A Novel by Amy Auer
Summer Granger took a glance around the tiny apartment she called home for the past ten years. As if it were yesterday, she could clearly remember the day she’d rented it; she had just turned eighteen, and without glancing back she walked away from her home and even farther away from her parents.
It was the happiest day of her life.
Now, ten years later she was saying good-bye.
“I can’t believe you’re actually leaving me?” Tanya said sarcastically. She clutched her fiery red hair and tugged on it as though she were going to pull it out at any moment.
“And I can’t believe you’re actually trying to make me feel guilty about it.” Summer laughed. “And please, enough with the theatricals.”
They met five years ago when Tanya rented the apartment next door. And after several cups of borrowed sugar, they had become close friends. Some would even say that the two of them—as different as they are—were nearly inseparable. Tanya’s blazing red hair matched her fiery personality and Summer’s gentle blond hair matched her own.
“Well,” Tanya pouted “maybe if I make you feel guilty enough you won’t discard me.”
“Not a chance!” Summer laughed.
“Discard you? Geez, you’re acting like I’m moving to California or something. I’ll be right across the river and...”
“Yeah,” Tanya cut her off, “right across the river nearly five hours away, lost somewhere in the hills of Kentucky.”
“You can stay with me every weekend if you want.” Summer promised.
“You can also help me load the car with the last of these suitcases.”
“Ooh, that was funny.”
“I was being serious.”
“All joking aside, I really am going to miss you Summer. It’s not going to be the same around here without you.”
“Thanks.” Summer grabbed two of the suitcases, Tanya grabbed the last.
“I can’t believe you’re actually famous!” Tanya shrieked while lugging the suitcase down the stairs.
“I hardly doubt that selling two books has made me famous. And I certainly can’t say that I’m up there along the lines with Sandra Brown or Mary Higgins Clark. Hell, I’m not even remotely close.”
“Maybe not...but you are a quarter of a million dollars richer; thanks to your most recent book advance.”
“Yeah, I am that.” Summer laughed. She tossed the suitcases into the barely-there backseat of her Camaro.
Now that the car was packed, Summer turned around to face her friend. She felt the threat of tears. “I guess I need to make one final sweep of the apartment and then I’ll hit the road. I want to get there before dark.”
“Yeah...” Summer could feel her tears ready to explode.
“Hey, we promised no tears.” Tanya said. “Besides, tomorrow’s Friday. I’ll be there for four whole days.
“Four days? How did you manage that?” Summer asked, clearly surprised.
“I took two personal days. . .” she started to say.
“Ha! You, the queen of personal days—who I might add has enough of them to take a year long vacation—is taking two personal days? Un-fucking-believable!” She exaggerated.
“I can always take them back.” Tanya threatened.
“Do it,” Summer laughed “and I’ll break both of your legs!”
Back inside the apartment, Summer casually looked around. It was hard to imagine not living here anymore, she thought. It wasn’t much. It had one bedroom, a living room/dining room combo, a kitchen barely large enough to maneuver in, and a small bathroom. The walls were all painted the same dingy shade of white and the carpet was olive green. All in all, the place was hideous, but she had made it her home. Walls were papered and decorated with paintings. Houseplants were scattered throughout the entire apartment giving it a tropical atmosphere.
“Don’t forget the movers will be by tomorrow to pick up my furniture.” Summer stated. “I think they said around two o’clock, so make sure you’re here to let them in.”
“I know, I know, so go already. You should have been gone an hour ago.”
They hugged goodbye and Summer turned to leave.
“Hey,” Tanya uttered.
Summer stopped and turned around.
“I’m really proud of you. You deserve this. I’m gonna miss you like hell but, God knows you deserve this. This is your dream Summer, go and grab it.”
”See ya tomorrow?” Summer questioned.
“Yeah, I’ll be there early, I’m only working half a day.”
“Let me guess, more personal time?”
“Hey, what can I say? You’re special.”
After saying one more goodbye, Summer turned, and without looking back she walked away.
Now that she was safely inside her car she quickly swiped the tears from her eyes. She buckled her seat belt then took the directions out of her purse and laid them on the passenger seat; where she could easily read them. She put the keys in the ignition and turned.
