The Old Motel
Kathy Rageur, Louisiana, USA
I don't know what short or long is so I don't know how it adds up. It will be up to you to decide. This is my favorite of all the short stories I have written
The Old Motel
It was late, almost midnight. Jack and Eva Summers had been driving since early morning, and they were exhausted. They had not seen a Motel for miles or even any sign of civilization. The snow was coming down heavier and Jack was afraid that if they didn't stop soon, they would be stranded on the side of the road. He had wanted to try and make the drive to their new home in one day but with the bad weather and an unexpected flat tire their schedule had been thrown off. They found themselves in the middle of the Appalachian Mountains, In the dark, in the middle of the first snow storm of the season, with over 200 miles to go before reaching their destination.
This was not a move that either one of them was looking forward to. Jack had lost his job to down-sizing within his Company. After weeks of scrimping and putting bills off while searching for another job, he decided that the only thing to do would be to move home with his mother for a while, until they could get back on their feet. Both of Eva's Parents were deceased and so was Jack's father. He had never gotten along with his mother, and that was the reason he lived a days journey from her house now. Jack was an only child, and he realized it was a bad thing to feel that way but he and his mother got along better with some distance between them. Mother had never been satisfied with the fact that he had become an Architect instead of following in his Father's foot steps and becoming a druggist and staying in their small town and taking over the family Pharmacy. But the dispensing of drugs and taking peoples lives in his hands was nothing that Jack thought he would feel comfortable doing.
They continued driving and praying that something would be up ahead before Jack wore out completely. He had stopped on the side of the road to wipe the ice build-up off the windshield wipers when Eva noticed a faint light shining through the trees on the right side of the road. "Jack! What is that up ahead. It looks like a Neon sign. Up Ahead on the right. Do you see it?" "I don't see anything," Jack shouted back at her from the opposite side on the windshield, wiping snow from his eyes to see better. "But I hope you are right and maybe it will be a place to stop. Wait I see it now, you are right, it is faint but definitely Neon, like an old sign."
Jack got back in and moved the car forward, and looked for a driveway leading toward the light, hoping all the time that it was just not the front window of a cabin. He decided that if a cabin was all they found he would at least stop and ask if there was anything up ahead. Finally they found a small drive leading into the woods in they direction they were looking. They made the turn and as they did, Eva could make out a small rusted sign lying on it's side in the ditch. "Well there is a Sign Jack, I assume there is some sort of Public establishment ahead." Luckily the drive was old and not well kept as the ice and snow would have made a well maintained road too slippery for them to have made the incline. The broken pavement and foliage growing up through the cracks added the traction needed to make it up such a steep hill. "I think I see something up ahead and not a minute too soon." Jack said noticing that the storm was getting harder. The sign was hard to read with the blowing snow, but as they got closer they were able to read what it said. " fountain View Courts" Jack reported excitedly. I assume the M has burned out, or maybe it was a F. They don't look like they are opened for business." "They just have to be, I don't think I can go any further." His wife said, Her voice was trembling, and she was shaking from the cold. There was only so much a Car heater could do.
" fountain View Courts consisted of separate cabins placed in a semi circle across the top of a rise facing the road. The cabins were backed by huge trees which grew close as if they were trying to protect the cabins. or consume them. In the round part of the curve there was an ancient play ground area with a few broken swings and a slide, sitting off at an odd angle and covered in snow. If there was a pool, Jack and Eva did not see one. The place was obviously built before pools were thought of as necessary additions to road side Motels. The first cabin had a small sign overhead that said "Office" and a faint flickering light in the window announced ?vacancy". The cabins all looked old but in good repair. There was a low light shining over the door of each cabin, but there were no cars in any of the parking areas.
"Jack left Eva in the car and walked toward the office and tried the door, thankfully finding it open. He went inside to the small reception area and was surprised to find an attendant sitting behind the counter at this late hour.
"You are a welcome sight sir, we have been driving since early morning and have come to the end of our endurance. Would you be having a cabin available for us?" " My name is Mr. Simms, We are not usually opened this time of year, not much traffic in the mountains in the winter you know, but something told me that there would be a customer who really needed to stop here tonight. So I came down here to wait. And here you are. Yes I can accommodate you. There is one cabin that we keep ready even in the off season."
