Bathroom Break (short fiction)

 Helen and Troy’s Epic Road Quest

On the road of legends, Helen Nicolaides had to take a bathroom break. Gas station bathrooms were always a risk. They all promised clean facilities, but promises were easy. She was pleased to discover that this one was mostly clean, though it did have that strong antiseptic smell that didn’t quite cover the more unpleasant odors.

Helen reached for one of the three stalls. The lights flickered and a crooked woman in a pantsuit and curlers stood beside the sink. She hadn’t been there before.

“Choose wisely,” said the attendant.

Helen’s hand dropped to her side. “I just need to pee. I don’t have time for this.”

“Go ahead then.”

Helen reached for a stall door but hesitated. “So what is it then? What’s the catch here?”

“No catch,” said the attendant. “Behind one door, you’ll find a treasure beyond mortal imagining. Beyond another—”

“Treasure, in a public bathroom?”

The attendant shrugged. “I didn’t put it there. Do you want to hear the rest or not?”

Helen nodded.

“One stall: Treasure. Another stall: a nice clean toilet. Good soft toilet tissue. Scent of lavender. A little Kenny G playing. Quite a lovely place to take care of business.”

“And the third?” asked Helen.

“Death herself,” said the attendant with notable indifference.

“I just wanted to pee,” said Helen.

“And Zhong Kui just wanted an education. The call takes many forms. Now choose.”

“I’ll hold it.”

“Suit yourself. Next bathroom is seventy-three miles away.”

“Then I’ll find a bush on the side of the road.”

“Lot of dangerous things behinds those bushes out there,” said the attendant with a sly smile.

Helen hopped from hoof to hoof. She considered her choices. The Gods Above delighted in this nonsense. You couldn’t avoid their rules. She’d hate to die by a viper’s bite on her ass.

“Death is only behind one of these?”

The attendant nodded.

Helen bent down to peer under the stalls, but of course, they all looked empty from that angle. It couldn’t be that easy.

She opened a stall. A pale boney figure wrapped in black glanced up from her People magazine and scowled.

“Hey, ocupado here!”

“Sorry.” Helen closed the door.

“You chose poorly,” said the attendant.

Helen tried the other two stalls, but they refused to open.

“One choice to a customer,” said the attendant. “Better luck next time.”

Grumbling, Helen left, slamming the door on her way out.

“Why didn’t she just pee in the sink?” wondered Death from her stall. “It’s what I would’ve done.”

“Don’t be gross,” said the attendant.

The lights flickered, and she vanished, leaving Death to finish her business.

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