Charlie opened her eyes, yawned, then asked plaintively, “Are we there yet?
Deacon snorted then said, “How old are you again?”
“But we’ve been driving for ages!”
“Yes, and you’ve been asleep for most of it,” he retorted.
“You prefer to drive anyway,” Charlie said.
“Because you’re a lead foot and I want to get to the grandkids alive.”
“Okay, Okay! So how long now anyway.”
“Still a long way. We might stop at the next motel or something”
“Haven’t seen any sign of anything for miles,” Charlie remarked,
“You saw that through your closed eyelids, did you?”
“Oh shut up. Wake me when we get to a motel,” Charlie said and settled back again.
Deacon shook his head and peered ahead at the long ribbon of black unwinding in his headlights. He hadn’t seen another car for quite some time.
An hour or so later, lights appeared in the distance. It was a service station set back from the road. As he neared it, he saw the vacancy sign of a motel behind it. He was puzzled. He didn’t remember seeing it last time. Nevertheless, he turned off onto the side road and headed for it. A sign said ‘Wayside Motel.’ He stopped outside reception, then got out. There was a sign on the door. It read, ‘If closed, go to the service station.’
He got back in the car. Charlie stirred, and without opening her eyes, asked, “Are we there yet?”
“Yes dear. Of course we are. I turned the car into a plane,” he said sarcastically.
Her eyes opened.
“Very funny. Where are we anyway?”
“Motel,” he answered, reached for his wallet that he had placed in the centre console, then got out again and walked to the service station. The man behind the counter was old, with an unruly mop of grey hair. He was wearing a wrinkled red flannel shirt that looked as if he’d slept in it. He looked expressionlessly at Deacon with red-rimmed, deep-set black eyes. His face was an unhealthy white pallor. He wondered if the man was ill.
“May we have a room for the night at the motel please?” he asked politely.
The man turned, took a key from a board behind him, and handed it to him.
“Fifty dollars,” he said, his voice a throaty rasp.
Deacon was surprised at the price, but handed him the money.
“Don’t need a receipt,” he said.
The man, nodded, kept looking at him, or almost through him, he thought.
It made him feel very uncomfortable.
“Thanks,” he said, and walked out the door. Through the window, he saw the man was still staring into space.
‘That was weird,’ he thought.
He decided not to share his feelings with Charlie. The key was for room number six. Back at the car, he got in, started it, drove into the carpark and stopped in front of room number six. There were no other cars, they had the motel to themselves.
“Want your suitcase? Stupid question. Of course you do. Here’s the key. It’s six. Go and open the door.”
“Aye aye, skipper!” she responded and got out.
He pressed the button for the boot, retrieved her suitcase, and his bag, shut it and walked into the room. Charlie had turned on the lights. The room was neat and tidy, with a queen-sized bed in the middle with a floral patterned cover over it.
“Smells musty in here,” Charlie wrinkled her nose, as Deacon deposited their bags on the bed.
‘We won’t be here long,” he said.
“ And I’m buggered, so I don’t care.”
Charlie wandered off.
“There’s a kettle and tea things over here,” she said.
“Want a cuppa?”
Deacon pulled out sleep shorts, a tee shirt and his toilet bag and went into the bathroom. He was having a pee when Charlie came in and filled the kettle. She pulled a face.
“Noisey,” she said.
“Piss off,” he told her.
“Oh, you’re so funny,” she said, left and shut the door.
A little later, he sat on the bed, sipping his tea. There’d been milk in the small fridge.
“Strange. I don’t remember this motel or the service station last time I came through here,” he said.
“When was that?”
“Dunno. Long time ago.”
“Well, you’re old. Your memory’s pretty shot,” she told him.
“Thanks, I love you too.”
He finished his tea and put his cup on the bedside table.
“Can’t be bothered brushing my teeth,” he told her.
“I’ll do it in the morning,” and climbed into bed.
“Eew,” she said.
“Disgusting creature. No good night kiss for you.”
He pulled the blanket up over his shoulders and turned on his side.
“Good night,” he said in a muffled voice.