"Well thank fate and your keen intuition. My wife is in the car and she will be thrilled to hear that we will be able to stay here for the night." Jack signed the register and accepted the key from the owner, for the last cabin from the office. He guessed the owner did not want to be disturbed any further. "And before I go, Is there somewhere near that we can go and find a bite to eat?"
"Well, No where else near here, But I have a small place in the back and I offer sweet rolls and coffee for breakfast. And since it is so late I can offer you maybe a sandwich. It won't be much, but I have a few makings. Mr. Summers, you go and get settled and come back in a few minutes and I will have them ready with a pot of hot coffee."
"You must have been sent from Heaven." Jack said, "I will be back as soon as I get Eva settled in the room. I can't thank you enough."
Mr. Simms smiled as Jack headed out the door. On the way back to the car Jack realized that the proprietor had called him Mr. Summers, but he knew he had not offered his name and he would have sworn that Mr. Simms had never glanced at the register. "But he had to have looked. How could he have know otherwise?" He was muttering to himself as he got back into the car "Is everything OK Jack? You were muttering to yourself" His wife asked. "What??No, everything is fine." her husband assured her.
Jack soon forget the incident what with the excitement about the room and the unexpected offer of a bite to eat from the friendly Mr. Simms. "This is wonderful." Eva exclaimed as he told her all that had happened in the office. "Now lets hurry and see about the room, I hope it is heated!" Jack drove to the end of the drive and pulled into the space marked in front of the last cabin. The door was painted a bright blue with a large #6 freshly painted in white in the center of the door. When they tried the lock they found that it opened easily. Jack reached for the light switch and they were both pleasantly surprised to find a clean cozy room. There was a sitting area directly in front of them with a couch and an easy chair facing a small fireplace that was laid ready to light.
Lighting the fireplace was the first thing on their agenda. That done and their toes and fingers warmed in the flames, they turned to inspect the rest of the room. There was a long table up against the opposite wall. A small hallway opened up to the left, obviously leading to a sleeping area, with a bathroom in between. When they passed the bath they found it to be neat but rather old fashioned. The sleeping area in the back was cozy with only one double bed and a place to put suitcases. There was a dressing area tucked in behind the bath. There were a few magazines next to the bed on a little side table. Eva went over to the bed and was flipping through them. "That's odd," She said, "These magazines are 20 years old. I thought they looked different." Jack picked up the newspaper and checked the date on it. "This too." He reported, "It is the Appalachian Gazette from this date 20 years ago. How strange, maybe they are just here as a novelty." "Probably so." His partner agreed. "But this is really nice Jack it looks like it has just been remodeled. I am so glad we found the place. I don't believe I could have gone another hour."
Yes, It was almost uncanny, and the lights seemed to loom up out of nowhere. One second more and we would have passed it right by. It is almost as if the lights were turned on just for us, and as soon as we thought we really needed to stop. All of a sudden it was here." Jack unloaded the suitcases and headed back to the office for the food, slapping his hands together to keep then warm. He realized that he had never given his credit card information so he took that along with him. He knocked on the door of the office and getting no reply he went on in, too cold to stand on ceremony. There was no one in the lobby area but he noticed a swinging door behind the desk that was moving slightly as if someone had just passed through it. He pushed his way through the back door calling Mr. Simms name. Again there was no one to be seen and the silence was complete.
But their host was true to his word, and supper had been provided. Jack found a thermos of black coffee, any fixings they might want, and two huge Ham and Cheese sandwiches on sour dough bread, that looked delicious, all laid out on an old cafeteria style tray. He looked around again and called for the proprietor with no luck, so he just shrugged his shoulders and decided he could thank him in the morning.
