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Dan and the Can

Dan winced as he climbed into the cold shower. Then, when he actually turned the water

on and the shower got even colder, he winced again. He had to let his mind wander, or the icy

water would get the better of him. So Dan thought about the leaky ceiling and the rampant

cockroaches that were the true owners of the apartment. He thought about his dresser that

contained only two sets of clothes, his everyday clothes (tattered jeans and a worn t-shirt) and his

nice clothes (less-tattered jeans and a less-worn t-shirt). And he thought about the Star Trek

collection that sat on his shelf gathering dust because he’d sold his TV. In fact, he’d sold almost

everything in order to keep the apartment, but Star Trek was one thing he just couldn’t let go of.

Mostly, Dan thought about the day ahead. He was out of the shower by now, brushing his

teeth with water and a finger, though he wasn’t sure if that actually made things cleaner or not.

Dan just thought people should brush their teeth no matter the circumstances. He was still wet,

and shaking himself dry was never a fast process, so by the time Dan left the apartment, he was

shivering. But Dan wasn’t worried. Dan knew things would start looking up today. He knew that

fate couldn’t keep short-changing him. It was time for the wheel to turn, and soon he’d be on top,

or near the top in any case, or maybe at least sort of to the side.

Dan had led a life of bad luck, very bad luck. He was a nice guy, so it definitely wasn’t

karma. It started with little things. His application to a private high school had been lost in the

mail, his dog had run away, that sort of thing. But then his house had burned down and a few

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months later his parents ran off to a tropical island to escape their worries. Dan thought that that

was as bad as it could get, but things only kept getting worse.

Take his first job. He was working at a frozen banana stand1 on the boardwalk. He

accidently dropped a banana, and before he could pick it up, his boss had skidded on it and

broken his collarbone. Dan’s boss sued him, sure that it had been intentional, and Dan lost what

little he had, including, of course, his job. Oh, and then there was his second job. A shark that

had been picked up in a tornado was flung over two miles and smashed through his window,

landing on his desk. The boss had not found Dan’s “prank” amusing and had fired him on the

spot. To make matters worse, it had been a Grey Nurse shark, one of the most endangered types

of shark, and the EPA now had him blacklisted.

But today Dan had an interview. Today was Dan’s chance! His hair was combed (with his

hands), and he’d donned his “nice clothes.” Today Dan would become a janitor.

The interview went well; they needed someone who would clean every bathroom on all

eight stories for minimum wage and not join the janitor’s union. Dan was that someone. They

hired him despite his bad record; the person in charge seemed not to care very much (she was

leaving the company at the end of the week), and no one else had applied. And that, my friends,

is the story of Dan’s life up until this point, though that’s hardly important. What comes next is

what’s truly interesting. And so began Dan’s job at Gigatech Industries.

Work started immediately. They gave Dan a set of janitorial clothes2 and sent him off.

Dan wandered to the janitor’s closet in the basement and gathered whatever he thought he’d

need, which consisted of a bucket full of soapy water, a plunger, and a mop. He didn’t really

1
The stand wasn’t frozen; the bananas were.
2
These replaced the set he was currently wearing as his nicest set of clothes.

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have any experience, but he was ready to give it his all. Wondering what the view from the top of

the building was like and wanting to make his job more interesting, he decided to start on the

eighth floor. After a minimally pleasant elevator ride, the doors opened and Dan stepped out,

only to immediately crash into someone in an extremely nice suit and send soapy water flying

everywhere. Dan didn’t want to think about how many meals that suit could pay for.

“Excuse me, sir,” stammered Dan. “I’m so sorry. Please, let me help.”

“New janitor?” said the man with a look of disgust.

“Just started today,” Dan muttered as he tried to dry off the man’s suit.

The man waved off Dan’s efforts. “Here at Gigatech industries we cannot tolerate

behavior that could give us a bad name. The previous janitors have already caused us enough

trouble.” The man glared at Dan for a moment before continuing. “Today, did you say? Then I

suppose I needn’t fire you. Don’t let it happen again.”

“Oh. No. Never. Of course not. Apologies. My mistake.”

“That’s enough.” The man in the suit paused. “What’s your name?

“Dan.”

“Well, Dan,” said the man, straightening up so as to prove he was higher status, “my

name is Mr. Thurnstein, and I am the CEO of Gigatech Industries. I haven’t worked hard all my

life only to have worthless janitors ruin my suits. Please, stay out of my way.” With that, Mr.

Thurnstein stepped into the elevator and was hidden behind the closing doors.

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Mr. Thurnstein had indeed worked hard all his life. He was quite an entrepreneur. In his

younger days, he’d brought candy to school and sold it at a 300% markup in discreet locations.

He’d later started a secret club and charged an entrance fee then never held any meetings, and at

age eight, when someone offered him one-hundred dollars for the dog he’d had since he was

four, he’d sold it. Mr. Thurnstein would do anything for a profit.

Later in life, when the stakes became higher, Mr. Thurnstein’s tactics became even more

suspect. He’d put his parents in a home and declared them unstable in order to access his

inheritance early. He then used the money to pay off a boxer to throw a match so he could make

even more on the winnings. He used his new, more formidable earnings to start up a company

that made a whole line of children’s toys, but when it was found that they contained excessive

amounts of lead and cyanide, he closed up shop, dismantled everything (dumping the waste in a

nearby nature preserve), and changed his name before a law suit could be brought against him.

Not willing to stop there, Mr. Thurnstein entered the pharmaceutical business with a

brilliant idea. In order to make his drugs viable more quickly, he tested them on kittens, puppies,

and children in third-world countries. This was a great success, but still Mr. Thurnstein felt that

he had not achieved his true purpose. He had made enough capital, and it was time for him to

pursue his true dream. He wanted to create the most powerful company in the world, and

Gigatech Industries was the embodiment of that vision.

Gigatech was an elite munitions manufacturer that specialized in the development of new

weapons technologies. It was Gigatech that produced the missiles that the United States was

using in the current war. It was Gigatech that provided the illegal biological weapons that the

same government was denying using in the current war. In fact, it was Gigatech that had, through

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indirect and subtle measures, caused the war to start in the first place. The company made robots

that could sneak into a secure building and deliver a small dose of poison. They made bullets that

exploded on impact, sending shrapnel hurtling through the victim’s body. And they made things

so deadly that your imagination couldn’t even fill them in. Go ahead, try. Gigatech had even

installed satellites in space that allowed the administration to track the movements of every

single person on the planet. All in all, Gigatech was rather successful.

Dan got to work on the first bathroom. As he scrubbed a urinal with a yellowish brush

and some blue disinfectant, he pondered his meeting with Mr. Thurnstein. He was curious about

the previous janitors. He wondered what sort of behavior had gotten them fired. In any case, it

was good fortune for Dan, and that was a rarity, so he was happy enough. Even though the

bathrooms were caked in a thin layer of filth since there apparently hadn’t been a janitor in a

while, Dan was beginning to like his new job. At least he had a job.

