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The night seemed relatively calm, promising rain later on. The clouds were dark and had been carrying their burden the entire day. Rob hoped the storm would pass over, or they would be able to make it through. His stomach rumbled hungrily, and his eyes couldn’t stay open any longer. Micah wasn’t interested in driving while he slept, so they had to find the nearest motel.
One appeared on the side of the road and left them with a couple hours to drive in the morning. It would be better than taking shifts when they were both exhausted from sitting in the car all day. Rob waited in the SUV as Micah, his cousin, went inside to find a room. His brown eyes scanned the line of worn doors, wondering how old this motel could be. Who would stay here anyway? He figured it would be within their budget, considering its appearance.
Once they unpacked, he wanted to find somewhere to eat. Granola bars and peanut butter crackers were not going to cut it, and they stopped only once for a quick snack.
He glanced down to his phone, noticing the missed calls at the bottom. Rob didn’t want to talk to either of his parents right now. Both of them would surely be at the funeral, and they would be able to speak then. His Aunt Tessa recently passed away from sickness; everyone in the family expected it. She has been in poor health for some time, but it was one thing for her to be gone. Thanksgiving would be very different this year, and he couldn’t imagine what her family must be going through. Losing her so early must be awful.
Micah knocked on the window and nearly made him jump. He rolled down the window and stared at his cousin, noticing his anxious expression. “Did you get us a room?”
“Yeah, I got us a room. It’s cheaper than I expected,” he replied, shrugging his shoulders.
“Is there anywhere we can go eat? I could use a drink,” Rob mumbled, rubbing at one of his eyes.
Micah nodded slowly and turned around, staring across the street. “The woman said there’s a bar over there. We could walk, but this place makes me nervous,” he stated, crossing his arms.
Rob rolled his eyes, pressing a button on the dash to open the trunk. “Everything makes you nervous,” he insisted, turning the car off.
“No, but there were two cops in there asking questions. I wouldn’t be surprised if someone was jumped and killed. This area doesn’t look safe,” Micah grumbled, grabbing his suitcase out of the back. “Here,” he said, handing Rob his suitcase
Rob took it and closed the trunk. “Would you like to drive? I have no problem sleeping.” he asked sarcastically. He followed Micah to Room 14, ignoring his sigh for now. He wanted to get this funeral over with, so he could go back to his apartment and forget it. Death always has a way of lurking around and finding ways to cause trouble. He was very glad that he convinced Micah to come with him. They both live in Georgia, so he had someone to drive with him to Michigan.
A breeze passed by, rustling the limbs of a few dead trees. It didn’t appear the motel cared much for a garden, but then again, it wouldn’t improve their business after the building’s condition. “C’mon Micah, it’s cold,” he urged.
“Give me a second. I can’t see a damn thing. None of these lights work.”
Rob stared to his right, spotting the only working light. It just barely clung to the overhang and flickered on and off. How does this place pass any form of inspection?
“There,” Micah said, pushing the door open.
Rob stepped inside and wasn’t surprised to smell smoke. He rubbed at his nose and walked over to the window, jerking it open for some fresh air. Doubting it would help at all, the cigarette smoke probably clung to the sheets, carpet, and cushions by now. “I think we’ll have to worry about not suffocating rather than being jumped.”
“I’d really rather not,” Micah mumbled, setting his suitcase down. “Let’s just get something to eat. Hopefully it will air out by the time we get back,” he suggested.
Rob grabbed his wallet and retreated out of the room with his cousin. They made sure the door was locked tight, but if someone really wanted to break in, the window would be open. Both of them were too tired to care, and something as petty as clothes didn’t matter to him right now.
The bar’s parking lot appeared full, so they could expect a crowd of rowdy patrons. This would be their only option because neither of them was fit for driving at the moment. Rob entered first and smiled when there wasn’t a large line ahead of them. The parties filed inside, and Rob dragged Micah over to the bar, scanning the rows of alcoholic beverages. He could really use a beer right now and ordered one when the bartender came around. Flashing his ID, he took the cold beer bottle and put it to his lips while Micah settled for something a bit stronger. “Watch it, cos,” Rob teased, smirking.
“I need this. Don’t let me drink too much though.”
“That’s not fair. Someone has to stay sober,” Rob pointed out, narrowing his gaze at him.
“The first one to get drunk wins,” Micah challenged, taking a sip from his glass.
“What’s the reward?”
“Freedom until morning, and the loser gets to drive. Don’t forget that,” he added, grinning.
