Eric Lawson

The Devil and the Dude

The overpowering stench hit Daniel squarely in the face. Public restrooms were never a pretty sight and this one was no different. In fact, upon first glance, the design looked like it dated back to the Roosevelt Administration. As in Theodore Roosevelt.

Realizing that he absolutely could not hold it any longer, he rushed over to the first open stall and closed the door behind him. He dropped his pants, sat down, and then immediately stood up again. Why the hell is everything wet? His mind asked. What’s wrong with people? He used what little toilet paper there was to wipe the seat down. His stomach rumbled loudly. He had a vicious turtle head poking out and he needed to give birth, pronto.

He eased back down onto the seat and settled in. He flexed his muscles and nothing happened. His stomach rumbled again. “Come on,” he whimpered. He placed his hands on the walls for leverage and closed his eyes. He strained with all of his might but still the stubborn turd held fast. He was preparing to push gain when his hand slipped and he readjusted and then opened his eyes. To his horror, a large brown smear on the wall had coated his hand. To keep from puking, he repeated the phrase it’s just melted chocolate over and over in his head until the nausea passed. Things were definitely not looking up. “Holy hell,” he muttered to himself.

“Problems, dude?” asked a voice from the next stall.

The deepness and proximity of the voice caught Daniel off guard. “Oh, hey, I thought I was alone. Just doing my business over here.” He grimaced as soon as he shut his mouth. A master conversationalist, he was not.

“Yeah, well you know what they say; it’s a small world,” came the reply. “Sounds to me like that turd’s gonna take its sweet time. No need to force it.”

Daniel rolled his eyes. Not exactly sage-like advice. “And I suppose you’re waiting for the tide to come in over there or something.”

The voice in the next stall chuckled. “’Tide to come in.’ Good one. Between you and me, partner, I’ve been back up for over a week now. I was kind of hoping today was my lucky day, you know? No such luck so far, though.”

Daniel blinked incredulously. “You’ve been constipated for a week? Shouldn’t you see a doctor about that?”

The voice chuckled again. “Kid, I’ve outlived so many doctors. In fact, the last one had the gall to—wait a second; I think I got something here.”

A horrendous fart erupted from the next stall and shook the walls. It sounded like a foghorn coming through a stack of amplifiers. Daniel felt a strong breeze against his ankles and then the smell hit him. In his mind, he was waist-deep in a swamp carrying a dirty diaper while balancing a carton of rotten eggs on his head. Nausea was consuming him and he was on the verge of blacking out.

The deep voice brought him back from the edge. “Hey, dude. You all right over there?”

Daniel massaged his face. It felt warm and sweaty. “Uh, yeah. I’m here.” He thought his voice sounded distant and weak. “I guess you were backed up after all.”

“Just a false alarm,” the voice sighed. “It was a doozy, though, wasn’t it?”

Daniel laughed. “I’ll say.”

“Hey, since it looks like we’re gonna be in here for a bit, let’s shoot the breeze, huh? My name’s Lou.”

“Oh, um, well, I’m Daniel.” Several seconds dragged by and he started to wonder if Lou had fallen asleep.

“Daniel? You’re kidding me. Sorry, dude, but that’s a total pansy name. Let me guess, your parents were huge Elton John fans.” Lou laughed long and hard at this. 

“Okay, my bad. I couldn’t resist. I’m just gonna call you Dude from here on out. Let’s pretend we’ve shaken hands and all that awkward crap already, okay?”

“Oh, right. Sure,” Daniel replied. “Nice to meet you, Lou.”

“Likewise, Dude. So what do you think of the carnival so far?”

Daniel took a few seconds to consider. “It’s all right, I guess. I’ve seen better. Back when I was a kid I was more into them, maybe. How about you?”

“Where do I start?” Lou sounded like he was winding up to tell a real whopper. “Well, the food’s overcooked, the ringmaster’s taking pills for his ulcer, his daughter is knocked up and she’s not sure who the father is, and the mime monkeys got loose and are freaking people out,” he chuckled at this last part. “But hey, I’ve only been here for an hour. Who knows what’s gonna happen next, you know? Stay tuned.”

“Wow,” was all Daniel could bring himself to say.

Lou sounded like he was chewing on something; licorice, maybe. “Human drama is always more interesting than TV, I always say.” He sighed heavily and then was silent for a while. He sighed loudly again.

“Everything all right, Lou?” Daniel prodded.

Lou stumbled over his words. “Well, it’s just—aw, forget it, Dude.”

“What is it?”

“Nothing. A big, fat nothing, okay?” Lou sighed again.

“Aw, come on,” Daniel pleaded. “Sometimes telling a stranger is easier than telling your best friend. I’m not going anywhere.” He tapped his foot on the floor as if to prove a point.

