On a sunny fall afternoon drove a 1986 Oldsmobile Cutlass along an old highway in western Wyoming. The car still in pristine white carried its driver who tapped happily on the steering wheel along to the tune being played on the radio. Along the side of the road sat a weather beaten sign that read “Lethe – Pop. 4302”, the numbers “171070535” followed in white paint, as if the vandal had nothing better to do than increase the population of Lethe in a fictional way. Having recently acquired the vehicle as payment for a life insurance policy he had sold to the old hag two towns back, Max was feeling quite smug as he drove past another sign that read “Bridge Out” in bold black letters upon a reflective orange surface. Not being familiar with the area Max decides that it best to make a quick stop into the next town and see how to bypass the bridge and get on to Idaho Falls where he expected to make his next sale. Ahead the exit appeared as a lazy right turn into the sleepy town of Lethe, which Max happily took just as his stomach started to complain. Having not stuck around in Landon he had skipped lunch and thought he’d just grab something to eat along the way. Just before he enters town Max sees the town Motel off to the left, a small L shaped building with a pool and a small play area for children including a shiny steel slide that looked to have been built in the 60’s. The sign above the motel blinked in advertisement of vacancies and HBO in every room, but with a grumbling stomach Max drove past the little motel looking for a McDonalds or another fast food option to sate his empty belly.
Pulling the 86’ Cutlass onto Main Street revealed a quaint old western brick downtown with all the usual shops one might expect to find in a small town. The local hardware store stood next to the corner tire shop, which sat across from the town drug store with a sign above proudly displaying “Locally Owned Since 1947”. The wide brick street was lined with cars and farm trucks parked here and there; several vehicles were parked outside the Brison & Son’s Bank with its stone pillars supporting a domed entrance which almost covered up the tiny store front bar with an old tin sign “Hypno’s Saloon” right next door. The Saloon’s sign was weathered and beaten from years of faithful service to the town, but it held that rustic look that made you feel at home when you walked under its aged facade. As Max slowly passed the Saloon he noticed the closed sign was still up in the window, which was good news in that if they had a working sign then they were most likely still in business, and after the long day he’d had a drink was something that Max would very much enjoy. It all reminded Max a bit of Mayberry with their lovable townsfolk who seemed to always find new ways to test Ol’ Andy Griffith’s patience. At the end of the block in the middle of the intersection stood what appeared to be a water well, adorned with a wood shingled roof and rope hanging from the wooden beam housed just below the small rooftop acting as a wench for the bucket that Max was sure once used to pull water up for the town folks. Around the well were flowers of red and yellow, but not having much use for flowers Max couldn’t decide if they were lilies or some other variety. Thinking that lily’s bloomed earlier in the year than this, Max was simply unsure what flower might be the source of the color around the well. On one side a small bench made of intricate iron working sat, one could only assume that such a small bench would be for decor and not used as the flowers had grown up under and all around the bench and well. Not more than a block away, there sitting in the sun like a shining steel beacon from a bygone era of the fifties was a diner; clad in stainless steel and neon signs both in the windows and high above. “Oblivion Café” Max read aloud. A smile stretches across Max’s face; having eaten in many such diners left over from a day when doing things right was more important than doing them quickly made him all the more hungry, Max loved old diners. Parking the Olds Cutlass near the entrance Max turns off the car and heads for the diner’s front door.
With a chiming ring the door opens and the little bell above dances out the tune of a new customer. Max looks down to the black and white checkered tile floor, then to the stainless steel wrapped stools standing along the stainless steel clad bar. Inside a few patrons were seated about the diner, a lone man sat looking over a menu at the bar, pen and pad lying open on the counter. Looking slightly worn and weary the man appeared to be taking his decision in an afternoon meal quite seriously. Across the diner in one of the booths sat two women, one maybe in her early twenties, blond hair cut short still wearing a summer dress, a look in her eyes reflecting that she might think life is full of possibilities. The other woman was older, possibly old enough to be her mother. She held an expression of knowing how the world works and that possibilities aren’t always a good or exciting thing to encounter. Ignoring the few other patrons Max unbuttons his fraying tweed jacket then slides into the second barstool from the end of the counter. Adjusting himself so his slightly pudgy stomach was not actually resting against the bar, but close enough that his elbows could easily rest on the counter, he folds his hands like a man praying and happily waits. A memory forms acutely in his mind of his mother berating a six year old version of him over placing his elbows on the dinner table; Max smiled all the more knowing that he wouldn’t have to deal with her anymore. It had been quick, the cancer spread in a matter of weeks and within two months she was gone. Max had yet to pay a visit to her gravesite, he had after all been far to busy to mourn the loss of one hateful woman who never believed he would amount to anything.
