SNEAK PREVIEW: Fight Tub

So, Fight Tub is coming out in eight days!

September 30th, 2022 is the official release date. It’s the fourth book in The Bedlam Bible series, but just like the other Bedlam books, it’s a stand alone story that doesn’t require reading the others to enjoy. Given that the book summary is a lazily written, single sentence (The story of a man who became his bathroom), I thought I’d drop a little sneak preview tonight to give you all a better idea of what it’s all about.

If you want to skip the preview and order a copy so you can read the entire thing all at once, you can do that here.

For the rest of you, let’s do this!

FIGHT TUB by William Pauley III

1

This story begins on the night I first felt my apartment breathe.

I suppose it was fear that had brought me there in the first place, the bathroom, I mean. I was simply existing in the living room when it crept into my veins. No trigger. No spark. Just an internal odometer slowly rising from point zero. What was I afraid of? I couldn’t say. Whatever it was, it caused me to panic and the panic sent it hurdling in a frenzy in all directions. Uncontrollable. Fear was everywhere, in and outside of me. I was swimming and living inside it, and it was twisting into me. Once it tore into my gut, I ran out of the room and down the dark hall, into the bathroom.

Perhaps I needed someone, but I was alone. My only comfort in that moment was knowing that the fear was surfacing. I could feel it rising in the back of my throat. Soon it would all be over, purged from my system, wholly, completely. I fell to my knees and gripped the edge of the commode, waiting for the fear to spew, all while watching the sweat drip from the tip of my nose, rippling into the pooled water of the bowl.

It never came. The fear just hung there, clinging to the back of my throat. My breath quickened. My clothes grew damp with perspiration and clung to me like pleading hands, pulling me to the floor below. I had to lie down. I pressed my face to the cool linoleum and stared into the void, a place somewhere deep inside me. It was there I could finally see it, the fear, in all its many colors, like a prism spinning into a noxious blur. I watched helplessly as fear swirled about inside, infecting me. Right there, beneath the sink, I fell asleep to the lulling churn of sickness.

And that’s when it happened. The apartment breathed. Right there below me. The floor hissed and when the hissing stopped, it ballooned with what I could only assume was air. A breath, a sigh. When it exhaled, the hissing sound returned, like hot steam rushing out a burst pipe. I thought perhaps I’d gone mad from illness, but it felt all too real.

That’s when I noticed it wasn’t just the floor that was breathing, but also the walls, the sink, the toilet. The entire room and every object inside it was bubbling and gasping for air. The fear ripped into my heart and sent it thundering into panic again. I placed my hands on the edge of the tub and pulled myself inside it. The tub was a place of deep comfort and a source for healing. It too was panting, but I still found some solace knowing I was inside it. As the porcelain throbbed, I found myself writhing within it, running my fingers along its thundering pulse.

I closed my eyes and absorbed its wheeze.

* * *

Hours later, I awakened, still inside the tub. All was calm, every porcelain and chrome fixture stood firm, unmoving. The floor and walls remained breathless for the entirety of my investigation. I stared intently from my position inside the tub for several minutes, hyper-aware of every object inside the room, until finally deciding it was probably safe to stand. I grabbed hold of the faucet and pulled myself onto my feet.

I wasn’t sure of the time, but I sensed I was probably running late for work again. I had a bad habit of allowing the night to carry on much longer than it should, much to the annoyance of Mister Kim, my boss. I worked in the marketing department of The Network, a television station located in the Eighth Block Tower, the same building that contained my apartment. Imagine living literally a minute’s walk from your job and still being unable to make it to work on time. I take full responsibility. It was something I was working diligently to correct, but still there was the occasional slip-up. If I was serious about being considered for promotion, I’d have to find a remedy…

I pressed my hands against the edge of the sink and pushed my full weight upon it. My legs felt weak. Turns out sleeping inside a bathtub is bad for blood circulation. Dull pain tingled in my legs as I stood. Taking the weight off of them helped a bit, until the blood got to flowing again. Once they felt mostly normal, I twisted the knobs on the sink and splashed my face with a few handfuls of warm water. I grabbed a towel and patted my face dry. When I pulled it away, I caught a glimpse of my face in the mirror. To my horror, there was a slight malformation.