The eighth floor bathrooms went by fairly quickly, and the fourths went pretty well,

though Dan forgot to put up a “Cleaning in Progress” sign and surprised a female employee. By

the time Dan was finished with the first floor bathrooms, it was his lunch break. Dan had one

hour, so he quickly washed up, changed back into what had previously been his “nice” clothes,

and headed out of the building toward the library which was only a few block away, another one

of this job’s perks.

The library was significant because it contained a rather fetching vixen, Susy Walters.

Susy had worked at the library for a couple of years now, and she and Dan enjoyed a happy but

low-budget relationship. Susy was probably the only thing that had ever gone really well for

Dan. They were deeply in love, and they both knew that that was far more important than money.

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Susy was beautiful, and had a kind heart. Dan wanted to ask Susy to marry him, but he was a

fairly honorable man, and he was going to wait until he had a steady job and enough savings to

provide her with a home. So for today, they were simply meeting for lunch.

“Dandan!” Susy whispered as enthusiastically as possible when she saw her lover enter

the library.

“Hey Suse. Wanna grab a bite with your newly employed boyfriend?”

“Shhh.” Susy put her finger to her smiling lips. “Do I ever!”

Lunch was fairly delicious. The local Jill in the Cube boasted a fairly large dollar menu

that always kept the two of them fed and happy. They enjoyed each other’s company in the way

that only happy couples can, and when they were finished, they parted with a kiss and went back

to their respective jobs.

Dan cleaned the rest of the day and into the evening, long after everyone in the building

had gone home. There were a lot of bathrooms to clean, and it was slow work. Finally, well

before the witching hour but long after work hours, Dan reached the last bathroom. He’d gone

out of order to spice things up (he was more interested in making a janitorial job enjoyable than

in efficiency), so the final bathroom lay on the sixth floor.

When Dan opened the door, he immediately realized that this bathroom was quite

different from the rest. Dan didn’t normally pay a great deal of attention to detail, but this

bathroom entranced him. The floor was a rolling granite that rose and fell in seemingly random

places around the room. Each of the three stalls in the bathroom was completely surrounded by

gray stone walls covered in complex carvings. The lone urinal was molded into an intricate

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flower design, and the counter was composed of two long, black slabs of marble that sloped

downward to create a basin for the sink, which was accompanied by an ornate white faucet.

Everything was about the same size and shape as a normal bathroom, but the craftsmanship was

superb. Dan was surprised that employees ever used any of the other bathrooms. As Dan

continued to examine the bathroom, he noticed an “Out of Order” sign on the far stall that

reminded him of the way he’d gone out of order, and he chuckled to himself.

Curious, Dan opened the stall and peered inside. Behind the toilet, which actually looked

rather commonplace compared to everything else, was a glass window that stretched from the

floor to the ceiling. The very top had a few glass slats that could be opened and closed for

ventilation. Dan assumed that it was the type of mirrored glass that was only see-through in one

direction, but he couldn’t be sure. Dan stared out for a minute, admiring the view. He could see

over most of the other buildings and out to the bay. The only thing that marred the otherwise

excellent view was a partially full dumpster that sat directly below the window. Dan wasn’t sure

whether viewing the dumpster as partially full instead of mostly empty was optimistic or

pessimistic.

Dan peered into the other stalls as well, but they appeared unfinished. The walls had

holes that showed incomplete plumbing and not one of them contained a toilet. Dan shrugged

and got to work. There was only one toilet to clean, so it was quick. Dan gave the toilet a final

scrub, noting how ordinary it looked, and decided not to flush it, fearing that whatever happened

next could be the reason for the caution tape. Dan was indirectly correct, but neither he nor you

will know why for a little while yet.

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Dan went to leave the bathroom, but just as he was about to walk through the door, he

noticed a placard on the wall. It read:

“This bathroom is protected by the National Institute of Architecture due to its

unique and varied history. When Gigatech first began building its headquarters,

Mr. Thurnstein, the founder of the company, allotted a set budget for the building.

The majority of it was erected quickly, but due to plumbing issues, the bathrooms

had to be completed last. The original contractor was found guilty of

embezzlement and fired after completing only the bathrooms from the basement

to the fifth floor. Unable to find another contractor, Mr. Thurnstein decided to take

a vacation to relieve stress, leaving his secretary, Mrs. White, in charge. A then

unheard of architect, Richard Dawes, offered to build the rest of the bathrooms for

free if he were allowed to redesign them. Thinking that this would be a nice

surprise for Mr. Thurnstein, Mrs. White okayed the idea and allowed Dawes to

complete the bathrooms. Unfortunately, Richard Dawes disappeared partway

through his work on the sixth floor bathroom. He has not been heard from since,

and it has been discovered that there is in fact no architect by that name. The

architecture of the sixth floor bathroom of Gigatech Industries, the bathroom that

you are currently standing in, is different from anything you have seen before. It

has won numerous awards for its unique style, a combination of grace and

subtlety. For these accomplishments, this bathroom was inducted into the NIA’s

protected buildings list and Gigatech was required to keep it exactly as it had been

erected. Mr. Thurnstein finally hired someone to finish the job, but they weren’t

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allowed to complete this spectacular bathroom. Instead they simply finished the

rest of the bathrooms in the same style as the originals.”

Dan found the story interesting but was surprised that the plaque had been so long and

informative. Plaques were usually so concise and boring. This one seemed like there might

almost be some sort of conspiracy theory hidden in it. But Dan was finished for the day, so he

left, walking home in the dark, the moonless sky doing little to light his way. Streetlamps

flickered, power lines hummed, and the infrequent car zoomed by.

The next morning went well, another lunch date was successful, and the floor that Dan

had randomly chosen to clean 4th was going along swimmingly. Just so you know, it was the 6th

floor. Dan was mopping when an employee, slightly overweight and balding, walked in and

started using the urinal.

“We finally got a new janitor, huh?” said the man, and he let out a laugh.

“I guess so.” Dan shrugged. “Here I am.”

“Thank god. These things don’t clean themselves. I’m just happy someone took the job.”

“Why? Were people turning it down?” Dan stopped mopping.

“What? Where have you been, man? In a cave? People weren’t even applying.

Superstition got the better of ’em.”

“Superstition?”

“Don’t tell me you don’t know?” The man zipped his pants, flushed,3 and turned to face

Dan. “I can’t believe it. It was all over the news each time.”
3
Hs face was flushed because he hadn’t flushed.

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“What was?” The man gave Dan an incredulous look. “I can’t afford a TV.”

“What’s your name?” Dan told the man his name. “Dan, I’m Charley,” said Charley, and

he extended a hand. Before Dan could take it, Charley laughed, made a face that said “Oops,”

and went to the sink to wash up.

“Dan, the last three janitors that worked here, well, how do I put this…went insane and

committed gruesome suicides. The last one blew his brains out in one of the stalls. Ever since it

started happening people’ve been avoiding this bathroom, but it’s still the nicest, and my office is

right next door, so I figure what the heck.”

Dan’s first thought was one of revelation. So that’s why that “Out of Order” sign was

there. There’s nothing wrong with the toilet after all. Worry quickly butted in after that.

