PseudoPod 748: The Infinite Error

Show Notes

This is this story’s first time appearing to the public. It will be included in the forthcoming collaborative collection The Latham-Fielding Liaison.

The Infinite Error

by Jon Padgett and Matthew M. Bartlett

“Everything exists; nothing exists. Either formula affords a like serenity. The man of anxiety, to his misfortune, remains between them, trembling and perplexed, forever at the mercy of a nuance, incapable of gaining a foothold in the security of being or in the absence of being.”

—E.M. Cioran, The Trouble with Being Born

Of course, I would have preferred to defecate at home in the privacy and comfort of my own bathroom, but my bowels refuse to move for the first two hours I am awake. I suffer from insomnia and can achieve a deep sleeping state only in the very early hours of the morning. Forcing myself awake before 6am is a misery, so I simply wait to use the office facilities.

As you know, the office has only one lavatory, which is miniscule. The entrance has a swinging, louvered door that cannot be locked, and it contains a single stall. A unisex facility, there is no urinal present, so if the stall is occupied, one must wait. Each weekday for years now, I have arrived at work fifteen minutes early so I can enter and use this toilet without disturbance.

Why? I don’t like beginning my day in a negative frame of mind. It is not rage that I feel whenever I enter the lavatory to find the stall door closed, but it is a proximal feeling. Also, I cannot abide sitting on a warm toilet seat, let alone being assailed by the stench of another body’s recent evacuations. And then there are the particles that they so often leave behind in the toilet’s bowl.

You would think it a simple courtesy: a second flush. Why, I myself have been known to wait until the water recedes, and wipe at the leavings with a wad of toilet tissue sufficient to provide an unbreachable border between my hand and the porcelain. To leave behind any trace of my presence would be simply out of the question.

But to my issue. The morning the trouble began, I was first in the office and first in the stall.

I didn’t hear anyone enter the room. I knew someone had because their smartphone or tablet was playing a loud video or audiobook—a tinny, ostentatious male voice, part televangelist and part local sports commentator, the heavy reverb of the lavatory distorting the voice so that I could not at first understand its words.

I abhor the kind of person who plays portable music or video devices without the decency of using ear or headphones—as if anyone else wants to be infected with that nonsense. This, of course, made occupying the one and only lavatory stall in the office all the more delicious. I felt a jolt of fierce glee.

How does it feel to be on the other side of the stall? I asked silently.

I awaited the fading of both footsteps and that obnoxious, tinny voice, for the sound of the louvered, lavatory door swinging open and closed, leaving me again alone to do my business. But, I realized with dismay, the tinny voice was instead drawing nearer, growing so loud that it sounded like it was emanating just from the other side of the stall door.

“Everything exists; nothing exists,” the voice said, throaty and sardonic; burbling. “The infinite error. Speaking of which, here’s a story for you.”

As you can imagine, I was not amused. In fact, I was disturbed—particularly since I was sitting on the toilet defecating, nude but for my shoes and socks.

Yes, you heard me, and, no, this, is nothing to laugh at. It is in fact yet another reason why I arrive early for work to use the office facilities, well before any of our coworkers.

I do not wear clothing when I defecate, whether at home or elsewhere. I began this practice at home, years ago, for comfort’s sake, wishing to spread my legs out without the constriction of pants or underwear. But in a public lavatory, disrobing is a hygienic necessity. I do not understand why everyone does not follow this sensible practice. Do I want my pant legs or underwear in contact with the grimy, urine-splashed floor of a public restroom? Certainly not.

Why take off my shirt as well? First of all, when I am at the office, I wear both a button down and an undershirt. I remove them both before I defecate in any public facility to avoid the not uncommon splash-back effect, particularly experienced after flushing. I cannot imagine why this is amusing to you. This splash-back effect is real, as I am quite sure you are aware if you will only consider it.

In any case, I trust you will keep my private, sanitary habits to yourself.

Though the office lavatory is modest, the inside of the stall door does include a metal hanger, and I always place my clothing there while I relieve myself. The whole process takes time, of course, since I have to remove my shoes briefly before removing my pants and underwear, careful not to touch the befouled bathroom floor with socked feet. After removing all other pieces of clothing, I don my shoes again, and hang up my button down, undershirt, underwear and pants safely.

Why would I keep my shoes and socks on while defecating? I would think it is rather obvious. Shoe soles, not bare or socked feet, are meant to be in contact with unclean surfaces.
But back to the morning in question.

To summarize: I was sitting nude, save my shoes and socks, on the toilet in the office lavatory, early in the morning, well before our coworkers were scheduled to arrive, and someone else had entered it while I was defecating, apparently playing their electronic device just on the other side of the stall door.