When he headed back out toward the lobby he was almost startled enough to drop the tray. Mr. Simms was sitting in the same place they had found him when they drove up. "Wow you startled me! Mr. Simms. I just passed through here, didn't you hear me calling?" "I just came in by the front door ." He explained "You children don't seem to be to happy to be going to where ever you are headed." " Is it that obvious?" Jack asked with a tired little sigh "We are moving back with my Mother. A prospect I am not looking forward to. I lost my job and can't find another one right now. My mother and I never got along much so I am not expecting a very warm welcome. But it will only be for a while."
"Uh Huh, We, Edna and I, moved here many years ago too, temporarily, to help her parents run this place. But we never got to leave. It was one thing after another. Every time we would try to leave, some crisis would occur and we were obligated to remain. Then her parents both died within months of each other and we couldn't sell the place, and we were stuck here. Now my wife has passed and it is too late for me to start over."
"I am an architect by trade." Jack explained to his host. "but I don't know what I might have to do to keep us in food and comfort until I can get back to where I belong. There are not many calls for architects in the small town where my mother lives, and I will be too busy just making a living to travel and look for something somewhere else. Where was it you were bound when you came here?"
"I wanted to go to Detroit and get into the automobile industry. I had lots of ideas and I could have done well for us. I sometimes wish that I had gone straight on past this place without stopping, But now it is too late." But you are a fairly young man yet, Mr. Simms, I am sure you could find a place even now. I am sure that even now, your ideas would still be welcomed." "No, it is just too late for me, I stay here and wait for the odd person that needs a place to stop for the night. You go on now Mr. Summers before that coffee gets cold and your wife thinks you have been kidnapped." "Thanks again Mr. Simms and I am sorry that you never got to fulfill your dream."
"Thanks but I did what I had to do at the time, I have no regrets about that". By the time her husband returned to the cabin, Eva was almost too relaxed and tired to eat, but quickly decided the sandwiches looked too good to pass up. "When I went back to the office, Mr. Simms was there and we talked for a while. He has a sad story, He gave up his dreams for family obligations and never had a chance to do what he wanted to do. And I still never paid him for the room, He never mentioned it." " Well it is awful late," Eva pointed out " I am sure he will be waiting in the morning when we check out." "I suppose so, It is unusual to find a trusting person these days. I am just hoping that this place won't cost us too much for the night. We didn't come prepared for an over night stay." "Somehow I don't think that will be a problem, I just feel like it will all work out."
With their snack finished and the coffee drank, they decided they were not so tired after all. The storm had abated while they ate and for now the snowing had stopped, They decided to take a short walk. The stars were shining through the trees and the clouds and the hilltop was peaceful. But soon they began to wish they had stayed in the cabin.
They noted as they walked that the cabins looked shabbier than they had when they first arrived. It was almost as if their first impressions had been an illusion. The doors of a few of the cabins were hanging lopsided on their hinges now, and leaves could be seen where they had blown up into the rooms through the open doors. The porch was sagging on one of the cabins and the roof looked ready to cave in on another one.
"This place did not look like this just an hour ago, Jack. What's going on here?" Eva asked as she tightened her hold around Jack's waist. " I didn't think it did either, an how is it our cabin looks so nice while these are in such disrepair? I don't think I like this."
"I don't either, but you said Mr. Simms was so nice, and the food he prepared for us was excellent." She admitted. "It doesn't make sense. Except for our cabin, this place looks like a derelict that hasn't been used for 20 years. Maybe because it was dark our first impression was clouded, I don't think I want to stay here." "I know what you mean, But it is too late and we are too tired to try looking for another place. Lets just go back to our rooms and see what we find in the morning." "Ok, I guess so Jack, As long as you are there with me."
"I am not going anywhere." Her Husband assured her "I won't leave your side again. Come on, this place gives me the creeps. Lets at least return to our cabin where we can pretend everything is fine." There was no TV, so after surprisingly hot showers they turned in for the evening.
The next morning dawned bright and clear and would have seemed like a summer day if the thermometer had read higher than 20 degrees. The snow had come again in the early morning covering their foot steps of the night before. But it was no longer snowing and the view was beautiful, Jack stood by the window looking at the adjoining cabins with a strange look on his face. " What is wrong Jack?" His wife asked "You look strange." "All of the other cabins on this hilltop look even more run down in the light of day. All except for ours. It doesn't make sense." "Well Mr. Simms did say it was the off season," Eva pointed out. "Maybe they just let things go until they get ready to re- open."
