Work took me to the Upper Peninsula in Michigan during the dead of winter. My second day on the job, I stopped working for the day at nightfall. My company issued TomTom sucked, it might have been first generation, but it was all I had for directions. I asked it to find me a hotel. My options were a Holiday Inn Express over an hour away or a motel called Red Bird Inn just a few minutes up the road. I was tired and wanting a shower, so I chose the Red Bird Inn.
Following the GPS’s instructions, I traveled along a desolate country road, which in the UP is not uncommon. Flanking the road were forests thick with pine trees. The snow was too white, the woods too dark, and the road was far too quiet.
My senses were already on high alert, because I was driving a Sebring convertible, the only car the rental place had for me, in deep snow. The road hadn’t been plowed for days and I was certain that if I went off the road, I would be irrevocably stuck and fucked.
Senses on overdrive, and nerves tight, I jumped when in the midst of all the quiet my GPS chimed, you have reached your destination. I slowed the car even more, though I was already under the speed limit, and I looked for the Inn. I saw nothing, but trees and snow and deserted roadway. No Red Bird Inn was to be found.
I continue to drive, thinking that perhaps the inn was a little further down the road. The GPS had often missed a location by as much as half a mile. I drove another mile and then decided to turn around. Carefully I made a k-turn and backtracked. After a little bit my GPS said You have reached your destination.
I cursed the GPS, and I drove another mile the way I had come, searching for a drive way, parking lot, or something. Nothing. Again, I made a k-turn.
I crawled down the road, barely moving, searching for that damned Inn, and finally I spotted something, tire tracks leading off the road. I followed the tracks with my eyes, and I can tell that a while ago the woods had been cleared to allow a path.
That can’t be the drive, I said to myself. It was getting close to ten at night and I didn’t want to travel another hour to find that Holiday Inn, so I decided to go for it.
I eased the Sebring off the road, followed the tracks and made my way into the woods. After a short drive of maybe thirty seconds, I lost sight of the road in my rear view. I remember looking in the rear view mirror and then when returned my attention forward being startled.
There not fifty feet in front of me was the Red Bird Inn. It was small, an obvious mom and pop place. There was a small office, with a neon open sign, and then a detached one story building that held the rooms. The buildings were both a deep red. I saw no other vehicles in the parking lot.
I parked outside the office and sat in the car for a moment, visions of Norman Bates running through my head. A boy’s best friend is his mother…
Steeling myself, I got out of the car and crossed my fingers that the inn was in fact open. The office door was unlocked. I entered a small, wood paneled, dingy room. It was claustrophobic. Behind the counter, which ran the length of the room, was a doorway but no door, simply darkness as far back as the eye could see.
There was a bell on the counter and I knew, before even ringing it that whoever, or whatever, came out of the dark doorway was not going to be good. I rang the bell and held my breath. Seconds passed. I rang again.
I heard a sound in the darkness. This was it, I thought. A figure emerged from the inky dark, and what form should he take but that of a one-eyed man. This man, with a gaping hole where his second eye should have been, appeared as shocked to see me as I was him. He smiled, as I stutteringly asked if I can have a room. He didn’t make any small talk with me, but quoted a price and handed me a room key. I paid the bill, thanked him, and left.
My room was a tiny, dirty, foul-smelling hole, but for the price charged, it wasn’t bad. I know that in all likelihood the one-eyed man was an honest, decent individual. I know that he probably had a fake eye somewhere and just forgot to put it in. I know that I’m probably safer here than at some two star hotel in Atlanta. I got ready for bed and to do it all again tomorrow.
by D.K. (Alone at Night)