A man must face his shittiest fear.

By David Wylie

Joe hated public toilets. He hated them with as much passion as a man in his thirties could muster against a porcelain seat. But on a sunny Friday afternoon in August, as he drove back to Ottawa with his wife from a visit to Joe’s parents in Toronto, Joe knew he wasn’t going to make it.

The couple was driving east through Toronto when the contents of Joe’s stomach started to feel like laundry tumbling in a drier. When they past Oshawa he started to squirm. Thirty minutes later, Joe spotted a glorious green sign: “Next rest stop 33 kilometres.” Joe glanced away from the road and turned to his wife, Jane, in the passenger seat. Early in their marriage, Jane learned Joe could drive hundreds of kilometers, grumbling in discomfort, to avoid sitting on a gas station toilet. Jane had simply come to acknowledge it as one of her husband’s quirks.

“I have to go to the bathroom,” he said with an urgency that suggested something may have crawled into his stomach and died, then resurrected and was trying to scratch its way out.

Jane had also noticed the sign and suggested they pull in at the rest stop. “I’ll get a drink and feed the baby,” she said. “And you can go to the washroom.”

Joe nodded his head reluctantly and pressed a bit more firmly on the gas pedal. After 33 kilometres of sweating and clenching, Joe pulled into the rest stop like a race car driver. He quickly found a parking space as close to the Tim Horton’s sign as he could get, and swung the car 180 degrees into the spot, sending up a small cloud of dust and earning him a few glares from people in the parking lot. Jane was gripping the door and baby Maddy, awake from her nap, was giggling. Joe flung the sedan door open and shuffle-jogged to the door, disappearing under the black roof of the dome-shaped building. Jane relaxed her grip and said to Maddy, “Daddy really had to go.”

Joe made it to the toilets and read the sign on the door as he opened it: “Five-star cleanliness guarantee.” Well, he thought, sounds promising. But the bathroom did not earn its five stars in Joe’s opinion. Somebody had smeared pink soap all over the mirror, the floor had toilet paper strewn on it like giant bits of confetti, and each urinal had its own puddle underneath. The smell reminded him of the baby bottle he’d accidentally left in the car for two days. However, there was no turning back.

Of the three stalls, two were occupied. A dull plunk echoed from the stall on the right where a man with muddy brown boots grunted. In the stall on the left, he saw two white-socked feet stuffed inside leather sandals. Joe stood in front of the centre stall and hesitated. He held his breath – less because of anticipation and more because of the foul smell starting to drift from Muddy Boots’ stall. Then he opened the door. The scene in front of him was something out of a horror movie. It seemed that all the toilet’s previous users had conspired not to flush. Several giant brown logs were loosely piled together like a decrepit raft barely staying afloat on a yellow pond. The black toilet seat looked like it had been left outside in a torrential rain storm. Joe thought about the motto carved into decorative wood that Jane had hung on the wall behind their toilet: “If you sprinkle when you tinkle, be a sweetie and wipe the seatie.” Joe sullenly decided the people who used the toilet before him were not sweeties.

He stepped into the stall and pulled the door closed. Joe flushed the toilet, twice. There was still a brown smear, but the little raft was swept away by a whirlpool of white rapids. The yellow water was now clear. Joe crouched down so he could reach the plastic toilet paper dispenser and grabbed handfuls of the one-ply paper. Joe was wiping off the seat when he got a text message on his cellphone. He used his left hand to pull the phone out of his pocket and read the message from Jane. “How goes it?” she wrote

Joe, who was crouched down cleaning an impossibly dirty bathroom stall, staring at a wad of toilet paper stained with another man’s absurdly yellow pee in his right hand, replied: “Just peachy.”

White Socks in the next stall farted loudly as Joe hit the send button.

Joe put his phone away as he tossed the toilet paper into the water and flushed again. Then he pulled more strips of toilet paper from the dispenser and built a fluffy toilet paper nest on the seat. Joe undid his belt, dropped his khakis and sat. He unclenched and felt immediate relief. A few previous tenants of the stall had left some bathroom reading on the walls. One caught his eye: “Roses are red, violets are blue, I took a poo and bet you did, too.” Joe couldn’t help but smile.

He grabbed a handful of toilet paper, but he felt one more intense grumble and gave a small push of encouragement. He farted so forcefully that the toilet water splashed up against his butt. The bathroom echoed, and fell silent again for a few seconds until White Socks applauded loudly and Muddy Boots hooted. Joe laughed.

When Joe pulled back out onto the highway, Jane asked how it went. Joe turned to her and smiled. “A gas.”

Ms. Fortune stood at the front of the classroom, back turned to her students, as she wrote some notes about their book assignment on the blackboard. The students were all in detention, and seeing opportunity, began to act out.

Jimmy reached into his pocket and pulled out a handful of elastic bands and fired them at people who had been teasing him earlier in the week. Gertrude reached under her desk and peeled a piece of previously chewed gum off the bottom and popped it in her mouth, smacking loudly. Bobby, who had been hit in the eye by one of Jimmy’s elastics, screamed and started to cry.

