As Aaron reached the road at the edge of the field, his destination became much clearer; a glorious, ornate sign depicting an intricate woodland scene surrounding an inviting wooden chalet hung over the name of the motel, Garden Lodge, spelled out in elaborate lettering. The sign was suspended on the top of a large wooden pole and shone red even through the daylight. Aaron considered this decoration must have been quite expensive, fancy as it was. He approached the roadside, carefully looking left and right before stepping onto the solid, shimmering tarmac. It looked as though the road was freshly laid, bulging and full like a stony chainmail causeway, and Aaron made a point of stepping over the newly painted road markings, crisp white lines at either side of the road as it bowed to meet neatly arranged curb stones. The whole arrangement was impressive, albeit for a single-lane road; the lines set perfectly parallel to the curb were completely unbroken, their edges straight and unvarying, surprisingly free from cracks or deviations given the intense heat. The curb stones themselves were similarly uniform, being all of equal size and completely straight-edged, not a chip or divot in sight. The result was a road that looked like an architectural tribute to perfect geometry. Diverting his gaze back to the building, Aaron could see that it was well looked after; the walls that lined two sides of a rectangular courtyard were clean and well maintained, the doors that punctuated these walls all painted a matching shade of vibrant red, and the windows shimmered in the sunlight whilst robust but luxurious curtains preserved the privacy of the rooms beyond them. The courtyard was empty, stretching out from the road to the facia of lodgings, perfectly flat with distinct car parking bays outlined in white paint, as perfect and crisp as those that adorned the road.
As Aaron reached the courtyard he caught sight of the motel attendant sitting in his booth, a tall ginger guy who was scruffy but had immaculate skin and chiselled facial features, he probably could have been a model with the help of a little hair dye. He afforded the attendant a nod and a smile as he sauntered passed toward his room, number 114.
Hang on I’m staying here? I don’t even know where here is! And how come I can remember this now but couldn’t 10 minutes ago? And where the hell are Mel and Jemima…?
“Hey there Mr Stokes, have you had a good day? Enjoying the fine weather?” The attendant’s voice rung out across the courtyard, smooth as honey, every syllable enunciated with the suave confidence of Charlton Heston delivering a swoon-inducing one-liner.
“Elvis, sure. Hi Elvis, it’s been a weird one I won’t lie to you. Say, did I have anyone with me when I checked in?”
“No, sir, just you.” Elvis’ smile made Aaron uneasy, it seemed exaggerated and unreal, and reminded him of The Joker from the early Batman comics he used to read as a kid.
“Hmph, OK. Any messages for me while I was gone?”
“Afraid not Mr Stokes, not a peep.” Elvis was now raising his voice to ensure it carried over the distance between them as Aaron continued striding toward room 114 during their conversation.
“Elvis?” Aaron, now yelling, began to enquire.
“How long have I been gone?”
“No longer than about an hour I’d say so sir, must’ve been a fine walk on a day like this, a fine walk indeed.”
Aaron bowed his head as Elvis’ voice faded in the distance and he saw the boy return to his booth uttering something that he couldn’t quite make out. He was confused to find, as he pulled his hands out of his pockets, that he was holding the key to room 114. It was attached to a plastic key ring depicting the motel’s logo which was the about the size of a credit card. There’s no way he wouldn’t have noticed that in his chinos, but when he’d checked before he had found his pockets to be empty. He decided to overlook this, for now, sliding the key into the lock and feeling the sequence of clunks as he slowly turned the handle and entered.
The room was not as he expected. From the ornate plushness he had witnessed on his expedition across the forecourt he’d expected a luxurious, almost hedonistic dwelling to be cocooned within these walls. Instead what he found was that the door opened into a minimalist bedroom interior; a ten by ten foot box painted completely white with a grey tiled floor, the kind of surface you’d expect to see in a kitchen. The only furnishings were, to the left, a plain divan double bed, with no headboard, dressed in crisp white linen and flawlessly made. Above the bed was a photograph in a silver frame; a small, run down church sitting atop a grassy thicket. The church had a pyramidal stone roof but no steeple or tower, and was surrounded by overgrown grass and broken headstones. A thin, winding cobbled path led to a large wooden door, and a fork of lightening bisected the night sky overhead. There was also a chair in the far right corner of the room, a faded green leather Chesterfield wing back that stood out in contrast to its sanitary surroundings so starkly that it looked more imposing than comfortable. Its disparity with the rest of the room gave the illusion that it was far larger than its actual size, looming over the space like a commanding presence all of its own. Beneath its curled wooden feet were scratch marks in the tiles, as if someone had struggled to shift the chair’s weight into the corner in which it now sat. These abrasions in the otherwise pristine floor extended to the entrance, lending further significance to its apparent impropriety in such a sterile environment. Despite the ominous nature of the chair Aaron was oddly drawn to it, and imagined that sleeping in this chair would offer far more comfort than curling up on the large shrink-wrapped marshmallow abutting the opposing wall.
