A Stay At Motel Z

The upper crest of the Sun languished above the horizon, casting the long rays and shadows of dusk across the scene in front of me. The sky smoothly transitioned from a brilliant swirl of purple and red near the setting Sun to a dark, dull blue on the opposite side. The palm trees lining the highway swayed in the gentle breeze, vibrant verdure leaves and husky brown trunks shimmying to and fro, their tiniest movements amplified in their imposing hundred-foot shadows. Just above the nearest tree, I could see a faint grayish arc blazed across the sky, our most unexpected and unwelcome visitor.

The parking lot below was half-filled with vehicles atop the cracked, aging, uneven asphalt. Autumn seems to have chased away many of the motel’s guests. The vehicles were nothing special, just a typical mix of compacts, SUVs, pick-up trucks, vans, and one solitary BMW with a large gash on its driver’s door parked selfishly across a yellow parking space demarcation line. Almost directly below me, I could see the top of a tacky jumbo umbrella, alternating segments white and red, perched sloppily in the center of a cheap white plastic picnic table. The railing along the second floor of the motel was eerily low. Without a moment’s pause, I could hurdle over it and throw myself onto the umbrella, hoping it would break my fall, and make a run for it. That plan increasingly seemed more and more appealing.

To my left, a woman peered anxiously out the slightly ajar door of room 215, the privacy chain secured in place. Tears ran down the woman’s pretty asymmetric face even as her brow was furrowed and her green eyes focused in a look of grim determination. Wisps of her blond hair fluttered in the breeze, trying to escape the confines of the room. Her brown-haired daughter was trying to peer out the door as well, but her mother had her hands tightly wrapped around the girl’s face. Behind them, room 217 was tightly boarded up, though I knew not who was inside. I could see the bed and dressers pressed up against the window on the inside through the sagging yellowing white venetian blinds.

Standing next to me was the brown-haired, brown-eyed, tall, muscular, and compact husband of the pretty woman in room 215. He was exactly her type. He wore jean shorts and a new, glistening white wife beater, already growing damp from his profuse sweating. He tightly clutched a fire ax in his hands, the red paint on its handle faded after many decades of neglect. Its head was rusty and the blade jagged and dull from oxidation and corrosion over these many years of disuse. It looked like it had not ever been sharpened. But that made it all the better for the task we so desperately needed it for, because sharp blades have a tendency to get deeply embedded into bone, stuck. A hefty fire extinguisher sat on the concrete next to his left foot, its indicator needle way out of the green zone and a tag marking its last inspection date as March, 1999.

To my right, three opened blue boxes of 20 gauge buckshot shotgun shells, all but one of them empty, lay on top of a cheap nightstand I had wrenched out of my room. The bolts were still attached to two of the nightstand’s legs, covered in jagged plaster. Including those loaded in the magazine of the Remington 11-87 I held, we had just fourteen shells left. Not nearly enough. The acrid smell of gunpowder wafted up from the many red shell casings scattered around my feet. My arms no longer quaked with fear, but held firm with resolute determination, even as my shoulder ached from absorbing the brunt of repeated firings.

In front of me, an otherworldly monster was trying to scramble up the concrete stairs, over the large heap of leaking, broken monsters that had come before. Bits of putrid flesh had already fallen off from many places on its body, especially its head, where I could see cheekbones and parts of its eye socket exposed. This sight no longer fazed me. Its flesh was a pallid yellowish gray, and the tatters of what were once its clothes were mostly collected around its feet. Its left arm was missing from a few inches below the shoulder, where I had blown it clear off earlier with a poorly aimed, panicked shot. The yellow fluid slowly leaking from inside the jagged terminus of its humerus and the pulsating, blackened muscle surrounding it left no doubts as to the advanced and irreversible stage of conversion of this former human. With just one remaining arm and the slick pile of beheaded creatures and body parts beneath it, it kept comically slipping as it tried to reach me. I stifled a laugh, for its sake.