Ms. Fortune sighed the sigh of someone who had grown weary of a particularly long spell of poor weather. She stopped mid-sentence, lifted her white chalk and turned. The class was immediately quiet, attentive — except for Bobby, who continued to scream and hold his eye. The teacher told Bobby firmly to be quiet. He obeyed, sniffling. She turned back to the chalkboard.

Rena put her headphones in her ears and hit play on her music player, bobbing her head up and down to the beat. Cassandra began to doodle little hearts in her textbook. Ralph, who could see Cassandra’s bra through her white shirt, reached forward, grabbed the strap, pulled it back and let it go with a snap. Cassandra screamed. The class laughed.

Ms. Fortune finished writing her last sentence and abruptly left the classroom without offering an explanation. With a click, the door locked behind the students.

On the blackboard was written a short summary of their book assignment. Below that in capital letters, Ms. Fortune had written:


The students all looked at each other.

Storyboard sketch by Chris Hendricks

The kitchen clock tick-tocked as the seconds passed.
James, aged 7, thought that time went too fast.
As the clock came closer to chirping out eight,
the louder it seemed to resound the boy’s fate.

Eight o’clock sharp was James’ bed time.
The most awful time for the cuckoo to chime.

First he had a bath where he sank his red sub,
and he splashed in the tub,
and he made boats go “glug glug.”

Then he brushed his teeth until they all sparkled bright.
Smiled at the mirror admiring each pearly white.
Story time came, and it went much too fast.
And the cuckoo clock shouted from the shadows it cast.

cuckoo, cuckoo
cuckoo, cuckoo
cuckoo, cuckoo
cuckoo, cuckoo

But this stormy night, James would stay awake.
He would play his part well, the fear and heartache.
He would pretend to see a monster in his underwear drawer,
then mommy and daddy would run through the door.

They would turn on the light to clear darkness from room,
saving poor James from a frightful nighttime doom.
He would get hugs, and kisses, and songs.
His bedtime routine would be nightly prolonged.

So when the light was turned out and daddy said “good night,”
James waited a minute then shrieked out in fright.
Thunderous footsteps led to the door,
and his daddy burst in like Paternal Thor.

By David Wylie

It was a sunny fall afternoon when the couple arrived at their home, far away from the city. June clapped her hands enthusiastically, rose on her toes and kissed her husband’s neck. Her husband, Tom, smiled happily and lifted her wrist to his lips in a kiss.

Once the furniture, a mixture of eclectic garage-sale treasures and modern pieces were brought inside by the movers, the couple went to the bedroom and made love. Afterward June stroked her husband’s chest and looked out the window at the moon as it played hide and seek behind the clouds. Tom smiled as he dozed with his arm under his wife’s pillow. The moonlight touched his cheek.

He was in the backyard of his childhood home. The ground was carpeted with fresh snow. Tree branches, slicked with ice hung low, bowing to the earth. In the centre of the yard a pack of wolves had gathered in a circle and were snapping and growling at each other, beasts fighting over a kill. A white dog, muscular and intimidating, was walking toward the pack, barking angrily. The wolves growled, low and menacing, yet one by one the skinny creatures began to back away, revealing a partly consumed body surrounded by blood-stained snow. One wolf, a black creature with eyes so pale they seemed to glow like a car’s headlights, held its ground as the big dog continued to walk steadily toward him. Then the wolf pounced and the two rolled on the ground with snaps and snarls. The rest of the pack howled from the woods. As dog and wolf fought, Tom slowly walked toward the body. He heard his wife’s voice whispering breathlessly: “Oh, Tom.” She was crying. “I’m so sorry. There was nothing I could do…”

Then June was shaking him. “Tom! Tom! Wake up!” He opened his eyes and his wife was staring at him, concerned. “You were screaming in your sleep, sweetheart.”

He went to the bathroom and poured a glass of water to wash down a sleeping pill. He’d been having vivid nightmares frequently now. There were times when he couldn’t tell the difference between dream and reality. The dreams had become so disturbing that he finally decided to see a psychiatrist, who only punctuated Tom’ monologues with the occasional “Hmm” and “Ah,” before prescribing new drugs to try. They eventually settled on the sleeping pills, which seemed to help. June blamed the dreams on stress and convinced him to sell his marketing business and take a break. The couple decided to buy the secluded home with some of the money. Tom would relax and dream up his next business venture, and June would continue to write newspaper columns. Everything would be perfect.

The next afternoon June unpacked boxes. She started in the kitchen, filling up the pantry, putting away dishes, utensils, glasses and knives. Tom walked up behind her and put his arms around her. She leaned back into him and he kissed her on the cheek. While June worked in the kitchen, Tom went outside to mow the lawn. He crossed a grassy knoll to the back corner of the yard where a weathered green shed stood. The door hinges creaked as he pulled it open. It was dark and the corners were, or had once been, home to spiders — judging by the network of webs. A few rusty garden tools were stacked in the corner. Dog chew toys were scattered on the wooden floor. Tom rolled the lawnmower out of the shed and started it up.