"These look like they have passed 30 seasons without being refurbished. I am at least glad that one of them has been kept up" "I have also been thinking about what he said to me last night. Maybe this move is not such a good idea. What if we get to my Mother's and never get to leave? What if I take a second best job in a retail store and get into a rut and never get back to what I really want to do?" "Maybe it won't happen to us, But I don't see that we have any choice right now." "Come on, let's pack, check out, And see if we can find a place for breakfast." Jack said turning from the window. "I am starved." "I can be ready in a few minutes, We only unloaded over night things."
The car was packed and ready to go, Jack pulled away from the cabin and made the mistake of looking in the rearview mirror. He slammed on his brakes and nearly sent the car spinning down the ice covered drive. What he saw in the rear view mirror made him question his sanity. The nice warm cozy cabin they had just vacated now looked the most ruined of them all. There was a large pine tree crashed across the roof. The front window was broken out and the front door was hanging from only one hinge. He sat in stunned silence and hoped that Eva wouldn't look back and was grateful for once that the windows were covered with ice and snow to block the view.
There was no way anyone could have spent the night in that cabin, but they had. "Let's just pay the bill and get out of here." Jack said, glad that the office was pretty much out of sight of Cabin #6. I dont even want to try and figure this out, he thought to him self. I just want to leave.
"Right away dear. Let's just go while the weather holds."
They stopped in front of the office and knocked on the door. The door was locked and no one answered their knock. "I don't get it," Jack told Eva "No one seems to be here, I am just going to leave my Mother's address on a card and go. He can mail us a bill." "Good idea, It is not like we are trying to run off without paying." His wife agreed with him. Jack tucked his business card with their new address penciled on the back into the locked door and was only too glad to drive away and leave this Old Motel that just made no sense.
The sun was shining and reflecting off the snow and ice that was piled up on all the bushes that lined the side of the road, making them sparkle like a giant had spilled a bag of diamonds during the night. It was not long before the strangeness of the night before was washed away by the bright sun of a new day.
About 5 miles down the road there was a roadside Caf? advertising "Breakfasts 24/7", in flashing neon lights. " That's the ticket!" Exclaimed Jack. "Lets stop in here and have a large breakfast and try and forget the strange night we spent last night." "Sounds good to me." Eva agreed as they pulled up in the driveway.
At least here there were other people. There were 3 cars and 4 pick-up trucks in front of the restaurant. Jack pulled into a space that had just been vacated by a van load of teenagers. The van was covered with School football graffiti. "This looks like a pretty popular spot. It is also comforting to see that we won't be the only ones here. I think if we had been, I would have suggested that we leave."
"And I would not have argued with you." Eva told him as they walked into the cafe. "They found a table for two by the window and they sat down and waited for the waitress. "You know, I am still thinking about what Mr. Simms said last night, about missed opportunities, and I have been wondering if we are doing the right thing by going to my mothers." He was distracted for the moment by the waitress coming and taking their orders.
" We will both have coffee, One regular and one Decaf." Jack ordered for them. " and I believe I want Breakfast #1 with Biscuits." "Sounds good to me too, I will have the same." Eva told the smiling waitress. " As I was saying," He continued as the waitress left with their order. "The place where my mother lives is a very small town and there will be no call for an architect there. What if we get stuck in a rut like Mr. Simms talked about and I never get to do what I have been trained to do. I didn't go to college for 6 years to sling burgers at a Burger King. It is almost as if Mr. Simms was there last night just to remind me of what was important. Maybe I needed a little help to make up my mind about not making this move." "But what will we do?" Eva asked him "We sold most of our things. We have nothing to go back to. What alternative do we have?"
"That's just it. I have been thinking. We don't have anything. There is nothing to say we can't start over somewhere else. Some place where I can do what I was meant to do. In a larger city some place. And since our host last night mentioned Detroit, why not there? We are heading toward Michigan anyway. Why don't we just go on to there and see what we can find?"