My eye. My left eye was missing entirely, curiously replaced with a chrome silver ball bearing. My eyelids slid over it with ease, as it would a normal eyeball, however it was hardly a normal eyeball. There seemed no function for it. It was simply a solid steel sphere, placed perfectly inside my socket, with no evidence of injury or harm whatsoever, or any indication of where my actual eyeball may have been placed. My pulse quickened. Had this anything to do with the madness from the night before? The breathing walls? Or was it only a coincidence? Whatever the case, there simply was no time to ponder. Time was ticking…

In a panic, I threw open the medicine cabinet and sifted through its contents in a frenzy, batting anything I didn’t need off its tiny shelf and into the sink as a means of eliminating options. Though I was unable to concentrate enough to process exactly what it was I was searching for, I still managed to locate the medical tape and gauze, bandage myself up, and burst through the front door within a matter of minutes, headed to work.

* * *

I arrived at The Network front entrance only minutes later, however as soon as I exited the stairwell—out of breath, sweaty, and exhausted—I knew something was off. The hallway was dark and empty. The only light visible on the entire floor radiated from the neon sign of the company logo, fixated above the glass doors of the front entrance. I tried the doors, but they were locked.

Only then did I think to check the time. I removed my cell phone from my back pocket and wiped away the beads of sweat that had collected on the glass. The screen awakened, burning my one good retina with its impossible brightness. When my eye finally had a chance to adjust, I read the time: 6:45 am. Co-workers wouldn’t be showing up for another hour or so.

I pressed my back against the wall and slid down until I was sitting on the floor of the hallway, just outside the entrance. For a moment, I fumbled through the apps on my phone, seeking a distraction, but quickly grew bored with it. I drew up the camera app and snapped a picture of my face. There wasn’t much to see. Due to the darkness, the camera only picked up the white bandages wrapped tightly around my left eye. I wondered what everyone would say when they finally got a look at me. I wondered if they’d say anything at all. I wasn’t very popular. There were many days I would work an entire shift without uttering a single word to anyone. I was hoping years of antisocial behavior would finally work out in my favor.

I stared at the picture and thought about my eye and what was happening to me. I thought about the way my apartment was breathing and I wondered if it was doing it again at that very moment, or if perhaps it was happening in other parts of the building.

My mind swirled into a downward spiral of brutal anxiety, and it wasn’t long before I was once again asleep. At the time, shutting down was my most effective defense mechanism.

* * *

Sometime soon after, I was awakened by a pleasant aroma. A paper cup half-filled with hot tea was hovering before my nose. I looked up to see Leila’s gorgeous face smiling at me.

“Good morning, sleepyhead,” she said. “I made you some hot tea. Just the way you like it.”

Leila was a co-worker of mine. I would call her a ‘friend,’ but we never hung out outside of work, so how close could we have been? She kept me informed of all the latest office gossip and was even nice enough to listen to me rattle on about whatever obscure book I was into at the moment. She was a great listener, and I tried to return the favor as often as she’d let me. Truth was, I always had a secret crush on her, but never acted upon it due to the fact she was way out of my league. She was always so nice to me. I was a thing of pity. I was lucky enough for her to even want to talk to me.

I took the cup from her hands and smiled back at her.

“Thank you,” I said, then took a sip. There was an awkward silence.

“Do I really have to ask?” she said, laughing.

“What?” I said, genuinely confused.

“Why are you sleeping out here in the hallway? Did you get locked out of your apartment or something?”

“Oh, right,” I said, wondering how many of my co-workers saw me on their way in. She helped me to my feet. “Has Mister Kim arrived yet?”

“No, I don’t think so,” she said, appearing concerned. “Are you waiting for him?”

“No, just hoping he didn’t see me out here,” I said, taking another sip of tea. “I had sort of a rough night.”

“That seems to be an understatement,” she said, eyeing my bandages. “You get into a fight or something?”

In all my panic, I’d forgotten to come up with a believable excuse for my appearance. I tried to think quick, but I was never one to perform well under pressure. She was staring at me, awaiting my reply. I got caught in the web of her eyes.

“Wild animal…” I said, and tried to end on that note, but she wasn’t having it. She asked me to elaborate.

“Goddamn barracuda,” I said, immediately regretting it. Why was my brain like this? I barely got the words out before she let out a hearty laugh.

“Barracuda? You can’t be serious!” she shouted. “Were you in the ocean?”

