The motel was nestled in comfortable Nowhere, USA, humbly asserting itself with a neon red “MOTEL” sign that boasted a shy, flickering “O”— beneath it, a smaller sign that read, “24 HR CHECK IN.”
Perfect, Orpheus thought.
The receptionist was a man who seemed to be approaching mid-age, rough and worn, his scraggly frame swallowed up by his stained black hoodie. He was slumped back in the office chair as Orpheus approached the door and noticed him through the window, the stranger’s arms crossed over his chest as his head limply dangled to the side. The way his head was lazily cocked made his neck jut out like a target— and, thinly overlaid directly over his torso, was Orpheus, illuminated by a solitary street lamp against the nighttime darkness. He thought it was funny in the ironic sort of way, really, that he could still see himself after all these years.
On the other side of the window, Orpheus could hear the steady, gentle thump-thump-thump of the receptionist’s pulse, the slow and calm drags of a sleeping heart.
That siren’s song, loud and as clear as a bell and echoing in the silence, taunted the something in his mind that wanted to grab the thump-thump-thump and squish it like a bug, bite into it like a pomegranate. He could practically smell it— the blood, that sickly copper smell, buzzing with fresh life and thick warmth on his tongue as he swallowed it like a starving man, tearing through the gentle skin on that receptionist’s neck like tearing through a juicy pulp.
His eyes widened at the thought, unblinking and feral, his gaze resting on the stretched skin of the dozing receptionist’s neck. It would be easy, especially with no one around, and he wouldn’t even have to feed enough to kill him—
Stop it. You fed last night.
Orpheus was nothing if not self-controlled. He closed his eyes and took a long, deep breath through his nose, focused on the nighttime choir of crickets and the way the sticky air sank heavily in his lungs. The summer night was stuffy, humidity thick enough to cut with a knife, and as he slowly opened his eyes again, he saw the starless sky and the moon’s light barely poking through the cracks in the dense clouds.
He looked back through the window again and forced himself to see a man, not a heartbeat and veins and arteries. It took a moment with a lot of awkward staring Orpheus prayed no one would see, but it began to sink in— at least, somewhat sink in, even if it was only surface-level acknowledgement. Orpheus watched the way the stranger’s chest steadily rose and fell, looked at the thin blonde hairs on his head, caught a glimpse of an unidentifiable tattoo on the other side of his neck and wondered what it meant to him. Maybe it didn’t really sink in, not as much as Orpheus would have liked, but at least it was enough to pacify the feral thing trapped within him.
Enough lurking, he decided, swinging open the door and watching the receptionist startle out of his nap at the door’s sudden wooden creak, a little bell chiming overhead.
Orpheus smiled at him and listened to his pulse jump from a gentle thump-thump-thump to a more frantic thumpthumpthumpthump. The man looked quickly, as if he didn’t quite recognize where he was for a moment. Then, some realization must have clicked; he sighed, relaxed and slumped back into his chair, but with his arms crossed over his chest and his heart still sprinting.
The apprehension was a reaction Orpheus was used to. It seemed that no matter how many smiles he flashed, no matter how warm he tried to be, there was still an unsettling something that clung to him— probably the same something that lingered in his mind in a constant state of blood-starved frenzy.
“Good morning,” Orpheus joked, closing the door behind him and stepping more into the office. One lamp in the corner dimly lit the room in a sickening shade of yellow, floral-printed chairs and small tables with magazines shoved to the side, a mounted buck’s head looming over them on the wall. Behind the wood-paneled desk was a wall clock hanging above a key rack (3:23 AM, it read), and in the center of the room, a ceiling fan squeakily lolling around as if it were two seconds away from giving out completely. The room smelled faintly of cigarettes, that dusty old house smell, and sweat.
The receptionist snorted. “You could say that,” he drawled in a low, rough mumble.
“I can come back when you’re not so swamped,” Orpheus continued to joke in response, digging his wallet out of his pocket as he approached the desk.
The man chuckled lowly. “You’d believe it.”
They like that kind of small talk here in Cornfield Country, Orpheus had noted some long time ago. It helped him blend in, made him seem like a less-than-recognizable face as he floated from town to town. The more he adapted to the will of the land, the less obvious he became in the long run. Well, he hoped so, at least.
“What’cha doin’ up so late?” The receptionist asked with his heart still racing like a wild drum.
This is where Orpheus’ plan began to falter, just a little; it was hard to seem as average as possible after pulling up to a small town motel during the ungodly hours of the morning. Thankfully, he never left without a plan.