“What can I get ya?” came the charming voice of a portly woman with far too much perfume and not enough makeup to hide the mangled red puffy scar running the side of her head where she was missing most of her left ear. Though the rest of her image was strikingly like that of a diner from the 50’s, a yellow dress that was more cream than yellow with wide white trim along the hem of the dress and arms. Undeterred by the ghastly sight along the side of the woman’s head Max greets her with a salesman smile and says “Well my dear, are your burgers and ice tea here as tasty as those my Mama used buy at the local Diner much like this one down in Memphis?” Flipping open her order pad the waitress starts to write, then says with a slight drawl “My burgers are better and tea is sweeter. By the way, names Sandra and you just yell if you need anything.” Sandra turned and walked into the kitchen, Max could hear her giving his order to the cook followed by a cackling laugh of a woman who hadn’t a worry in the world. Looking around the diner, pictures in black and white lined the walls, old oil wells here, farm land there, and then a group of men standing in front of the Brison & Son’s Bank in what appeared to be the ribbon cutting ceremony with a banner dated August 7th, 1917. Just to his left Max saw a man he hadn’t noticed in the diner before, a tall man in a black suit was walking towards the bathrooms. Max only caught a glimpse of the man before he was fully around the corner, but it was enough to illicit strange thoughts of dark places. Shaking his head free of the tall man’s image Max returned his gaze to the opposite side of the counter. There Max noticed ribbons from the county fair of 1997 for best chili along with a small 3 x 5 picture of Sandra and a few others standing proudly in front of a large steel pot on a sunny day all smiling with pride. “That is why I love diners like this.” Max thought “Good honest food by simple and honest people”. Just the sort of people Max had met in Landon, in which case one of them kindly provided him with the a certain 86’ Olds Cutlass he just happened to now be the owner of.
A few minutes later Sandra emerged from the kitchen with a burger nearly the size of the plate along with a basket lined with wax paper to catch the grease which might drip from the fresh cut fries still steaming. She slides the plate and basket in front of Max, before he has time to adjust his basket of fries bottles of mustard and ketchup appear next to his plate. Those were quickly followed by a large glass of perfectly sweetened tea with a wedge of fresh cut peach in it. “Can I getcha anything else darling?” Sandra asks smiling, a smile that stretched her scarred red flesh enough that an odd stretching of skin on her face and neck caused her smile to morph into something from the painting of melting clocks by Escher, a very noticeable thing to any who might be looking her direction. Being the charmer Max had learned to be while selling life insurance policies to the old fools he didn’t let his alarm at the morbid stretching smile show. Instead he asked her about the bridge being out, to which she replied “oh you know how it is up north, just always a mess up there that runs down on us little folk. Sheriff says the old Lethe Bridge should be open again in a day or two though.” Max chewing quickly through the scalding hot fry he held in his hand asked “Do you happen have a Holiday Inn or someplace like that I could stay for the night since the bridge is out?” A dower look crossed Sandra’s face relaxing the enflamed scar tissue along the side of her head and neck. “Only place in town is the Motel you passed on your way into town. Nice enough, even if the owner is a bit odd. But you might try Landon about twenty miles east of here.” Max thanked her for the information then sunk his teeth into the mammoth burger before him, relishing in the flavor of a burger cooked on a grill that most likely was the original and had been there from the start. It didn’t take long for Max to work his way through the meal, a meal that was so tasty he hadn’t noticed the loud rumbling of a truck passing that nearly shook the pictures off the walls.
A short time later and a conversation with the owner that was stranger than Max would have liked he stood before the old door to Room 106. The door opened with a creaking noise along with the sound of a key being removed from a door with locks in need of oiling. Max steps just inside the motel room then feels along the wall for a light switch just to the right of the door frame. Finding the light switch turning it on reveals a room that had seen better days “What a shit hole, place is worse than the last one I stayed at.” Max says, speaking to no one in particular. Shutting the door behind him he notices that the room number 106 was on the interior as well as the exterior. “Odd” thought Max, but paid little attention to it as the room was far less than a luxury room at the Hilton. Something as small as a number on both sides of the door could be forgiven after the price Max had paid to rent the room. Still standing just inside the doorway Max notices to his right a small breakfast table sat in front of the window which looked as if its glass had not been replaced in the many years since the Motel had opened. Next to the table sat a queen sized bed nestled next to a night stand which no doubt held a Gideon Bible. Along the opposite wall a dresser with a large mirror in the middle and on one corner sat an old tube television. Max stared at this oddity for a moment then gave a half chuckle “just like my dear old ma used to have, old knobs and all.” Giving the old TV a pull on the knob the screen came to life, some talk show Max was unfamiliar with appeared with guest yelling at one another which came in the sounds of edited beeps. Pushing the Knob back in the TV blinked off “There’s never anything good on anymore” Max sighed.
