Lucille woke to a rap on the door. “Hey’derr.” Tom’s voice echoed from the other side of her sanctuary. “Jus’ wanted ta let’ya know, ‘dat part’s takin’ longer than I’daspected. It’ll be’in-n abouts a week…”
Lucille groaned. There was no way she was staying in this ghastly nightmarish town that long. Especially not after what she had seen the night before, and the night before that. She began to suspect there was no part or no order for a part and that she was being led on to stay put. Head throbbing, she emerged from the bathroom to find the room as she’d left it, the light still on, the TV snowing static, and the chair still propped against the door.
“I broughts’a yer luggage,” Tom’s voice bellowed.
“I’ll be right there,” Lucille called to the closed door.
She composed herself, straightened herself up a bit, and crept forward slowly and methodically. Just one foot in front of the other… She hefted the chair out of the way and cracked open the door. Tom had apparently taken off, perhaps to the diner, and left her suitcase outside of the door.
Lucille cracked the door just enough to grab the suitcase and retreat inside. She took inventory of its contents. Nothing was amiss, and it appeared not to have been opened. Thank goodness. She gathered up some fresh clothes, loose-fitting and light summer travel-wear (shorts and a t-shirt), and she retreated to the bathroom to take a desperately sought shower. The warm water enveloped her like a much-needed hug and her headache receded. She emerged, toweled off and got dressed, feeling a bit more human again. It was time to plot her escape.
Deciding it was best not to let on to her plans or to withdraw wholly into her room, Lucille decided to brave the diner again. She figured it would give her a chance to observe her surroundings and secretly consider how to leave. Tom’s rusted out truck was stationed by the diner where she remembered him parking prior, almost as if he hadn’t left for days. She wondered if he’d had her luggage stashed in it this whole time but tried to push the thought from her mind.
She also noticed that the white Cadillac hadn’t budged from its sentry by the office. As she neared it to head towards the diner door, she made a mental note that the tires seemed solid enough, and the keys were still casually flung on the driver’s seat. Bingo.
She passed by the office, opened the door to the diner, and strolled through. The desk clerk smiled widely, bright white teeth glimmering slightly through her parted ruby lips. “Welcom’y’all back, hon,” she cooed.
Lucille took a seat at the near end of the bar. She requested a cup of coffee and an order of flapjacks to minimize conversation. She ate very consciously, taking note of her surroundings with every bite. The flapjacks were still doughy beyond what any amount of syrup could reconcile, but they were food anyway and seemed harmless enough.
The bearded man sat with the taller older man at the far end of the bar. They glanced up at her briefly and then shot their black eyes back down to what appeared to be a newspaper splayed between them. The vein in the taller man’s head throbbed less than the previous morning, receding into his flesh to be consumed by his wan face, and the bearded man’s facial hair was matted and crusted up with what appeared to be maybe thick jam or maybe old blood.
Tom stood from where he’d been sitting next to them as before. He sauntered over to Lucille, eyeing her over. “Glad ta’see ya gots yer luggage,” he said. “I’s sorry dat parts on backorder. Seems it’ll be a couple’a more days ‘fore it gets’in…”
“It’s okay,” Lucille murmured. “The wedding was today anyway. No hurry now, I already missed it.” She glanced up at him and forced a small smile. “Thank you for bringing me my suitcase.”
“’Twas da least I could-do,” he replied.
“Do you think you could take me into town?” Lucille asked. “I may as well look around a bit while I’m here. Is there anything to see?”
“Sure, I’ll drop’n ya off on‘m way ta da shop. Dere’s da l’il flea markt,” Tom considered, “It gots all sorta odds’n’ends.”
Lucille looked at the desk clerk. “Can you just add this to my tab?” she asked, “And can I take a coffee to go?”
“Sho’thing, hon,” she sang as she poured some coffee into a to-go cup.
Lucille pretended not to notice that all eyes were upon her as she and Tom left for his pickup. She just focused ahead. One foot in front of the other…
“So where am I anyway?” she asked. “I’m sorry but I hadn’t noticed where I’d gotten off the highway and I don’t get cell phone reception out here.” Crap, too much information, she thought.
“”Nightssshade,” Tom answered, the words spilling out of his mouth in a drawled out hiss. “Use ta be quite da tavern town, but not much here nowadays.”
“Why not? How far off the highway is it?” Lucille led the conversation, taking mental note of each answer as if her life depended on it, which she considered it very well might.
“Only a couple’a miles,” Tom shook his head. “Dunno why no one stops by now. Reckon it could be da casino up’n da road apiece.” Bingo again, Lucille thought.
“Dere’s da flea markt.” Tom pulled over. The town was a shabby and derelict mix of ruined and barely-standing old brick buildings, some toppled over and spilling what was left of their facades in haphazard piles on the sidewalk. The burnt skeleton framework of a building stood sentry across the street. The flea market was a ramshackle structure cobbled together with bits of old weathered wood and siding. It appeared to be more fleas than market, but nonetheless Lucille got out and wandered towards it.
“I be at da shop,” Tom gestured two fallout-ruin buildings over past a vacant lot overgrown with yellow weeds. Lucille recognized the boarded up gas station at the end of the row. She hadn’t realized straining to see through the smoke that it was so close to this semi-civilation when she’d stopped there before. “Jus let’n me know when ya wants ta go back to da mo-tel…”