The Magic 8-Ball Motel
SIGNS POINT TO YES
Richard Roe swaddled himself in a grey woolen duffelcoat— a genuine Lodenfrey, a West German import, forty years his senior. He skated across the icy street, swore through snowsheets, and damned the cat-o’-nine-tails cold whipping his joyless jowls.
A motel’s revolving 8-ball highwaysign appeared in the blizzard.
One other slunk out of the motel when Roe approached. They popped their collar and turned a corner for the rooms.
Roe slipped through the open door. Th-hanks-alot ah-ahssho-hole he chattered.
OUTLOOK NOT SO GOOD
The headjambbell still knelled as he entered.
He tugged the toggles of his itchy coat matted with snowmelt and flung the frozen flaps behind his hips and stood akimbo eyeing the closefisted lobby’s lone, faded formica plant then strode to a Joe Machine and gased two styrofoam cups of coffee that steamed pitifully and groaned. Weary and wasted he waterfalled four sugarpackets and swirled his fingertips for warmth. With a grimace he sniffed the concoction and plopped upon a plastic tripod. He thawed.
A smoggy image on the glazed glass attracted his attention –a hydrocephalic stickfigure formed of condensation. Its fingers dribbled down to the windowsill in a pool where a JuneBug floated, eaten insideout by an endoparasitoid, which emerged through its elytra as a silky pupa. With minute motions, the wormy, metamorphosing thing retreated into its host’s husk.
Shortly, the silhouetted figure malformed into a blob. Vapor covered it. Only one other in an illusory series of others.
R. Roe returned to his cups of Joe, swallowed alternately from each –until the contents were exactly halved— then combined them, using one cup as a koozie for the other. It seemed fitting.
S’cuse me sur... sur... Her brusque smoker’s baritone was as a misfiring muffler, coughing smoke. Sur! can I help you with something? She snuffed the cherry of a slim ciggarette.
Roe looked overshoulder like a dog caught licking its flearidden underbelly, hangdoged; therewith, his coffee, pitchblack as the office in which the woman lazed, overbrimmed and plashed upon his pantleg.
Sur Damnit. Sur arya even listenin to me?
What? –he rose and aboutfaced, patted the hot spots percolating through his pants and scalding his thighs— Jesus H What?
The heavyset woman working graveyard shift labored in heaves levering up her chair to peer out of her light-less office and over the counter. Are you stayin with us sur? Her pupils adjusted to the light, (almost) as well as a mole’s might.
He ignored her accusatory intonation.
Sur. That coffee ain’t fer free. It’s fer customers only—this ain’t a socialist country thank God, she thought, not yet... if you don’t hava room y’ain’t got no business bein in our lobby.
He simply stared.
I’m afraid I’m...
I’ll get one then.
DON'T COUNT ON IT
The high-fructose-cornsyrup-fed receptionist waggled her rollychair to the counter, turned the terminal face and said Then I’ll be needin uh creditcard and some formuv ID.
He sipped the last levels of coffee then lumbered over in squishy combat boots caked in snowpowder and rested an elbow on the counter whereupon sat a pryamidal nameplate with name inscribed: DEBRA –Y’all need to see my license, eh? ...Debbie?
Any ID’ll do. But yessur.
He fished a wallet from his interior coatpocket and, after producing card and laminate portrait, mentioned Some weather we’re havin huh?
The snowstorm whistled some forgotten tune. The Chattanooga Choo Choo. A lonesome tune, for a moonless night. Snowmelt wept on the windowpanes and out on the streetcorner within the Magic 8-Ball Motel’s highwaysign shook a neon, indigo icosohedral die that fortuned a VACANCY, type flickering milkily.
Just his luck. She snatched the ID and held it up to check its authenticity against him. Her unibrow furrowed as a wave of wool. She eyeballed every visible inch of Richard Roe, his bust, oscillating between picture and person; bald(ing), wolfjowled, with irises like fragments chiseled off a glacier. She slid the ID across the counter –obviously dissatisfied with it— then continued to file his credit card.
It’ll be 1-oh-2 for the first two nights, then 89 after, she had rehearsed.
I shouldn’t be staying for more than a night, he said, placing the picture back in his wallet.
D’you wanna pay now or at checkout?
Roe shrugged, Doesn’t matter to me.
She ticked the credit card on the computer terminal’s top corner— alluding to a desire for a definitive answer.
Now then, I guess.
She processed the card and darted her eyes across the screen. That can’t... she chickenpecked with her pointerfinger and traced ghastly green text with the other. Says here, sur...
Must be some sorta mistake.
You mean? a clerical error?
What says? responded the Broca’s region of the brain of Roe, unaware of its paradox. Meanwhile a marginal faculty sprung from his subconscious flung on a byway of neurons, which madeup the man identified as Richard Roe, constituted of an olfactory and frontal lobe. I.e.—
—Roe detected stacks of pancakes. Inconspicuously he sniffed her, lost in the delightful pancakey interplay of vanilla extract, batter, sugarcane syrup, and butter. But it was not her. Her smell was a department store. Within deciseconds the sensed scent dispersed— once more, marginalized.
BETTER NOT TELL YOU NOW
It says you’r... Richard. Roe, Richard. Right?
