The room isn't dark enough.
Too much light from the crackling vacancy sign filters through the threadbare curtains, illuminating the room in an eerie yellow glow. It's like a fucking beacon in the night; a giant x marks the spot for the whole world to see. I don't know why I thought this would be a safe place to stop for the night, maybe the kids deserved to sleep in a real bed for once. Maybe I'm getting too complacent in my old age. I know we can't stay here for too long. We have to get back on the road before it's too late.
The standard procedure is to keep moving, just to drive until we hit the border. A safe territory to gather our equipment and form a plan, but everyone was dead on their feet. This night had been particularly fucked up and I don't think we would have made it without running the car off the road. Just outside I hear a persistent thumping; I look outside the window and see Morgan kicking the vending machine. Another dollar sacrificed to the cola gods. He gives the machine a final kick and walks away.
I know he won't give up that easily. I'm not disappointed as I see him come back a second later with an axe slung over his shoulder. The stillness of the night is shattered by the sound of breaking glass. I cringe at the sound. I wonder how much we'll have to pay in damages this time, I then remember we didn't necessarily pay for the rooms either. Besides, who would call the cops? Not the clerk at the desk who had checked himself out long ago. He was thoughtful enough though to provide a few extra weapons to add to our collection.
Every little bit helps I suppose.
I scan the parking lot for any movements, my paranoia reminding me why we were here in the first place. I see the covering over the car has come loose again. The light from the single lamp post shines off the twisted bumper, which is barely hanging on. Luckily I still have some duct tape in the bag. I hate to ditch the ride, it held some sentimental memories, memories from the past that I no longer had any claim to. Tomorrow we'll have to scrounge up a new car; fortunately we had a pretty wide selection to choose from. The rest of the crew's cars were parked haphazardly in the gravel parking lot.
I check the lock on the door and am moderately satisfied it will hold. It has to. I take a quick inventory of the room: mismatched furniture, pressboard night stands and a lamp with no shade is bolted to the wall. There's a bathroom just big enough for what needs to be done. A busted up television and a closet without any doors, a painting on the wall that's been slashed to pieces completes the motif. The carpets have been ripped out near the corners, the distinct smell of urine and god knows what else mixed in for good measure.
I look everywhere but the bed. I don't want to deal with that yet.
My hands begin to shake. I can't even remember the last time I felt normal. Has it been so long that I don't even recognize myself? I step into the bathroom and flick on the lights. Two out of the three bulbs above the sink are burned out. For some reason this depresses me. I look at my reflection but see nothing but a shell. Dark circles have permanently taken up residence under my eyes. I think the color used to be green, now they only looked bloodshot. The new gash above my eyebrow is scabbing up nicely. I don't bother thinking how it will affect my looks — never gave much thought to them in the first place.
I lean forward placing my hands against the sink and try to think back to the beginning. How had everything gotten so fucked up anyway? It doesn't feel like a month, more like a lifetime since normalcy. All we've been doing is searching for clues in least likely of places. Dives and truck stops, coming up with nothing but deserted towns and piles of bones. This was our life now. Looking for answers to help us understand the manner of hell in which we were now living in. I don't even remember who I used to be.
When I think back to last night though, the stench, and how I've gotten used to it. Well, I don't know which is worse. I see myself as being disconnected from this, as if I can tell myself that none of this real and we just need to wake up. Self delusion is something that needs a bit of practice. I've become numb to everything. It's the only way I can continue to get up everyday. The kids though, they're the ones who continue to struggle. I've never been very good with kids — what could I possibly say that will make sense of all this? Besides, they can see through bullshit pretty easily. I won't even attempt to lie.
Now we're back to the start. We have to get everything sorted before we can move on again. A sharp wrap on the door jars me out of warped thoughts. I cross the room and peer through the keyhole — just Majic. I ask him the usual questions and he replies with the same obscene responses. We can't be too sure anymore, especially with the luck we've been having lately. I kick off the chain and open the door quickly. He squeezes through with ease and shuts it close. He bolts the door and slides down until he hits the ground. He puts his head against the door and takes a second to breathe.
