He wished it would rain. The pewter tinged skies appeared to be threatening to all afternoon, but not a single drop had fallen. He figured it would have matched his mood, but he couldn’t even get that lucky. As night spread across the town, the clouds thinned and erased the chance of him having any sounds break the monotony of the never ending cars rushing past his cheap hotel room.
A loud truck pulled up just outside of his grey door. He couldn’t help gaze out the window. A lone man, probably Navaho by the look of his deep black hair, exited quickly and entered a room five down from his.
It was hard for him to get used to being so surrounded by others. He had never been a well off man, but had always managed to rent a house that allowed him some separation from his neighbors. Even this small privilege had evaporated as had almost everything else.
No home, no job, no wife, no children.
His missed his children most of all. His youngest could have started walking in his absence. The idea that he could have missed such an event felt like…no, he couldn’t even allow himself to think about it. It would drive him crazy or maybe he should say crazier.
How his idea to help someone, someone he didn’t really know that well, ended up destroying everything he had still didn’t make sense, but he figured his wife had experienced enough. The final straw. A few calls to the cops sprinkled with a few lies found his life ripped apart in moments. Part of him couldn’t help but marvel how easily everything he had worked for was torn away with one phone call and some creative stories.
A night in jail led to a few nights on his sparse friends’ sofas, but they had issues of their own. He’d set up a tent in the forest for a few more cold overnights, but had decided to use his quickly dwindling funds to allow himself the luxury of a place to stay in town for his first court date. Since he didn’t want to lug his backpacks brimming with the few positions, he had managed to gather under the baleful eyes of his angry, soon to be ex, wife into court, he had needed to keep the hotel room for two nights.
He had pleaded not guilty, but this meant that he would be on probation for another two months until the next court date, which also meant no drinking.
The most stressful time he’d endured in the last twenty years and he couldn’t even take the edge off with a couple of beers.
He stared at the can of soda on the end table, stood up, crushed it flat between his hands and tossed it into the trash. He figured he shouldn’t have another or he’d end up not being able to sleep all night.
A train roared by the front of the hotel and for a moment overshadowed the constant roar of traffic, but then it was gone.
Should he go downtown?
Why, so he might see someone he knew? How fun would that be? He’d then have to explain why he was such a loser to them while they got to have a drink and he was forced just to look on. No, better to save his money. Better to try to enjoy having a hotel room for one more night before he had to head back out into the cold woods.
The siren of an ambulance cut through his thoughts for a moment and he figured he’d allow himself one more soda while he tried to focus on his book. He had almost finished the one he had quickly grabbed, but what else was there to do?
* * *
For some reason, it made him feel more like a loser to watch television, besides his book had become intense as he neared its end. He had just finished reading through where the hero and his friend had rescued the main character’s love when he thought he heard something.
The sound just touched his ears, so light he could have imagined it. It happened again and remained so faint he couldn’t be sure what it was. Could it be a person crying or perhaps in pain? He might have shed a tear or two himself over the past few days so he could certainly imagine others in the shabby hotel suffering a similar fate.
He listened longer, but then felt silly and returned to his novel.
He had only read seven more pages when he heard something again, although it might have been a different sound this time. Instead of weeping, this time, he thought could be a gasp. He stopped again to listen, but then jerked upright into a seated position when he heard a louder cry, like a person being surprised or startled.
Again he strained to hear what he had determined came from the room behind his bed. Tossing aside his book, he stood next to the wall. Moments passed until another faint sound came through the wall. So soft he could have imagined it, but this time it seemed to be some sort of dripping.
Shaking his head, he hurried over to the chair where he’d taken off his shoes. He threw them onto his feet and then went back to the wall with three long strides.
Just as he arrived, he felt more than heard a thumb as though something heavy had just hit the floor.
He’d had enough and went to the door of his room and opened it. Moving to the next room happened quickly, but some of his determination waned when he remained uncertain as to what he should do next.
Should he kick open the door or perhaps contact the motel manager. Hell, he thought, maybe a call to the police might be in order. If only to allow himself to delay such choices, he pressed his ear to the door.
Nothing soft about the noises this time.
Slurps and crunching could easily be made out. His felt a shiver run up his spine. Nothing about this made sense to him. How could this be happening? What could be creating these types of sounds? And more importantly, what should he be doing about it?
