Manny grunted as he leaned forward. Sweat rolled down his forehead and into his eyes. “OH god!” he growled through his clenched teeth and grabbed the walls with both hands. The toilet creaked underneath him.
Manny was busy for some time relieving himself and felt like he had lost 10 pounds in the process. When it was all over, he felt like a new man. Pulling up his pants he attempted to flush the toilet. It didn’t work. But Manny didn’t care, he was liberated.
He felt so light that he thought he might break out in song. “Ah…much better.” He pushed open the stall and headed toward the sink. Turning the faucet, he realized the water didn’t work either.
Reaching up, he flipped the light switch. He wasn’t surprised, that didn’t work. Manny flipped the light switch once more and got nothing. “Oh forget it.” Manny walked to the door and attempted to fling it open. The door would not budge. He pulled and shook the handle but nothing. Manny pulled harder but the door only seemed to wobble. No matter how hard he pushed or tugged, Manny couldn’t get the door open. He yelled as loud as he could.
“Hey!Somebody, anybody…let me out! Hey!”
For moments he heard only the machines repetitive garble. Minutes later, he heard something closer,a scuttering just outside. He could hear footsteps outside the huge metal door. His heart raced. Manny panicked often when he felt he was relinquishing all control.
Her voice was raspy and sarcastic, but he was relieved to hear it anyway. “Just a cotton picking minute. Didn’t you see that ‘out of order’ sign on the door? Damn temps.”
Manny stepped away from the door and let the mystery lady do her job. Rattling and fumbling echoed in his ears.
“Thank you, oh thank you.” He gasped as he watched the door screech open. Bright light surprised him making his hand go up to sheild his vision. A middle aged woman with a bad perm, manifested in the doorway. She was furrowing her eyebrows and pursing her lips. “the next time I aughta leave you in here. These toilets do not work, see the sign, there.” The maintenance lady pointed a bony finger at the smudged paper on the upper part of the door. Manny smirked.
“I was just about to go home. You better be glad I had my headphones off or you would be staying the night.” The srawny woman rubbed her greasy hands on her nose leaving black residue there. Manny stared at it.
“Hey, I am sorry but I kind of had an emergency, sue me.”
“Listen here, there’s a bathroom up front,lord boy.” she shook her head and turned to grip her cart. “I have to get out home.”
“Thank you miss..uh” Manny was cut short by the cleaning lady’s retort.
“Just stay outta that bathroom, that door is tricky besides that bathroom is out of order.” the aggravated lady walked away
cussing under breath.
Manny walked away too, hoping his stomach would feel better tomorrow.
Manny couldn’t sleep. All night long he tossed and turned and woke feeling worse than the day before. But who was he kidding, he had at least another couple weeks until his probationary period was over, he couldn’t miss work.
“Damn, I feel horrible.” he sat up and rubbed his face. Deep within his abdomen, a growling rumbling monster threatened to tear through his bowels. He jumped from the bed and rushed to the bathroom.
Despite his discomfort, Manny showered and got dressed for work.
The rest of his morning, he tried to keep his diet simple. Surely this would pass. He didn’t even know what was wrong with him. “Maybe I have a stomach virus and the worst of it is over.”
He rummaged through his medicine cabinet finding some kind of generic antacids. He happened across some tums and took them as well. “Ah, yes, this should do it. Just 8 hours and maybe this will have run its course.
He decided it would be better to lay off lunch for the time being. Nothing in and maybe nothing out, he thought. Bobby Joe and Merle sat with him and a couple other newbies on probation. Bobby Joe and Merle were old hands and thought it funny to recount all the accidents that had happened years past at the factory. Bobby Joe’s eyes widdened when she told the story about the girl who was maimed at the molding machine while Merle added to the story. Images of peeling skin and severed digits almost made Manny gag. He tried to focus on the break room television to ground himself and keep his stomach settled.
Waves of nausea passed through his stomach and made his flesh grow cold. His discomfort was noticed and seemed to fuel the others grusome gusto. Manny sneered and lay his head down on the table.
Finally after the torture of listening to the horror stories and going back out onto his job site, Manny felt a little better. He glanced over at Meredith as she sealed containers and packed them neatly into boxes. Manny thought Meredith was beautiful. Maybe if he could just focus on her beauty, then he wouldn’t feel so bad.
“Hey, Manny.” A gravely voice pulled him from his daydreaming.
Manny turned to the voice and frowned. Tate, the forklift driver threw up the bird and flew by chuckling. Manny smiled as best he could and went back to work. That son of a bitch loved to fuck with him. Wonder what he was up to now. Tate was still looking at Manny when he almost ran right into the supervisor. The close call made the supervisor call Tate down from the forklift and join him in his office. Manny laughed. “Good for you, asswipe.”
