Kara awoke with a start, lying naked under a thin sheet. Her back was uncovered and exposed to the chilly motel room and to the man lying beside her. The green glow of the vacancy sign spilled softly into the room, filtered by the sheer curtains. She shifted against her pillow, trying to ignore its stains and dank odor.
The man rolled over. She hoped he’d turned away from her, but his hand caressed her back, and she knew she had roused him. His touch traveled her slender form, sliding up and down her spine. There was a cool sensation against her skin as his wedding ring made contact with her flesh.
She cringed and wondered if he touched his wife the same way. She stood up and draped herself in the sheet. Without a word between them, Kara fled to the bathroom.
She ran the shower. The water in these places always seemed at least ten degrees too cold. She stepped in, and goose bumps prickled her skin, but her body quickly adjusted. The lukewarm water ran down her face, washing away her makeup and streaking her cheeks with black mascara. She ran her hands through her short blond hair. There were no single-serving sizes of designer conditioners and peach melon soaps. She made do with water alone.
Finished, she grabbed a towel of questionable cleanliness and wrapped it around herself. A crash sounded from the next room. Something had broken. The bed slamming against the wall was just audible through the closed bathroom door. She wondered how long these noises had been going on, hidden by the sound of the shower.
She paused to ponder the sounds. She considered that it could have come from another room. After all, the walls were thin as tissue. She placed her ear to the door and held her breath. The noises were coming from her room. Vandals frequented the area and could easily have broken in.
The pounding stopped. Inching the bathroom door open, she proceeded with caution. She peered into the room. Everything looked normal, although tinted in a lime hue. The man lay on his back now, his chest rising and falling at a slow pace.
Kara took tentative steps into the room. A ceramic shard penetrated her foot. She recoiled and shifted her weight. She removed the fragment, and a trickle of blood ran from the wound. Ignoring it, she returned her foot to the ground, balancing her weight mostly on the other.
She scanned the floor. The side table lamp had been knocked from its perch and smashed into pieces. Her vision followed the line of debris back to its original position. She noticed a dark shadow on her companion’s pillow. About to dismiss it, she realized it was growing.
She edged closer, favoring her injured foot and balancing on her toes. The hair on her arms and neck rose to attention. She could not see his injuries from where she stood. She crept forward until she was next to the bed. Slowly she reached toward him. Fingertips on his shoulder, she gently shook him.
He erupted in a violent burst of tremors. She jumped back, landing on her hurt foot. She yelped in fear and pain. Catching her balance by grabbing the night stand, she returned her attention to his shuddering body. The pounding noise returned as he again began to seize.
His eyes were fixed and unresponsive, his body animated by something inside that fought against it. His chest rose from the bed, his shoulders and hips keeping their contact. An inarticulate scream burst from his mouth in a gurgled exhale. He thrashed and turned, flailed and struggled against himself. His wildly flailing arm knocked the alarm clock from the side table, just as it had the lamp. Across the room, it broke into pieces against the wall.
Blood flowed from his ears and eyes, adding to the wetness of the sheets. Foam bubbled between his lips, muting his cries. A substance like Kara had never seen before splattered from his mouth next, splashing the room, and Kara. The neon light intensified the vibrant bile color.
She watched in horror. Her stomach turned, and she thought she would vomit. She doubled over in disgust, but she couldn’t look away.
His movements began to weaken. His face sank as if he were being hollowed out from the inside. His cheeks sunk deeper within his bones. His body shrank like it was being vacuum packed in its skin. His bones began to crunch and snap audibly.
Kara covered her ears. She ran to the other side of the bed and gathered her clothes. She threw her slinky black dress on and held her shoes in her hand. She stopped at the dresser and picked up his wallet. Opening it, she removed several hundred-dollar bills. Despite the situation, she couldn’t help but smirk. A girl had to make a living. A shrill cry from behind her reminded her of reality, spoiling her grim satisfaction at the fortune.
She rushed to the door. With her hand on the knob, she glanced back. Still thrashing, the man looked like a deflated doll of himself. If she hadn’t known it was him, she wouldn’t have been able to identify the body as human. His eyes, which had been wide in pain, were now closed, and his lids lay floppy over them.
She began to turn the handle, but hesitated. She returned to the dresser and picked up his cell phone. After a moment, she dialed 9-1-1.
“Nine-one-one. What’s your emergency?”
“The Super 7 Motel, Room Number 12. There’s a man here. He’s sick. I think he’s dying.”
“I’ll send an ambulance. Please stay on the phone. Is he breathing?”
“Yes. The door will be unlocked. I have to go.”
“Ma’am, please, we need you to stay.”
Kara left the phone connected and put it back on the dresser where she had found it. She could hear the pleas of the operator trying to get her attention as she stepped out of the room.
It was only when the fresh air hit her face that she realized what the room had smelled like. Death. She breathed in deep, desperate for the oxygen. Her hand shaking, she stuffed the pilfered dough into her cleavage. She put on her heels despite the pain in her foot and walked away.