Trying to peek through the windows became the next logical choice, but the curtains blocked any view. The wet noises only increased as he lurked outside the room. No human sounds could still be heard.
It occurred to him that he could be letting someone get hurt or worse. So with a new motivation, he decided to knock on the door. After a firm rapping, the grinding sounds coming from inside the room ceased.
But the silence didn’t last long. Whatever created the foul wet ripping sounds didn’t remain still and just a few seconds after his knocking, it had started up again.
He considered doing something drastic, but held off. Second thoughts plagued him. He’d been put on probation. Doing something wrong or illegal would be doubly disastrous for him in his current situation. He also contemplated his current mental state. Besides being depressed beyond belief, his body was also going through withdrawal from all the things that he usually used to keep himself level headed.
Maybe I’m not thinking clearly, he thought to himself. My body could be out of whack. I’ll kick down this door and find two people making out and end up back in jail with no chance for bail this time.
The seconds stretched by as he wavered with indecision.
Then he heard something louder. It sounded like someone had glued a wet steak to a cement floor and was tearing it off bit by bit.
He’d had enough. The hotel loomed dark and quiet. With the place being so rundown would anyone bother to call the police anyway? Probably half of the people living there were on the run or on probation like him.
Drawing in a deep breathe, he drew back his foot and aimed at the door just to the right of the knob. Like everything else in the dilapidated establishment, the door proved to be half rotted through and slammed into the wall with surprising ease.
Whatever caused the various noises had ceased and nothing but a dark expanse met his gaze. The blackness crouched like a living thing. The dim light trickling in from behind him proved to be just enough to allow him to make out the two beds and the outline of the television stand.
He didn’t want to enter, but figured it would be prudent to become less visible in case anyone looked out their window to see what had made the loud crash.
“Hello,” he said. “Is everything alright in here?”
“I heard strange noises. I just wanted to make sure everything is okay.”
As his eyes adjusted, he saw a body lying on the further bed. A male figure lay unmoving. He took a step closer and thought he saw a shadow or shape angling out from the top of the prone man’s head.
A silent fear gripped him. He felt as if he was made of glass and any sudden movement would break him. It was if the darkness encased him and if he shifted so much as a foot he would awaken it and feed the blackness with the knowledge of his presence.
He tried to shake it off. He was a registered guest that had only come here to help. Besides why should he be concerned about himself when it was someone else who was really in trouble, they could be dying.
Then a thought hit him. This run down hotel must be the last stop for many on their own personal roads to ruin. Could this person have hurt themselves or already committed suicide?
He grit his teeth and forced himself to take a step closer. As he did too many things happened at once. First he jerked in horror as he saw that the shadow protruding in an angle from the man’s head was the handle of some kind of knife. But even as that image registered, his foot made a wet sloshing sound like he’d just stepping into a puddle of some congealed gelatin mass. His shock only increased when a weak female moan issued from the floor between the two beds.
His natural survival instincts caused him to draw back without conscious thought, but when he did, whatever his foot had entered clung to him. Without thinking, he tried to shake it off, but instead of being flung away, it gripped him harder and his eyes grew wide in terror as he felt it crawling up his leg. A second later a terrible burning sensation began as the substance moved over the lip of his shoe and touched his ankle. The mild feeling quickly moved into agony as it felt like someone had poured acid onto his flesh.
With a yell, he pulled his leg away harder. Relief flooded over him when his foot came free of the foul clinging tendrils. As he stumbled back another pace, the woman’s voice let out a feeble, “help me.”
He backed against the wall and fumbled for the light switch while outside of the open door the wind picked up just as the roar of another passing train could be heard. Disturbing bubbling sounds competed with the other noises as his frantic fingers searched for the light.
The light came on with a sudden burst of unexpected light.
As soon as he could see the scene, he had the instant wish that he couldn’t for he feared his life would never be the same.
Although the general form of the stabbed man on the bed remained human the lower half of him had burst open like an overfilled stomach. Springs of living gore thrashed and crawled and mostly seemed to be trailing toward the body of the woman that lay between the beds. Everywhere the ropey strands touched her flesh, her skin had been melted away leaving open angry wounds and exposed purple and red muscles. The probing veins throbbed like each breathed in the blood that pumped from the woman who had to be dying before his eyes.