“No, 7th avenue,” I said. “Fish market.”

“Fish market, right…” she said, not believing a word of my story. “Look, if you don’t want to tell me, just say so.”

“You don’t believe me?” I said. I couldn’t help but to smile. She playfully pushed at my chest.

“Get out of here,” she said. “You’re a terrible liar. Perhaps the worst I’ve ever encountered.”

“Aren’t you curious about how my eye was injured by a barracuda?”

“Sure, I’ll bite,” she said. “How did it happen?”

“Well, it’s a little known fact that for up to 48 hours after death, the barracuda is still able to ward off predators by spitting salt in their eyes,” I said, quite proud of my little story. She laughed even harder.

“That’s one tough little fucker,” she said. “Warding off predators even after death. Makes one wonder what’s the fucking point?”

I laughed. I loved laughing with her. It happened often. The first time it happened, we were in the break room trying to come up with clever ways to get a candy bar to drop from the coils of the vending machine. I had just put in my money and made a selection, but the candy bar failed to drop. She suggested blowing into the ventilation holes on the back of the machine. I thought it might be easier to fling one of those quarter machine sticky hands up through the dispenser to knock it loose. She then responded with, “yeah, but what if after you put the quarter in, the sticky hand also got stuck inside the machine?” We laughed about it for days afterward, continuing to exchange ridiculous proposals with one another, each time attempting to top the previous outlandish scheme.

“So how did you come up with that ridiculous lie so quickly, huh?” she asked. “Did you read it in Scientific American Idiot?”

I was always in awe of her quick wit.

“That’s good,” I said, ignoring her question. “That’s really good.”

After a moment of awkward silence, she finally said, “Guess we should get to work now, especially if you’re looking to avoid Mister Kim. He should be arriving at any minute.”

“Right,” I said. I’d almost forgotten I was at work. She was that kind of person, the kind that made me forget where I was, cause all that mattered was that I was with her. I took another sip of tea.

“I can’t remember if I thanked you for the tea, but thank you,” I said. “You’re a lifesaver.”

She smiled and I followed her through the front entrance.

* * *

About an hour into my workday, I was doing my damndest to concentrate on my assignment, staring into the blazing void of my computer screen, when something peculiar appeared in my peripheral vision. A bald head sporting eyes open so wide they could’ve been lidless, sprouted over the top edge of the cubicle. It was Karl from finance. We got along okay, but we weren’t close. I wasn’t even sure of his last name. Griffin? Gifford? He just stared at me for what felt like a full minute.

“Yes?” I said. “What is it, Karl?”

“How’d you get that shiner there?” Karl said, motioning at my injured eye. I nervously cupped my hand over it, thinking the bandages had shifted, allowing the shiny chrome steel to peek through. False alarm, bandages were still in place. He was only referring to what he assumed was a black eye.

“Oh this?” I said, buying time, annoyed that I still hadn’t bothered to come up with a believable excuse. “It’s nothing. I’ll be fine.”

Karl kept staring in total silence.

“Can I ask you a question?” he finally said.

“You know, Karl, I wish you would, cause this staring business has really got me annoyed.”

“Are you in one of those…” He stopped mid-sentence and looked around, as if he was nervous someone would overhear what he had to say next. He then whispered, “…fight clubs?”

“Fight clubs?” I asked, never having heard those two words so close together. “What the hell is a fight club?”

“You know, like the movie?” he said. I still didn’t know what he was going on about. “The one where that guy joins a club… a fight club. You know, a club where they fight each other.”

“That’s a movie?” I said, turning toward my computer screen, attempting to get back to work.

“It’s a good one,” he said. “I’ll let you borrow it.”

“Thanks,” I said, mostly dismissing it. “I hate to be rude, but I really have a lot of work to do, Karl. Can we talk more about this at break or something?”

Truth be told, I was kind of a workaholic. I absolutely couldn’t stand being interrupted when I was working on my assignments, the only exception being Leila, of course. I took great pride in my work, and I was fairly confident I was the only one in the entire company who could even do my job properly, which is precisely why I felt I deserved a promotion.

Karl looked a bit embarrassed.

“Oh, right. Sure thing,” he said, backing away. “We’ll talk at break then.”

