Chapter 5: Motel 666…

***DISCLAIMER***  I hate using that number combination in any circumstance.  Even the thought of it gives me the hibbie jibbies.  However, to remain true to my literary integrity, our experience must be described as such…

 

 

“America’s Best Value Inn: Free Hot Breakfast with Every Stay!”

It was the latest in a string of billboards looked upon with our dreary eyes, further shaming us on our drive away from Rock Springs that Sunday morning.

“Almost Home, Come Stay with us,” read the signs for Little America plastered across the interstate, of which a wrong turn onto I-80 West deepened the ignominy of our punishment; one wrong turn to double the amount of signs, staring down at us in full mockery over our brash decision.  “Little America, Didn’t we stop there last night?” asked Bill.  I just shook my head; another harsh reminder of a paradise lost, all in the name of frugality.

The beatings continued.  Days Inn, Comfort Inn and Suites, La Quinta Inn, Holiday Inn… each one with its own picture of a family in all smiles, partaking in some exciting hotel activity: lounging in the hot tub, playing in the pool, watching a thrilling show on the flat screen TV—they were relentless!  And they went on…

The evidence was stacked against us, our mistake obvious.  I knew it, Bill knew it—hell, even Gretch somehow knew it, and God knows she wasn’t going to let it down!

The worst though, was that they knew.  They all knew, their billboards unceasing with disgrace in order to make their points loud and clear.  We were to pay for our ignorance, our decision to stay at Motel 6 for a long, long, tim—

“KOA Campgrounds.  FREE WIFI!”

“Oh come… freaking… on…”

***

All of the warning signs were there, slapping us across the face the moment we walked in.  The wait staff was hesitant to serve; the patrons quick to eye us upon entry, an innate sense inside of them suggesting that we were indeed not from around here.  Our presence wasn’t the least bit welcome, like we were a couple of nerds setting foot in the roadside bar of a notorious motorcycle gang.  But of course, in typical, Hollywood fashion, common sense was ignored.

We wasted no time making our way into the bar section of Applebee’s upon our arrival the evening before.  It had been nearly a full day since the last time we tasted a brew, and we certainly deserved one, especially after such a long day.

“Howdy miss, I’ll take a tanker of your finest beer!” I told the waitress, my personality strangely chipper for the late hour.

“I’ll do the same,” said Bill.

“Okay.  Two Blue Moons coming right up.”

As soon as the beers arrived, our orders were placed.  Much like our beer drought, we had been without solid sustenance since we feasted on a half-cooked pizza from lunch, and if either of us knew anything, it was that a large variety of battered cheese and deep fried vegetables was required if we were to remain functional.  We ordered accordingly.

“Hey, I recognize this song!” I shouted as if I was a man of the cloth, professing the word of God on the street corner.  “Isn’t this the superman song?”

“Kryptonite I think, by Three Doors Down, except I can’t really tell.  All those bands start to sound the same after a while.”

“Haha, true!” I replied before taking a good sip of beer and peering out into the background of the Applebee’s dining area.  “Man… this takes me back to the year 2000.  What an awesomely horrible time for rock and roll.”  Bill and I shared a chuckle, and then a good swig of beer.

“Oh God, I can’t believe I actually liked some of those bands.  Creed especially.”

“What do you mean used to?  I still do!”  Bill laughed while I readied myself for my best Creed impersonation.  “Hold me naaaahaaa.  I’m six feyt frum di edg— an I’m thinkinn—an,” I sang, my voice deep, raspy, and barely comprehensible.  Both Bill and I broke out in a solid laugh, and again we took a good sip from our tankers as Three Doors down faded and a new song emerged through the restaurant.  “Wait, they aren’t—this can’t be…”

“…I think it is…”

“Freaking Nickelback???”

“Yep, I think we’ve officially reached the epitome of suck!”

“Ha!  God, it’s like we just so happen to stumble into the central hub for awful music.”

“No wonder Gretch likes Applebee’s so much!”

Mysteriously, Bill stopped mid-laugh and looked to the side, taking a large sip of beer with him.  “Hmm, that’s weird,” I thought to myself.  I brushed it off and continued with the banter.  “Oh man, that reminds me of this one time, my sister and I were visiting relatives and Nickelback came on the radio when we were on our way to pick up some Hardee’s for breakfast.”  I couldn’t help but chuckle during my own joke.  Bill remained quiet.  “Hmm, guess I’ll have to just be a little funnier then.  So anyway, that one song comes on, you know, ‘…The women come easy and the drugs dirt-cheap… and I wanna be a rock star…’ you remember?  Bill..?”  Bill shrugged his shoulders, barely a sign that he was half-attentive before looking off to the side again.  “…I mean, it was probably one of their worst songs, but she’s just belting it out, bobbing her head, getting into it, singin’ with so much passion!”  Bill gave me a quick glance and motioned his finger quickly across his throat in a peculiar way.  “What’s his major malfunction?  Man, she was looking like a big ol’ dork, thinking she was all cool cause that’s what all the kids were listening to at school.  You know, all the hicks and stuff, listening to total crap…  Bill, are you even listening?”

