We had been driving all day and night, to get to my wife’s parent’s place in Oregon, and I could tell that we were both reaching a point of exhaustion. We were on day two of driving and were well over a thousand miles into our trek out west, to see them for the holidays. Although the drive was usually pretty grueling, I enjoyed making it every year. It was nice to see my in-laws. We got along famously, and it was just about the only time we got to see them, each year, save for their, once in a blue moon, trip to Georgia or Florida for vacation, in which they would usually drop by, and visit us in our tiny Alabama town.
“Let’s just stop somewhere and get a room for the night.” My wife suggested.
Capital idea, I thought. It was approaching 1:00 AM, and I was definitely feeling the effects of a long day worth of driving.
“Alright, we’ll pull off at the next exit that has lodging.” I replied.
It wasn’t more than four miles when we came upon a sign advertising food and lodging at the next exit: exit 906. The exit soon came up on our right, I put on my blinker, as if there was anybody on the road this late at night, to see it, and took the exit. My wife then texted her parents, letting them know we wouldn’t be making it that night, and that we would be taking a room in Idaho, and that we would see them the next day. It was about five miles from the exit that we came across our first signs of civilization. We came across a sign that said, “Welcome to Nikmetop.” Strange, in all my years of coming out this way, I had never heard of Nikmetop. I had my wife pull out the map to look for it. She did just that but was unable to locate it.
“We are in southeast Idaho, correct?” She asked.
“I believe so.” I responded.
“I’ll Google it real quick.” She said. She then pulled out her phone and typed it into Google.
“Any luck?” I asked.
“No, I can only seem to find results for ‘Nike top,’ although, to be fair, some of these do look pretty nice, and I could use some new athletic wear.” She replied.
Whatever, I thought. It was probably just some small, Podunk town, that was so far off the beaten path, that it just didn’t warrant much mention.
As we pulled into town, we noticed that it really did look like what one would primarily think of when they thought of smalltown America. Main Street had several nice restaurants, there was a barber shop, a cute little two-theater movie house, and most importantly, a hotel.
We parked our car at the hotel, gathered up our belongings, and headed inside. I was expecting the inside to be dingy, and unimpressive, but actually, it was quite the opposite. It was well-lit, lavish, and actually rather inviting. There was a beautiful chandelier hung above the front doorway, and the carpet was a vibrant shade of red, and on top of that, it was spotless, just absolutely immaculate. I went up to the front desk and rang the bell. Not two seconds later, an older man, I’d guess to be in his late 40’s or early 50’s, with short blonde hair, and a mustache came strolling around the corner to greet us.
“Welcome!” He exclaimed, with a wide grin. “Checking in, are we?”
“Umm…yeah, just the two of us,” I said. “We’ll just be needing a room for the night, one bed, if you can.”
“That shouldn’t be a problem, right this way,” he said. He then led us down a short hallway, and then to the elevator. He pressed the up arrow, and after a short while, it arrived. We boarded the elevator, and up to the third floor we went.
“Where y’all comin’ from?” He abruptly asked.
“Weaver, Alabama,” my wife replied.
“Lovely,” he said. “Never heard of it, don’t think we’ve had anyone in from there, before.”
That really wasn’t overly surprising. Weaver was a small town, that I’m pretty sure wasn’t even well-known in Alabama. So, I would have been rather impressed if this guy had heard of it.
The elevator doors opened, and we all got off. We followed him as he turned down a long hallway. Near the end of the hallway, he stopped, turned to face us, and pointed to his left.
“Here you are, room 329.” On that, he pulled a key out of his pocket, unlocked the door, handed us the key, and bid us a good evening.
“And if you folks need anything, my name is Robert, I’ll be at the front desk.” With that, he left. I had gotten my wallet out, and was going to tip him, but he left before I could wriggle a bill free or two, to give to him.
“Strange guy,” I said to my wife. She was sat bolt upright on the bed, with a pensive look on her face. “Is something troubling you?” I asked.
“Why did he have the key for our exact room in his pocket, at the ready?”
It was a fair question, I suppose.
“Maybe they’re all booked up, and all he had left was that one key?” I suggested.
She gave me a look that was a mixture of unease and disbelief.
“You really think they have that many people coming here? We’ve barely seen anybody since we pulled off the highway.”
Another fair question, and a very good point.
“I don’t know, babe, but it’s late, they’re probably all asleep, but hey, we’re on vacation, and I’m not going to worry too much about it.” I replied. “Besides, we’ll be out of here by tomorrow afternoon, anyway.”
She looked up at me with her beautiful brown eyes, not saying a word, but seeming to except my response.
“Now, I’m going to head down the street to the bar, to tie one on for the night, you’re welcome to come with me, if you’d like.” She declined, claiming that she was too tired, so off I went, by myself. I grabbed the key off the dresser, locked the door on my way out, headed down the hallway, and took the elevator down to the first floor. I exited the elevator, and headed towards the front entrance, giving Robert a small nod, which he reciprocated with a perfunctory wave, and a grin that was still just a bit too cheery.
