Val slammed her hand into the vending machine as it swallowed yet another coin, “Fucking thing”, she muttered under her breath.
The sun was just beginning to go down below the looming shapes of the buildings on the edge of town. All that world lost in shadow. A memory surfaced from her childhood, one detached from any kind of narrative, built on that peculiar solipsism of lonely children. When the curtain of night hung low, the younger version of her which existed now only in memory had feared that the world of the night was a separate one from the bright, beating light of day. To be caught as the veil slipped between day and night was to be lost in a world of twilight, to wander lost forever.
How many times had she ran, full tilt, to get inside, heart beating up through her chest, when she had seen the darkness drawing itself down?
How many times had she slammed the door behind her with all her might to keep the night at bay?
She snorted. How stupid she had been.
There was still no luck with the vending machine. Val sighed. All she wanted was a fucking Coke, and of course the one goddamn vending machine in this whole stupid motel wasn’t working right, slowly stripping her of the coins she carried in the deep bottoms of her jacket’s pockets. Looking around to check the dusty corridor was empty, Val hit the machine with the flat of her palm. It was cold to the touch, and eventually, after ten bouts of such percussive maintenance, a single black can fell with a solid thu-thud, as it hit the bottom of the tray and bounced out onto the concrete floor. It was really not worth it, she barely wanted it anymore, but it was simply a matter of pride now. She had gone to all this trouble actually getting it, and goddamn it she was going to drink it.
The single bare bulb, swinging from the center of the ceiling flickered ominously as she brought the can back to her room. It truly was an ominous place, water rot creeping up so many of the walls not immediately in bedrooms. Normally, people would care, but for Val this was just another place to rest her head as she fled in her own meandering way across the country. She’d been in worse places than this - at least here had vending machines, no matter how broken - and the rot creeping up the walls was far more comforting than that which implacably pursued her.
Her room, number 19, was on the second floor of the motel, overlooking a central courtyard. Below was a disappointingly still pool of water, around which sprouted wilting grey-brown plants, too far in their decline to resuscitate them. It was sad, she thought in a distant way, how easy dying is. She’d never considered actually dying, she wasn’t that disenchanted with the world. Yet. She’d heard that at some point in your twenties, your brain cells finally stop being replaced by new ones when they die off, and that was the first true biological step towards shuffling off the old mortal coil. She supposed when she reached that point, she’d have to review her situation.
The door was a grimy eggshell white, with the number 19 in raised black numbers affixed to the centre. Val took the key out of her left breast pocket and inserted it into the lock. Thankfully, it slid around with a smooth, solid tchunk. She didn’t know what would have happened if the door had been as obstinate as the vending machine. The greasy old man who seemed stuck by his elbows at the check-in desk below would come up to find the splinters of a door shattered in in her frustration.
The door swung in to the darkened room. She always kept the blinds closed wherever she went. It was the fear of being watched, of being observed, in her most private moments by the thing that followed her, and by regular people on the street. Their scrutiny, the judgement she perceived made her itch under her skin, an itch she could not scratch. The weight of their eyes was a real force and it was crushing.
As she stepped into the room, she heard the soft krutsch of something crinkling under the sole of her boot. Flicking on the light, she lifted her foot and looked down. There, on the depressingly threadbare beige carpet was a single white envelope… with her name on it.