The engine growled as the rig climbed higher and higher into the Cascade Mountains in central Washington. The year was 1999. Reaching the summit, I kept the rig in the same low gear and began my descent down the mountain all the while keeping a close eye on the highway’s white line that guided and protected me from certain peril. The diesel made a different sound now – more of a defiant burble as it held the tractor and trailer at a low speed. A foot on the brake while descending this mountain was out of the question as they would surely overheat and fail.
At last, the golden glow of the old town’s streetlights came into view. I took a deep breath and for the first time in a long while relaxed into my seat. Finding my turn, I pulled the rig into the parking area. The brakes let out a lonesome sigh as I released the air pressure and locked them into place. I killed the engine and sat for a moment in the dark cab, rain hammering the roof, hands rubbing my face, my eyes, relieved to have reached my stop for the night. I was mentally and physically exhausted. After gathering my logbook and overnight bag I made a dash to the old hotel’s lobby. The time was after 11PM and it took three rings of the night bell before it captured the attention of the desk clerk dozing somewhere in a nearby office.
With little exchange of conversation, I signed my name – she handed me a key and I proceeded down a long and dimly lit corridor. The red carpet appeared grey but the lighting did not change the musty smells that came and went, nor did it alter the sudden cold spots as at last I reached room 113. I thought nothing of the cold spots – after all, I was drenched from my mad dash from the tractor. My body needed rest. My mind needed rest. My brain needed sleep.
I wasted no time getting out of my wet clothes, completing my logbook and readying myself for a good night’s sleep – the morning would come all too soon. Onward then, into bed, switch off the lamp, total darkness, settle in between the mattress and comforter, a single sigh, relaxation setting in. My mind’s eye watched a reenactment of the sloshing wiper blades, the white line in the dark night and the storm’s slashing swords of wind and rain against the cab. The sound echoed in my ears as I relived the final hours of my drive, remembering and focusing on the worst of it all.
Suddenly, without warning, the opposite side of the bed pitched downward with a force. In the bleak darkness of the hotel room, someone had just taken a seat on the bed. Then, I felt them lay down. I knew I had been rather hasty getting into bed but how… how did I miss this other person in my room? Were had they been? In the bathroom? No, I used it; it was empty. Were they somewhere else in the room? No, there was no one in my room but here they were, in bed with me. How am I going to handle this? Somehow, in her groggy state, the desk clerk had double-booked my room. If I move, I’m going to scare… Him? Her? …And then what? I suddenly realized my heart was pounding; breaths laboring to keep quiet; my skin crawling. I dare not speak.
A minute ticked by. Seemed like an hour. “Can’t just lie here all night” I thought. “I have to do… something.” With that, I threw back the covers, spun myself off the bed and fumbled for the lamp switch. Fumbled… Fumbled… Switched it on. …And the bed was empty. The bed – was empty. Empty? How can that be? Empty! I stood in the lamp’s glow, bewildered, mind numb. What just happened here? I crept to the bathroom, switched on the light. “Hello?” Nothing. Someone had gotten in bed with me; that was an undeniable fact. …And had the room gotten colder or was it just my imagination? My brain tried to rationalize but my heart somehow knew the truth.
Call the front desk? No. Just… Just crank up the heater and go back to bed. And I did just that, sleeping with one eye open. In the morning I chose not to mention the episode as I checked out – I just wanted away from there. Stepping outside into the freshness of that spring morning, I was grateful for the sun’s rays that streaked over the mountains. …And I knew, the stars were still there, somewhere beyond the pale blue. As I pushed the starter button and fired up the diesel I realized this was not a continuation of my journey; rather, I had just begun a new one.