The problem with driving way far out halfway between nothing and nowhere is that once the sun goes down, it gets dark really fast. And the temperature dips down like someone turned on the air conditioning full-blast. Then, suddenly, a crackle of heat shatters the sky, and the brightness of the lightning is imprinted on your field of vision in a glaring afterimage for one, two, three seconds.
Bam! The clap of the thunder sounds a moment later.
This is especially a problem if you happen to be driving down one such desolate road in your mom's old Mercedes convertible. Which you took because, face it, you didn't need a lot of room, and the feel of the wind blowing through your hair is better than the smell of the recirculated air conditioning in the SUV. Not to mention the fact that the mileage is better. But when the heavens tear open and rain starts pelting down like some kind of Biblical plague, the SUV definitely would have been the better choice.
Especially when the engine putters out. Which is what happened to me that night.
I managed to veer the car onto the shoulder just as it rolled to a stop, rolled up the top with some difficulty, and got out my phone. First call was to Triple-A. They said they'd get a tow truck out in a few hours...yeah. A few hours. That's how far out into the middle of nofuckingwhere I was. Second call was to my mom.
I got her voicemail. "Mom?" I started. "It's Sephie." I explained what had happened. I could barely hear myself over the sound of the driving rain.
And that was when I saw a light up ahead, hazy through the raindrops that clouded my vision. It was like something out of Rocky Horror, except that there wasn't any musical number to go along with it-- just light, colorful light. I walked toward it...the closer I got, the more it looked like it might be a motel of some kind, which was a huge relief, considering that by now I was saturated to the skin.
And then I got close enough to read the gaudy neon sign that, I swear, looking like something right out of the 1950s.
Hotel California, it read. Air Conditioned. TV.
Great, I thought. We've gone from Rocky Horror to an Eagles song. But there wasn't a mission bell, or a creepy woman standing in the doorway.
Instead, there was a very cheerful-looking desk attendant standing in the doorway. He was one of those people who gave me the funny feeling that he looked a lot younger than he was. He could've been anywhere between, oh, sixteen and thirty-two, and I wouldn't have been surprised.
His badge read, Tuoni. I had no idea what kind of name that was, or how to pronounce it.
Tuoni asked if he could help me, and held the door for me as I crossed the threshold and promptly began dripping all over the concierge office. I told him I needed a room, just for the night.
"You're soaking wet," he said. "Are you sure you don't need a coffee or something?"
It was a nice offer, if a little odd, since I wasn't sure how a coffee would be better in this situation than a towel.
"No thanks, um." I realized I had gotten to the point where I should've said his name. "Tony?" I tried.
"Tuoni," he corrected. "It's Finnish."
That answered two of my questions.
He had me sign the guest register and give him my mom's credit card number and that sort of stuff. Then he pulled out the key to my room. It was a funny, old-fashioned looking key, you know, the kind you see people open trunks or attic doors with in horror movies.
"Cabin one," he said, as he handed it to me. "It's closer in case you need anything. It's right next to the office."
For some reason that sounded super familiar to me. Like, deja-vu familiar, if you know what I mean. But I couldn't place it. "Er, thanks, Tuomi," I said, and went back out into the deluge to get my stuff out of the car.
I could have kicked myself as soon as I walked out the door. It was Tuoni, not Tuomi, wasn't it? Right. Weird Finnish names. I didn't think I'd ever even heard a Finnish name before.
I got my bag out of the trunk, grateful that it wasn't soaked through, and held it over my head while I ran to cabin one. Unlocking the door, I dropped my stuff on the floor and went right into the bathroom.
Which is when I realized why Tuoni's words sounded so familiar. Because it's what Norman Bates says to Marion Crane before he, you know, puts on his mother's dress and stabbed her to death in the shower.
Great, I thought. Just great. I couldn't quite look at the shower nozzle. I felt like it was staring at me. I snagged a towel and got the hell out of dodge. Or, you know, the bathroom.
I changed into my jammies and called my mom again while I dried my hair off. Voicemail, again. I left another message. Just as I was about to hang up, though, I heard tinny music floating into the room from outside.
Was that Edith Piaf?
I peeked outside. The rain had stopped.
Il me dit des mots d'amour, des mots de tous les jours, sang the recording of Edith Piaf.
The stars were out. And there was a table set up, practically towering with food.
"What the fuck?" I asked. And that was when I noticed Tuoni.
"I thought you might be hungry," he said, that same cheery smile on his face.
I meant to ask him if he'd meant to quote Norman Bates at me. I wondered if it was a thing, if he was trying to see who actually picked up on it. Instead, I just said,"Er. Thanks." And then congratulated myself of my innate ability to be oh-so-articulate.
He looked a little dismayed. "I can get you something else," he offered. "We haven't had much business lately, so it's all going to go to waste if no one eats it, um...what was your name?" he asked.
"Sephie," I said. Then I remembered that I'd signed the register with my given name. "Persephone, really. But everyone calls me Sephie."
"Sephie," he repeated, and picked up a plate of fruit from the table. "Here. Have some fruit."
I accepted the plate.
When your name is Persephone, there are some cardinal rules you really, really ought to follow. Just the same way as when you realize you might be a character in a Hitchcock movie, there are some cardinal rules you really, really ought to follow, too. And you should also probably follow certain rules when you think you might be in an Eagles song about a hotel of the damned. But then again, when your name is Persephone, you grow up with people who think it's funny to give you pomegranates, and you sort of become desensitized to it.
"Thanks," I said, in between popping a few pomegranate seeds in my mouth. "I'll pay for it in the morning when I--"
That was when I noticed the shit-eating grin on Tuoni's face.
Or maybe it was a soul-eating grin.
"Oh, you won't be GOING anywhere," he replied.
I looked down at the pomegranate.
"Shit," I said.
This entry was written for therealljidol Week 29: The Worst Thing I Ever Ate & Price to Play