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Incident at Shady Oaks

We had been on the road all day, the last four hours in the pouring rain. Having had less than four hours sleep the previous night, I was near exhaustion, and Charley hadn’t blinked for miles.

Her vacant stare concerned me. She was usually an animated driver -- chatty, idly commenting on the blunders of other drivers, not quietly staring straight ahead. Was she sleep-driving? It was nearly midnight, and we were somewhere in central Kentucky. I was desperate to find a place to sleep.

In an area that bore no other signs that offered services, I spotted a partially burned-out marquee that read ‘Welcome to the Shady Oaks Motel.’ Pointing anxiously, I read it aloud. I was relieved to see Charley show signs of awareness. The word ‘vacancy’ was not lit up, but we took a chance and pulled into the parking lot, anyway. Yawning, getting soaked to the skin as we dashed from the car to the building, we entered the lobby of the shabby little motel and found an old man at the front desk. He had been peacefully puffing on a cigarette as he watched the rain through the glass door, but his eyes lit up with friendliness as we crossed the threshold.

The clerk was old and looked frail. Tall, thin, partly bald, he seemed amicable enough. Although the temperature had been in the upper nineties that day, he was wearing a hooded jacket zipped up to his chin. A large tin can on the counter was overflowing with cigarette butts, some still smoldering. Needless to say, the room reeked.

I could’ve cheered when he told us there was a vacancy. I had mixed feelings because of the smell, but in my weary state, I decided I could live one night with Eau Du Ashtray if a bed was part of the deal.

The clerk introduced himself as Gus, and began taking down our information. He was a talkative, accommodating man with trembling, withered hands, but he eyed me with undisguised interest.

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