Rob rolled his eyes and took a sip from his beer. “Whatever, go ahead and drink all you want. There’s no point in trying to forget about this funeral for even a little while.”
The bartender returned and asked them what they would like to eat. “A cheeseburger and fries,” Rob replied, glancing to his cousin.
“Do you have wings?” Micah asked, shooting the man an amused look.
“Of course, sir.”
Rob handed the man their menus and tapped the counter while they waited. It would probably be a half an hour before they got to eat, but he was too tired to strike up conversation. They already spoke during the ten hours of driving; there didn’t seem to be anything else to say. A policeman managed to catch his eye once he walked in with an officer and frightened woman trailing behind him.
He nudged Micah in the ribs, watching the three make their way to the back. “What do you think about that?” he asked, wondering if they were same policemen.
“That was the officers I saw earlier. I warned you this place isn’t safe. Someone probably came here, pissed someone off, and got murdered outside the motel. Makes sense, doesn’t it?” he pointed, trying to ignore it.
“You and your conspiracy theories. The lady was probably too young to be drinking,” Rob corrected, slipping off the stool. “I’m going to wash my hands. Do you need to come with, or will you be fine by yourself,” he asked, teasing him again.
Shaking his head, he turned on his heel after Micah dismissed him. He wanted out of this sketchy place as soon as possible, and they both knew who’d be sleeping drunk tonight. Rob found the bathroom and tried the door, frowning when it was locked. This bar didn’t even support more than one toilet. Rob waited patiently until a man came out and entered silently, debating on holding his breath. He stared at himself in a cracked mirror, brushing his brown hair around.
“Do you know anything about Joe Arnolds?”
Rob looked over his shoulder and spotted an open vent near the ceiling, telling himself to hurry up before he contracted a disease. The water surprisingly ran out of the faucet even though the metal was slightly rusted.
“Excuse me? Do you expect me to know each and every one of my patrons by name. I can’t help you,”
Rob’s gaze narrowed, and he tilted his head to stare at the vent. Was that the policemen in a different room?
“Well, you better figure something out, Mr. Loper. We have a killer on the loose, or have you not been paying attention to the news?” a gruff voice informed.
“What do you want me to do about it? It’s your job to protect the public,” Mr. Loper accused.
“The autopsy report came back and revealed high levels of alcohol in his blood which leads us to believe he was drinking before he was killed. Are we wrong in thinking that? We have already spoken to Mr. Riley, the other bar owner in a 5 mile radius. Don’t think we are singling you out. He was staying at the Hilltop Motel which is just across the street. Do I need to explain what happened to Joe, or would you like his girlfriend to tell you?”
Rob listened to the conversation in the other room, forgetting about washing his hands. They are staying at the Hilltop Motel; Micah was right even though he was joking. Was someone really killed there? Silence passed, making him feel uneasy the more he thought about it. Loud crying could be heard from the other room, presumably the victim’s girlfriend.
“H-he’s dead. Why can’t you just help? Joe…he was skinned alive! T-they found his body, and all of his skin was gone. Someone skinned him! Don’t you get it!” she shouted, sounding outraged.
“Leslie, it’s okay. We’re going to find the monster that did this. Just tell Mr. Loper what you saw, so he can ask his staff,”.
“We were staying in the motel just across the street. I heard him get out of bed, and I assumed he was going to get something from our car. When he didn’t come back, I went looking for him. He was dead in the alley…with a women standing over him. It was so awful! I don’t know what it was, but it’s neck was so long. It’s fingers were tearing at his skin,” Leslie persisted.
Rob’s eyes were wide as Leslie started to sob again. The water spilling out of the sink broke him out of his reverie, and he swiftly turned the faucet off. “What the hell?” he asked himself, hearing the conversation continue. He was ready to pack up and drive the next four hours to Michigan. This crime happened so close to them? Suppressing a shiver, he tried to block off the rest of the conversation. He didn’t want to know what else they were talking about in there.
Leaving the bathroom, he walked back to the bar and sat down next to Micah. “Where have you been? You’re supposed to be my drinking buddy.”
“Sorry, I just-,” Rob began, debating on telling Micah. “There was a long line, and there’s only one toilet. Someone was throwing up,” he lied, grabbing his beer. Micah would only freak out if he told him what he just heard, and they couldn’t pack up now. They both were tired and drank a little, or in Micah’s case, he has almost finished his second round.
“That’s pretty gross, man. Here’s our food though,” he said, nodding towards the waiter.
