Barry McCann is a UK based writer, editor and broadcaster on BBC local radio. He regularly writes features for the magazines Scream, The Dark Side and Infinity, and short stories in the supernatural genre. His first collection, Now is the Night, was published during late 2022 and he is currently working on his second.


by Barry McCann


For the second time, Luke Matheson cursed himself and his stupidity. Losing his cell phone was bad enough, but the timing was terrible and it was all because he got stupidly drunk.

He must have dropped it in the Harbor Side bar, which had been standing room only thanks to the crowd flocking into town for its traditional Cornish May Day celebration. He figured it must have worked its way out of his pocket while pushing through the huddled tap room, or he got careless in the stupor by which he left the premises.

A fuddled memory recalled it still being daylight as he staggered outside and then felt himself feeling nauseous. Fortunately, a public toilet facility stood just yards uphill and would be easier to head for that rather than negotiate his way back through the pub. He went inside and entered one of the bathroom stalls. It was there his recollection ended as he fell asleep.

Luke’s eyelids slid open to see a hazy blur and a cold hard surface pushing on the side of his face. His cheek felt numb as he raised his head upward, chilled disinfectant penetrating flared nostrils as his vision adjusted.

He was surprised to see the darkness of his surroundings.

He was still enclosed in the bathroom stall, itself within the cavernous stench of a public toilet. He pulled himself off the floor in the dim light of a high window and was relieved to see that he was fully dressed. His pants weren’t around his ankles. At least there was that.

Luke concluded that he must have taken refuge in the public bathroom and simply passed out, and the hours had evidently gone by given the darkness in which he was now engulfed.

He left the bathroom stall and found his way across the concrete floor. The now-closed door of the main entrance loomed like a monolith within its own alcove and he guessed it would be locked before even trying the handle. The council attendant closed the place every early evening and had clearly neglected to check to see if the stalls were empty. Being out for the count, Luke had not heard the man shouting to see if anyone was still in there.

Sliding his hand along the wall, he found the light switch and flicked it on. Now he could see his watch which told him it was 2:20 in the morning. The only thing he could do at this point was phone for help, but when frisking his own pockets the revelation hit him.

He had lost his phone in the pub.

He tried banging and rattling the door despite knowing it was futile; it was unlikely anyone would be about the harbor at this time of night. Even those sleeping in the boats docked nearby would be just out of earshot. It meant a wait until daylight for the public bathroom to reopen unless he could manipulate the lock himself.

Being a keen fisherman, a Swiss army knife had permanent residence in his inner jacket pocket and the smaller blade had successfully picked at least one lock in the past. He was glad he had not lost that like he had his phone. Readying his instrument, Luke crouched down and set to work.

Evidently the council were now employing stubborn locking devices, as he repeatedly inserted the knife and fiddled with increasing frustration before his anger began to swell. He banged his fist against the catch side of the lock several times, but then stopped dead because behind him, something sounded an echo of water draining.

His first thought was I am not alone because someone is flushing their toilet!

But he calmed down because he would have known before now if that were true.

Emerging back from the alcove, he decided that the sound had to be some sort of automated drainage. Curious, he kicked in the door of the first stall and it swung open in time for him to witness the toilet’s water line disappearing downwards with a gurgle.

And then the light fizzled out, plunging him again into darkness except for the dim light of the high window. He eyed the window for a moment, wondering if he could crawl through it to freedom, but decided he wouldn’t be able to fit through it even if he could reach it, which he couldn’t.

He cut back through the darkness and slammed his fist on the light switch to no avail, as did the several rapid clicks that followed. But he stopped all movement as whispers began creeping out from the void of silence behind.

A collective of low, inaudible voices sounded; their tone intense though without any clear unifying rhythm. There was a distance to them, whispers not immediate but transmitted from elsewhere.

Stepping back toward the stalls, he realized the toilet bowls were producing the sounds from a deeper layer. The chorus became more intense as he re-entered the first stall and produced his cigarette lighter. Using it to bring some clarity to the gloom, he looked down into the drained toilet bowl.

As if sensing his proximity, the whispers echoed away into ominous silence and Luke was unsure whether to feel relieved or cautious. The latter proved advisable when a new noise approached from deep below: a sound of slithering that grew steadily louder with progress.