Dragging his small carry on sized suitcase from the doorway further into the room, Max picks up the bag and places it on the dresser next to the television that doesn’t look to have been made in the 70’s. As he opens his bag the zipper catches at the bottom corner, an issue he’s dealt with for some time now, but as a man who grew up with a “use it until it’s broken” mother Max had no intention of replacing the bag just yet. A bit of extra force and the zipper gave way revealing the contents of his bag that now lay before him. Each item meticulously placed, not an inch of space wasted which meant he could reach his toiletries bag without trouble as it was right on top and head to the bathroom without a second thought.
Crossing the shag carpet that bordered on a brown color, but might have been a cream at one time Max enters the tile lined bathroom. The grout was the color of blackening mold and stood in stark contrast to the slight smell of bleach that hung in the stale air. Turning on the faucet max heard a gurgle then a groan then a sigh from just behind him, turning quickly around he realized it must have just been the sound reverberating off the tile walls. Still the sound of pipes clanging through the old building could be heard long before the slow trickle of crystal clear water came flowing from the tap. Shaking his head “You sure know how to pick a great place to stop for a night Max.” He began to apply the exact amount of tooth paste to the toothbrush he believed was necessary to maintain a perfectly white smile. A feature Max found helpful when selling insurance policies to those who didn’t need them. After the burger at the diner he wasted no time in starting his lengthy ritual habit of brushing after every meal, allowing the water to flow and clanging pipes to continue until he shut the water off not being able to bear the noise a moment longer
Just as Max finished the seventeenth passing brush of his lower jaw he heard the old tube TV knob turn on with a heavy “thwunk” sound. With a jump he poked his head out of the bathroom door to see if someone had come in without him knowing. Seeing no one he says reassuringly to himself “Huh, no one.” Max walked towards the TV tooth brush still in his mouth and shuts it off by the old knob, a knob that had to be pushed back in with some effort this time. Max returns to the bathroom and finishes his routine then heads for the motel door without a second thought to the oddity of a TV with a manual switch turning itself on, chalking it up to the TV simply being old.
The Bridge To Nowhere
Wanting to verify that the bridge was indeed out and impassable Max decided to inspect the bridge himself. Returning to the car Max pulled out of the parking lot back onto Main Street headed west, then turning on the radio which he had to switch to A.M. and settle for NPR, “a side effect of being in the middle of no where” Max told himself. At the on ramp Max headed north in his 86 Olds as the sun started to wane in the late afternoon, beginning its slow sojourn into the west horizon from its daily work. Following the he map picked up in the motel office Max continues north on the highway driving a mere three miles before the bridge came into sight. Flashing barricades placed on both sides of the road to prevent anyone from attempting to cross the old bridge. Just below the bridge Max could see the river had swelled to its banks, the water nearly sloshing against the underside of the bridge which seemed ready to give in to the demands of nature at any moment. Max stopped the car and decided to get a closer look on foot. When he opened the Olds door the Max was nearly deafened by the sound of nature’s great force as the river rushed by. The sound forced the image of a hundred train cars all barreling at top speed down tracks laid side by side twenty tracks wide. In the river Max could see all sorts of debris being carried down stream, from tree limbs and branches to even what appeared to be a motor home. The smell was the worst though; a smell of rot and decay the likes Max had never experienced was nearly overwhelming. Covering his mouth in an attempt to block the smell Max said “Damn, no getting across that anytime soon. God I need to get out of this town.” secretly wishing some god would grant his request fearing the smell would follow him back to the motel somehow. Seeing that Sandra was as good as her word about the burger and the bridge Max headed back to town, ready to visit that little saloon next to the bank and drown out the sounds and smell of the Lethe River.
As Max drove south, tall old trees straight as an arrow lined the road on both sides. To his west the sun was setting, casting log shadows over the road and illuminating the dark woods to the east. With the striped spectacle of trees crossing the road Max was nearly hypnotized by the rhythmic sight until he saw a glimmer out of the corner of his eye, looking to his left Max sees a tall thin man in a black suit walking between the trees just past the edge of the woods. The mans face was so pale it nearly reflected the light shining down on him which stood in stark contrast to the dark suit and bowler hat he wore. Max blinked quickly and the man was gone, perhaps having stepped far enough into the dark wood that he no longer could be seen. Thinking it strange any man would walk the woods in the a suit Max shook his head and dismissed it thinking that he really needed a drink before he turned in for the night.
Without a word the young man plied his trade, Max asked him “So on the way into town I noticed the sign for Lethe has some spray painted numbers on it. Local kids get bored?” The bar tender stiffened slightly in the shoulders belying that the sign was a subject of some importance. The bartender quickly relaxed and smiled up at Max with a bit of a smirk “You know how kids are. The numbers have been a bit of a joke around here for some time.” The young man had Max’s full attention now, an answer without an answer is as good of a mystery to occupy his evening as any on the ancient TV sitting atop the dresser back in Room 106. “You don’t say?” The bartender didn’t seem interested in saying much more, having already moved to the other end of the bar to clean some glasses that were from the same rack that the glass Max now held was just pulled to mix his Jack and Coke. Just then behind him the bar door swung open offering up a breath of fresh woodsy air from Main Street. The air in the bar seemed to recoil at the invasion of the substance and quickly closed back in as the door closed. Through the entrance walked the scarred face of Sandra and a man that had more pock mark scars on his face than anyone Max had ever seen. Sandra seeing the slightly pudgy form of Max sitting at the bar leaned over to the man and said something in his ear. Max turned back to his drink expecting she was telling the pock marked man about the stranger in town. Not wanting to stare at the couple who at Halloween would have no need to dress up to scare the kids Max finished his drink and waved for another from the young man still cleaning the glass.
