Spend a night at the Kings Inn Motel and win $25,000.00
The Craigslist ad didn’t say much else.
Just a local area telephone number and address.
Call To Make Your Reservation Today!
I scoured the ad three more times for some catch—some hidden fine print—before picking up the phone to dial.
“Front desk.” The man on the other end of the line sounded bored and put upon.
I sat up straight in my chair. “Yeah, I uh, I saw your ad.”
“Yes, sir. The room is still available.”
“This prize money—twenty-five grand—that legit?”
The man on the other end sighed. “Yes, sir. Would you like me to make you a reservation?”
“What’s that about?” I asked. “I mean, what do I have to do?”
“Look, dude, it’s a promotional thing I think. I don’t know—I just man the front desk. Stay the night; win the prize. Simple.”
“Yeah, ok, but what’s the—“
“It’s a double bed room. Sixty-nine dollars a night. Non-smoking. Looks like it’ll be available Wednesday after 4:00. You want the reservation, or no?”
Twenty-five thousand dollars for one night in some flea bit motel?
I gave him my name and particulars and listened as he punched them into a computer.
“Alright, Sir,” he’d found his way back on script, “your reservation is confirmed and we look forward to seeing you Wednesday. Please have your ID and a major credit card at check in. Is there anything else I can help you with this evening?”
I cleared my throat. “This isn’t some sort of scam, is it?”
“Nope. We’re authorized to issue you a certified bank draft come check out time. Assuming you stay the full night.”
“One more thing,” I said quickly. “How many other people have won?”
But the line had already disconnected.
The Kings Inn Motel is one of those places.
You know the type.
Seedy, low-slung red brick buildings set back off the side of some lonely Interstate. A humming sign casting neon shades of red and blue over a mostly empty parking lot filled with broken bottles and cigarette butts.
WIFI & WEEKLY RATES AVAILABLE
An electronic bell buzzed jarringly somewhere in the back as I stepped through the door into the lobby.
Inside, the air was hot; heavy with the stink of bleach and disinfectant. Like the smell of a pool shed or a nursing home.
The young guy behind the Formica topped front desk barely looked up from his phone as I approached with my overnight bag.
“I’m on break,” he said flatly.
“Uh, I have a reservation.”
He dropped his phone to the counter. “Oh. So, you’re the guy? Well, welcome to the Kings Inn–where we treat you like royalty. They make me say that, sorry.”
His teeth, when he smiled were brown and yellow—leaning drunkenly against one another.
“License and credit card, please,” he said.
I slid them across the counter.
“Alright,” he said at length. “Everything looks good. You’ll be in room 205. Housekeeping just finished up in there, so should be nice and clean for ya. End of the row—past the ice machine.”
I took my cards back and said, “About this contest. What’s the gimmick?”
“Yeah,” I said. “You know. What’s the catch?”
“If I knew, I’d tell you. Management handles all that.”
“Can I speak to them?”
He shook his head. “Against the rules.”
“There are rules?”
He leaned in conspiratorially. His breath was hot and smelt like garlic bread. “If it was me? I’d lock the door, pop a couple Xanax, crawl into bed and sleep straight through till check out time. But that’s just me.”
I nodded as if I understood and took the proffered plastic keycard.
“Checkout’s at nine. Enjoy your stay.”
Room 205 was indeed past the ice machine—at the far end of the long L shaped arm of the building where it backed up to a dense copse of trees.
I parked my car beneath a streetlight and walked the half a dozen yards—past an endless row of barred windows and cheap plastic patio chairs—to the door of room 205.
The door was nothing special. A dented and drab olive green with peeling white stick-on letters above the peephole. Not dissimilar to a million other such doors lining countless motel corridors from here to Angola.
My room key fit with a tiny thunk in the lock and I pushed the door inward.
Maybe, in the moments before I flicked on that overhead light, I expected something different. An axe murderer crouched in the corner. A message daubed in blood above the mirror. Something fantastic or dark. Something worthy of the telling.
Instead, the too yellow light shone on a scene that was all too familiar.
Coral pink walls that clashed with the jade green of the carpet. A sickening tableau of stale cigarettes, floral patterned bedspreads and faux wood grains. I could almost smell the sex—the half remembered and unfinished acts—that lingered hot and filthy on every surface like a film.
Pedantic, yet comforting in its simulacrum of home.
I dropped my bag on the small round table to the left of the door and flopped bodily onto the nearest bed.
How many unborn babies had seeped into the fabric of these blankets? How many un-recepticled loads of cum had sprayed across those pink tufted headboards? Enough to make it a living sentient thing?
I checked my watch—it was a little after six. Fifteen hours lay between me and that twenty-five thousand dollars.
What had the guy at the front desk said? Stay the night; win the prize.
I grabbed my car keys and headed toward the door.
I’d need pizza or beer if I was to make it.
The air felt different on my return.
Used is the best way I know how to describe it.
That dry staleness of long disuse shot through with traces of something I couldn’t identify. Like the final ghostly fingers of someone’s cologne lingering.
