It’s been nearly a decade since I stayed at Motel 523 along interstate 40 and on that day became a patient at what you’d call an asylum. It wasn’t exactly named 523, I’ll leave it’s true name out of here. I was visiting family out west during Christmas time and it was a three day road trip across the states. On day two when it was already sunset I decided to turn off the forty and thought it’d be a unique experience to stay at a small quaint motel in one of those hick towns, you know the type, two gas stations, five churches, and one diner.
The motel was old, it had one of those faded marquees that simply said Motel 523. A yellow bannister going around, the building was a giant l-shape with the office being at the bottom right side of it. Thirty rooms were lined up one after another with only eight of them with vehicles in front. It didn’t seem to have the pleasant old time feel to it. It had an untimely presence to it. That nasty yellow-faded paint will never leave my memory of my time at Motel 523.
Walking in the lobby I damn near choked on aged dust and cigarette smoke. The motel manager, whom I’ll also leave unnamed, but for the sake of this tale I’ll call him Deacon. Of course, he had a cigarette in his hand, probably the next in a long line of them just tonight. He had some beady eyes and a mullet, typical, I thought. He charged for a one night stay, fifty bucks. Not bad, I’ll take it. He told me to call the lobby number if I needed anything. Yeah, Deacon, I’ll do that.
I grabbed my suitcase and walked outside to find myself attempting to figure out where to go. My room number was twenty-six and all the outside lights were out. I called out to Deacon but the old bastard shrugged and snapped to explain it’ll be on in an hour. I followed the decrepit building down the numbers counting all the way to room twenty-six. My home for the night.
A large numbered 26 was plastered on the door. A quick flash and a glare caught my attention. It was coming from my room! I peered into the window but the shades were closed and nothing could be seen inside but a gloomy shadow was definitely present, probably the tv and it’s stand I thought. No reason for room service to be there this late at night. Then a loud thump, thump, not a foot stomp, but a thud of sorts. I put my ear to the door, how crazy I must have looked, but I heard nothing. I glanced at twenty-five, nothing going on there, and then to twenty-seven. It too seemed unoccupied, but I know I heard something. It’s curtains were closed, but seemed to have a sheet behind them. I didn’t dare approach but it seemed somebody had put up maybe a bedspread behind the curtains too.
I took a step back and turned around to the door of twenty-six and pulled out my mag card. I swiped my card in front of the door lock and my ears popped from the sound of a bang. The lights outside came on. Blinding me in front of my door, spotlighting me for all to see around the motel. Turning the door knob around it stuck, so I turned it the other way and again it wouldn’t budge. I pulled on it, the door seemed to have popped forward, then I turned the knob again trying to align the lock but to no avail. I pushed on it and pushed but it wouldn’t turn. I swiped my mag card several more times eventually banging on the door to hear another pop, the lights flashed off. The door quietly opened. I looked at it puzzled, with sweat slowly creeping down my neck. I took a step into my room.
I flicked the light switch as I closed the door behind me and to my unwavered surprise the lights came on. But it wasn’t a normal fluorescent light, it was more pale in coloration, not reflecting off the tv. There was no glare. I sat my suitcase on the bed, with specs of dust floating in the air. The bathroom was on the other side of the bed and across was a closet with an ironing board. One painting was above the bed, a picture of a pier and a lighthouse. We were in the midwest, there were no lakes or sea to have a lighthouse. Stupid, I thought. Another painting was above the television set, an old crt monitor, but the painting was more strikingly odd. It was an old european castle, something out of ancient Romania. Looking closely it appeared to have stakes sticking out of the ground, for a second I saw heads on the stakes. No heads were really there.
Another loud thud caught my attention and this time clearly from the room next door, room twenty-seven. I went over to the wall and placed my ear behind it but didn’t hear anything at all, it was completely silent. Then a scream. The sound this scream made paralyzed me. I sat slowly on the end of the bed and stared toward the wall with the castle. Where room twenty-seven was. Twenty seven was the name of an unofficial club where popular musicians, artists, and actors died at the age of twenty-seven. Most of them committed suicide or overdosed from vodka and valium. Some died in a car accident. I wonder now how many died in motels off the road? How many of them died in this room?
A scream. This time there was no mistaking it, but my legs wouldn’t move, my neck wouldn’t turn, and I kept staring at the painting. Now I really see the heads. I see a man in the castle, he is basking in blood staring down at the heads he collected. Another thud. I hear a voice begging for mercy.
“No, please let me go, I won’t tell a soul, I’ll do anything!” A female voice. She sounded terrified. I wanted to help, but I couldn’t. I didn’t hear a voice reply. Just another thud. I hear it now, it’s a hammer. Whoever it is, he’s beating this woman with a hammer.
Another thud. “No stop please stop!” She was saying in constant strain, fear, and agitation. I could feel her pain. Another thud. Another thud. The screams were getting loud. I could see on the painting where she was being tortured. Her legs. Her arms. Her thighs. Whoever this man was, he was breaking her bones one by one. My heart was pounding out of my chest.
I continued sitting on the bed. Paralyzed. Dead-eyed towards the painting on the wall, knowing on the other side a woman was being tortured. I forced myself to fall on my side. I rolled over and crawled with my arms to the phone, I picked it up and dialed the lobby. Deacon answered “Lobby speaking.” “Deacon, there’s a woman in room twenty-six being tortured, call the police now!” He hung up without a reply. I hoped he was acting quickly and took me seriously. I turned around now my eyes were focused on the lighthouse painting. A ship was crashed on the lighthouse rocks. A family was dead on the rocks, a child was drowning in the water. My eyes were tearing, and I didn’t know what to do. I smacked myself to knock some sense in me. Repeatedly I bashed my head over and over to wake myself up. I grabbed the phone and did it with it, harder and harder.
Another scream. Maybe the first of the last screams she will let out. I can feel her pain. Decidingly I throw with all that I can the phone at the castle painting at the wall but the picture doesn’t budge. I pick up the night lamp and fall to the floor. I raise myself up with the lamp in the air to toss it at the wall but then, silence. The screams stop. I can feel she is dead. A loud crash came through the door, it barges open wide splintering the wood, tossing the door knob and lock forward. A man comes in and opens fire at me as I’m holding the lamp between the wall and bed. I take two bullets, one to the arm holding the lamp, and one to the chest.
The police officer thought I was torturing a young girl. I was alone in my room. There was also nobody in the room twenty-seven, the room was just as room service left it earlier that day, with the bed neatly made and the toilet paper fancily folded. I assured them and plead with them that I knew what I heard in that room twenty-seven. I knew my story then as I do a decade later. My eyes still tear when I close them and those pictures of the lighthouse and stakes fill my thoughts and dreams. I see the little boy drowning beneath the lighthouse light, I see the man looking down as the heads bleed down their stakes that held them up. I know that woman was there, and after that night, I’m sure, she is now nowhere.