Writing class homework from last week – show don’t tell. The title Man Is Fear.
The phone’s vibration springs his eyes wide. Gunshots in his dreams fade away as he lies corpse-still, the only movement in the room his eyelids blinking, once and then quickly three times. The shutters on the windows have slapped an extra coat of darkness on the pre-dawn hour of his waking. Hearing nothing, he stretches his right arm overhead slowly. And then his left. Never two at the same time – one must always be near his defense. Rolling half-over to the right at the silent sticky pace of a snail he reaches his hand to the night stand for the reassuring touch of cool steel.
Placing one booted foot and then another, feather-light, beside the bed, he tests the worn wooden floor for creaks with a little weight at a time. Jeans soaked from the night’s humidity cling soggy to his legs as they extend to standing. Reaching tall he rises out of a bed as fully dressed as he, and casts the light from the screen of his phone over to the corner for the suitcase. The cold blue of his eyes cannot be seen but their gaze connects with the object, in its place in this room, identical to its place in the room of his last rest three hundred miles behind. There had been five rooms in the last fifteen days for a few hours at a time.
Relief and disappointment flow in quick succession through the worry lines on his face. It was a face full of valleys that once was handsome and carefree. Now he avoids the dark mirror on the cheap bureau. Dousing the light of the phone in the darkness of his jeans pocket he lets his skin adjust to being awake and runs a shaking hand through hair that has begun, in the last fifteen days, to show signs of gray.
The room, heavy with the scent of mothballs and sweat, is adorned with a window air condition unit and a small fridge with the sign “Minibar” in cracked adhesive letters. He saw them the night before and can find them easily in the darkness. The unit would have been far too loud for him to hear any of the sounds of the lodge and the alcohol would have dulled senses that overnight might have been needed to save his life. But in the sticky darkness of another restless dawn he reaches into the cool fridge and pulls out a finger. The bulb inside has long needed a replacement and he is unable to read the label but it doesn’t matter. It is the calm he is after. And something to take the edge off this infernal shaking.
He throws the bottle mouth back with his head. Deep breaths are sucked in as the liquid fire slides down his throat. A slow count to ten. Not enough he closes his eyes and counts another ten. When they open again, his eyes register that the room has grayed slightly and shapes have begun to take form. It is time to leave.
The night before he had walked to the desk, cash in hand. The attendant had avoided looking at his hooded face and would not be able to answer any questions later. He would be gone before sunrise in any case. There were enough fifties handed over to buy some time, some silence, and a quick untraceable exit.
Taking that exit now, he transforms. No longer stiff in slow motion, he is now a feral cat with the hair on the back of his neck standing on end. Every sense comes alive as he takes in the dank smell of the corn-scented mist drifting toward the lodge. Claws of light have scratched lines into the horizon across the street and over the fields. Soon they will grip the lodge and already his form can be seen silently closing the door. Mere seconds stand between him and the grasping light.
The car was chosen for speed and stealth, not for beauty. He pours himself into the bucket seat without a sound, sinks the case in the hidden compartment beneath the floor and rests the weapon in its place. Only now, as the starter turns over with a whisper, does he exhale. Black tint on glass floods the interior with the airless blackness of a tomb. But calm is shattered by the scream of a rooster in the grip of new light and his head crashes, startled, against the ceiling of the car. With an aching scalp and chills running up and down his spine he flings the stick into gear and tears out of the parking lot.
Another day will pass on the open road. He will not stop to rest again until three hundred miles lies between him and this morning.