Bike Ballad : How It Began, Part Three

Jeremias Radny Photography

Jeremias Radny Photography

Forks Lounge

The streets were dark. Lampposts along the road held a faint glow that didn't cut far across either direction, and all I could make out were a few neon signs for a Chevron station and a Subway. I rolled quietly through snowfall, coasting over the pavement with a touch of caution since slush started forming in thick trails. I thought it was strange how quiet the town was. It was close to midnight when I arrived, but something about the silence was supernatural. It felt like an astral projection to a realm where I could only observe and scarcely remember. 

Once I got a few yards further, tucked behind three saplings was a dive bar painted in burnt orange stucco. It had a ramshackle appearance, like an old carneceria advertising cheap tacos and tamales. Along the trim of the building were stones that you would find built over faux chimneys or rock climbing walls. It tried to give the building an outdoor, rugged look, but the faded color, worn out shingles, and oddly protruding sign jetting above and over the sidewalk only made it a bizarre hideaway. In bold red letters over a white backdrop, the guady billboard read "Forks Lounge." I pulled up next to the building and let out a sigh of relief. Everything around me was closed. I was freezing and hungry, and somehow, the big neon Coor's Lite logo flashing in the main window offered me a ray of hope amidst the bitter anxiety of where to go next. I could hear music and chatter echoing off the walls inside, so I swung open the door and wheeled my bike into the small alcove separating the entrance from the main room. I didn't care if bikes weren't allowed in. The thought of unpacking and hauling my gear inside exhausted me. I thought it better to take my chances and deal with an angry barman instead. I pushed the rest of the heavy bike over the threshold and immediately placed it against an open wall off to the side. Classic rock was blaring from speakers setup in the far back. A few people were slumped over at the bar and It's a Wonderful Life was playing in black and white from a small TV hanging on the wall behind the counter next to the till. I expected someone to get upset and demand that I move the bike outside, but when I turned around to face the crowd, nobody paid any attention to me. I felt like a ghost watching my own funeral. No one at the bar glanced my direction. The bartender was gone. George Bailey was shaking the druggist at Nick's place, trying to muster up someone who could recall his existence. I watched the television until it switched to a commercial about Chia Pets being the ultimate New Year's gift idea. I rubbed my eyes and noticed that dollar bills were plastered all over the ceiling with people's names written on them in thick permanent marker. In the purple, pink haze of the main room, each one looked like a crude headstone commemorating the deceased. Maybe in the past, Forks was the epicenter of enjoyment for locals in Willow Creek, so much so that the owner wanted to honor each customer with their own slice of eternity. To me, they were eerie to look at. Random names scrawled on wrinkled pieces of paper. Worn down and soft from dust and dry tape. While scanning the names, I imagined seeing my mother's up there written in her half-cursive. "Yun." I stopped breathing for a moment. Chills ran down the back of my neck and I shuttered in place to shake the off the vision. By then, George was yelling "Mary!? Mary?!" and I turned away from the bar to look for a bathroom. 