From a gastronomic daze Roe nodded vigorously.
Vacant. But already... Richard Roe, plain as day, room 222. That can’t be... right. She typed. Lemme try... no... she typed again. huh... –she stretched an arthritic fist— well... She handed him his card and said something else—
—which Roe had not heard. Did my card get declined?
No. She continued. Whatever it was... well, yer in room 222 now. First just lemme ready the room Mister Roe. O K? She reached for a key on a hook, looped her finger through the ring but barely budged from her seat.
In. the. meantime. She huffed, lifting herself. feel free. to enjoy. our continental break(she gasped)fast. area. She finally clasped the key. while you’re waiting.
She squeezed in sidesteps through the door for the outside, looking as large, and rotund, and ungainly, as a wrecking ball on baby legs.
He watched her waddle through the squall in Goliath’s shirt, saggy jeans, and low-ankle sneakers. She fiddled with ciggarette and lighter for a while in the wind, using her size to shield the flame; she was unsuccessful. However, she seemed as comfortable at five-above-zero as a Polar Bear. Contented.
Then she entered room 222.
CONCENTRATE AND ASK AGAIN
That familiar feeling of waitingrooms, that despair mixed with dread, weaseled through Roe. He went for more coffee and a day-old donut, glared at the glass again, and awaited the bigheaded stickfigure to ferment from the frost. It did not develop. More condensation and the dead JuneBug. It was some weather they were having.
Richard Roe could feel the cold catching at his throat. He got up to turn on the TV and let it rest on FOX news.
Their report: an illusive bodysnatcher (or, likelier, two bodysnatchers).
On the outward Richard Roe was not attentive to the news, noticeably numbed to it, though he read those dreadful subtitles.
‘Investigators say eightyearold Maggie Sonner
was abducted at a park near
her White Rock Lake home
late last night.
Between the hours of eleven and
eleven thirty pm.
One witness claims that
a bald, middleaged man
was seen walking a three-legged dog
in the vicinity of the park
at the time of her abduction.
Authorities began searching
for the whereabouts of Maggie Sonner this morning
after her mother Trisha Tolbecky phoned in
a missing persons report.
The mother and daughter recently
returned to the United States from Beijing.’
A picture appears of a curlyheaded girl hugging a Dora the Explorer backpack. Her smile, a smile of one who never did wrong.
‘If you have any information
regarding the dissapearence of
Maggie Sonner, call our toll-free numb...’
The bell knelled.
Yer room’s ready.
He got up.
D’you need help with any bags? She asked, already in her swivelseat again.
Roe possessed nothing but the duffelcoat, and other garments. Now he possessed an oily key as well, scooped from the counter.
O K then. Checkout’s at eleven. She receded into the darkness of her office as Roe swaddled himself in anticipation of the fanged freeze.
REPLY HAZY TRY AGAIN
The weather was an old fuzzy Television. Bright white and grainy. Roe did not dial into it correctly. Crosswinds cut at him. He traveled undercover of the motel’s icicled eaves, laid in an L-shape. The lobby the L’s foot. He clung to windowsills and doorknobs like a mountaineer on a treacherous ridge.
Room numbers went from 1010 to 999 to 888 to 777, and so on...
...to 222, nigh the end.
Debbie left the roomlight on. The heater hummed but was ineffectual. The bedsheets, untame. And what had she done? Roe wondered. The room was (dis)ordered between disarray and decorum. But it had a bed, a TV, a hairdryer, and a reddish book. He could not complain. Nor would he complain, assumed none other was listening. He nestled in.
Roe fell backwards onto bed and stared at the ceiling for longer than any sane man could be said should.
Bored, but too caffeinated for slumber, he reached for the red book. But there were no pictures. So he read the spine: 'Extradimensional Doldrums' by The 12-Fingered Typist. Roe flung it to floor, crept up the headboard, splayed out and occupied the ceiling a little longer.
Something knocked over in room 111. At first Roe did not lend it an ear, but the rapping continued, as a hammer to a chisel. He pinpointed the source. Behind the vanity. The mirror moved. Its mottled surface undulated. Roe raised his head.
Hey. Knock it off!
He thought it had ceased.
The hammering did not cease. Thwack. Thwack. Thwack.
Roe thought to phone the receptionist. But what would she do? She had not even madeup the bed.
He called out. Stop it will ya?
The hammer then struck through.
Hey moron, I said knock it off!
The mirror came loose of its nail. The bottom frame hit the bureau. Then the top tipped over. The hell’re you do... Glass-shards splashed onto the shag carpeting in a dozen pieces, scattered to reflect the various faces of Richard Roe. A gap appeared on the plaster wall. And in the aperture an obverse silhouette— a face of bald light; a grim photonegative grinning on a black background. What in the hell d’ya think you’re doin...
Hello Roe, spoke the same other in room 111.
IT IS DECIDEDLY SO
Inside an office and inside an indigo liquid, an icosahedral die fortuned REPLY HAZY TRY AGAIN. Shook again it misfortuned CONCENTRATE AND ASK AGAIN. Bobbled it read OUTLOOK NOT SO GOOD. Shook a final time it fortuned IT IS DECIDEDLY SO. Again and again and again, she shook it, desirous of one definitive answer.
© 2016 Eldon Arsenaux