As Max stirred the ice cubes at the bottom of his glass waiting for his second drink a hand brushed his left shoulder. Turning his head he was greeted by Sandra’s scar stretched smile “Did you get settled in the motel alright? The Old Man didn’t give you too much grief did he?” Next to her the man she had arrived with sat down. “No trouble at all, he was a nice fellow in that grumpy neighbor kind of way. Thank you Sandra for recommending it.” Max said smiling wondering how she knew he hadn’t turned back to Landon for a real hotel. Sandra slid into the stool left between Max and the man who had taken a seat at the bar now waving the bartender over. “This is my husband Carl.” She said motioning to her left, who turned and gave Max the once over look. “Nice to meet you, I’m Max.” He said raising his glass to the rough looking man who simply nodded. “He doesn’t say much, but he’s a good man once ya get to know him.” Sandra said as she adjusted to her bar stool. The bartender placed a tall glass in front of her full of some bright reddish liquid and a pint of black beer directly in front of Carl then finally a double Jack and Coke in front of Max. Seeing the friendly nature of Sandra and thinking she might illuminate the mystery of the numbers 171070535 painted on the sign into town Max said. “I was just asking our bartender here about the town sign, looks to have been vandalized a bit. Our friend here thinks it’s the local kids. I happen to remember a time when a much younger me might have been tempted into some hair brained idea like that. Thank goodness I had a mother who raised me to be a God fearing boy and I never strayed to far down those paths of temptation.” Sandra nodded politely as if in agreement in the way to raise a child. Max looking at the bartender and asks “What’s the joke you mentioned about the numbers again?” The young man looked at Sandra and Carl then back to Max, Carl sighed after a hard swallow of his tar colored beer. “Just some kids joke about hating the placed that took them in, raised them, fed them, and sheltered their sorry asses.” Carl said with a voice filled with enough gravel to match his marred face. Not feeling the need to continue prodding a man who looked to have had just about all the chat he could muster for a year or more Max turned back to his drink that had been replaced by the bartender finishing it off in one gulp. Looking down at his watch he noticed it was already after 9pm, time had somehow slipped by and if Max planned to make an attempt at the bridge first thing in the morning he wanted to get to sleep early. “Well thank you for the fine drinks young man, and thank you Sandra. You were absolutely correct in saying your establishments burger was better than what I had in Memphis. But I think I’ll turn in for the night, it’s been a pleasure meeting you all.” Max said leaning over meeting the eyes of Carl who looked relieved to see the stranger leaving. Dropping an extra five on the counter Max smoothed his aging white dress shirt and buttoning his tweed jacket headed to the exit past several voodoo masks flanking the door.
Night had fallen and a chill hung in the air, in the distance a rumble could be heard from the north. Max looked up and saw the outline of storm clouds billowing like cotton “looks like it’s heading this way.” he said to himself. Pulling the Oldsmobile keys from his pocket he glanced down the street and could see a couple holding hands while looking into the well in the middle of the street. Young love was not something Max had any interest in; a woman would come when he had made his fortune. For now he left the lovers to their well and hand holding, he would move on in the morning and be done with this strange little town that seemed to have far too few people in it now that he noticed. Looking down the street past the couple at the well Max couldn’t see another soul on the street, turning to look the other way he saw the remainder of Main Street abandoned. In the florescent lights raining down from their tall polls the brick buildings looked far worse than they had when he arrived in town that afternoon; as if age and decay festered and flourished in the night air. From the far side of the street a slight movement caught Max’s attention. Standing just inside an alcove entrance to a nameless abandoned store stood the very tall man in a black suit… “No, can’t be.” Max said clenching his car keys in one hand thinking back to the man he had seen walking in the woods on his way back from the river earlier. It was then that the man who had already been standing in shadow seemed to fade into the shadow until he was simply gone. Max rubbed his eyes then quickly unlocked the Oldsmobile door and got in. As he drove slowly down the road he looked closely at the alcove that the man had been standing in Max saw nothing except Max could see an empty doorway with its door standing half open “What the fuck was that about?” he asked, as if an answer was expected from the Olds.
