Friday, June 26, 2009

My Family Vacation Part I: The Motel of Death

Author’s note: This is the first of a four-part story of my family’s summer vacation. I can’t claim it on my taxes if I don’t write about it.

The motel looked good from the outside, as well it should have; it was in a nice town like Omaha. Clean, new, right off the interstate and within a few minutes drive of everything my family would need on vacation.

It was the inside that concerned us.

Although the lobby felt like a room after an argument (the kind of argument that results in widely-scattered blood and several arrests), the motel wasn’t really bad. I’d been in a bad motel before, in Colorado:

Mountain mornings are fantastic, but when I awoke staring at the flowery wallpaper that clashed with every other pattern in the industrialized world, instead of throwing open the curtains and drawing in the majesty that is the Rocky Mountains, I turned on the television, because I’m an American.

“Tragedy unfolded this morning,” the cute, just-out-of-college reporter who always gets the 6 a.m. weekend shift, said as she stood in a parking lot, “as an argument turned deadly in a room at this (insert cheap motel name here).”

I smiled, only because it didn’t involve me.

But as the camera panned out to show the exterior of the motel, I noticed something that slapped me as hard as that girl did in college.

Good Lord, I realized. The reporter’s standing next to my car.

That was the worst motel I’ve been to. This was the second.

I’d made reservations over the phone – something I’ll rethink the next time we go on vacation. Reserving a motel room in Omaha, Neb., from a woman in Bombay, India, is surprisingly impersonal. I was happy with the great deal I’d gotten, but disappointed there was no pool.

However, when the guy whose forearm tattoos boasting “blood, death and Satan,” checked me in, I got over that “no swimming pool” thing. There may have been a body floating in it.

“Did you see the writing in the hallway?” my wife asked as I rushed my family into our room, secured every lock on the door, and booby-trapped a shotgun pointing chest-high at anyone who might walk in. I hoped housekeeping knocked.

Yeah, I’d seen the words, “Blood Gang,” outside our door. I’d also seen the crowbar marks where someone had once broken in, although I kept telling myself he’d simply misplaced his card-key.

“Are you nervous?” she asked, because I was. It must have been the sweat, or the involuntary shakes that tipped her off.

It was my own fault. I didn’t discover I was trying to book a room two days in advance of the College World Series until I tried to book a room two days in advance of the College World Series. It was now the “Blood Gang” room or the streets.

“No, I said, reaching for the room’s mini-fridge. “If we don’t touch anything, or go near the window, or sleep, or … oh, look at that. A head.”

Well, it wasn’t a head. It was a half-empty bottle of something orange and a cucumber. Either way, I wasn’t about to touch it.

Next week: The Henry Doorly Zoo and College World Series parking.

Copyright 2009 by Jason Offutt

You can order Jason’s books on the paranormal, “Darkness Walks: The Shadow People Among Us,” and “Haunted Missouri: A Ghostly Guide to Missouri’s Most Spirited Spots,” at

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