The TV was on–the usual bevy of infomercials and pay-per-view porn ads—and from where I stood I could see contents of my overnight bag; strewn across the floor.
I dropped my pizza and froze—straining for the sound of some hidden intruder.
I checked the small dirty bathroom.
I looked under the bed.
I gathered my things—just a change of clothes and some toiletries—into a pile and called the front desk.
The guy seemed unconcerned and brushed aside my indignation.
There were no other active keycards available for my room, he assured me. And no one had been into the office since my arrival.
“Were any maids in here while I was gone?” I wanted to know.
“Housekeeping leaves at 5:30. Your bag probably just fell over.”
“Can I switch rooms, then?”
“We’re all full up.”
“So, you’re not gonna do anything about the fact that someone’s been in my room rifling through my shit? What kind of place is this?”
A sigh. “I’ll log your complaint and you can take it up with management in the morning. I can offer you a free continental breakfast, in the meantime.”
I hung up.
I’ll admit, I thought about leaving right then. Just grabbing my bag and the remnants of my cold pizza and booking it. Home sounded good. Home sounded safe. But the thought of the money stayed my hand.
It was past nine now. What would a few more hours hurt?
I bolted and chained the door behind me before climbing into the bed.
The sheets were thin and rough. Hospital quality. They scratched at my legs and the tops of my feet and audibly crinkled when I moved. The pillows little more than lumpy plates behind my head.
I bathed in the fuzzy blue glow of late night TV and fell into a fitful sleep, already counting my winnings….
I fumbled in the dark for the jangling cordless phone on the bedside table.
“Mh? Hello?” I said, only half awake.
Through bleary eyes I could just discern the digital alarm clocks glowing yellow timestamp.
“Sir,” the voice on the other end was familiar. Bored. “I have to ask you to please keep it down.”
“Whasat? Do what?” I was finding surer footing in the land of consciousness. “Who’s this?”
“We’ve had several noise complaints from guests. Please keep your voices down. It’s very late.”
“You and your visitor. Just keep it quiet, ok buddy?”
I sat up like a bolt and felt blindly for the lamp switch—casting the room in a sickly orange glow.
Swinging my legs over the side of the bed, I rubbed my eyes with thumb and forefinger. The room was freezing cold. The drone of the old AC unit under the window rustled those hideous curtains in erratic patterns across the green carpet.
What had he been on about? Something about a guest?
I shook my head to try and clear some of the cobwebs. The roof of my mouth felt dry—my tongue bloated and unwieldy. When I stood to go to the bathroom for a piss and a glass of water the room seemed to wobble beneath me and I had to steady myself against the TV.
I felt sick. Or slightly tipsy. Like I did when I was six and had a fever of 102 and the world looked elastic and shiny.
The bathroom was small and grimy. The tub yellowed. I splashed some tap water over my face as I tried to catch my breath. My cheeks felt hot; my stomach roiled. Had the pizza gone bad?
I stepped back into the main room as the phone continued to ring.
There was that feeling again—that imperceptible otherness—like the twice diluted stuff you breathe on airplanes.
It was a little after 2:30, now. Who was calling?
“Hello?” I picked up the phone.
The glaring hum of the dial tone was the only response I got.
I set the phone back in its cradle.
“Don’t answer that! It’s probably Tony, wondering who stole those last five Lortabs.”
I jumped as if struck, biting back a scream as I whirled in the direction of the bathroom.
A young woman in a loose-fitting sundress was visible through the bathroom doorway—her back to me. Her pelvis was pressed hard against the sink as she applied lipstick to her loamy reflection in the bathroom mirror.
“Don’t tell Tony I’m in here, ok? He’ll try and take my jacket.” She smiled conspiratorially before climbing into the tub.
“Hey!” I crossed the room in three quick strides and grabbed the cheap plastic lining of the shower curtain. “Who the fuck are you?”
I pulled the curtain back with a sharp whisk.
The tub was empty.
I turned the light on with a flick of the wrist and stared numbly at the piss colored grout and linoleum. There was nowhere else to hide. My chest felt tight and my bowels felt twisted. I struggled to catch my breath. Using the wall as a guide rail, I navigated my way back to the bed and sat down amid the tangled sheets.
I was going to throw up.
I just needed to lie down. Just rest my eyes—just for a second. Yeah, that was it. I was sure. I was just tired. Ill. Nothing rest wouldn’t put right.
The pillows felt blissfully soft this time; the sheets satiny. How had I misjudged them? And the air! The air didn’t smell like mold. It was sweet—like fresh laundry.
I inhaled deeply through my nose.
“There you go!” tub girl sing-songed from bathrooms dark maw. “Go to sleep, baby. Rest.”
“Yes, ma’am,” I mumbled, rolling onto my side.
“I’ll be right here when you wake up.” I could almost feel her lips on my earlobe that time. Could almost smell her earthy perfume.
I nodded. Yes. Sleep.
I cracked my eyes.
The digital alarm clock now said 3:04.
Surely it had only been a moment since I closed my eyes.
I found the phone. “Yeah?” My voice sounded funny. Muffled.