Walking to the back of the building, there was a pool table sitting in the middle of a room partitioned by an odd frame for another wall, but it was exposed and allowed you to see what was happening on the other side. When I crossed into it, there was a folding table set up with aluminum tins filled with leftover food. It was a makeshift buffet that must have been prepared earlier for the crowd, but now, it looked like a sloppy chow line that you'd see on a picnic table at the end of a family reunion. Random utensils were shoved into cold mashed potatoes, stuffing, a few slices of ham, and a gelatinous goop of cranberry sauce. I looked over to the people sitting at the bar and no one seemed to care that I was eyeing the food. I still hadn't seen the bartender since I walked in the door, so I decided to forgo the bathroom and make myself a plate while I was still invisible. I looked at the end of the table and couldn't find any clean paper plates to use, but the tin with stuffing only had a little bit left in it. I grabbed the spoon from the mashed potato tin and piled a few scoops into the stuffing. Then I grabbed a slice of ham and threw it on top. I quietly lifted the tin off the table and scurried to the backdoor past the restrooms. I pressed my shoulder up against the door and ended up in the parking lot behind the building. Sitting on a bucket next to the doorway was a big guy wearing a flannel shirt with cutoff sleeves. He was smoking a cigarette, resting his head in his right palm like he was barely awake. I stood there frozen wondering if he was going to say something to me or tell me to pay for the food, but nothing happened. Instead, he just sat up, turned his head slightly toward my direction and inhaled a long drag. When he finished, he flicked the cigarette out into a snowbank and walked past me back inside. Once my heartbeat settled back into my chest, I walked around the side of the building back to the front. My plan was to sit on the curb and enjoy the meal to avoid any confrontation, but then it dawned on me: "Shit! My bike!" I peaked my head into the window, but the neon was too bright to see if the bartender was back on duty. I felt somewhat caught at this point and realized the only thing I could do was leave the food outside for a second, run in quickly, and get my bike out before anyone says anything to me. I set the food down onto a small sign propped up on the sidewalk and bashfully walked into the front door. I saw the bartender cleaning a glass while trying to wake someone up who fell asleep on the counter. I used it as an opportunity to quietly grab the bike off the wall and roll it out. I took the handlebars, swung them around, and almost got out the door before the bartender yelled out to me. "Hey Kid, you been riding that bike all night?" He didn't sound upset, but intrigued. "Yeah," I replied. "I just got in from Big Flat not too long ago. This is the only place that's open." "Well you can stay until 2am. I saw you take that food outback. I'm glad someone's eating it. Hate to see leftovers go to waste." Even though I saw him dog-tired out back, he had a great energy in his voice. It seemed like being behind the bar was a costume he put on and his only mission was to make people feel welcome. "Sorry we're out of plates. Do you need a fork?" I was a little stunned by the generosity. I shook my head with an air of embarrassment and leaned the bike back against the wall. "Is it alright if I leave this here? My lock is sort of buried." He set the glass under the counter and grabbed another one. "That's fine with me, kid. There's some silverware in a cup down at the end there." He gestured with his head. I smiled back and quickly ran outside to grab the food. When I got back in, the bartender had moved the silverware cup to the middle of the counter and placed a glass of water next to it. I took off my jacket, slung it over the stool, and plopped myself down. I grabbed a fork from the cup and stared at the food for a second. I looked over at the bartender and he was having a conversation with the guy who finally woke up. On the TV, Clarence was explaining to George Bailey what had happened to Bedford Falls without him being born. She never married, George. she's an old maid. Mr. Gower poisoned that man with the prescription. Your brother Harry drowned that day at the pond. Mr. Potter runs this town now, your father couldn't compete. Watching the movie and having the meal at the bar reminded me of Christmas nights with my family over the years. My Dad loves to watch It's a Wonderful Life with everyone sitting around the living room. A fire would burn softly next to us. Scents of sugar cookies and a yule lasagna that my aunt loves to make from scratch surrounds the air. Somehow, my mangled tin of buffet remains in a shabby bar gave me the best gift that I could ever ask for: a sense of home. I could instantly feel the power of how much my family had influenced my life in that moment, and it made me incredibly sad to know that I wasn't there to tell them how much I appreciated them. 

Family becomes a strange concept as the years unfold. At first, you only consider your immediate team; mom, dad, siblings, but as you get older, lots of other people start to gain your trust, your respect, and soon enough, you begin to rely on them for guidance and support. In my own life, I can think of dozens of people who helped shape my future. Other friends' parents, the gym teacher from high school, the janitor in the cafeteria, a boss from old catering jobs, countless friends who have come and gone over the years. No matter who you are, there are people out there who care, and usually, when we feel like the world is against us, it's only because we forget what the world has already placed at our feet. The timeline of painful events always seems to outshine the glory of happy memories, but that doesn't mean we should stop loving each other. Just like George Bailey, the pain of losing everything has shown me the importance of my life. Slowly, I realized that I wasn't put here to be rich or famous or to see the world and leave some small town in the dust; my purpose has always been to get a glass of water for my sister when she's not feeling well. To be a light of relief and humor when my aunt and uncle are overwhelmed. To play basketball with my brother and help him perfect his skills. To laugh with my dad about funny ideas and stories we make up. To have breakfast with my Grandpa at whatever discount joint he can find. To visit my oldest sister in Virginia and spend time with her blossoming family. To take my mother home to Korea and honor her last wishes. The scene where George runs up the stairs and grabs the knob off the railing; the way he lights up with joy from the imperfection is how I feel when I revisit the past. Everything has led me to this moment, and although the uncertainty of the future scares me, the thought of missing out on the present is a far worse pain to bear.