He was asleep in minutes. Charlie looked at him fondly. She wasn’t the slightest bit sleepy, unsurprisingly, but she had her kindle. She was halfway through her latest downloaded novel. She’d finish it tonight. A few hours later, she too was asleep. Up above, the vacancy sign had gone out.
Deacon woke with a start. He’d been dreaming. There was a fire. The heat was intense, there was a roar of flames, smoke was billowing in the air. He and Charlie were watching it from a distance. There was no danger to either of them, and he couldn’t tell what the building was that was burning. He turned over. Charlie was sleeping peacefully, her back to him. He put an arm around her and drifted off back to sleep.
It was six the next morning. After showers and an early morning cuppa, they were on their way. Deacon left the key in the room. Soon, the motel and service station had disappeared from view. Two hours later, they were in a large town. They pulled into a service station, Deacon filled the car, then they went into the cafe for breakfast.
“I’m starving,” Charlie announced as they sat down. She picked up a menu and perused it.
‘Full breakfast for me,” she said to Deacon.
A smiling waitress came over.
“Ready to order, folks? “ she asked.
“I am,” Charlie responded.
“Old slow coach here is still deciding.”
“No rush,” the waitress said.
“Have you folks come far?”
“Well, we’ve been driving on the north road for a couple of hours, so not that far,” Charlie said.
‘We stayed in that motel just off the road.”
“Oh? And what motel was that?”
Charlie turned to Deacon.
“What was the name of that motel last night?”
“I think it was the Wayside Motel. It was attached to the service station,” he responded.
The waitress, whose tag said her name was Debbie, said in puzzlement, “I don’t know of any service station and motel in that area.”
Charlie put down her menu.
“We definitely stayed there last night.”
Debbie turned and called, “Len, come here a minute.”
A grey haired man came out from behind the counter and approached their table.
“Len’s lived in this area all his life. He’d know about the service station and the motel,” she explained.
Once more, Charlie told him about their previous night’s stay. His eyes widened, then he whispered, “Oh my God.”
In alarm, Debbie said, “What is it, Len?”
Deacon and Charlie looked at each other. Len pulled up a chair and sat down, while Debbie looked on with concern.
“I don’t know how to explain this, folks, but, there was a service station and motel there, just off the road. But twenty-five years ago, to the day yesterday, it caught fire and both burnt to the ground. The owner, Joe Latimer, an eccentric old fellow, died in the blaze.”
Deacon and Charlie stared at him in horror.
“But we stayed there last night!” Charlie cried.
Debbie had her hand on her chest, eyes wide,
“I’m sorry, but it’s the truth,” Len said.
Deacon said shakily, “I saw him. Old guy, grey hair, red flannel shirt, dark eyes, I gave him fifty dollars, I thought it was cheap.”
“Yep. That’s him, and that’s what he charged then.”
Deacon said slowly, “I woke up in the middle of the night. I had a dream about a fire. Charlie and I were watching it. I couldn’t see what the building was that was on fire,”
The four stared at one another in silence, then Debbie said, “I guess I’d better get you good people some breakfast.”
“I don’t think I could eat now,” Charlie said.
“I can,” Deacon said.
“I’ll have the full breakfast please.”
“How can you eat after this, this weird thing that just happened to us?” Charlie asked.
“Easy. I’m hungry,” Deacon answered.
“And two teas please,” he said to Debbie.
“Thanks, Len, I think. This will be something to tell our grandkids when we get there, won’t it? Grandpa and grandma stayed in a ghost motel last night.
I don’t think they’ll believe us, do you?”
“I can’t even believe it!” Charlie burst out.
Len got up and said, “Probably not. Maybe you shouldn’t tell anyone. They’ll think you’re nuts. Anyway, gotta go help Debbie.”
He went off, giving them a lingering look as he went.
Charlie looked at Deacon.
“I’m not sure I know how to feel about this,” she said.
“Yes,” Deacon said thoughtfully.
“I can understand that.”
He grinned suddenly.
“Why are you smirking? What’s so funny?”she said crossly.
“The Wayside Motel,” he said.
“What on earth is funny about that?”
Charlie was getting irate.
“I know what to say now every time I get asked that silly question.”
“What silly question?”
He laughed and said teasingly, “Are we there yet?”