's 2017 Horror Write-off:

The Wrong Bathroom

Submitted by Jacob Roberts

It's a mistake everyone has made at least once in their life. The first time it happened to me, I was scrolling through Twitter on my phone as I mindlessly pushed open the bathroom door at work. I started to walk in, but paused when I heard a crescendo of astonished gasps. With the door halfway open and my phone dangling from my hand, I looked up and realized that I was in the women's bathroom.

"S-sorry," I mumbled as I backed away. Before the door had fully swung shut, I heard muffled laughter. When I returned to my desk, I tried to tell myself that it wasn't a big deal. In a lot of ways, it was really my phone's fault for distracting me. I went about my day and tried to forget about it.

But then it happened again.

In my defense, I had been watching Game of Thrones the previous night and the theme song was playing on repeat in my head all morning. I started humming it out loud as I strolled into a stall and sat down to take a dump. Just as I was about to hit that part at the end where the violins really let loose, someone came into the bathroom.

I stopped humming because I didn't want to give the guys at work any more ammunition to make fun of me, but then I noticed the unmistakable clicking and clacking of high heels on linoleum. My palms got clammy as it slowly dawned on me: I was trapped in the women's bathroom. I lifted up my feet and sat silently on that toilet until the end of the workday when everyone else went home. My butt was sore for a week, but at least no one saw me.

The next time it happened, I started to get worried.

I was at a restaurant and excused myself to use the restroom. I checked and double-checked the symbol on the door. I leaned down and peeked through the vent to confirm that there were urinals on the wall. Then I stood up and confidently pushed my way in, turned around, and ran away from the angry shouts of the women whose bathroom I had just invaded.

That was when I knew something weird was going on.

Luckily, gender-neutral single-occupancy bathrooms seemed to obey the laws of physics. I had no problem using the toilet at my apartment, for example. My office building did not have such a restroom, though, and every time I tried to enter a men's room I found myself inside a women's room instead.

The circumstances left me with no choice but to leave work during my bathroom breaks. For weeks I acted like a bathroom bandit, peeing stealthily behind trees and sprinting home during lunch to relieve myself.

Even though I stopped going to the bathroom at work, word got around that I had trespassed into the women's room. I couldn't attend a meeting or give a presentation without getting dirty looks, and people who were once my friends no longer invited me to happy hour. I knew that my colleagues would think I was even more deranged if I tried to explain what was really happening, so I decided that my only option was to quit and start fresh somewhere else.

After stewing in shame for a few weeks, I applied for a new job and was invited for an interview. The interviewer was impressed with my resume and wanted to know if I had any questions.

"Yes," I said. "May I use your bathroom?"

The interviewer pointed me toward the restroom and off I went. To my great disappointment, the building had the traditional men's and women's room layout. I didn't want to risk being embarrassed in front of my future colleagues before even finishing the interview, but I really, really had to go.

I ran out the front door and into an alley, unzipped my pants, and started urinating behind a dumpster. When I finished, I looked up and locked eyes with my interviewer, who was staring directly at me through a window.

I didn't get the job.

Unemployed and rapidly losing my sanity, I finally visited a doctor.

"What seems to be the problem?" she asked.

"Er, it's kind of hard to explain," I said. "Let me show you."

I convinced her to leave the examination room and started to lead her into the men's restroom. She hesitated, but finally followed me through the door with a look that betrayed her fading confidence in my mental health.

As soon as we were through, I pointed out the tampon dispenser and the lack of urinals.

"Fascinating," she said. "This is definitely the women's bathroom."

She walked back and forth through the door a few more times with me, scribbling in her notepad each time we ended up in the wrong bathroom. Then she told me to wait while she made a few phone calls.

Fifteen minutes later, a group of men in green military uniforms marched into the doctor's office and asked politely if I would undergo some tests. At that point I was willing to try anything, so I signed a consent form and got into the back of an SUV with tinted windows.

We drove for hours, passing multiple security checkpoints where IDs were flashed and bomb-sniffing dogs were deployed. Finally, we arrived at a windowless gray building in the middle of a huge military complex. I was greeted by a balding scientist in a white lab coat. He led me through one identical hallway after another until we reached a testing chamber with an airlock. He ushered me inside, and then entered an observation room with a row of monitors connected to cameras that were recording me from every conceivable angle.

