My GPS has stopped working because there is little to no internet access out here. There’s little to no cell reception, either, if that helps you to understand just how in the middle of nowhere I am.
I get dinner at a 7-11 (a turkey sandwich and some cliff bars) and I pull into a little motel on the side of the main road through this tiny, disheveled and dusty town. It consists of a long, one-story building down one side of the property, and two separate buildings in the back, each sporting only two rooms, and the office building. The property is owned and managed by an older woman with short grey hair and an apron over her clothes. She has a thick Russian accent, and goes over the details of the rental twice, to make sure we understand each other despite her broken English and my non-existent Russian. She shows me all of her calculations so I know she’s not cheating me.
Before I sleep I read N’s most recent draft of one of his stories. As the tiredness sets in my notes grow worse in quality but I hate to leave things unfinished, so I charge on until the end. I brush my teeth and fall into bed. For reasons I can’t wholly explain I think of Marble Hornets—of Jay sleeping in his bed and Tim wearing a mask crouched on the dresser, the camera malfunctioning. But I know who the masked man is and I know what he’s doing, so the image doesn’t frighten me anymore. I fall asleep within a matter of minutes.
It is only an hour, maybe an hour and a half later when I sit up in my bed. There is someone in my room, someone standing between the closet and bathroom doors. I can see their outline in the darkness like the shimmering green shadow left on the iris by a too-bright light, their hair bristling like feathers around their head. I scream at them. I scream, “What are you doing here? What do you want? Why are you here?” I scream at them for a minute, maybe, maybe two.
Silently, they recede into the bathroom, whose door I had closed. My voice is rough but I scream after them, “Where are you going?” Then, uncertainly: “Are you there?”
I fumble for my phone, to light up the screen so I can see enough to turn on the bedside lamp. I stumble out of bed and I walk uneasily, almost drunkenly, to the still-closed bathroom door. I hit the switch on the outside of the door and burst in. I look in the shower and behind the door, but there is no one.
Then I notice myself in the mirror—my eyes bloodshot and my pupils more dilated than I can remember ever having seen them. I lean close to the mirror, wondering what is wrong with my eyes. My pupils shrink, but only fractionally. My irises are still mostly consumed by black. I am too frightening to keep looking at. I turn away and close the bathroom door again.
It occurs to me that the person may have gone under the bed while I was fumbling with my phone and the light. My phone is still in my hand (how?) so I try to turn on the flash light app. I struggle to get to the screen where the button is kept—my fingers don’t seem to be working quite right. When I finally get it on I kneel and shine the light under the bed. Nothing.
The locks are still in place on the door. No one could have come through the closet—my bag is still upright, and I never heard it fall over. I don’t think I did, anyway. I don’t remember what woke me, but…the more I think about it, the more I wonder if I was even awake while I was screaming. I worry for a moment about the neighbors, then remember there had been no car parked in front of the room next to mine and no light in the window. Had I even screamed? I think so, but I suppose I can’t really be sure.
I get back into my bed. I lay there for forty minutes with the light on, fighting the return of sleep. There is no one here but me, I know now. It was a dream, it must have been. I convince myself that it couldn’t possibly have been a ghost or any other sort of spirit, to make myself feel better. I still don’t feel better, so I pray. I am not usually the praying type but this is the second time on this trip I have prayed. These motels are not being good to be.
Finally I force myself to turn off the light. My fear is useless to me and there is nothing else I can do—nothing I can do about the fact that I can’t call or text anyone or that I can’t get online to watch a funny video to make myself feel better. I’m far too tired to get in my car and drive and even if I wasn’t, I would arrive in Austin around four am, long before my friend there would be awake. I would still be alone.
In the darkness I pray myself to sleep. I pray to my many gods to guard me while I sleep, because I don’t want to be lost here. I don’t want to die, and I am inexplicably convinced this is a very real possibility tonight. That if I die on this trip it will be tonight. And if I am attacked, all I have to fight back with are my fingernails and teeth, my elbows and knees. No weapons, no cell reception to call for help.
In the morning I get a later start than hoped. I’m still tired, my eyes are still bloodshot, but my pupils have gone down to a normal size. I don’t feel well. I feel emotionally and mentally gross, for lack of a better word. I feel Babadook feelings and I want to curl up in a hole and sleep for weeks. I have Subway for breakfast, fill my gas tank, and get out on the road.
While I drive, I wonder if I’d been sleep walking. If that might explain my eyes. The drunkenness of my movements. I wonder, if I had been sleep walking, how did I remember it all? I wonder if I had this dream because I’d thought of Marble Hornets, but I’m not afraid of the masked man anymore. Maybe some part of me remains unnerved by the isolated image? I've been reading a lot about mental illness lately, and listening to podcasts about DID. I wonder if I'm going crazy.
I struggle to shake the clinging downness in my head, but I can’t. I’m weepy. My GPS stops working again and I hit the steering wheel and scream “FUCK” before throwing my phone into a cup holder and just driving. I get directions from a small Middle Eastern woman and her son at a motel.
Eventually my GPS starts working again. I still feel off. I’m looking forward to being with a friend again tonight.