Otherscape

Day Eight

Excerpt from the Recovery Blog of Olivia Celine Crane

Monday, 2034-10-29, Day Eight
817 days After

I managed to make it over the state line and halfway to the next before I had to stop for gas. Filling my tank made me wince for my wallet’s sake but fill it I did. I leaned against my car and kept an eye out for movement. Cars, patrons, a feral cat passing through just as I was, all came and went under the harsh canopy lights. The pump handle clacked as the tank reached full. I replaced the handle and got my receipt and drove off. And stopped a split-second later when I realized I’d used my debit card instead of cash.

Paper trail. Dumb move. Dumb, dumb, dumb

A horn blared at my rear bumper and I jumped, goosing the gas pedal and jerking forward before I regained control and eased away from the pumps. I heard a crabby shout behind me but thankfully couldn’t make out the words. Once moving, I found it easier to keep going and cautiously merged back onto the interstate. As the miles passed under my wheels, the wheels in my head spun round and round.

Calm down. No one’s tracking your expenditures … Yeah, right. If that’s true, how did they find me Before? No one was supposed to know it was me and yet somehow they did.

I turned on the radio, found an electronic channel unlikely to have lyrics, and jacked the volume up loud. It made the perfect distraction from my thoughts and I occupied myself with humming along. I kept heading south then turned west at the next interstate and drove until I was too weary to drive. I spied a blue hospitality sign and pulled off at the exit and pulled into the advertised motel.

It was three stories of sad concrete and struggling shrubbery arranged around a parking lot. It had an after-hours window where I paid for the night. The entire place was badly lit and looked sketchy as fuck but the night clerk accepted cash and didn’t ask any questions. I grabbed my things and locked my car, took two steps, then went back to lock my car again. And again. And again.

I froze on my fifth try and stood clutching my keys and staring at the car as if the answers of the Universe would suddenly appear on the paint job. I forced myself to think it through.

Engine off? Yes. Doors locked? Trunk locked? Yes and yes. Duffel and roller outside the car. Keys outside the car. Me, outside the car. Nothing locked in. Nothing left unlocked. Everything’s fine. I can go now.

I was practically the only guest there and I had my pick of the rooms. I paid for one three flights up and four doors down. Not the ground floor where anyone could walk in from the street while I slept. Not the second floor where the parking lot wall offered a way up. The third floor, where it still wasn’t too far off the ground in case of a fire. Luckily there wasn’t a fourth floor, else I would have debated for an hour between it and the third. Four doors down meant I was in the middle of the row but not predictably dead center. I was far enough from the stairs at either end to make it inconvenient for anyone searching for me. They’d have to go room by room and I’d hear them coming. I got inside with my duffel and roller box, threw the locks, pulled the curtains shut against the anemic orange streetlights, and turned on all the lamps.

I was pleased to find the room was clean and Spartan. That made it easier to check. No one was under the bed. The closet was empty of everything including hangers. The tiny bathroom had the standard fixtures with rust stains. It had a window and that made me pause. Taking a deep breath, I walked over and inspected it.

Single pane. Double hung. Pivot latch. I put my hands on the lower sash and gave it a shake. Loose. Sketchy as fuck, remember?

I took the lid off the toilet tank and balanced it on the narrow sill. If anyone outside raised the sash, it would send the lid crashing to the floor. The noise would wake me in time to run out the front.

Maybe.

There wasn’t anything I could do about it now. I was paid up ’til morning. I left the bathroom light on and returned to the main room. The hotel had a small desk in lieu of a television, providing a place to plug in my laptop. Thanks to legislation a decade ago, internet access was a free public utility and I booted up after plugging in my anonymizer. No one would be able to trace me while I checked my emails and made my daily post.

I might be dysfunctional, crazy even, but one thing I’d steadfastly maintained through everything that happened to me After were my blogs. I had readers and advertisers depending on me for their daily fix and I’d be damned if I didn’t deliver. Structure was helpful, I’d been told over and over again.

Structure. Routine. Something I could control.

I kept things simple. I pulled only one of my laptops from its foam cradle in my roller box. There was no need to set up all three. I would post, sleep, check out when I woke and move on.

But it was hard going. I kept stopping to run a circuit around the room to check the windows and the locks. I could feel them like a twitch between my shoulder blades, on my back where I couldn’t see them, nagging me to inspect them. What would have normally taken 350 words and ten minutes to type took me over an hour. All that getting up and moving around and sitting back down and getting up and moving around made me sweaty … and not just from the physical exercise. I washed up at the sink during one of my circuits and sat down again.

I kept plugging away at my entry, posted it, and moved on to my next blog. Needless to say it was a short post. I was nodding off in my chair by the time I was done but little sounds from outside would jerk me awake with my fingers still on the keys, adrenaline making my pulse pound. I managed to compose my third entry in fits and starts and post.

Fatigue had me struggling through molasses by the time I was through but I made myself follow the routine: quick scan of my system for spyware, turn off the internet connection when done, shut down completely, and pack everything back in the box.

Structure. Routine. It helped having something I could control.

The desk chair got shoved under the front door knob. I turned off all the lights save the one in the bathroom. I wanted the dark to hide me from anyone breaking in from that quarter, while putting them in bright light so I could identify them later to the cops. I pulled the bathroom door halfway shut, wedged it in place with a matchbook underneath, and leaned one of the bedside lamps against it where it couldn’t be seen. I left it plugged in. With luck, forcing the door all the way open would make it fall and break the bulb—a makeshift flash bang. It would take their eyes a few precious seconds to adjust to the dark afterward, which I would use to throw the chair at them on the way out the front door.

I put my duffel and box next to the door to make them easy to grab when I left. I set my phone to wake me an hour before check out and lay down on the bed. And got back up again. I pulled my trench coat from my duffel and lay it on top of the covers and slept on that. Or tried to. Sleep came hard. Light was seeping under the curtains when I finally dropped off.

And that was the start of Day Eight.

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