Once I was through the airlock, I examined the chamber I was standing in. It looked sort of like a hotel lobby, but contained only a single chair, a potted plant, and an abstract watercolor painting that made me think of streaked underwear. The room also had two doors besides the one I came through - one was labeled "Men" and the other was labeled "Women."

"Okay," the scientist's voice crackled over the intercom. "Show me what you showed your doctor earlier."

It had been a long car ride, so I eagerly opened the door to the men's room and unsurprisingly found myself in a bathroom without urinals. I went into a stall and unzipped my pants. As I heard the whir of half a dozen cameras simultaneously turn to scrutinize my genitals, I began to regret agreeing to the tests. But by then it was too late to back out.

After I relieved myself, I spent the rest of the day trying to enter the men's room. When I crossed the threshold that put me inside the women's room instead, I waited a few minutes while the scientists whispered to each other. Then I walked back out and repeated the process. Finally, the balding scientist came onto the intercom.

"Look, we really have no idea what this thing is," he said. "We're going to have to keep observing you for a while, or at least until your Personal Bathroom Continuum stabilizes. That's what we're calling it, by the way."

I didn't like the sound of that, and it didn't feel like my problem was going away anytime soon, so I suggested one thing we hadn't tried yet: going into the women's room on purpose.

"Oh, no, that would be totally inappropriate," he said. "We're trying to solve your problem, not make it worse."

I shrugged and resigned myself to the situation. For the next few weeks, I lived in the testing chamber alone. Men wearing hazmat suits and gas masks brought in a sleeping cot and served half-decent meals. Every day I made hundreds of trips to the wrong bathroom, but nothing changed.

Eventually, the balding scientist came in without a protective suit and spoke to me face to face. He was flanked by a commander-looking type with a firm jaw line and rows upon rows of colorful badges pinned to his jacket.

"We haven't figured out how to fix you yet," the scientist said, "but while we work on that, we think you may be able to help us."

He glanced nervously at the commander before continuing.

"I believe we have found a way to control the precise women's bathroom that you end up in. In theory, all we would have to do is construct an exact replica of the counterpart men's room right here at our base."

He started pacing back and forth in excitement.

"Just imagine! You could walk through that door and instantaneously teleport to any bathroom on Earth. You would be able to spy on Russia and North Korea even in their most secretive strongholds."

While the scientist rambled on about all the ways I could steal other nations'technology, the commander stepped toward me and put one enormous hand on my shoulder.

"Son," he said gravely, "there are bad people out there. People who want to hurt innocent Americans. It is your duty to use your, uh, unique situation to serve your country."

I thought for a long time in silence, and then nodded. When they started to give a thumbs up to the cameras, I stopped them.

"I have one condition before I help you," I said. "Seeing as I'll be living here for the foreseeable future, I want to go to a regular bathroom one last time. A bathroom outside."

The scientist furrowed his brow and said, "I suppose that would be acceptable. But after that, we really can't have you leaving the base. Someone like you doesn't quite fit anywhere else."

We shook hands on the deal, and after the arrangements were made I left the building in a military convoy. I directed the driver to take the main highway, and once we had been traveling for awhile, I had him pull over at a gas station.

I got out of the car and inspected my surroundings. Behind me was the highway, but given the amount of traffic it was impossible to cross on foot. Beyond the gas station was a forest, although I didn't know if it was big enough to escape into, or if it was just a thin strip of trees leading to a housing development. The outer wall of the gas station with doors to the bathrooms was blocking me on my right, and the convoy's security guards were wandering around on my left. I decided to take my chances with the forest.

I made a break for the trees, but I underestimated how quickly the guards would respond. A team of soldiers formed a line between me and woods, guns raised. Another team set up a line behind me and slowly closed in. The scientist leapt out of his car and came running toward us, waving at the soldiers to lower their weapons.

With nowhere left to go, I took a deep breath and dove into the one place they couldn't follow: the women's bathroom.

Inside, the bright fluorescent light reflected warmly off the lavender walls. I crawled to the far corner of the room and curled up into a ball. The scientist pounded on the door and shouted, but his voice was distant and unthreatening.

"Hey! Get out of there," he yelled. "You're not supposed to be in there."

He kept banging on the door, but didn't enter. A young woman came out of a stall and washed her hands before noticing me lying on the floor.

"Are you okay, honey?" she asked. "You're safe in here."

She patted me on the back and smiled. I realized that for the first time in months, I ended up where I meant to go.

I belonged.