A short time later Max pulled into the parking space just in front of Room 106. The Motel sat at the edge of town near the highway, but just far enough around the bend that it could hardly be considered a roadside motel. Most would drive right past never knowing that an L shaped motel was even there with its stale rooms and blackening grout. Looking to the north Max could clearly see the storm rolling in now that he was away from the street lights. The only light that interfered with his view of the storm clouds was the low glowing Motel sign which the O was flickering off and on, apparently having issues with its neon source. There in the middle of the O was something round Max could see, unable to make out what the object was headed into his room having had enough strangeness for one night. Max tossed his keys on the dresser and loosened his collar then removing his jacket and pulled his shirt tails out from his pants. Lifting the lid to his suitcase which he had left unzipped due to the troubled corner, Max removed his night clothes and changed into them, hung his slacks and dress shirt an jacket on hangers in the closet and closed the closet door revealing the mirror on the wall. He would need to find a decent cleaner in the next town he could get to before he could possibly wear these again which now smelled of stale cigarettes and bar stories and faintly of rot from the river. Looking into the mirror Max could see the aging at the corners; it was an inexpensive mirror showing a slight bend in the middle section causing a slimming effect he didn’t mind in the least. Max entered the bathroom to repeat his ritual of brushing his teeth, this time with the added step of waiting for the clanging pipes to give up its water then washing his face with its crisp refreshing water. Smoothing over his fading hair line and spitting twice into the sink Max finished his routine by tapping the tooth brush three times on the porcelain sink then turned off the water. Lastly he looked into the mirror above the sink recalling the only words his grandfather spoke that ever meant anything to Max. “Every night before you lay your head down, you look yourself in the mirror and if you’re happy with who’s looking back, you’ve had a good day.” Max looked into the mirror at himself, a man who was content with life though aging a bit, but gracefully if he had to gage himself. Beyond his reflection though something dim flickered and shimmered, rippled slightly in the mirror. Lightning crackled and lit up his room causing the lights to dim momentarily. Startled by the sudden intrusion of nature he glanced out the door, seeing the room had not been struck through by the storm he returned his gaze to the mirror. As Max looked into the glass he thought he saw a shape reflected just behind him in the shower. Panicking and turning his head quickly he back stepped out of the bathroom, thunder cracked loudly outside. Max looked hard at the shower but was suddenly relieved to see that it was only his eyes playing tricks on him. The shower curtain stood slightly open and nothing foreboding lay behind it. Laughing slightly at his own fright, Max turned towards his bed and wanted nothing more than to wake in the morning and make his way to Idaho Falls putting this weird town with its stinking river and creepy tall men in black suits behind him.
After laying in bed for what seemed hours and fluffing the motel pillow more than a few times Max decided that it’s simply no use, the pillow was flat as a pancake. The bed was no better, Max thought that the aging floor might actually have more “give” in it than the mattress he now rested upon. Closing his eyes the rain could be heard tapping at his window, then from the bathroom the pipes began to clang. Max eyes flew open again but then he could hear the muffled sound of water running and someone moving about in the room next to his, he focused on the rain tapping out nature’s rhythmic music and he finally drifted off to sleep.
Max woke some time later to a crashing coming from the bathroom, the awful sound of glass shattering into a thousand tiny shards. Max lay motionless in his bed, already stiff and sore from the unforgiving mattress he listened as the glass settle. Alarmed by an unsettling sound of glass moving far longer than it should have Max immediately recalls the sounds of the TV coming on, this time was different, this time he felt as if he were not alone. Attempting to feign sleep Max remained motionless in case some junkie was fumbling through the bathroom looking to score prescription pills or other valuable items. The last thing Max wanted was a fight, he never was much good in a fight, even in school he always ended up on the pavement after a scrap. Laying there in the motel bed Max tried not to breathe hoping to hear what the intruder might be doing in the bathroom full of broken glass. Instead of crunching glass under boots, his intensely strained ears were met by only the slightly sliding sound of glass on tile, and then it stopped.
Max waited, the seconds ticked by like minutes on eternity’s clock, still he listened to every faint noise the room had to offer, yet nothing moved. Not a board, not a mouse, nothing. Not a single noise could be heard from the bathroom now. The sounds of the world outside had also ceased, even the rain still falling against the window had no sound. The silence was so enveloping that Max felt sure some unnatural force was now at work. What building along this barren stretch of road would have technology to become sound proofed to the outside noises of nature on a moments notice? Finally, Max could bear inaction no longer, throwing the covers from his legs then jumping to his feet shouting “who’s there, show yourself or I’ll call the cops!” No response came, only more silence. Max quickly fumbled in the darkness for the bedside lamp, forcing him to turn his back momentarily to the bathroom. Finding the switch but in a panic it required him two attempts to turn it on before light filled the room forcing back the darkness that felt as if it were about to swallow him.
