Jack drove down the narrow lane, surrounded by trees on both sides, his pickup sending the crisp autumn leaves on the shoulders of the road flying into the air. Evening came quickly, the glowing sun setting into the horizon in a brilliant display of varying shades of orange and purple. The trees were nature's own fireworks display, violent reds and browns and oranges. The car was nothing special: a beat up pickup Jack had bought dirt cheap. Dents dotted the side of the car, and the door to the bed of the truck hung open. It wasn't pretty, but it didn't need to be. Cars were machines to travel from point A to point B, not symbols of social status.
Jack let out an obnoxious yawn, stretching his one free hand out the open window. A fresh breeze ran through the car, playing against his cheek. It was extremely comfortable. Jack would have dropped off then and there; the long drive to his parents' house was extremely draining. Suddenly, Jack was jolted out of his reverie. The hood of the truck began to smoke. He gradually lost acceleration before the engine putted feebly and came to a final stop.
The wind whispered its amusement. Jack threw the lid of the truck open, swearing his choicest, unprintable words. He had never been good with cars, but maybe the problem would be obvious enough for even him to fix. Unfortunately, the thick smoke that the engine emitted blinded him. Even if he could see, Jack would probably have only made the problem worse. The best he could do was to put the car in neutral and to start pushing. Maybe there was a mechanic up ahead that would be able to make some sense out of Jack's dilemma.
He pushed for hours. Darkness soon fell, but the battery in Jack's pickup still lived, streaming a steady light through the darkness. Fog settled on the dusty road, and Jack could only pray that no car would come trundling down the road in the other direction; if one did, it would assuredly hit Jack's truck, even if the fog wouldn't have blinded any driver. Moonlight filtered through the canopy of autumn leaves like lightning through a shaded window on a stormy day. Jack felt himself nodding off, but he knew that he needed to stay alert if he wanted to get his car fixed within the next few days. It began to rain, the drops pounding like a thousand injections from the heavens, each one another straw on Jack's back. He began to regret not charging his cell phone before he left.
There was a light up ahead. A gas station, perchance? At this point, Jack would take anything. He ran to the cab of the truck, adjusting the wheel to gradually turn right, towards the shoulder where the source of light was. Jack broke through the trees to a clearing. It was a huge, imposing institution, something that might once have been a hospital or a prison. Bars covered the windows. Jack wondered idly if the bars were meant to keep people out-or to keep them in.
Jacked heaved the truck into the dusty driveway, yanking his keys out of the ignition and slamming the door shut. The rear-view mirror broke off and hung forlornly from the door. Jack frowned, but didn't try to fix it. Maybe I'll be able to return it. Get my money back, he thought. He walked away, the sight of the beat-up clunker etched into his mind's eye. The imposing building loomed into an even starker view. A small sign by the front door had written, "Hostel DeMencha-Vacancy" in red script. Jack reluctantly went through the revolving door.
A gaunt, sallow man dressed in a white robe stood behind the counter in the lobby. His eyes were wide and gray, staring right through Jack. "You want a room," the man said. It wasn't a question.
"Yes," said Jack. "Only for the night." The man wordlessly pulled a skeleton key from the rack behind him and handed it to Jack.
"Room 13A," he said. "Be sure not to disturb the...other guests." A thin smile stretched across the man's face and Jack walked away. Before rounding the corner to the hallway, Jack turned to look back at the receptionist. He was still staring at Jack with those gray eyes, still grinning horribly.
The hallway was long and seemingly endless, stretching out until darkness obscured the details from view. The walls were painted a drab gray. Nothing hung from the walls but gas lamps that only dimly illuminated the hall. The doors stretched on both sides of the hallway. Each door had a small plaque above it with the room number engraved. 33A, 32A, 31A...
Jack began to walk down. He had to squint into the gloom to make out the numbers. At long last, he reached 13A and slammed the key into the hole. He wanted nothing but to lie down and sleep the rest of the morning out. Jack shut the door, slipped the key into his pocket, threw the deadbolt, and collapsed onto the bed. Dust billowed from the mattress when he laid down and bits of straw stuck out from his pillowcase. It wasn't much, but he could survive for the night. It didn't take long for him to drift off...