By Jay Dee
Hector Núñez reached, he hoped, midway through the most monumental crap he had taken in days at the very moment a muffled set of voices exploded into an argument on the other side of the cinder block wall that divided his section of the restroom from the Women's. This struck him immediately as a very bad thing.
Hitching rides all day non-stop without a break combined with the two cheeseburgers and chocolate shake from the last McDonald's, had finally extinguished his willpower. As the sun set on the road to Tonopah from Barstow, he had regretfully requested to be let off at this rest area to take care of business.
"I can't wait for you, the gray-haired trucker with the bib overalls said. "My schedule won't allow."
"No problem," Hector said. "I'll catch a ride later. But, man, you know, I gotta' go."
The trucker laughed as Hector stepped to the blacktop from the passenger step. "I know how that feels, trust me. Well, good luck now."
"Gracias," Hector said.
"De Nada," the trucker answered and back onto the deserted highway he drove.
Now, accomplishing the task at hand would be no problem, and was actually proceeding fairly well, despite the initial chill to his bottom-side. What labeled this as bad was the fact that of the two yelling at one another in the Women's restroom, one voice was unmistakably male. A dude obviously angry enough to follow his woman into her side of the public restroom.
And what do men do immediately following arguments? "They take a piss," he said aloud to himself. Hector knew as well that despite the available toilets in the Women's room, the man would inevitably choose to relieve himself in a urinal. He knew this to be true as much as he knew it would take him the remainder of the paper roll to wipe clean before he could leave this stall.
Not to mention, he still had to finish.
Mad white dudes were not ideal to meet in the best of circumstances. But now the guy would be stepping into an enclosed space that had the reminiscent odor of a dairy farm at the end of a hot day.
Needless to say, if he wasn't finished and out before the argument ended, nothing good would come of the rest of his night.
So it was that Hector doubled his efforts.
As he did so, the argument grew louder. Like listening to radio voices returning from a fading station, Hector picked out intermittent words here and there.
"…want more," a high-pitched voice said.
Who doesn't, he thought.
"Won't wow it," he heard. That was the dude.
Wow it? Hector wondered. Won't allow it, Hector deciphered.
"Screw you," came a reply.
Hector smirked. The couple's issue was easy to piece together. She wanted to break up. He didn't. He grunted approval as it were, every now and then, not exactly knowing to which side of the argument he had figuratively agreed.
The higher pitched voice, the woman's he reckoned, said something finishing with "…out."
Get out, Hector determined. He listened, and sure enough, an indecipherable but clearly vulgar response spewed back. "Dios mio," he said to himself, "Such language."
Another volley fired back from the high-pitched voice, followed by another muffled retort from the dude; returned once more by the woman. But the prior few moments of lucidity dissolved as the words of the argument became once again a garbled mess. The man bellowed. The woman hollered back.
"This can't go on much further," he told himself and clenched his gut. "Come on man, be done with me," he commanded his bowels. And damn if that didn't finish it. Relief and a smile. He could be out in two minutes; more or less.
The high-pitched voice continued.
The dude seemed to go silent, no longer responding.
Hector's hand reached half-way to the roll of salvation, when the man's voice finally returned, muffled and unintelligible again, but mingled with high-pitched words that were much more coherent, "Tim ow, Tim ow."
These he deciphered.
A chill spilled into his spine. The dude was growling something in repetition. What? "Kill you," Hector thought he heard. Twice. Maybe three times?
The woman's voice rose in pitch. Hector glanced into his own nebulous reflection bouncing back at him off the back side of stainless steel stall door. A chemical aroma of disinfectant invaded the black bristles crossing his upper lip. Hector realized the woman was screaming.
This fact dawned on him as simultaneously a high-pitched protest, "Stop it," transformed into barely intelligible syllables, -at -ert. -awp-awp.
Hector interpreted: That hurt. Stop. Stop.
At his back, the cinder blocks lurched. The toilet he sat on shivered. "Jesus," he cursed. A loud metallic-like crash sounded, ending with a muted thud. Then sudden quiet. He turned his ear to the wall, listening. Through the blocks came a short series of scratching sounds, which oddly reminded him of static pulsating the air above some electrical malfunction.
Then metal shrieked. Or was that a voice? Something clanged violently; echoing loudly, this time enough to vibrate the aluminum walls of his stall. Something shattered. A mirror?
Hector strained to hear.
"Bitch." Hector heard that loud and clear, as plain as if the man spoke from the stall beside him. "Ead biss now. Aint' at right oney."
Dead bitch now. Ain't that right honey, His mind translated.
"Shit," he said, and grabbed for the paper. A moment later a door slammed. A door outside.
"Come mierda. Shit, shit," Hector said. He yanked at the roll of tissue and a tip tore away between his finger and thumb leaving him with an inch and a half triangle of pure disaster.
The door to the Men's bathroom slammed open.
"Goddammit," a voice said. "Dead now bitch, aren't you."
