More Than an Urban Legend
by Bertil Falk
Part 1 appears|
in this issue.
Zoë was in a very bad shape at the hospital. The disappearance of the boy she had been in charge of had totally shattered her nerves and her life. It was with a sense of long drawn-out despair she endured her days.
When she went to the washroom, she walked as if she were groping her way. There she sat on the toilet with thoughts gnawing like rats on her mind. As she sat there, recollecting Robert Bloch’s comment, she slightly felt something twitching in front of her eyes. It was like a rapid touch. Then all of a sudden something cold, as if from behind, twined itself around her neck and tightened into a choking stranglehold.
Struck by an atavistic sense of dreadful fear and with an unconscious effort, she plunged ahead at the door at the same time as she clutched at the thing that tried to strangle her. Fumbling in the air, her hands found nothing while her head hit the door that was ajar and she more or less flew out of the bathroom. Her scream seemed to materialize into a solid form as she stumbled at the threshold and hit the floor. The strangling grip came lose and she dashed into the hall.
Nurses came running and took care of Zoë, who in a dazed state slowly regained full possession of her senses. Within half an hour Anaïs Darling and Albert Sandstrom were on the spot.
“I saw a movement rather than a thing in the bathroom,” said the nurse, who had been the first to reach Zoë. “It was like a stir or a motion that disappeared into thin air like...” She snapped her fingers. “It all happened so fast I don’t really know what I saw.”
“Could it have gone down the drain?”
“Perhaps. Or up in smoke. I can’t say. It just... disappeared.”
Zoë was still upset, but when she was told that what had happened seemed to justify her story about how the boy had disappeared, she calmed down and told them about her experience.
“What do you think?” Anaïs asked Albert when they were back at their office.
“The toilet theory is definitely the right clue,” he replied. “But it can’t be a rat, and it’s definitely not an alligator. A boa constrictor seems to be the most probable suspect. It has that strangling ability. But...” He hesitated. “How could a boa constrictor come up through the toilet without Zoé sensing it until it began strangling her? I mean, the body of a boa constrictor is too thick to shoot up between her legs without touching her bottom and her thighs. But she did not feel anything like that.”
“Couldn’t it have coiled up behind the water closet before Zoë went to the bathroom?”
“It doesn’t tally with what the nurse said about something that disappeared into thin air. That seems to hint at some kind of... I don’t know what?”
“Something that materializes and dematerializes! I don’t believe in that kind of hokey-pokey.”
“What about the air-valve? Something that comes through the ventilation system?”
* * *
The news about this fourth WC-related event made headlines and turned the town upside down. People, who had been to the science fiction convention recalled Robert Bloch’s remark about fear of sitting on the toilet, and the media re-use of that remark caused traumatic incidents in many families. Granny’s ancient chamber pot came into favor again and was collected from the attics of many a house.
Rumors of all kinds were circulated, adding to the panic, which reached an all-time high when the story of a child disappearing when sitting on granny’s pot was spread like wildfire. Since the story could not be attached to any particular family or child, it was soon dismissed as a fancy born out of the prevailing hysterical atmosphere. But by then it was too late, of course.
There were segments of society that continued taking the tale seriously but felt helpless to do anything about it. But even without that fairy tale, the naked facts were frightening and puzzling enough. The WC-syndrome, as some journalist baptized the phenomenon, would later on lead to many doctor’s degrees.
Now “the ventilation theory” began to dominate the hawkers of hypotheses. The idea of something coming down through an air valve, coiling itself around the neck of the victim was very popular for a couple of days. In that case, whatever shape the monstrous attacker took, it was obviously able to detach the air valve cover from the inside.
It was further able to keep it while performing its deed and then put it back in place behind itself after having satisfactorily performed that carnivorous duty and returned to the haven of the ventilation system. Not even the most agile boa constrictor was capable of such an acrobatic performance. Its lack of useful extremities was obvious.