Rob took his plate gratefully, trying to push those horrible thoughts out of his head by eating. With every bite, he started to lose his appetite more and more. All he could think about is the monster that Leslie described. He mentioned the victim was drunk, so was this person or thing smart enough to take advantage of that? Rob told himself to keep an eye on his cousin, and there was no way he’d attempt anymore drinking tonight.
He finished quickly and waited for Micah to stop poking around at his wings. “Can you just get the rest to go?” Rob urged, pausing to stare at the policemen. The two cops walked towards the door, leading Leslie with them. He could see her red eyes and tear streaks, realizing death was all over the place. Where would it strike next? They should have left earlier this morning; a one hour difference would have gotten them away from this dangerous place.
“Would you relax? I want some more to drink. You can go back to the motel. It’s just across the street.”
“No, I’m not going to leave you here by yourself. You’ll probably stumble out into the road by the time you’re done,” Rob said bluntly, sighing. “Just get a beer or two, and let’s go back,” he suggested.
Rob watched as Micah called the bartender over and started to fish through his wallet for some money. He put a twenty down and waited for his cousin to hurry up. Shaking his head at the entrance to the bar, he held the door open and made sure to stay beside Micah. He had been drinking some really strong stuff after all, but at least he would have some peace and quiet in the morning. Micah is going to be out like a light.
As they approached Room 14, he asked Micah for the keys and unlocked the door for his cousin. “Go sit your ass down and finish up,” he ordered, holding the heavy door open for him. His nose wrinkled at the lingering stench of smoke that refused to go away. A banging noise made Rob poke his head and stare to his right, noticing two figures up ahead. One of them was obviously drunk and the other was a small woman whom seemed to be struggling. “I’ll be right back Micah.”
He walked over to the two slowly because he didn’t want to startle them. “Need a little help?” Rob asked the woman, smiling faintly as she turned around. She seemed really young and quiet smaller than the man. The man seemed to be putting most of his weight on her too.
Her startled eyes looked over him before she visibly relaxed. “No thank you, sir. We are almost to our room. I really appreciate the offer though,” she replied, smiling.
Rob shook his head and crossed his arms, thinking this woman was something else. “Are you sure? It’s really no trouble.”
“I’m sure. This isn’t the first time. Trust me. I know how to take care of him,” she insisted, laughing lightly.
“Well, goodnight to the both of you,” Rob muttered, stepping back a few feet.
Rob watched the both of them hobble down to a room and stop in front of it. He could tell the woman was very determined, so he left her to taking care of her companion. Walking back into his room, Micah was sprawled at the desk chair, working on his beer and wings. “Should I even bother asking you to go to bed?” Rob asked, locking the door behind him.
“Nope, but don’t worry about me. You get to drive in the morning though. I’m just glad.”
Turning his head, Rob noticed the time and went to the bathroom and changed into some comfortable clothes. He brushed his teeth even though he didn’t trust the water coming out of the faucet and returned to find Micah passing out while eating a wing. “Seriously, cousin?” Rob muttered, walking over to him. He wiped his hands and mouth off, forcing Micah to get into bed. “I’m not doing this again,” he warned, moving over to his bed.
“Don’t let the bedbugs bite,” Micah answered, rolling over into his covers.
“I hope not,” Rob said to himself, pressing his head into his misshapen pillow. He would be surprised if both of their beds weren’t completely infested with the little critters. Sleeping quickly became difficult for him; Micah seemed to be sleeping well, considering the loud snores coming from his direction. The pillows had lumps in them and to say nothing of the mattress, and of course, the AC didn’t work. Also, the room smelled even worse than before which is probably because he was laying in the foul and smoky sheets now. He was going to get up early and take a long shower before they went anywhere.
Rob finally fell asleep around one in the morning when a sharp noise woke him up. He couldn’t tell what it was exactly, yet it would not go away. Rolling over, Rob buried himself under his covers and heard it once more. “Micah, go to sleep,” he demanded and propped himself up. His cousin was sleeping soundly which made him frown. They did have a window open, and he just hoped somebody wasn’t being loud. He didn’t feel like walking to the front desk to complain; Rob doubted they would do anything about it anyway.
He tried ignoring it until it happened again but louder this time. “You have got to be kidding me,” he grumbled, sliding out of bed. Rob unlocked their door and poked his head outside without seeing anything. “Hey, keep it down!” Rob called, hoping they would hear him. Another bang made him groan and turn on his heel. He hated rude people and planned to give them a piece of his mind.