“…Oh… sorry, I was just—hey, check out the TV behind you.”  I turned my body to witness a bunch of basketball bloopers playing.

“So what? It’s the same thing that’s on the other TV.”

“…No, the one right behind you…”  Bill’s voice was much quieter this time, his nod more dramatic, not even making eye contact.

A glimpse was all I needed.  He was staring at me, a rough around the edges type of fellow, looking as though he had just come off a 16-hour bender at the oil refinery, most likely with the help of a few hits of meth.  He sustained a cold hard stare, and I’m not talking about the “I can’t keep my eyes off you,” type of stare—that I can handle.  It was more of an “I’m about to slit your G-D throat” type, enough for Bill and I to refrain from any sort of Nickelback jokes for the rest of the night, or even conversation for that matter.

“Here you guys go, mozzarella cheese sticks, beer battered onion rings, french fries, a patty melt, and a triple beef sandwich.”  The pace she set each item down on the table created a litany of tension, unbeknownst to her.  “Is there anything else I can get you?  Another beer maybe?”

“Just the check please.  ASAP!”

***

Our exit from Applebee’s was cautious and cryptic, taking every precaution to avoid a potential stabbing.  Neither one of us dared to take another look at the meth head; even the slightest indication of eye contact could induce agitation, and I for one wasn’t willing to find out the results.  And at 12%, we made sure our tip was above and beyond modest; no need to cause overt objection from the waitress.

“Dude, why are you running?” asked Bill.

“I’m not running, I’m just walking briskly.  Why are you running?”

“I’m running because you’re running.”

“Well it’s kind of cold out, and I’m only in a tank top!”

“Then let’s get to the car, quick!”

It was an all-out sprint the rest of the way and a swift entrance into the car, both of us scrambling to shut our doors and click our seatbelts in a timeliest fashion.  “Why are you changing the music?” asked Bill.

“I don’t know?  We listened to this album a bunch already.”

“Who cares?  We’ll change it later, just go!”

“Why, did you see that meth dude?”

“You mean the one who loved Nickelback?”

“Yea, that guy.”

“…No, I didn’t, did you?”

“He wasn’t at the table when we left… or was he?”

“I don’t know—oh no!”

“What if he follows us?  What are we going to do?  He might kill us—“

“Wait.  What was that?”

“What was what?”

“Didn’t you hear that?”

“I don’t think… unless—you mean… that?”

“GO!”  His words set an ignition, off into the desolation that was the industrial district of Rock Springs, which strangely seemed to expand across the full length of the town.

“Boy, there sure are a lot of semi’s around,” I mentioned to Bill.

“Yea, it’s like the whole town’s one dusty truck stop…”

“Weird…”

“…I know…”

***

Our search for the ideal hotel was much more scrupulous than originally planned.  It was imperative that we find a lodging establishment that had a fair rate without sacrificing standard of quality, criteria that seemed to be quite discriminatory in the Wyoming trucker’s hub.  Lucky for us, the selection turned out to be rather plentiful, considering the size of Rock Springs.  “They must expect visitors like us passing through often.  It’s a wonder why they aren’t as friendly towards them.”

The Hampton Inn: our first prospect.  Always a decent stay, and in fact, one of my favorite hotel chains.  But their treasured amenities, usually consisting of a workout room, hot breakfast and pool would not be taken advantage of at this hour of the night, nor in the morning before our next leg of the journey.  Thus, the $136 price tag was out of our range.   We continued on.

Quality Inn, $79.99 a night. “They have quality written in the name…”

“Yea, but we can do better,” I suggested.  Bill acquiesced.

Days Inn: 74.99.  “Let’s keep going.”

Econolodge: $69.99.  Super 8 Motel: $64.99.

“Let’s try one more spot.”  There was something even better out there, there had to be.  I had a good feeling about it.

“What about quality?”  We’re sort of bottom feeding now, aren’t we?”

“This is America we’re talkin’ about man!  Everything is quality!  It’s not like we’re some third world country, like Detroit or something.”

“I heard they don’t even have an Applebee’s there.”

“God, it must be horrible—“

Motel 6: 59.99 per night. “DING DING DING!  I think we have a winner!”

The Benz was to be sent into hibernation for the night in the scarcely populated parking lot of the Motel 6.  Bill and I sat in solitude, settled by the still darkness surrounding us.  “You realize once we do this, there’s no turning back, right?”

Bill thought long and hard for a few seconds.  He knew, as did I that a no-go decision would result in further contemplation, and to the weary traveler, an extra ten minutes of hotel searches can seem like an eternity.  He nodded his head in concurrence.  “Let’s do this.”

We passed through the lobby, a narrow hallway consisting of tiled flooring in need of a decent mopping, three vending machines, an ice machine, and the exhaust of an air conditioning unit strategically placed to turn the room into a makeshift sauna, of which I’m sure they shamelessly advertised on the brochure. “Ding,” rang the front desk bell, followed by five more before catching the attention of the concierge, a middle-aged lady, hair greased and shirt stained with two heavy bags under her eyes.  Clearly, you could tell that she took pride in your work.