* * *
Anaïs had lost herself in Forbidden Fruit, John Zorn’s creative piece of music as performed by the Kronos Quartet. Even though the music was not yet composed, still less recorded, it was destined to become a ten minutes and twenty seconds long child of 1987. She loved its lack of normal predictability and cuddled up in her sofa while the well-known unpredictability — she had listened to that tape so many times in a distant future — embraced her with its timelessness.
All of a sudden she was back in her own 1970’s. There was something unexpected in her flat and as she came to her ordinary senses, she pinpointed something to be somewhere in the direction of, yes, the bathroom.
With one spring, she got to her feet, snatched her belt from the table, detached her gun and grabbed a flashlight from the bookshelf. With her right hand clasping the pistol and her left hand manœvering the flashlight she approached the bathroom.
The door closed soundlessly.
Carefully, she opened the door and let the beam of light play inside the lavatory. Empty! Had her nerves played a trick at her? She turned the beam to the air valve. Nothing at all! She turned on the light. The black lid was shut. She always shut it when she flushed the toilet, for when flushing all kinds of bad things had an established tendency to spread as far as ten yards in all directions.
She lowered her gun and was just about to return to Zorn when she saw it. It was just a slight movement. The black lid rose or tried to rise. There was something in the toilet. Rat? Boa? Whatever? Using the sewer system, something was trying to enter the bathroom through the pan.
Slowly the lid rose, the narrow opening grew and some grayish thing appeared, slowly, slowly and then a pair of horizontal slits stared at her. She raised her gun and aimed at the sight. There was a hypnotizing quality in those slits and when the thing rose pushing the lid upwards, she saw the parrot-like beak and she instantly knew that after one thousand eight hundred years, an octopus was at it again.
And of course, that beak was the only hard part of an octopus. No skeleton, no shell, no bones, the rest of it was soft like living jelly, which made it possible for the intelligent monster to squeeze itself even through narrow slits. A sewer system was much more than it needed in order to make its way.
All of a sudden, a long arm was flung out of the pan at her. She shot, but the surprise movement caused her to miss the target. The limb aimed at her and it twisted round her waist. Anaïs took a step backwards, uttered a four-letter word, let flashlight and gun hit the floor at that same moment. She tried to loosen herself and found to her amazement that the octopus had detached the limb from its body.
Somewhere from the back of her head, Anaïs fished out the information that self-amputation was a way for an octopus to elude an enemy. The purpose of the independent limb was to delay. With an effort, she succeeded in shaking off the three-yard long arm and kicked it away under the sofa.
At the same time, quicker than a weasel, the thing itself came out of its elongated lair. It was like a swelling balloon being puffed-up while its gelatinous flesh resumed its natural state. It had been suppressed and flattened to make it possible for the beast to get through, rocketing its way through the sewage system in order to rear its ugly head up the pan and get its prey.
But the monster was to learn that Anaïs Darling was not to be trifled with. She picked up the gun and let off a series of shots until the magazine was empty. She hit the eyes and the cephalapodic thing emitted black ink, but too late. It was destroyed and parts of its body and a few arms hung out into the room from the pan.
* * *
Albert Sandstrom congratulated Anaïs.
“Good girl, “ he said. “You’ve relieved the town of this nuisance. And it seems to me that Claudius Aelianus’ statement in ancient times has been vindicated. ”
The whole town breathed freely.
* * *
The next day, there was an explosion of disappearances. Seven children and four adults disappeared. And it would be worse. It made no difference that poison was sent into the sewage system. People left their houses and fled the town. Today it’s a ghost town. The hotel where Robert Bloch once had been the guest of honor is now a dilapidated building. Those who dare visit the place and are fortunate to return from that visit swear that strange creatures inhabit the town. They even assert that those beings are much worse than simple octopuses.
As far as Zoë, Anaïs and Albert are concerned, Zoë became a hairdresser in Boston, Anaïs is very popular at the 87th precinct in a certain city, and Albert drowned while saving his wife from drowning during a cruise to the Caribbean.
Copyright © 2009 by Bertil Falk