“A rabbi and a priest were on a street corner together one day on the way to an interdenominational meeting,” the voice said, with tacky enthusiasm. “As they were waiting for a car, the rabbi was suddenly moved by the spirit of God and fell on his knees. ‘Oh God!’ he exclaimed. ‘I am nothing!’”

Wonderful, I remember thinking. A religious fanatic. (No offense, if you happen to be religious.)

The office lavatory has a gap between door and the thin, slab of marble wall. I tried angling my head so that I could see who was standing on the other side of the door through the gap, but I was unsuccessful at spotting even a shadow, never mind a single, foreign body part.

“The priest, witnessing this expression of piety and feeling the spirit of God move within him also fell on his knees, crying, ‘Oh God! I am nothing!’”

This was enough. I cleared my throat loudly, but the voice continued.

“A street sweeper, cleaning the pavement nearby saw the rabbi and the priest prostrated together and was moved by the spirit of God as well. ‘Oh God!’ he shouted. ‘I am nothing!’ The priest looked over at the rabbi. ‘Look who thinks he’s nothing,’ he said.”

“Privacy, please!” I blurted out, too loudly.

Silence. The recording must have finished or perhaps the unseen individual had turned it off. At least a minute passed without a sound of apparent movement.

Careful to avoid touching the floor, I grabbed the bottom of the stall door and looked under it. No one was on the other side. I finished up on the toilet, donned my clothes, and opened the door. No one was there.

Perhaps, I remember thinking, whoever it was snuck out. But I was skeptical about that possibility. I had been paying close attention to all the lavatory-related sounds when that recording or video stopped playing. It struck me that I might have been hearing some random broadcast over an office intercom and that the echoing distortions created some kind of auditory illusion. Do you know anything about this?

I have been disquieted this morning, scanning the faces of our coworkers for signs that I have been the subject of some odious office prank.

Things have worsened since we last communicated. Each day I have entered the office lavatory, earlier and earlier, only to find the stall door closed first thing in the morning. Also, as soon as I make it far enough inside to see that the toilet is occupied, that same, tinny, burbling voice starts up again as if triggered somehow by my presence:

“Everything exists; nothing exists. The infinite error. Speaking of which, here’s a story for you.”

I think it must be a… What do they call it? A podcast? The voice always begins with the same intro but the content afterwards is always different.

But I never wait to hear its inane anecdote or joke of the day. Each morning, I leave, banging open the lavatory’s louvered door, unnerved and angry. Each morning, I walk half a mile to the local Seven Eleven near the park to use their shoddy facility (I hesitate to grace it with the word lavatory)—sometimes barely able to hold my churning bowels in before making it there. This, not incidentally, is why I have been uncharacteristically late to work in recent days.

The convenience store attendant, a surly, unkempt woman with a lit cigarette hanging out of her mouth (in clear violation of the city’s smoking ordinance) refused to hand me the lavatory key, day after day, before I purchased some tacky knickknack from her counter. That woman hates me for some reason, and I can assure you the feeling is mutual.

The Seven Eleven restroom is filthy, making the office lavatory, which is cleaned weekly, seem pristine in comparison. It goes without saying that there is no hangar within the Seven Eleven toilet door, which is off one of its hinges and cannot close. I was forced to hang my clothing over the wall of the stall itself, and dust and detritus whose contents I don’t want to think about has stained, and therefore ruined, multiple pairs of my shirts and pants and underwear.

The cost of continually replacing them, as you well know, is one I can ill-afford.

The last time I walked to the Seven Eleven, a few days back, my clothing slipped from the stall door onto the foul, stinking floor while I was defecating. I was forced to don the polluted apparel, each item of which had soaked in some stained looking urine, and take the bus back home, seething in rage and disgust. Once I was home, I disrobed and threw the tainted clothing into the garbage. Then I called in sick for the first time in over a decade.

Though I needed to relieve myself when I had entered that repulsive facility, my nerves now made it impossible for me to do so, even in the comfort of home. Yes, I am constipated. I have been for some days now, thanks to a work situation that is quickly becoming intolerable.

Please remove that smirk from your face and help me for once.

I am now quite certain our coworkers have been having a private joke at my expense. I have noticed them examining me when they think I am buried in my reports, whispering to each other when they think I am not listening. I have noticed their knowing smirks as they greet me, nodding with suppressed hilarity. There is no need for you to deny what I know is true.

Yesterday, I sat in the lobby outside of the office lavatory for half an hour, waiting for the stall-prankster to leave. The whole while I heard his (or her) electronic device droning on through the louvres of the door. I eventually had to leave for my cubicle to keep from being late again. I made certain our coworkers were all accounted for in their respective cubicles that morning, so I can only guess that they either put an outside third party up to the gag or that they had rigged some automatic, electronic contraption to implement it. I thought about taking another sick day, but I did not want to give our fellow employees the satisfaction.

