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You, In Weird Cities

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It’s snowing outside. It started while he was eating midnight dinner at the diner, and it’s piling on thick, turning the motel parking lot slippery and featureless.  No school for the kids of Antlers tomorrow. Walker has to knock the thick, white clumps out of his boots and hat in the doorway to his room so they don’t soak the floor.

He peels off his layers and gets into the shower once he’s checked and double-checked that both the door the bathroom and to the room proper are locked. Compared to most other motels he’s stayed in, the shower is nice. The showerhead is a little too short for him, so Walker has to stoop to run water over his hair, and there’s some funny problem with the pipes lately where the water never comes out quite as hot as he wants it. Always lukewarm, no matter how hard he twists the handle to the left. It could be worse. He should tell the new night manager about the hot water problem, maybe.

The new night manager is nice. Well, pleasant, at least - she hasn’t spoken to him aside from introducing herself, but she seems fine. Enthusiastic about the job, even. Walker wonders if anyone told her what happened to the last guy. Maybe not. He’s not even sure what the official cover story for it is. Wild animal attack, probably, like the rest of the victims, but it’s hard to explain away a monster stealing the face of a dead man. What did they tell the family? Walker knows it’s none of his business, but he still wonders.

The water coming out of the showerhead is erring on the side of cold now. Walker cups his hands under the stream and pours the water over his head, his hair plastering itself down to his face and neck. He doesn’t close his eyes. The sound of the pipes rattling in the walls is already putting him on edge, and there’s not a time lately when he hasn’t closed his eyes and not expected to reopen them and see something looming over him. The wolf in the woods, his brother, whatever. He lies awake in the dark motel room some nights, staring at the wall, waiting to hear someone shuffling around outside, rattling the doorknob. Waiting to feel hot breath on the back of his neck.

He misses St. Augustine. It was warm there, and everything was lit up with fairy lights at night, and everyone thought he had dropped off the face of the earth. It was early retirement. The best two months of his life. He had been looking at new jobs, thinking of using the rest of his last paycheck on a day pass to Disney World - fucking Disney World - before all of this started.

The phone in his room is ringing - Walker can just barely hear it over the shower, and he doesn’t rush to answer it. Only a handful of people know how to get in touch with him here. Judging by the time of night, he can guess who wants to talk to him. It probably isn’t an emergency. Maybe it is. Who cares?

He turns off the water, wrapping a towel around his waist and unlocking the bathroom door. The phone keeps ringing. It’s still going by the time he gets to it. Walker picks it up, lifting his shoulder and cradling the receiver against his ear, pulling a pair of underwear on one-handed as he listens to the breathing of the person on the other line. Eventually, they realize he isn’t going to be the one to start the conversation.

“Walker?” A man’s voice; nervous, accusatory. Maybe afraid of what will happen if Walker gets mad. Most people are.

“Yeah,” he says.

“You haven’t called in weeks.”

“I know,” Walker says. “I didn’t have anything to talk about, so I figured, why not spare you the awkward small talk and just not call at all.”

“Well…” the voice trails off. Then: “Nothing interesting has happened? At all?”

“Not since…when did I tell you about the shit in the woods?”

“September?”

Walker counts the months back on his fingers. “Yeah. Not since four months ago.”

“I find that hard to believe.” Notes of irritation.

“Well, believe it. Nothing ever fucking happens around here.” Walker glances over his shoulder at the motel room door. Still locked. “Look, I was on my way to bed, but I’ll call you back tomorrow and we’ll talk then. Or sit around saying nothing. I don’t care.”

The voice on the other end says “Oh!” and starts on what’s probably an apology, but Walker hangs up before he can listen to any more of it. He grabs the remote off the nightstand and turns the TV on as he drops into bed, his still-wet hair soaking the pillow. Game show reruns. Volume turned up, but not high enough to disturb the neighbors if he has any. He flicks the lamp next to the bed off, so that the room is perfectly dark but for the contestants sweating in close-up on the bright, bright screen.

He should get a hobby. Take up smoking. Find something to do besides flirt with diner waitresses every day and lie in bed every night with his nerves telling him he’s being hunted down. He should read more books. Instead, he stays awake until the sun is coming up behind his blinds and the chipper newscasters are reading off the school closing announcements on TV.