Prompt Images

You’re cruising down the highway when you decide it’s time to find a place to lay your head for the night. In the distance, you see the bright light of a flickering neon sign: MOTEL – VACANCY. Curious and exhausted, you pull into the parking lot to get a better look at the establishment. No peeling paint, no broken windows. A few cars are already in stalls. There’s even flower boxes beneath the windows. In other words, it should be safe to stay the night.

But you can’t shake the feeling that it isn’t. Is that sketch-looking man in a trenchcoat lurking in the shadows because he’s plotting your demise, or because he just wants privacy? How do you know if their vacancy is a stroke a luck in your favor or the result of a murder or kidnapping carried out within its walls like you’ve seen on the silver screen dozens of times?

Here are five signs you may be staying at a murder motel.

1. There are taxidermy animals… a lot of them.

Every motel has its own décor theme to add a bit of flair to the place and novelty to your stay. Images of cityscapes in major metropolitan areas. Mason jars and wildflowers for a rustic feel. Model airplanes near the airport. Some, wanting to give off a wildlife or hunting vibe, have taxidermy animals on display. While a dead animal with fake beady eyes may not scream inviting to you, don’t fret if it’s only a few.

2. Speaking of the caretaker…

During the check-in process, is his mother a frequent topic of conversation? It’s one thing if you bring up your mother or family and the caretaker responds with stories of his own, but, if he tells you unprompted about his bed-bound mother, whom no one has seen in years, hates women, and lives in the creepy home up the hill where lighting always seems to flash without a storm it may be a sign that something is a bit, well, off with your caretaker. Maybe he just loves her, or maybe he has taken on her personality and murders people on her behalf. Do you want to stay to find out? Best to reconsider and find lodgings where mother isn’t so close.

3. Does it always feel like someone is watching you?

You make it to your room, turn the lock, and slide the deadbolt into place. Away from the caretaker and other guests, relief washes over you. But the tide recedes as another feeling rolls in—it feels like you may not be alone in here. You search the room for any lurkers, whipping open closet doors and throwing back the bed skirt and the shower curtain, and come up empty handed. But that doesn’t mean someone is not watching you.

Take a look at the walls, at the art, in the light fixtures. Do you spot any holes that look like they weren’t drilled for screws or nails, but possibly peeping? What about portraits with eyes that seem to follow you? Any blinking red lights or camera lenses stationed in lamps or corners? If you answer yes to any of these options, Get. The. Hell. Out. Of. There.

4. Do they offer you a meal, that seems, um, questionable?

To sweeten your stay, some motels will offer a continental breakfast for their guests. You can fill up a plate with eggs, pancakes, and sausage, or grab a bowl of cereal or oatmeal as you enjoy a cup of coffee and the morning paper all for free. How much better can you get?

Well, that depends on the fare. Stay vigilant as you peruse the smorgasbord in front of you for any items that seem out of place in terms of smell or presentation. Is there a meat with a consistency and scent like you’ve never experienced, labelled as “venison” when you know it’s not? Does the caretaker act shady when you ask him about it? Raise that red flag high. It could be a traditional meat, or it could be their latest victim.

5. Do you hear ear-piercing cinematic music at random hours of the night?

You’re tucked into bed, and you’ve made it through the night without seeing meat of unknown origin, mother-obsessed caretakers, and any of the other aforementioned signs. Just as you close your eyes, you hear a noise. It starts low, almost like a hum or a groan. You can’t tell which as you sit up, and press your ear to the closest wall. Does someone have their TV on loud? Are a couple of the other guests fighting?

Suddenly, the noise blares. Piano keys plunk in a discordant, disturbing pattern over the sound of running water. Violins sound like shrieks and may be masking actual shrieks.

Don’t take the time to pack. Grab your car keys, leave, and don’t look back.

Sarah Razner

Sarah Razner is a reporter of real-life Wisconsin by day, and a writer of fictional lives throughout the world by night.

learn more
Share this story
About The Prompt
A sweet, sweet collective of writers, artists, podcasters, and other creatives. Sound like fun?
Learn more