Jeff replaced the phone on it’s cradle and wandered from the kitchen into the living room, where Georgia was curled up on an overstuffed chair. She was enrapt in one of the salacious novels she enjoyed so much. He could see that she was close to the end of the current chapter so he paused long enough to take a cigarette out of the pack on the coffee table. He put it to his lips, stood there a moment with his other hand in the pocket where his lighter should be. Then he sighed, picked up the pack and slid the cigarette back inside. Putting it back on the table, he looked up to see Georgia smiling at him.
I’m really proud of you. It can’t be easy to want something so much, have it be so accessible and deny yourself. It shows great strength of character.”
“More like it shows how afraid of Doc Peterson I am, with all her visual aids and unsubtle threats. I miss Doc Greenley. He never gave me trouble about a smoke from time to time.”
“That would have been kind of hypocritical on his part since he was just as apt to mooch one off you as not. Too bad he had to go and die on us. He was fairly a good doctor, though a terrible example of clean living. I’m just glad you’re heeding the lesson and making good choices.”
“Well, I’ve been around here long enough to know that there is plenty in this world looking to do you in without giving it a hand. It felt like time. Speaking of, there’s some spooksters on the way. That was Alex on the phone. A group of women seeking some dark thrills that she managed to distract from their intended route.”
“How are people still interested in horror and monsters with everything that’s going on in the world? Isn’t every day life tragic and terrifying enough?”
“Maybe some just want an escape from that, from the dread of their own lives. They want to see it happen to someone else for a change. Sadly, most of them don’t know what real terror is. They’re just bored.” Georgia looked thoughtful at this.
“Do you ever think we should give them a thrill? Rig up some spooky gimmicks so they run screaming into the night and never come back? I could toss on an old sheet and let out a bloodcurdling scream or two.” Jeff laughed at the thought of guests being chased by Georgie under one of the old floral patterned sheets they used to use on the beds.
“Except with my luck, you’d trip on the sheet and hurt yourself, and I’d have to wait on you hand and foot while you healed up.” She smiled at this.
“That doesn’t sound terrible..” laughing at his expression, she carefully marked her place in the book and set it on the table before bouncing to her feet. “I’ll pop out and make sure that six and seven are good to go.” She stopped at the doorway, with a sly smile and a crooked eyebrow. “Unless you think we should put them in room 13?”
Jeff met her gaze without returning the smile.
“No, Georgie. I do not think we should put them in room 13.”
Everything was going so well and then I died, is what Tommy had finally decided her post-mortem memoir would be called. God knows she’d had plenty of time to consider it, considering she was dead and really didn’t have anywhere to be. Which was part of the problem. It seemed as though there was somewhere she should be, other than this motel room. She wasn’t even sure she believed in ghosts so to find herself as one was a real mindfuck. It made her wonder what else she’d been wrong about.
Though, as far as an afterlife went, hers was kind of boring. The motel she’d found herself haunting was a clean but not fancy classic single story motor inn, where customers could pull up right to the front door of their room. It had not gone unnoticed by Tommy that no one ever pulled up directly in front of her room. In fact, the smiley freckled redhead who cleaned the rooms, Georgie, never cleaned Tommy’s room by herself, the way she did the others. It was a team effort, though the room needed little more than a light tidy. Even so, the bathroom stayed free of the single serving bar soap and shower caps one normally found. It was as though they never intended anyone to stay in this room. Tommy didn’t know how she felt about that. She wasn’t even sure she had feelings. If only there was someone who could let her know what was expected of her, now that she was dead. It was enough to make one morose. No wonder ghosts wandered around wailing and sad.
It didn’t help that she could hear everything that went on in this place and be aware of what she was missing out on. Most of the people were travellers looking for a clean, comfortable bed for a night, rarely two. But there was another kind of traveller who came through. They tended to be younger, hungry for a particular experience. She could hear the desire for something grander than they believed their lives to encompass in every word they spoke.