She tried again.
“Not now dammit!” She cursed. She raked her fingers through her shoulder-length blond hair then gave it a final try.
She unbuckled her seatbelt and got out of the car. Frustrated, she stomped up the steps to her apartment and burst through the door.
“Back already?” Tanya asked.
“Piece of shit won’t start.”
“Your dream car won’t start?” Tanya teased.
She had been right, it was her dream car. She remembered buying it. The money had come from her first book advance. She had been so proud. She felt like a kid in a candy store. She marched right into the Auto Dealers and right back out with a set of keys to an almost-new Camaro. It was black inside and out, complete with V-8 engine and dual exhaust. The stereo was loud enough to disrupt the next town and the headers—that a man no doubt had installed—weren’t far behind.
After sinking another few thousand dollars into it, it was now a feminized version. It still had the dangerous good looks but without the law-breaking attitude. She adored it and she treasured it. It was the first thing she had ever been able to buy herself.
“Right now it’s a nightmare!”
“Calm down, we can go to my place and call someone.”
Of all the times for the starter to go out, she thought. By the time the garage sent someone out to fix it, it was nearly six o’clock. Now, an hour later Summer climbed into her car and was once again ready to leave.
She pulled away without further incident.
As much as she wanted to get there before dark, she knew it was now impossible. She figured she would drive as far as she could without getting lost, and stay in a motel for the night. She’d get an early start and nearly have the entire day to get acquainted. Now that she thought about it, it probably was better this way.
She fiddled with the radio and eventually settled on a local country station that was playing a block of Brooks and Dunn. She turned up the volume and increased her speed.
She made it just past Lexington when she decided it was time to be on the lookout for a motel. It wasn’t long before she found one just off the exit ramp. A large neon sign with a couple fizzled out letters, welcomed her. Instead of reading HOTEL it simply said HEL. So by the looks of things, Summer was going to spend the night in HEL.
“At least there’s a McDonalds within walking distance.” She whispered.
After she parked her car, she stepped out into the evening warmth. This afternoon’s heat had brought a blanket of humidity into the night, causing the air to be heavy and damp. She took a breath of the burdensome moisture, and after a short walk she entered the lobby.
A burly man sat behind the badly chipped counter totally engrossed with whatever was on the television set. One hand was stuck inside a Planters jar, while the other was holding the TV remote hostage.
Either he hadn’t seen her come in, or he just plain chose to ignore her. Whatever the case, he remained seated, unwilling to move, totally absorbed in Andy Griffith reruns.
“Excuse me!” She nearly had to shout to be heard over Opie.
The beefy man looked up from his worn chair and held a finger up in the air clearly telling her to wait.
As much as she wanted to jump over the counter and check her own self into a room, she was a good girl and waited patiently.
Finally when a commercial came on, he managed to climb out of the chair—leaving his butt print behind—and hobble his way to the counter.
“Can I help you?” He smiled.
“I need a room please.” She wanted to puke. His teeth were heavily stained with tobacco, and a few were rotting away. His breath was a horrific. It detained the stench of mixed peanuts and death, and his hair, well that was beyond description and best left for the imagination.
“I have one left.” He said. “It’ll be thirty-four dollars. She kept her head down the entire time he talked hoping to block out the odor emanating from his mouth.
She took the money from her purse and paid the man. In return, he handed over the key to room nine
“Thanks.” She mumbled, and then quickly escaped the lobby desperate for breathable air.
The room was small and unadorned. It had a full-size bed and dresser with a small television set attached. On top of the television was a piece of cardboard detailing the list of available channels. If she didn’t count the weather channel, she had four others to choose from. Okay so it wasn’t the Hilton, at least it appeared to be clean and it was definitely convenient. So what if it was being run by Leatherface and family?
After changing into a pair of jogging pants and tee shirt her stomach rumbled, announcing that it was well past dinner time. She was a little surprised that she still had an appetite after her encounter with Death Breath. She made the quick trip to McDonald’s and placed her order. Armed with white and yellow bags she jogged back to her room before her food had a chance to get chilled.