He took a fearful jump back as a slimy mass emerged up the drain and into the bowl. He didn’t hear his own shout of panic because his total focus was on the creature. His heartbeat pounded in his ears and he couldn’t catch his breath. His adrenaline was off the charts.

There was a bulbous mass with pulsating edges glistening on the rim of the toilet that showed in the limited glow of his lighter. Luke realized that the amorphic form was trying to crawl out of the toilet because he could now see the entire thing. It became more defined in substance, its pigmented flesh translucent enough to reveal arteries of yellow just below its surface. 

He expected the thing to perhaps jump to the floor. Defying expectations, it stopped crawling and a head and a neck seemed to form on top. Luke took another step backwards as the neck seemed to endlessly stretch which brought the head closer to him.

Luke ran out of the stall back to the locked door. He crouched at the door in desperation to put distance between himself and the creature, and didn’t realize that tears were streaming down his cheek.

What was worse, not knowing what the creature was doing, or risk a glance at it to find out?

He took the risk and turned his head to look behind him. He realized that the door to the bathroom stall had not closed and between his lighter (which he still held) and the dim light from the window, he could see the monster.

Now fully raised to Luke’s height with an endless neck of support below, the apparent head began to splinter into long narrow sections, the fissures oozing with yellowing secretion.  Luke remained transfixed, unable to look away as the sections of the head separated and elongated. Each head opened up into an enormous claw of spindly talon fingers, gesticulating menacingly like the long legs of a monstrous arachnid.

Luke’s stomach churned over as the nauseating sound of a long dragging slurp accompanied a narrow slit across each palm as it pulled its hands apart, creating even more talons. A loud hiss of exhalation sounded as a rounded mouth of razor-sharp teeth presented themselves; row after row descending deep within its plummeting gullet like stalactites. Luke saw saliva dripping, and he wondered if the creature thought of him as fresh meat.

He ducked and looked away again. His heart was beating so hard that he decided a heart attack would be more welcome than being devoured alive by something out of a horror story. He summoned the last of his adrenaline and decided he could find an escape if he tried hard enough. He put his lighter down on the concrete floor and its flame went out.

Despite knowing the locked door was impenetrable, he still propelled himself against it, fists banging ferociously as he repeatedly screamed for help to a world not listening outside. He continued this panicked attack on the door until he finally had to acknowledge his lack of progress. Realizing the futility of this panic-fueled attempt, he stopped and took deep breaths, muttering “Did I overdose on alcohol and die? Am I dead? Does hell happen here?”

But he knew he was alive.

And then he heard an approaching slither.

He turned to face the monster and pressed his back firmly against the door, retrieving the army knife and pulling out the largest blade as the creature drew nearer, its flesh squelching and muscles pulsating down a clammy form endlessly elongating into the darkness behind. It arched itself up and Luke chanced the advantage of momentum, launched himself at the predator and plunged his weapon straight into its wrist-like throat.

The creature reflexed backwards, withdrawing from the blade which remained gripped in Luke’s hand. It quickly lurched up again and shot down like an arrow, taking Luke by surprise as it tightly coiled around his waist like a python and leveled its head close to his. Its abyss of a mouth stretched open wider and spindly fingers craned in readiness.

With his arm still free, Luke plunged the knife into the creature’s sinewy body again, this time ensuring he pulled the blade across to cut an open, gaping wound.

A corrupting stench burned into his nasal senses like acid as putrid liquid spewed out of the monster, partly covering him and hitting the concrete floor with a spatter. The coiled grip of the creature promptly loosened and unraveled because it possibly realized that he was a prey that bites back. It steadily retreated back into the dark and out of his vision, disappearing down the same toilet bowl from which it had emerged.

Dropping the knife, Luke fell to the floor, initially on hands and knees before sitting with his back against the wall. There he remained withdrawn into himself. The minutes turned to hours at an excruciatingly slow pace. He felt burned out as his adrenaline rush turned to complete exhaustion, yet he didn’t dare to allow himself to mentally rest. The creature could return at any moment; perhaps it was like in horror movies where the character thinks he has killed the monster only for it to return to fight another day. He needed to stay alert.

Finally Luke could see the breaking of dawn through the window. He knew it wouldn’t be long now. He just had to stay alive until the council person came to unlock the door at 8:00 am.

