The smell in the bathroom was hideous, as though something had died in there…well, perhaps not quite that bad. Unfortunately, the janitor only came in once a week, and there was no one else I could complain to; this was the evening shift, the seven-to-midnight drag, so I would be alone in the building until sometime just prior to midnight. Hours to go.
I was glad I couldn’t smell it in the studio yet, but I couldn’t avoid dealing with it, and eventually my natural urges overrode my distaste. I could hold my breath or breathe through my mouth long enough to take care of things and get back to where my nose was safe. So I told myself the smell was only unpleasant, not enough to gag (yet).
Holding my breath, I rushed to the small bathroom on the second story between the studio, the office hallway, and the break room, then plunged in to do my business and get out. The bathroom was the size of a closet, holding a toilet, a sink above a supporting cabinet, a wastebasket, and enough room to open and shut the door and turn around. Claustrophobia central.
I hoped the smell was only that someone had failed to flush at some point earlier in the day…though it did not quite smell right for that, not quite like human waste. More like…like the one time our basement freezer had failed and went unnoticed for a couple of weeks after the fact because it never saw much use. It smelled like that.
Some random hit from the mid-80’s wafted through the air, the tune muffled by paneling, but assuring me we were still broadcasting and I didn’t need to rush. Grimacing, I closed the bathroom door behind me and opened the toilet.
The grimace became a frown and I wondered where the heck the smell could be coming from. Had the fridge in the break room finally gone the way of my old freezer and allowed the numerous forgotten inhabitants contained within to finish putrefying, sending the odor creeping through the building? Or maybe something in the fridge had just finally broken its tupperware containment — there were things stored in there from well before I had began working here, marked by the names of people I had never met or even heard mentioned by the senior staff.
That was not a pleasant thought. There would be a nasty-gram left for the boss about it; get someone to clean that thing out or just take it out somewhere in the woods and burn it (to be safe — no sense opening it and unleashing some fungal plague upon the world).
I finished, zipped, flushed and side-stepped to the sink. Then I noticed the cabinet door at my feet was slightly ajar; though until just now I had never registered that the washbasin cabinet had a door. I had always thought it was a rough facade to make the bathroom a little more homey than a bare sink and pipes mounted to the wall.
I was not generally very curious about the studio’s shadowy and forgotten places; even the working spaces were dingy and every spare inch of space crowded with junk: useless or unattached computer monitors, disorganized piles of dusty broadcasting equipment from the last couple decades, chaotic stacks of yellowing paper that hadn’t been touched since the seventies, rusty filing cabinets lying on their sides or facing the walls, unopened for years, and wooden racks full of useless vinyl from such bygone luminaries as “Bread” and “the Beatles”.
So I didn’t touch anything I didn’t need to touch — tetanus was a possibility I couldn’t quite disavow — but an uncommon curiosity possessed me then to open the cabinet, to peek inside…
I reached down and cracked open the cabinet door a little bit more.
I wish I hadn’t.
The badly-painted white door swung open quietly, and slightly crookedly, the hinge loose, and in the dark recesses under the sink I saw the first dead body I have ever laid eyes upon. A gray form stripped naked and crammed into the tiny space in a crowded, sickening fetal position, ribs and spine hideously visible beneath the thin, ashen flesh, face thankfully turned away from me.
Gagging, I stumbled back. The right arm slipped and fell out, keeping the cabinet door from shutting as the door swung back to its natural position.
The stench was even worse now. I clasped my hand over my mouth and nose, though I don’t know whether it was to block the horrible smell or keep myself from retching. Part of my mind wryly noted I was in the right place if I needed to throw up while all my other thoughts turned immediately to what I should do, who I should call. My manager? The police? What the hell was a body doing stuffed into a cabinet in the washroom?!
I groped behind me for the doorknob to let myself out, eyes fixated in dull horror upon the arm of the corpse tucked away beneath the sink.
The cabinet door creaked back open a little more and I froze. A tense pause as I told myself it was some trick of physics. The door was crooked, the hinges broken, it was just swinging back open because the panel had not found a point of equilibrium, I guessed…I hoped. The door stopped, hung silent and quiet, a quarter of the way open, leaving me a good look at the sparse tufts of dry, ashen hair matted to the back of the head…
Then it moved, the disturbed body falling out of the cabinet, pushing aside the cabinet door as it slid gruesomely, limply out to sprawl on the floor at my feet.
My stomach tried to crawl out my mouth, and I clamped down harder with my hand as if that would prevent me from throwing up.
But I was fixated, too, by the disturbing occurrence, telling myself what had happened was another trick of physics…except then…the head moved! Moved like the head of a dead person should not move! It twisted around and fixed yellowed eyes on me.