I scrapped the last bit of food from the tin and shoveled it into my mouth. Then I took the glass of water and guzzled it. "You get enough to eat?" The bartender cleared my place and threw everything into a small sink. "Hey, thank you so much for letting me hang out. I'm not really sure where to stay for the night." The bartender turned around and increased the volume on the TV for the last scene of the film. "Hold on a sec, I love this part. Always reminds me of my daughter." The whole town storms into George's home giving donations to rescue the old Savings and Loan from going under. Everyone breaks out into song and bells starts ringing throughout the house. Little Zuzu held in George's arms delivers one of the most iconic lines in the film: Listen Daddy, every time a bell rings, an angel get its wings. George smiles and shouts a few praises to Clarence. "Damn that's a good one. Anyway, what were you saying?" I hesitated for a moment and wondered why he wasn't celebrating the holidays with his own family. I didn't want to be nosy, but I didn't want to come off as unfeeling. "Does your daughter like the movie too?" He leaned over to turn the TV off and then he flicked on the house lights from a panel of switches behind it. The brightness made my whole face squint and the guy sleeping at the far end suddenly shot up. "Closing time, Frank!?" He reached into his jean pockets and pulled out a few crumpled singles. "Just get out of here, Bucky. You paid me already you drunk shit." I tried not to laugh, but I couldn't help but chuckle a bit while I stood up and put my jacket back on. "No, no, no. I always settle up. Consider it a gift." Bucky slapped the money on the counter and stumbled out the door. "Merry Christmas, Frank!" He shouted from the sidewalk. I walked over to my bike and grabbed my debit card from the side pocket. "Hey man, what do I owe you for the food?" Frank just grinned and kept putting away glasses. "Food's free, kid. I just hope you don't get sick. It's been sitting out since noon." I laughed again and shook my head. "Well, either way, I appreciate it." Frank walked out from the behind the bar and started picking up stools. "My daughter lives with her mom now. I don't see her much, but she used to love the movie. Who knows if she watches it anymore." He kept moving stools and tables out of the way to clear the floor. I wasn't sure what to say, but I tried to be subtle and not pry into anything heavy. "I'm sure she still watches it. Once you see that movie it's hard to forget." He smiled and nodded in agreement. He worked his way to the buffet table and started stacking the tins on top of each other. "Did you say you needed a place to sleep?" He shouted out from across the room. "Well, no. Not really. I planned on staying outside somewhere to save some money." He threw everything into a trash can and started folding up the table. "The Bigfoot across the street has cheap rooms. They're open all night, too. Maybe try there first." He went behind the bar again and grabbed a broom. I went back to the bike and headed for the door. "Hey, thanks again, man." I waved my hand and stood over the threshold. Frank kept cleaning and didn't look up. "Merry Christmas, kid. Good luck out there." He grabbed the table and trash bag and disappeared through a set of double-doors off to the side. I looked at the empty bar and admired that so much work had gone into the place. It was hard to tell in the dark, but all lit up, the walls were lined with memorabilia, tidbits of Willow Creek's history, and photos of regular patrons. I noticed the waded cash on the counter and saw a cup of markers sitting on a table pushed against the wall. I quickly grabbed a marker and unrolled a bill. I wrote my name across the front of it, reached up to the ceiling, and used an old tack to hang it up next to the others. I went back to the bike and rolled it up to the front door. I took one last look at the main floor, trying hard to remember the waning hours of Christmas night. Harsh light soaking into the dark carpet, Frank rummaging through dirty dishes and a mopping bucket in the back. Each sound floated through the walls and bounced off the counter tops, and I was grateful to listen in solitude for a brief moment. And in that symphony, I thought of Frank's daughter; the quiet pain that resonates and aches especially deep on the holidays. The loneliness of wanting to be with someone whose mind you never come across, or worse yet, your face is the one they wish to see most before falling asleep. Christmas has a funny way of putting the heart into submission, but still we find ourselves at a distance, trying to swap old memories for new beginnings. "Merry Christmas, Frank." I whispered to the cacophony of spraying water and glassware. I opened the door and slowly guided my bike through. Thick snowflakes patted down my hair within seconds, and looking across the street, I could make out the dull marquee barely aglow. Slush was freezing over, so I decided to walk. My canvas sneakers were soaked instantly, but I didn't care. A hot shower and a warm bed awaited, and all I had to do was check in. 