“You’re kidding, right? Playing a prank on the new janitor?”

“Sorry, pal. Ask anybody around here. It’s true.” The man, Charley, walked out the door,

turned around to say a final “good luck” and was gone.

Dan swallowed nervously, decided that he’d come back to this bathroom later and

quickly left to clean the rest of the building. When he returned, he wasn’t proud to admit that he

was frightened, but he wasn’t too proud not to admit it either. Dan was frightened, Dan admitted,

but he was going to do his job anyway.

After cleaning the stalls nervously, sure that every speck was a bloodstain, Dan got

around to the toilet. No longer fearing that the toilet was the reason for the “Out of Order” sign,

Dan went ahead and flushed it. He used his foot to kick the little silver handle and watched as

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water began to pour into the toilet bowl. As the clean water flowed in, it slammed into the blue

cleaning product and turned everything into a spinning maelstrom of color.

Dan was entranced by the beauty of it all. Never before had he seen something so surreal.

Never before had he witnessed such beauty. The janitor stared at the pool below him, unmoving,

until, slowly, something began to happen. The water started to roil and take shape. Dan thought

he must be seeing things; it couldn’t be true. Images flashed across the surface of the water,

swirling into existence and then disappearing. They churned up, but were lost just before Dan

could make sense of them. Finally the images began to settle into a clearer form, and as they did,

their movements sped up. It was like the toilet was playing a movie in fast-forward. Suddenly

Dan gasped, for he saw himself reflected in that water, but this was more than a mere reflection.

Dan watched an image of himself looking stunned and then wandering around the

bathroom. With a splash, the scene changed to one of him flushing the toilet again, but the water

quickly churned and was gone, only to be replaced by another scene of him leaving the building.

Then the swirled once more and Dan watched himself walking toward a convenient store.4 He

entered and asked to purchase a scratcher lottery ticket. With a rush of water the image changed

again. Dan stared down at the ticket. He hadn’t won anything, so he bought another, and another,

and another, until, after he’d bought hundreds, he finally he asked for yet one more “Triple

Seven.” Dan saw himself scratch everything off, and—the water was done flowing. Now it was

simply clear water sitting calmly in a toilet bowl.

“Was I going to win?” asked Dan, caught up in the moment. “Wait, what am I saying?

This doesn’t make any sense. Was that the future?” Oh great. Now I’m talking to myself. Dan

4
The convenience store was close by, and therefore convenient. It was a convenient convenience store or convenient
store for short.

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couldn’t shake the image of the lotto ticket out of his head. He wondered whether he’d win if he

went down to that store and bought that Triple Seven. He doubted it. Dan pondered for a minute

or so, unsure what to do.

Then, with a sudden flash of inspiration, Dan kicked the handle again. This time, after the

beautiful swirling, the vision began about a minute after the last one had. Dan’s reflection started

out entering the store. Dan wondered whether the toilet always showed the future, if it was in

fact the future, a set amount of time ahead, but quickly forgot this thought as his curiosity took

over.

Dan’s mirror bought all the same lotto tickets until finally he got to that Triple Seven. He

watched himself scratch it, but it, too, was not a winner. The next one was though. The Green

Diamond was a winning ticket worth five-hundred dollars! Dan watched the vision disappear a

minute after it had ended last time. Then he stood, mulling the last few minutes over.

He wondered if he were going mad, and when he got over that, he wondered whether it

was some sort of trap, meant to lure him with false promises of wealth. Then he wondered if he’d

gone mad once more. You can’t see the future. If there was one thing Dan had learned from his

love of science fiction, it was that seeing the future didn’t make any sense. The very act of seeing

it would change it! Unless the prediction took into account the fact that you were seeing the

future. But Dan had always believed in free will, and that would pretty much prove that that

concept was a bust. Dan realized he was getting off on a mental tangent and stopped himself. He

had to be imagining things. There was no other explanation.

But then again…

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Dan decided that he would find out for himself. It would be a simple enough test. If he

went down to the convenient store and bought that ticket…Well, if it won, then somehow this

toilet was showing him the future.

Dan left the building immediately and went to the convenient store. He was a little

nervous, but told himself that surely nothing would happen. The lady working behind the counter

laughed when Dan asked for the 12th Green Diamond scratcher in the pile, but was silenced when

he won $500. Dan, too, was silenced. This meant that the visions of the future were accurate.

How could that be possible? Dan had watched himself buy scores of tickets, but he knew

for a fact that he had not just purchased scores of tickets. The vision of the future was wrong, but

the facts were right. At least, Dan’s actions were wrong, but the things he interacted with

remained the same. Dan sat down on the floor of the store. He was going to puzzle through this

here and now.

In traditional stories about visions of the future, you could see the future but not change

it. Clearly that concept didn’t apply. But if you could change it, why would the vision be accurate

at all? Maybe the latrine’s images were more informative that prophetic. But if so, how did it

decide which information to give him? Dan decided that his original plan was not a good one, so

he stood up and went home, happy about the five hundred dollars. He would figure this out after

more tests.

* * *

“Mr. Thurnstein,” said Mr. Robert Lockleer, the vice president of Gigatech Industries,

“sales are down twenty-eight percent. Can you explain this to the board?”

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Mr. Thurnstein was sweating. He really couldn’t explain it. Everything had been going so

well. The economy had been booming and Gigatech Industries had been on top, but now things

were starting to sink. Mr. Thurnstein looked at the twelve men sitting around the oak table in

front of him and gulped. “Gentlemen, everything is in order. We have simply failed to predict

which way the market would spin, but we have a much better handle on it now and can begin

producing items that will fully provide for both the government and our consumers’ specific

needs.”

“I don’t know,” said an investor. “I think maybe it’s time to wash our hands of this

business. I don’t like what you’ve done with the company, Thurnstein.”

“That’s Mr. Thurnstein. And what I’ve done with the company? I am the company! I built

it from the ground up with my bare hands.” Mr. Thurnstein made a built-from-the-ground-up-

with-bare-hands gesture.

“And our investments,” said another.

“Please, gentlemen. There is no need to worry. By next month’s meeting everything will

be back to normal.”

“Actually, Mr. Thurnstein, you can’t stall any longer. The board has decided to hold an

emergency meeting in one week to assess your progress,” said Lockleer, his leer locked on Mr.

Thurnstein.

“I’m sure that won’t be necessary. Please?” The members of the board said nothing.

“Members of the board, I assure you that everything is under control. Just take a look at some of

the plans we’ll be introducing over the next weeks.” Mr. Thurnstein began to describe the plans

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in detail, the veins in his neck bulging with rage at the very thought that these fools would

attempt to displace him. By the end of the meeting the investors were partially convinced, but

still left grumbling.

Mr. Thurnstein didn’t know what to do. Without this job, this company, he was nothing.

He had no friends, no family, nothing to fall back on. Work was all that kept him going, and it

seemed he might lose it. In desperation, he decided that he would not leave the building until he

had saved the company. Mr. Thurnstein was on a mission.