"We do have the money from the sale of our belongings." Eva admitted. "I guess we could survive for a while on that. If that is what you really think is best." Yes, I think that would be best." Her husband decided. And he felt that a great weight had been lifted from his shoulders. "I didn't sleep hardly at all last night thinking about this." The breakfast arrived and it was either the best they had ever eaten, or they were just hungrier that usual because they cleaned their plates without another word spoken between them of their future plans. Sitting back with their 3rd cup of coffee, the waitress stopped at their table again. "You're not from around here are you? I have never seen you here before" She asked as she laid their ticket down. "No." Said Eva as she introduced themselves. "We were on the way to my mother in laws home in Southern Michigan, but I believe we have just decided to change our plans and go on to Detroit instead." "Well then, What changed your mind all of a sudden?" The waitress asked, Making conversation with these strangers that she would likely never see again. "I wish I was going some place, any place. She sighed "I have been here in this area for 40 years now and am likely to die here."
"Well, Edith" Jack said, they had both seen her name tag "Then you would know Mr. Simms at the "Mountain View Motel". He is the reason we are changing our plans" "I knew Mr. Simms," She said with a puzzled look on her face "But what could he have to do with your travel plans?"
"Why, We stopped at his Motel last night. Jack explained "He fixed us some supper and we talked for a long time and he told me his story." "Yes, and since you know him, Maybe you could give him this money for us. For our room last night." Eva said taking 40.00 from her wallet." I hope this will be enough. We didn't get to pay him last night, Jack kept forgetting his credit card, and this morning he was no where to be found. He must have decided it was too cold to get out" "You couldn't have stayed at that place last night," She old them "That place has been closed up for the last 20 years. No one goes up there, the place is a ruin."
"Well it did look rather run down, all that is except for the last cabin #6, The one we had. It was in excellent condition last night, but when we left this morning it too looked...well not quite as nice in the sunlight." Eva cast a puzzled look at him after that statement but did not ask him what he meant. "We were just so exhausted we would have stayed anywhere. We couldn't figure it out, But I know we spent a comfortable night and Mr. Simms fixed us some great sandwiches and coffee. We are still confused but we would like to pay him for his hospitality. So would you take this, if you know him, and see to it that he gets it?" Jack tried to give Edith the money. "It isn't much but I don't know what we would have done if we had not found that place when we did last night."
Which cabin did you say you stayed in last night?" Their waitress asked as she pulled up a chair and sat down. "The last one, around the curve from the office. #6" Jack told her, getting more curious by the minute. "There is no way you could have stayed there. and in that cabin especially, Mr. Summers, There was a huge storm and a large tree was blown down, tearing all the power lines and damaging that roof on #6. "When was this storm?" the couple asked "There was a storm last night, but it was not that severe and there was no hard wind."
"The storm was almost 20 years ago, and no one has ever found it necessary to try and restore the place. We have very few travelers coming this way, and with the larger new hotels in the area it didn't seem worth it." "But never the less, we stayed there last night!" And what of Mr. Simms? Where does he stay?" "I don't know who you talked to last night, but it wasn't Mr. Simms." The waitress told them " Mr. Simms was my father and he died 20 years ago, in that same storm that destroyed the cabin, In fact he was in cabin 6 when the roof caved in on him."
Jack and Eva sat in stunned silence. That would certainly explain the destruction he had witnessed this morning, but what of the night they had spent? "You know, you are not the first people to come in here telling stories of staying at the Mountain View Courts. No one has ever been able to explain it, It is almost like Dad has a way of reaching back from another place when he feels like he is needed."
Well, if anyone ever needed him last night, we surely did. In more ways than one?" Jack said "I don't know what to say." "You don't need to say anything." She assured them, "Just be glad that help was there when you needed it most."
"Thanks again." Eva whispered, placing the $40.00 back into her wallet. They paid for their breakfast and quietly got into their car and drove away. They both knew then that their decision to go to Detroit was right. Who could deny the advice of such a special messenger. "I guess I was not wrong when I told him that he must have been sent from Heaven" "No, I guess not." His wife agreed.