30 June 2008

The Horror Beneath the Bathroom Sink

So I was sitting naked on a beanbag eating Cheetoes….
~Ron White

The Horror Beneath the Bathroom Sink
Patricia Snodgrass

The ice storm that took out our county’s power grid and sent my husband, son and myself scurrying to the relative safety of my brother’s farm was deadly still and utterly quiet. We sat huddled together next to the wood heater, with Coleman lanterns casting stark eerie shadows throughout the aging farmhouse. Just beyond the blackened windows we could hear the agonized groans from tall pines and hickory trees, and finally the loud snap and subsequent crash as those trees hit the ground. Aside from that, there was nothing. Not even the wind in the eaves or the startled cry of night birds. And we, being of hearty Cherokee, Kiowa and Pioneer stock, did as our ancestors did. We sat by the fire, holding our breaths, waiting out the storm, fearing what we’d find in the morning.

My novel, Mercer’s Bayou was born this night although at the time I didn’t know it. I did know that the silence, the darkness and the cold, punctuated by isolation and the horrid snapping and crashing of trees made me wonder what dark and awful things might be lurking out in the woods. And we living not far from the river bottoms that spawned the legendary Fouke Monster, there was no telling what might be going on out there.

At this time I was feeling a bit nervous. I needed some privacy. I took a lamp, a small notebook and pen and went to the bathroom. I sat on the commode lid and contemplated the situation as I took notes.

What frightened me the most in this situation? Was it the unknown that was occurring out in darkness so thick it literally pressed against the bathroom window, or was it the way we saw our friends and neighbors behave while we were in town earlier that day trying to buy batteries and gasoline?

As I relaxed and thought these things through, a scene formed in my mind of a lovely athletic woman being pursued by men with high powered rifles. If she was hiding in this house out here in the wilderness and they had broken in on her, how would she escape?

The front and back doors would be blocked no doubt. The men would be smart enough to separate and make sure she couldn’t get out of either door. It was quite obvious, no matter how svelte she was, there was no way she could climb out of one of the windows. My heroine was trapped.

My eyes went to the bathroom sink’s cabinet. It was low, true, but wide and built fairly deep. Could a smallish woman hide in there?

I had to find out. So I opened the cabinet doors and looked inside. The sink’s bowl was deeper than I expected and the pipe ran in an S shape down into the floor. There was nothing else inside but even so, it’d be a tight fit. I adjusted the lantern, the shadows in deep contrast against the bright light. I looked in. If I ducked my head I reasoned, and made sure my legs straddled the pipe, I was sure I could get in.

So, for purely research reasons, I crawled inside.
I’m considerably heavier than Megan, my heroine but I was still able to get in without too much finagling. The bowl was hard and crusty on the back of my neck. I didn’t want to think about that, or what might be crawling around trying to find a way into my sweater. I moved one leg carefully, so I could straddle the pipe without kicking it loose. I shoved my shoulders into the very back of the cabinet. With my left hand, I closed the cabinet door.

It was actually lighter inside it than I realized. The light from the lantern shone through the cracks. The cabinet was dim, musty and smelled of old cleansers and dust. A blast of frigid air rose from the hole the pipe went through. It was big enough; I decided that something small could get in if it chose. A rat perhaps. Or even a skunk if it was small enough. I made a mental note to tell my brother about that.

At that moment a blast shook the house. I shrieked, bumped the back of my head on the sink, shoving my shoulder outward and rattling the cabinet door and banging my knee. I heard feet running down the length of the hallway. The door to the bathroom slammed open, then the cabinet door. My thirteen year old niece stared down quizzically at me.
“Aunt Pat, what are you doing in the cabinet?”
“Never mind that,” I replied. “What was that noise?”
“That was daddy,” my niece replied in that bored voice all teenagers seem to have. “He shot a possum underneath the house.”

I couldn’t help it. I laughed while my niece helped me out of the cabinet. On the way back to the living room, we told every red neck joke we could think of.

And here, kiddies, is the scene that came from that night. Happy reading.

Megan yanked open the bathroom door. She slid into the cabinet under the sink, pulling the door closed behind her. Her cheek rested against a rusted pipe and the cramped enclosure smelled faintly of Lifebuoy and rat shit. Her heart pounded in her ears. She bit her lip when she heard the back door crash open.
Despite the grinding discomfort of a leg cramp, Megan remained where she was as they ransacked the trailer. They’re going through the living room and the kitchen now, she thought as she heard cabinet doors opening and closing. What am I going to do when they get here? She could hear their muffled voices, soft oaths coupled with deep southern male voices. Her heart beat a cadence to their chant.
Something smashed to the floor. Something loud and made of glass.
The jelly jar and opened can of peas, she thought. Her mind raced. I left them on the cabinet top. They’ll see them. They’ll know I’m here.
“Looks like the jungle rats bailed,” one of them said.
“Yeah and good riddance, praise God.”
“Any sign of the Whore?”
“Not from any of the other trailers. Haven’t checked the back yet.”
“If she’s here, bring her here. Don’t hurt her. We’re supposed to take her to the preacher so she can meet Jesus.”
“Well, go on down and check the rest of the rooms.”
“Won’t leave any stone unturned,” his partner replied. His heavy boots made the floor underneath her vibrate. “Uh, since she’s a whore, can we?”
“No,” the other voice said. “Just find her so we can take her to the preacher.”
“You ain’t no fun at all, Boss. No fun at all.”
“Just cut the shit and go find her.”
She could hear him moving down the hall now. Tiny beads of sweat broke out on her brow, stinging and blurring her eyes. It ran down to the tip of her nose and dripped onto the floor.
The heavy boots stopped moving. She heard the bathroom door open. Hail Mary Full of Grace, the Lord is with you, she prayed silently. She scooted deeper into the cabinet.
As she moved aside, Megan saw a hole in the floor. It was the size of her fist, maybe a little larger. It was certainly not big enough for her to climb through. Her eyes widened when she saw movement in the hole. At the same time the hunter strode into the bathroom.
“Here kitty, kitty,” he said as he moved around the room.
Megan bit down hard on her tongue. Her eyes were riveted to the hole. She sat, stunned as she watched a small, sharp muzzle investigate the edges of the hole. Megan caught her breath. A rat-sized skunk squeezed through the opening in the floor. It shook its greasy fur, clamored up her leg and began scratching at the cabinet door.
Too horrified to move, she remained squeezed against the back of the vanity. The rusted sink bowl shoved against her neck and side of her head while the skunk climbed off her knee. It explored the thin rubber sole of her shoe then began nibbling on the fabric. Megan remained still even though her heart pounded at the thought of contracting rabies if the animal’s teeth should connect with the tender flesh just underneath the sole. She squeezed her eyes shut. Oh God, she prayed. That man’s right next to the cabinet door.
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