Turning around to face the bathroom and whatever awaited him there; Max clenched his fist feeling very much like the school boy about to be put back onto the pavement by Ronny McGillis who gained great pleasure from beating smaller boys like Max during school recess. The room around him remained empty, no junkie awaited in the bathroom doorway, no murdering psychopath looming in the dark, simply nothing. Feeling the fear start to subside Max ventured to peek into the bathroom, thinking now that the mirror with its old screws must have simply fallen off its mounts he stepped cautiously forward. “This old motel with a TV that still had a knob takes even less care of their mirrors. Cheap bastards” Max thought to himself.
Light from the bedside lamp caused light to dance and glimmer off pieces of broken mirror shards that had bounced onto the carpet just outside the bathroom threshold, like moonlight reflecting off icicles in winter back home in Tennessee. Max slid into his shoes to avoid being cut by the broken shards and took the few steps to the bathroom door. Reaching his hand along the interior wall finding the light switch he flipped it on causing pale florescent light to paint the small room in static white. The small room still smelling of bleach, its grout still looking of mold stood before him revealing that the mirror had fallen off its mounts. The wall where the mirror had recently covered was flaking paint chips of black and rust color barely coating the rotting plaster coated wall which must have gave way allowing the mirror to fall. Relieved that it was not the hand of any malicious thing intent on killing him, fear quickly was replaced by shame as Max scolded himself for allowing such a simple and logical thing to spook him so easily. Yes the silence was unnerving and the motel certainly was not the Hilton, but Max was a man of the world, of logic and reason. He had seen too much and swindled his way through too many situations much more dangerous than a bathroom with a loose mirror to be spooked so easily. Yet, he still felt someone or something just behind him waiting for its chance to devour him.
Max walked cautiously into the bathroom, its floor now reflecting back a thousand eyes looking up at him as he looked down at the mess. As he bent to pick up one of the larger pieces Max could see the eye staring back at him was of a moss green flecked with burst blood vessels along with blood pooling at its edges as if about cry red tears. Max’s hand trembled uncontrollably dropping the shard letting the bloody eye of green moss tumble back to the floor where it broke into more pieces, each new shard now with a different eye now looking back up at him. Looking about him the eyes were not just from the shard he dropped, but from each that lay on the tile floor. Some eyes were filled with blood, others decay, some leaking fluids that Max could not understand but feared. Each eye reflected one common thing, their hatred of him. Max’s knew these were not reflections of his own eyes, his own were of a chestnut brown and now full of fear not hate. Jumping over the remaining shards of mirror back to the bedroom, each shard hosts eye a different shade of malice followed after Max’s sudden movement. Fear sunk its claws deep into Max’s chest “Nightmare, this is just a nightmare” he said aloud. Wiping his face with his sweating palms in an attempt to wipe away the images and believe it was a dream; trying desperately to believe that he had not seen those hate filled eyes in the broken mirror scattered on the bathroom floor. Max turned back towards the bathroom filled with eyes of hatred, but he no longer saw the eyes watching him; in fact only the old tile floor with blackening grout remained. As if the broken mirror had never fallen from the wall or lain on the floor shattered into pieces each filled with eyes that screamed out their hatred of him, not a shard, not even a flake remained.
Curiously and cautiously, Max approached the bathroom again. Small silent steps one in front of the other covering the small distance he had retreated. Each step closer a test of his willpower, each inch nearer a chance for his trembling legs to give way to fear and fail him. His eyes darted from the carpet to the tile, from the corner of the bathroom entrance to the sink then above where the mirror once again hung in its perfectly aged and slightly rotting way. The mirror looked exactly as it had before, if perhaps only slightly tilted, but not so much as to make one think that it had recently occupied the floor in a display of horror that had left Max trembling in fear, or that it had been shattered into a thousand tiny pieces only to be reassembled and replaced as if nothing had ever happened. Max questioning his own salinity stared hard into the glass, looking for any sign of those eyes filled with malicious intent. Yet no matter how hard he looked, his own reflection was all he could now see. Leaning down Max turns on the faucet which recited its clanging noises as it had earlier before coughing up the water held somewhere deep below. After splashing his face and giving it a good rub with a hand towel that felt far too rough for a hand towel even by motel standards Max turned the bathroom light off and stepped back into his room.
Max entered the room with a tentative step, what lay before him was a sight of impossibility, chaos and order all wrapped in a mind bending feast for his eyes. Each of his garments was laid out along the floor and walls, stretched as if on display in some macabre dime store window. The mattress and bed turned completely upside down, yet its sheets and comforter remained tucked and made with perfect precision that defied gravity. The edges of the sheets pointed towards the ceiling as if gravity were reversed, the ceiling itself now lays as a display of every coin, dollar and piece of jewelry taken as payments for insurance policies. Each item now held to the ceiling as if it had been tossed on a table and left. The light by the bed flickered followed by a low vibration that could be felt more than heard by Max who stood frozen in terror of the sight. His life lay above and before him, his forged policies each sold and signed now with a red ink that now dripped to the floor. Each signed by an unsuspecting victim who turned over their savings in hopes that when they passed on their loved ones would have no monetary cost to worry over. His stolen and forged checkbooks sat on the ceiling with each check now made out to every demonic and monstrous name Max had ever heard. Lying next to the checks were the credit cards of people who Max had swindled, steeling the identities of former clients who had died. The lights flickered again; the hum and vibration in the room grew stronger. Max held his breath waiting for this nightmare to end, to wake and be in his bed, to put this whole insanity behind him, for this he held his breath. Max gasped, sucking in air realizing that he could not wake from this nightmare, that whatever this was would not be escaped by holding his breath hoping to wake.
