Lou had had better days, and she had definitely had better gigs. She’d travelled all the way across the country for a gig that ended up being a three person crowd and one of those was the dog that belonged to the barman. A group of kids had wandered in mid-way through her set, and they’d took one look at the lack of party in the place and left again. She was out of pocket and out of petrol and would have to wait till her the cheque for $50 the bar had paid her cleared her account tomorrow to even leave the damned place to get back home again. I mean, who even pays people by cheque these days? And who forgets to fill their tank up before leaving to travel 200 miles back across the country?
She wasn’t surprised at the lack of turnout. The town had been one of those places people went to die. The type where kids couldn’t wait to graduate and leave for the city, and the old people sat around on their porches in rocking chairs drinking beer and watching the world go by and waiting for the end. You could see it in their harrowed faces, come and get me death. I’m ready, I’m bored shitless in this place. Lou recognised it because she grew up in one, and at the earliest opportunity had moved out to LA to pursue her music career. Not that it was going well, she’d been there 6 months so far, and hadn’t landed any multimillion record deals, or even a show at the Roxy yet.
The empty tank light came on just as she pulled in to the motel carpark. She’d drove for an hour on the outskirts of town to find one with a vacancy, only having enough cash to get her half way home. She pulled in to a space and sighed as she turned off the engine, looking out at the drab grey buildings, lit by the large neon pink sign that flashed ‘motel’ in uneven patterns.
A woman stood outside the door number 27. Short shorts, fishnets and high heels, and a cigarette in one hand. She eyed up Lou’s car, and then Lou, and turned away, uninterested. Maybe she was a prostitute? Lou shrugged to herself and looked across the rest of the lot. Two of the other rooms had no doors, and one of the windows was boarded up with dirty wooden planks covered with flyers. This was going to have to do. It was gone midnight, and she was too tired to keep looking.
Bag and guitar in hand, Lou got out the car and headed for the reception. The door was heavy with big glass panels shaded with tobacco stained blinds, and as she pushed it open, a broken bell clunked in its setting. A man emerged from behind a beaded curtain in a cloud of cigarette smoke and approached the high counter. He was squat and bald and wearing a greasy stained vest, cigarette in one hand and beer in the other. In the room behind him she could see a couch, and a TV playing a rerun of the football game.
“Yeah? What do you want?” his voice slurred and the words ran together. He looked Lou up and down from her leather jacket to the tips of her boots, then snorted through his nose before hacking up something from the depths of his lungs. He spat on the floor.
“A room for the night” Lou put her guitar on the floor and dug in her pocket for money. “Please.” she added, an afterthought. The mans attitude left an unpleasant taste in her mouth that she was in no mood for.
“Twenty dollars. And I’ll need a copy of your driver’s license.” The man said, resting hammy fists on the counter top. Lou had a ten and two dollar notes, and managed to scrape the remaining eight dollars from the change in her pocket. She handed it over, and watched as the man counted it, twice, then copied her license on the oldest photocopier she’d ever seen. It clunked so loudly she couldn’t hear what he was saying above the noise.
“…and no guests.” He finished as he returned her license to her with a key attached to a slab of wood that was at least 5 inches long, dented and chipped with splinters and painted white at one end. “Room 33. Last one on the left.” He was already turned around and heading back to the game before she could say anything else.
Lou nodded, and collected her guitar, heading out the door. Short shorts was gone, and a new car was parked next to hers in the lot, the engine still ticking as it cooled down, the door to number 27 now closed. She headed down the row, counting as she went, peering in to the darkness of the rooms that had lost their doors. The first one emitted a rancid odour, and from the second, someone unseen shouted at her as she passed. She put her head down and kept walking. 32 was the one with the boarded up window. Her boots crunched glass as she reached her door, struggling to keep the large wooden keyring out of the way long enough to unlock it.
A waft of dust and age wafted from the dark gap as she reached for the light switch. The lightbulb glowed yellow, without a shade. She stepped in to the room, putting down her bags and letting the door shut behind her as she surveyed her temporary kingdom. It wasn’t the Ritz that’s for sure.
The wallpaper curled from the walls in several places. It was striped blue and green and was decorated with water stains and a large painting of a farmhouse that hung above a sunken bed, with a padded headboard littered with cigarette burns. The sheets looked clean but yellow, or was it the light? Lou couldn’t tell. At the end of the bed, a TV set older than she was stood on a stand, its screen smeared.
She ditched her bag on the chair, propped her guitar up against the wall and went to check the bathroom. A chipped porcelain sink and no seat on the toilet. A shower dripped slowly in to a stained bathtub. It’ll do. It wasn’t like she had any other options. There were no towels, but luckily she carried one in her bag, so at least she could have shower.
The water was good and hot, with surprisingly good pressure. With no soap, Lou made do with rinsing off the day’s dirt, looking forward to sleeping after the long drive. There was a bottle of Jim Beam in her bag that the barman had given to her as part of her payment. She’d have a glass of that before bed, get some enjoyment out of her failed trip.