He stepped toward another door in the far left corner of the room, beyond the bed, shoes click-clacking on the pristine tiled floor as he skittered slightly to keep his balance against the slippery sheen of the porcelain. He kept his gaze away from the chair as he made his way around the bed, lazily dragging his left hand across the linen which had warmed in the unopposed glow of the sunshine piercing through the open drapes, and when he reached the inner door he clasped the handle, pushed it open and entered without hesitation, swinging the door closed behind him.
The room was pitch black and smelled of bleach. Aaron’s nostrils and throat began to sting as he inhaled the chemical bouquet, and he stood for a moment scanning the dark space for a source of light, a window or another door, but found none. His hands found the wall to his left and crept over the surface in search of a light switch, eventually colliding with a string dangling from the ceiling. A sharp pull of this cord sent shards of harsh white light beaming from an elongated fluorescent bulb overhead; the bulb flickered a couple of times, emitting tinny, percussive notes as if it were tapping a finger against its own metallic temple whilst deciding whether or not to work, before finally releasing a constant stream of light. It shone far brighter than required for the small room it illuminated, which was a small bathroom, and was housed in a shiny steel fitting that resembled the upside-down hull of a boat, and which served only to intensify the bulbs effect. Aaron squinted as the light came on, raising an arm to shield his eyes from the glare, the metallic tapping penetrating his skull and echoing like a beaten drum in an empty theatre. When at last his eyes had adjusted to the intrusive beam, and the only sound was a soft hum offered by the bulb as it sat beneath its steel skirting, Aaron saw that the bathroom was even more sterile than its adjoining bedroom; all four walls and the floor were tiled in perfect white and gleaming in the over enthusiastic light. The floor tiles were larger than those on the walls but otherwise they seemed completely congruent, giving him the impression that he was floating in a glistening white cubic bubble. This illusion was only penetrated by a cheap-looking, but immaculately clean, plastic bath tub set into a recess in the back wall and a stainless steel toilet with a basin built into the cistern. The unit was, of course, cleaned to obsessive standards, but had no seat attached and resembled the sort of commode you’d expect to find in a prison cell. There was a small mirror hanging over the built-in basin, and Aaron walked over to it, feeling sheepish that he was intimidated by the black hole in the bottom of the toilet, imposing as it was in such a clean and bright room. He regarded himself in the reflection; his skin seemed pale in this light, his eyes brilliant white with no vasculature penetrating towards his pupils. His hair was a mess of light brown atop his head, an unruly entanglement that seemed to have grown more rapidly than usual. This didn’t concern him though, what he was focussed on, what he couldn’t pull his attention away from for reasons unknown to him, were his eyes, specifically his pupils. They were massively dilated and Aaron stared blankly into their reflection as if searching for something in the depths of these intriguing pits. He leaned closer to the mirror, unblinking, tears beginning to topple from his lower lids and tumble down his cheeks, drawn ever closer to the darkness. Something seemed to move inside his eyes, darting across the opening of his pupils from within the lightless interior of his eyeball. Aaron, startled, took a step back away from the mirror. His eyes shifted uneasily around the room as if trying to catch a glimpse of what might be dwelling in his eyes, the light glinted off the tiles at all angles but he saw no evidence of any ocular parasite. He did notice that as he moved his head, the beams of light that were reflected from the tiles seemed to move too, dancing off of one another and reflecting in the mirror, creating illusions in the surface. Aaron let out a sigh and began to afford himself a wry smile that he had fallen short to a trick of the light. He began to approach the mirror slowly once more, as if to make one final check to reassure himself that all was well, but was interrupted by a sudden, loud rapping on the door to his motel room. This abrupt acoustic intrusion caused Aaron to jump, startled by the break in the silence. He turned toward the door to the bathroom, opened it and pulled the cord, pausing to watch as the last shards of light dwindled and faded on the surface of the mirror. When he was satisfied that the interior was completely still, he exited the bathroom and made for the front door.
The sun still shone high in the sky when Aaron emerged in the doorway to room 114, he seemed to be in a world of perpetual light, but there was no one outside the door for him to greet. He stood bemused for a second, scanning the concrete forecourt for life, wondering who he’d expected to see. He was here alone after all.
Yeah, you’re here alone because Mel and Jemima aren’t here.
He suddenly remembered that he was without his wife and daughter, and chastised himself for forgetting this despite the confusion regarding his own whereabouts. He looked down to his wedding ring and twirled it around his finger with his other hand feeling the cold metal against his skin, deep in thought and struggling to remember where and when his family had parted ways.
“Hola, you OK mister?”