“Maybe you’re right.” He sighed again. “It’s just…it’s just Julia, Dude.”

“Who’s Julia?”

Lou cleared his throat. His tone of voice changed. It was almost as if he had been rehearsing the story in his head before he even uttered a word. “She’s my ex-girlfriend. She supposedly moonlights at this high class jazz club downtown now.” He drifted off momentarily before sighing and continuing the story. “Anyway, she’s here at the carnival today with her new fella—I call him the A #1 Douche Bag—and when I saw her, she just looks amazing. Dude, I gotta tell ya I was drooling, man.”

He was silent for a few moments. When he spoke again, the confidence seemed to have drained out of him. “It was a mutual breakup, okay? I mean, I’ve grown a lot. A hell of a lot, you know? Dude, are you there?”

Daniel snapped back into the moment. “Yeah, I’m here. That sounds pretty rough, man.”

Lou plowed through. “Rough indeed, man. I’m trying my heart out to improve myself. I’m at the bookstore every other week checking out all the self-help books I can find. I’m making myself over. I’m a changed guy, you know? I quote that shit to anyone who even doubts my sincerity, bro. If she could only see the strides I’ve made. If she could see me doing good deeds out in the wild, I know she’d come back to me.” Anger crept into Lou’s voice and his confidence returned with it. “Oh, and A #1 Douche Bag—his real name is Kevin—really gets under my skin. Just the way her friends talk about him like he’s the sweetest guy who ever lived. Lame! I mean, I’ve never seen him in person. Not yet, anyway. I guess he’s some kind of video game tester or something. Who knew that girls thought that was a turn on.”

Daniel decided it was time to interject. “Professional gamer? I didn’t think that was a viable career. What a tool.” He laughed nervously.

Lou laughed long and hard and seemed to perk up a bit. “’What a tool.’ That’s hilarious! You know, Dude, you’re all right, man. I mean, you are one cool customer.”

Daniel smiled in spite of himself. “You’re not so bad yourself, Lou. In fact, you’re surprisingly easy to talk—“

The door to the restroom was suddenly flung open. Harsh daylight barged in. A drunken voice bellowed: “I said I’ll be right back, man. Huh? ‘Cuz I gotta use the can, that’s why. Don’t you dare drink my beer, amigo. I said hold it for me. Just hold it! Does that compute, nimrod?” The door slammed shut and stumbling footsteps stopped in front of the two occupied stalls.

As soon as knuckles touched his door, Daniel chirped out a week: “Occupied.”

The persistent drunkard knocked on Lou’s stall door but Lou didn’t make a sound.

Daniel thought of saying something to come to Lou’s defense, but resisted the urge. His stomach felt like it was doing back flips. He wasn’t going anywhere.

The drunkard made some annoyed, guttural noises and pounded on Lou’s stall door again. There was no response.

“Hey! I know you’re in there, fella,” the drunkard slurred. “Come on, man. What are you doing in there; giving birth to the Anti-Christ?” Apparently, he thought this was hilarious and laughed uproariously at his own trite joke.

Seemingly from below the floor at first, and then moving into (or coming from) Lou’s stall, came a deep, animal-like growling. A bright yellow light shined from underneath the stall walls. The humidity in the room suddenly went tropical.

Daniel was about to ask him if he was okay, when Lou’s door flew off the hinges and hit the far wall with enough force to dislodge several bricks. He saw the boots of the drunkard shaking. Water begins dripping on the floor. Or was it urine? Was the guy pissing himself?

“Oh my God,” the drunkard whined repeatedly. He was frozen to the spot.

“Hardly,” came Lou’s reply. “Didn’t your mother ever tell you it’s rude to interrupt? My new friend and I were trying to have a serious conversation, clown shoes.”

The drunkard’s speech fumbled into desperate mumbling.

Daniel blinked and was astonished to see that the man’s boots had been replaced with actual clown shoes. Or had he always been wearing them? The lighting was almost non-existent. 

“Please don’t kill me,” the drunkard managed, barely above a whisper.

Daniel strained to see, but his stomach clenched again and he sat back up straight on the toilet. What was this guy seeing?

“Kill you?” Lou stated, almost playfully. “Nah, I’m not gonna kill ya. Where’s the fun in that? I’m gonna do you a favor, clown shoes. You see, you’re just one of the mindless herd. A bottom feeder, if you will. You might as well join my flock. It’s fairly safe to say you’ve peaked already, my friend. We both know it’s only gonna go downhill from here, bro. Now, hold still, this is going to hurt. A lot.”

A blinding red light emitted from Lou’s stall and the drunkard screamed and clutched at himself in anguish.