I was more concerned about the other, fully intact monsters behind it. Some were milling around in the parking lot, others clambering up the stairway behind the one-armed one I now recognized as Fred, the Customer Service Representative who had been behind the counter here when I first checked in and who later provided me with a toothbrush, at no charge, when I realized I had left mine at home. They all had no sense of urgency or fear. They would keep coming at their leisurely, unconcerned pace until there were none left or they got to us. Counting them up quickly, I saw that there were still many more than we had shotgun shells remaining. Conserving ammunition was our highest priority. I unshouldered the Remington and relaxed my tight grip on its stock, taking one last look at the crippled, floundering monster on the stairs, then motioned the man with the ax forward. As he stepped forward and raised the ax above his head, it cast long shadows across my face, and I chuckled at the guilty thought that there was no better way to go out.

And thus concludes the extended Zombie Week here at Cyde Weys Musings. I hope you enjoyed it, and hey, if you didn’t, at least now it’s over, and I will return to my usual (mostly) zombie-free routine. This is my second short story written in a moment-in-time style; my first was Invasion Day.

4 Responses to “A Stay At Motel Z”

  1. Kat Says:

    When I read your title, forgetting it was Zombie Week, I was thinking this was going to be a Hilbert’s Hotel story…

    Hey, a countably infinite number of zombies would be damn scary.

  2. Cyde Weys Says:

    Even scarier would be an uncountably infinite number of zombies. I’m thinking a huge infinite mass of zombies (and yes, I know, I’m blurring the line between the layman’s definition and the mathematician’s definition at this point).

    On another note, it takes several times more effort to write these short stories than my usual blog entries. More thought goes into them, of course, and the rewriting process is also much longer. I felt like I could’ve done more work on this story, but just wasn’t feeling into it any more last night and I had to publish something. So don’t expect works of fiction too frequently. Sorry Will.

  3. William Says:

    This seems like it’s much truer to the moment-in-time that you were describing, as no actual action takes place until the very end. Nicely executed, but I think you’re right in that that much exposition* needs a little action in it to make it work. Reading through a second time brings it together a lot better, as the layout of the hotel isn’t one I’m familiar with and I was having issues visualizing the scene.

    It seems like you’re offering a little bit of twist at the end, but I’m not sure you did it on purpose, due to zombie survival strategy and whatnot.
    In reference to the frequency of fiction, I’ll take what I can. It’s nice to have them in small doses I can get while I’m at school or work.

    *Is exposition the right word?

  4. Cyde Weys Says:

    William: And it would have been very easy to not have any action take place. But I felt that the drama of a long descriptive passage followed by a very single, desperate action made for a better story than no action whatsoever. Let’s just say that, seeing how impossible it was with Invasion Day, I no longer have any zeal for staying completely truthful to the “no action whatsoever” concept.

    As for the layout of the hotel, yes, I should have described that better. I had a strong mental picture going of the scene, and you can see I described many of the parts of that scene in isolation, but I didn’t really make it obvious how everything fit together. Something as simple as this would have helped me to convey that mental picture better to others: “I’m standing on the second floor of a motel looking out over the parking lot of the motel; past the parking lot is a highway, separated by trees, and beneath me, are some picnic tables on the first floor of the motel.”

    The end isn’t actually a twist, though I did write it such that it would be intentionally deceptive. The other man is indeed going to slaughter zombies with the ax, but because the Sun is in front of them, the ax is casting shadows across “my” face. It’s really thematic and symbolic. It’s basically foreshadowing that hints at the ultimate end of “me”.

    I wrote this story in about three separate sessions, and each session began with a thorough editing of everything I had already written. Thus, the earlier parts of the story have more polish than the later parts of the story. I was trying to be darkly humorous in the last two paragraphs, and I think I hit the mark by describing the zombie comically falling down, but the long aside about Fred seems to be, in hindsight, kind of over-the-top and lame. Do you feel the same about that section? I think if I had put in another session on this story, the Fred part would have been changed a bit.

    And yes, exposition works.