Twice in my life I have been forced to share a hotel room with people I didn't know until we became temporary roommates. The first was a probable serial killer and the second was an exhibitionist if there ever was one.
Flashback to my undergrad. My adviser suggested I attend a conference out-of-state, I told her I didn't have a car, and she said she'd hook me up with her other advisee. "Bo" picked me up on a gray, hungover Friday morning. He drove a black truck with a hatch meant for storing corpses. Bo also wore all black including a slicker and galoshes so the blood spatter wouldn’t ruin his pants.
We had a three hour journey ahead of us. I didn't know what we'd talk about. I'd never even seen Bo before. Thankfully, or maybe not, Bo didn't speak much. We listened to NPR, which was the first time I'd heard an under-30-year-old listening to “A Prairie Home Companion.” He didn't change the station when it gave way to opera. I nodded off and on in the passenger seat awakened by nightmares of Jell-O shots and Bo grunting something that was probably meant to be conversational, but affirmed my suspicions that he tortured kittens as a boy.
The conference had already begun by the time we arrived so we went straight there. It turned out we had to park a half mile away, so I thought we should hurry, but Bo took his time. He plodded down the sidewalk behind me, a silhouette in a slicker with a full-length umbrella.
Should I run?
Due to sparse seating at the event, I found a seat on a row ahead of Bo. During an intermission, I realized the dismal truth: Bo was the only person I knew here, and he didn't say much.
Me: "These cookies are really good."
Me: "I'm gonna go to the restroom."
Back in my seat, I glanced over my shoulder to find Bo had gotten a water bottle - and he was opening it with a switchblade. This was no mere switchblade - the blade was six inches long. Where had this knife come from? And why did he need it to open his water? It was a twist cap!
I turned slowly away, accepting that this was my roommate for the next two nights. Would I end up gutted?
*Camera zooms out to show my isolation in a sea of strangers.*
I thought bonding might alleviate my anxiety or prove to Bo that I don't fit his MO, so I suggested we grab dinner once we were back in our hotel room. He drew the curtains across our window and replied, "I'm going to bed."
Me: "There's still daylight outside."
I indulged in per diem at a Bob Evans. I ordered the breakfast sampler and a full Caesar salad. I would later be asked if someone joined me for dinner.
Me: "No, I just wanted a side salad, and it fit the budget."
Back in my room I confronted the dark. Bo lay prostate beneath his comforter. It was 7 pm. Could I turn on a light? Where was his switchblade?
I retired around 11 pm. The creature stirred then. He got up and logged onto his computer. Without prompting, he announced, "I hate our college's firewall. I'm trying to log onto the server, but it's being difficult."
Me: "...Why are you doing that?"
The creature: "When you accept the hotel's terms of service, you're giving them permission to access and use your files. I don't want them snooping in my stuff."
Me (soundlessly): "What are you hiding?"
Before this I had been actively narrating all of #SerialKiller's doings on my Twitter, but my heart thudded as I recognized if he could hack into a firewall, he could obviously find my nearby Twitter with all its slanderous commentary. From the cover of my bed I deleted the day's tweets, which is one reason I don't have a better chronology of why the creature weirded me out.
A few moments later, the creature asked me where I had gotten dinner. I told him and added, "I think they're closed now."
The creature: "I guess I'll walk somewhere."
Be safe. Take your switchblade.
The next morning the creature compiled a new all black ensemble that still prominently featured his slicker, but no boots. He also blow dried his inch-long hair and didn't flush the toilet after leaving body parts inside.
Instead of faking silence with Bo, most of the day I spent stuffing my face with those "really good cookies" and Coke Zero. At lunch, however, something happened: The creature dropped his sandwich that consisted of raw meat and blood onto his tie. He attacked the stain like he would an unsuspecting victim and opened a water bottle with his handy switchblade.
At dinner that night (the whole conference ate together; don’t think I went alone), the creature still had a stain on his tie. "Do you mind if we stop by my parents' house on the way back tomorrow? I want to get this dry cleaned."
Me: "You mean we're going to your lair? Your place of birth?"
I counted the hours as we approached our imminent parting. Would I make it there alive? A three hour car ride separated me from freedom and imprisonment and torture.
This blinked to a halt in the hotel parking lot. The creature announced abruptly he forgot to return his room key. "Stay here," he instructed as he exited his truck and locked the doors. Now his truck was older so the locks popped down into a hole aka eliminating the possibility of unlocking it manually. I watched the creature disappear into the hotel.
He's locked me in the truck. This is it.
He only unlocked his side of the door when he got back in the car. Opera played as we made our way to his lair. I tweeted out,
"#SerialKiller is making me visit his home. #pleasdontlockmeinthebasement"
His parents, thankfully, did not live in the cornfields. When I saw their two-storey, Victorian gingerbread house with neighbors a hundred feet away, my pulse slowed. Then I remembered how people could be trapped beneath suburbia for decades and no one knows. I could still be in trouble. Maybe his parents weren't even here. What if he was going to dismember me while they were at Sunday brunch?
The parents turned out to be the total opposite to him. His mother offered us sandwiches for the road and tried to make us stay longer, which I might have agreed to if I hadn't already lied to the creature that I had to be back before sundown for a made-up meeting. They did have a basement, though. I noticed it when his mother showed me of the some of the creature's childhood drawings that did not consist of massacres and chainsaws.
Back in his truck, the creature asked if I wanted to take the scenic route back to campus. "It's through the mountains and woods."
Me: "I really need to get back sooner rather than later and still with a pulse, so passing through ideal body dumping areas sounds problematic."
We took the interstate.