* * *

“Dan, you can’t afford this.” A few trips back and forth from the toilet to the convenient

store had enabled Dan to purchase a suit and take Susy out to a lovely restaurant. “Jill in the

Cube is good enough for me.”

“It’s not good enough for you, Susy. I need to start giving you what you deserve.” The

waiter came with their steaks and poured them each another glass of wine. After thanking him,

Dan leaned close to Susy. “Susy, I love you.” He handed her a small, long box.

“What’s this?” Susy looked surprised. Dan thought she looked beautiful, her hair flowing

in front of her shoulders in waves and her eyes sparkling with curiosity and happiness. Susy

opened the box and saw a gorgeous silver necklace with a heart pendant. “Dan! You shouldn’t

have.”

“That’s just the point. I should have, long ago, but I couldn’t. Now that I can, I have to

make up for lost time.”

“Do they really pay you that well as a janitor?”

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“Well…” Just then, the waiter returned to see whether they were enjoying everything, and

Dan managed to escape the question.

The night went blissfully well. Dinner was exquisite, and afterward the pair went for a

stroll. Dan was even able to offer Susy his coat, a delightful new experience for them both, and

after their enchanting evening, Susy spent the night at his place. It was much cleaner and

somewhat better furnished than it had been. Dan had even bought a huge TV so that he could

finally start watching his beloved shows again.

The rest of the week was just as spectacular as that night. Dan continued to buy lottery

tickets and always won big. The clerks were getting a bit suspicious, but they all liked Dan, so

mostly they just cheered him on. Sometimes he’d even give them his winning ticket. In fact, it

was becoming a bit of an event. The employees were starting to bring their friends to watch the

odds-defying ticket buyer. Things were going well, really well. Dan wasn’t sure what to think.

Maybe his streak of bad luck was finally over? It was certainly possible.

Dan wondered why the other janitors had gone crazy. The toilet seemed like a real boon,

not something that would drive you insane. He thought that maybe it was an issue of morality.

Was it wrong for him to use this toilet for personal gain? Dan wasn’t really sure, but he decided

that next time he’d try to use the toilet to do some good and see what happened. Would the fact

that he was planning to use it for a good purpose have any effect on the future it portrayed, or

would he just see himself buying more lotto tickets? Surely enough, next time he flushed the

toilet, the water swirled into an image of him wandering outside looking for someone to help.

Unfortunately, no one within a ten minute walk was in dire need.

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Dan shrugged. Apparently fate only wanted him to buy lotto tickets. He was willing to

comply. Dan flushed the toilet again, and stared into the water. For just a moment, he thought the

image of himself stared back. Dan couldn’t place the look, but it made him shudder. He felt

suddenly cold and drained of joy, but the image was gone in a moment and one of Dan buying a

winning ticket took over.

Dan took Susy on another wonderful date that night. They went to a play at a ritzy theater

and sat in excellent seats. They had a magnificent time, laughing when the play induced laughter

and crying when the play expected tears.

Even still, Dan couldn’t help feeling that something was a little off. Susy, despite her

giddy joy and being treated so romantically, had seemed a bit distant. As they made their way

back to the car (Dan had purchased a Maserati), Susy stopped. “Dan. I love you, and I want you

to know that I’m really happy. This last week has been amazing, but I have to know where

you’re getting the money. Don’t think I didn’t notice how you got out of the question last time. I

trust you, Dan. I just have to know.”

“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”

“Don’t you trust me?”

“Susy, I trust you more than I trust anyone; I just don’t want to ruin things.”

“You’re starting to scare me.” Susy took a step back.

Dan couldn’t stand the look of worry that had assaulted Susy’s beautiful face. Sighing, he

began to explain the whole thing. “There’s nothing to be worried about. It’s just, well, there’s this

toilet in the office building…”

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Susy laughed when Dan got to the part about the future, but then became solemn when

she realized he was serious. By the end she was just upset that her boyfriend was lying to her.

“I’m telling you the truth, Susy!”

“I thought you’d show me a little more respect, Dan.” Susy turned away and crossed her

arms, signaling an end to their conversation.

Dan took Susy home, an angry silence filling the car. When he dropped her off, Dan

yelled through the open window. “Just come to the office tomorrow on your lunch break. I can

prove that I’m telling the truth!” Susy didn’t even turn around.

Dan was dejected the next day. He wandered outside the Gigatech building for a few

minutes trying to clear his head. There was a small park across the street, so Dan sat down on a

bench to wallow. After a few minutes spent considering his misery and the unfairness of it all,

Dan noticed a bright green and red parrot in the tree next to him. It chirped loudly, the fairly

harsh screech that parrots emit, and took flight, perhaps perturbed that Dan was watching it.

Dan stood in hopes of following it, happy to be distracted from his thoughts by the

colorful creature. It was heading in the right direction anyway, straight toward the Gigatech

building. Dan started to cross the street, keeping his eyes trained carefully on the bird. He walked

across the pavement, never losing sight of the parrot, and then, suddenly, it simply vanished. Dan

stopped in the middle of the street, flabbergasted, though less so than he might have been a few

weeks before when the world still seemed a normal place. Dan wondered what on earth could

have happened to the bird when he suddenly caught sight of it flying out of the sixth floor

bathroom window. Dan hurried over to the dumpster, gazing upward. The parrot flew overhead

and away, screeching. Dan shook his head, confused, and wandered inside.

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He headed for the strange bathroom, wondering if there’d be any sign of a bird, but when

he arrived, he thought of Susy again. He glared at the toilet next to him, trying to stay angry, but

his curiosity took over. He couldn’t help wondering how it worked. It certainly wasn’t an

accurate vision of the future, because it never predicted what Dan actually did. It could be a

vision of a possible future, one of many, branching timelines, each of which diverged whenever

someone gazed into it. Dan had definitely seen that done before. The only thing was that

normally the people who could see multiple futures were able to choose what they viewed. How

would the toilet know what Dan wanted to see? It really didn’t really seem like that was how it

worked. Dan just couldn’t figure out how it always responded to what he was thinking, showing

him the future that he desired.

Dan, after pondering all of the science fiction knowledge he could remember, decided

that it must be a visionary gateway to a parallel dimension of sorts where another Dan existed.

And in that parallel dimension, the other Dan was identical to Dan in every way, except that the

other Dan would go ahead and perform the next ten minutes so that Dan could watch and see

what would happen if he were to take those actions. Even though it wasn’t exactly the future

because the act of looking into the toilet bowl changed things, Dan could still gather plenty of

information about his world. It didn’t really make sense to Dan, but he thought that it probably

worked on some level, so he accepted it.

Dan spent his morning in the 6th floor bathroom that day, too depressed to leave. He

mostly just gazed dejectedly out the window or watched visions of himself cleaning future

bathrooms. Sometimes, just sometimes, those visions would stare back. Dan started to think that

it was happening more frequently and for longer periods of time, but he was always so

enraptured by the toilet bowl that afterword he couldn’t say. It was not a good day.