“Just passin’ through the state, going to visit family. We’ve got a wedding in a few days,” he said with a slight smile as he rummaged through his wallet as an excuse to avoid eye contact. He hoped it didn’t sound as rehearsed as it actually was. And then, quickly, before the receptionist could respond to that—
“Oh, you need my ID, don’t you?” Orpheus said, plucking said ID out of his wallet and placing it on the countertop. His frozen smile plastered on the card stared blankly upwards, right beside the printed name “SMITH, THOMAS JOHNATHAN.”
The receptionist gave it a quick, careless glance before gently sliding it back towards Orpheus. “You’re good,” he said, “How long you stayin’ for? Just the night?”
Orpheus nodded. “Yeah, I’ll be out of your hair by morning.”
The receptionist snorted, flipping open what appeared to be records of the motel visitors, and clicked a pen before scribbling something unseen. As he bent down, neck craning, Orpheus could make out that tattoo he had noticed earlier, but couldn't completely see then. It was nothing impressive: a shoddily-drawn and faded tiger that, if you weren't intensively staring at it to try and decipher what it was, looked more like a blob than anything. Orpheus guessed it was supposed to look as if it were tearing through the man's skin from the inside-out.
“’kay, Thomas, that’s gonna be fifty dollars for tonight.”
He spoke quickly— rushed, practically ushering Orpheus out the door with his tone. His heart still frantically hammered away inside his chest, almost drowning out the squeaks of the pitiful fan above. Outside, rain began to pitter against the roof, and there was a flash of lightning that highlighted the bags under the receptionist’s eyes for that split second before there was a quiet yet powerful rumble of thunder, the kind that rolled through the soil.
Orpheus paid in cash, the exact amount needed. He fished the bills out of his wallet and sat the tangled wad of them onto the counter. The receptionist had already swiveled his chair around, pulling a key off of the rack with a faint jingle before tossing it onto the counter. His eyes locked onto Orpheus again as he turned his chair back around, reminding him of the way deer’s eyes locked onto approaching headlights.
Orpheus noticed the slight twitch of his brow, the subtle nervous fidget of this man’s hands as he asked in a voice that was just barely quivering-- “Anything else you need, man?”
The question seemed to echo, linger in the air like the dense clouds outside. Oh, what he needed— Orpheus could just see teeth plunging into this man’s seamless neck and ripping it apart the way hungry dogs ate meat, his blood flowing like fresh spring water and spurting with each pump of his nervous rabbit heart. The blood would stain the carpet and it would look nauseating underneath the murky yellow light.
He couldn’t help but let his gaze linger on the side of his neck for maybe a beat too long.
Orpheus smiled, but the tug of his cheeks felt unnatural. “Nah, I’m good.”
He turned on his heel and threw open the door before his imagination ignited something ugly, just as a flash of lightning surged through the clouds and thunder roared along in time.
Orpheus took another deep breath of the steamy night air, quickly walked away from the receptionist’s office and listened to the sound of the man's pulse grow fainter and fainter behind him, masked and softened by the rain until Orpheus couldn’t hear it anymore. He lingered under the motel’s awning while the rain picked up a more frantic tempo, glancing down at the key in his hand before looking back up at the row of motel rooms— room 12, the key said.
He stopped, let out a deep and deflated sigh, then let his limbs go limp and his body lean against the wall for support.
Nights like these wore him to the bone and fried his nerves, wound him up tight and left him erratic and ready to burst from the pressure. It hit him then, as suddenly and as ruthlessly as a train, just how fucking tired he was— the kind of tired that left his brain aching and bruised, the kind that made his muscles feel as if they were lead, the kind that broiled his eyes in their sockets. It was too much, so much, all at once. The blood, the heartbeat. It was too there, too real, he was too awake. The world around him felt like live wires. He wanted to snap, cave, collapse, bite and crush that pulp.
The sound burrowed into his mind like botflies: thump-thump-thump. It sang, it cried to him, it cried for him. Everywhere, overtaking his senses, a swarm of sound that made his mouth water. Thump-thump-thump.
He watched the rain crescendo into an aggressive turret-fire as he pulled out a pack of cigarettes and his lighter; it was an ugly habit that didn’t do much for him anymore beyond something to do with his hands and something to just barely dull that splintering edge to his thoughts, but at least it still did something. It’s not like he had to worry about what it was doing to his body, anyways.
He held the cigarette between his teeth as he reached up to light it, took a long drag and charmed the smoke that rolled from his nostrils like an angry bull.
God, I’m fucking tired.
He breathed the life out of his cigarette more and more, the smoldering end acting as a beacon in the night's darkness. Lightning flashed like a flickering lightbulb, thunder roared like a warning. Orpheus stood somewhere along the fringes of it, as he always did.
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