“Welcome to the Motel 6,” she muttered behind a heavy yawn, her breath reeking of fresh tobacco.  “Smoking and non-smoking available.  Single is 59.99 a night, double is 64.99.  Parking is any available spot near your room.  Coffee is available from 5 AM to 10 AM in the lobby…”

Free coffee?  What a deal!”  Her monotonous tone gave us the indication that she had repeated those words several times; a phrase memorized many long shifts ago.  Bill shared the same look as I, trying to play it off as if we were expecting this type of behavior.  I knew Bill however, and Bill knew me, and I knew that he knew that I was just as disgusted as he was.  He would never express it though, not publicly anyway.  Neither would I.

“Yes, we’d like a room for the night,” I said to the lady in a casual manner.  “Double please.”

“I need a driver’s license and a credit card.”  No enthusiasm was displayed in her response.  I pulled out my wallet, my mind and body pulling on opposite sides of the hesitancy spectrum.  “This is a bad idea… this is a really bad idea…”  Similar words ran several times through my head to stop the pull of my hand across the counter.

“Is it possible to split the bill onto two credit cards?” asked Bill, a noble attempt to show courtesy.  A heavy sigh left her mouth, sending a heavy gust of a stale, cigarette aroma directly into my face.

“Well, technically yes, but it’s a pain in the butt.”

“Uhh…” Bill shifted his eyes and face, unsure of how to appease both my pocket book and the lady’s cryptic desires that translated into shear laziness.  “…I mean, is there a cash machine—“

“No worries Bill.  I got tonight,” I jumped in, an extra $30 dollars well worth foregoing the trouble of dealing with a less than competent hotel worker.

“Ok, you guys are in room 217.  Exit the lobby and take a right.  Walk all the way down to the end of the building and up the stairs,” she told us before handing us the keys.  It wasn’t until after the exchange where the thought of identity theft crossed my mind.

***

“Dear God,” cried Bill as we walked into the room, a sub-conscious reaction to a dire realization… it was an actual possibility that we were standing at the gates of Hell.

A discharge of AC cranked all the way up to full blast pumped out a high volumetric flow rate of air equivalent to the temperature of the room—roughly 20 to 30 degrees hotter than the outside temperature.  “…I think the air conditioner’s broken…” I blurted.  If Bill were a lesser man, he would’ve shamed me in a mocking tone for making such an obvious observation.  Or perhaps he was still in utter disbelief over the decrepit conditions, so much as to keep him from mentioning another word for the time being.  Whatever the presumed motive for his sustained silence was, it couldn’t deter me from my own, prompted by our “less than ideal” situation.  “Might as well make the best out of this…” It would be the first of many attempts.

I threw an innocent shrug at Bill and turned my attention towards the TV, leaving him to toy with the AC unit all by himself.  Nothing but static filled the black box, a full 20 inches of CRT wonder.  I probably shouldn’t have expected anything more from such an antique, a purchase made during the hotel’s grand opening circa 1990.  After a few technical adjustments, techniques that spawned from years of fine-tuning the settings on my Sega Genesis and Nintendo Entertainment Systems, the static settled on a local station airing a title belt bout of two professional wrestlers from a small, Midwestern market.  “I can work with this,” I thought to myself, satisfying my strange penchant towards watching grown men in tight spandex pound on each other in the middle of a ring.

The commentators went on and on about these guys like they’ve been studying their styles for years.  “…He’s such a technical wrestler, he can just pin you with so many different maneuvers…”

“Man, what kind of crap are these guys spewing?  None this guy’s moves are even working.”  The commentators kept going on and on though, as if everybody watching knew as much as they did about the two wrestlers in the ring.  And what’s worse, they expected us to take their opinions seriously.  “What a bunch of turkeys!”

Now don’t get me wrong, I’ve seen my fair share of bad wrestling (see Bremerton Wrestling Blog), and these guys weren’t half bad, but let’s be honest, they were no John Cena.  But perhaps past my annoyance of a couple dingus commentators was the real story, a true underdog, presented right in front of us, the real reason to watch.  He wanted it so bad, a technical wrestler up against a titan whose skills were beyond his in every asset.  Yet, he pressed on, maneuver after maneuver with the heart of a lion, a Rocky like determination in real time, each attempted pin reaching closer to the three count needed to secure victory.  His opponent was wearing down beyond recovery, his body woozy and his head spinning.  This belt was his, and he was going to fight for it, no matter what it took.  Nothing could stop him, nothing could disrupt his spirit.  There was no way he was going to lose, barring an absolute miracle—

“Oh my—reversal—he’s setting him up for a powerbomb—Oh my God!  What a devastating finisher!” The commentators screamed, their excitement overly exaggerated just to piss me off.  Wait, what the hell just happened—

“One, two, three!”