As she turned off the shower, the lights flickered and died, leaving her in the dark. Cursing, she reached blindly for her towel, the room only lit from the neon pink light that bled through the window from the streetlamp outside. She’d left it on the sink, next to the tub. Lou reached out in to the dark, and recoiled as she felt something wet and warm under her fingers. Jerking back, her elbow hit the tiled wall behind her, and her feet slipped from under her, falling sideways in to the tub. The lights came on, and for a second she thought she saw a figure, long and dark, but when she looked again, sitting up and rubbing her sore elbow, only her towel hung where she’d left it on the sink.
“You’re seeing things, Lou” she muttered to herself, cringing as she stood and got out of the tub, checking herself over for damage. She wasn’t hurt too bad, but there would be bruises.
Unnerved by her fall, Lou rushed to dry herself. Returning to the bedroom, dressed back in her clothes, she picked up a glass and wiped it with her shirt. She sank on the bed, which sunk a foot further closer to the ground, and finding the bottle from her bag poured herself a good double and reached for the remote control.
The TV had four channels – they hadn’t splashed out for cable here. A local news channel was flashing a news report about another missing person in the next town over. The Comedy Channel was showing reruns of How I Met Your Mother. A Spanish channel was showing some TV drama where a woman had just found out about her husband’s affair with the maid. The last channel, number 13, was just a black screen. Propped up on one elbow, Lou frowned. Was that a voice? She turned the volume up as high as it would go, but couldn’t make out the words coming from the TV set. She scooted to the end of the bed and put her feet to the floor, leaning closer to the speaker.
The voice was mumbling at a steady pace, like someone praying. Not quite panicked, but with a degree of urgency that made Lou uneasy. Most of the words were still undecipherable, but she managed to pick out “beyond” and “sleep” before static started to interrupt the signal. She wiggled the aerial back and forth trying to get it back, but the black screen dissolved in to white snow. Then with a loud pop, the set turned itself off.
“Shit. I hope I don’t have to pay for that” Lou banged the side of the set, tried turning it off and on, unplugging it and plugging it back in, but it looked like the set had given up the ghost for good.
With a resolute sigh she knocked back her whiskey, and lay back on the bed, covering her face with her hands. Maybe she’d just sleep.
Something woke Lou from the sleep that had crept up on her unannounced. Slowly opening her eyes, she realised the lightbulb was dark. Strange, maybe it had finally given up, just like the TV. Only the TV hadn’t given up. The screen was lit and flickering with white snow. Even more surprising was Lou was under the sheets of the bed. Maybe she’d gotten cold. How was she tucked in so tight?
She tried sit up and found she couldn’t. She couldn’t move at all, her body just didn’t respond. The only thing she could seem to move was her eyes, and the more she tried, the more pressure she felt against her chest, like something was pinning her to the bed. Panicked, she tried to shout, could feel the air in her throat, but her mouth would not open and no sound would come. What the hell was happening?
The panic rose in her chest, and a feeling of being watched made her skin crawl. Her eyeballs strained in their sockets trying to see the dark corners of the room above her, sure that if she could just turn her head, she’d see who or what was doing this to her. Then she heard the whispering, the same hushed, urgent voice she’d heard from the TV earlier, and a shadow blocked the light coming from the screen. Frozen and afraid, Lou turned her eyes to the end of the bed.
It sat there, hunched by her feet, its limbs folded in on itself like some giant puppet. Its skin was mottled grey, and long stringy ropes of hair fell down its back. She couldn’t see a face, but suspected it was watching her from behind that grey wet curtain. The light from the TV grew stronger, the set buzzing behind the constant whispering, that was fast now and seemed like it was coming from inside her own head. Slowly, in the flickering light, the creature at the end of the bed reached out one long arm and crawled, slow, like a lover, up the length of her body. Lou, gripped with fear, was still unable to move, her heart thudding in her chest like war drum.
The skin of the creature sagged at the sides. It appeared to be female, it’s limp breasts naked and shrivelled. As it moved nearer, the smell of damp and decay and death filled Lou’s nose, and she felt herself gag. Its head bobbed like a bird, the hair parting enough to show a face so drawn, pocked with open, oozing sores on grey sagging cheeks. Its mouth was a black maw, framed with puckered pink lips, the jaw working soundlessly as if chewing toffee. But what Lou hated the most was the eyes – it had none. Just black holes torn in to the flesh, with dark viscous tears running down its face. All she could do was watch as the nightmare closed in on her, her body and her screams paralyzed.
As it reached her chest, she felt its toenails dig into her stomach. Whilst not unbearably heavy, she could feel its strength as clawed nails reached for her shoulders, pinning her in place, even though she couldn’t move if she wanted to. Lou wanted to close her eyes but terror held her stare, as the creature got more and more excited.
Squeals and grunts came from the horrible mouth that chewed faster, the pink lips pulling back to reveal black, toothless gums, black fluid spilling over its chin. The smell that came from that cavity was worse than anything Lou had come across. She felt dizzy despite lying down, and her stomach turned, like she’d drank the whole bottle of Jim Beam. She wished she had.
Helpless, unable to move, and terrified, trapped inside her own body with this nightmare hag sat upon her chest. The horrid, hurried whispers accompanied the hungry cries, and the light from the TV became so bright behind the monster that Lou couldn’t see the room any more. Just the dark shadow of that terrible face drawing nearer to her own.