The next morning, the sun streaked into a small gap in the curtains reflecting off the minute specks of dust in the air like a shimmer of glittering stars. Lucille had no recollection of going to sleep. She woke with a start, still recalling the events of the night prior as if they were etched into her mind, Was it a dream? Did she imagine it?
She got up, still wearing the same rumpled clothes she had arrived in town in the day before. She then realized her suitcase for the trip must still be in her trunk. “Oh, well,” Lucille muttered to herself, “might as well find some breakfast…”
There was the diner attached to the front of the motel, or what was left of one anyway. One of those old countertop-style cafes where you place your order sitting at the bar looking into the kitchen. It smelled of grease and dirt and old persons’ houses, with maybe a bit of bad long-expired and worn out odor-eater air freshener thrown in just to try to mask the musty rotting funk that seemed to imbue everything all throughout the backwash of a town. Lucille’s stomach turned but then growled; she had to see what they offered, she was ravenous.
The hotel desk clerk took notice and nodded slightly at Lucille from the swinging door to the back, apparently she was also the head waitress. “What’n I get ya, honey?” she drawled as she slid over to the counter. Her hollow eyes fixated on Lucille as if sizing her up in the depths of a darkness that seemed to go on forever, black as night.
“Coffee” Lucille answered. “And… what else do you have?”
“House’pecialz flapjacks,” the words rolled together into one long drawl. “We’s also got eggs ‘n bacon ‘n taters.”
“I guess I’ll try the flapjacks,” Lucille answered, surprised at how small and distant her own voice sounded. She cleared her voice with a deep-throated cough to seem less unnerved.
“Hey’derr,” Tom Jones whistled from the far end of the counter bar where he was huddled over coffee and heated discussion with the guys. Shouldn’t he be working on my car? thought Lucille. He sauntered over and looked her up and down.
“Rough’night?” he asked. His clothes bore yet more rust colored stains. Lucille suspected they weren’t from motor oil.
“I’m ok,” she stammered quickly. “I left my luggage in the trunk… Any word on the Buick?” The desk clerk casually tossed a plate of pancakes in front of Lucille and returned to her post by the swinging door.
“Ya’s gotta bad leak. Gonna needa new gasket. I don’ts have the part. It’ll be a couple-a days befores I can get it in. Feel free’n swing by da shop later today’n have a look if ya wants.” As if things couldn’t get any worse.
“I have to get to a wedding in Portland,” Lucille muttered under her breath, adding, “I can’t stay here.”
The flapjacks were pretty standard pancakes. A bit doughy but otherwise just blank tasteless discs of pan-fried batter. No amount of syrup made the situation better. She ate them anyway; to be fair, she devoured them really. She had been so famished and once she dug in she couldn’t stop until the pancakes were almost gone. Two bites to go and… suddenly she felt adrift and awash in unseen eyes upon her, boring into her soul.
She glanced up and caught the desk clerk staring at her intently, her dark eyes beginning to blossom and glow, seemingly growing larger and more focused. Her nostrils flared a bit too, and did she just barely lick her ruby lips with a flash of her thick pink tongue? Two patrons at the other end of the bar from where Tom had come to check in also stared, the same eerie dark eyes alight with interest. There was chum in the water…
Lucille stopped dead in her tracks and stared back. The desk clerk shook it off, her pallid flesh jiggling as she brought herself back to consciousness, her eyes returning to hollow black pools. “Y’all done, honey?” she cooed. “I’ll get’n ya check.”
Lucille met her at the register and briskly paid cash for her meal, fully aware that the other patrons continued to track her every move. “Keep the change,” she said as she flashed out the door.
On her way back to her room, she diverged from the sidewalk to examine the spot where she had dreamt the fray in the middle of the night. There were signs of a struggle. Something large had fallen just off of the curb, crushing much of the dying and poorly mowed edging under its weight. The mud-streaked grass streaked down a small hill towards a slight ravine as if something had been dragged there. There were some signs of what may have been blood, but not near as much as Lucille had dreamt. She followed the movement.
As she approached the ravine, she became aware of more and more flies buzzing about, flitting here and there as if protecting some unseen prize. And there was a foul odor of death and decay that permeated the place. But otherwise, there were no signs of life or death or anything in between. No signs of anything having been, having struggled, or having left. Lucille turned to return to her room and was confronted by the other bar patrons.
“Y’all right there, missy” said the older man, grey and pallid and somewhat frail looking despite his notable height, his flannel shirt stained and streaked with years of age and too-hard work. A bluish vein protruded from his balding head, throbbing casually as his hollow black eyes rolled up and down and all over her. His friend, a gaunt and grisly fellow with more dark-grey-flecked-black beard than hair joined in, scanning her over like a synchronized swimmer that drifted in just a moment later. She recognized them from the scene she had dreamt the night before. Why does everyone in this backwash of a town have to size me up in slow motion like some unknown trophy to be won? she wondered, her stomach rolling into a knot as her hand balled into a fist.
“I’m fine,” Lucille said, bowing her head as she headed briskly towards her room.
The grisly bearded fellow caught her arm as she passed and looked long into her eyes, the same unnerving cavernous pools of blackness alight with a far away flame. “Good. I reckon y’all stay outta trouble. We don’t wants no troubles here.” His face twitched uneasily as he spoke, nostrils flaring slightly once and again. She thought she caught a glint of light flicker off of a white pointed tooth from beneath matted facial hair.
“I’m not causing any trouble, just waiting on my car,” Lucille said plainly, staring back at him, trying to break his focus and appear un-intimidated. His grip loosened and she returned to her room as quickly as she could manage without appearing jarred. She dashed in the door and bolted the deadbolt.
Her cell phone was dead. Bar-less. No reception out here. She turned on the television. Black and white static gave way to a rerun of Let’s Make a Deal. At some point she drifted off again, her head still spinning with the events of the day prior.