“Ah, screw this!”  I shut the TV off, hoping to make a slamming of the door effect, or at least as much as I could with a firm depression of the power button.  I couldn’t believe it.  “It was like the guy was faking the whole time!  Both of them!  15 minutes of my life wasted!”  I retired my desire to watch wrestling that night, a little bit sweatier, and a little bit wiser.

“Well, I’m gonna grab a couple of Gatorades.  Do you have any change?”  It was a trick question.  I’d heard Bill’s hands rifling through his pockets mere moments before to empty its contents, trying to act as though he didn’t care for the sport of professional wrestling.  “Too bad.  His ignorance is no match for my keen senses.”

Bill stuck his hand in his pocket unwittingly as if he didn’t know what to expect.  “Uh… let me see…” His fist bulged out of his jeans, jerking about and trying to force out a pocket full of gold like it was trying to give birth.  “I think I may have some change—“

A swoop of an open fist shot out, followed by a sudden gasp of muggy air, an honest reaction before a clattering of metal hit the ground.  Bill’s eyes followed the path of coins as they dropped, rolling on an inevitable path under the bed well beyond our line of sight, deeper into the mystery that was underneath.  Bill stared at me, sending me a solid look of apprehension well beyond the moment the rolling actually stopped.  “Well, what are you waiting for?”  It was his change for cryin’ out loud!

It was a slow and hesitant maneuver, but Bill eventually found the courage to lower himself down to the floor and positioned his head under the bed.  One second later, the head whipped back up and Bill was back on his feet.  There was no emotion, no sense of panic.  He looked at me, shaking his head, his brow creased, squeezing the beads of sweat from his forehead and onto the floor.  “Nope.”

“It can’t be that bad,” I teased and jumped down to take a look myself. “There was at least $1.25 in cold hard cash!”

My hand pressed below the mattress, sinking into a mixture of dust and crumbled foam at least an inch thick.  I slowly turned my head and stared in horror.  There was a large build-up of debris adhered to my hand from the bond of sweat coating it.  “Don’t do it… don’t even…” The phrase ran through my mind over and over, an attempt to keep my eyes from wandering farther into the abyss.  But the feeling was too much to overcome.  It beckoned me, closer towards the disaster that laid ahead.  I had to look, that repulsive curiosity overcoming, much like Obi-Wan Kenobi’s when he wanted to watch the tape of Anakin slicing all those Jedi kids in half.

I suppose in the minds of some, it could be considered a gold mine, though I’ve yet to meet the bum with so little self-respect to subject himself through such degradation.  There were coins, lots of them… among other things, both legal and illegal; ancient artifacts from the early days of the hotel’s erection.  My eyes darted from piece to piece, all covered in a coat of dust, much like an old Egyptian tomb that had been freshly rediscovered after 1,000’s of years of dormancy, with Bill’s $1.25 being the latest of donations to the museum.  Among the exhibits were candy bar wrappers, food particles, playing cards, jewelry, keys, bottle caps, needles, and various other fluids, stains and items that… uh… let’s just say I find in the best interest of the reader to omit; items left over a span of years, decades perhaps, their owners coming to the same realization as us.  One: the motel’s policy to clean underneath the beds had either never been implemented or was non-existent.  Two, retrieving one’s items, no matter how precious and sentimental, wasn’t worth the risk of contracting a venereal disease, and with one simple look, I had become induced with a sudden urge to cleanse myself over fear of terminal illness.

In reality, I had been looking forward to such a cleansing the moment we woke up in Shaun’s apartment, as the 40’s we downed the night before still reared their ugly heads.  Besides, with a long day of hiking, driving, and going to the bathroom over and over again driving the desire for a warm shower, the catastrophe under the bed served as icing on the cake.

For a moment, as I felt the lukewarm water spray over my hands before it fell onto the yellow-stained porcelain, I was able to overlook the hotel’s deficiencies through the prospect of a thorough shower awaiting me, something I hadn’t had since Boise.  I stepped in and let the water pour over my head, choosing ignorance over the potential dangers of fouled water, knowing that the bar of soap graciously provided by the motel would work to eliminate most bacteria from the source, as long as every square inch of my body was covered.  I ran my hands through my hair, dried and sticky from a punishing two full days of heat and sweat, and I reached for the shampoo— “Wait a minute, where the hell…?”  The curtain swung open and my head turned back and forth in a frantic search for a means to wash my hair; to the counter, to the sink, to the floor, back to the shower, again to the counter, to the sink… “Son of a B!”

Upon suffering yet another disappointment, I exited out of the shower, the blistering heat proving that the time spent cleansing myself was simply a giant waste.  Bill stared emotionless at the moving image of two grown men dressed in tights, grabbing at each other in different positions with a river of sweat flowing down his shaking head.  In an unprecedented move, Bill had sunk to a new level of deplorability by turning the TV back on, but not even the male fondness for professional wrestling could shake the current heat index of our room. “Something’s got to give.”  I took his marching orders with full seriousness by letting Bill lead the way back to the front desk.