The Bigfoot motel

Right when I got across the street, my phone rang. I quickly rummaged through my coat pocket and saw my aunt's face lighting up the screen. It was past 1am, which means that it was 4am for her, but she sounded anything but tired when I answered the call. "Honey, did you make it somewhere safe?" She spoke in a full voice and I could hear the coffee maker bubbling in the background. "Yeah, I'm in Willow Creek. I'm just about to check into this motel. Why aren't you asleep?" I had leaned the bike up against the building and peeked my head into the lobby window. Inside was bland. A tan wall with faded paint, a wooden counter made from laminate with peeling wallpaper along the base. A rusty bell sat next to a dying money tree, and a white clock hung on the back wall, it's time set to 6pm and unchanging. The carpet was filthy. Chunks of plaster and dust scattered in random piles. Above, a square was rotted out from water damage, and a constant drip splashed onto a thick dark spot. "How do you expect me to sleep when you're riding your bike in the middle of God knows where?" I could hear the fridge opening through the phone, her grabbing some cream and pouring it into her coffee. "Well, I just got to a beautiful place. Totally safe and inviting." As tired as I was, I was able to add a bit of humor into my tone. She picked up on it and lightened the mood. "Oh shit. Is it a dive?" I didn't see anyone inside and the door was locked. "You have no idea. I'm at the Bigfoot motel. Sleeping outside might be better for me." I worked my way around the building from the lobby. Stretching from the entrance off the main road was a long driveway that lead into a back parking lot. An awning hung low over the opening like the threshold of a dark cave. Glowing from inside was a large window with a blue haze pulsating through the glass. There were no curtains shielding it, and once I got closer, I peeked in from the corner. "I think I see someone watching TV," I told my aunt. "This place is crazy, Ant Deb. It's all rundown and some guy is passed out on a fucked up sofa." Inside, the furniture was askew. A recliner chair was turned upside down with the footstool extended. Four metal buckets were placed under leaky ceiling squares. Sections of carpet were torn up and flipped over, exposing concrete with chunks broken out. The man on the sofa was asleep on one cushion, the other two were kicked off onto the floor and he was missing a work boot on his right foot. He wore a black Carhartt jacket and a beanie with a bill tipped over his eyes. His head was propped up with his right arm, sunken into the corner of the armrest. The television screen sat against the side of the wall, spilling out across the dark room. QVC advertised Christmas ornaments and holiday mugs at an incredible price: "CALL NOW AND GET TWO MORE FREE, 1-800-545-6000, CALL NOW. Yellow words flashing in silence against a royal blue backdrop. "This guy's out, Ant Deb. I can't stay here." My voice was tired, but my Aunt didn't show any pity. "Well what other choices do you have? It's late, it's cold, just bang on the glass and wake him up!" I walked away from the window and leaned up against a wall in the shadows. "I'll just sleep in the parking lot, it's not a big deal." I tried to be nonchalant, but she wasn't having it. "Oh God, what's the place called?" She demanded. "The Bigfoot Motel. It's in Willow Creek." "Okay, I'll call you right back." Aunt Debbie hung up the phone and I was confused. I leaned back against the wall and yawned. My fingers were getting cold and my feet were drenched from trails of slush. I watched the blue haze flicker like a strobe light until the man on the sofa curled himself into a fetal position. He dropped his elbow off the armrest and clutched both of his shins with his forearms. Both of his feet, without one boot, perched their way onto the cushion and he tucked his head into his knees in frustration. Sitting next to him was a tiny orange light blinking faintly against the sofa's back. He rolled over and scrunched his body again into a ball. Finally, he reached his hand over to the crease and fished out a telephone whose screen was lit up. He turned himself around and sat on the cushion upright. He rubbed his palm into his forehead and pulled his hoodie over top. The call must have ended