Just another day at work

"God, what a day." Josh made the comment to himself, a habit he had of talking out loud to no one but the man in the mirror. It was a remark without rancor, just a way of marking the end of a very full day.

Josh had been pedaling freight all day, starting a full hour before dawn and finally finishing past sundown. He had put off 16 stops of varying sizes, the smallest a shipment of 2 large cartons, the largest a bundle of pipe 20' in length. The other stops had been of various sizes and weights, each requiring its own particular skills in getting it delivered. Most were cut-and-dried, back up to a loading dock and get it pulled off. A couple others had required 'fingerprinting', the act of physically picking the freight up and carrying it in through the entrance of the consignee's building.

The deliveries started in Roanoke, Virginia and ended up at Ashland, a small town north of Richmond. There had been a cluster of deliveries near Martinsville, a couple others at Danville. Most of the others were scattered about throughout southside Virginia with the last few clustered in Richmond and Ashland. Everything had worked like clockwork this day which was the exception, not the rule. Sometimes deliveries were missed because no one was at the address to accept delivery. Today all the businesses had been open, someone there to sign the freight manifest for the delivery. Josh had 1 more stop to get off to finally achieve his goal of an empty trailer, but the last stop had been closed for the day. He'd have to put it off until tomorrow. Dispatch had told him he had tied a company record with his 16th stop, and the 17th delivery would have set a new watermark. "Too bad, but that one will have to wait for another day." Josh wasn't dissatisfied with his efforts for the day.

Just rewards

Failing to get off that last stop meant he'd have to lay over until next morning to make that final delivery. He didn't have a sleeper cab on his Mack truck road tractor so he'd have to put up in a motel. He was glad he had a daycab. It'd give him a chance to sleep in a real bed, stretch out and watch some TV after a good shower and a hearty meal.

He rolled into the truckstop off of I-95. It was located within a couple miles of his final stop. It'd be a matter of just minutes next morning to get that last stop off, then he could start the trip homeward. He was already thinking about how he was going to work things to get home early enough to spend time with his wife and too late to have to roll out for more work. He was as skillful at 'playing the board' as he was in handling the big rig in heavy traffic. Both were challenges he was up to, whether dealing with the vagaries of the motoring public or defeating the best laid plans of his dispatcher. Josh was a pragmatist and knew sometimes he won, sometimes he didn't. Usually he won.

The first order of business was to get checked in to the motel. He lugged his overnight bag and shaving kit along and made his way to the check-in desk. A couple minutes saw him headed toward his room, key in his large and calloused hand. He paused, inserted the key, turned it and entered the shadowy interior of the room. He welcomed the gloom as a refuge from the glare and bustle of the day.

He dropped his bag in the shower vestibule, unpacked the shaving kit and started the water running. Getting out of his clothes he stepped into the tub and simply luxuriated in the flow of hot steamy water, letting it beat on the back of his neck, loosening the tension. After a couple minutes he shampooed and washed, not too hurried but not dallying either. He was about starved, not having eaten since breakfast if you didn't count the pack of peanuts he'd scarfed from a vending machine about 2:00 PM. He muttered to himself "My backbone's gonna sue my belly for non-support if I don't eat soon." Josh toweled dry and got clean clothes from his bag. Shaving could wait until his morning shower. Right now he could eat the rockers off a hobby horse.

He made a path to the motel restaurant, found a seat, and looked at the menu. He was in luck. They featured one of his favorite meals. His waitress appeared and he got her started on filling his coffee cup. He ordered a hamburger steak with gravy and onions, french fries smothered in gravy, and cottage cheese. The waitress brought a small basket of rolls and for a miracle they were actually warm and edible. Things were looking good.

He ate the way he worked, with an economy of motion, very methodical and efficient. The meal was as good as he had hoped it would be and he tipped his waitress more from satisfaction than from her efforts on his behalf. "I guess maybe she's had a full day, too." He over tipped, hoping it might brighten her day just a little. He didn't flirt with her either. He knew the truck stop waitresses had to endure every blacktop Romeo that rolled through. They'd heard it all by their second week on the job, but still had to pretend to listen with good humor in order to get that tip.

He finished his meal and sat there long enough to absorb an extra cup of coffee, wallowing in the simple pleasure of not having to hurry to be anywhere. He got up and headed out to the cashier, paid his bill, and proceeded back toward his cave of a room.