I left the hotel and headed up the street to the only bar in town. I went inside, to see the place was empty. No matter, I thought, it was close to closing time, after all. I sat myself at the bar, while “It’s Raining Men,” by The Weather Girls played overhead. Not exactly my first choice for atmosphere music for a bar, but whatever. Not long after, the bartender, a younger guy, came up, and introduced himself.
“Hi, I’m Dave, what’ll it be tonight, sir?” He asked, in a warm, inviting manner.
“I’ll have a martini.” I answered.
“Classy guy, I see.” He responded.
“Not really,” I laughed.
“Gin, vermouth, and an olive, for the classy fella, comin’ right up.”
Not long after that declaration, he finished mixing my drink, and slid it down the bar to me, with it stopping perfectly in front of me. That was impressive, I thought. I took the first sip of my drink, and it was actually quite good. One of the better martinis I had ever had. I was impressed.
“So, what’s this town’s story?” I asked.
Dave stopped cleaning the glass he was holding, and shot me a serious look, before quickly reverting back to his normal, relaxed demeanor. That was odd.
“Well, it’s a nice place.” He started. “It started as a mining town in the late 1830’s, and that spirit has never left us, we’re a hardworking people, and I promise you, we’re the realest people you’ll meet around here.”
“I don’t doubt that.” I replied, even though I had yet to meet anyone from town, aside from him, and Robert. “How long have you lived here?” I inquired.
“All my life.” He said, with a smile.
“Nice place to grow up?”
“The best, so, what brings you our sleepy little town?”
“Well, we’re just passing through, we’re on our way to my in-laws place, in Bend, Oregon, we’ll be leaving sometime tomorrow.” I said.
He gave me an uneasy look, before speaking again.
“Well, enjoy your time here, we don’t get many visitors, oh and also, your drink is on the house.” He said, before turning to leave.
“Wait, really?” I asked.
He turned around, this time with an exuberant, yet empty, look on his face.
“Of course, we have no use for money here.” He said, with a wink, and on that, he went to the back, and I didn’t see him again.
Sweet, I thought, and an awfully kind gesture, at that, but what did he mean by they had no use for money?
I returned to the hotel, went up to my room, snuck in as quietly as humanly possible, as not to disturb my wife, and crawled into bed next to her. Being unable to sleep, as I kept thinking about the conversation I had had with Dave the bartender, I figured I would watch some TV, something that usually helped me get to sleep, when I found it hard to achieve. I retrieved the remote from the drawer of the nightstand, and pressed the power button, but nothing happened. I tried a few more times, but to no avail. Figures, I thought. I gave up, and just laid down, it took a while, but I eventually was able to get to sleep that night.
I woke up the next morning around 8:00 AM. My wife was still asleep and figuring that we didn’t have to leave just yet, I got up, and concluded that I would check out the town a little more. First, I would go to the barber shop. I figured I might as well go in and get a shave, and look nice for my in-laws, since over the course of the last so many days I had gotten a bit scruffy. I got dressed and headed out.
I crossed the empty street to get to the barber shop. I opened the front door and went inside. A bell chimed, alerting the barber to my presence, but nobody came to greet me. In fact, there was nobody there at all. I get that it was early on a Saturday morning, but surely somebody would be manning the shop. Figuring it wasn’t worth worrying about, I sat down, picked up a car magazine, and began to read, figuring someone would attend to me, soon. After five minutes of reading about old cars, and still having yet to be attended to, I put the magazine down.
“Hello!” I called out; in hopes someone would hear me. When I got no response, I called out again, again receiving no reply. I guess not every business in this town is run as well as the bar is, I chuckled to myself.
So, I got up from my chair, and began to look around. When I approached one of the barber chairs, I put my hand on the back of it, and attempted to spin it, but it wouldn’t budge. I assumed it must have needed a lot of oil, or something. When I looked over at the barber’s instruments that were sat on a table near the chair, I noticed something peculiar. The scissors were not that of which a barber would use, but rather, they were safety scissors, like the ones used for kid’s crafts. What barber would use those on one of their clients? I went over to one of the sinks, and turned on the faucet, but no water came out. Was this place even operational? It was then that I took notice of something I couldn’t believe I had overlooked. I walked back over to the chair I had been sitting in and picked up the magazine I had been reading. It was dated March 17th, 1973. 1973? They hadn’t gotten new reading material in over 40 years? What was this place? Because, although the sign in the front window said “open,” and the pole out front was spinning, this was no place of business.
I left feeling confused and went across the street to the bar, to see Dave. I figured he might no what was going on. I opened the door an went inside, calling out for Dave as soon as I entered. I again, received no reply. This was just getting stranger and stranger by the minute. I went to sit in one of the chairs that surrounded a square table, in the bar, but as soon as I sat down, the chair legs gave way, and I went tumbling to the ground. It was made of cardboard. After a long, expletive-filled rant to no one in particular, I looked up to see Dave stood behind the bar, with his back to me.