A wave of static rolled over me. Buzzes and pops and whistles. Like a fax line trying to connect.
“Hello?” I tried again.
I closed my eyes—they felt so heavy—and prepared to press END on the phones dial pad when I heard it.
Just a whisper—barely even there. Almost lost among the screeching and buzzing of an unused line.
“Yeah?” I perked up at the sound of my name. Peeled my eyelids apart again.
“Jimmy, its Mom. Listen to me, Jimmy. I need you to wake up.”
“Mom?” The word sounded unfamiliar. That couldn’t be right.
“Listen, Jimmy. You have to wake up.”
“It’s three in the morning,” I whined.
“Get up. Hurry. Management doesn’t want me talking to you. You need to get UP.”
I struggled into a sitting position, still cradling the phone. “Mom?
How is this you? You can’t be calling. You’re de—“
The voice through the static cut me off. “You need to get up. Get your keys and get outside. Now. You can’t fall asleep. Okay?”
“What about the money?”
“Hurry, Jimmy. I love you.”
The call ended abruptly.
I looked at the phone and thought of my mom. Remembered the last time I’d seen her. She’d looked so small in that coffin—barely filling out her favorite pink Sunday dress.
A nascent migraine had begun to settle in behind my eyes.
“Whatever Tony said, he’s lying.”
If I turned my head I could almost see her—my gal Friday—daubing on uneven finger-fulls of mascara.
Get your keys
“Just go back to sleep, baby.”
When I stood up too fast the room spun and I almost fell.
Careful. Careful. I shuffled barefoot across the verdant carpet jungle to the table by the door.
My keys felt heavy.
“Baby, where are you going? Get back in bed. We can split this Roxicodone I found.” She sounded forceful.
I need you to wake up
I grappled with the door lock and chain. My fingers felt stupid. Unresponsive. “I’m sorry,” was all I managed. “I have to go. I’m sorry.”
“Hey! Hey, come back!”
I pulled too hard and the door swung inward banging off the drywall with a muffled crunch.
Outside it was early—or late—and wonderfully cool and still. Rocks and asphalt stung the bottoms of my feet as I stepped off the curb and into the parking lot. The invisible vise around my chest—the one I hadn’t noticed till then—began to loosen.
I staggered to my car and leaned my forehead against the driver’s side window. It felt good to just breathe normally.
I climbed behind the wheel and started the car. Let off the break and began to reverse.
A loud male voice. A dark bulky silhouette in my taillights.
Someone beating fists on the trunk of my car. Grabbing for the door handle.
I screamed, threw the car into drive and stomped on the gas. I shot through the motel parking lot like a bolt scraping sickeningly over speed bumps. I didn’t care. I gunned it past the front office. Past the neon sign. Away from that place and onto the narrow road toward the interstate.
I guess I was sleepier than I thought, though.
See, I don’t remember nodding off behind the wheel and I don’t remember the car veering off the road. Nor the tree speeding toward me.
If I strain, I can vaguely recall the car rolling. The crunch and shriek of metal and glass.
A well of darkness finally pulling me in.
Carbon dioxide poisoning.
I heard those words a lot in the coming days.
They were whispered by doctors and nurses, scribbled on charts and forms I was asked to sign.
It was almost a week before a police officer—Mitchell, I think his name badge said—filled in the gaps in my memory.
Officers responding to calls from motorists on the Interstate about an accident near the Kings Inn. I’d fainted at the wheel and wrapped my car around an oak tree doing 60. Or maybe it was a maple?
Anyway, first responders pulled me out delirious and screaming about people trying to get me.
They thought I was high or concussed.
I still had the keycard to room 205 on me so police made a sweep of the premises.
The lights were off in the front office and the doors both locked.
In my room they found my scattered belongings and an unmade bed.
In room 204 they found a gas-powered generator thrumming away– pumping high levels of CO2 through the air vent that connected the two rooms.
“Twelve percent concentration, doctors say,” he told me. “Levels that high can cause any number of symptoms. Nausea, headaches, confusion, auditory or visual hallucinations. You name it.”
“I thought I was seeing ghosts,” I said.
He nodded. “Nobody was registered in room 204 and the generators gonna be hard to trace. It’s old. Could buy one just like it at any Lowes or Home Depot. But we’re looking into it.”
“What about the kid at the front desk?”
“MIA. It looks like a random thing. Some sicko trying to lure people in. Gas ‘em up and do God knows what. You’re lucky you had the good sense to run for the door. If you’d fallen asleep, doc says you might have slipped into a coma or worse.”
I looked up from the IV in my arm. “Did you find anything else?”
Officer Mitchell frowned slightly and shifted in his seat by my bed.
“Well,” he cleared his throat, “like I said, there wasn’t nothing in room 204. No prints, no personal effects—except for this.” He extended a large clear plastic evidence bag toward me.
“It was left on the bed in 204. Can’t let you keep it, of course. It’s evidence.”
I squinted at the bags contents.
A cashier’s check made out to me.
For $25,000.submitted by /u/JayGetsHazy