because he shoved the phone into his hoodie pocket and staggered off toward the side of the room, disappearing through a doorway. I crept in the shadows and tried to see where he was going, but suddenly, my phone rang again. "Hey, the guy just woke up." I scampered across the window back to my bike. "I know," my aunt chortled. "I just spoke to him and told him you were outside. He's waiting for you." Part of me felt embarrassed, like a kid who has their mother deescalate a fight at school for them, but at the same time, I felt relieved to have her wisdom looking out for me. Clearly, those kinds of situations tend to separate the young from the experienced. In our brazen arrogance, we think it's almost endearing to embrace hardships so as not to disturb anyone; like we're taking the higher road on a noble quest, but the reality is that we're too afraid to speak up for ourselves. Rather than working harder to be polite, I should have used my brain to find a solution. Luckily, aunt Debbie did it for me. "You're the best, Ant Deb." I replied. "Did he say how much the rooms were?" "Don't worry, honey. I'll give you money for the room, just get inside and get some rest. Text me when you're settled in." I told her I loved her and hung up the phone. I went into my bag and pulled out my debit card. This time, the door was wedged open with a wooden stopper. I pushed it open and a small bell jingled at the top. The guy was standing at the counter with his beanie low over his eyes. He didn't look at me or offer any kind of greeting. He just grabbed a set of keys and slid them to me over the counter. "Cash or card?" He rubbed his eyes with his thumb and index finger, while I handed the debit card to him. He snatched it and popped it into a reader below the counter. "It's $40 for the night," he mumbled. Follow the driveway all down, hang a left, and take the sidewalk to 45." The reader beeped and he yanked out the card. "Checkout's at 10am. We don't do breakfast here." I just nodded and grabbed the keys and my card. He walked out from behind the counter and followed me back to the door. I stepped outside and turned to him slightly. "Thanks for the..." He shut the door and turned the lights off. I didn’t think much of it, so I grabbed my bike and walked down the driveway back across the window. I saw the guy plop himself back onto the sofa. He slipped his other shoe off and curled back onto the cushion, blue haze in full epileptic fit. "THESE KNIVES ARE PERFECT." Once I slipped past the shadows, the parking lot in back opened up into a deep half circle. There were maybe 3 cars parked in random spots. I did what the guy said and took a left onto the sidewalk. Following it down, I came across another guy in a hoodie who was slumped over the arm rest of a white plastic chair. The door to his room was cracked open and the same blue haze spilled out of the opening onto the pavement. I stopped for a few seconds to make sure he was breathing, and I could see his chest moving up and down. I peaked into his room and didn't see anyone else. Finally, my conscience got the best of me. I put a few feet of distance between us and called out to him. "Hey pal, you know where 45 is?" It was the first thing I could think to ask. He didn't respond, but after a few seconds, he shuffled in his chair and a cigarette butt fell from his hand. I waited another minute, and very slowly, he started to lean his body further over his lap. It looked like he was about to fall over, so I readied myself to try and catch him, but as soon as the weight shifted over, his hands braced out in front him, and started reaching to pick up the cigarette. I figured he was fine, and I kept walking and scanning the door numbers. 38, 39, 40, 41, 42. There was a gap in the sidewalk; an entry way to the laundry room. I crossed over it, 43, 44, 45. Room 44 was missing its glass window, and it was sealed with a large wooden board. If that wasn't shocking enough, when I pulled out the keys to unlock my door, the force from my hand against the knob pushed it open. The door wasn't locked, and inside, the bathroom light was on. I wouldn't say that I was scared, but I felt confused. Since I left the bar, the night turned into a strange abduction. In some way, I was beamed into a twilight zone that would only grow more obscure as the night went on.

