It started just before midnight.
The motel phone kept ringing in the next room. I could hear it through the thin walls.
I figured someone was next door because the TV was on.
The phone stopped ringing… Then it started over again.
I raised myself from my sweaty bed sheets and banged the wall.
“Turn down the television and answer the Goddamned phone,” I screamed at the wall.
The noise kept up.
I pulled on my pants and went out into the dingy hallway. I knocked on the door.
I heard something moving inside.
The door opened a crack — a flimsy security chain still attached.
A woman with dark eyes peered out at me.
“Yes?” she said faintly. A strange, unpleasant smell drifted through the opening.
“Could you turn your television down? And your phone… it keeps ringing.”
She said nothing and closed the door. I could hear a deadbolt clacking into its groove. The phone continued to ring.
The television got louder.
I went down to the motel office to complain.
The night manager wasn’t there. Probably outside for a smoke. I went out but he wasn’t there.
The air was hot and sticky.
Since I couldn’t sleep, I decided to walk to the little bar across the street. Its neon lights blinked alone in the darkness.
The neighborhood was going to hell. A steel mill used to fill the streets with workers. It’s abandoned now. Barbed wire surrounded it like a prison.
The bar catered to those who never made it out of the neighborhood. A couple of old timers eyed me with feeble interest. The place smelled of sour beer and urine.
I ordered a Pabst from the ancient bartender.
His hands shook as he held the beer mug up to the tap, clicking the glass against the metal. He spilled some as he handed me my beer.
I sat next to the jukebox. It was an antique. Hadn’t seen one of these in a long time. It was probably worth money if someone cleaned off the dirt and dried vomit.
The 45s in this jukebox were all from the fifties. I put in a bunch of quarters and played “Heartbreak Hotel.”
Elvis started singing his tale of woe.
Later, while I was finishing my second beer and listening to Elvis for the third time, in walks the woman with the dark eyes, my noisy hotel neighbor.
She sits at the bar, orders a pack of cigarettes and a beer.
The codgers eyed her with slightly more interest. Not many women showed up at this God forsaken gin mill.
I quietly left, thinking she might have turned off her TV.
I walked to my room. The television was still blaring next door. I wondered if there was someone else in the room.
I went into the hallway and knocked on the door.
Then I knocked again. Still no answer.
I tried the cheap door handle. It wasn’t locked. I pushed it open and walked in, planning to quickly turn down the TV and disconnect the phone.
I never made it to the TV.
There was thick blood on the floor — lots of it.
Next to the phone was a bloated body. The guy’s eyes were open, but he was dead. He looked surprised.
I glanced around this horror chamber and started shaking.
Sweat dripped down my back.
The room smelled bad, like rotten meat and feces.
I turned to leave.
She had drifted in. I saw the glitter of shiny metal as something sharp jerked upwards from my abdomen. I felt myself falling to the dirty carpet below.
I regained consciousness. Couldn’t breathe right. Sickening pain in my stomach and abdomen. Next to my face I could see the bloody barber’s razor that had sliced through my body.
I looked across the floor. No sign of the woman. She must have taken off.
The phone started ringing again.
My chances of living through this were diminishing, so I tried to crawl to the phone. Horrible pain assaulted me. Felt like my guts were falling out. Maybe they were.
I passed out.
When I came to, the phone was quiet.
The dead guy hadn’t moved.
It didn’t look like the woman would be coming back.
The pain had subsided. But I felt lightheaded, my vision getting dimmer. I knew I couldn’t last much longer.
I tried, once again, to crawl to the telephone about ten feet away. Took me excruciating minutes but I finally was able to pull the phone off the night table beside the bed. I dialed 911.
Took a while for someone to answer. A woman with a bored voice asked me what was wrong.
“I’m hurt,” I told her.
“Cut open,” I said faintly, “lady cut me open.”
“Where are you?” she asked.
I gave her the address and room number.
“We’ll have someone there in 15 minutes or less,” she told me.
“Lady, I’M DYING!” I hissed before passing out.
Next thing I remember I was strapped into an emergency stretcher and being wheeled out.
I could see rusty water stains on the ceiling in the hallway.
When outside I began to shiver even though it was hot out. They put me into the ambulance, slammed the door and took off.
The doctor’s and the nurses at the hospital told me that it was a miracle. My insides were cut up badly but were stitched back together. I’d have to wear a plastic bag for months to collect my body wastes.
The police, I learned later, had little luck finding the woman. The case was getting cold.
For some perverse reason, I went back to that fleabag motel.
I found the night manager this time. He told me that the police had asked a bunch of questions, but never came back. The room was cleaned up now.
I asked if I could see the room. It wasn’t occupied, so he gave me the key and told me to look around — ten minutes max.
The same musty smell from the hallway brought it all back.
I looked up at the ceiling and saw the same brown watermarks that I when I was wheeled out on the gurney.
I opened the door. No blood this time, but they hadn’t been able to eliminate completely the foul stench of death.
I wondered what happened to the woman, but I didn’t really care that much.
As I left, the phone started ringing.
I ignored it.
Ken West is the author of Fresh Squeezed Flash Fiction: Stories of Desire, Intrigue, Love, Hate, Self-Help, Tough Times, Work, Humor, the Future, and Hope.