“Thanks, Karl. I appreciate it,” I said, without even looking up to see him off. I tapped furiously at my keyboard, attempting to finish two-thirds of my assignment before lunchtime.

* * *

But I got stuck.

I was asked to come up with a solution to a boring technical issue, something I was usually very good at, but for the life of me I couldn’t come up with anything at all. I stood up from my chair and paced the floor just outside my cubicle, hoping some exercise would help clear the mind fog. It didn’t.

A rush of anxiety crept through me. My breath quickened. My chest grew tight. I couldn’t quite explain what had come over me. These types of stresses never bothered me so much before, but now it seemed as though the slightest bit of panic caused my nerves to pull the trigger on a cannon-load of adrenaline. I started shaking. I couldn’t handle the sudden rush of panic beating at my chest. I had to get away…

I ran to the closest, safest, most private place I could think of: the men’s room. Sweat seeped from my skin as I weaved my way through the labyrinth of office cubicles, attempting to avoid anyone who may have initiated a stop-and-chat, Leila included. My mind was clouded in an unbelievable haze, like nothing I had ever experienced before. And what’s worse was that I felt scared of it, completely terrified. At that very moment, I felt as if I was dying, and like any dying animal, my instinct was to find some safe, quiet place in which to take my final breath.

The restroom was empty when I arrived, thankfully. I nearly burst down the stall door trying to get inside, to take a seat on the porcelain throne, as if sitting down upon it would immediately bring relief. Of course, it didn’t. I sat there for several minutes, doubled over, breathing steadily to slow my panicked heart, but it only seemed to beat faster. I could feel my pulse traveling up my throat, bringing short waves of nausea along with it.

Then a sharp pain rippled through the back of my skull, as if someone were drilling into it. I cried out in horror as I reached behind my head and felt another steel object had found its way inside my skin. Or was it that these objects were already inside and were only now pushing out of me? I shuddered in horror just thinking about it. I couldn’t just sit there anymore, so I stood up and rested my head against the wall.

For all that was happening to me at that moment, I managed to stay relatively quiet. I didn’t want to risk my co-workers finding me in that condition. I knew it should have been the least of my worries, but I saw the issues as minor inconveniences then, something temporary. Had one of them caught a glimpse of my symptoms, the rumors would run rampant. It wouldn’t take long for the rumors to get to Mister Kim, and surely once that happened, I could kiss all chances of a promotion goodbye. And all because of some nasty, temporary sickness. Looking back on it, this of course was foolish. The disease wasn’t some simple virus, something that would just disappear within days. I was in denial. I had moved into uncharted territory, at least for me. I’d never felt anything like that before. Not even close. I was sick. Really sick. And I knew no one who shared the same symptoms. Surely I wasn’t the only person to develop that particular disease, there had to be others… and those others couldn’t possibly have been living with it, without help, without treatment or medication to keep the worst parts of the sickness at bay. How could they?

The alarm of my digital watch beeped. I quickly shut it off. The restroom door opened, and before I even heard the first few notes of his trademark whistle, I knew exactly who it was: Mister Kim. His daily routine was so locked in place that even his pee breaks were scheduled. Every day at eleven and three o’clock. In fact, the alarm on my watch sounding off just as Mister Kim made his way inside the restroom door was no coincidence. I had set it to go off during each of these breaks daily, to get a little bit of face time with the boss. My reasoning was that with a little over a hundred employees under his wing, he couldn’t possibly know them all, so by seeing my face every day, perhaps subconsciously he’d be drawn to me when it came to selecting a potential candidate for promotion. It was a stretch, no doubt, but it surely couldn’t hurt my chances. Besides, I was fairly certain he addressed me by name when I approached the urinal last Friday, but I wasn’t sure. I just smiled and nodded my head, a safe response.

As soon as I heard Mister Kim’s piss stream pelt against the splash guard of the urinal, the pain at the back of my head resurfaced and felt even more excruciating than before. The metal protrusion was shifting and seemed to be taking on a new form. What was once a short steel pipe had now blossomed into a fully-functional faucet handle, of which I had realized only after making the stupid decision to test it out—yes, right there, with Mister Kim standing only three feet away…

Why is my brain like this?

I gripped the handle at the back of my head and twisted the valve open. Nothing could prepare me for what happened next.