He was sweaty and tired by the time he finished mowing the lawn. Rolling the heavy old machine back into the shed, Tom was startled by a big white dog sitting in the corner. It was the same dog from his dream. “Tom!” He heard his wife yelling from the house. “Where are you?” Tom looked at the house, then glanced back at the white dog. It didn’t move, only stared at him with human eyes. His wife’s yell was more urgent now. “Tom!” The dog got to its feet and ran. With some difficulty he turned away from the house and ran after the dog. He pushed through the dense forest. The drooping sun’s light was splitting through the leaves and tree trunks, casting long shadows. He tried to keep up with the dog, as it padded along an old overgrown trail. But he’d lost sight of it. He stopped and turned around in circles, looking for a landmark when he heard howling. Then he was falling to the ground.

He woke up in the shed. It was dark and the moonlight fought its way through the shed’s lone dirty window. Bloody nightmares, he thought. He walked back to the house wondering why June hadn’t found him and woken him up. The door was left open. The kitchen was a mess and there was broken glass on the floor. He found June in the bedroom. She had cut her hand badly and was sleeping. His bottle of sleeping pills was beside her.

The next morning June sat in the living room with a heavily bandaged hand, her eyes were red and puffy. Tom stroked her yellow hair, and asked her over and over how she’d cut her hand, but she didn’t answer, instead choosing to stare into space or read.

After a few days, June took off the bandages. The wound was ugly but healing well. Tom kissed her palm, but she was sullen and silent. She spoke to him rarely and so quietly that sometimes he couldn’t even make out the words. They no longer made love. Hurt, Tom began to ignore her also. He spent his days outside, enjoying the last of the fall air before winter came. Soon enough though, the snow fell. It dropped in fat flakes and didn’t stop for almost two days. Tom spent hours outside watching it float down from heaven. June lay on the couch and read. He thought about lighting a fire in the big stone fireplace, but instead stretched out in front of it on a big white shag rug. June stayed on the couch.

That night, for the first time in weeks, Tom dreamed. He was walking along a trail in the woods. The snow had hardened in the cold and crunched under his bare feet. Even though he was in his pale blue pajamas, he didn’t feel cold. The moon was full and reflected off the snow, making the night seem brighter than it was. The white dog padded beside him, silent. They arrived at the green shed in the corner of the yard. A candle flickered through the window. Tom peeked through. It was the couple’s bathroom. A single candle was placed on the counter and hot red wax was flowing down the cupboards and pooling on the floor. June was laying in the tub, the water was dark red. Tom gasped. June’s eyes were open but unseeing. The water in the tub was crimson. Her yellow hair had been pulled back in a ponytail. Her arm was slung over the side of the tub and below her hand was a kitchen knife. The blade was bloody. He yelled her name but she didn’t respond. Tom felt dizzy and crumpled to the ground.

Tom woke on the hardwood floor of the bedroom. The house was empty and cold. All the lights were off and it was dark. He stood up and saw the room was empty. He walked down the hall and all of the couple’s pictures had been removed. Tom wondered if he was still dreaming. He walked into the kitchen, but the counters were clear. The kitchen table was gone. He was still in his light blue pajamas. He walked through the living room to the hallway and then to the front door. Everything was gone. He tried the lights, but they wouldn’t turn on. The front door opened a crack. The white dog had pushed it open and was now looking him, concern in its eyes. Tom followed the dog across the yard, through the wild bushes and onto the path they had walked before. Tom was barefoot but didn’t feel the cold. He heard June calling out his name from somewhere in the forest nearby. “Tom! Tom where are you?” She was concerned.

The moon was full and easily lit their path. Tom looked up to the sky and saw the moon dropping far faster than it should. The snow melted and was replaced underfoot by crackling autumn leaves as daylight began to break. Then it was early afternoon. June’s voice was more urgent now “Tom!” The white dog looked up at Tom, with eyes so sad Tom felt his stomach tighten. It padded away into the forest.

A strong sense of deja vu struck Tom and he looked down at his feet. He was wearing his hiking shoes. Instead of pajamas he wore blue jeans and a sweater June had knitted and gave him for his thirtieth birthday. It didn’t fit quite right, but Tom had often worn it anyway. He heard June again, yelling his name. Then he heard howling.

There was a rustle in the bushes beside him and he turned. He saw a flash of pale grey eyes before he was knocked over from the other side. He felt pain in his leg, then in his arm. He tried to kick and punch in every direction as the pack of wolves surrounded him, ripping at him. One of the grey wolves had Tom’ sweater in its jaws and was pulling him toward the bushes. Another sank its sharp teeth into his side and ripped out a chunk of flesh. Tom screamed out in pain. One of the wolves yelped and Tom saw June was kicking at the animals. The big black wolf turned on her and clamped its jaws onto her hand. Blood spurted from the wound and June screamed. Tom tried as hard as he could to pull free and help her, but he couldn’t escape. One of the wolves bit into his neck and ripped. He heard barking, somewhere far off. The white dog was standing next to him barking and the wolves were backing off. June knelt at his side. Her hand was dripping blood. She was weeping. The world was dimming. “June,” he choked while drowning in blood. “Am I dreaming?”