We stormed in with a mission in hand, having soaked in the cool 80-degree air as much as possible before walking through the Sauna to confront the gatekeeper once more.  This couldn’t stand. We deserved better… much better, especially for 60 bucks!  “What’s the deal?” asked Bill.

“Well, the air conditioner either works, or it doesn’t,” she told us, her eyes drooping ever more slightly, having added another coating of sweat and cigarettes to her scent since our last meeting.

“What do you mean?” asked Bill, baffled at her response.

“I mean, it either pumps out hot or cold. We can’t control which one. We’ve been having problems since February.” February… well, great. That would’ve been good to know ahead of time.

“Do you have any fans we can use?”

“Not tonight.  There aren’t any more fans left.”  Bill and I looked at each other in disbelief.  There was no doubt in our minds that she just pulled that out of her ass, though neither of us had the audacity to call her out on it.  The longer we lingered amongst her presence, the more we feared that our stay could turn an even darker shade of gray with the wrong phrase mentioned.  And the longer I thought about it, the thought that the motel’s deficient customer service record coupled with an overwhelming amount of disgruntled customers requesting fans for their rooms, so much that they had run out of supply seemed not only logical, but plausible.  And even if their supply was only one fan, technically she wasn’t lying to us.  “But sometimes, if you leave the window open, you can catch a nice draft…” Oh boy, a draft. That’s exactly what we want, a wide open window in the sketchy side of town, where Rock Spring’s finest have free rein to murder us in our sleep and take all of our stuff.  At least we have a draft though… too bad there isn’t any wind!

There was much disappointment in our lowered faces, one that siphoned down through our shuffle back to our room.  At the top of the concrete stair case outside our room, I took one final look back at the desolate cityscape that was Rock Springs, Wyoming.  Out in the distance, a shining light illuminated across a hill, just like the beacon of hope that Ronald Reagan was always so fond of.  It was so beautiful, so precious, and so close, yet so far away… There it stood, the Comfort Inn in all her glory, her patrons sleeping comfortably in their soft bed and air-conditioned room like the name suggested, equipped with shampoo and conditioner, and most likely a flat screen TV.  It was the girl of my dreams, the same one once within my grasp, but let go; and for what? A measly 15 bucks? I moped back to into our designated unit of the communist compound, for I couldn’t stand the sight of her, a shattered dream I gave up… one I’d never get back…

“Looks like we’re gonna need some of those Rockstars for tomorrow,” said Bill in passing before fiddling with window, seriously contemplating the advice the lady at the front desk gave us.

“Yea, too bad they’ve been sweltering in the back of the car…” My words faded and my body froze, my head cocked mid-turn.  A white, plastic bucket, originally gone unnoticed during our initial battle with heat exhaustion sat next to the TV unattended, its sole purpose to hold modest portions of ice.  Grandiose ideas flickered through my head, spinning and filtering from the very moment my eyes caught sight of the bucket.  “Wait a minute… we wake up by 8… 9 perhaps.  Ok, probably 7 with this heat.  I fill the bucket full of ice and put a Rockstar in there.  At this temperature, the ice will surely turn to a puddle of water by the time I wake, leaving the Rockstar chilled and condensating upon daybreak…  But there’s only room for one… Screw it, Bill can fend for himself…  An ice-cold Rockstar the moment I wake up, smooth consumption waiting for me, pouring all the way down my throat, soothing my esophagus on its way down, that blissful taste of sugar and chemical agents and… Oh… my… God…”

I snatched the bucket and headed down to brave the sweltering temperatures of the lobby one last time, now with a skip in my step having just received second life, life that was further replenished with the miraculous discovery of a fully operational ice machine.  Hope remained, if not but for a small glimmer within the few remaining hours of night.  Within the clutches of disappointment comes the potential for wisdom, even if it was at the expense of a good night’s sleep.

Many thoughts circulated through my mind that night as I laid in bed.  Was it the inadequate thread count of the sheets that kept me awake?  The steady development of rashes across my skin surely could’ve been a contributing factor.  Of course we were under constant threat of our Nickelback loving friend coming in and murdering us, as Bill decided it was best that he sleep next to a wide-open window.  The risk of suffering a heat stroke greatly outweighed the chance of any Nickelback loving meth addict snatching him through the window and performing terrible acts of cruelty.  If he were to come, I’d at least have a few seconds to plot my escape before he had a chance to come after me.  Bill, unfortunately, was doomed sitting in his current position.  It’s a wonder how he found the will to sleep with a surefire death sentence laying over his head.

And the evil pact I made to get passed the Tetons, all the rage and carnage brought about and consequences that followed, leading us to this God-forsaken place.  Man, the mind really is capable of doing dangerous things when Pink Floyd’s blasting in the car…  Was this really God’s way of punishing us for our actions? It couldn’t have been, for it was what we asked for—well, what I asked for… Bill was just a victim. I couldn’t understand how one person could be so forgiving, especially after putting him through an out of body experience and a night in Hell.  Lord only knows how Jesus did it for three.

