ZedneWeb / Library / Velvet Evil
The night was dark, as it often was at night, that being what distinguished it from the day. Mendel and I were driving down an old county highway through that part of New England that tends to consist of large swaths of forest with little or no human habitation to be found. I forget which part it was, specifically; they all blend together after a while. Anyway, the problem with driving through uninhabited areas at night is sleep: no people means no hotels, which means either you don't sleep or you pull over and rest in the car. We've tried both over the years, and had little success. Mendel swears he didn't have any problems after driving through the night that one time, but he spent the next three days walking into walls, so I think that's his pride speaking. At least I can admit I need sleep on occasion. As for the other option, well, you have to be pretty tired to sleep in a Volkswagen.
So, to get back to the point, we were driving through a deserted portion of New England at night. Which is to say, Mendel was driving, not because he was the male half of our partnership, but because he was bigger than me. With all the stuff we've got packed into the car, it's a real pain to adjust the seats, and neither of us can drive in the other's seat position -- but I digress again. It was a clear night, as it happens, and the moon was waxing (in our profession, it pays to keep track of these things; after one screw-up, everyone makes real sure not to confuse waxing and waning moons). There were some clouds in the sky, but they were mostly small, wispy, upper-atmospheric things. If we weren't desperately trying to find a place to stay for the night, it would have been quite pleasant, actually, but that was not the case. We'd just finished with a nasty incident involving Formless Horrors from Beyond and children's television, and we were looking for some downtime. Just our luck to end up on an empty stretch of highway at night.
"Anything on the map?" Mendel asked.
"I'm not sure we're even on the map," I replied. "Besides, it's dark out."
Mendel shrugged as best he could, considering he was busy with the wheel. "One of these days, we should buy a tent."
"I'm not sure camping by the highway is AAA-approved."
"Bah. What have they done for us lately?"
Not having an answer, I returned to watching the side of the road. Surprisingly, it paid off. "Hey! There's a motel at the next exit."
Mendel turned off at the next interchange, and drove for a bit until we reached the "Vendela Motor Lodge." Fortunately, the neon sign read "VAC NCY," which is normally a good omen. Mendel stayed in the car while I walked inside to get a room.
The office could have doubled for one of those "convenience stores" gas stations are slowly turning into these days, but that wasn't what caught my attention. It wasn't the large velvet painting of Elvis Presley behind the desk that caught my attention either. No, I was busy staring at the clerk, a small, pale, thin man who was alertly standing behind the desk as if he'd known we were coming.
"Good evening, Miss," he said, smiling. "Can I help you?"
"Room for two," I replied curtly. There's something about people standing around cheerfully at one in the morning sets my teeth on edge.
"Of course. Just sign the register, please."
I nodded and filled out my name and address while he rummaged below the desk for a key.
"Room 13, then," he said, still smiling.
I took the key without hesitation. The world is scary enough without adding old superstitions.
Outside, I waved to Mendel and walked towards our room. He followed in the car and managed to get a parking space right outside our door. No hard job; we were the only customers that night, it seemed.
The room itself was fairly typical: two twin beds, sink outside of the bathroom, low dresser, large air-conditioner, and so forth. The carpet had picked up quite a bit of smoke in its career, and was sharing its smell with everyone in the area. Mendel frowned at that, but I didn't pay attention. You wouldn't expect to find a non-smoking room in some backwoods motel.
As Mendel had been driving all day, I let him have the bed away from the air-conditioner (they're pretty noisy, after all), and offered him first shot at the shower. Oddly, he declined. Resting on my bed, I watched him rummage through his pack for a moment. Pulling out a set of wooden cubes, he wandered over to a corner of the room and started mumbling in Latin. "Wards?" I asked. "What's up?"
"Just a feeling," he said, heading over to the next corner.
"Whatever." I decided not to mention the eerily chipper clerk and leaned back, staring at the ceiling. It wasn't very interesting. "You know," I said, "We should get some ice for the food."
"It'll be plenty cold out in the car," Mendel said.
"I'd rather not leave that up to chance," I replied, getting up.
"Okay. Be back soon."
I stepped outside and frowned. It smelled worse outside than it had in the room. Kinda like sulfur, actually. I chalked it up to a local hot spring or some such source of sulfur. Looking back and forth, I didn't see any ice machines. To the right of our room was a hallway leading into the lodge. I glanced down it in case an ice machine was hiding there. Instead, I found a long row of motel rooms, which seemed to meet another hallway further down. As this way seemed as likely to lead to success as any other, I headed down the hall, turning right when it reached the cross-corridor. No luck here, either, so I kept moving, turning right again when I reached another hallway. I had done this about five times when things began to seem a little odd. The motel seemed a lot bigger than I would have guessed. That sulfur smell was getting stronger, too, but I ignored that. It didn't smell like the building was on fire, so it was probably nothing to worry about.