Hector instinctively lifted his boots off the concrete floor.
"Bitch, bitch, bitch, bitch, bitch," the man said. A squeal like air escaping a balloon sounded, accompanied by a pulsating tic, tic, tic, tic, followed immediately by rushing water. That was the plumbing coming alive within the restroom walls as the faucet turned and water gushed out. The man was washing, although he had yet to pee.
Hector froze. His feet hovered.
The squeal rose again for a split second, and abruptly ended as if muted by a remote control' and the water flow ceased.
Aii, Hector thought. Both thighs were cramping.
He caught sight of the man through the thin sliver of space between the door and the frame of the stall. His figure moved in and out of the vertical line of light just above the lock, alternately blocking then releasing the glow of the fluorescents spilling from above. Then the dude stopped. The man stood unmoving, his back facing directly opposite his stall door. An olive-green shirt hung over blue jeans and a dusty butch-cut topped a white man's cranium; the back-side, as it were. His shoulders stooped forward away from Hector. Over the sink? Hector considered. Inspecting himself in a mirror? Hector shifted out of view. If he could see the man, the man could see him.
The remaining light above the lock vanished. Hector watched. Black filled the space. It flickered – amber, black, amber, black - then light returned, and this time the remaining shadow vanished. Not five seconds later Hector heard the man pissing. "Smells like a fucking shit hole in here," the dude groaned.
At that moment without warning Hector's bowels decided they had had enough freezing in place for the day, and gave out, to Hector's surprise, one last blast of rebellion.
Hector could have cried.
"Motherfuck," the man said. "Mother cock-sucking fuck," he added as if pronouncing a name of a hated friend. "Who's in here?"
Half a dozen scenarios raced through Hector's mind. Each one ended with him laid out on a urine-soaked restroom floor, with either a cracked head or a bloody exit wound.
Hector was not a big man and mostly because of this considered himself a Walking Away Man. His own term. "Better to leave with teeth than stay to give them away," he had once said to a workmate during a night out on the town. But no walking away from this one was there. The situation struck him as almost comical. Hell, it was comical. He was SOL as the gringos liked to say, Shit out of luck.
The light running up and down either side of the door in front of him suddenly vanished, reappeared, and vanished again. The man had just passed by his stall. A thought sprang to him. The doorway to the outside was at the moment unobstructed.
Act now, he thought. Don't think. Act.
In a series of motions that could have brought a smile of pride to a gym teacher's face, Hector performed an escape that could not be duplicated in a million years. His only thought as he began was, I wish I could finish wiping my ass.
"Where you at?" the man bellowed, and the stall door to his right at the back wall crashed open.
Motion one: Hector seized the back belt loops of his jeans and together with his boxers yanked them up to his waist over the stink that remained.
Motion two: Hector leapt forward, pinched the slide of the door lock between his fingers – and here the athletic beauty of the moment was played out – slid the latch while he simultaneously jumped to a new position plastering his back to the side panel of the stall as if he were slamming against an outfield fence to make a warning track catch, pulled the door inward, turned in a pirouette - toe down, heel up - to the outside, all in one swift remarkable motion; and in three steps was to the bathroom door separating him from the night.
"Bastard," he heard behind him.
Having only a split second to glance back, he saw the man, a white dude all right, turning from the last stall, a red face twisting with rage. The green shirt was splattered with dark, nearly black, splotches of abstract art. Blood? The man's grey eyes bore down on him with a look of pure hate.
Hector glanced away and was out the door; and ran smack into someone standing directly outside.
She stood maybe an inch taller than him. She had stringy blonde hair that fell over thin shoulders just above small flat breasts with nipples erect behind a sheer pinkish tank top. Her arms were covered in tattoos. And blood.
Hector noted the left side of her head shown a bit shinier than the right. Her scalp above the ear glistened.
She nodded down at him. Blood matted hair parted over a grotesque head wound.
On instinct, Hector grabbed her wrist, "Come. He is inside. Sígueme." He pulled and she did not budge. In fact, it felt as if he were trying to dislodge a statue. The strength of her stance was inhuman. "La Prisa", he said. "Hurry."
At that moment, the bathroom door burst open and the white man stomped into the star-filled night. Hector scooted to the side, wanting to bolt, but unwilling to leave the woman behind.
The dude was big. He glared at Hector and smiled. Then the dude noticed something else. The woman behind Hector stepped out of the shadows onto the concrete sidewalk.
Fronting him was the restroom bathed in amber, lit only by the suspended lamps atop the rest area light poles. The walkway forked; one side to the Women's, the other to the Men's. The man stepped ahead blocking them where the forks merged.
"You leave her be man." Hector bent down and picked out a rock that lined the bark mulch. Not huge, but big enough, he thought.
The white dude's mood immediately changed. From the anger of a rushing bull, Hector watched his expression remold to an unmoving waxen cast of dissolving energy. The dude stared not at Hector hefting the projectile, but directly at the woman standing at his side. Even in the dark, Hector saw the color drain from the man's face.