He felt an overwhelming hope when he heard footsteps outside. He knew the door would be opened in a second and he would survive this terrible ordeal. Sure enough, a key rattled in the lock and the door pushed open, allowing the purifying reassurance of daylight to enter the place.

“Christ! What are you doing in here?” the council worker demanded to know, surprised at finding Luke sat on the floor and looking up with exhausted eyes. The man waited with officious impatience as Luke clambered to stand up before him.

“I was locked in here last night,” Luke said accusingly.

“Well, I was the one who locked up last night. So where were you?”

Luke gestured a pointing thumb to the nearby stalls. “In one of them, of course. Why didn’t you check?”

“I shouted if anyone was in here, as I always do. You were obviously too drunk to hear, more like.” Glancing beyond Luke to the mess on the floor, the man added “Oh, god, couldn’tyou make it to one of the Johns to bring that lot up?”

“It’s not mine,” Luke said, now feeling his anger rising. “And it’s not puke.”

The council worker became even angrier. “It’s bloody vandalism all the same. I ought to call the police.”

Stepping forward, Luke forcibly pushed the man to one side with the words “Don’t bother” and marched outside to the freedom he had craved for half the night. There was no point trying to tell that idiot what actually happened, and he was so relieved to be outside that he did not feel like doing so anyway. One thing for sure was he would not be going anywhere near that place again, but who could he tell about the nightmare ordeal?

Wandering over to the idyllic sight of the morning side harbor, he sat down on a bench and allowed his temper to relax again. He was still badly hung over, feeling quite sick and very dehydrated. And he knew if there was one thing bad dehydration brings on, it is delirium.

Now he began to fully question himself: did all that really happen? As he sat in the daylight of normality, it seemed more like a bad dream or hallucination brought on by the excess of alcohol. The screaming habdabs, they call it.

Standing up again, his mind was settled that had to be it, because no such creature could possibly exist. And the putrefying mess on the floor undoubtedly came from him; maybe he had puked after all. His gut felt bad enough.

Luke made his way across to the apartment block where he lived just off the main road. He ran into a neighbor who spotted Luke and waved him over.

“Well, you look a sight for sore eyes,” the man Luke knew as Steve said.

“Had a skin-full last night, ended up sleeping over at a friend’s,” Luke lied.

“Oh, so you won’t know if your apartment has been affected.”

Luke shook his head. “No, what’s happened?”

“It’s weird,” Steve said. “Last night the water drained out of my toilet all on its own. Charlie next door to me said the same thing. I can’t use my toilet with no water inside. Makes me mad that nobody attends to the maintenance of this building. And our rent keeps increasing every year.”

An alert went off inside Luke’s head. “What time did your toilet thing happen, do you know?

“In the middle of the night, maybe two in the morning.”

The alert now became alarm and Luke could not stop himself asking “Did you or Charlie hear voices?”


“Yeah, like whispering coming from the toilet bowls?”

Steve peered at him oddly. “Are you sure you’re feeling okay? You look poorly.”

Luke realized his mind had strayed back into what could not have possibly happened, and quickly withdrew the question. “Oh, nothing, just a strange idea I had.”

Steve grinned. “More like a strange drink you had. You look like you need to sleep it off.”

“Yes, I’m going to do just that,” Luke said and made his way into the building.

By the time he entered his apartment, Luke realized that dreams and real things can so easily interconnect when the mental condition is unbalanced. Or badly hungover.

What Luke really needed now was to refresh himself with water splashed on his face, since nothing had been mentioned about the rest of the plumbing being faulty.

Taking off his jacket and shirt, he went into his bathroom and up to the sink, filling it with water. Contemplating his blood-shot eyes in the mirror, he then bent down to rinse them with cold water. Wiping his face down with a flannel, he looked into the mirror and froze at the reflection that loomed behind him.

Luke’s heart began pounding against his ribcage. Oh my god, it was real!

His heart in his mouth, he turned to face the monster. His eyes remained fixed on the figure’s long, slit mouth, parting open with the dissection of an invisible scalpel. He realized it stood between him and the doorway, beyond which was the knife he had left in his jacket pocket. In that instant, he perceived creature’s mouth crooking upwards into a hideous grin as if sensing its prey was no longer armed.

His last thought was to wonder if others in his apartment building were also meeting the monster in their bathrooms.