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Room Nine


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Doug burst through the door into the tiny lobby. Even though he parked his blue Kia in the closest space and it was only a short distance to the front door, by the time he reached it he was completely soaked. His hair was plastered to his head and water dripped down his face in zigzagging rivulets. There was an explosion of thunder outside and he jumped. He quickly shut the door behind him, the din of the rain muffled only slightly.

The lobby of the motel was like a cave: dark, dank, and cold, with a musty smell like a room that had not been opened in quite a while. A pair of exposed fluorescent light bulbs crackled and fizzed, throwing harsh gray light on a small desk in the front of the room. Doug walked over to it, his waterlogged shoes squishing across the stained carpet. He reached it and set his dripping suitcase down next to him, smiling tiredly at the clerk.

The old man glared at him. 'You gonna clean that up?' he growled. Doug glanced back worriedly at the series of wet footprints behind him. Am I really supposed to clean it up? He wondered.

The man suddenly erupted in a fit of wheezy laughter. Doug laughed along nervously. The man appeared to have only about five teeth. Doug eyed the half-eaten apple sitting on the desk and wondered how he was even able to bite it.

The old man slapped his knotty, withered hands on the desk. 'So what can I do for you?' he said loudly.

'I need a room,' Doug told him. 'Just for the night.' He fished his wallet out of his pocket and pulled out a Visa.

'Don't take no credit cards,' the man answered flatly. He pronounced credit 'credeet'.

'You gotta be kidding me,' he groaned. 'Look, I don't have any money with me, it's almost two in the morning, and we're out here in the middle of nowhere. You've got to help me out.'

'Don't got no more rooms left, neither.'

Doug just stared at him. 'Are you telling me that the only motel for fifty miles is completely full? There has to be someplace I can go. Or at least anything I can sleep on, an old futon, a beanbag chair, a pillow. I'd even sleep out here on the floor if I had to. Don't you have anything?'

He ran a hand through what little white hair he had left. 'Well, there's this one room, but I don't rent it out 'cause it's in pretty bad shape. I been meaning to get a maintenance guy out here but I ain't done it yet. I could rent it to you though, 'cause I don't wanna throw you out into the rain, and ain't nobody sleepin' in my lobby. It's where I watch my sitcoms.' He patted the tiny black and white TV on his desk affectionately.

'I'm exhausted. As long as the room has a bed, I don't care what kind of shape it's in.'

The man took a rusty key out of a drawer and handed it to him. 'Room nine, end of the hall,' he told him.

Doug took the key, picked up his suitcase, and started to make his way down the dark, narrow hallway. He heard the old man call after him, 'We don't get cable here, hope you don't mind!' Then the little TV went on and he began to cackle away at what sounded like I Love Lucy.

He looked at the tarnished brass numbers on the doors, evens on the left, odds on the right. There were only ten rooms.

The key stuck in the lock for a moment. When the door finally swung open, he flipped the light switch. A dusty floor lamp in the corner flickered on for a moment then burned out. Light from the neon sign at the parking lot entrance glared through the grimy window with no curtain to block it. It filled the room with a pink and orange glow. Rain dripped from the ceiling, which was a patchwork of water spots. The mattress was bare except for a tan sheet and a pillow and the threadbare carpet had more stains than in the lobby. An old wooden crate served as a bedside table and resting on top was a severely outdated phone with the 5 button missing. As he looked around, he saw that he would be sharing the room with spiders and moths.

Doug sat on the bed and kicked his shoes off onto the floor with a dull thud. The TV on the short dresser had dials instead of buttons and a jagged crack across the dusty screen. He turned it on. A loud buzz fizzled out of the speakers and on the screen was a snowstorm of black and white pixels. He turned it back off.

He changed into his pajamas and thought about his current situation. After the hectic week at his office, he had decided to take off work to visit his parents. He would be on a warm, comfortable plane had it not been for his mother. It wasn't that she was afraid of her only child flying. According to her, there was such lovely countryside on the way to their house that she insisted that he drive and take in the scenery.

'The only scenery you can see from a plane is sky and clouds,' she told him. 'You can see sky and clouds anywhere.'

'You can see trees and grass anywhere, too,' Doug complained. But he had given in and started the day's drive to their house. He would have driven strait through if it weren't for the sudden storm. So there he was, in a drippy, unpleasant room in a cold, rundown motel.

He was about to crawl into bed when there was a sharp knock on the door. He looked at his watch: one forty-five. There was no peephole so he turned the knob and opened the door cautiously. Standing before him was a Girl Scout who couldn't have been any older than ten. She held an order form and a pen out to him. 'Would you like to buy some cookies, sir?' she asked sweetly.