I wheeled my bike inside and shut the door. Instantly, I locked everything up. I shut the curtains over every window, and even pressed a chair under the doorknob for good measure. Then, I pulled out my phone and sent Aunt Debbie a text. Just got inside. Place is creepy, but only a few hours, right? Love you so much! Goodnight! I set the phone down on the table and sat in the other wooden chair to undress. My body was shivering as I peeled off my socks. The room was fairly cold when I arrived, but feeling the air on bare skin made my temperature plummet. I unzipped my jacket, slung it over the chair and pulled off my sweater. It was heavy from sweat and moisture; sticking to my t-shirt and shoulders as I worked it over my head. Once I was free, I sat there for a minute to settle my nerves. I noticed a heater above the bed near the ceiling. I propped myself up using the chair and hobbled over to the mattress. The bed was covered in a dark pink floral comforter that felt scratchy under my feet. Its springs were loose and bouncy, and every step felt like my knees would buckle. Bracing myself against the headboard, I analyzed the heater for the “on” switch. It was a wide machine with a big knob on the left that only showed a range of colors from deep blue to blazing red. I turned it to the red section and a loud boom sounded its ignition. Within a couple seconds, a deep whirring forced its way through the front vents and blasted hot air in my face. I scrambled back to the end of the bed and hopped off. My legs were so tired that I barely caught myself with both feet, and my right knee banged into the TV stand across from it. ““GODDAMMIT.” I cursed behind my teeth and pressed my palm against the impact. Standing there waiting for the dull pain to subside, I saw the remote control on the ground. I sat down on the edge of the bed and bent over to grab it. It was a fairly new TV with a sleek frame, but it was about the diameter of a microwave. I turned it on and no channel came in. I hit the “Guide” button, but nothing popped up. I canceled out of it and scanned the channels until QVC came on again, an old redheaded lady selling Copper-coated cookware. I threw the remote on the bed and left the channel playing. I stood up and limped over to the bathroom. It was fairly clean. A bright , white light illuminated white tiles, and a plastic see-through curtain hung over the shower railing with thick white rings. I took of my jeans and long underwear, yanked off my t-shirt and stood in the mirror to look at myself. My body was pale and thin. The stark cold made me look almost emaciated, despite lean muscle showing. “Jesus, I look like shit,” I whispered under my breath as I drew the curtain back and turned the knobs for hot water. Thankfully, it didn’t take long for the shower to heat up. Steam rose from the ceramic tub, forming tiny pools on the ceiling. Yellow spots of mold grew in random formations in small pockets. I crept in and felt the sting of hot water against my skin. I inched slowly until the water burned my thighs and pelvis. Goosebumps invaded my forearms and biceps as the stream pelted my abdomen and chest. Once I acclimated, I dunked my head under the shower and watched the dirt rinse from my scalp down into the drain. I looked at the corners of the tub and didn’t see any shampoo or conditioner. I peaked my head out from the curtain and saw a bottle of hand soap by the sink. I reached over and yanked it into the shower, trying not to let cool air infiltrate my sauna. There was barely any soap left in the bottle, so I unscrewed the top and let water spill in. Suds began to ooze and I scooped them up with my hand and rubbed them into my skin. The smell was astringent, like the feeling of hydrogen peroxide on a cut. It singed my nostrils and left my skin feeling raw. I quickly washed it off and stood in the downpour for another 20 minutes. The bathroom became the inside of a cloud. When I turned the water off and drew back the curtain, a puddle had formed on the floor. Moisture spilled from the mirror and drizzled the knobs on the sink. I looked around for a towel, but there was only a clean rag folded on top of the toilet’s back. I shook my head with a smile and started patting myself down with it. My body shivered again as I turned off the bathroom light and entered into the room. My teeth chattered as I fished into my bike bag for a clean set of long underwear way at the bottom. I got so frustrated that I started pulling everything out and let it fall to the floor. Quickly, the place was trashed with loose almonds, spare bike parts, rolled up t-shirts, and extra pairs of socks. I finally got to the long underwear bottoms and top and threw them on in a frenzy. “MOTHER$&%$.” I yelled out, rubbing my arms with my hands and running over to the light switch. In the dark, I sprang onto the bed and buried myself under the blankets. I didn’t care to check how clean they were. I rubbed my face into the pillow and nestled in as tightly as I could to keep in the heat. Above me, the whirring turned into a somber moan that made my eyes heavy. Piercing through my consciousness was the same lady on QVC. “THIS COPPER PAN MAKES ANYTHING. GRILLED CHEESE, QUESADILLAS, FRENCH TOAST, PRIME RIB, TURKEY CHILI, YOU NAME IT!” Without looking, I felt around for the remote, found the power button, and clicked it off. I let the weight of my eyes fall and my lips melted against the pillow. The weight of my body sank into the springs with the constant whirring rumbling overhead.

