Then I'll begin, children...
Billy and the Haunted Toilet Seat
It was beginning to get dark, and a thin, cold drizzle was falling as Billy scuffed his way through the puddles on his way home from school. He hated this time of year, when Christmas was over and the short, grey days seemed to merge one into the other, when nothing happened and nothing would happen for at least two months before the start of summer and warmer weather.
He had refused to wear the dark blue duffle coat that his mother had waved at him as he left the house in the morning, and now his blazer was gathering a fine coating of tiny rain droplets which sparkled like early morning dew on summer grass as he walked down the dank road. His right shoe was letting in water.
As he turned a corner which lead into a tree-lined avenue with large houses either side, he spotted an object which had not been there in the morning. A huge, yellow skip was parked next to an old house which had not been lived in for years, and the yellow light attached to it’s side winked at him invitingly through the gloom.
He slowed down as he approached the skip, and began assessing the rubbish in it, which was heaped up high - higher than the instructions printed on the side allowed. It was good quality rubbish. It was some of the best rubbish he had seen in a skip for a long time, and he began pulling pieces to one side, deftly avoiding bits of broken sink which fell suddenly, threatening to cut his hand with their sharp edges. Mixed up with all the hard stuff were lengths of torn and dirty velvet which he supposed must have been big, purple curtains at one time. The curtain was threaded in amongst pieces of wood and metal, making it difficult to expose other objects which he could see buried deep in the skip, so he walked round to the other side.
Then he saw it. Quite close to the top was a big, old, wooden toilet seat with brass fittings still attached, and he yanked at it hard, freeing it from between two sheets of hardboard which were weighed down with a small pile of broken bricks. It was in very good condition, and he wondered why it had been thrown away. The dark wood was still shiny and the thick brass only had a few green stains. It would look great on his bedroom wall, he thought, and put his arm through the hole and carried it home on his shoulder. On his way, he passed a couple of other kids going in the opposite direction and when they saw what he was carrying, they giggled at first, then laughed loudly when they were further away, but Billy told himself that he didn’t care.
When he got home with his trophy, he found his mother in the warm and steamy kitchen, preparing the evening meal. Why was it - he wondered - that she always called him ‘William’ when she shouted at him? It was going to take a lot of persuasion for her to let him bring it back into the house, but for the time being, he did what she asked, and took it out to the shed in the garden before coming back in and washing his hands.
The toilet seat stayed in the shed until the weekend, but - with the help of his father, who said that when he was Billy’s age, he had an old road-lamp on his bedroom wall - he was allowed to take it to his room on the STRICT condition that he washed it at least three times with disinfectant and water. This he did, and after he had thoroughly dried it with old rags, he began treating the wood with some furniture polish from under the stairs. The seat became dark and shiny, like a really good conker, and it looked so good that he went back into the house and came back with a tin of brass polish and started to give the metalwork some attention. Soon, the brass gleamed and shone as the hinges flipped one way then the other as he turned the seat over. When it was all done, he held it at arms length to look at it, wondering how much it was worth. That afternoon, his father helped him to put a couple of nails in his bedroom wall - though he could have done it himself easily - and the toilet seat hung there, gleaming softly in the light from his bedside table. It looked wonderful.
Three days later, just as his mother had predicted, Billy fell ill and was too unwell to go to school, so he just lay there in bed with what his mother called a ‘temperature’. Both he and his father did not believe that it had anything to do with the toilet seat, but his mother would not be convinced, so thankfully the seat stayed there on the wall, as she refused to touch it because of the germs.
When the doctor came that evening, he agreed with Billy and his father. The illness - he pronounced - was entirely unrelated to the toilet seat, and was just something that he must have picked up at school, as he had seen it in a couple of other children from the area that very week. He predicted that Billy would be up and running within a few days, but in the meantime should stay warm in bed until he felt well enough to get up. His mother eyed the seat suspiciously during the doctor’s visit, and would give it a sideways glance when she came into the room with a tray of food for Billy.
The first two days in bed were wonderful, and Billy lay there reading books and comics, feeling very lucky not to be at school, but soon it became boring and he began to long to be out in the rain again. He had read all the comics, and he didn’t like most of the books. The nights were the worst. His temperature would rise and he would toss and turn in the bed feverishly, only sleeping for what seemed to be very short periods. When he did sleep, he had strange and disturbing dreams, and he would wake up with his pajamas sticking to him with sweat. In the darkness, his room shifted and changed shape horribly. Sometimes objects would seem so close to him that they were almost touching his face, then they seemed so far away that they must have been miles from the house, even though they were in the room. Then - which was the worst - they would be both far away and near at the same time. When he coughed, little blue luminous discs would light up on the surface of his eyeballs in the dark, and he coughed a lot. All through the night, his parents would be asleep in another room, leaving him alone in this new, strange and creepy world - a world which only existed at night, and only in his room.