Why would they do something like this? You tell me. Perhaps they resent the fact that I have no interest in socializing with them. You know how I feel about this. When I am at work, I am at work. It is no time for the kind of frivolous chit chat, the idle office gossip, which they all seem to adore. I abhor distractions when I am concentrating, and, as you know well, I am not paid enough to fake social niceties. Not unlikely they want to push me to some kind of breaking point for their own amusement or perhaps even to further their own careers. I know a few who I am certain would like to have my job. I do not pretend to understand office politics or shenanigans. Judging from the giggling I often hear coming from the cubicles around me, I suspect the word has gotten around about my toilet proclivities—the ones I have expressed to no one in the office but you; the ones I asked specifically to be kept private between the two of us. But more on that later.

I want to talk about what happened just this morning. I got up exceedingly early—waking at 5am in spite of having gotten only an hour of sleep. And even that hour was disturbed by a terrible dream. I was in the stall, doing my business. I saw with terror that I was fully clothed. Looking down under the stall door, I saw a profusion of shod feet facing the stall, still and silent. I held my breath. Held my bowels. The silence was unbearable. I knew that terrible voice would start up. Maybe this time it would be a chorus of voices. Instead, my alarm sounded, causing me to fall scrambling out of the bed and spill onto the floor.

The rest of the morning was a rush to get out the door. The constipation I have been experiencing for the last week shifted into a desperate need to defecate as I sat on the bus on my way to work. At every lurching stop, I felt my bowels loosen, their contents shift and shimmy. I entered the office shortly after 6am, rushing awkwardly to the lavatory, thighs and buttocks clenched to keep everything in, a full hour and a half before I usually enter it.

As you might expect, the stall was closed.

“Everything exists; nothing exists,” the voice said, more mocking than ever. “The infinite error. Speaking of which, here’s a story for you. “

Unlike on the other days, I did not leave the lavatory at this point but stood in front of the stall door, stomach sour and burbling.

“This is not amusing,” I said, rapping on the door. “I need to use this toilet now.”

There was no response—not even a resumption of the latest lavatory monologue from the electronic device. My bowels felt like they were on the brink of some epic calamity.
“I am ill,” I said, rapping harder. The stall door—unlocked after all—swung open with my last rap, and I opened it the rest of the way.

The toilet was unoccupied.

I would have looked for hidden speakers, trip wire devices and the like, but I had not been untruthful about my condition. I was ill with severe gastrointestinal distress, and I had not a moment to lose.

I removed my pants, trying and failing to avoid contact with the floor, which looked as if it had missed last week’s scheduled cleaning. There was a deep, meaty stench in the air. If I had been in less of a panic, I would have removed my shoes first. As it was, I struggled to retain my balance while I pulled my pants over legs and shoes, stepping on and befouling a pant leg at one point. I settled on rolling the bottoms of my pant cuffs up several times so that they rested above my ankles, well away from the lavatory floor.

Then I began removing my button down shirt and undershirt, especially important since I felt like the diarrhea that now was inevitable would certainly produce an unusually significant splash-back effect.

Desperate, I threw the wadded up shirts at the stall’s hanger, but I missed, and they fell in a heap on the filthy, tiled floor.

My bowels were close to involuntarily letting loose, and I just managed to pull a couple of strips of toilet paper off the roller to set them on the black seat (I hate those—impossible to gauge how clean or dirty they are), and sat down.

I did have diarrhea, but first came the rock hard stool pebbles, which plopped one after another, producing significant splash-back severe enough to befoul my posterior and my thighs.
“Everything exists; nothing exists,” the tinny voice said, louder than ever, just outside of the stall door. “The infinite error. Speaking of which, here’s a story for you. Splash-back is the worst in Germany, where toilets have a little shelf on which you defecate.”

“Hello?” I asked, startled. I had diarrhea-induced cold sweats and was not in any condition to leave the stall.

“Once a man in Germany made the mistake of staying seated when he flushed, and, when the water hit his shit, it splashed up into the basket of his pants and around his ankles. What a drag,” the voice said, burbling with a kind of mordant glee.

“Do not think for a second that I do not know who you are, that I do not know what you are doing,” I said, moaning.

Yes, I mean you. Do not think that I did not notice that “splash-back” comment.

I am on to you, friend.

“Everything exists; nothing exists. The infinite error. Speaking of which, here’s a story for you. Once there was an Italian woman named Mariangela,” you said, apparently ignoring me. “In some places there they have stalls that look a bit like showers (the locals call them The Porcelain Hole) with two grooved footprints where you place your feet and a hole underneath in which to piss and shit. The idea is that you would squat down, but there are no railings to hold on to, so you have to have pretty good balance. Mariangela, who was a heavy, middle aged woman at the time, dressed to the nines in fur and heels, slipped and jammed her ankle in the old Porcelain Hole, then twisted as she fell and spiral-shattered her shin and femur all the way up to the hip. Spiral-shattered. That’s what they call it.”