From his vantage point, Daniel saw the drunkard disappear. He rubbed his eyes in disbelief. When he focused again, he saw a goat, wearing a bell around its neck, chewing on the drunkard’s khakis. It bahed, but seemed otherwise indifferent.

Daniel bit down on his hand to stifle a moan and something unclenched in his stomach. He was vaguely aware of a distant plopping into the toilet. When he got his breathing under control, he came to the conclusion that he had literally been scared into moving is bowels. The familiar voice from the other stall refocused his attention.

“Hey, Dude,” Lou offered in a jovial tone. “Sounds to me like you sank the old battleship. Everything okay?”

It will be as soon as I’m out of here, his mind screamed. “Um, yeah. Just finishing up here, Lou.” He reached for the toilet paper and was mortified to see only three lousy sheets were left. I can’t even die clean, he thought and rolled his eyes. He could just wipe his hand off in some tall grass outside. But the smell… The smell would linger for hours. “Damn,” he muttered.

“Remember, Dude,” Lou piped up. “If it breaches the surface, you have to name it. He tittered like a naughty teenager raising his hand with a question about uncontrollable boners during Sex Ed.

Daniel sighed. If he made a run for it, he thought Lou probably wouldn’t let him leave. Not in one piece, at least. His last moral shred pushed him to be honest if only for life-prolonging small talk. “Looks like they forgot to stock the T.P. today. Just my luck, huh?”

“Is that a fact?” asked Lou. “Well, I just happen to have an extra roll right here. Hang on a second.” Sounds of shifting were quickly followed with: “Okay, incoming.”

Daniel felt something hit his ankle and looked down. A red tail ending in an arrow-shaped tip was wrapped around a perfectly normal roll of toilet paper. He was petrified.

Lou sighed dramatically for effect. “Yeah, it’s a tail, okay. Deal with it. Just take the roll, already, Dude. This is an awkward angle for me here.”

With that, Daniel took the roll and began wiping while looking up at the ceiling. He was barely aware of the tail uncoiling and sliding back under the wall.

“Whoa!” Lou cried. “Something shifted!” He made several pained grunting noises. The walls of the stall began to rattle. Lou screamed between deep breaths. Then what sounded like a cinder block being tossed into a swimming pool splashed into the bowl and Lou panted like he had just climbed a mountain. “Whew. I think we have a multi-flusher here, Dude.”

By this time, Daniel was already washing his hands. He felt the goat brush past him a few times before it went back to nibbling on the drunkard’s tank top.

He knew that with the door against the far wall that Lou was watching his every move, but he focused on washing his hands and then drying them. “Thanks for the T.P., Lou.”

“Don’t mention it, Dude,” Lou said while zipping up his pants and buckling his belt. “Sorry if things got a little weird in here for you.”

Daniel bit his lip. “That guy was a tool. You just did what you had to do.”

Lou smacked the stall wall in agreement. “That’s what I like about you, Dude. Nothing fazes you. You’re one cool customer.” He took a few steps toward the sink.

Daniel walked briskly towards the door. He had his hand on the handle when Lou called after him.

“Hey, I can trust you not to tell anyone how badly constipated I get, right?” He actually sounded somewhat worried.

Daniel’s eyes locked in on the door handle. “Of course, Lou. One good turn deserves another.” He opened the door and light came pouring into the room. He had one foot out the door when Lou yelled out from behind him again.

“Hey, check out the girl at the funnel cake booth. I heard she already gave her number to two guys today. And one of them didn’t even ask her for it!” Lou’s laughter filled up the entire room. “Later, Dude!”

Daniel closed the door behind him and leaned against the wall around the corner. When his heart rate was under control, he flung the door back open and peered inside. The bathroom was empty. The destroyed stall door was back on its hinges as if nothing had happened. He sighed and scoffed at his own overactive imagination. He closed the door and turned back towards the inviting sounds of the carnival. He turned the corner and tripped over a goat wearing a bell around its neck. The goat seemed to know him and rubbed its head playfully against his legs. He opened his mouth to scream but nothing came out. He leapt to his feet and ran headlong for the parking lot. He lunged into his car, peeled out, and never once looked back.

Since then, he has never been to another carnival or circus. He removed all the mirrors from his apartment. In fact, he removed the bathroom door entirely. And for the finishing touch, he legally erased his middle name. This depressed his fiancé, Julia. She liked his middle name so much she always called him Kevin instead of Daniel. She said it sounded youthful, masculine, and confident, unlike her self-help-book-obsessed ex-boyfriend, Lou. 

To this day, Daniel routinely wets the bed for fear of going into the bathroom at night in the dark, alone.

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