He also heard sounds which could not have been there - doors slamming in some distant place, people talking so quietly that you could not tell what they were saying, sudden laughter, a dog barking, the sound of running water - but the sound he heard more than any of the others was the noise of a toilet being flushed.
At some point in the night, he could not bear being in the damp, hot bed any longer, so he turned on the lamp, stiffly pulled his legs from under the covers and slid his feet into his slippers on the floor. He felt a bit dizzy when he stood up, but soon recovered and wandered over to the table on the far side of the small room. Hanging on the wall over the table was the toilet seat, still looking magnificent it’s new, strange environment. Somehow, it was the only object to have stayed the same in the morphing zone that his bedroom had become.
He climbed up onto the table on his knees and reached up for the seat with both hands, taking down from the nails. Then he heard the sound of a door being closed again, but this time it seemed to be coming from the toilet seat. He stared at the seat, waiting for something else to happen, and shortly there came the sound of a hand-basin being filled with water. Not knowing what else to do, he got down from the table still holding the seat. The smell of beeswax polish was coming from the wood, and he brought the seat closer to his nose to sniff it. He loved the smell of beeswax, and his illness seemed to make smells stronger. As he got closer to the seat, he found that he was pushing his head through the hole without thinking, and soon his entire head was through it as he sniffed at the polish on the top of the seat. He was so engrossed with sniffing, that when a girl’s voice sounded close to him, he lifted his head with a start, and the seat settled on both of his shoulders as he jerked upwards.
“Hello”, said the girl, “What are you doing?”
He found himself peering into a large bathroom, and standing about ten feet away, next to a hand-basin, was a girl of about his age wearing a long, white night-dress. The girl just stood there staring down at him as if there was nothing particularly unusual about a boy coming up head-first into her bathroom through the toilet.
In a sudden panic, Billy yanked the seat over his head and pulled himself back into his bedroom. He was breathing heavily and was quite shocked, but also very excited. He held the seat at arms length, trying to summon up the courage to go back in again. All the while, his parents slept soundly in the next room. He gingerly held the seat over his head again and eventually lowered it, slowly at first, then over his ears and finally just below his eyes until he saw the girl and the bathroom again, just as he had left it. The girl laughed as she looked at him, and he must have been a strange sight, peeping out from a toilet, looking confused and bewildered. The seat did not appear to be fixed to the bowl, and it rattled about on the porcelain as Billy struggled to keep it on his shoulders. As the toilet seat moved around him, the room seemed to shift and wobble too, and this - on top of everything else - made Billy feel a bit sick, like being on a fairground ride. The girl spoke again. She sounded very posh.
“I keep telling daddy he must mend that seat, but he refuses to do so, and we can’t find anyone in the town to come in and do it for us. Are you coming up or not? Why don’t you climb out where I can see you properly? What’s your name?”
“Billy”, said Billy, and he struggled and shifted, trying to squeeze his shoulders through the toilet seat as the room swayed and wobbled. Eventually, he discovered that if he threaded one arm and his head through the hole first, he could pull the other arm upwards and lower the seat down, like taking off a pair of trousers. He had to keep his eyes closed whilst doing this, as the shifting bathroom made him feel horribly sick to look at, and if he looked down, he could see nothing but darkness on the other side of the hole. He ended up face down on the bathroom floor with his feet touching the toilet-bowl. At last, he kicked the seat away from his feet, and it clattered to the floor noisily. The bathroom had stopped moving, and was now quite solid. He stood up and stared at the girl, who stared back at him impassively.
“I’m very pleased you’ve turned up”, she said, “I get very lonely, and I have no brothers or sisters. Only my dog”.
“I haven’t got any brothers or sisters either”, said Billy. “I haven’t got a dog either. How did I get here through a toilet seat?”
“Lavatory” said the girl, simply.
“It’s not called a ‘toilet’, it’s called a lavatory. Actually you can call it what you like, so long as you don’t call it a ‘toilet’. Toilet is what I was in the process of, when you came up from the lavatory”. She pointed at the wash-basin, which was full of steaming warm water.
Billy was beginning to get the point, but the more relaxed he became about this strange situation, the more she began to irritate him. Girls always seem to talk about silly things, he thought, when all this other really important stuff was happening. She was quite pretty, though, with long, dark, shiny hair and a pale face with long eye-lashes.
“Do you live here?” Billy couldn’t think of anything else to say.