Anticipation became the ultimate insomniac in the end.  My eyes periodically drifted over at my Rockstar, with small pebbles of water beads forming on the outside edge of the plastic ice bucket.  It was soon to be mine… all mine.  Only a few hours separated us.  I laid in that bed, under the ambience of stale air and passing traffic, thinking of the moment that liquid mixture touched my taste buds.  The harder I thought, the longer it would be, reliving my past childhood like I was awaiting the plunder of wrapped gifts on Christmas Day.  Out of all the madness and cruelty of such an abominable place, justice still existed, if only under the mercy of God.  I thought and looked forward to the moment, until the thoughts overcame the heat index, threat of death, itchy bed, and all other forms of stress, and I drifted into a soft slumber.

***

I rose from the bed the next morning, leaving several damp ovals where my body had once made contact across the sheets.  Nestled in the crook of the bed across from me lay Bill, his mouth hung open and eyes sealed shut as if he’d been shot with a tranquilizer gun.  Apparently, he had forgotten all about Nickelback man.  Either that or he killed him, so quickly and quietly that I hadn’t had time to notice.  Whether Bill was actually alive or not was the least of my concerns however; much more prudent engagements were on my mind.

The blurry image of a white cylinder pulsed next to a square, black box, images that slowly came into better focus with each hard swipe across my eyelids.  There was a prize in there, waiting for me, something incredible and tasty, a refreshing treat that had the ability to both quench my thirst and rejuvenate my dreary senses.  I rose and hobbled over to it, smiling, eager, ready for consumption.  It was so close, I could feel it’s cool touch radiating from the chilled water that had been left—wait a minute, where’s the water—why is the can still warm?

The horrible feeling of an uncontrollable sweat excreting from my pores reared itself back into reality as my hand clasped around a warm can.  What… in the hell… is going on—the cauldron of rage inside of me turned my head a darker shade of red as my next step soaked my foot in a puddle of water next to the dresser; a head already boiling from overexposure inside an insufferable oven.  Only a few explanations existed for this phenomenon, and with one phrase, I was about to eliminate most of them.  “BILL..?!”

Silence.  Complete silence.  Unconsciousness?  Ignorance?  Death…?  Murder?  Great.  One more stupid thing I have to deal with…”  Purely just another annoyance at this point.

I examined the room, looking for signs of intrusion, anything set out of place, anything out of the ordinary.  Hell, at this point, I’m not ruling anything out.  My head shifted and my body jerked about, desperate for reason.  This was all a complete joke, brilliantly executed by Bill—it had to be.  My ice cold Rockstar is hidden somewhere in this room.  He’s just faking he’s dead, that’s all… Well, he better quit faking pretty soon, cause all this faking is really starting to piss me off— My eyes glossed over the bucket and I froze, my explanation finally revealed.  The bottom had been punctured the whole time, long before we had arrived.  “Son of a B—”

“Huh?” said Bill, conveniently waiting after the onslaught of curses to lift his head and speak.  How could one motel in one town be the source of so much inhumanity?  What kind of evil must exist to produce such a perturbed establishment?  Why must we be subjected to such punishment?  Why God… why?

“Let’s just get the hell out of here…  As fast as we can.”  They were the only decent words I could muster without the use further foul language.

***

Miserable is being a meth addict living in Rock Springs.  Miserable is calling Nickelback your favorite band.  Miserable is consciously choosing to watch professional wrestling on TV to pass the time (I’m talking the small stuff, not WWE, which is actually pretty awesome).  The Motel 6 in Rock Springs was not miserable, it was not that ineffable feeling that was but a few short steps from a total anathema; it was something much worse.  Our drive out of town that morning wasn’t far off its mark.

We watched with humiliation as each hotel’s billboard sign pass, promoting total elation and rubbing it in our faces, brutal tools that facilitated the complete evaporation of our passion of life into the dry and rugged Wyoming landscape we had once adored.  Their words gradually faded into obscurity, a bully’s perpetual pounding, voiding us of any further feeling, and coldly accepting submission.

On the edge of town, though barely legible through my blurry vision and lack of my daily morning Rockstar, the message from the final billboard struck past my peripherals, reading loud and clear across a backdrop of a large 6…

Thank you for visiting Rock Springs, suckers!  Don’t come back… EVER!!!

Chapter 4: Careful With That Benz Zack…

In Wyoming, nobody can hear you scream…

“Oh no!” cried Bill. The tone of his voice combined with the amount of driving already accomplished created a high probability for an unbecoming scenario. He’s going to say we’re going the wrong way. I just know it.

Theoretically though, anything could come out of his mouth. But I knew better. I didn’t have to ask; yet I would anyway. For some foolish reason, in a silly attempt to hold onto some non-existent hope, I’d ask; that maybe, just maybe, it wasn’t what I thought it was… I would ask, but I already knew—He better not say we’re going in the wrong direction… He better not say it…

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

“We… we made a wrong turn. We’re… we’re going in the wrong direction.”

I knew it. I freaking knew it.