There was a short rumble in my gut, then a rush of heat swelled from within me. Pressure built in the back of my throat until finally my mouth was forced open, releasing a geyser of hot blood against the back wall of the stall. I quickly twisted the valve, closing it again, and the blood immediately reduced to a dribble, spotting the white collar of my button-up shirt.

“Drebbin?” Mister Kim called out. I could hear him zipping his trousers. Just when I thought the panic couldn’t possibly be any more amplified.

“Uh… yes, sir?” I said, reluctantly. I spit out some of the residual blood hiding in the crevices of my mouth into the toilet bowl.

“I thought it might have been you,” he continued. I could hear him messing with the nozzles on the sink. “That sounded like a goddamn firehose!”

“I’m not feeling well, sir,” I said, hoping I wouldn’t have to elaborate. As much as I would have loved to have had a conversation with the man, that absolutely wasn’t the right time for it.

“You work in finance, right?” said Mister Kim. The words came like a kick to the gut.

“No, sir,” I said. “I’ve been your top marketing advisor for the last four years straight.”

“Marketing, huh?” He was drying his hands now. “I’ll tell Larry I’m giving you the rest of the day off. You go home and soak in the bath. Get better, cause we’ll need you back here first thing tomorrow morning.”

Larry was my direct supervisor.

“Yes, sir. Thank you, sir.”

He didn’t respond. The door swung open and he was gone. The pain faded and now the gouged flesh around the steel pipe at the back of my head felt numb. I spit more blood into the bowl, then grabbed a roll of toilet paper to clean up. I wondered how I was going to hide my new extension from my co-workers. I’d have to get creative if I was going to walk through the office floor without attracting too much attention.

I looked around the stall, but there was nothing of use. I peeked my head out the door and took a quick look around the restroom, searching for anything that would’ve helped me conceal the faucet handle protruding from the back of my skull, but there was nothing.

I shut the stall door and sat back down on the toilet, thinking of what to do next. I decided that instead of trying to conceal the thing, a better option was to just get the hell out and run home as quickly as possible, but even that would be a challenge, as the nearest exit was half a floor away.

There was nothing left to do but to get someone else involved.

Leila was the only person I felt I could trust, however I was hesitant to get her involved, perhaps due to pride, or maybe even embarrassment. Ultimately, I gave in and texted her. As humiliating as it was, I couldn’t think of a viable second option. Besides I thought perhaps it was time I sought a shoulder to lean upon, as I was always carrying the weight and stresses of life all on my own, and now my body was suffering because of it. As hard as it was to swallow my pride and type the message, I did it anyway, and quickly, before I had the chance to overthink it.

“Can I ask you a favor?”

Before she even had a chance to respond, I sent a second text message.

“I’m not well.”

A few seconds later, her response came.

“Oh no! Sure thing. What do you need?”

I paused for a moment to consider the wording of my next text.

“I’m about to head home for the day. Mister Kim approved, but I need a distraction.”

“A distraction?”

“Just something to clear the way to the exit. I promise I’ll explain later.”

I couldn’t imagine what must have been going through her mind in that moment, but whatever situation she had conjured up, it couldn’t have been close to the truth. After a slight moment of hesitation, she responded.

“I think I can manage that. Hope you feel better soon.”

A shudder of relief rushed throughout my body in a single, pulsating wave. A tear formed in my eye. It wasn’t often I was shown such kindness.

“Thank you, Leila. I owe you one.”

I hit send then buried the phone inside my pocket. Almost immediately after opening the stall door, I could hear Leila’s lovely voice filling the room, upholding her promise to create a distraction. She was singing “Happy Birthday.” After only the first line of the song, the entire room was singing along with her.

Brilliant, I thought.

I rushed to exit the restroom, keeping low, well below the top edge of the cubicle walls. As I drew nearer to the front doors of the office, I could see Leila standing in front of a very confused Tom from accounting, holding a wrapped Cosmic Brownie in her hand. A bevy of co-workers crowded around them, still singing along. Tom started to speak, surely to state that it was not his birthday, but apparently changed his mind once he spotted the brownie. Leila looked over at me, but I pretended not to notice and made a mad dash for the door. I wanted nothing more in that moment than to be home, where I could finally take a minute to analyze my little predicament without having to worry about prying eyes. Perhaps I could even discover a reason why any of it was happening in the first place.

I went straight home. Not a soul could stop me.

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