“Of course I live here. What would I be doing in someone else’s bathroom? Though I suppose I could be visiting my aunt, who lives in Brighton, but I’m not. I definitely live here. I’ve been a bit ill this week, so I haven’t been to school and I miss my friends. Do you go to school?”
Billy felt like saying ‘of course I go to school’, but didn’t want to be impolite in someone else’s house, especially someone as posh as her, so he told her about his school and the coincidence of him being ill at the same time as her. When he thought about it, the strangeness of this coincidence was nothing compared to everything else that had happened, and he felt a bit silly even mentioning it.
Billy wanted her to show him around the house, and maybe outside too, as he really needed to know how this world differed from his own, but she insisted that they stay in the bathroom in case her parents saw him. Billy had a strong feeling that she actually wanted to keep him for herself - like her dog - and that was the reason that she would not let him leave the bathroom. She seemed to need a secret friend. After a while, she started to look a bit edgy, and stopped concentrating on what he was saying. Then she interrupted him halfway through a sentence.
“I really think you ought to be going now. My parents will wonder what has happened if I don’t come out soon and besides, I really need that”, she glanced toward the toilet.
“Oh, right, yes. I’ll be going” said Billy, and he moved toward the seat, which was lying on the floor, upside down. He turned it up the right way and stepped into it with both feet, then began pulling it up over his body. After he had got one arm through, he stopped and looked at her before pulling himself out of sight. “Shall I see you again?”
“Yes, if you like, but make sure you know who is in the bathroom before you come up, and make sure nobody is using the lavatory too”. At this, she giggled and held her hand over her mouth.
As he pulled his other arm and head through the hole, he heard her cry out, “I’ll call your name when it’s safe!” Then she was gone, and Billy found himself lying on his bedroom carpet with the toilet seat at his feet. He stood up and hung the seat back on it’s nails, then got back into bed, staring at it for a long time before he turned the light out and closed his eyes. As he drifted into sleep, he remembered that he had not asked the girl for her name.
Billy became much better over the next few days, and by the following week, he was able to return to school. As his fever had gone, so had the noises that seemed to come from the toilet seat, and he had begun to wonder if the whole thing had been some sort of dream or hallucination caused by the illness, but he still thought of the girl in the bathroom, and wondered if he would ever see her again. He had tried putting the seat over his head, but when he came out of the other side, all he saw was his bedroom, and he felt a bit silly standing there with a toilet seat round his neck.
One evening, after dinner, his father put down his knife and fork and leaned over the table toward Billy.
“Son, I’ve got a favour to ask. You know that the upstairs toilet seat has been cracked for ages now, and I really don’t want to replace it with another white plastic one, they look so tacky. I’ve always wanted to put a mahogany one in its place, but what with all the concerns about hardwoods, ourang-outangs and rain forests or whatever, your mother doesn’t want me to buy one. Now, I’ve been round all the reclamation yards, and they’ve got a few old, Victorian ones, but none of them are a patch on yours. It’s a cracker. How do you feel about me bolting onto the upstairs toilet bowl. It would still be yours, but we’d all use it, so to speak, and you would always know where it was - in pride of place. I’ve managed to convince your mother that it’s not a health-risk or a hygiene hazard, though that took some doing. What do you say?”
Billy began to panic and desperately think of any excuse for why it should stay hanging on his bedroom wall, but nothing convincing came to him.
Gradually - very gradually - the days became longer and warmer, the trees turned green and Billy spent more hours outside of the house where the wooden seat was bolted firmly to the white, porcelain pan in the upstairs bathroom, as it had been since his father put it there one dark winter night.
Although he had some good friends at school and liked to play football with all of them, Billy sometimes became a little lonely when he was at home at night, and not having any brothers or sisters, he began badgering his parents to buy him a dog to keep him company. At first, they were not keen on the idea, but after weeks of after-dinner pestering, his father broke the news to him that they could pay a visit to the local cats and dogs home to see if there was small dog there which was quiet, house-trained and well-behaved, which they could take on a test-run on Sunday by walking it over the downs for an hour or so.
Billy leapt to his feet and hugged his father, who began shouting that no promises had been made and nothing had been decided, and calming down would be a very good idea. Billy knew his dad well though, and realised in an instant that him and his mum must have had a long conversation about this recently after he had gone to bed, and the deal was as good as done. When he went to bed on saturday night, he wondered what little dog was also going to sleep as he waited patiently for Billy to collect him, and wondered if the dog was having the same thoughts about the boy who was destined to be his life-long friend.
