of the park to find this public restroom, where he knelt now at the toilet, heaving to no avail. And yet, how different it could have been. He could see it as he stared down into the shallow pool, scrying, somehow.
He could see himself entering Sally’s house jovially, halfway through the bottle of wine he’d intended to gift her (as opposed to all the way through, drunk and sullen on the doorstep). He complimented her on a beautiful home and kissed her rather roughly on the cheek, too close to the mouth. He could see the other guests being wary of him, but still entertaining his company. When he was asked to leave by Sally’s husband, it was only because he was too drunk, and the men shared a laugh about it on the porch before he stumbled out into the cool, flat air.
In another variation, Brian saw himself arrive sober, pristine bottle in hand passed to Sally whom he hugged warmly, not more than friendly. In this sober state he chatted politely with the other guests. Friends from college, their friends, spouses, a few small children. Only after the bottle was open did he try to ask Sally about that time they got stuck on the wrong train together. About the attendant who told them they suited each other. About arriving in rural New York, unsure at first what town, and sitting and playing cards in the parking lot. Sally smiled politely. She said sure she remembered. And Brian got to go home with nothing having gone wrong, and only his tail between his legs.
In another variation, Sally remembered more than Brian did. Sally mentioned the attendant’s maimed hand, his ring finger crushed snuggly into his cylindrical, worm tunnel palm. She remembered Brian inching closer to her in the packed luggage car, feeling his breath and closeness as they landed in the town called Rome. Rome, New York. In this variation, it was Sally who got drunk. Brian went home feeling small and unsure what parties were for.
In another, Brian fought Sally’s husband pressed against a parked car. In another, he shut his mouth and smiled when appropriate. In another, Brian and Sally and Sally’s husband each took a stall and puked successfully in the park bathrooms (but what fun they’d had just up until then!). In another, Brian sat alone at home watching Ghostbusters II on his laptop. And so on. The toilet went silent.
Brian could feel his gut turning over. The toilet bowl looked up at him, sloshing kindly, at the ready as Brian heaved once more and was finally successful. His throat went raw as he let everything out of him, his mind once more firmly in the now, as the waves of nausea pulsed, subsided. Instinctually he curled around the toilet, squeezing the cool ceramic to him. His mind calmed, sorted itself, solidified. He slept there that night.7
Portals; doorways of possibility. What would happen if one appeared in a public bathroom? This collection explores the weird and wacky scenarios that could ensue. So, tell us your 500-word stories in this setting! Feel free to borrow characters and locations from other installments. Your section can stand alone or build on what came before. Send us your submissions by Friday for consideration!
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