When Lucille awoke, it was dusk. She woke with a start, jolting upright with a sinking feeling of dread as if she were being watched intently. This town seemed to have that effect though. The television was still on, a murmured noise in the background. Outside the wind echoed over a shuffling or rustling sound swirling around the hotel. A shadowy form swam past her window, edging closer and then briskly turning away. Lucille leapt out of the bed and ran to the door, heart racing. Her heart fluttered in her chest. A key clinked in the lock outside.
She slid into the space behind where the door would open as the key turned and the door swung a little until it was caught on the dead bolt. She peered through the crack in the door as a pallid grayish nose drew a few deep sniffs into the room before retreating. The nose returned for a long breath as Lucille slammed her hip into the door, jarring it shut. Something outside staggered backwards. The shadows flickering just beyond the window faded away.
Lucille listened to her blood pulsing through her ears and her heart pounding in her chest for what seemed like several minutes for all that she knew it was probably only a few seconds. Eventually she slowly crept to the curtain, eased her way to the slightest edge of the dusty drab fabric, and crouched down low. She parted the drapes just enough to look out. There were five figures shuffling around the parking lot, similar in appearance to the night before with pallid skin and hollow black eyes darting to and fro as if in some sort of synchronized dance. They would occasionally bump into one another only to separate and trail off again. She couldn’t make out whom they were, but she caught a flash of a black-grey beard, a glimpse of ruby lipstick, a trail of a well-worn stained light blue uniform…
The figures retreated out of sight to the left of her field of vision. Lucille slowly crept to the door and opened it, just a notch to see out. Nothing. She flung it open, her heart leaping out of her chest as the door swung wide on its hinges parting to reveal the rust colored sky of the setting sun enveloping the distant horizon. There was no one there.
Lucille closed the door behind her. She shot briskly to VENDING between Room 1 and the office, ducked inside, and peered out that window at the parking lot. She watched in horror as the shadow figures returned, circling one another in the parking lot and gliding along the earth. Their black eyes glimmered with far away intent, their noses twitched and twirled in the night sky as if they were pigs sniffing out truffles. They slunk over to Lucille’s room. The tall one tried the key in the lock again, it was the older man from breakfast, the blue-grey vein in his head still pulsing, visible even from that distance. How had he not been felled by that creature after that blow, and what came of all that blood? He was accompanied by the desk clerk and the bearded man from breakfast, as well as Tom Jones the mechanic and a small balding hunchbacked man that Lucille didn’t recognize who straggled behind the others a bit, snuffling about.
“I know y’all’re in there, missy,” the bearded man directed at the door as he sidled past the tall man and rubbed his shoulder against the frame. “Ya cain’t hide…” His coy smile revealed rows of sharp pointed teeth. The teeth were all the more apparent glistening in stark contrast to his full dark greying beard. The tall man snapped a quick jolting smirk at him, driving him back to catch his footing as the desk clerk squirmed her way between them as if to break up a longstanding childhood rivalry over who could finger their way over their half of the middle back seat. Tom Jones broke free of the group, raising his head high and deeply inhaling the stale night air. He wandered off the parking lot, down the shallow slope and towards the ravine.
The others hovered at the door a bit before they opened it, sniffing at the air with their full throbbing nostrils. Their eyes twinkled black and starry as if hyper-focused on their quarry. “She ain’t here,” the desk clerk exclaimed, rapping the bearded man in the back of the head hard when he bumped into her. The bearded man slinked aside.
The desk clerk’s eyes grew small again and pointedly bored holes into him. She lifted her heavy head and took a deep breath. She focused a bit and then her eyes grew wide again and she began to snake up the path towards the vending room. Lucille shrunk into herself, still fixated on the window, as she watched them slowly approach, weaving up and down the path.
“Come out’here, missy,” the bearded man called out, “We-know y’all’re in there…”
The desk clerk flashed out a hand and directed the others towards the front of the motel. As they receded around the building, Lucille dashed back to her room and secured it with the deadbolt. She left the room exactly as it had been, with the lights still on and the TV mumbling, and took watch at the window, peering through a diminutive crack in the drapes.
A sudden flash of movement and a brown form stumbled from out of the underbrush where the previous night’s scuffle had ensued, followed by Tom Jones sliding out from behind. It moved in an odd jerky manner that was profoundly not quite right. It reeked of rotting, decaying flesh; the smell permeated even the walls between the parking lot and the motel interior, weaving its way into Lucille’s room in a sickly sour stench. The putrefied beast lurched onto the parking lot, a grotesque mess of brown matted fur with white bones gleaming forth from bloody, pearly pus-oozing flesh. Perhaps it was once a deer, or maybe a small horse, but now it was no longer easily recognizable as either. Tom Jones slunk alongside as if herding the hapless creature to some specific destination.
Dizzy with adrenaline and confusion, Lucille turned away for a moment to collect herself. As she turned back she noticed that the entourage of pallid, grey, shadowy figures had rounded the building and descended upon the scene, circling the animal. From amidst the mob of ghastly figures, the horrific beast emitted a shrill blood-curdling scream the moment before they bowled it over and began to feed. Again.
The scene played out in déjà vu as if she were watching the same nightmare she had had the night before: the widening bright black eyes, jaws unhinged, writhing mass of limbs and bodies wriggling in to tear at the flesh of the wretched form trapped in their midst. As they had their fill, the ghastly figures withdrew, blood dripping from their jagged teeth. They straightened up, and cracked their jaws back into place, their bright black eyes deadening to their usual hollow stare.
Unable to watch any longer, Lucille slid down the wall and wept, whimpering to herself as quietly as she could muster, breaths heaving between silenced sobs. “Oh my God,” she sighed. She remained frozen in place for what seemed like an eternity, too afraid to move to find out what time it was. Finally, she was able to rouse herself, and she crept along the edge of the room to shove the TV bureau in front of the door only to discover it was bolted to the floor. A quick assessment determined that all of the furniture was secured as if she was on lockdown, why hadn’t she noticed that before? She propped the only moveable object, a chair, against the deadbolted door and took refuge in the bathroom. Eventually, once the adrenaline receded, she fell asleep in the bathtub.