As they got out of the car and into the bright spring morning outside the Dog’s Sanctuary, the twittering of the birds in the trees was drowned out by the sound of dozens - possibly hundreds - of barking dogs, coming from the compound behind the high, wire fence. Billy and his dad went into the shabby reception room and were met by a pretty girl of about 18, who was wearing jeans and trainers. His dad talked to her for a while and filled out a few forms before they went through a side door and into the yard, and the noise of the dogs became almost unbearably loud. Billy’s heart was thumping as they slowly strolled past the perimeter fence, and dogs of every shape and size threw themselves at it, clamoring for attention. They all seemed to be shouting “Choose me! Choose me!” but Billy hardly took any notice of them. He knew who he was looking for.
The he saw him, quietly standing about thirty feet away, just outside one of the communal kennels and looking steadily back at Billy. It was a little grey whippet with large, sad eyes and a very pointed nose.
“That’s him!” Billy shouted, pointing at the forlorn looking creature. The girl followed the direction of his pointed finger until she settled on the dog which was easy to spot, as it was standing quite alone from the others.
“Oh, Mr Whippy,” she said, “He’s only been here a few days.” Then she let herself in through a wire gate and attached a lead to the collar of the dog, leading him past all the others and out into the yard where Billy and his dad stood waiting. Mr Whippy went straight up to Billy and sniffed his outstretched hand a little before giving it a couple of licks with a long, pink tongue. Billy crouched down and hugged Mr Whippy, trying not to cry. He felt he had known this dog all his life. As Billy and the dog were making friends with each other, his dad and the girl talked.
“He’s a strange one,” the girl said, “We don’t know where he came from. Someone heard some whimpering coming from under the grille of a big storm drain a few miles away, and called the Fire Brigade. It took them about an hour to lift the cover and pull him out. They think he must have got into the sewage system somehow, and couldn’t find his way out. Nobody has reported a dog like this missing, but he’s in very good condition and was well-fed. Someone must have been looking after him.”
As they began the first of their long walks across the downs, Mr Whippy stayed close-by to Billy without tugging on the lead, but just trotting contentedly on his long, springy legs. They did not let him off the lead to begin with, but Whippy did not seem to care about that, so long as he was close to Billy. When his dad took the lead a couple of times - just to try it out - Mr Whippy would turn and stare back imploringly to Billy. He only seemed happy when with the boy, and it was heart-breaking to have to return him to the noisy kennels later that afternoon. Billy promised Whippy that he would be back again soon, and he kept his promise. After three more visits to the Dog’s Home and three more blissful walks, Mr Whippy finally climbed into the back of the car and began the short trip back to his new home, curled up in a tight crescent on the cloth seat and having the best sleep he had had since only he knew when.
Billy lead Whippy into the kitchen and up to his mother with a nervous smile on his face. Whippy’s claws made a skittering sound on the lino as he approached, and Billy’s mum bent down to stroke the little dog. Once again, Billy’s heart thumped.
“He’s lovely!’ exclaimed his mum - much to Billy’s relief. It was she who would be looking after Whippy when he was at school, so it was important that they got on well.
As the summer came, Billy would almost run home from school in order to be with Mr Whippy again, and the dog would be waiting next to the back door for him, trembling with excitement. At night, Whippy slept in a basket at the end of Billy’s bed, so the two were inseparable for as long as possible, and Billy yearned for the long summer holiday when they could be with each other for 24 hours a day. Although he had given up football on account of the dog, he had plenty of exercise when he and Whippy went for long walks through woods, through fields, down tree-lined country lanes - everywhere and anywhere. Sometimes they would walk together at night, and Billy would listen to Whippy sniffing at something in the darkness before catching up again and silently trotting along beside him.
One night, Billy was in the bathroom brushing his teeth before going to bed, and Mr Whippy was nosing about waiting for him to finish, with a bored expression on his pointed face. Billy had just finished spitting into the sink and was turning off the tap, when he heard a wooden, clattering sound. He looked round just in time to see the rear end of Mr Whippy - legs scrabbling and kicking - disappear down the toilet through the wooden seat. He dropped his toothbrush into the sink and ran to the bowl in horror. Looking down, he saw no sign of the dog, not even a ripple on the surface of the water below. He ran into his parents dark bedroom and shouted.
“DAD! DAD! Come quickly - Mr Whippy’s fallen down the toilet!”
His father sat bolt upright in the bed and turned on a light. It took him several seconds to understand what Billy had screamed in the darkness, then he got out of bed saying, “Oh bloody hell, not again”.
Soon, the three of them were standing in the bathroom, staring down into the empty toilet through the shiny wooden seat.
"Did you flush it?” his father asked with a puzzled expression on his face.
“Of course I didn’t!” Billy shouted, “Do something!”
His father said that it would be impossible for a dog that size to go down a toilet, and began searching the bathroom, opening cupboard doors and looking under piles of towels. Only Billy knew in his heart what had really happened, but how could he explain it to his parents?