I wish we had the luxury of just being able to sleep for once.
Hell, and I thought I looked bad. He's still wearing the same blood soaked t-shirt, although it's dried into a rusty orange tint. Underneath the blood I can make out the name of an obscure band. The blood's not his by the way. It's a left over reminder from tonight's adventure. He runs his hand through the tangled multi colored hair and winces from the dislocated shoulder. A weary look has settled on his young face, it's one that we all wear lately these days. I ask him if he wants me to pop his shoulder in place. I grab his hand and haul him back to his feet. On the count of three I say — he grits his teeth as I pull down hard on his arm.
We never actually count to three. It's more of a suggestion. A loud pop fills the room quickly followed by a lot of swearing. He expresses his gratitude by promptly hitting me in the shoulder. I try to smile but I think I've forgotten how to. Majic goes to say something but the words die as he notices the bed. There's true fear in his eyes as it mirrors my own. To distract him I ask about Shelby. He tells me that he's asleep for now. I guess that's the resilience of the young. For now we'll let him pretend a little while longer that he's still a kid.
His innocence hasn't been fully destroyed. That' will come soon enough. Majic asks if I'm ready. Fuck, I will never be ready for this. I take the metal spike from the ruined coffee table and walk to the side of the bed. I can do this. I've done it before, too many times to count. But this time, it's a bit different. This time it's someone I know. Majic says he can do this instead, it's not a problem. But I tell him no. I have to be the one who does this. It's only right. Yet, as my hand is poised, ready to strike I find myself frozen. I look down —
That's when the body starts to move again.
Fortunately its cable tied to the head board so there's not a lot of room to move. Lying against the starkness of the white bed sheets, it appears if she is only having a bad dream. I could comfort her, wake her up and tell her that's its all over. That everything has gone back to normal - that we can go back to normal. Lies whispered in my ears, cause doubt in my heart. She moves again, the sound of a groan getting louder. Pulling harder, the cables are struggling to break free. I can't stand the sound, her voice is no longer her own. It's somehow obscene. Perverted. She is shaking now, the bed bouncing, thumping against the wall.
I kneel down beside her. I go to push her hair aside but before I touch her Majic tosses me a pair of rubber gloves. I put them on go to gingerly probe her head. I feel the wetness beneath my hand. Blood is seeping into the mattress, staining my gloves. The blood is dark and thick, not dissimilar in consistency to tar. The color is off, not the typical red; more of a brownish green. There's also a distinct smell — like rotting meat. I push her head to the side and see bits of grey matter are beginning to seep out of the back of her skull. The change is near completion. Whatever feeble hopes I had are now gone. I can no longer associate this creature with the person I once loved.
The sooner I get this done the sooner I can forget. I know this is a lie.
I wipe the ooze off onto the flowery bedspread and get up. I take a deep breath. Grip the spike tighter and with a final look at Majic, plunge the metal straight between her eyes. There's a crack as the bone separates beneath my hand. The tip of the spike starts to disintegrate, a reaction to the acid inside her brain. I drop the spike on top of the corpse. The reaction is slow at first — a sizzling of the skin, then the inevitable disintegration. A time lapse of decay. Skin melting off bones, charred to perfection. I can't help but be reminded of that roadkill café poster I saw a while back.
We carefully pick up the pieces of the body that are still intact and drop them into the small porcelain tub. Lumps of molten flesh, bits of hair and fragmented teeth are the only things left. I go to grab the bed spread when I notice something on the ground, I bend to pick it up and see it's a ring. Her ring more specifically. I close my palm to feel the weight of the ring against my hand. Majic calls out to me, I go back to the bathroom and see that the bits of flesh in the tub are trying to piece themselves together. I grab a towel from the rack, pull a zippo from my pocket and hit the switch.
The fire crackles as the last of the fat burns, I leave the bathroom but as I pass the door I toss the ring in. This is my last tie to the real world. Its now time to go face the scary monsters.