I park in front of the half-opened motel door, my headlights blazing on the tarnished bronze room-number nailed over peeling red paint: 105. Even with the brights on, the opened mouth of the door is a cavernous black, revealing nothing inside.
I turn to the woman in the passenger seat. “Is this okay?”
For a moment she doesn’t answer. Her face is hidden in darkness, but moonlight shines on the top of her tangled hair. She shakes her head and asks, “Why this place?”
I fan out a hand toward the motel room like a game show host. “Well, it comes with a lavish complimentary basin.” Though I can’t see it in the dark, I feel the heat of her frown. “Seriously, though,” I say. “I could really use a bed right now.”
“I’m staying in the car,” she says.
Sarah or Sharon. She had told me her name, mumbling it when I first picked her up two hours ago and refusing to repeat it when I asked her to tell me again. She doesn’t ask for mine.
“It’s probably not safe,” I say, scanning the empty parking lot. Through the red glow of the taillights I see the weather-beaten marquee sign behind us proclaiming F-O-R-S–L-E, an impotent arrow perched on top of the sign, pointing at me. Beyond the sign is the road and beyond that I make out dry earth and cacti. And beyond that… darkness.
“It’s safer than being trapped in some room,” she says.
I don’t argue with that because she has a point. But I’ve only seen a few of the dead lumbering about in the last fifty miles, scattered and baking in the desert heat. Plus, this abandoned motel would be too remote for a massive onslaught. I realize I’m tapping my right hip, feeling the hardness of the Glock in my jean pocket.
“I know what this is really about,” she says. She leans forward, her face now more visible from the headlights reflecting off the motel wall. Though she looks weary, her eyes shine like the surface of clear water, her lips full despite her frown.
“You really think this is going to happen, Mister?” she asks.
I sink back in my seat and then stiffen when I realize what she means. “No-no,” I say. “I’d — we’d be in separate rooms.”
“Look,” she says, her frown turning into a sneer. “You saved my life, Mister. I’ll give you that. You could’ve just drove on by, but you stopped and helped a lady in distress. But just because you helped me out don’t mean you get to sleep with me.”
There had been three of them, I remember. I had slowed down the car to watch them attack her on the side of the highway. All three were men. All three dead. Two of them were spread out a few yards behind her, flanking her from escape as the third approached her head-on. Instead of falling back, she pushed forward and managed to get past the third man unscathed and made a dash toward my car, beating on the windshield and yelling for help. I had opened the door to let her in and then gunned the car into one of the approaching dead men. It took a couple of miles from there before I told her she might want to fix her skirt because I could see her bare thigh and the white of her panties.
“I’m not trying to take advantage of you,” I say. “Two separate rooms, I swear.”
Something shifts in the headlights and I look to see the motel door moving, opening slowly.
“Drive,” Sarah-Sharon says.
I hesitate. I’m two people now: one that wants to peel away and the other that wants to see what’s behind the door.
“What the hell are you doing, Mister? Get us out of here!”
I pull out my Glock and Sarah-Sharon gasps, moving away from me. “It might be one of us,” I say. Before she can protest I see something skitter from behind the door, young eyes locking onto mine for a split-second before the shape runs into the darkness deeper inside the motel room. It moves fast, unlike the dead.
“It’s a kid!” I yell.
Something pops and flashes. The world goes half-dark as the left headlight goes out.
“Get down!” Sarah-Sharon yells. It doesn’t register until there’s another pop and a hole dots the windshield like chipped ice. Something punches me hard in the upper chest, a burning sensation in my shoulder blade. I drop the gun, my right arm useless for a moment and then it’s grabbing the gearshift, my foot jamming the accelerator pedal. I hear the car screech as I thrust in reverse and then something crunches from behind and lifts the rear of the car upward. I have time to curse the marquee sign before another pop smacks dull into the front of the car. I’m shaking. Why am I shaking so much?
Everything becomes a shade blurrier. A dream world filled with a throbbing ache.
Sarah-Sharon’s hand is reaching between my legs; the arousal is a strange mix with my pain. She gets the gun laying on my crotch and then pushes her door open. I want to tell her about the trigger safety, but she’s already shooting, two shots. Silence.
I blink and then Sarah-Sharon is gone, no longer kneeling behind the open passenger door. I blink again. Slow blinks. The car is quiet now. Still. Maybe it’s dead.
Sarah-Sharon is standing over a quivering body lying on the parking lot in front of the room I wanted to share with her. The boy on the ground is older. Much older than I thought. A teen. He has a large rifle in one hand. She kicks it away, kneels to say something to the boy and places a hand over his head, stroking his hair. She then stands back up and shoots him in the head.
She’s sweeping through the motel door, peering inside like she’s a cop or something. Maybe she is. Or was.
She’s over me now. Pressing the wound. Her breath is soft, her sweat almost flowery.
“Hey, Mister,” she says. “Stay with me. Keep your eyes open.”
She’s tearing my shirt open. I love her.
“I love you, Sarah…Sharon,” I say.
“Shannon,” she says with mild annoyance. She works on the wound near my neck, telling me I’m lucky that the bullet went all the way through.
I am lucky.
“You saved my life,” I say. “That doesn’t mean you can sleep with me.”
She doesn’t reply. We sit in silence inside the car as she patches me up, but I see it there briefly in the moonlight. On her face. A smile.
Just for a moment.
“What’s your name?” she asks.
I can’t wait to tell her.
© Jack Lee Taylor 2015