The light was on just long enough to burn this image into his brain and then one of the flopping tendrils reached towards the ceiling and shattered the overhead bulb. Before this new horror had sunk in, more vines lashed out, He dodged to the side moving closer to the bed, but they weren’t reaching for him, at least not yet. Instead, they grabbed the edges of the open door and slammed it shut with such violence that the door looked as though it had broken in a manner that wedged it closed.
Seconds later, those same tendrils reached for him.
Not knowing what else to do, he leapt on the bed. Despite the dark, this gave him a better view of the woman and her mangled arm reached toward him with a weak helpless grasp.
Her voice rasped as if she had already become one with the monster. “He was horrid. I tried to kill him. I didn’t understand. I tried to kill him, but I only released it.”
Shivers run up his spine like a bucket of ice water had been dumped down his back.
“I RELEASED IT!”
The writing mass of ropey tentacles reached for him along both side of the bed. With a yell, he took a step forward and leapt over them. Some attempted to grab him as he passed, but they failed to get a strong enough hold to halt him.
But he found himself blocked from the door. Even if he could open the door, the undulating thing lay between him and the room’s only exit.
His main thought remained to put as much distance between him and the horrible monstrosity. The woman still cried out and pleaded, but he knew, he really knew, that she was already too far gone. There would be no way of saving her. He’d be lucky to save himself, but he’d be damned if he wouldn’t do anything in his power to keep himself from ending up like her.
The back of the room had no windows save for the bathroom and that suited him fine, for at least that would put a door between him and the flailing horror.
He cast one look back and wished he hadn’t for the strings of gore slithered after him like a hundred headless serpents. He shuddered once, dashed the last two yards, and then slammed the door shut behind him. He hurried to lock the door just in case they somehow possessed the intelligence to turn the knob.
“This is crazy. This is crazy. This is crazy.” He repeated the words like a mantra and they helped him focus as loud bangs against the door competed with his words.
The window appeared small with an aluminum bar dividing it in the center. It would be a gamble if he could fit through it at all, but he didn’t hesitate to contemplate the possibility. Grabbing up the back of the toilet seat, he crashed it into the window. The glass shattered and sent shards flying in all directions. One sliced across his arm creating a violent streak of crimson.
The middle bar had bent, but still remained. The pounding on the bathroom door had increased in volume. He looked down and saw the thinner threads of tattered muscle had already started to seep under the door and only had inches to go before they’d reach his shoes.
With an involuntary yelp, He jumped up and balanced on the toilet seat as he smashed at the bar still blocking the window. Cold air rushed in, but he failed to notice as he smashed the bar again and again. It broke away and he took a moment to use the lid to remove the triangles of glass that remained in the frame. Once he’d done this, he looked down again.
Like a nest of snakes mixed with twenty octopi, thrashing arms of muddled flesh covered most of the floor. Not questioning why his mind hadn’t already snapped, he lunged for the window and started to squirm through. Small slivers of glass remained in places and slashed into his arms. He disregarded the pain and struggled on.
He had made it halfway through, before the first tendrils grasped him. They threatened to pull him back down in the horrid thrashing mess, but he kicked out and struggled even faster. Shards ran through his flesh as the cold winds bit at him, but suddenly he found himself plummeting to the ground.
He got an arm down before he hit face first. He landed hard, but all things considered, he could have broken his neck or a few fingers and neither happened. The fall stunned him, but the cold weather helped revive his senses and he crawled a few paces away before struggling to his feet.
Already the tongues of distorted flesh whipped around the window and wormed toward the ground where he had so recently landed.
“Son of a bitch,” he said, before moving a few more yards away and looking back. A few dots of white snow began to drift down. They exploded against the ground and sizzled where they hit the crawling mass. The beast might not have liked the cold, for it slowed for a moment, as if considering, but then plunged out the window like an abomination of bloody vomit.
He looked around for a weapon, but doubted the weathered boards and rocks within sight would do much to stop such a thing.
He watched as the ropey mound of flesh became more of a tentacled ameba than the man it once was. It did appear to be finite in size for the end of it had fallen from the window, but this also meant that nothing held it back as it started an undulating crawl toward him.
“What the hell am I going to do?” he said to himself, even as he answered his own question and turned and ran.
The old fence came to a dead end when it made an L to where it angled to attach itself to the back of the hotel office. Lights burned in the window of the owner’s residence and he smashed his hand on the window loudly as he rushed past.