The vibrations were strong enough now that the jewelry rattled and clinked along the ceiling. The lights in the room began to flicker again, this time nearly completely out then Max ran for the door. Three steps away from his freedom darkness falls on the room, feeling a force push him to the ground and into something solid Max collides into the closed door striking his head. Falling to the floor the room falls silent and still, Max now on his knees waits stunned, trying to clear his vision by shaking his head. Trying to understand if he had just tripped or if whatever was tormenting him was now about to take out its malice on him. The light next to the bed clicked blinking to life revealing the room as it once was, covers tossed to one side, just as he’d left it when he suspected a burglar. His bag still open with a spot empty from his toiletry bag being removed along with missing his night clothes, the ceiling now bare leaving no trace of his sins that had just been on display. Max’s head throbbed, touching his hand to his forehead feeling a wet spot pulls his fingers back to see blood on them. “Blood or no blood, it’s time to leave this god damn motel.” Max thought. He stood up and quickly walked to his bag zipping it, breaking the zipper as it caught on the corner that had plagued him these last several months. This did not deter need for escape of this strange and frightful room. Scooping the bag up under his arm he raced for the door his heart beating nearly out of his chest, relief being just on the other side of the door, the door with 106 on both sides.
Max grasped the door handle twisting with a fear driven strength, feeling the lock disengage and a sharp pull the door opens revealing the rainstorm outside. Standing now in the open door stood the very tall slender man, the one dressed in a black suit, white shirt and black tie, the one Max had see throughout the day. Max was eye level with the man’s chest and was forced to look up to see the face that wasn’t there. Merely a blank space of pale nearly opaque flesh with no distinguishing features that seemed to writhe and vibrate blurring his vision at times lay where a man’s face should be. Atop its head sat a bowler hat as jet black as this creatures suit and as ominous as the red moon that could now been seen through the rain clouds. The faceless creature bends its head towards Max as if looking at him then starts to lift a hand then snaps it forward almost reaching Max’s neck before he quickly slams shut the door. Locking the dead bolt into place, leaning against the door fearing that the creature might attempt to break the door down Max waited. Nothing happened, no knock at the door, no pounding on the glass, and no walls violently being ripped down to gain access to him. Looking to his left he sees the man from the diner, the one with the pad and pen. He was outside the window looking in but appeared to not be able to see anything as he looked intently at the glass. A flash of lightning blinded Max, when his eyes cleared the man was replaced by the faceless horror craning its head as if looking in with its eyeless face seeking entry. Max’s heart beat like a drum played by a wild man, fear and panic seeped from his every pore “It’s just a dream, a nightmare.” he whispered to himself over and over while holding his eyes shut tight.
After a moment and the creature had made no further attempted at entry, Max opened his eyes and braved a glance through the window and saw that the creature in the suit had left. The room lay quiet and still, only the sound of his wildly beating heart could be heard. Mustering what little courage he could, Max stood and looked out the window from Room 106, seeing nothing in the parking lot he decides “it’s better to escape now than wait for the tall man with no face to return”. Max unlocks the deadbolt and pulls on the door handle, this time the door would not open, held firmly shut by some unseen force. Quickly he moves to the tiny table in front of the window picking up a chair, with more strength than Max knew he had in him flings the chair at the glass. The chair rebounds off the window pane leaving not a mark, the window looked to be in the exact same condition it had been in when he first arrived that afternoon, not even a scratch could be found. “Come on!” Max shouted into the silent space. A flash of blinding white light crashes through the window leaving Max stunned for a moment, the silence of the room is broken by the rumble of thunder clapping as if the night welcomed the spectacle in Room 106. The silence now broken by the thunder and lightning, rain fell in a deceitfully peaceful manner upon the window of Motel Lethe, lulling its occupants, giving hope that sins might still be washed clean by this night’s rain.
