“Does your toilet burble, threateningly, when you walk into the bathroom?” a woman on the TV asked. Her words were soft, but danced with the rhythm of a slight Mexican accent.
Alex sat up because her toilet did, in fact, burble threateningly.
She grabbed her remote and jabbed the volume button until the sound of the commercial flooded the room.
“Do you wake to find unexplainable and indescribable substances clogging the bowl?” a second woman asked, her voice harsh with a mix of flat Midwestern vowels and rural twang.
Alex nodded, clutching the remote to her chest like a lifeline.
“Have regular plumbers tried to fix these problems, only to leave you with high bills and no results?” the first voice asked.
Again, Alex nodded.
“At H&D Plumbing, we specialize in fixing the unfixable. Call us 24-7!” the second voice said.
Their number flashed on a neon-background with all the grandeur of ‘90s graphic design.
Alex scrambled across the couch to where her phone sat wedged between cushions. She wasn’t usually the type of person to respond to late-night, public-access commercials. But making desperate, pajama-clad trips to the 7-Eleven across the street every night wasn’t a sustainable long-term plan, especially since the clerk glowered at her every time she headed for the women’s bathroom.
She had to do something. She dialed the number.
Thirty minutes later, the two women from the commercial had taken over her bathroom. They assured her they could fix the problem in one night before ushering her into the kitchen for a mug of tea she didn’t particularly want.
She sent her spoon circling the mug again, straining for snippets of conversation loud enough to drift to her through the house’s aging ventilation system.
“…not a plumbing issue,” one of them said. She thought it was the one with the Mexican accent, a short black woman with straight ombre hair and henna tattoos on her hands. Devyn, her name was.
“Might as well change this leaky seal, anyway,” said the other one, a curvy white girl whose hair was a mix of mermaid blues and purples accentuated by a deep sidecut. Alex could almost hear the shrug in her voice.
“Not before we do the exorcism, Hollis,” Devyn said. “Demon’ll just fuck it up.”
Alex pushed her tea across the table and stood up, wondering just what kind of plumbers she’d hired. From the sound of it, the religiously extreme kind—if they were even plumbers at all. Would they be happy cleansing her toilet of its sins? Or did they intend to “save” her, too? She didn’t want to find out the hard way.
She grabbed the baseball bat from behind her front door and made her way to the bathroom, step by slow step.
Time went wonky. In similar situations, she knew, most people say time slows down. And it did. But it also sped up. And went sideways.
She focused on her breathing—the time her own body created between each breath and heartbeat—and pushed open the bathroom door.
The women didn’t notice her at first, posed, as they were, facing the burbling toilet with their hands on their hips.
She raised her bat and cleared her throat.
“Who the fuck are you people?”
Hollis, who stood closest to the toilet, wheeled toward her with hands raised.
“We’re plumbers, ma’am. Just like we said in the commercial.”
Her smile was somewhat reassuring. Religious extremists wouldn’t take the time to smile and explain when they’d been busted by a potential victim, would they?
On second thought, they might.
She adjusted her grip on the bat.
“Why did I hear you say something about a demon?”
Hollis’s eyes darted toward Deyvn.
Devyn shook her head.
Hollis bobbed her head toward the bat.
Devyn pursed her lips.
Alex raised the bat a fraction of an inch and waited. She wondered if waiting was a sign of weakness. She wondered if she was going to have to use the bat. She wondered why she’d grabbed it instead of the phone.
All that wondering took a few seconds, and by the end of it she decided she’d waited too long.
She took a half step closer.
“Tell me or I start swinging,” she said.
Devyn’s pursed lips fell into a deep frown.
“Fine,” she hissed, “but not in front of the toilet.”
Alex, taken aback by the weirdness of this response, squinted, unsure what to do.
That’s when the burbling mass in the toilet lunged at Hollis, surging up in one fluid but somehow corporeal mass.
Hollis leapt back as far as the tiny space would allow, wielding her plunger like a sword.
Alex felt herself choking on a scream and almost dropped the bat.
“What is that?” she demanded. She clutched the bat, knuckles whiter than the bathroom tile.
Neither Hollis nor Devyn deigned to answer.
Hollis stabbed repeatedly at the mass, trying to force it back into the bowl.
Devyn stood precisely where she’d been standing, fingers wrapped around a rosary, spitting Latin like a spoken word poet.
Alex sneaked another look at the Thing in the toilet and the blood rushed out of her face.
She lowered the bat.
She could demand answers, later.
For now, she’d let them work and hope they really did know what they were doing.
She padded back into the kitchen, dragging the bat behind her, and finished her tea.
Another thirty minutes went by.
Devyn and Hollis wandered into the kitchen, faces cautious.
They relaxed a little when they saw the bat resting against the cupboard.
“How’d it go?” Alex asked, trying hard not to think about the burbling, lunging Thing.
“It’s all taken care of,” Hollis said. “Good as new. Put on a fresh seal, just to be safe.”
She contemplated her empty tea mug before asking the next question.
“And the Thing?”
“The toilet demon?” Devyn asked.
Alex nodded again. She wasn’t sure she bought that it was a demon and not some bizarre by-product of all the chemical waste people flushed down their drains every year, but they seemed like they’d encountered one before.
“We sent it back to where it came from.”
Alex thought about that.
“How did it get here in the first place?” she asked, eyes wary. “Did I do something to attract it?” Now was the time, if any, they’d start in on their proselytizing spiel. But if it was possible for toilets to be demon-infested, she needed to know she wasn’t accidentally summoning one by waxing her legs in the light of a full moon or scrubbing the toilet bowl in the wrong direction.
“We don’t know how they get here,” Devyn said. She scrunched her eyebrows and her mouth tugged into a diagonal frown.
“It’s just something that happens sometimes,” Hollis added, “like septic tank overflows and drains clogged with wads of hair.”
Alex looked from Devyn to Hollis and then stared hard at the tea ring in the bottom of her empty mug. She didn’t like that answer. It was just as terrifying as it was reassuring. But at least they hadn’t told her she was a sinner, or given her any pamphlets, or tried to sell her overpriced purifying crystals and smudge sticks.
She managed a smile.
“Will it come back?” she asked.
“Not if it knows what’s good for it,” Devyn said.
“We’re good at what we do,” Hollis added. She handed Alex a business card. “You know who to call if it does, though.”