The thing had picked up speed, so he didn’t delay long. He grabbed the top of the shaky fence and with a lunge threw himself over.
He was near his town’s busiest street and a few cars zoomed by. Their tires made the snow dance along the pavement in swirling circles. For some reason seeing such a normal sight in the midst of all this chaos struck him as strange and he wanted nothing more than one of the cars to stop and take him away from all this insanity.
He contemplated running into the road, but instead turned the corner of the hotel which held the office area. Maybe if he could reach a phone…
Before he could decide if he would try the office or rush back to his own room, the owner of the hotel came barging out of the office. The grey bearded man’s face was red with anger and furious words erupted from him. “Why were you in the back? What is the matter with you? I want you to pack your bags and leave at once or I’ll call the police!”
Screw you, came to mind, but he settled on, “Yeah, call the police. We’re all in some serious trouble. There has been a murder and the killer is right behind me!” But he hadn’t slowed while he spoke and had already passed by the owner before he had finished.
The owner looked stunned and uncertain, but the feeling didn’t last long, for seconds later the horror had reached him and it only took a moment before a foul tearing sound filled the air and the man’s loud screams began.
He couldn’t be sure how long the mangling of another life would delay the thing, but he used the time he had to toss on his jacket and dash out of his room with his mountain bike.
He had barely exited the room before he discovered the monstrous form had already moved to block his path. With a tearing of tires, he road forward. The ropey tendrils flailed and attempted to block his trail, but he crashed on through them.
He made it through, but not without consequences. Many of the appendages slashed and tore into him and each place they touched felt like caustic acid tearing into his skin. He bit back a cry, but it was only when he made it through that he realized that his rear tire had also gone flat.
He didn’t let that slow him down and just kept riding. He stood up and gave it all he had with his legs. Just before he reached the road he looked back and saw the thing still came after him. If anything it had become faster than before. Not slowing, he raced out into the road. Of course no cars came by when they might have helped him. The thrashing creature almost ran on its foul growths and remained right behind him.
With a curse, he kept going. He had no choice but to ride on or die and when he reached the far side of the road he hopped the curb and continued at his reckless pace. He headed across the bike trail and started down an incline. His legs kept pumping despite their injuries, but with the flat tire, the horrid thing kept gaining on him.
His blood pumped in his ears and he almost didn’t notice the growing sound until he saw the light bearing down on him.
It raced toward him threatening to cut him off, which would mean his doom. The train rushed at him with both the light and horn blaring. His blood turned to ice as he realized he wouldn’t be able to make it.
He ground his teeth and slammed his legs. He remained ten feet away and the train might have been twice that distance from cutting him off.
The train loomed over him like an angry dinosaur and he couldn’t be sure how close the creature was.
He poured it on, but didn’t think it would be enough. Still, he figured it would be better to die a quick death by the train than be eaten alive by that thing.
His front tire hit the track and he went flying through the air. Snow whirled around him and for a moment he remained unsure which way was up or down. Then his body smashed into the tumble of rocks with a bone jarring impact. He rolled over the jagged rocks for several more yards until his whole body felt broken and bruised.
But before he had ceased his decent, he realized that he still lived the train had missed him. The train…
But what about the creature? Had it been crushed or could it have stopped on the other side of the tracks.
He forced himself back onto his feet. He figured he might have broken a few bones, but his adrenaline still pumped too heavy for him to be sure how bad off he was yet.
Between the darkness and the driving snow he couldn’t see past the rushing train. The next two minutes proved to be the most agonizing of his life. Would the creature leap at him as soon as the train passed? He knew he should try to put some distance between himself and the thing, just in case, but his body felt too battered and he knew he wouldn’t make it far enough. Just as the end of the train drew near, he saw his bike had somehow made it across the tracks as well. He almost wanted to laugh, but didn’t feel he deserved it yet.
When at last the train passed, it shocked him when he saw nothing. No monster lay in wait for him, but no blood smear on the tracks could be seen as well. He spent a few tense seconds wondering if it lay in hiding and would spring at him at any minute. Yet as the seconds dragged by, this didn’t appear to be about to happen.
He sighed as the pain of his wounds became felt. Checking his jacket he found his wallet still remained. Looking around one last time he headed back to the road. He needed to find someplace to spend the night and this time we would shell out the money for a more upscale hotel.
In the distance the train horn blared, once, twice, and then didn’t stop.