Wednesday, April 25, 2012
V is for Vacancy
As she crossed into city limits of the quiet town, she wondered if anyone even lived here anymore. The houses seemed sad and empty. Signs hung off the walls of old businesses like pictures someone had forgotten to straighten for the past fifty years. But, toward the end of town, there was a single building with a light on. "Far and Away Inn," it read. "As Remote As Can Be." Under the sign, a neon red sign blinked, "VACANCY."
Natalie pulled into the small parking lot next to the other cars, grabbed her duffel bag from the backseat, and pushed open the door to the office. "Hello?" she inquired. "Is anyone here?" The front desk was littered with yellowing papers and chewed-up pencils. A rusty bell sat on a ledge over the desk. Responding to her shake, the sound reverberated jarringly through the quiet of the room, like she had disturbed something meant to stay untouched.
Just as Natalie was about to retreat back to her car, a door creaked open at the end of a hallway, and an old woman with fuzzy gray hair limped toward her. The woman was short and plump, with a gray shawl to match her hair draped around her shoulders. It was almost like the grandmother from Little Red Riding Hood had jumped from the pages to check Natalie into this place. "I'm sorry, dear," came the creaky voice from the woman as she reached the desk. "I just don't walk as fast as I used to. Can I help you?"
Natalie smiled assuringly. "It's alright, ma'am. I'm on my way to Denver, but this storm is just terrible. I was wondering if you had any vacancies?"
"Call me Bessie, darling. Everyone here does." Bessie flipped thoughtfully through the pages on the counter. "As it turns out, we do have just one room left. It's at the end of the first floor, and has two beds. Would that work out alright for you?"
"Oh, that would be fine, Bessie. I just need someplace to sleep for the night."
"Alright then, we'll get you checked in." Bessie flipped a switch behind the desk with an air of finality. The light in the room seemed to change. A dimming? A different tint? It set Natalie on edge, something was odd here. "Nothing to worry about," Bessie assured her with a nod toward the window.
Natalie turned in the direction of Bessie's nod and noted an orange "NO" had been turned on outside in front of the red "VACANCY." She laughed inside at her own unease. It was just a quiet small town.
Bessie pulled a key from the wall behind her, invited Natalie to follow her and to mind the cats that swirled around their legs. "We don't get a lot of nighttime visitors here, and they just like to say 'Hello.'"
"Oh, it's no bother," Natalie responded, dutifully. There was something about Bessie that stuck in her mind, but it was nothing she could really put her finger on. She waited while Bessie opened the heavy door to her room, and then bid the woman goodnight before closing it and sinking tiredly onto one of the beds.
Outside the room, Bessie began making her way back to the desk, murmuring to the cats. A scream emitted from the room she had just left, and Bessie smiled with satisfaction. Her limp disappeared, and when she arrived at the desk, she turned off the "NO" sign that blinked outside with garish annoyance. "That makes five, my dears. Will the storm bring us a sixth?"
Natalie had one final thought before the life drained from her completely. It was her eyes. They just didn't blink enough.