Aaron’s train of thought was broken as he was addressed by a shrill Spanish accent. He raised his head to see a large Hispanic woman standing next to him, a sincere look on her face.
“You are OK? You look sad.”
She was bowed slightly toward him, a posture of concern and slight patronisation. Long, wavy black hair spilled down haphazardly past her shoulders framing a portly face which was rich in wrinkles apart from where the skin stretched over her chubby cheeks. Her makeup was slapdash; uneven dark blue eye shadow surrounded thick, clumped mascara. Her cheeks were doused in rouge, and her red lipstick looked as though it had been applied with hands that were not as steady as they had once been. She looked to be in her early sixties and Aaron thought she had probably once been quite beautiful, but her appearance had succumbed to time while her pride had refused to do the same. She actually looked remarkably like Aaron’s maternal aunt, Evelyn, who had died in a car crash when he was a boy, but whom he remembered fondly as she’d never missed an opportunity to give him a pound coin or, failing that, a toffee penny. Presented with this woman who so resembled his late aunt Aaron may well have broken down, especially given his current plight, but he was spared this embarrassment by the fact that this woman did not sound like the well-spoken English lady from his memories. Nor, in fact, did she dress similarly; Aunt Evelyn had always dressed smartly in slacks and a blouse, adding a smart jacket and scarf when the weather was cold. This lady wore a baggy dress, likely intended to hide the curves of her ageing figure, with a garish flowery pattern in navy blue and golden brown. Her sandals were faded brown leather, a far cry from Aunt Evelyn’s riding boots or evening shoes, and her exposed toes were bent and deformed, as were her fingers, in the throes of rheumatism. Aaron, realising he was staring, offered a response,
“I’m fine, honestly, just a little tired. But thanks for asking.”
The strangers face contorted into a smile, it looked like a colourful sack full of writhing snakes as it assumed its new expression, and she stood up straight, abandoning her concerned bow. Seemingly satisfied, she turned to walk away.
“Did you just knock on my door?” Aaron half-demanded, determined to get an answer before the lady shuffled away. She turned back, still smiling,
“Well someone did, just now. Not two minutes before you showed up.”
“I saw nobody mister, I am sorry. But I keep a look out for you, we neighbours now.” Her smile extended further, stretching the elastic capability of her lipstick to its limit.
“I’m Evita. Evita Marianna.”
“Aaron. Stokes. Nice to meet you.”
Aaron returned to his room as Evita shuffled toward her own. He closed the door behind him and stood for a moment with his head resting against it, he was still unnerved by the resemblance between his new neighbour and his favourite late aunt. This place was creepy, like it was messing with him somehow. He turned around with the intention of heading for the bathroom, thinking a splash of water on his face would clear his head, and stopped in his tracks after just one step. There was a photograph on the bed; it certainly hadn’t been there when he was in the room before, he would have noticed anything out of place in the obscenely tidy bedroom, and he definitely hadn’t put it there. Apart from the doorway he’d been standing in and the window in the front of the room, which he’d been able to see the whole time and which was closed anyhow, there was no way into his room. A frown crept over Aaron’s face as he tried to decipher the origin of this photograph; the door to the window-less bathroom was closed as he had left it and the only other piece of furniture in the room, the green leather chair, stood unmoved in its place in the corner. He approached the bed cautiously, keeping his weight on his back foot at all times in case he needed to turn and escape suddenly, absurdly cautious of the picture as if it might come to life and attack him. As he reached the edge of the bed, leaning backward as if trying to keep himself away from the photograph, he saw that the picture was of a girl; she must have only been eighteen or nineteen, and the image portrayed her walking down a street, a backpack flung lazily over one shoulder, her dark brown hair in a ponytail. On seeing that the photograph was non-malevolent, Aaron stood normally and slowly bent forward to pick it up. He looked at the girl in the picture, searching his mind for any hint of recognition, but he didn’t know who she was. Something did stir in him though, his stomach began to gurgle and it felt like it was pulsating, like he was incredibly hungry. His head began to ache, a throbbing directly behind his eyes as if something was trying to escape through them to get at the picture. These two visceral reactions built to a crescendo, Aaron frozen stiff throughout their progression, staring at the photo, sweat beginning to bead his forehead and a rushing sound like a raging river building in his ears. It got to the point where Aaron thought his eyes and stomach were going to burst, he tried to whimper but was unable to, and then all of a sudden the somatisations stopped, and Aaron exhaled suddenly like someone who’d been holding their breath underwater and only just broken the surface in the nick of time before losing consciousness, released from the overwhelming sensation that had rendered him motionless.
She seems nice.
His thoughts came to him differently now, not as if they were endogenous but as if they were being planted in his head, addressing him directly. The strangest thing was that these thoughts were being projected into Aarons mind in a familiar voice, his mother’s.
If you want her, she’s yours.