Max’s panic had subsided, replaced by a knowing calm of one who knows his end is nigh. Now standing in the center of Room 106, his arms outstretched in a mocking pose of the crucified man his mother told him as a boy should be feared and loved. Not being a praying man Max felt that such pious lofty and conspicuous thinking of ones self simply foolish. That was before the terror, before the thousands of eyes in the broken glass, before the sins were lain out, before the faceless thin man reaching for something inside him. Max now cried out “God, if that’s who you are. Please, save me. I’m sorry... I’ve done wrong, hurt people. I don’t want to die here, I’ve seen my mistakes, I’ll do better! Just get me out of here and I’ll fucking do whatever you want!” Thunder raged outside shaking the building, rattling the full length mirror on the wall next to the closet. Again and again thunder crashed and shook the building. A scream could be heard through the walls of Room 106; a scream cut short by a painful heavy thud Max heard come from the bathroom. As Max approaches the bathroom the TV returns to life with a static charge that makes Max stumble into a wall, clinging to the wall for support as terror grips him again. The walls vibrate hard nearly shaking the room apart now, Max could feel it now, the building was alive and it was hungry. Looking into the bathroom, Max could see the light flickering, revealing nothing that would have made a heavy wet sound hitting the floor. But then Max heard the gurgle, the choking noise through the wall and he knew this night’s judgment was not just for him. Others were suffering like him and now possibly dying. Max left the bathroom determined to escape his fate, picks up the chair from the table and again he flings the chair at the window, again, and again. Yet the window will not break, will not shatter, nor fail in its task to hold Max firmly where he was, the prisoner in Room 106.
The rain had picked up and beat harder now. Swirling gales could be seen through the window by Max who now sat on his former weapon. No longer a potential for escape, it served as a sentencing chair. “Will God hear my prayer?” “Will my pardon come this night?” Max thought. From behind him Max heard “Crackle” “Pop” he turns to look at where the sounds came from, the mirror atop the dresser was fracturing and Max watched as it crumbled. Shards of mirror shattered into tiny fragments and all moved with the vibrations of the building. Max waited, waited for his judgment, waited to hear the mirror in the bathroom shatter, waited for the mirror by the closet to break. He waited for his sins to be cleansed by reflection and illumination held in the light of those shards of broken glass, his judgment held in the eyes broken and bleeding among the shards. Max did not have long to wait, with each crack of thunder another mirror broke, the bathroom shattered first, followed by the mirror next to the closet, both shattered and moved under the vibrations of the building. The Mirrors did not break alone, the TV now alive and with a pop the screen cracked barely containing the static signal which now played on the screen as the power knob had again pulled itself into the ON position, then returned to OFF and back again. “Please God, I’m begging, I don’t want to die tonight.” Max whimpered. Instead of silence a reply came, this time from the television. Through the screen of now broken glass the static image of blank signal came the ghostly image of a single eye the size of the screen, morphing through each hate filled color, all bleeding, all bloodshot and leaking fetid ichor. A voice sounding of hell spoke “The River Lethe welcomes you Maxwell Corrith. Your prayer has been heard and your answer awaits you.” Staring with terror at the image on the screen before him Max could bring no words to mind in response to the voice sounding of a million tortured souls all screaming in unison. Then to his right, the sound of glass cracking and rubbing against itself brought his attention from the image of the watching eye on his screen to the swirling torrent of broken mirrors forming into the shape of a human. Each piece of mirror reflected eyes all bloodshot and full of hatred. Its arm stretched out towards Max who suddenly found his feet beneath him running for the sealed door of Room 106. Yanking on the handled screaming for help Max was stunned that the door opened without resistance. What lay before him was beyond his understanding, smoldering rivers of fire lay in the distance, the sky was full of smoke, screams of pain could be heard in the far off distance. Looking out the window to his left Max could see the image of what his world should be, rain and lightning just as it had been, but through the door only Hell awaited.
Max felt sharp pains scrape over his neck and scalp, then his arms and legs felt a thousand tiny little shards of mirrors cutting into him as they slid across his body slicing flesh from bone. Gritting his teeth Max tried to shake off the sliding glass only to have it sink deeper into his flesh. Screaming in pain Max opens his mouth which was met by a flood of tiny shards of glass mirror flooding his mouth shredding his tongue and worming its way down his throat choking the scream silent but filling him with the knowledge of the eyes. Looking down at his arms being flayed by the mirrors and the eyes held in the shards Max felt the flood of glass shards swirling inside his throat and bowels, feeling his intestines shredded Max fell to his knees looking out the door to hell. This was his punishment, no escape, no hell to welcome him, certainly no heaven to rescue his damned soul. The eyes see, the eyes know, the sins, his sins were now and forever his. Crawling forward even as the mirrors sunk deeper into his flesh, destroying him from the inside he could feel the gaze in those shards looking into his soul. A few more excruciating steps Max fell to his knees, he felt himself vomit out the shards of mirrors spewing his lungs, his kidneys and heart before him. Darkness closed in on Maxwell but one last pain would be known to him before he found the dark. The shards and thousands of eyes all emitted a triumphant childlike giggle of scraping glass upon glass that said “You are ours”. Max finally felt the shards that had now burrowed deep into his flesh and bone pull him apart in a thousand directions all at once. Behind him the door to Room 106 closed silently leaving the world to its storms, his toiletry bag to the next guest, and leaving the other guests all to their fates.