Refuge

Josh called his wife, got the news of the day, satisfied himself that his wife Susan and the kids were safe and well for the evening. It was a ritual they had every night he was away. He couldn't rest until he was assured that his people were safe.

The call ended after about 10 minutes. "After 15 years there isn't too much new to talk about." He wasn't unhappy about that either, his wife and he having settled into a pattern unmarked by storms of their own devising. It hadn't always been that way. Early in the marriage Josh had been like a bronc that needed gentling. Sometimes he'd buck a little just to feel his heels fly. It took him a while to learn that his bucking hurt the relationship. He'd settled down a lot and was grateful that his Susie girl had stayed in the saddle, even for the roughest rides.

He turned on the TV and got into the bed, watching as he lay on his side. It was only a half hour until he found himself fighting to keep his eyes open. He fought the good fight for a bit longer, then heaved himself up to finish his motel room ritual. He brushed his teeth, drank a big plastic tumbler of cool water, shook hands with Shorty. He left the bathroom light on and closed the door except for just a small slit, letting a little light cascade into the room. He put the TV on a vacant channel, letting the electronic snow cast its own dim light into the room. He turned the sound all the way down. Now, if he had to get up in the middle of the night he'd be able to navigate, not smash his toes on unfamiliar furniture. He'd learned long ago the value of planning ahead.

Invasion

It was some time later when he came to his senses. Something was wrong, he was feeling an very unfamiliar and unnerving sensation. It took him a second to figure out what it was exactly. His vision focused, and he saw the electronic snow on the TV screen.

The sensation was cold air, focused in an area which certainly was not familiar with cold air. He realized his cheeks were opened. Not those cheeks, the other ones. There was no sensation of pressure holding them open, nor was it due to his own muscles. They simply were no longer together, as the should have been.

He focused his senses, listened for some tell tale sound. There was nothing, nothing at all but that bizarre cold air. He started to turn over, see what might be behind him. Suddenly he was siezed with dread, filled with a knowing that he simply couldn't endure seeing what was behind him. He was paralyzed with fear. It was a new sensation to him. He had been at the wheel when his brakes had failed going off a mountain in West Virginia and he had been nowhere near this frightened. He had known the failed brakes could kill him. Somehow, this was worse, much worse.

He surprised himself again by screaming. He screamed as loud and as long as he could, simply crying out the name "Jesus!" for everything he was worth. It surprised him at the length, volume, and pitch he achieved. He had no idea his voice could attain the register it climbed toward. It would have done Mariah Carey proud. He maintained that cry until he ran out of breath. He expected to hear something move in the adjacent rooms. If someone had heard that scream it would have scared them half to death. He waited to hear someone pound on the wall.

Retreat

Whatever had been behind him was not there. It was gone but there was no sense of withdrawal, no feeling of a retreat. It was simply not. He recalled a verse in the Bible where it spoke of God taking Enoch, saying "and Enoch walked with God: and he was not; for God took him." That was exactly what had happened, whatever evil thing that had been in the room with him simply was not. He thanked God for saving him.

Josh was unnerved to put it lightly. Part of him wanted to get into a corner of the room and start gibbering, let go, fall totally apart. Another part was more rational, telling him he had been delivered. He had to decide how he was going to react. He chose to put his trust in the One who had apparently delivered him from evil. He lay back down and returned to sleep.

The morning after

Next morning he arose with the wake up call he'd had the desk set for him. He showered quickly, got his things together, did a final sweep of the room to make sure he had everything. He couldn't find the room key. He looked everywhere, even under the bed but was unable to locate it. Giving up, he gathered his things and went to the door. He slipped off the security chain and turned the knob. In the lock of the door's exterior was the silvery motel key. He stopped dead in his tracks, considering the implications of that key and the intrusion of last night. He knew he was almost compulsive about double checking everything, making sure everything was by the book. He would have bet anything he'd taken the key out of the lock when he'd returned to the room following dinner.

He knew everyone can make a mistake, even himself, sometimes especially himself. So, if he had left the key in the lock, the security chain was still intact. It allowed not more than an inch gap between the door and its jamb when opened. No one could have opened the door, slipped the security chain off, terrorized him in the night, withdrawn and put the security chain back on as it left.

Josh pocketed the key and went to the desk to check out. He considered asking whether anyone else had lodged any complaints regarding the room he had spent the night in. He didn't ask, thinking there had been enough weirdness for one night. He checked out, made his way to his rig, and began another day.

The Night's Plutonian Shore: The 2007 Halloween Horrorquest

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