As hours went by, Manny felt secure that the worst of his stomach problems had passed. There had been no nausea since lunch and he had even managed to down a can of soda and a couple of chips with no bad after effects. He felt certain that he would make it the rest of the night. All he needed now was a good night’s rest.
About an hour before quitting time Manny still felt good. He started to work faster, moving more parts than the old hands were moving. He smiled and even joked around a little with Bobby Joe and Merle. He was going to be fine, it seemed.
Manny’s tummy rumbled, just 10 minutes before time to leave. He laughed and pushed himself harder. Just as he reached his last crate of parts, Manny bent over and stopped abruptly. A sharp pain shot up through his bowels and into his stomach. A wave of sickness welled up suddenly keeping Manny in his bent position. Manny raised up slowly and stood still. The rumbling grew worse and Manny leaned against the press machine. A rumble and then another, followed by a lurching sensation within his esophagus reminded him that he was still sick.
“Oh hell, not now.” Manny began to sweat and chills broke out all over his body.
Merle noticed his abrupt stop and walked up to him. “Hey man, are you alright?”
Manny couldn’t speak, the pains in his bowels were getting worse and coming fast. He knew he wasn’t going to make it. He looked at the clock on the wall and swallowed the lump in his throat. The clock told him that he still had five minutes left before he could leave for the night. Manny had to go to the bathroom and he had to go quick.
He looked toward the bathroom in the front and saw Meredith. “damnit” he said and wiped the sweat from his forehead. Manny wasn’t a coward but he wasn’t going to break lose in the bathroom by where Meredith was standing. Hell no, he would feel humiliated. He glanced toward the other bathroom and sighed. “Oh shit, I cannot believe this.”
Manny guts roared and a stronger wave of nausea passed over him suddenly. He didn’t think much past the sudden heaving, and rushed toward the bathroom. The ‘out of order’ sign flopped as Manny threw open the door and ran to the nearest stall. He didn’t know what to do first, puke or the other undesireable solution to his present problem. The next several minutes were like minutes in hell, he imagined. When he was finished with his ordeal, Manny was covered in cold sweat. He collapsed against the wall and felt the relief. The cold metal wall soothed his torment for a moment. He forgot everything else in existence for that moment and the next. He completely lost all track of time. When Manny finally realized his predicament, an unknown amount to time had passed. Manny stood and pulled up his pants. That is when he noticed the stench.
“Damn Damn Damn…it smells like someone died in here, well, someone besides me.” manny pushed open the stall and headed toward the door. The door would not budge. Then Manny remembered.
”Well fuck me, now what?’ He stood for a moment with his wet hair against he metal door. Then he came to life with sudden urgency. Manny knocked at first, calling to whoever would listen.
”Hey! somebody, anybody…can you get me outta here?” Manny stopped
and listened. “Hey, please….somebody help me!” His voice grew louder still and he began to pound upon the ungiving door. Manny put his ear to the cold surface and listened. Nothing, not a sound could be heard except for the air rushing through the hundreds of air hoses throughout the plant. No whispers, no laughs, not even a single machine noise could be heard. Manny began to pound again.
“Hey, Miss cleaning lady…are you out there?” Manny beat the door with both hands and then gave it a hard kick. He grabbed the handle and banged it inside its housing. That is when he contemplated breaking the damn thing off. He remembered how, as a kid he had gotten out of many situations such as this by simply man ‘handling’ the problem. Everytime his brother had locked him in the bathroom, he had just kicked the door down and beat the hell outta him. But this was a metal door and Manny didn’t know what he was going to do. He could hear nothing from the other side and he was really afraid that it was too late.
The putrid smell brought him back suddenly to his senses and Manny assaulted the door once more. He kicked and beat the door until his hands were raw and his toes were killing him. Manny stood back and enjoyed a fit of hard breathing and exhausted limbs. “Oh please…I swear I won’t use this bathroom again.” Manny felt suddenly hopeless. His whole being was tired but fortunately, his stomach problems were curiosly absent now. “Oh, so now I feel just fine, except I feel like shit.”
Manny slid down the wall plopping onto the floor. His tired hands caught his head as it felt forward. He suddenly felt sleepy and thought he just might take a nap. What difference did it make anyhow, he might as well get some sleep considering he would probably be here all night.
Manny relaxed and drifted slowly in and out of shallow sleep. Every little noise woke him and made him strain to hear. But nothing, nothing would be helping Manny tonight. He just had to get that through his tired skull. Manny finally found a deeper sleep and leaned against the corner snoring.