“Well, where do we gotta go?” There I go again with another question I didn’t need to ask. Bill stalled for a second. C’mon dude! Daylight’s burning and we’re wasting time! “Bill…?” He better not say back to Jackson Hole… No way I’m going back. Not this time… He better not say Jackson Freaking Hole…

“Back through Jackson Hole.”

Damn it!

“Nope. Not doing it.”

“But Zack, we got to—“

“That’s easy for you to say! You’re not the one who looked like a dingus in front of every— what?” I didn’t like the look on his face; something wasn’t right, I could smell it. “…You knew the whole time didn’t you?” Bill lowered his head, unwilling to utter a sound. “We’ve been driving for 45 minutes, and you wait until now to say something?”

“It wasn’t that long ago—“

“Then when was it?” Again, Bill countered with silence. Who knows how long he’s been sitting on this information? Was it since we put on “Don’t Fear the Reaper?” Cruisin’ down the road with the sun setting over the Tetons and all that cowbell blasting through the speakers sure made us feel stellar. Or what about when we stopped to get gas and a Mountain Dew? I bought him an entire 1-liter! It was so good, I pretty much forgot about the whole moose incident, until now! I guess Bill never heard the old adage, “Bad news doesn’t get better with time.”

“Look, there’s a highway 189 south, but I don’t know exactly where it leads to,” said Bill while perusing the pixilated map on his phone, poorly generated from the spotty cell phone coverage provided in rural Wyoming. It appeared that my unnerving tone had forced Bill to reevaluate his proposed route.

“What about this dot?” It was the only point of relevance shown, a point unbeknownst to us would eventually dimensionalize into the hellhole known as Rock Springs.

“But we don’t know what it is, or where it leads to… And what if it’s out of our way? Do we have enough gas? We already lost 45 minutes! How much longer? Another 45 minutes? Hours? Days??? I don’t know if we can risk…” Only words. That’s all they were; too many of them, drowning in Astronomy Domine and its succession of lowering pitches that opened Pink Floyd’s Ummagumma. The looming decision drilled into my skull; beating, pounding, attempting to take control; sending me into a state of madness, one of which I was desperately working to stay afloat. Each second of delay marked an exercise of exasperation. Bill went on and I sat, forced listen and watch… watch the remaining pigments of light waste away from contemplation.

I stared… I stared beyond the walls of the canyon that enveloped the isolated highway; it stared back with a shot of smugness, a confrontational smirk of superiority. “Come. Come and see what’s inside…” The rocky landscape set a tension on my soul, urging me towards her, inviting me to discover the secrets hidden deep within the heart of the beast. “Come… I dare you.” It was a challenge to drive, a bet that we wouldn’t make it out alive. I set the car into drive.

“Zack, wait—“

Too late. Hard contact between my foot and the gas pedal sent the Benz speeding off into the south, leaving behind Jackson Hole and all of its self-imposed misery. The madness, however, lingered, concentrating deeper the further we traveled down the rabbit’s hole.

 

***

 

The sun pressed down on the canyon walls, sending a sharp and sudden chill into the car; a most rotten chill… the presence of death. It would be our only company.

“Maybe we should slow—“ Bill came to an abrupt stand still, silenced by the soft, yet commanding Wah pedal augmenting the tone of the guitar coming through the speakers; a tone that altered my perception of reality. We were under its control now, our destiny purely dependent on its mercy. Bill’s arm hair stiffened from the thousands of beads along the surface of his skin, formed within a matter of seconds…

Alone in the heart of Wyoming, the most sparsely populated state in the country, nobody can hear you scream. He knew it. He accepted it. He fully understood it…

…I did not.

My eyelids narrowed, beating into a nature that I was in contest with; a nature that had taken me into consumption, all driven by an eerie organ solo, now in harmony with the existing guitar procession. Bill watched from the corner of his eye as the speedometer rose with steady inclination. “69… 70… 71…”

For a short moment, I came out of my meditated conscious. Logic prevailed for that short moment, one last-ditch effort to save me from myself. It presented me with a choice; a stark contrast of reason and madness, a choice between good and evil, one last chance to turn back before becoming one with the darkness taking over. I turned to Bill and smiled. “75… 76… 77…”

Bill lowered himself into the crease of his seat, playing out a variety of possible death scenarios that could culminate in the lonely patch of the Wyoming wilderness. It was the only thing he could do. He dared not speak, not for the time being, for any uttered syllable would do nothing but exacerbate the situation. His words would simply be of no use… he was talking to a ghost.