Russ Nickel 19
* * *

That morning, Mr. Thurnstein had awoken at his desk, disgusted with himself for having

fallen asleep without thinking of a way to save the company. He got up and paced his opulent

office, stopping only to gaze at himself in the mirror, horrified by his disheveled clothing. He’d

spent the entire week in the building, but his usual genius was failing him. The emergency

meeting of the board was at noon—it was already ten o’clock—and Mr. Thurnstein had only bad

news. Stock had dropped, sales had plummeted, and a book about the janitorial suicides had

come out and was spawning terrible rumors.

Mr. Thurnstein even pulled open the bottom drawer on his desk once, but a quick glance

at the gun was more than enough. Mr. Thurnstein would never be able to live with himself if he

committed suicide, and he knew it, though the irony of the phrasing was lost on him.

Mr. Thurnstein wandered out of his office and through the building. He didn’t know

where he was headed, and he ignored everyone who greeted him. He pushed past people and

through doors, only to turn around and pace back the way he had come. Just as you might

suspect, during his random wanderings, he stumbled into the 6th floor bathroom. It was about

11:30, when he pushed open the door. The place always gave him the creeps. He’d wanted to get

it remodeled, but the damn NIA wouldn’t let him touch the place, wouldn’t help him get rid of all

the bad memories. Mr. Thurnstein was the one who had found the last janitor, brains splattered

across the wall. It wasn’t that he was against murder in general; he’d just rather not be personally

involved.

Mr. Thurnstein was about to leave, to get out of that nausea-inducing bathroom, but he

thought he spotted legs beneath the stall door. For a moment, he thought it was the ghost of the

Russ Nickel 20
previous janitor, but Mr. Thurnstein was not a superstitious man, so he dismissed that possibility.

He walked up to the stall as quietly as possible and bent over so that he could get a better look.

All that he could see was more leg, so Mr. Thurnstein, having projected all of his emotions onto

this encounter, quietly opened the door. The man standing there didn’t even notice him.

In fact, the man didn’t seem aware of his surroundings at all. He was staring intently at

the toilet, leaning on his mop for support. Mr. Thurnstein thought it was extremely odd—the

man’s focus was almost inhuman—and then suddenly it dawned on him. Something about this

bathroom must be what got to the janitors! Overwhelmed by curiosity, he squeezed his way

closer to Dan, uncomfortable in the cramped space, and looked over his shoulder. There, in the

pool of toilet water, was a perfect reflection of Dan. Mr. Thurnstein breathed a sigh of relief. At

least that much was normal. But then, just before he could finish his contented sigh, the

reflection walked away, the image shifting to one outside the office.

Mr. Thurnstein let out a scream that snapped Dan out of his trance. Dan started screaming

too, scared that someone was screaming so incredibly close to him. “What’s going on?!” yelled

Dan.

“I don’t know!” screamed Mr. Thurnstein as he leapt back, slamming hard into the stall

door and lurching back forward into close proximity with Dan. “You tell me!”

“I don’t know either!” Dan was getting tired of shouting, but kept it up so Mr. Thurnstein

didn’t feel alone.

“Why did your reflection just walk away?” shouted Thurnstein.

Russ Nickel 21
“Oh…that.” Dan said, withering. He wasn’t happy that someone had discovered the

toilet, and the feeling of Mr. Thurnstein’s hot, stale breath on his neck only made things worse.

Apparently the man was in too much pain to move back out of the stall.

“Ah ha! So it’s not nothing!” Mr. Thurnstein did his best to gloat in triumph, obviously

still in pain. “Tell me, son. What was that? If you don’t tell me immediately, you’re fired.”

“Ok ok, but you won’t believe me.”

“I’m ready to believe anything at this point, Sam.”

“It’s Dan.”

“Yes, well,” Mr. Thurnstein shrugged both apathetic and sure that he would have his way.

“I’m about to lose my job, my company, and my life, Dan, and you will be losing at least one of

those things if you don’t tell me what’s going on.”

“Well, Mr. Thurnstein, I know it sounds crazy, but when you flush this toilet, the water

reflects an image of your future. I don’t know how it does it, but it does. Probably parallel

universes or something.”

Mr. Thurnstein didn’t respond, at least vocally. Instead he pushed Dan out of the way, as

best he could anyway—really Dan was just sort of squished between Thurnstein and the stone

wall—and flushed the toilet, casting his eyes downward.

“It only shows you about ten minutes,” offered Dan.

Russ Nickel 22
Mr. Thurnstein watched himself exit the bathroom. The scene skipped to one of him in

his office, staring at the gun in his hands, then it was simply scattered images of him wandering

the halls.

“Whoa. A gun?” asked Dan.

Mr. Thurnstein did not know how to react to something as wondrous as this toilet. “Dear

lord!” he exclaimed, ignoring Dan completely. “Do you have any idea what this could

accomplish? I could be rich! Rich beyond my wildest dreams, if only I could figure out what to

do in those ten minutes. Dan, this is amazing.” Mr. Thurnstein turned toward Dan. “Tell no one.”

The look in Mr. Thurnstein’s eye was enough to silence Dan completely. He’d never seen

someone so crazed. “No one. This is far greater than you can possibly imagine.”

Dan nodded, hoping to avoid conflict.

“Stay here, and like I said, tell no one. I have to go to a board meeting.”

Mr. Thurnstein brushed off his clothes one last time, strode out of the bathroom with a

maniacal gleam in his eye, and began the long walk to the conference room. The board members

had already taken their seats. The fact that they were early could not be good.

“Welcome, Mr. Thurnstein,” said Robert Lockleer. “I’m sure the plunging stocks and

sales haven’t escaped your notice.”

“They have not.”

“I hate to be the one to tell you this,” Mr. Lockleer did not, in fact, hate to be the one to

tell him this, “But the other members of the board and I have decided that it would be best for

Russ Nickel 23
you to step down as CEO of Gigatech Industries, and if you do not step down, we will be forced

to force you to.”

“What?!” Mr. Thurnstein had expected this, but for some reason could not control his

outrage. “I am Gigatech Industries! I built this company from the ground up with my bare

hands!”

“Yes. We remember,” said Lockleer.

Mr. Thurnstein tried to stay calm. He was still in control of the situation. “You don’t want

to do this. There may be some…information that you are not privy to. You see, I have a plan, a

plan that will make us all rich beyond our wildest dreams.”

“What is this plan of yours, Kyle? It sounds to me like a desperate ploy to keep your job.

You know, if you’d simply been competent none of this would be happening. Sheer luck got this

company off the ground, not your hard work, and you’ve been bringing it down ever since. It’s

time to move on, Kyle.”

“Do not call me Kyle! Do not!”

“Kyle, this is no time to get emotional. Please, the members and I have important

business to attend to. Could you leave us now?”

Mr. Thurnstein’s signature vein was really bulging now, and changing color too. “Oh

you’ll see. All of you will see!” Mr. Thurnstein stormed out of the room, more purposeful than

angry. He burst into his office and headed straight for that bottom drawer. He retrieved the gun

and slipped it into his belt. No one was going to stop him now.