There was the obvious question: 'What are you doing selling cookies at this hour?'

'My mom's a troop leader and she's real competitive about this stuff. She says no one else would think to sell at night.'

Another obvious question: 'At a motel?'

The girl shrugged. 'Can I put you down for at box of Thin Mints?'

'I'm gonna have to pass,' he replied, shutting the door. He was making his way back to the bed, muttering, 'The weirdoes really do come out at night' when there was another knock.

The girl was still there. 'I forgot to mention that we have three new cookies this year. One is a low-fat shortbread cookie with''

'I really don't want to order any cookies. Now please leave me alone, I'm trying to sleep.' Irritated, he shut the door harder than he meant to. When the girl knocked again, it was just a soft tapping.

'I told you, I don't want any cookies!' he said angrily as he flung the door open. A biker with a beard and tattoo sleeves stood there holding a blanket. He looked at Doug sadly.

'Have you seen my teddy?'

Doug slammed the door and locked it. 'I'm going to die here!' he squeaked.

He walked shakily back to his bed. As soon as his head hit the pillow, there were more knocks, but they were loud, angry knocks that echoed through the room. He sat up and stared at the door, willing the visitor to go away.

Whoever it was knocked again, but this time it spoke: 'You best open up right now, ya hear?'

Doug laid back down and buried his face in the pillow, mumbling 'Go away, go away,' into it.

'What you doin' slammin' the door in my girl's face?' the voice demanded. Ah, he realized. The Girl Scout's mother. He stood up and shuffled to the door, which the woman continued pounding on. He unlocked it and yanked it open to face the irate troop leader. Not much taller than her daughter, she stood there looking up at him, a pink bathrobe tied loosely over her striped nightgown, her bare toes sporting bright orange polish.

She glared at Doug. 'What you doin' slammin' the door in my girl's face?' the mother repeated.

He held up his hands defensively. 'Look, I'm trying to get some sleep, and your daughter just shows up here at two AM to sell me cookies. I didn't mean to be so short with her or slam the door in her face, but honestly, I was a little annoyed.'

'She was only trying to raise some money for her troop so they can go to camp this summer.'

'But who the hell sells cookies in the middle of the night?!' he shot back. 'And at a motel, no less.'

'Ambitious people who want to get ahead in life, unlike lazy motel hoboes like you.' And with that, she stomped back to her room. Doug closed and locked the door.

It took him over an hour, but he finally fell asleep. Unfortunately it only lasted about thirty minutes. He was jarred awake by a piercing squeal of tires. He jumped out of bed and peered through the window. A blue Kia skidded across the parking lot, scraping against three other cars before bouncing off the curb onto the street.

Doug made a noise in his throat that was between a groan and a choked scream. He dove across the mattress for the phone. When he put it to his ear, he was greeted with silence instead of the expected dial tone. 'No, no, no, no, no, no! This is not happening!' he growled as he flew out the door and sprinted down the hall.

He passed the biker who was sitting on the floor against the wall, still clutching the blanket in his tattooed hands. 'Have you found my teddy yet?' he called after him.

Doug reached the lobby out of breath. He stumbled to the desk. The clerk had his feet up and a peppermint stick hanging out of his mouth like a cigarette. Green Acres fizzled on the grainy TV screen.

'Phone,' he managed to gasp. The clerk kept his head facing the TV and shifted his eyes to look at Doug. 'I need to call the police.'

'Wha fo?' the old man mumbled through the candy.

'My car was just stolen.'

He took the peppermint out of his mouth and looked at him with a confused expression. 'Really? You sure it was your car?'

'Of course I'm sure it was my car!' he shouted back. 'Now, can I please just use your phone?'

'Phones don't work,' he replied matter-of-factly.

Doug gripped the edge of the desk with sweaty hands. If he were a cartoon, steam would be coming out of his ears. An image of his angry, animated self popped into his head. 'What do you mean the phones don't work?' he growled through gritted teeth.

The clerk shrugged. 'Dunno. Must've forgot to pay the bill, I guess. I suppose you'll just have to wait till morning or till the weather clears,' he told him, twirling the peppermint stick. 'I'm sure your car will turn up eventually,' the man added with a smirk.

Doug sighed with defeat. 'I'm never leaving here, am I?'

As if in answer, the clerk stuck the candy back between his gums and turned his attention back to Green Acres.

He trudged back down the hall to room nine, manic laughter following him all the way there.



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