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
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
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.
“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.