Claws are for scratching.
Teeth are for biting.
Forked tongues are for smelling.
Deep breath in.
Shaking breath out.
Sometimes it was a hotel, sometimes a hostel, but tonight it was a roadside motel somewhere on the northeastern coastline. Salty air had disfigured the once vibrant 1970-something paint. The sleepy clerk had been jarred awake by the clanging of an oversized bell above the door. In fairness, so had she. Disheveled hair and wrinkled clothes suggested he spent most nights hunched over the chipped check-in desk. Grumpily he had taken her credit card, swiped it once, twice, thrice before the ancient machine gave a satisfactory beep. As she stowed the card in her overnight bag, the clerk unceremoniously selected a key from the wall behind and turned, sliding it across the counter. The tag caught and dragged a few pieces of aging veneer as it moved toward her. She hesitated, then snatched the key and left, the bell jarring them both once more.
The motel’s flickering signage was the only glow in the pitch black night. She knew the two lane highway was just beyond the gravel lot, but couldn’t see it. She paused to adjust the bag on her shoulder. A breeze brushed through her off center ponytail, a hint of the ocean within. It urged her forward. Stop stalling, the wind whispered. A chill ran through her, though the night was unseasonably warm. Her steps were deliberate as she passed one door, and then another, making her way down the length of the motel. The key had become hot clutched tightly in her fist, but she didn’t look at it. She knew which room was hers.
Flaky paint and a dented door knob greeted her as she stood, turning the key tag in her hand, the key hanging lamely from her fingers. The leather overnight bag, efficiently packed with a single night’s needs and essential toiletries, now felt as though it were loaded with bricks. Sweat formed at her hairline as stray hairs tickled her neck. She cringed and raised her shoulders against the sensation. Go in, the wind buzzed. Heart rate rising, she jammed the key in. It took a bit more force as the dent on the exterior must have extended into the interior. Then, as was always the case with her room, the door stuck in the frame. Her shoulder met with aging wood as she knocked the door inward.
The room on its own was generally unremarkable. Stained berber carpeting gave way to dull pressed board furniture punctuated by a paisley duvet. Heavy, once-beige curtains hung over the window, already closed for the night. She stood, taking it in, the bag hanging from her shoulder nearly pulling her to the floor in protest. Surely we can ask for another room, the leather carryall complained. Despite the violent effort needed to push it open, the door shut softly behind her. Two unintentionally stylish lamps stood vigil on either side of the bed. They did not so much light the room but rather spread their glow as far as was absolutely necessary before lazily giving way to shadow. She tossed the whining bag into the room’s obligatory faded armchair and locked the door.
The TV didn’t work, like the other rooms in which she stayed, but like the others, she tried it anyway. A digital bedside clock reported the time in broken red lines but there was no point in her trying to decipher it. She was already growing tired. The long day’s drive on a boring isolated road had done little to quiet her ever chattering thoughts. Silence leaned against her in the garish room like an old friend. After all, it wasn’t the quiet that she feared. As though on cue, a small distant scraping broke the air. She inhaled sharply, holding her breath as she strained to listen. The sound came again. And again. Closer, until the tension in her back revealed the scratching was just on the other side of the wall. Please, her bag pleaded from the sunken chair, we can still go. She flipped off the lamps and slid under the once satin soft duvet.
Deep breath in.
Shaking breath out.
In the absence of light, the sound was all around her. Scratching, scraping. Picking at the wallpaper and peeling the paint. It ebbed and flowed as easily as the tides, building like a wave running toward shore. She lay absolutely still beneath the nearly weightless bedding, focusing only from one breath to the next. Invisible claws snagged at the duvet, shifting it back and forth across her motionless frame. Further within the darkened room, teeth snapped against one another. Again and again a jaw opened and shut, the unmistakable click of razor fangs following. The claws became more desperate, always pulling and scratching just inches from her skin. Hot breath wound its way from the jaws to her exposed neck and head. She shuddered, but did not recoil despite her body’s desperate pleas.
A hiss ruffled her hair on the pillow. Scraping, scratching claws tugged and echoed throughout the room. Somewhere beneath the sound of heated breaths too close to her ear, her leather bag gave out a muffled cry. She would have to replace it in the morning. Her heart pounded against her ribcage, screaming to be let out. Her hands gripped the sweat drenched sheets, bonds holding her down as instinct demanded she run. Scarred arms, legs, and torso reminded her why she should stay still. Broken shapes passed in front of the digital clock, blocking and revealing its red light with increasing speed. They were all around her now.
The sun broke the horizon and spread a warm glow through a slit in the dense drapes. Dust and specks of paisley duvet danced without direction in its solitary beam. Saliva shone on strips of tattered leather as the light reached where the bag had perched on an armchair. An unreadable digital clock hung inches from the floor as it swayed by its cord down the front of a dresser. Next door, a guest rose from an uncomfortable bed and stumbled to the bathroom. Despite the ache in his back, it had been a quiet night.
The sound of a shower pushing water through pipes told her it was morning. Eyes shut, she cautiously loosened her grip on the sheets and flexed her fingers. The shower’s plumbing continued to groan from within the shared wall. Her eyes opened, her gaze resting on the sunbeam as it whispered, its ok. She allowed herself to stretch, the stiffness throughout her body finally giving way. Time passed imperceptibly from where she lay beneath the shredded blankets. Time to go, the sunbeam gently coaxed. Fatigued arms lifted her up to survey the familiar damage in the unrecognizable room. She sighed. Tonight she would have to find somewhere else to stay.