I was enduring another bout of very watery diarrhea, along with severe gastrointestinal pains. I imagined my liver and kidneys liquefying, passing through a colon that was itself collapsing as diarrhea spewed relentlessly from me.

“Please,” I said, unable to keep the abject hysteria and despair out of my voice.

“Imagine that sound,” you replied, and I cannot tell anymore if your voice is emanating from outside or inside of this stall or from within this toilet on which I am curled up, “between the bone shattering and the woman hitting the cold tile floor. Mariangela was big and always wore a fur coat that made her look far bigger. Mariangela couldn’t make it to church, and the priest said that the congregation should pray for her, but all they could think about was that fur coat soaking up all the piss and filthy shit-water in the old Porcelain Hole. Just soaking and soaking it in.”

“God,” I bellow, slipping on the slick, black toilet seat and falling onto the soiled lavatory floor. “Stop. Just stop.”

But you continue.

“What’s worse, friend? The spiral-fractured femur, being found with your dress hiked up over your ass on the floor, your giant, real fur coat soaking up a week’s worth of shit stained piss, or just lying like that there for who knows how long before you are found?”

I am reaching up, rolling great rounds of toilet tissue around my right hand now. I am racked with chills, stomach still clenched, struggling to remove myself from these filthy, cold, wet tiles. I am determined to escape this lavatory, to expunge your tinny, mocking voice that seems to haunt it. I make it back to the warm, sweaty toilet seat. I wipe and flush to no avail. The toilet is stopped up.

And it is overflowing.

I stagger nude, save for my socks and shoes, from the restroom into the carpeted hall. I am shouting. I don’t know what I’m saying. I don’t even know if there are words. The fluorescent lights are punishingly bright. I will stalk cubicle to office to closet to conference room. I will find you. I will drag you back to the lavatory. I will push your face into the muck, straddling your back, making sure your lips and tongue are coated. Go ahead. Call security. Call the police. We have time before they get here. An infinity of time.

The infinite error.

Speaking of which, I have a story for you.

About the Authors

Matthew M. Bartlett

Matthew M. Bartlett

Matthew M. Bartlett is the author of Gateways to Abomination and other books of supernatural horror. His short stories have appeared in a variety of anthologies and journals, including Forbidden Futures, Vastarien, Year’s Best Weird Fiction Vol. 3, and Ashes & Entropy. He has recorded two albums for Cadabra Records, Mr. White Noise and Call Me Corey, both with backing music by Black Mountain Transmitter. Two of his stories, Ginny Greenteeth and The Mill River Revenant are also on Cadabra Records, read by actor Laurence Harvey and Anthony D.P. Mann, respectively. He lives in Western Massachusetts with his wife Katie Saulnier and their cats Peachpie and Larry.

Find more by Matthew M. Bartlett

Matthew M. Bartlett

Jon Padgett

Jon Padgett

Jon Padgett is a professional–though lapsed–ventriloquist who lives in New Orleans with his spouse, their daughter, and a rescue dog and cat. He is the Editor-In-Chief of Vastarien: A Literary Journal, a source of critical study and creative response to the work of Thomas Ligotti as well as associated authors and ideas. Padgett’s first short story collection, The Secret of Ventriloquism, was named the Best Fiction Book of 2016 by Rue Morgue Magazine.

He has work out or forthcoming in Weird Fiction ReviewPseudoPodLovecraft eZineXnoybis, and the anthologies A Walk on the Weird SideWound of WoundsPhantasm/ChimeraFor Mortal Things Unsung, and Ashes and Entropy.

Find more by Jon Padgett

Jon Padgett

About the Narrator

Jon Padgett

Jon Padgett

Jon Padgett is a professional–though lapsed–ventriloquist who lives in New Orleans with his spouse, their daughter, and a rescue dog and cat. He is the Editor-In-Chief of Vastarien: A Literary Journal, a source of critical study and creative response to the work of Thomas Ligotti as well as associated authors and ideas. Padgett’s first short story collection, The Secret of Ventriloquism, was named the Best Fiction Book of 2016 by Rue Morgue Magazine.

He has work out or forthcoming in Weird Fiction ReviewPseudoPodLovecraft eZineXnoybis, and the anthologies A Walk on the Weird SideWound of WoundsPhantasm/ChimeraFor Mortal Things Unsung, and Ashes and Entropy.

Find more by Jon Padgett

Jon Padgett