The motel room seemed decent enough. It was clean, although the air had a dank, stale quality about it. There were no lingering cigarette fumes, despite the fact that it had once been a smoking room. The curtains were drawn and the early evening sunlight filtered in, reflecting off flecks of dust in the air to a hazy yellow fog. Lucille plopped her weary self on the bed, clutching her purse, and gazed out the window. The sun had just begun to set and a sinister shadow started to creep over the town.
“This is ridiculous,” she said, trying to calm her racing heart. Trying not to think about the vacant eyed mechanic or the large, graying woman at the front desk. “You’re just seeing things. You need a bite to eat.”
The sun had begun to sink further behind the horizon when Lucille closed the curtains, flicked on the lamp, and left the motel room. She locked it and briefly contemplated going into town for supper. But it was still too creepy, especially with the first hint of night’s shadows lingering over the derelict town like dark, outstretched fingers. And she didn’t recall passing anyplace that looked like it would have anything to eat. She wasn’t sure she wanted to walk that far in the dark just to find out, and she certainly didn’t want to call for a ride. She wandered around to the back of the office, to a small open room labeled VENDING between the office and Room 1.
The room was bathed in sickly green light as a fluorescent hummed above. The vending machine sat with its back towards the curtainless window facing the decrepit town. Lucille stared into the depths of the metal springs, contemplating whether to get a probably stale pack of five powdered donuts or a bag of Cheez-Ums. A flash of movement caught her peripheral vision as she dug around in the depths of her handbag. She glanced out the window.
A number of ghostly looking figures passed in the dusk, all with the same dark, empty pools for eyes that seemed to absorb light and hope like black holes into some alien abyss. She recognized two of them: Tom Jones, still wearing his oil-stained powder blue uniform, and the large heavily made-up desk clerk who had checked her in. There was also a thick bearded man whose graying black beard seemed to both accentuate and hide his unusually thick and angled jawline, a taller older man whose easygoing agility surprised her due to his frail-looking countenance, and a balding diminutive hunchback.
The setting sun accentuated their disheveled facades as Lucille hid behind the snack machine, fixated on them. The others were even more distant than Tom and the woman she had already encountered, their hollow stares focused dead ahead as they wove through one another in an odd dance, like they were swimming through the air. Even though Lucille was certain that they hadn’t seen her, they passed the vending room slowly and rhythmically, as if cued in to her presence. And then, all at once, they wandered away disinterested. Lucille dashed to her room without anything to eat or drink and bolted the door from within.
Suddenly the most terrifying scream sounded from the outdoors. Lucille slid to the window and peeked around the drab curtain to see the mob of ghostly figures had grown tighter and was thrashing and flailing about. They were just at the periphery, at the edge of the parking area. She hadn’t realized that they had come so close to her room after she had lost track of them. There was something in their midst, brown and cumbersome. The shape was hard to make out, maybe a deer, or a donkey, or a small horse or cow. They circled it in unison, as if sizing it up and preparing their next move.
In a flash, the older man rushed forward, head butting the creature. It struck back with a blow to his head, a jagged hoof springing out of nowhere. Blood pooled all too briefly at the site where hoof had met flesh before fading and being reabsorbed into the man’s forehead. His ashen flesh seemed to close over the spot, refocusing the blood to a throbbing, pulsing vein that protruded from its midst. How was he not taken down? A blow like that should have felled him, especially at his age… Lucille fixated on him as he stood staring ahead, motionless, as if an hourglass spinning through its recalculating sequence begged for more time to process what had just happened. All at once, his eyes grew wide and pooled black again as he lurched his head to the side. He leapt in a coolly calculated strike and struck the creature again, this time in the ribs. It fell to its side as he bowled it over.
Lucille watched in horror, mouth agape, as she saw Tom Jones’ black eyes grow wide and bright as he descended upon the fallen brown form amidst the mob. His jaw seemed to unhinge itself as he leapt into the fray. The others followed suit until soon there was a writhing mass of pallid grey flesh and tattered old clothes engulfing whatever was in their midst. Lucille’s heart sank in her chest like a dead weight, filled with dread and racing with fear. She watched Tom emerge from the writhing mass of bodies with what appeared to be blood dripping down his mouth and onto his shirt. He pushed his hand to the back of his neck and cracked his jaw back into place before he looked up, his eyes returning to the hollow and distant black they had been when he first laid eyes on her. She shrank back into the room as his gaze turned to meet hers before he brushed himself off and sauntered away.