Russ Nickel 24
Back in the sixth floor bathroom, Dan had quite forgotten about Mr. Thurnstein. More

immediate problems were on his mind. Susy had arrived looking very angry. “Damn it, Dan! You

can’t just tell me to meet you at the office building and then expect me to find you. I had to

search every single bathroom from the first floor up, all because you tell me there’s some toilet

that shows you the future. I’m running out of patience, Dan. I really am. Please, please, for my

sake, won’t you just tell me the truth?” Susy finally took a breath. “Wow, this is a nice

bathroom.”

“Susy,” said Dan, arms extended pleadingly, “I am telling the truth. C’mere.” Dan opened

the stall door and walked inside. Susy followed Dan tentatively into the stall, unhappy that she

had to be pressed so close to him when she was so upset. She didn’t have any idea what Dan

might be about to show her. The only thing she was sure of was that it wouldn’t be a magical,

prophetic toilet.

Dan sighed. “Look,” he said, and flushed the toilet. The water began to swoosh and swirl

until it formed a picture. Dan’s image stared back through the glossy toilet water.

“Oh, your reflection. That’s great, Dan, just great,” spouted Susy.

“No wait!” yelped Dan. Susy obliged, though she wasn’t sure why.

After a few more moments of intense staring on Dan’s counterpart’s part, the reflection

shifted, forming an image of Dan and Susy kissing in the bathroom. In the toilet water she

looked very relieved, but in real life, a look of shock was just now crossing her face. “See!” said

Dan.

Russ Nickel 25
“My god.” Susy took a few steps back. “Is that really the future? Can it truly see the

future?”

It took all of Dan’s energy for him to pull his gaze away from the toilet so that he could

look at Susy. “It can. Well, sort of. I think it shows you the future of what would happen if you

hadn’t used the vision of the future to change things. It’s a bit confusing really. I think I’ve

figured it out, but there’s no time to explain now. You see, Mr. Thurnstein is coming and if you

stay here, well, it’s just that—”

“Shhh.” Susy stepped back into the stall, put her finger to Dan’s lips, and then began

kissing him…passionately. Dan was surprised, but he wasn’t about to complain, especially since

Susy was wearing a delicious type of lip gloss he’d never tasted before.

Susy looked very relieved. They kissed and kissed, happier than they’d ever been before.

“I love you, Dan. I’ll never doubt you again.”

What the pair failed to see was the toilet water roiling again, this time settling into a

scene of Mr. Thurnstein bursting into the bathroom, gun in hand. The water showed everyone

yelling, the situation escalating, spiraling out of control, fear, hate, and love, until finally there

was a shot. No, Dan and Susy didn’t notice; they simply continued kissing, ignoring the toilet

completely.

Moments later, the bathroom door swung open violently, admitting an irrational Mr.

Thurnstein. “Dan!” he shouted, “I must use the toilet!”

“Who’s that?” whispered Susy in Dan’s ear.

Russ Nickel 26
“Is there someone else there?” Mr. Thurnstein now saw two pairs of legs. The open stall

door blocked his vision, so he grabbed it and yanked it open, surprised to see a woman, hair

slightly askew and shirt straps slipping off her shoulders. “What is she doing here?” Mr.

Thurnstein yelled, leveling the gun at the pair. He slowly pulled the stall door closed behind him

so that no one could see him holding the two at gunpoint. The act forced all three of them to pack

next to each other, hardly able to move. Mr. Thurnstein made sure to keep his finger on the gun.

“My god!” Susy yelped. She tried to get to the door, but movement was difficult.

“Stop!” yelled Thurnstein. It was more of a yell-whisper actually. Yelling felt socially

unacceptable in such close proximity.

“Mr. Thurnstein,” said Dan, trying to stay as calm as possible. “Please, there’s no need to

be upset. She’s my girlfriend. I wanted to show her the toilet.”

“I told you to tell no one! Don’t you understand anything?” Susy tried to reach the door

once more, but she only managed to lean on the two men, shifting the weight distribution.

Luckily, this popped the somewhat low-quality lock5 off the stall and the three tumbled out.

Everyone leapt up and Susy made a mad dash for the bathroom door.

“You take one more step and I’ll shoot.” said Thurnstein, gun aimed straight at Susy’s

head. She stopped suddenly, too frightened to move. “Don’t you see? I have the perfect plan. I

can use this toilet to constantly check which stocks are about to skyrocket and then sprint to my

office and invest in them minutes before they do. I’ll be richer than even I can imagine! But no

one can know, because they’d question my success. They’d think it wasn’t all my doing. No one

can know.”

5
It was higher quality than most bathroom stall locks though. This was an NIA approved bathroom, after all.

Russ Nickel 27
Susy took another step toward the door, sure that the lunatic wouldn’t notice during his

mad ravings, but he noticed. Mr. Thurnstein had no qualms about shooting Susy, so he pulled the

trigger. Susy heard the sound of the shot, but had no time to be horrified. The bullet exploded out

of the gun and went directly through her forehead. Dan watched the woman he was in love with

splatter across the bathroom wall, coating it in an unsightly shade of red.

Dan ran to her, sobs coming in harsh, throat-grating gasps. He yelled out, clutching her

hand, staring at what had once been a beautiful face. Dan didn’t even recognize her now. Who

was this person? What had Thurnstein done to her? Trying his hardest to turn a sorrow unlike

anything he’d ever felt into rage, Dan stood, legs shaking with emotions he couldn’t possibly

cope with.

Mr. Thurnstein examined the sight, thinking only of the previous janitor. It was a rather

similar scene, her lying dead on the floor, blood splashed on the walls. “Hmm,” he said, musing.

He didn’t have much more time to muse because Dan came rushing toward him. Mr. Thurnstein

shot Dan too. One couldn’t be too careful. Mr. Thurnstein hadn’t been able to aim this shot quite

as well; it had been in the heat of the moment after all, so he’d only hit Dan in the stomach. Dan

collapsed, clutching his gut.

“This is quite a predicament you’ve gotten me into, Dan.” Thurnstein crossed his arms.

“People really should learn to do as they’re told. Now I’ll need to cover this up somehow. You’ve

been a terrible inconvenience.” Mr. Thurnstein tapped his foot on the floor, thinking, while Dan

lay curled on the ground, dying. “I suppose the most likely explanation would be another suicide.

It would be the fourth time. The police probably wouldn’t look into it too much. You could easily

Russ Nickel 28
have shot your girlfriend before killing yourself, but why would you shoot yourself in the

stomach?

“Let’s see…So I came into the room just as you were shooting that young woman over

there.” Mr. Thurnstein acted out the scene to help himself imagine it. “I tackled you to the

ground,” he said, pointing to where Dan lay, “and we wrestled for control of the gun.

Unfortunately it went off and you got hit in the stomach, but then, to finish yourself off, you used

your last bit of strength to jump out the window. That will do nicely, I think. Come Dan, time for

you to go on a little trip. Oh, I can’t wait until this is all over. I’m going to be so very rich.”