The thing about young people is that they’re so removed from death, it invites all sorts of curiosity about it. Older folks know better than to seek out what will inevitably find you, given time and circumstance.
She had inadvertently been this other kind of traveller. She could still recall the day she woke up here, unsure about anything, including her name or how she’d arrived. It wasn’t until Georgia stepped into the room and immediately stopped, the caddy of cleaning products placed gently onto the ground so she could wrap her arms around herself. Her eyes closed and Tommy could see the woman’s breath exiting her body, though the room felt warm. A single tear slipped down her cheek and she whispered softly, “I’m so sorry.”
Tommy stood up and crossed the room.
“What do you mean sorry? Sorry for what? Who are you? How did I get here?” but Georgia had already turned and opened the door, grabbing the caddy as she exited into the sunshine, giving no indication that she had heard Tommy at all. Intending to follow, Tommy found herself unable to cross the threshold, as though the door was firmly closed. Except she could see outside. She watched Georgia walk across the grass bordering the driveway, heading toward the small house at the edge of the property. Jeff must have realized her distress because he came out to meet her. Tommy could hear them as clearly as if they were standing next to her.
“What is it? Is something wrong?”
“Jeff, I’m pretty sure room 13 has an occupant.”
He let out a slow breath.
“It’s been so long since the last one, I really hoped it was over.”
She had reached his side and he wrapped his arm around her, taking the caddy from her hand as she folded herself against him.
“Me too, baby.”
The weight of emotion in the woman’s voice sent Tommy whirling back to face the room, a queasy feeling in the pit of her stomach. Clutching her hands to her midsection, she gasped when they came away bloody.
“What the hell?” She lifted her shirt but there was nothing there, just pale skin and- wait a minute, she hadn’t been pale since she discovered the Tan-Ur-Bod at the outlet mall when she was 14. That thought brought a flash of a smiling face framed by dark chestnut hair, a face as familiar as her own. Cassie! Where was Cassie? And Casey? And Kirk…it all came back at once. Along with the pain. Light exploded behind her eyes and she fell back on the bed, screaming. Eventually the tumult subsided and she was left alone in a dark room with too many thoughts. She didn’t hear the door open, but the shift in light alerted her.
The man was standing there, even if Tommy hadn’t heard the woman say it, she knew this was Jeff, owner of the motel Herb had tried to convince them was a better idea than hunting monsters. Tommy shook her head. She could kill Nathan, if only she could figure out how and where he was. Was he even still alive? Was Cassie? Or Kirk? Did they know what had happened? Jeff’s voice broke her out of her reverie.
“Hi there newcomer. Sorry to see you here, well, not see you because I can’t. I can’t even really feel you but Georgie, Georgia, that’s my wife, is more sensitive to these sorts of things. I’m not sure when you came through, or what sort of trouble brought you to this, but maybe Alex will recall something. She runs the cafe you likely stopped at.” Tommy was so confused. Who was Alex and what happened to Herb? How long had it been?
“Anyhow, she told Doris something about what happened 8 months or so ago. Doris works at the post office, it’s real tough to keep any secrets from her. She has a way about her. I suppose everyone here does to some extent or another, that’s how we all ended up in this place. It’s a quiet town for the most part, but a strange one, no doubt about that. I’m hoping you’ll find your way soon. We don’t really have anyone who tends to stay very long. We seem to be more of a waypoint than a long term stopover. All our guests have free will, and that extends to the ones I can’t see. So we’ll make sure it stays quiet for you, as long as you need to be…” his arms waved futilely in the direction he hoped whoever he was talking to might be. “…here. Yeah, I’m real sorry.”
He closed the door gently as he left, shutting out the day and leaving Tommy simultaneously enlightened and in the dark. Tommy sighed.
“Well this is bullshit. How the fuck am I supposed to be any good at haunting if no one can see me?”
Photo by Kyle Cleveland on Unsplash