I fumbled the doorknob open, throwing myself out into the narrow hallway as the thing stiffly dragged the rest of its body from its crowded hiding place under the sink, skeletal limbs scrabbling and clawing at the old off-white linoleum covering the floor.
As it rose it snapped at me with broken, rotting teeth, black with age; a dusty hiss rattled its desiccated chest, and it flailed a gray, emaciated arm to grab at me.
Gods, the smell!
I dodged right, sprinting past stacks of junk and old records piled around the stairwell, heading for the lobby downstairs. I stumbled on the stairs in my haste, nearly tripping, but grabbed the railing and used it to propel myself safely down to the first landing.
The thing was only steps behind, wiry arms reaching out, throwing itself heedlessly and fearlessly down the stair after me, moving as fast as I was…not at all the way a corpse should move! (As if a corpse should move at all!)
I leapt from the landing down the short flight of stairs and into the small main lobby, aimed directly towards the exit. I only stopped for a tense, too-long second to open the entryway door, slamming it shut behind me just as the emaciated, gray body smashed into it behind, shaking the full-sized glass pane.
I made a mad lunge forward to grab the doorknob of the outer door, swung it open and dived outside as glass shattered behind me, the ravenous thing smashing through to get to me. I slammed the outer door to the building behind me and grabbed for my keys to lock the door, to lock the thing in there…to…
…I didn’t have my keys!
My keys were sitting in the front pouch of the backpack I usually brought with me for the evening shift. Upstairs. In the studio. Inside.
Something thudded hard against the other side of the outer door, interrupting my panic, and I grabbed the doorknob, pulling to hold the door firmly shut, hoping this thing was not stronger than I was, that I could lock it in this way.
The knob started to turn.
I held it fast, breathing hard, muscles twitching nervously, but the doorknob stopped turning when it encountered the resistance I was applying.
Nothing else happened.
So I waited longer, listening to nothing.
As my panicked breathing slowed and my mind had a few seconds to devote to something other than absolute terror, I realized how late it actually was. The sun was already down; I stood in a dim circle of light cast by the solitary porch light above me, surrounded by the shadowy woods and the dirt driveway that served the station. A few dark clouds scarred the night sky above.
I wondered if there were more of those things out here, lurking in the dark woods or behind the corners of the building, just waiting to rush out at me. And what the hell was that thing? A living corpse? A zombie? A stupid fucking zombie from some Romero flick? Was I suddenly trapped in the Night of the Living Dead?
I glanced at the dark graveyard lurking in the shadows across the road, and hunched my shoulders, trying to forget about it.
My car was a few feet away, locked and inaccessible, and I was miles from the nearest other people. I cursed the station’s relative isolation and location. I had no way to escape, and no way to call for help, unless I were to sneak back into the building, past that thing, somehow, to use one of the phones inside. Even my cell phone was inside, sitting on the desk in the studio upstairs.
I reasoned that as I wasn’t at my post when the song I had started ended, the station owner would be calling to find out why there was dead air (damnable radio terms!), so if I could hold out long enough, he would show up to find out what was wrong. And even if he wasn’t listening right now, someone was, and they would call him and complain, and then he would drive up here…
How long? Ten minutes? Fifteen? Would that thing leave me alone for that long? Was the owner even in town tonight? And what if he did show up? “Sorry I left my post, man, there’s an evil hungry zombie in the station that was hiding under the bathroom sink.” I laughed hysterically, the sound breaking the silent night around me.
Then the thought arose of that thing figuring out how to use the building’s back door, sneaking up on me as I stood here holding the front door shut…
I let go of the doorknob and held still a moment, seeing if it would turn, if the thing was still there waiting to test it at the most inopportune time, just like in the movies.
That thought was neither funny or amusing.
The doorknob rattled and turned, and I grabbed at it wildly, fingers wrapped like vices around the cold metal, holding the door shut tight, eyes locked on the traitorous hunk of metal and arms quivering with the effort.
The station owner found me standing there, shaking, sweating, gripping the doorknob so tightly he had to pry my hands loose from it.
He didn’t believe me.
He went in, and I didn’t expect him to come back out…but he did. He found nothing except the broken plate glass of the inside door, the replacement cost of which came out of my paycheck.
No one believed my story, but it was months before I could go back to work. I still have nightmares of wiry gray arms and feral yellow eyes coming at me in the dark from hidden places that shouldn’t exist, unpleasant smells cause me to panic and cast about fearfully for lurking horrors, and I wait in terror every night for that cabinet door to creak open again.
And that is the part that haunts me most of all. The cabinet under the sink…does not have a door!