Slipping on his shoes, he grabbed his phone off the nightstand along with the room key. He shot a quick look to Micah before walking quietly outside, closing the door softly. Rob crossed his arms and tried to ignore the chilly weather, hearing the window whistle through the dead trees. He listened for the noise again and stopped in front of the room it seemed to be coming from. “Be quiet in there,” Rob demanded, frowning when he heard another bang. His eyes narrowed because it came from further down. Trudging to the end of the rooms, Rob flinched when the noise originated around the corner. “What are you making all this noise for?” he asked, turning the corner.
A dumpster sat in the corner and was surrounded by old cardboard boxes. Just to the left of the dumpster laid two figures with one on top of the other. “What the hell are you doing?” Rob shouted, wondering if this person was being attacked. He looked down at his phone and had 911 at the ready, jogging closer to see if he was mistaken. It never occurred to him to be afraid or think logically in this situation. This person needed help.
Rob skidded to a stop and stared at the scene before him. It was the man and woman from before, and he almost assumed the drunken man was doing something sick to the small woman; it was the other way around! “What are you-?” Rob began to ask.
She turned and stared at him with emotionless eyes, resembling a doll’s blank stare. Her face was pale and dark lines crisscrossed one of her cheeks. All at once, her neck stretched before his eyes with more lines going back and forth across it. Were those stitches?
Rob stumbled backward, running into a tin trashcan and knocking the lid off. “Shit!” he shouted, seeing as she stood and turned her attention to him. She moved stiffly like something is wrong with her limps, and Rob couldn’t tear his gaze away from her distorted form. All he had to do is press a button on his phone to call for help, but he couldn’t even think straight. His brown eyes shifted to her bloody dress and spotted the bloody knife clenched in her hand.
He noticed the man on the ground, moving slowly. The man was still alive? Rob stepped backward quickly, knowing he had to do something. A wooden board next to the dumpster caught his attention, and he sprinted like never before to reach it. He grabbed it and swung it behind him immediately, catching the creature in the torso. The woman fell to the ground, and if he didn’t know any better, he would have said that he broke her. Not even a second later, she would have plunged that knife into his back; if he hadn’t reacted as quickly, she would have killed him!
Rob quickly moved over to the man and saw how several patches of skin were missing on his right arm. “Holy shit,” he said under his breath, realizing what the woman would have done. He pulled his shirt off instantly and started to wrap it around the man’s arm to stop the blood from coming.
“I tried to run away. I tried to run. She…she-,” the man mumbled frantically.
“It’s okay,” Rob reassured, glancing anxiously over his shoulder for the woman.
“Tomino is a sweet girl. She’s my friend,”
“What the hell are you talking about?” Rob asked, wondering if that was the woman’s name. What was she? “I’m going to get help. Don’t worry,” he assured. Rob stood and grabbed the wooden board, retreating to the spot where he left Tomino. She no longer lay there, sending waves of panic through him. Where did she go? Did she run away? Would she be back?
Rob went back to the man and kept his hand pressed on the wound to apply pressure. More blood leaked from the man’s head, making him think she bludgeoned him with the knife. How was this man supposed to fight something so awful? He would have never been able to react in time while he was drunk. “I’m calling help. It’s going to be okay,” Rob repeated, calling 911 on his phone.
Those moments alone with the man were the worst of his entire life. He was sure Tomino would be back to murder the both of them, but he was only comforted by the 911 operative whom he forced to stay on the line with him. The sirens in the distance appeared shortly, and Rob had to shout a few times to get someone’s attention. He was not leaving this man alone even for a few seconds.
The police and emergency crew took over for him. The man was placed on a stretcher and loaded up into the ambulance, disappearing within a few minutes while the policemen remained behind to receive a statement. Rob explained everything to the police, adding they should ask the victim for his statement as well. He also mentioned what the man called her, Tomino, and wondered if it would help the investigation at all. It might be the woman’s actual name, but Rob couldn’t be so sure the monster even had a name. How could such a thing exist?
He didn’t sleep well that night and shut the window, preferring the smoke over something slipping inside. Rob woke very early and showered for nearly an hour, standing in the cold water and trying to erase the memories from the previous night. He kept trying to tell himself that he saved a man’s life, yet he still wished he never left his room. The police would be able to catch Tomino now, and he hoped the crimes would stop in the future. This might be the chance the police have been waiting for.
Rob packed everything into the car and woke Micah up early without breathing a word to him about last night. If he found out on his own, he found out, but Micah quickly placed his head on a pillow and was out. Rob left the motel quickly, speeding down the deserted highway for several miles before slowing down. He just had to get through Aunt Tessa’s funeral and return home, yet something told him that he wouldn’t be at peace until Tomino was caught.
Credit To – Ariel Lowe