's 2013 Horror Write-off:

" Terrazzo "

Submitted by Immutatus

Even after all that's happened, I still stick to my daily routine. It's been pretty much the same for years. Every weekday morning, I take the bus to work. I have a car, but with the cost of gas nowadays, the bus is a lot cheaper, and I can read on the way. The downside is that it takes longer with all the stops, so I have to get up earlier than I would if I drove, and... well, I'd say I've always had something of a small bladder. I can hold it for the duration of the bus trip, but by the time I get off the bus I always have to go. So that's a part of my daily routine, too. I always make a pit stop at the restroom at the bus station.

For a public restroom, it's usually relatively clean. I can't say it's entirely free of graffiti, but I've seen worse. It's not big: two stalls, a couple of urinals, and a row of sinks. But it's not busy; I don't generally have to wait long. Now, the restroom floor, which is the real point I'm trying to come to, it's made up of those small tiles that seem to be pretty common for restroom floors just about everywhere. Terrazzo, I think they're called. You know, little square tiles, maybe half an inch on a side, in different colors. In this case, the tiles were white, two shades of gray, and two shades of blue.

I don't remember when I first noticed the changes. No, wait, I think it was when one day I noticed four light blue tiles that were all next to each other in a straight line. Seemed kind of funny, because I'd thought the tile pattern was just random. Still could be, of course; it wasn't out of the question that four tiles of the same color would just randomly happen to be placed next to each other. But I thought it was odd I hadn't noticed them before.

So, the next day, I looked for the line of tiles again. I mean, not that I was obsessed with the tiles or anything. Not then, anyway; maybe I was later. But then, well, you notice something odd, you keep an eye out for it. That's just human nature. But the tiles weren't there. I mean, there were tiles there, of course, but they were just random; there wasn't the line.

Well, I didn't really worry about it. What's to worry about? Maybe I'd misremembered where they were; it's not like I'd gone out of my way to take note of it. But the day after that, the tiles were different again. Like I said, it had just been a random arrangement, one I'd never have taken note of if I hadn't been looking so closely at that place the day before looking for the line of tiles. And I still can't say I remembered it exactly. But there were a few details I did remember—two dark gray tiles diagonally adjacent; four white tiles surrounding a dark blue—and they didn't match what was there.

Now, I still wasn't convinced the tiles were changing. I mean, why would they? More than likely I was just imagining things. But I had just enough doubt that I studied a particular patch of floor, tried to memorize its pattern, so when I came back the next day I could see for sure whether it was the same or not.

It wasn't.

This went on for a few days. Every day, the tiles were different. There was never any clear pattern to it—even that row of light blue tiles I saw the first day I now think probably wasjust random—but the random arrangement varied day by day. After about a week of this, I wanted some tangible record, to make absolutely sure I wasn't just imagining the difference somehow. I started bringing a camera, and taking pictures of the floor every day. Sure enough, when I compared the pictures later, they were different. Either the floor was changing, or I was completely losing my mind.

One day when I was sure there was no one else in the restroom, I crouched down and took a close look at the tiles to try to find some indication of how they could be changing. Were they loose, so they could be easily arranged? Had they been repeatedly painted over? No, and no. As far as I could tell, they were all cemented firmly in place, and it didn't look to me like they'd ever been painted.

Like I said, I wasn't obsessed with the tiles at first, but maybe after some time I did become obsessed. But who can blame me? The tiles in a restroom floor changing daily... that's weird, right? That's something anyone would start to wonder about. So yeah, what I eventually did might seem out there, but keep in mind what I'd been dealing with up till then. It had been going on for about a month by then, and naturally I was curious. Given the circumstances, I think most people might have done something equally strange.

I decided to bring a flashlight and a change of clothes and some toiletries, and try to stay in the restroom overnight, to watch when the tiles changed. I'd seen they were different every day, but I'd never seen the change happen. Was the janitor prying them up every night and cementing them back down in different arrangements? Did the tiles' color just gradually shift over the course of the night for some reason? Hell, for all I knew there were elves popping into the bus station restroom every night and waving magic wands to change the tiles. By that time, I really had to know.

