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August 15, 2022

Night Time 32

By Lydia Manx

Harry and I exchanged a quick glance as we exited the car. The lot may have been salted but it was still slippery. Harry gallantly held me upright while Art was busy trying to keep both Erika and Cinda from falling. I thought it cute that Misty ran out in time for Cinda to slip and face plant into the snow drift next to the main entrance. Both Art and Erika helped her up. Harry sighed. The cats remained in the car and meowed their distress. I had no desire to hold two clawing felines so I had no sympathy for them with their warm spots in the car.

The neon red vacancy sign was brightly lit indicating an availability of rooms so we all walked carefully towards the lobby. Art was looking around cautiously making me wonder what more he hadn't told us on the drive. I still had that odd feeling about Art and nothing he had said changed that in any way. A glance over and I noticed Cinda was definitely in place as she began to quickly move up next to Harry and me. Misty was a mere memory for now. I had to appreciate the shifts my best friend went through on an hourly basis. I didn't envy her in any way. Besides now that I was a vampire the world was definitely different.

"So Harry, who again is this Mitch person Lynn has to meet?" She was back in fine form and wanting to know more. Cinda rubbed at her mouth and said, "Hey, Lynn, can you give me a stick of gum, please? My mouth is dry."

I didn't meet her eyes as I thought she was denying the basics of her chain smoking while Misty was in charge. I handed over a piece of gum, not like I had much of a taste for such things now. She slowly unpeeled the foil and said cheerfully, "Thanks, Lynn."

Once the wad of gum was smacking around she turned back to Harry with blood in her eye, "Mitch is who exactly?"

Harry laughed quickly while shaking his head he opened the door saying, "After you, Cinda."

He still hadn't answered her question I noticed. The snow swirled in after us as we stomped our feet on the dingy mat in the doorway. The front counter was unmanned. Erika walked to the desk and tapped the metal bell. The chime was muffled yet loud enough to bring a shuffling body out from the shadows of the doorway just past the counter.

The billow of smoke arrived before we could even see what was behind the Camel laden air. It took me a minute to see that the person fumbling into view was female. Hell, strike that she was an ancient female. Her face was gray and the smoke surrounding her was even darker. A Camel cigarette hung from a dry lower lip dangling precariously over her scant bosom. I could see a chain holding reading glasses lying in the middle of her chest and she was squinting at us as she approached the desk. We all waited for her. I saw that she was wearing a plastic name tag.

It declared, "Hi, I am Kitty. I am here to help. So please tell me how can I help you?" Somehow I didn't feel like being helped much less like she would be the type that wanted to help. Kitty looked more like an old cat that didn't put up with many questions. I figured she could take both Banshee and El Diablo without breaking a sweat. I was happy they both were still in the car.

Cinda was in fine form and after reading the name tag asked, "Kitty, can we get some rooms?"

The old crone completely ignored us and slowly began to pull a large ledger towards her while brushing off some unseen dust from the dark green cover. She slowly pulled the reading glasses off her chest and perched them on her long thin nose. She adjusted the frames a bit and settled back on the chair behind the counter. It was like we were totally invisible and she had a series of tasks to perform before she would see us much less could even start to acknowledge we were in front of her. The book was holding her attention and she made some scratches on one of the pages with an old ballpoint pen. I could see the paper nearly tearing from the pressure she exerted. Reading upside down I saw she was scratching out a name and writing the date in the blank column to the right of the illegible name.

Cinda, ever impatient, popped her gum loudly. Kitty ignored her and completed whatever it was she was doing and shut the book. Pulling the chained glasses from her nose she pulled a cloth from under the countertop and polished the lenses in a deliberate manner. I could now smell Kitty. She was musty and oily. There was an under scent of pine from the front counter furniture polish that cut into the odor. Yet I knew I could identify her by scent alone. I found that odd. Harry smiled and cleared his throat.

Kitty looked up, "Oh excuse me. Can I help you sir?"

Figures she gave him immediate attention. Cinda looked cross at being ignored but let Harry step forward and handled talking with the woman. Kitty tugged at her unnaturally dark hair. The paper thin fingers were heavily lined and shook as she pulled and the movement of her hair pretty much spelled out it was a wig. From the style and way it was arranged she must have bought it a good twenty years ago. Her face was deeply grooved with age. The cigarette she took another drag from had an ash dangling nearly an inch long. I could see Cinda cringing and reaching for the ashtray at the end of the counter unconsciously. It wasn't clear if she wanted to join the old lady in a smoke or just catch the ash. It didn't matter since the slight shake of Kitty's head made the ash fall. Kitty quickly brushed it off her blouse with an automatic wave. From the bits of ash scattered over the countertop this was a common occurrence.