“Dave!” I cried out, before going over to him. “Dave, something is seriously wrong with the barber shop.”
My cries, however, were met with silence.
“Dave?” I said, while placing my hand on his shoulder, only to feel that he was strikingly cold to the touch.
“Dave, what’s going on, here?” I then turned him in an effort to make him face me, only to see that it was a mannequin, a plastic mannequin that just looked vaguely like Dave.
“Oh no,” I shuttered, and left in a hurry.
On my way back to the hotel, I passed the small movie theater, and noticed that the ticket taker who inhabited the box office out front, was also a mannequin. I didn’t know what was going on here, but I was getting out of here as soon as possible.
When I got back to the hotel, I walked through the lobby, and up to the front desk, where Robert was stationed, reading a book.
“Robert, something really strange is going on around here!” I shouted.
Robert looked up from his book, seemingly unbothered by my hysteric nature.
“The barber shop, I-I don’t think it’s real, and some of the people who work in town are mannequins!” I continued, reasonably certain that that was the craziest thing I had ever said.
At that, Robert closed the book he was reading, and stood up in a huff, turning his back to me, and just flat out ignoring me.
“Didn’t you hear what I said? People are becoming mannequins, and the businesses are-oh, nevermind then, if you’re just going to ignore me.” At that, I stormed off over to the elevator, and up to my room, all the while smooth jazz accompanied me all the way up to the third floor. Not normally a style of music that I took umbrage with, but it just felt so off at this juncture. When I got off the elevator I just about sprinted to my room, unlocked the door, and went inside.
My wife was awake, and sat at the end of the bed, painting her toenails.
“Babe, get your stuff, we’re getting out of here, now!” I implored.
“Why? What’s going on?” She responded, clearly noting my frenzied demeanor, and sense of urgency.
“It’s hard to explain, but something is majorly off with this place.”
“How so?” She asked. I then went through my morning’s events. Which she met with a raised eyebrow, and a degree of concern on her face.
“How strong was that drink you had at the bar last night?” She joked.
“Justine, I’m serious!”
“Okay, on our way out of town, you can show me the fake movie theater, and mannequin people.” She said, with a smirk. “I suppose this place isn’t real, then either.” She said, in a half-hearted, joking manner. That gave me an idea.
“I bet it isn’t.” I said, confidently, and on that, I headed out the door, with Justine following. I went to the room across the hall and faced to door.
“What are you doing?” She asked, in a whispered tone.
“Watch this,” I said, and I prepared myself to strike the door.
“Don’t! You’ll disturb the other people!”
“What other people?” I retorted, as I kicked the door in. I almost wish I hadn’t, as I nearly fell into an abyss. There was nothing behind the door. No semblance of a room at all, just pipes, and support beams that held up the roof.
“I bet there isn’t anything behind any of these doors.” I interrupted loudly, and went on a spree of kicking in doors, only to find nothing lying on the other side of any of them. I looked over at Justine, who was now in a state of stunned disbelief. She then spoke up, coming to a sudden, and jarring realization.
“That’s why he only had the one key in his pocket. There’s only one room.”
“Get the rest of your stuff, we are getting out of here, now.” I declared.
In the greatest haste I had ever seen her in, Justine collected all of her things, and in under two minutes we were bolting towards the elevators. When we made it to the lobby, I went to go check out, only to see that Robert was still there, this time, facing the lobby, with his head downcast. Justine and I went up to him, to pay, so we could leave. As we approached him, in his ever-unmoving state, it became clear that he too, had become a mannequin. This caused her to recoil in fear.
“You see what I mean?” I said to her. She just nodded her head, with an uneasy, bordering on terrified, look on her face. I figured, screw it, and we left without paying, after all, like Dave said the previous night, they had no use for money here, and I was starting to see why. With that, we headed swiftly to the parking lot, loaded our luggage into the trunk, and got ready to leave. I started up the car and sped out of the parking lot, not looking back, and with no plans on ever returning.
“I am so glad to be out of there.” Justine said.
“Me too, dear, me too.”
No more than a minute later, though, the car started to lose power, and we ended up having to pull over to the side of the road. With the “check engine” light on, I got out of the car to see what was going on. What more could go wrong? I thought. Justine then got out of the car and joined me. I popped the hood and was absolutely floored by what I saw. Where my engine should have been, there was a cardboard facsimile of a car engine, in its place. It wasn’t hot to the touch, there was no oil coursing through it. There was nothing functional about it. What the hell? How? It was then that I looked over at my wife, who was stood frozen in place. She then looked over at me, with an intent look in her eyes, before laying something on me that I was not ready for.
“This place we’re in, it’s called Nikmetop, right?”
“That’s right.” I said.
“I just realized what it spells backwards.”
A sudden wave of dread washed over me, and at the same time, I became keenly aware of something rather distressing. My arm had begun to feel kinda funny. I reached down, and rolled up my sleeve, to see that my arm had begun to turn to plastic.
Credit : Steven Allen
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