Manny awoke with a start. He could hear rustling and a loud clang from outside the his prison. He bolted up and made for the metal door. OH how he wished he had a peep hole at the moment. Manny could hear various scamperings and scufflings just outside and he tried to hold his breath in the illusion that he could figure the sounds out. Then, as loud as they were, they suddenly halted. Manny strained even harder to hear something inside the absense of sound. He growled and waited. Lifting one fist, Manny made a face and proceeded to knock on the door. But right before striking the surface, Manny paused. He encountered a strange thought.How did he know who was out there? What if someone had broken in the plant? Maybe they were thugs and maybe they would beat Manny senseless or even kill him. Manny took his hand down and waited but no sounds came. Manny moved back to the spot where he had rested and slid back down the wall. For a long period of time, he heard nothing but then he thought he heard a whisper…or something.
It sounded like a woman or a child maybe and what it said…Manny couldn’t be certain. He strained and put his ear on the cold surface of the wall. He heard it again. A soft sweet voice called to someone from somewhere on the other side of his entrapment. She sounded scared, she sounded lost even, maybe she needed help like Manny. Manny imagined one of his female coworkers locked in the women’s restroom on the other side of the men’s room where he was. That made perfect sense to Manny. Manny moved to the far wall that attached to the women’s room and listened again. Her voice grew louder and Manny smiled. Yes, she was trapped as Manny was, and probably had been here for hours as well. But why hadn’t Manny heard her before? Manny stopped pondering for a moment. The woman was crying, he was sure of it. The soft muffled gasps made Manny feel really bad for the woman. He decided to speak to her, calm her or maybe just be there for her.
“Hey, hello?” Manny ventured out with a soft tone but loud enough to be heard opposite the bathroom wall He waited but there was no reply. Manny noticed, though, that the girl had stopped crying. Maybe she was straining to hear him. Manny spoke louder.
“Hey! I am trapped too!” Manny yelled louder and instinctively pounded the bathroom wall.
Manny could no longer hear the poor woman’s pleadings. He felt strange and confused. The silence returned and he just sat by the wall listening, listening for anything that could prove to him that he was not alone.
The door opened. At first Manny thought he was halucinating and that somehow he may have fallen back to sleep again and was dreaming of his freedom. His breath caught in his throat and he stood way too quickly. Manny’s head spun and he staggered forward. He crept slowly toward the open door, a little wary of what lie beyond. Who opened the door for him, he wondered? Maybe someone had come back in to clean up before the day shift. Manny walked to directly in front of the open door and stared out. He saw machines, as they were before he ran into the bathroom. No tools lying around, nothing out of place to signify the noises he had heard earlier. But lights were on, the whole factory was lit up like production time. Manny felt strange. He was entering a colored world from his black and white prison of metal and putrid wastes. He took a chance, Manny rushed from the bathroom and bent to his knees in relief. He was free, finally he was free.
Then he heard her voice again, calling softly from somewhere. He looked over to the ladies room directly beside the men’s stalls. But strangely, the sounds didn’t seem to be coming from there. A short sharp clang sounded from somewhere within the plant then a muffled dragging from somewhere else. Manny turned from side to side looking for the source of the noise. Someone had let him out of the bathroom, now where were they?
“Hello? Is anyone here?” Manny questioned, wanting to pay thanks to his hero of the night who set him free. No one answered him with words. But more various clanks and shuffles sounded across the department and then sounds erupted from the other departments as well. Manny started walking toward the front of the plant. He was getting out of here now. He was quite fed up with strangeness for the night. Besides, he felt better and needed a drink.
Manny almost had a heart attack when a broom fell across his path and tripped him. He tried to keep his balance but his brisk walk made him tumble down upon his elbow. His arm gave way and Manny rolled over against the huge press machine. His heart beat wildly as he scrambled to understand what had just happened. But when he tried to grab hold of the side of the press, a hand reached out for him. Manny gasped and fell back onto the floor in fear.
“Shit! You scared me.” Manny exclaimed without looking up. He was just begininng to feel the sharp pains coursing up through his arm. The hand reached further down, coaxing Manny to rise. Manny looked up but didn’t attempt to take the hand. He pulled himself up and stood with his own efforts.
She was nice looking and maybe around her early or mid 30s and she was wearing casual clothing much like anyone else wore while at work. Manny stopped cursing long enough to smile at the pretty lady then continued to pamper his sore arm.
“Hi, my name is Tina.” the girl spoke and offered her hand again. But Manny was still whining and acting too much like a baby to shake her hand. Finally Manny decided to speak.
”Hi, I’m Manny, I didn’t know we had a graveyard shift here. I was stuck in that damn
bathroom for hours.” Manny regained his sensible thoughts and spoke again. “Hey, did you let me out of the bathroom? Thank you.”
Tina’s face looked puzzled and she chuckled. “Oh, no that was probably Peter. He is the night maitenance man.”