Once she was back inside the room, she shut and latched all the locks that dangled on the back of the door. She placed the super-size plastic drink cup on the dresser then took a seat on the bed where she removed a Big Mac and super-size order of fries from one of the bags. She took a bite of Big Mac and her taste buds immediately slipped into ecstasy. She savored each and every bite until she dropped the last French fry into her mouth. She washed it down with cola then settled herself against the pillow on the bed and turned on the television.
Like a typical man she began channel surfing through the minimal offered channels. She had a choice between college basketball, Scooby-Doo, some do-it-yourself channel, or an old Bette Davis film. She hated basketball, was too old for cartoons, and unless the do-it-yourself channel was showing you how to restore old houses, she had no use for that either. She chose the Bette Davis film, and before Baby Jane had a chance to serve her ailing sister her dead, pet bird for dinner, Summer had fallen fast asleep.
Early the next morning she woke suddenly as though she had been jolted from a hideous nightmare. She sat up in bed and wiped her moist hands on the bed sheets.
For a few minutes she allowed herself to look around the diminishing darkness in the room. She glanced at the alarm clock on the side of the bed and saw that it was three o’clock in the morning.
“That’s impossible!” She said, swinging her feet to the floor. She stood up and took in a deep breath. The air was heavy and damp. It felt like it was clinging to her lungs, nearly suffocating her. She began to panic and immediately felt moisture webbing her skin.
The room was roasting!
It was then that she noticed it; the spine-chilling quiet that invaded her room.
Her heart began to race.
She’d gone to bed with the air conditioner on. She was sure of it. So why is it off now? One look at the door told her that no one had snuck into her room last night. The two chain locks were still securely in place as well as the deadbolt.
It was when the first drops of sun filtered through the draperies that it hit her.
The electricity must have gone off, she reasoned. That would explain why the air conditioner was off and why the alarm clock was wrong. The sun definitely wouldn’t be shining at three o’clock in the morning.
She moved across the room and opened the curtains. The ground was saturated. Sunlight was shining down on stray puddles scattering the parking lot causing an array of rainbows.
She figured it couldn’t be past seven o’clock. The only thing she really needed to do now was brush her teeth and shower. She could easily be back on I-275 no later than eight. This would put her at her destination around lunchtime.
“This is going to be a good day!” She declared, then disappeared into the bathroom and turned on the water.
Several minutes later, Summer stepped out of the shower and towel dried herself off. Her goal was to be dressed and out the door before she was covered in sweat. It certainly had to be cooler outside.
“This is probably a record.” She muttered. She managed to dress, apply a small amount of makeup to her face, and pack her bag all in fifteen minutes. Then she was out the door.
She tossed her bag into the cramped backseat of the Camaro then walked back to the lobby so she could return her key. She was not looking forward to meeting up with Leatherface this early in the morning and, was definitely not looking forward to his morning breath.
She took in a mouthful of fresh air then opened the lobby door.
She noticed him instantly.
“Wow!” It was the only thing that came to her mind.
He was tall. Thin, yet well muscled. His hair was sleek, colored charcoal black and although she couldn’t see them, his eyes, she figured, no doubt matched. He was dressed in a pair of faded, too-tight Levi’s; which would explain was she was constantly staring at his butt, fantasizing. His bronzed skin stood out against his bright white tee shirt.
“Enjoy your stay sir.” She heard a feminine voice say.
“Thank you ma’am.” He turned away from the counter and into Summer.
“I’m sorry,” he said “guess I wasn’t paying attention to where I was goin.”
“No problem.” She said and looked up at him. His eyes were mesmerizing, she saw. They were dark and haunted looking; as if he too had secrets hidden deep within. She felt the heat of daggers pierce through her abdomen the moment he looked at her.
He looked away just as quick.
“Sorry.” He murmured and then hurriedly walked away.
“Can I help you?”
“Huh? Oh...I’m sorry.” Summer stuttered. She laid the room key on top of the counter.
“I just need to return these.” She said.
