Amara was tired. Bone weary and exhausted. Her eyes ached from staring for hours at long stretches of empty back road, red and bleary. Her back ached from being hunched over the wheel of her rusty junker, and her feet were cramping in the two sizes too small shoes she had taken from a charity box two state lines ago. And yet, even though her fatigue was rapidly morphing into exhaustion, she kept pressing on. Just a little farther
the voice at the back of her head seemed to say. We're almost there.
Amara always listened to that voice, it had never led her astray, always keeping her safe. She swallowed, her throat suddenly dry. Well, almost always.
She had been driving almost nonstop for 9 hours, barely stopping for food or sleep. Yesterday she had driven for 14 hours before her paranoia had let her stop for about 3 hours of sleep before pushing her on again. She didn't actually know where she was, somewhere in Montana, maybe. She had taken random exits and byways, hoping to shake off any pursuers.
Avoid the highways, don't think, just drive. The mantra had kept her alive so far. She passed a roundabout and turned right, following a bumpy back road. The pines crowded close, looming over the road like giant sentinels. They didn't make her uneasy, if anything, they seemed protective, as if the land as shielding her from harm. She shook her head, I really need to get some sleep, she thought wryly, grimacing a little as her car hit yet another pothole.
She kept driving, the road meandering back and forth until it began carving it's way through foothills, the trees thinning out a little. Keep going the voice said, Very close. She blinked a couple times, her eyelids fluttering, trying to stay awake. Finally, through her exhausted haze, she saw a sign posted on the side of the road. Welcome to Black Ridge, it said. We're here. The voice sounded almost as tired as she was, but relieved too. A strange sense of calm washed over her as she drove past the sign, following the road as it led into a small town. Through her haze she noticed it was cute, quaint, even, but much larger than she suspected at first.
She drove down the main street, looking for something suitable, and after wandering aimlessly for about 15 minutes she saw a sign for a bed and breakfast. Pulling into the parking lot of the small hotel she grabbed her duffel out of the back and locked the car, shoving the keys in her front jeans pocket. Walking into the foyer she turned right, heading over to the front desk where an elderly woman sat, reading something on her phone behind large cat-eye glasses, a trail of beads attaching them to her neck.
She walked up to the counter, the old woman still engrossed with whatever she was doing, and dropped her duffel on the laminate. The woman jumped, looking guilty, as if she had been caught doing something, and hastily dropped her phone, adjusting her glasses and peering up at Amara with a kindly expression.
"How can I help you dearie?" without waiting for Amara to say anything, she continued. "Single room? How many nights?" Amara held up two fingers and the old lady nodded, still talking, peering down at the screen of an ancient computer. "Well, looks like we've got plenty of room, how..." Amara silently held out a wad of cash. "Right, well..." The lady said, looking slightly startled, as she took the bundle of notes, and separated it into two piles, pushing the larger one back across the counter to Amara. "That one's for you dearie, that's two nights..." she stood, stretching up to grab an old fashioned key off a hook on the wall behind the desk, "and you'll be in room 212, up the stairs and at the end of the corridor." Amara nodded and made to head up the staircase.
The old lady leaned over the counter grabbing her sleeve. Amara barely stopped herself from flinching as the old lady smiled at her again, saying "I'm Margery, dear, if you need anything, Margery McKinnon." With that, she winked, and let go of Amara's sleeve. Amara simply nodded, and walked up the stairs to her room, turned the key in the lock and shoved the door open, the old wood creaking and groaning as it protested against her forceful shove. That's good, she thought to her self, I'll know if someone tries to get in.
She dropped her duffel, locking the door behind her. She took off her long sleeved jacket, dropping it on the floor, and unwound the scarf she wore almost constantly from around her neck, laying it on the back of the desk chair. She sat on the bed and tugged off her shoes barely remembering to turn the light off as she lay down on the bed and slept, peacefully, for the first time in weeks, the voice in the back of her head content that, for the moment, they were safe.
She woke the next morning, groaning as the light filtering through the curtains hit her eyes, then rolling over, sleepily walking over to her duffel, and grabbing clean clothes. Heading to the bathroom, she saw there was no lock on the door. Mentally sighing, she stepped into the shower, rinsing off days of travel grime and sweat. Stepping back out, she was glad the mirror had fogged over. She didn't need to see that.
Wrapping a towel around herself and one around her hair she stepped out of the bathroom, dried off, and pulled on jeans and a turtleneck. Pulling on worn trainers, she grabbed her keys and wallet, shoving both into her pockets. She swiftly braided her hair, and, throwing the long braid over her shoulder, also pocketed the hotel key, before heading out the door, and carefully locking it behind her.
She walked down the stairs, passing by an oblivious Ms. McKinnon, who was muttering as she swiped through something on her phone. Walking outside, she began to wander, taking in the small town. She managed to avoid interacting with most of the population, giving nods or waving back at people who greeted her or said good morning. She walked past all kinds of shops and small businesses, finally stopping outside a bookstore. Nell's Books, the sign said. She glanced at the window, a help wanted sign sat in the far left corner. She bit her lip, glancing around, once, and then entered the store.