Sunday, February 25, 2007

Episode 2: Night in Madrid

Alex woke with a start.

He wasn’t dreaming. There was light coming through the window. There was a digital clock on the bedside table, and Alex pulled it over and looked at it.


He couldn’t have slept for more than twelve hours, he was still tired. So it had to be past midnight.

He’d slept in his jeans because of Celia. His old sneakers were by the bed and his red and white windbreaker was on the chair, and Alex pulled them on. Celia had left the key next to the television, and he grabbed it and put it in his pocket.

Then he slipped out the door.

Madrid had come alive. The motel sign was dark now, but large flood lights lit up the main street, and strands of Christmas lights were everywhere.

Alex stumbled forward, and then shivered, his skin prickling into goose bumps. In the desert, things got cold at night, and Madrid was no exception. The windbreaker wasn’t nearly enough, and Alex suddenly wished that he had one of the sweaters that his mother in law had given him for Christmas for all of those years.

He walked toward the lights, and was surprised to see how many people were walking the streets. There was a Saloon, and the door was open. There was shouting from within, and the clink of glasses. Someone laughed uproariously.

In the row of shops, there had been a soda fountain. He could see people drinking milkshakes through straws through the well lit window. Across from that, the galleries that had been dark were lit, and people were sitting on the porches, pouring drinks and calling out to people walking by in a friendly manner.

In the street, vendors had appeared, filling the road that Alex had driven down only a few hours before. The stalls and carts were filled with strange items, from crystals on strings to scrolls to meat on sticks.

Looking at all of the things, he’d been distracted from the people, but as he got closer, it suddenly jumped out at him that there was something very wrong with the people that filled the street.

A couple passed him by, and Alex starred. The man was wearing a suit, but not a modern suit. This one had a bowtie and a vest, and a pocket with a chain, and he was wearing a bowler hat. The woman had her hair up, and she was wearing a fancy green dress with lots of embroidery and carrying a parasol. She looked at him as she passed him, and as Alex shivered he realized that she wasn’t even wearing a coat. The dress was short sleeved and the only thing around her neck was a black choker.

There were others, that were wearing clothes in the same fashion as the couple, and there were others too. Up in front of the soda fountain, leaning on the railing of the walkway, were creatures covered in fur. Behind one of the stalls there was a man with no eyes trying to sell a plate of some kind to a woman that was seemed to be wearing a suit of vines. Striding through the crowd was a large man wearing thick black robes, and people parted the way for him.

Alex felt horribly out of place, but the view was enthralling, like he’d stepped into a movie.

A woman saw him, and she laughed. She was tall and even paler than Alex and wearing a yellow dress that nearly shimmered, and she muttered something to the women that she was with and then approached him.

“Hello dear,” she said. “Are you cold. Would you like Sara to warm you up?” The other women giggled, their eyes slithering over him. Their looks made him even colder, and he took a step back, but the woman in yellow reached out for him.

There was something about her, and Alex looked into her eyes. They were like burning liquid gold, and without thinking, Alex took the hand that she offered him. Her skin was soft, but it was also colder than ice. Alex gasped without thinking, and flinched back and the woman laughed.

“Sara,” a heavy voice said from behind him. “Stop playing with the child.”

“Oh, Darius.” She stomped her foot, but the only sign of it was that it set her skirts shaking. “You’re no fun.”

“He probably belongs to someone. Otherwise he’d be caught by the sleep.” Alex turned, and found that the speaker was an eight foot tall brown bear with piercing blue eyes. The bear took two steps forward, and then bent down and smelled him. “I don’t smell a fresh mark. You aren’t supposed to be out here, are you?”

Alex shook his head.

The bear grinned. “I bet you thought you’d just pop out and see the festivities, didn’t you?” He turned to the pale woman and said. “They strain their leashes, especially on the festival nights. He doesn’t smell too healthy, and they haven’t even come up with the feast. If you eat now, you won’t be hungry later.”

“Will you escort me then?”

“It would be my honor, Sara.” The bear offered an arm, and the pale lady took it. They began to walk away, and the bear looked back at Alex, and gave him a shooing motion with a paw.

Alex turned, and began to walk away. He wanted to run, but somehow he knew that would be a bad idea. He was a sheep that had wandered into a den of wolves and then somehow walked out.

He slunk over to the side of the road, past the darkened office of the motel, and to room seven. He fumbled in his pocket for the key, and he was so nervous that he had trouble with the lock. He slipped inside, dead bolted the door, and barely taking the time to take off his shoes he slipped into the bed and pulled the covers over his head.

This had to be a dream, but it wasn’t vague enough. He was still wearing his windbreaker and he could feel the cold zipper biting at him through his thin t-shirt. He unzipped it, and pulled the covers down for just long enough to toss it back onto the chair, and then pulled him up again.

He rolled up into a shivering ball, and waited for the morning.