Chasa, Chase. Chasa, wake up. I have to go pee. I can’t get out of the seat. Press the button and sit me up. Chasa, hurry. I can’t hold anymore. Ahh okay, good. Now lift me up, please. Its good cos everyone is sleeping, right Chase? That way no one has to see me if I don’t make it. Okay, turn around. No, Chase! Turn me around. Okay, pull my pants down. Just do it! Okay, now shut the door. *knock knock. Chase, finished. Pull me up. Pull my pants up. Okay, thank you, Chasa. Slowly, slowly, ahh, okay. I’m sorry, Chase. You the one taking me to bathroom now, huh? Did you get enough to eat? Are you sleepy? Me too. I think I close my eyes now. You sleep too, my son. You get some sleep, too.

A loud BANG fired from above my head and the whirring on the heater stopped. I shot up in a full sweat, my hair soaked and the sheets damp. Across the room, the bathroom light was on and I started to worry. The alarm clock next the dresser said 4am and outside was still pitch black. I crawled out of bed and realized that I was completely naked. All my clothes and the junk from my bag were neatly folded and placed on the table. My heart crept into my throat as I tip-toed over to the bathroom. I leaned my head in first, trying to see a shadow or figure, but once it got into full view, there was no one there. Instead, my cellphone was connected to its charger plugged in next to the sink. Water was dripping from the faucet and the window was wide open letting cool air flood the room. I jumped over to the window and slammed it shut. I grabbed my phone and charger from the wall and switched off the light. When I came back into the room, the TV had turned on by itself. The blue haze glaring across the bed like mist. Words on the screen flashed in yellow CALL NOW BEFORE THIS OFFER ENDS. I got dressed as fast as I could and threw everything back into my bag. I grabbed the key from the table and walked over to the door. I turned the lock and tried to open it, but it was stuck. I yanked on it a few more times and then I noticed that I had actually just locked it. Again, I froze in place and didn’t know what to think. I looked over at the TV and QVC had ended. Now, it was just the haze reflecting a strange void. I unlocked the door and rolled my bike onto the sidewalk. I was so terrified that I didn’t even shut the door behind me. I rode into the parking lot and coasted up to the lobby door. I took out the keys and dropped them into a mail slot. The air outside was dull and penetrating, freezing the mucus in my nostrils with every breath. I looked back down the strip towards my room, but couldn’t see anything. Out in front, the horizon blended black into purple. To this day, I can’t explain what happened in that room, but it scared me to death.

Thank you all for being so patient and giving me the time to write this next section. Lately, my professional work has been so hectic that making time to work on this story becomes increasingly difficult. Regardless, the adventure is one that’s special to my heart, and being able to share it with everyone, no matter what the pace may be, is a real honor.

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Chase MaserComment