“Hopefully we’ll drive off a cliff and the car will explode on impact. It’d be the quickest, and definitely the least painful. But what if we flip over into a ditch—God I hope we don’t flip over into a ditch… I wonder how long it takes for somebody to bleed out? Even if it’s an artery, that still takes a long time, I think… Are there wolves out in Wyoming? What if we’re stuck and get eaten alive, or have a group of vultures slowly peck away at my skin—Oh God, not the vultures…”

The centrifugal force caused by the sharp turn on the highway knocked Bill’s concentration and shifted his body towards the center console. The swift force went unnoticed by me, as did another glance at the speedometer from Bill, his curiosity only a vehicle to intensify his anxiety. “85… 86… 87…”

One by one the bugs gathered, mosquitoes, dragonflies, wasps, moths, entire arthropod families, accumulating onto the surface of my windshield, a newly designated insect burial ground; It was distinct life, a conglomerate of free spirits roaming the earth one second, and an indistinguishable mulch of blood and guts the next, all with no warning whatsoever. The mass genocide was horrifying, fuel for my decent into darkness. It was total power, an evil pact with Mother Nature bestowed upon me, to control, to live… to destroy. Bill’s heart was sent into a furious tremble; I could feel it. “90… 91… 92…”

Bill’s knuckles turned white as he gripped the side handle of the door and turned whiter as the music built into an anticipated climax, anything he could do to hold onto dear life. My knuckles turned white as I gripped the steering wheel, unwilling to give up the power I had just inherited. “No one man should have all that power,” wise words from the great philosopher Kanye West proving all too well to be accurate; wise words that had vanished from every crevice of my intellect.

Bill’s breaths turned heavy and rapid in a panic; mine turned heavy and rapid—in through the nose and out through the mouth—to focus in on the task at hand, a task forced upon me by nature, void of its internal meaning. “100… 101… 102…” His eyes widened with fear; mine with rage. There were veins—horrendous veins, bulging from my dilated pupils, doped with an extra dose of adrenaline, waiting for their moment to burst.

The music’s tension was heavy now, a bomb seconds from detonation, a bat on the verge of making its run out of Hell, an axe murderer ready to snap, ready for destruction, ready to release carnage—complete carnage on a population! Victims, all innocent and unsuspecting! Seconds from the end… the end… the end—

Then, the words entered my head, softly, subtly, with no hint of its origin but for the dying sun, bleeding out a dark shade of red across the barren desert. They existed as its last words, a catalyst for annihilation. The last words my conscious recognized…

“Careful with that Benz Zack…”

“107… 108… 109… 110—”

“AHHHHHHHHHH!!!”

The cacophonous cry matched the growing roar of my engine, an ugly farewell to the last traces of forested life. Thousands of more bugs met the speeding deathtrap, joining the growing number of its kind. There they laid to rest in several deformed pieces, turning into a thick film as the windshield wipers swung back and forth, inciting my sick and twisted pleasure; one that I wanted, one I needed… one I just couldn’t get enough of.

Bill brought the car to a violent shake, unable to calm the senses triggered by the kamikaze mission he had foolishly joined. I joined in his tremble, unable to calm the excitement from the kamikaze mission I had foolishly accepted. My bloodshot eyes beamed at the changing road and landscape moving back and forth against the winding blacktop.   I crossed over solid white and yellow lines, a combination of colors and shapes whose significance had been forgotten in my fit of fury. Any wrong move meant instant death, a concept that could not be acknowledged, not to a full-blown crack head, his habit fulfilled for the time, yet still in demand for more of his fix, and getting exactly what his heart dangerously wished.

There was darkness now, darkness that encouraged—demanded our intense push forward! Deafening screams continued to howl through the car, challenging my sustained psychosis. “Please… stop!” I couldn’t tell whether it was the Benz or Bill crying out for mercy; both were subjects to the cruel and unusual punishment.

The rocky landscape, changing ever so rapidly with the increase in speed, became one solid streak of brown stone, seamlessly turning a darker shade as dusk turned to twilight, and twilight to starlight. Air, country, and road had become one with each other. The thick film of permanently deformed insect parts continued its build with each stroke of the windshield wipers, worsening the field of vision again and again until it was non-existent.

Then, there was nothing… nothing but a solid black piece of metal flying down a black road at intense speeds, the operator’s mind blacked out with rage, made to traverse the blackened countryside against the black of the night. There was no trace of our existence except for the constant scream inside and out of the car, dragging on and on until there was nobody left to utter a scream, their silence commenced by the parched and swollen throats that had expensed the remainder energy required to make a sound. The music continued on; the developed fury unabated, even in the absences of screaming. The drug had accomplished its deliberate effects, lasting well into the night. It was the last thing I remembered… the last resemblance of a coherent thought…

 

***

 

We pulled into the gas station of Little America in the middle of a line of semi-trucks, having survived a roller coaster that had intentionally been blotted from memory. The car was in one piece, puttering into the gas station with less than a gallon of gas and a solid streak of organic bug compounds across its windshield.

“Hey dude, we’re ahead of schedule! How about we stop at this place called Rock Springs for the night? I saw a sign for it a few miles back… It looks like it’s only about 30 miles from here… I’ll start pumping up and get us a Rockstar or two. Maybe you can start wiping the windshield down. It’s gonna need it big time, and it might…” I stopped. Bill sat in the corner of his seat, permanently lodged in the small crease between the seat and the door. His body was emotionless, completely frozen except for the constant vibration sent throughout his whole body and cold droplets of sweat pressed out from his brow and down his bug-eyed, pale face, dripping into his mouth held agape.

…It was simply no use. I was talking to a ghost.