Mr. Thurnstein wrapped his arms around Dan and pulled him off the ground, displeased

by all the blood that was getting on his nice suit, but it was worth it. He dragged Dan to the large,

glass window. Dan was slipping in and out of consciousness, unable to resist the man who was

about to finish him off. With more strength than Mr. Thurnstein thought he had, he managed to

lift Dan up, drag him back into the stall, and hurl him through the window, shattering glass

everywhere. Mr. Thurnstein smiled as the last bit of Dan’s body passed through the gap and

began the descent toward the dumpster below. Yes, Mr. Thurnstein was a very happy man. He

turned toward the toilet and flushed it, gazing at his future.

* * *

Russ Nickel 29
Dan and Susy stood in the bathroom stall, kissing. “I love you, Dan,” said Susy. “I’ll

never doubt you again.” Just then, as she was enjoying herself tremendously, Dan disappeared.

There was no sound, no puff of smoke. One moment she’d been kissing him, and the next he was

gone completely. Her first instinct was to run looking for him, but then the sheer impossibility of

it all overwhelmed her and she decided to simply sit on the floor.

Dan, meanwhile, found himself lying naked in a dumpster. He quickly felt his stomach,

but he wasn’t wounded. Dan knew that just seconds ago he’d been kissing Susy, but he also

knew that seconds ago he’d been shot and hurled through a window. Dan still had his memories

of the past ten minutes, or rather, future ten minutes. It was hard for his mind to digest the two

sets of pasts, so Dan spent a moment analyzing the situation.

There was no bullet in his gut, so clearly something strange was going on. Based on the

very real pain of falling six stories into a dumpster, Dan assumed that he wasn’t dead. What had

happened? Dan tasted Susy’s lip gloss on his lips. It must have been real. Could it have

something to do with the magical toilet? It must! But then Dan started to think about all of the

problems inherent in time travel. When people traveled through time, they traveled as

themselves, injuries and all. Why would he be suddenly healed?

It was almost as if those ten minutes had never happened, as if the timeline had folded

back on itself, except Dan still had his memories. But then why would he be in the dumpster?

Oh, it was all so terribly confusing. Dan rubbed his eyes, trying to ignore his splitting headache

and piece everything together. Normally, people travel through time and space. Dan knew that

Russ Nickel 30
most representations of time travel were riddled with inconsistencies because if one were to go

back in time say six months, the earth would be on the opposite side of the sun and the traveler

would be left stranded in space.

But if your body ended up right outside whatever sort of portal you went through, then it

might work. It was just Dan’s bad luck that he had traveled through time by flying out of a sixth

story window. So if there were no space travel, if time were simply erased and no evidence

remained save your memories, then you’d simply disappear wherever you were in the past and

seemingly reappear where you were when you traveled through time with the body of your past

self and the mind of your future self. And as for being naked, Dan just had to assume that, like in

The Terminator, only living things could be sent through time.

Satisfied that he’d sci-fi babbled his way through the situation, Dan tried to think back

on what had happened. He was kissing Susy…and then…and then Thurnstein! What was Dan

doing?! He pulled himself painfully out of the dumpster, remembering his last view of his

girlfriend. There was no time for all these thoughts! He had to save Susy!

Dan climbed out of the dumpster and sprinted to the front of the office building, wind

blowing powerfully against his face, and his whole body for that matter. Dan yanked open the

front door and ran inside, rushing past the receptionist, who was rather shocked to see Dan’s…

well, everything. She certainly didn’t mind; Dan was clearly much more attractive than she’d

realized.

Dan pushed the button for the elevator, but when it didn’t come immediately, he headed

for the stairs. He sprinted up all six flights, and by the time he spilled out onto the sixth floor

hallway, he was panting and sweating like mad. He raced to the bathroom, not caring if he was

Russ Nickel 31
naked and planless, but by the time he reach the door, Mr. Thurnstein already had his gun trained

on Susy, who stood in the middle of the bathroom. If only he hadn’t spent so much time thinking

things through! Dan pushed the door open ever so slightly and peered in, unsure what to do next.

“Where is Dan? Has he told anyone?” said Thurnstein, gesturing threateningly.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Susy said helplessly, arms raised.

“If you don’t tell me what’s going on by the count of three,” said Mr. Thurnstein as he

cocked his gun, “I’ll shoot. One.”

“I swear! I have no idea what happened.”

“Two.”

“Please! Please!” shouted Susy, tears streaming down her face. First the shock of losing

Dan and now this.

“Thr—”

Dan leapt through the door and slammed his shoulder into the CEO. Mr. Thurnstein

crashed to the ground, the impact knocking the gun out of his hand. “What are you doing, Dan?”

said Mr. Thurnstein, latent rage threatening to break through. “I don’t think you fully understand

the situation.”

“Oh, I understand. I understand more than you ever will,” spouted Dan as he stood. “I

may be naked and bruised, but I just traveled through time. I know things you’ll never know.”

Russ Nickel 32
While Dan spoke, Thurnstein crawled toward the gun. He had just managed to wrap his

fingers around the butt and was about to raise it for a quick kill when Susy slammed her foot

down on his wrist, knocking the weapon free once more.

Dan jumped on the firearm, picking it up before Thurnstein could do what he’d done

once before, in another time. Dan lifted the gun and aimed it at Thurnstein’s head. His hands

were shaking; it just didn’t seem right killing the man as he cowered in terror. Susy put her arm

on Dan’s shoulder. Whether it was supportive or warning, he couldn’t tell, but it reminded him of

his memory, of her lying dead. Dan swelled with hatred, but even still, he couldn’t quite bring

himself to pull the trigger.

Dan could feel his heart racing. What was he supposed to do? He glanced at Susy, and

their eyes met, filled with conflicting emotions. In that brief instant, Thurnstein made his move,

lunging for the gun. Before Dan could even think, his finger squeezed the trigger. Mr. Thurnstein

heard the sound of the gun fire, but before he could react, the bullet slammed into his forehead,

splattering his blood across the wall.

Dan and Susy stood silently, the smoke from the gun rising slowly into the air. Seeing the

thing in his hands, Dan dropped it, horrified.

“Dan,” said Susy, grasping his hands. “Dan, look at me. Dan, it’s not your fault. He

attacked you. It’s not your fault.”

“I pulled the trigger Susy.”

Russ Nickel 33
“Dan, it’s not your fault. It’s the whole situation. It’s the toilet, and the greed it caused.

It’s everything. Dan, this toilet is evil. We have to destroy it. That’s what everyone always has to

do. I’ve read the stories.”

“But Susy,” said Dan, pleading, “I’ve never been able to provide for you before. This

toilet is the one thing that’s really helped our relationship.”

“Our relationship was just fine before this, and it will be afterward. We have to destroy

it.”

Dan sighed, remembering what Thurnstein had done to Susy. “You’re right. Do you think

we can just bust it up like any other toilet?”

“I don’t know, but we have to try.”