Episode 1: Beginning of the Road

Alex Mercer was exhausted, and up ahead there were more curves in the road. He needed to find some place to stop before he ran off the road.

Beside him, the girl sat silently, looking out at the dark that was passing them in the truck. She was calm, like she was driving home with her brother. Looking at her, you might have thought that the two of them did this all of the time.

No one would have accepted that they were related. She had dark brown hair and skin, and large dark eyes, and she still had the roundness of a baby in her cheeks despite her age. She was young, but not as young as she first appeared. It was her size that had fooled Alex at first. A fourteen or fifteen year old should be bigger.

Alex was nineteen. He had dark hair, but his skin was lily white compared to the girls, and he had greenish eyes. He wanted to look over at her, but he didn’t. He kept his barely open eyes on the road.

They’d been driving for hours in the old truck. Neither had spoken a word since they’d started out. She hadn’t even asked where they were going.

Alex was about to pull over when he saw something odd ahead. There was a chain link fence ahead, and behind the fence, that was a baseball field. Not a big one. Probably for a little league team.

That made no sense. They were in the middle of nowhere in New Mexico. In order to have a team, you had to have people.

The road turned before the field, and Alex found himself in a town. There was a sign, carved from wood and painted, that called the place Madrid. Population was 110.

There were no side streets. Houses, most of them two stories with big porches, lined the main street. In the sickly light of the trucks headlights he could see the signs for galleries in front of a few of them.

The main street continued on for a way. Off to his left there were a set of shops with a raised wooden walkway. To his right there was an old train caboose. Then the road turned right, and Alex saw the motel.

It couldn’t have been more than ten rooms. He counted, slowly, and came up with eight rooms visible, but the lights were on and the sign announced vacancies. He was so surprised that he almost drove by, but managed to pull the truck over and stop.

The clerk looked up in surprise when Alex walked in. There was a clock on the wall, it said half past eleven, which seemed unbelievably early to Alex that he just looked at it in wonderment for a moment.

“We don’t take credit cards,” the man said, looking at him. “If you’ve got a check, I’ll take that this late.”

“How much,” Alex asked.


Alex didn’t argue. He pulled a few bills out of his windbreaker looked at them for a moment. Two twenties. He handed them over, and the guy started to count out change. Thirty, not including tax.

It came out to thirty four something, and Alex took the change and put it back in his pocket. There was more money, if he needed it, but no one had to know that other than him. It was the first time in a while that he hadn’t been worried over every penny, but once you’d gotten to that point it was hard to let go of the feeling.

“I hope two twins’ okay” the clerk said as he handed over the keys. “I don’t have nothing else.”

Alex nodded. He hadn’t thought of that. He would have slept on the floor, but he was glad that he didn’t have to.

There was a sound behind him, he turned, and found the girl standing in the door, carrying that pink backpack that she’d so efficiently gathered earlier. Alex looked back at the clerk, and tried to think of something to say.

“Hello,” the girl said, “I’m Celia.”

“Mike,” the clerk said, and nodded politely. “What are you doing out here so late?” he asked, which was one of the questions that Alex didn’t want to answer.

“We’re driving home,” she said before Alex could stammer out something. “We just started out to late, and I don’t want to drive any more.”

Mike the clerk smiled and his eyes flickered to Alex, and Alex knew the look. If Alex had said it, he would call the cops once they were out of sight. He was watching the television, had there been something on the news? Had someone seem them earlier?

Alex forced himself to keep smiling, and forcing his voice into a friendly tone he said, “He’s the key, sport.” He tossed the thing to her, pausing only to check the number. Seven. “I’ll park the truck.”

Mike relaxed back. The whole exchange was so normal that it couldn’t have been faked, except that it had been. Alex felt numb inside.

Alex parked the car, and then went to room seven. He knocked, and the door opened. Celia moved out of the way and let him in.

The room was old. Everything had become gray with age, even though there were traces of color. Once upon a time the carpet would have been soft and yellow and the walls had been white and blue. There were watercolors in frames over the two beds, but they’d become gray as well. Even the lights over the vanity at the back of the room were gray.

Celia crawled onto the bed furthest from the door as Alex closed the door. She opened her bad, and pulled out a teddy bear. Not one of the modern ones with the super soft real fur. This one was old, and Alex had never seen anything like it. The skin was brown cloth, and the eyes were actual buttons.

Hugging the bear to her, she leaned over and put the bag beside the bed. Then she looked at Alex. “I need to brush my teeth.”

He looked around. He could go back and ask Mike if he had a toothbrush. It would fit in with their story. He didn’t want to though.

“Not tonight.”

“Okay.” She pulled back the covers, and slipped under them.

Alex sat on the other bed.

Finally, even though he wasn’t sure if she was still awake, he said. “I’m Alex.”

Celia shifted in bed to look at him. “I’m Celia.”

There was a silence.

“Nice to meet you, ‘Lex,” she said, and she smiled while she said it. And then she turned back over to go to sleep.