"Yes, Kitty, my companions and I need some rooms." His voice was classic sex purr. I watched the old woman brighten up. Years fell off her face as she beamed at Harry.

"Oh, dear me, how many rooms do you all need?" There was a flutter in her voice I hadn't noticed until then. Harry did tend to bring out that side in women. She glanced around squinting and I figured she found out there was an odd number. But I thought it was a pretty good question given the three girls and two boys assortment. Also I wondered how Harry was going to divide us up.

"I think three doubles would be perfect." He said without indicating the split.

She flipped her book back open, muttered and glanced at the pages in front of her leaning in closely before reluctantly pulling her glasses up so she could read then finally said, "We have three rooms, I think."

A phlegm filled cough came from just past the gaping hole behind the counter and an older man came up behind Kitty saying, "What's all this?"

His voice was rough and his cigarette was a Chesterfield or some other coffin nail without a filter. He hadn't bothered to fake a hair line. Mr. Kitty's head was completely shaven and shiny in the bad lighting. He wasn't bald but had actually shaved every hair off the top of his head I could tell by the proud way he met our eyes. His lack of hair on the top of his head was a statement in some way. Add in his full beard and accompanying mustache were both carefully trimmed and completely gray. The marbles in his face were dark nearly black. A thin rim of brown around the edges gave me an indication of the color but his pupils were huge. I think he was on a pain medication because the waves of feeling I had coming from him was that of someone completely impaired and floating. I noticed Kitty stiffened as he had approached her back. Harry stepped back half a step, as if he smelled something bad. I took a deep breath and understood. There was a rancid aroma drifting off of Mr. Kitty. It wasn't the bad smoke but him. He was dying.

There is no other way to explain it but I knew he had very little time left. Kitty sighed and said, "Jasper, get your scrawny ass back in bed. I can handle these folks just fine."

The soft look was gone from her face and her voice was tense. Jasper began to cough while trying to stay upright. A long jag of a barking cough and deep rattling inside his chest I could hear caused the proud man to bend softly over the counter holding himself upright with a palm pushed hard on the surface. I could see his weathered hand turning white with the pressure of keeping only half upright while that little bit of bending alone was embarrassing him -- a sign of weakness. He refused to give into whatever was rotting him away from the inside out. Once he finished coughing he pulled a drag off his cigarette and tapped the ash into the ashtray next to Cinda. She slid back to Erika's side and I noticed Erika was shuddering at the obviously ill Jasper.

"Girl, you need my help. You always did and always will." His voice was raspy and he choked back some more mucus but he was firm in his statement. Kitty dipped her head, the wig failed to move with her and I could see wisps of straw underneath.

"Fine, Jasper. They need three rooms." She was cowed by his presence and her hands shook as she turned the book towards him. He nodded and ran a finger over the page. Nodding he said, "Yes, we sure can accommodate you all. I need a driver's license and thirty dollars for each room."

I watched Art shift back a bit behind Harry. Harry pulled out his wallet and tossed down five twenties. Jasper began to pull out small index cards and worn pencils. The yellow number two pencils seemed to make this whole transaction even more bizarre. After all it was all erasable and we had watched Kitty ruthlessly scratching out some name that had been in pen when she first came to the counter.

Slowly counting out the money Jasper said, "Need two more driver's licenses." He didn't look up but studied the money making sure he wasn't being swindled. Once he was satisfied he pulled out a metal coin box and pulled small key from his pocket. We avoided each others glances' thinking a key wasn't exactly going to protect his money if he got robbed. Then I watched how a gleam of avarice ran over Kitty's face and it all was clear. He wasn't protecting his money from robbery but from Kitty borrowing a few stray twenties. While Harry pointed to me and Erika I gathered we were to fill out the other two cards. Jasper was completely absorbed in pulling out one dollar bills and stacking them in front of Harry.

I got my driver's license out and began to answer the questions on the room card. Erika said, "Cinda, you are bunking with me." Art was relieved. I don't know how he had divided the group up but the fact he didn't have to produce a driver's license seemed to make him happiest. Then it dawned on him he would be sleeping with Harry. I didn't think he could have gotten any whiter but it turns out I was wrong as Harry said, "Art, you want to help the ladies get all their stuff from the car?" I wondered how we were going to sneak the cats in without the innkeepers getting upset. It dawned on him that he meant the cats too. Fleetingly I wondered how the hell he had originally got them in the station wagon. It came to me that he probably didn't have much of a choice but the cats just jumped in when he opened the doors. They did seem to like me. I knew they would probably be my roommates. Harry winked at me and said, "We should send Art out for some food first."

Article © Lydia Manx. All rights reserved.
Published on 2006-03-20
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