“Well, I appreciate that. Thank him for me. I have to get out of here. I have to be back at work tomorrow afternoon and if I don’t get any sleep, I won’t be worth much.”
Manny caught Tina’s eyes and saw something dark that suddenly gave him chills. He held her gaze until she dropped her pretty blonde head and stared at her feet.
“Hey, it was nice meeting you, Tina. I will catch you around here sometimes.”
Manny turned and walked on to the front doors. He reached out and pulled the handle and got nothing. It wouldn’t budge. ” For christ’s sake!! Now what?” Manny felt as though he was going to lose his mind. He had spent what seemed like many hours in the bathroom, now he couldn’t even get out the front door to his car.
“Hey!” Manny started as he walked back toward where Tina had been. “Can someone please let me out.” Manny looked from side to side for help but strangely there was no one to be found. If there was a graveyard shift, then where was everyone? Manny walked through one department to the other and found no one, no trace of any people moving parts or packing boxes. It was as if they didn’t even exist. The factory fell into silence again. Manny was really losing his nerve now. First a night spent inside a smelly bathroom that was cold and damp, now he couldn’t even leave the plant. His hands began to shake. Manny ended up right back in front of the ‘Out of Order’ bathroom. He stared deeply into its open mouth.
“This is ridiculous.” Manny felt something tapping his shoulder and spun around.
Nothing, there was nothing but machines and parts from wall to wall. Manny listened and heard the deafening silence of many inactive machines. ONly the air through the hoses reminded him that he was real. He felt the poking again but much harder. Manny spun around faster trying to catch whatever was vying for his attention, but the factory was still curiously empty. Where had the workers gone, where was Tina?
Then he heard the whispering voice again but was unsure of where it was coming from. He turned and turned, stepping this way and that. His eyes scanned every corner of the factory. The poking continued upon his shoulder.
“I cant take this.” Manny shouted to whoever might hear him and then bolted back toward the front door. He rammed the door and knocked himself onto the concrete floor. Manny looked up from where he lay. He saw the bright lights swaying from the ceiling. They were covered in cobwebs. He closed his eyes and tried to keep an grip on his sanity. When he opened his eyes again, he saw a half man. Manny couldn’t move.
Standing above him smilng was some man who was mutilated almost beyond recognition. Half his face was melted away and the rest of his body was tattered and covered in wet gore. Manny pushed against the concrete floor and scurried backwards away from the creature. “What the hell?”
Then he saw Tina. She stood beside the horrible man and didn’t seem afraid at all. Her face was pale but her smile was comforting to Manny. He tried to focus on her face so as not to look at the ugly man. But out of the corner of his eye, Manny was tormented by what he saw. He shook with fear.
“Manny, are you okay?” Tina spoke softly and held her stomach. She then reached out and offered him another hand of help.
Manny crawled all the way back to the front door and pulled himself up by the handle.
“What’s going on? Who is that or what is that?” Manny questioned Tina and looked in horror at the mutilated man. “Is this some joke or something?”
Tina looked sad. Her head tilted and she walked toward Manny. “Don’t be afraid Manny. I won’t hurt you and Jim isn’t a bad person. He just got hurt really really bad.”
”Do you work here or is someone playing a prank on me?”
There was no answer from Tina in fact she looked worried, very worried. She glanced from side to side irratically.
Manny felt a thickness in the air much different than anything he had ever felt. The lights flickered and a loud hum, or better yet, a roar began to build throughout the factory. Manny’s ears started to ring and even the concrete beneathe his feet vibrated softly.
“What is happeneing?” Manny spoke over the roar of the machines.
“They’re coming Manny. You have to hide.”
"Who...who's coming, Tina?" Manny asked in stark fear.
Tina screamed right before Manny passed out.
When Manny opened his eyes, he was in the bathroom stall again. His hands were sweaty and the stench was horrible. The big steel door was shut and Manny felt the muscles in his hands cramp horribly. He rose and walked toward the door. He tried the handle but it would not budge. Manny was still trapped. His long exhale was followed by a stream of curse words. Then Manny wondered about what had happeded before. He could not get the face of the half man from his mind. It had seemed so real, not a dream at all. It was quiet, so quiet for hours to follow. Manny checked his watch for the time and smiled. It was almost dawn, the cleaning lady would be here to help him soon.
Softly, from somewhere outside the big steel door…Manny heard a woman’s voice. He strained his ear and pressed it tightly against the cold steel. He clearly heard her speak this time.
Manny looked at his watch again and gasped. He had only been trapped for an hour it seemed and it would be quite a while till dawn. Manny couldnt understand what had just happened. He could have sworn that it was almost dawn.
The ladies voice came again, softly but clearly. She spoke two words.