“Did you enjoy your stay?” The pleasant woman asked. The aroma of peppermint lingered from her mouth.
“Yes I did, thank you.” Summer smiled. She was happy not being face to face with Death Breath. She turned from the counter and walked away.
“You have a safe trip now.”
“Thank you.” She hollered back as she walked out the door.
Inside the car, she put on her seatbelt and turned the key. Thankfully it roared to life on the first try. She put the car in reverse and began to slowly back out. She looked at the hotel one last time before she pulled out. Without hesitation, she saw him. He was standing in the window, peering out from behind the partly drawn curtain. He was clearly watching her.
But why? She wondered.
She was uneasy and pushed the gas peddle a little too hard. Her tires squealed to life on the wet pavement. Glancing into the rearview mirror, she could see that he was still watching her from the window. She sped left out of the parking lot, her car, fishtailing behind.
“You’re paranoid!” She told herself once she was safely on I-75.
She had only been driving for an hour when her stomach demanded food. She found an exit bearing a McDonalds logo and took it, thankful that it wasn’t too far off the ramp. She pulled up to the speaker in the drive-through lane and ordered a sausage, egg and cheese biscuit, along with an order of hash browns and coffee. After she picked up her food from the window, she pulled into an empty parking place and turned off the engine.
She ate in silence. When she finished she wadded up the empty wrappers and tossed them into the larger bag. She stepped out of her car, walked over to the nearest trash bin and dumped the remains inside.
Once she was back on the highway and maintaining the speed limit, she began messing around with the radio knobs in search of a music station. The more she tried to tune in a song the worse the reception got. She had to settle on the news.
The lady on the radio sounded like Minnie Mouse. Her voice was high pitched and squeaked while she relayed the dreadful crimes that nobody thinks can happen to them. An elderly lady walking home from church was raped at gunpoint, a single father who had his daughter for the day accidently backed his SUV over her, crushing her legs, a home invasion left two people injured, and a nineteen year old female was still missing after two weeks. Minnie Mouse continued by saying that the missing girl—Sherry Glasgow—was last seen leaving a mini-mart wearing blue jeans, a black tee shirt and a pair of white, hi-top Nikes. Her hair was shoulder length and dark brown in color, her eyes green. She stood five-feet-five inches tall and weighed approximately one-hundred and forty-five pounds. She had neither tattoos nor scars. And although there had been a massive search there were still no leads in her disappearance. Without a body, her friends and family were hopeful that wherever she was she was still alive. But to the police, hope was diminishing with each passing day.
At least nobody died, Summer thought. Well maybe the missing girl was dead, but since there was no body she would assume that she was still among the living.
Finally a song broke out on the radio. She didn’t know who sang it or what it was even called but she figured it was better than the news.
“This just in folks,” Minnie Mouse squeaked, interrupting the unknown song “the police are now on the lookout for a male Caucasian, approximately six-feet tall. He has long dark hair, dark eyes, and tanned skin. He also has a tattoo of a spider’s web covering his left elbow. He is wanted in connection to the disappearance of Sherry Glasgow. He was last seen in Lexington and is believed to be headed south. He is considered armed and dangerous. If anyone has any information, please call...”
When Summer heard the breaking news alert she felt a flicker of dread. She immediately thought of the strange man she’d encountered back at the hotel. Is that the guy their looking for? She speculated. The description surely matched. Did he have anything to do with the girl that disappeared? Did he rape her? Murder her? All sorts of questions ran through her mind but there were no answers. She didn’t think he looked like a murderer—but then again, neither did Ted Bundy—and until she caught him staring at her through the hotel window; she had been having gratifying fantasies.
“Great!” she exaggerated “I probably just had fantasized sex with a serial killer.”
There was no reason to panic, she told herself. When she was leaving the hotel, he was clearly checking in and that was nearly three hours ago. She’d certainly never see him again. Besides, he probably isn’t even the guy their hunting down. He most likely just has the misfortune of looking like him.
And so what if he was? It was none of her business and she wasn’t about to get involved. And besides that, she sure as hell wasn’t about to call the authorities.
She had her own reasons for steering clear of the police.