At the seventh intersection, I found I was outside again, standing over a second-story railing overlooking the parking lot. In fact, I could see our car out in front of our room off to the right. Now I was starting to get worried, since (a) I'd somehow gotten up a floor without climbing any stairs and (b) the building hadn't had a second story before.
"Where the hell am I?" I wondered aloud. As if in answer, I heard some crackling noises behind me. Curious, I turned to see the building I'd passed through was on fire. Actually, the flames weren't actually burning anything, but I wasn't paying attention to that. "Good evenin', Li'l Lady," drawled an indistinct figure some distance down the flaming hall. Although I couldn't make out its face, but I could see its white, rhinesone-encrusted leisure suit. I got the impression of greasy hair and large sideburns.
I spun, ready to leap down to the first floor and run to get Mendel, but stopped abruptly, noticing that the parking-lot-and-forest vista I'd been expecting had been replaced with a lake of magma. I swore and started running, turning down a hallway leading away from the molten pool of death as soon as I could. Behind me, I could hear a southern voice intone "Aw, come on, don' run away like that," but I gave it no heed and kept running, which was made difficult by the fact that I couldn't get too close to the walls.
With the kind of logic people come up with when they're tired, I figured that, since turning right had gotten me into this mess, turning left would get me out. I was running, desperately trying to figure out the motel's topology, when I ran into Mendel. "Hi, Cyndi," he said, waving.
"What are you doing here?" I asked, catching my breath.
He shrugged. "You took so long coming back from the ice machine, I thought you'd gotten lost. What'cha running for?"
I glanced around at the burning yet uncharred walls, broken by doors that were melting off their hinges. "I think there's something supernatural going on here."
"That seems like a safe bet."
"Also, I'm being chased by a demonic Elvis-impersonator."
Mendel blanched. Off in the distance, we heard the opening chords of "Heartbreak Hotel."
Not being ones to take omens lightly, we ran for our lives.
Eventually, we made our way to the front office. It was dark now, the aisles of cheap snacks comfortingly normal after the inferno. I leaned against a refrigerated unit, soaking in the cold.
"What now?" Mendel asked.
"It's got to be drawing power from something."
"How about that?" he pointed at the velvet portrait behind the desk, which was glowing with an unholy light and had a big empty space where the King had been.
"That'll do it."
Eager to be finished, I leapt over the registration desk -- and landed right on top of the clerk, who was kneeling by a small, blood-soaked altar.
"It's too late," he said, still smiling. I slugged him.
"What was that for?" Mendel asked, walking around the desk to join me.
Mendel reached for the corner of the painting, but was unable to grab hold: his hand slid into the painting instead. "This complicates matters," he muttered.
"Hey, now," came a voice from behind us, "don' be messin' with my stuff."
Looking for a distraction, I threw a display case of Slim Jims at the apparition. It caught them, and pulled one out for a snack. "Thank-ya'-verra-much," it drawled, moving closer.
"Urk," I replied, out of ideas.
"Actually, a snack sounds like a good idea," Mendel mused, reaching for the small altar.
He held up a blood-soaked Twinkie. "Mm-mm good."
"I wouldn't be eatin' that," warned the demon.
"It looks unsanitary," I added.
"Mm-mm-mm!" Mendel continued, rubbing his stomach. "Dee-licious." He slowly moved the Twinkie towards his mouth.
"Nooo!" the faux-Elvis shouted, leaping for Mendel's throat. Mendel dodged at the last moment, and the demon's momentum kept it going right into the portrait.
"That's that," Mendel said, tearing the snack cake in half.
Trapped in the painting, the demon shouted defiance as it slowly lost its dimension and became paint on velvet once more.
"You destroyed the sacrificial Twinkie," the clerk said, sounding stunned.
We ignored him and picked our way back to our room, gladly noting that the building no longer seemed aflame.
"Well," Mendel said, once we were outside, "that was different."
"Good job," I congratulated. "Now we just have to figure out what we're doing tonight."
I raised an eyebrow. "Do you want to spend the night here?"
"I see your point. In that case, we've got two options."
Another English assignment; this was one of three big projects we had to do, so it went through the peer review process. My favorite comment was that I must not have watched television much as a child, since I've got so much creativity now. That made me feel all warm inside. (Yeah, it's a clichéd expression, but it's true, dang it!)
The professor liked what I had, but wished I could've written something "more substantial", which, I suppose, means less flippant. There are times I wish I could do that myself, but my natural style seems to be somewhat tongue-in-cheek. This may be a reaction to a common attitude among amateur writers that being serious means being dark and gloomy (look at any student literary magazine -- heck, look at "High Tide").
As for Mendel and Cyndi, I think they've got more stories to tell. Who knows, maybe I'll even write one someday.
6 December 1997