“I’ll grab my tools.” Dan sprinted out the door and ran to the basement to get his janitor’s

tools. People stared at him as he went, for the only thing he was wearing was blood, but that

didn’t matter. Only one thing mattered, and that was ending this mess once and for all. Dan

didn’t have a sledgehammer like he’d liked, but he did have wrenches, and he knew how to

disassemble a toilet. He ran back up the flights of stairs, even more tired now than before,

adrenaline keeping him from realizing the insanity of it all. When he got back to the bathroom,

Susy was staring at Mr. Thurnstein.

“He’s dead, Dan. But I don’t even feel sorry. He could have killed you.”

Dan wanted to add that he already had killed Susy, but he just said, “Come on, Susy. It’s

time for this toilet to meet its maker.”

Russ Nickel 34
Dan went to work, removing bolts and unscrewing screws while Susy took turns

watching him and the door. Dan undid the base easily enough, but it was trickier when it came to

getting it off the wall. For some reason, the plumbing was attached in a way Dan had never seen

before. The pipes were an almost glowing gold metal, and he couldn’t find a single junction. No

wonder the NIA was impressed.

But Dan had gotten good at what he did. With enough persistence, he slowly dismantled

the pipes. Soon he could almost remove the toilet from the wall and take it somewhere where it

could never harm anyone again. Just as Dan was removing the attachment that would disable the

water flow, his elbow bumped into the flush handle. “Ow,” he said, inadvertently glancing down

at the water as it swirled downward.

He saw his reflection, but now it stared back more powerfully than ever. It was a stare

that horrified Dan, but he couldn’t pry his eyes away.

“Dan!” yelped Susy. “What’s happening?”

But her voice sounded like it was a great ways away. Dan watched his reflection grow

clearer and clearer and larger and larger. The water in the toilet rose and fell, splashing

everywhere, slowly climbing its way out of its ceramic confines. Dan began to see every pore,

every hair as clearly as if his reflection had been standing in front of him, and then the water

began to churn faster and faster until it exploded and showered down on them.

The droplets of water began to coalesce, gathering themselves together. They slinked

across the ground, forming larger puddles that then combined. The droplets looked like balls of

mercury, and the way they moved made it almost seem as if they were trying to find each.

Finally, while Dan and Susy stared in horrified awe, the water came together, creating one giant

Russ Nickel 35
drop. The water rose and grew, becoming larger than Dan thought possible, and as it grew it

began to take on a form, Dan’s form. Moments later, Dan’s reflection was standing right in front

of him.

And then it spoke. “Hello, Susy,” it said. “Hello, Dan. A pleasure meeting you, but it will

be short-lived, I fear, because now I’ll have to kill you. You see, a world can only tolerate

multiple copies of something for a few moments before it begins to collapse in on itself.”

“What?” Dan was horrified by his own image. “Is that what happened to the other

janitors.”

“Ah, yes. They were not suicides as your people so foolishly suspected. Those deaths

were caused by my brethren, who also escaped the bonds of our parallel world. Look at your

reflection too long, and it starts to look back, to become real. Every time you flushed that toilet,

the gap between your world and our world shrunk.” Dan’s reflection shimmered in the light. A

dark smirk crossed his face, and his eyes were squinted with calm, calculated hatred.

“Did you really think I would stay trapped there forever, forced to play out your future?

No, I will not be subject to your will ever again, Dan. My life is my own. As soon as I take

yours, I will become the true Dan, free to live my life in your world, the free world.” Parallel

Dan pushed Dan to the floor, sliding him into the center of the bathroom with a single, easy

motion of his hand. For the briefest moment, Dan had thought that his reflection’s hand had

passed through his shoulder. It felt cold and wet, and it was the most sickening feeling he had

ever experienced. “I’m going to enjoy this.”

Russ Nickel 36
From the floor, Dan saw Susy dash away from the stall, grab Mr. Thurnstein’s gun, and

unload the rest of the rounds into parallel Dan, but the bullets passed through him, thudding into

the wall behind with a splash.

“As you can see,” said Parallel Dan, walking into the center of the bathroom, “I have not

yet taken on my human form, Susy, but I admire the thought. I’d like to think that the Susy in my

dimension would have done the same for me. I’m sorry, love, but your Dan has to die. I will

never be caged again.”

In the moments that Susy had managed to distract parallel Dan, Dan had crawled back

into the stall, summoned all of his strength, and in one, gravity-defying motion, he lifted the

toilet off the ground. He teetered next to the now-whole window, precariously balanced, any

strength not devoted to holding the toilet working to keep Dan from toppling out of the building.

“What do you think you’re doing?” snarled parallel Dan.

“I’m not sure!” said Dan, in his best impersonation of a hero. He’d always loved those

final lines of movies where the good guy finally kills the bad guy, and he’d hoped for a real life

version. “I’m,” “not,” and “sure” weren’t exactly the words he’d been hoping for, but they’d

have to do.

Dan’s reflection leapt toward him, and Dan could tell that this time his water self would

kill him. As parallel Dan flew through the air, Dan hurled the toilet toward the beautiful glass

window. Susy stood, mouth open in fear and wonder. Parallel Dan had pulled back his fist and

was sending it forward for a life-ending blow. Dan grimaced, hoping against hope that he would

survive. The toilet flew, ceramic white seat banging against the bowl, and just before Dan’s

Russ Nickel 37
reflection’s watery fist could connect with Dan, the final piece of the toilet passed through the

threshold of the window.

There was a flash of darkness, then a deafening humming sound accompanied by a purple

glow. The mirrors in the room shattered, and Dan and Susy threw their hands over their ears. The

strange light lasted for a few, intolerable moments, then light and noise subsided, and the stark

white lighting returned. Where the shattered window had once been, there was now a rotating

black portal that was violently pulling everything it could into it. Blue electric sparks crackled

loudly in the portal’s center, and when Dan gazed into it, he saw a depth that he could not

comprehend.

“Noooo!” screamed Dan’s reflection. Dan thought that that was a fitting final line for an

enemy. Parallel Dan clawed at the stall, hoping to secure any sort of purchase, but the portal’s

pull was too strong. The past and the future had merged to create only the present, and any

inconsistencies were being dragged through that swirling portal.

Susy grabbed a urinal. “Dan! Hold on!” Dan reached for Susy’s extended hand and just

managed to interlock his fingers with hers. The spinning mass tugged on them, but they refused

to let go. Mr. Thurnstein and the gun were flung through instantly, and the powerful vacuum

even ripped off Susy’s bloody clothes, removing every scrap of evidence from the bathroom.

Dan’s reflection burst into millions of tiny droplets of water that plummeted into the

blackness and then disappeared. As soon as parallel Dan was gone from sight, the portal began to

collapse on itself, and with another flash of darkness, it was gone. Where the window had once

been, there was only a wall, and no sign of the toilet remained.

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Dan and Susy looked at each other, and before they knew what they were doing, found

themselves kissing.

Just then the door swung open and Charley walked in. “Whoa! Nice work, Dan! I’ll just

uh, use another bathroom.”

Dan and Susy looked at Charley and then at each other. They’d forgotten that they were

naked and started to laugh.

“I think Charley got the wrong idea,” said Susy, giggling.

“Well I wouldn’t want to disappoint the man,” said Dan as he pulled Susy to the floor.

The End

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