You know in movies you see someone hide out in a restroom, and he stands on a toilet so people looking for him won't see his feet under the stall door? Yeah. That's what I did. Honestly, I don't think I really expected it to work. Surely before closing things down for the night a security guard would take a glance into the stalls, or something. But I felt I had to put in the effort. And, a bit to my surprise, it did work. A security guard did come in to check out the restroom before locking up—I could see him through the crack at the side of the door—but he didn't bother to open the stall door. And then I heard a click as he locked the restroom door for the night, and I was alone.

I stared at the tile floor all night, watching for any hint of a change. A little past midnight, the batteries died in my flashlight, but I'd been prepared for that; I popped in a spare set and looked right back where I'd been looking. I was somehow sure that's when they would change, while everything was dark; I'd developed the notion from somewhere that maybe the tiles were just waiting till I wasn't looking. But no; when I shone the flashlight back in the same area the tiles there looked just the same as before it had gone out. And by morning, since the first time since I'd been noticed the changes, the tiles hadn't changed. As far as I could tell, they were exactly the same as the night before.

Well, a bit before the station was scheduled to open in the morning, I washed up as best I could in the sink, brushed my teeth, put on the other outfit I'd brought. Then I hid in the stall again, waited for the security guard to unlock the door, waited a few minutes more—if I'd come out right after the restroom was unlocked, it would have looked odd—and walked out.

As soon as I did, something struck me as a little off. It took me a while to realize what it was, but then I thought that one of the trees at the side of the station might have been a little further to the right the day before. For that matter, there was another tree that I remembered being a eucalyptus that was now a sycamore. It wasn't just the trees; that was just the first thing that caught my attention. There were a few other details that were off, too. A sign that I remembered as having been on a different wall. A curb that I'd thought was a slightly different shade of yellow. I tried to shake it off. I'd driven myself a little crazy obsessing about those stupid tiles. I stopped off at a Starbucks and got a coffee and took a bit of a break before work, and then I headed in to the office.

Things there struck me as a little off, too. The lanes in the parking lot were switched around. The carpet in the lobby had a different pattern. Some of the cubicles were in a different order. By this time, I wasn't able to dismiss it as my imagination anymore. Things were different. Nothing big, nothing really important, but a lot of little things that added up to make me feel really ill at ease.

I got through the workday, though some of my coworkers noticed I looked a little shaken. I got home—and yeah, that was different too: the lettering on the front of the apartment building in a different font, the potted plants in the lobby were in different pots; a window in my apartment had vertical blinds that used to have horizontal. I went to bed early, partly to make up for my not having gotten any sleep the night before and maybe partly, I think, because I was still hoping this was all a bad dream. It wasn't. I got up the next morning, and everything was the same as it was the night before—which is to say, different in a lot of little ways from what it had been the night before that.

Still feeling uneasy but not knowing what to do about it, I took the bus to work again. And again, after the bus trip, I stopped at that bus station restroom. The tiles hadn't changed. After staring at them for a full night, I knew them well enough by now to be sure of it.

But when I left the restroom, that sycamore was a pine, and the curb was a shade or two lighter.

Like I said, even after all that's happened, I still follow my routine. Every weekday morning, I take the bus to work, and every weekday morning, when I get off the bus I use the restroom at the bus station. And every weekday morning, when I leave the restroom, everything is just a little different from how it was when I entered.

You might think I'd just stop using that restroom. That's certainly occurred to me. It's not that I need to go that badly—it might not be comfortable, but I think I could hold it till I got to the office if I really had to. The thing is, I keep hoping that the next time I leave the restroom, the world will all be back the way it was originally. It never quite is. And one of my biggest fears is that if it ever does go back, by that time I'll have forgotten the details of how it used to be and I won't recognize it.

There's never any big change. Never anything major. But every day, there are a lot of little ones. They could be anywhere. I've seen just about everything change. The street layout. My own clothes. The stars. The faces of my friends and family.

There's only one thing I can think of that since that night hasn't changed once. Those damn terrazzo tiles.