"Mattie?" the man questioned.
The woman approached him slowly, smiling.
Another movement caught the man's eyes. Hector's as well. Hector turned back to see another figure step out of the dark onto the walkway. A second woman now stood beside the first.
Hector recoiled. Her eyes were a cloudy and grayish mass of pupil-less sight. Purple and yellowish lines encircled her neck.
"Hello Timbo," she said.
The man stared at her. "Patricia?" he said. "What the hell?"
"No," said the first, "Not hell yet. Not until we have had a turn first."
From the darkness blanketing the path up the walkway to the Women's end of the restroom, two more figures stepped forth. Hector saw two women, both with large blood oozing holes as round in circumference as the poker end of a stick. Both had faces spread wide with very unhealthy grins. The blonde haired women, Mattie, spoke. "The girls and I thought we would give your latest conquest a little send-off party." She glanced toward the cinder block structure behind him. "Join us, Susan."
Into the cascading light, from between the two new unnamed figures, stepped a fifth woman.
Timbo, as Hector thought of the man now, pointed; his expression one of complete confusion. His forefinger wavered as he backed away, knuckles locked in a strange backward curve. His bottom lip see-sawed up and down but no words came out. The fifth woman strolled up the walk to stand beside Mattie. Hector saw she had a head wound, bloody and grotesque. Jutting out from behind her ear a fragment of reflecting glass protruded. A shard from a mirror, he realized.
Hector stood immobile, staring. None of them seemed the slight bit interested in him. The man she called Timbo turned in panic, and ran right into Hector. One of the twp nameless women grabbed his shirt from behind and Timbo's face fell level with Hector's as he was yanked to a stop. To Hector, his eyes defined pits of fear.
"Help me," he said.
Hector cringed staring back into the dude's anxious-eyed growing awareness. That was about the stupidest request he had heard in a very long time.
The blonde turned to Hector. "We all are going to have a little party with Timbo here." Turning back she motioned with a grey fleshy hand. Patricia and Susan stepped up to Timbo. Spidery fingers at his back curled around the denim waistband encircling his jeans.
"Susan?" Timbo beseeched. But before he could manage another word one of the four hands that held him lifted from his waist and clamped over his mouth silencing his voice. By his new expression, Hector determined the woman's grip was anything but weak.
"Which side?" Patricia asked. She stepped up to join the big man with the frightened eyes. Now completely bathed in light. Hector saw that the side of her chest displayed a gaping concave dent spreading wide over two exposed ribs, and - Hector could not look away - hanging, stringy, yellowish entrails.
"The Women's, of course," the blonde answered.
"May I have the first go?" Susan asked.
"Yes dear," said Mattie. "The last to die always gets the first turn."
Hector stared slack-jawed. Susan's was the high-pitched voice he had heard through the cinder block walls. The voice that ended in a scream.
Mattie chuckled. "Close your mouth," she said. Her lips parted, separating malevolently. "You'll catch flies."
In spite of his disbelief, he addressed her, "I thought you…I thought he…I thought it was you he attacked -"
"No," Mattie cut him off. "You heard Susan. She died while you were taking a crap."
The woman turned without further comment. She stepped past him, followed by Susan.
The two nameless women Hector had not been introduced to held tight to Susan's assailant. Between them, Timbo locked wide pleading eyes with Hector, unable to break free, though struggle he did. Mattie nodded as she approached them. "The last to die always gets the first turn. More immediate anger. The first to die, however…" she paused in front of the man. Hector understood that he himself was no longer a part of this conversation. "The first to die, me that is, has more time to think of the punishment, and I hear it is a bit more fun to watch."
All the women chuckled. The sound they made was to Hector like dried leaves catching a flame.
Placing a delicate, long-nailed finger gently to Timbo's chin, Mattie said, "Time is different on our side. Over here Susan has been deceased for a long while. On your side, it appears she just passed."
Susan winked at Hector as she passed, "Thank you for detaining him." Then with a motion hidden in swiftness her hand shot out and grabbed Timbo's crotch.
Hector's knees folded. He dropped to a crouch, clenched fists glued to his chest, thighs together. How he kept himself standing he did not know.
"Come my darling. We all want to have a turn at this manhood of yours. Didn't you always want this?" With that she stepped toward the restroom door, dragging Timbo by…by what? Hector wondered. By the balls, he wanted to say but kept silent.
As a group, the three lifted the dude completely free of the sidewalk and followed by Mattie. pulled him through the doorway into the Women's restroom out of sight. Timbo screamed again. The sound was muffled from within the cinder block structure. The last in line, the unnamed women with the cool cloudy eyes, aimed a disgusted look at Hector. "You should go in there and clean yourself up. You stink."
Hector chose not to return to the Men's restroom. He figured he had heard enough screaming for the night.
How far could it be to the next town, he wondered, knowing regardless, he would probably have one nasty rash for the next few days.