Death Valley

Cheryl Diane Kidder

“God, this is great,” he tells me, plopping the suitcases by the window, stretching and breathing in with a huge lung expansion.

“You’ve got to be kidding.” I couldn’t move. It was two in the morning and the air temperature inside the motel room had cooled down to 106 degrees, maybe.

We’d driven all night to get here from San Francisco. It’d been 120 degrees outside, and they told us there was no air in the rooms. The corridors were no relief either, incredibly long, strewn with hot mustard carpeting.

When I got in the room I went for the faucet first, but only got lukewarm water, so I threw all my clothes off, turned the bed down, and collapsed, spread eagle on the musty warm sheets.

“I love the heat,” he reiterated.

“Say that one more time and I’ll put my fist through your face,” I managed through clenched teeth. “Just like in Alien.”

He came over and sat on the edge of the bed. I could feel the heat from his jeans seeping toward me.

“No, no. That was The Thing. In Alien it came out of the guy’s chest. In The Thing the doc tries to revive the guy and puts his arms straight into his chest and he gets stuck there and then all of a sudden, the guy’s stomach grows teeth and snaps his arms right off. It was great.” He started to untie his shoelaces.

“I can’t move. I think I’m starting to hyperventilate.” I start hyperventilating.

He drops one shoe, languidly pulling the other foot up on one knee. “Great special effects. Remember the dogs?”

I try to lift an arm to punch him one, but I can’t move.

“The guy who kept the dogs was this real sweet-faced guy. You could tell they were his best friends. And then it all started going wrong.”

I can only see the back of his head, bent over, concentrating on his second shoe. I think if I could just lift my arm and sock him, I would die happy.

“The dogs start to change shape, see. Their muzzles get really long and the fangs grow out and slime comes out and the arms and legs kind of grow together, then sprout other arms and legs and then they grow three heads each until the whole thing barely looks like a dog anymore at all and it hisses and spits this sort of acid slime shit and it’s there, just waiting there for the poor sweet-faced guy to come back and pet it and you know he’s going to come back with their dinner, right, and all you can do is sit there and watch and the guy comes walking into this big cage, singing a little song, real innocent like, and you know all the time this huge thing is there in the corner of the cage, just waiting, and all you can do is sit and watch it happen.”

He drops the second shoe on the floor, displacing the heat noticeably. I’m sure it’s all gravitating upward to my position on the bed and I can’t move and I have to. I’m dead certain that if he doesn’t shut up, if he keeps going with this bullshit I will materialize a gun and shoot him square in the face.

He goes over to the curtains and throws them all open.

“So, one by one this monster takes over the bodies of each crew member and one by one it wastes every guy until there’s only two guys left.”

I realize I’ve lost the ability to speak. My mouth has melted together and it’s impossible to move. I decide a knife would be more satisfying; maybe a nice ten-incher.

“And the two guys don’t know who to trust, so they just sit there, staring at each other. Did I say it takes place in the Arctic?” He walks over to the air conditioner and fiddles with the dials. “It’s freezing and these two guys are staring each other down, sitting in the snow while the whole place burns down around them.”

He finds the knob and suddenly the room is filled with slowly moving lukewarm air. I have no choice now. My hand twitches, the blade is there, shiny, wet and incredibly sharp.

“So they wait and wait. Sitting there until they freeze to death, not able to trust each other.”

I’m standing behind him, tall, lean, naked, without a mouth, the blade gripped tightly. I advance and wait. Advance and wait. He doesn’t sense me behind him. The room is swirling now with hot air. He hasn’t even taken his jacket off. My arm swings back and I plunge the blade straight into his jacket. It goes in easy, real easy, so I pull it out and do it again. He drops to the floor.

I figure that’s enough. He’s quiet now, lying down, quiet.

The activity has made me sweat like crazy. I switch off the a/c and go back to the bed. I pick up the remote control and switch on the TV.

A small group of scientists mourns the death of a sled dog. They all wear arctic parkas. Suddenly, all the other sled dogs start changing shape.

CHERYL DIANE KIDDER’s award winning work has twice been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She was also short-listed on storySouth’s Million Writer’s Award. Her work has appeared in two anthologies: Ava Gardner: Touches of Venus, and Meg Files’ Write From Life. Her blog is: Truewest –, and she is at Poets & Writers here:

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