Thanksgiving. That dreaded time of the year. When family members from around the country are forced to abandon their peaceful everyday lives and travel miles to congregate in a matriarch’s home for dry turkey, questions about why you’re still wearing that ugly sweater, and pointed reminders that you aren’t getting any younger (shouldn’t you really have a girlfriend by now?).
Alex leaned his head on the steering wheel. Thank God, that was over. He’d brave all the snow and hail if it meant not having to spend another night at his sister’s house. Her with her perfect nuclear family and golden retriever. Spot was great, he loved the dog, but could you really get any more bloody typical? It didn’t help that her husband was the same age as he was, with the same haircut and a much higher paying job. Contrary to Alex’s mother’s belief we can’t all be successful neurosurgeons. Why couldn’t she love him for the starving artist he was? For that matter, why couldn’t any of his girlfriends? Quiet and poetic only took you as far as the dinner bill it seemed.
The snow was getting a bit much though. It was probably safe to start calling it a blizzard and pull off the highway. Yes, good idea, Alex. Let’s avoid certain death today and not die of hypothermia. What would your mother say? Wouldn’t she want you to make it home for Christmas? He almost pulled back onto the road.
The motel’s blaring vacancy signs were what attracted him. That and the thought of his mother’s eulogy at his funeral (he NEVER listened to me, I TOLD him not to drive at night). “Room for one, please,” he said plonking his keys on the concierge’s counter.
“Your reservation’s all ready for you, just head up the stairs on the right, room 201,” came the reply. Very quick. It was like the man talked without the use of periods. Alex blinked. “I didn’t make a reservation,” he told the head behind the desk. “You don’t even know my name.”
The concierge sighed. The weight of the world clearly rested on his shoulders. “Yes, I see here,” he scrolled up his ancient computer monitor. “Mr. Alex Goodman, correct? One twin bed, non-smoking?”
“That’s me,” Alex confirmed, “but I didn’t call..”
At the look on the man’s face, Alex decided to shut up and just take the damn keys. There were more important things to worry about than reserved rooms in remote motels that matched your preferences anyway.
He took his time in the shower. It was always a blessing to get clean and not worry about the month’s water bill. The robe was a pleasant surprise too. For one, motels didn’t usually stock bath robes, never mind fluffy cotton ones, and for another, they were always too big for him. Alex was a small man and the sleeves always hung down past his wrists and he’d be perpetually pulling them up every time he needed to use his hands for something. This one however, fit him like a fleecy tailored suit.
He threw himself on the bed and resigned himself to free cable TV for the rest of the night. Halfway through a re-run of the X-files came a knock at the door. “I didn’t order dinner,” he protested to the porter. “Chicken a’a King, sir,” the man replied (didn’t he look exactly like the concierge downstairs?) “Included in the reservation, don’t worry, already paid for, hope we got the whole order right, low salt, no bell peppers.”
“But I didn’t order anything!” Alex almost shouted as the man wheeled the cart out of the room. He only heard a loud sigh in response. A very tired man, that guy was. Whatever. It was this or pizza anyway. How did they know he was allergic to bell peppers?
Afterwards, as he lay digesting dinner, Alex was jolted awake by yet another caller. What now? He thought. The doorway revealed the porter and a very comely lady dressed in.. not much at all, especially considering the weather. “Your requested companion, Mr. Goodman? She says you called earlier,” drawled the man. “I.. what?” stammered Alex, “No! I mean, you’re very attractive, no offense, but I didn’t ..”
“It’s no matter, love,” the woman said, “if you don’t want your money that’s alright with me. Just saves me some time is all.”
“What do you mean?” Alex asked.
“Bill’s covered.” She was already sashaying off down the corridor. “Quickest visit ever. Maybe check your credit card or something.”
Alex scrolled through his transactions frantically. Nothing since the gas station on the way here. No hotel rooms, or chicken dinners, and definitely no escort services. He supposed he’d have to call someone soon to make sure nothing else was amiss. Who to call? He had no idea, but it could wait. It was 3 am for goodness sake!
He took one final look outside before pulling the covers over his head. The vacancy sign was off and the storm showed no signs of abating. Please, no more surprises, he thought. It’s been nice but enough is enough.
His hopes went unanswered as Alex awoke soon after to a man straddling his chest and a cold metallic feel on his neck. “What?” He asked, intelligently of the masked figure above him. “What’s going on?”
“Your requested murder, sir,” came the reply, “4:06 am, in bed, by knife, to the jugular, excellent way to go if I do say so, Mr. Goodman.”
“I didn’t..!” sputtered Alex, “I didn’t ask to die!” His arms flailed uselessly at his sides.
“You’ve been saying that all evening, sir” sighed the man, “but it’s all included in the reservation you know, and it’s definitely you, Alex Goodman, in a bathrobe, in bed, by knife, fits the order perfectly.”
“But I didn’t..!”
Milky white cotton clouds. Alex blinked open his eyes to a blinding white light and the vague feeling of weightlessness. Slightly nauseating if you asked him. Anti-gravity was not what the sci-fi movies made it up to be.
“Ahem,” he heard on his right. Alex turned his head to see a podium and someone clicking disinterestedly on an ancient PC that was wired to nothing. “Right on time, Mr. Goodman, take the first right and head on up.”