We’d finished a modest pasta dinner with salad and I was looking forward to catching up on some shows I’d been watching. I scrubbed the dishes then loaded the dishwasher, drying my hands with a coarse rag before walking to the bathroom door to find it shut. A light knock returned my father’s deep voice “Occupied” so I headed to the living room, passing some time with a puzzle game on my phone, sunken into the couch. I completed a few levels as my mother worked through a stack of legal documents in the study when my nagging bladder led me once more to the bathroom door, still closed. “Hurry up dad,” I pleaded, returning a deep, muffled cough then “Give me a minute.”
I looked at my phone’s clock and realized he must have been in there at least half an hour already. I explained this through the door to the answer of ”My stomach is just a little upset, I need a minute.” Something started to feel very wrong. Perhaps it was the lack of humor in his voice, devoid of his usual grumpy tone, or perhaps it was the fact he’s had an operation just last year and he now seemed more mortal, more fragile than before. “I’m using yours then” I snapped to no response. I walked through my mother’s study to inform her but she wasn’t there. I headed up the stairs. To find their room empty, their bathroom door closed as well. I knocked on the door to my mother’s deadpan response “Occupied”. I wondered if and how food poisoning could be the culprit, and since I merely needed to go number one, I headed out the back door and relieved myself behind the bush. I felt a little exposed in the night’s breeze but the view was at least blocked from any neighbor’s homes. I returned inside to my room to watch some TV and try to forget about it.
Two episodes later, I had a nagging feeling of unease and checked the bathroom door and found it still locked shut. “Dad what’s going on, can I get you anything,” I asked, my tone laced with concern.
“I’m fine, just give me a minute,” he responded in the same lackluster voice. I looked at my phone, it had been two hours. Something was very wrong. I raced upstairs to my parent’s bedroom, to their bathroom door.
“Mom, what’s going on, are you OK?” I called frantically.
“I’m fine, just give me a minute”, she said, the exact words.
“It’s been two hours! Something is clearly wrong!” I barked, unable to mask my concern.
“Just a sec,” she responded. I thought I heard something perhaps electrical or insect, something buzzing or scraping, but it was barely audible and gone quickly. I headed back defeated to my room and resumed my show.
I must have dozed off, when my eyes stretched open it was day time, and my cell read 10:45. I trudged a zombie-like shuffle to the bathroom and twisted the handle, locked. Dread welled in my stomach as I remembered the night before and I knocked on the door. “Occupied,” my dad’s voice called back and then I heard it, the muffled sound similar to cicadas, but much softer and lower in tone. I sniffed, fighting the urge to cry, then noticing the odor. It wasn’t a septic one, it was the sour stench of a dead mouse swept from behind a fridge, the foul odor of decay when stumbling upon half of a deer in the woods.
I twisted the handle and said “Dad, I’m very worried about you, just open the door.”
There was a low, phlegm-filled cough followed by a baritone, vibratory response, “Give me a minute.”
I raced upstairs, my parent’s bathroom door locked as well. My mother’s voice “Give me a minute,” repeated like a script when I knocked. Dozens of flies circled the bedroom, buzzing and hovering past my batting hands. I removed my phone with shaky fingers and I dialed 911, not yet pressing send.
“Open the door now or I’m calling 911,” I demanded. No response, I dialed. I explained I was worried, that my parents hadn’t left the bathroom in over ten hours, that something was very wrong. They agreed to send an officer after some convincing and I waited downstairs on the couch. I’d opened the doors and windows to air out that rancid smell permeating the house, but more flies just kept coming in.
After roughly an hour I heard the car engine outside and walked outside to meet the officers. I led them inside, over to the bathroom door and the taller officer knocked, saying “I’m a police officer, your son called me because he’s concerned, can you please open the door?” to the responding sound of the toilet flushing. He tried the door handle, finding it locked. “Please open the door now or we’ll be forced to open it”. Nothing. He looked over to the other officer, who nodded, a solemn frown fixed on his face. The tall officer removed a tool and forced the lock, opening the door and immediately buried his face in the crook of his elbow. ”My god,” he said quietly, coughing violently then gagging.
What was left of my parents bodies was removed as I sat in the back of a cop car. I wasn’t a suspect, they had clarified. They just had a lot of questions about my story, as to why I hadn’t called earlier. They explained as gently as possible the bodies had begun to liquefy from decomposition, a stage of decay that usually happens nearly a month after death. They said they are trying to find the cause through toxicology tests. In the meantime I’ve been staying with my uncle nearby, who’s been very helpful through the ordeal that‘s haunted me and plagued me with despair. His house is much smaller, it has only one bathroom that he entered over an hour ago after dinner. Panic has been coursing through my blood, I knocked on that door and asked if he was OK a few minutes ago. The response was that single ominous word that melted my insides, “Occupied…”
…followed by that faint rattling sound as I tearfully asked back, “By what?”
Credit: Mr Michael Squid