Chapter 13 – Matteo Rossi
Matteo had been preoccupied during the thirty seconds it took the group to walk from the diner to the small office building in the middle of the rest stop. In fact, it wasn’t until the door slammed shut behind him that he registered having walked at all.
His soul was empty. Like those demons he had faced moments before. Had God damned him? Was this his punishment for his doubt? Could this be the purgatory the preachers had warned about? There was no fire—no brimstone. But, there was evil here. He saw it when he looked into the Empty People’s eyes. A grey static devoid of the Light of God. He saw it in that dream—an omen! Matteo needed his Bible. He needed the Word of God in this forsaken place.
Whoever had been last in the line had been eager to close the door, the sudden bang against the frame arresting Matteo from his tortuous thoughts.
The office building was quaint. There was an aluminum waiting chair on either side of the door. The reception desk was only about ten feet from the door, making the waiting area too small for the entire group to stand in. Those that couldn’t fit shuffled into a small room with three ancient washing machines to the left. Luckily, the room had no door, so the people in there could see Frank, who was behind the desk. Behind him was the old-time tac board with all of the keys hanging from it. Above the board, there was a crude drawing of the motel layout.
“There’s nine rooms available,” Frank said to the group. “And, there’s eleven of you. But, I’m assuming family will stay together.” He looked at the woman in the blue skirt suit and her niece and only briefly glanced at the two women who still had plenty of tears falling for Nathan. “So, by my count, that works out perfect. The rooms aren’t very big, but there’s a bed, a couch, a table and two chairs in each. The phones don’t call out, but you can call the other rooms. Just replace the last two zeros on the phone number taped to the phone with the room number you want to call.”
“I count eleven rooms,” Carter said, looking at the drawing. “Why are there only nine available?”
“Oh,” Frank said as he looked back. “Eliza and I are in Room Eleven.” He pointed at the square on the far left of the motel and then moved his finger to the square to the right. “Room Ten is a makeshift storage room.”
“What’s in it,” Carter asked.
Frank turned back to face him. “Tomorrow, Sgt. Townes. We’re all very tired. Now, before I forget, there are doors in each room that open to the adjacent rooms. So, if you ever need move to another room for whatever reason, I’d suggest using those instead of going outside.”
“There’s doors that lead into each other’s rooms,” exclaimed a very attractive woman. “So, the people on either side of you can just walk right in?”
“Well, no,” Frank said. “There’s two doors. If you’re worried, you can just keep yours locked.”
“Ugh! I want the corner room,” the woman said as she made her way to the front. Frank shrugged and reached for the key to Room One and handed it to her.
“What’s your name,” he asked her.
“Aubree Burnett. Why?”
“I’m going to write your names in the squares so we all know who’s where.”
One by one, he wrote their names in and gave them their keys.
Matteo breathed in deep and started his short walk to his room. Frank had reminded everyone to meet in the diner in twelve hours and to use the office building as a place to catch their breaths when they left. Matteo barely heard any of it. He needed to get to his room and pray.
He had the middle corner one, which made his walk a few steps longer than everyone else. His heart pumped faster as he fit his rusted key into the knob and tried turning. It didn’t move. Panic moved in as his lungs demanded to release the carbon dioxide. He jiggled the key in the keyhole and tried again. His lungs burned as they begged to release the carbon. Just as he thought he couldn’t hold it in any longer, the lock shifted. He flung the door open and slammed it shut behind him, exhaling everything and inhaling as much as he could.
The room was nothing special—purple and off-white striped, faded wallpaper; a small table and two chairs between the door and the bed; a green, worn loveseat on the wall opposite the queen-sized bed; a small dresser with an alarm clock, a lamp, an ashtray, and a rotary telephone on it beside the bed; and the door to the bathroom on the opposite wall. The lingering smell of tobacco and the hint of yellow on the white stripes of the wallpaper let Matteo know that the previous occupants had been smokers. Dust covered the table and dresser and cobwebs clung to the corners. None of that mattered, though.
Matteo threw himself to the foot of the bed and began to pray out loud.
“In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti. Father, forgive me. I knew not what I did.” His squeezed his eyes shut as the tears began to fall. His body rocked and the sweat dripped from his palms. “Forgive me my doubt, Lord. Forgive me.” He couldn’t contain the lump in his throat, and he put his face into the bed and wept, hands still clasped above him. “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of Death; I will fear no evil; for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.” The blanket had soaked around his cheeks. He sniffed and raised his head, looking up to the ceiling. “What would you have of me, oh Lord? What would you have of me? Thy will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven. Thy will be done. Amen.”
He stood himself up and yanked the drawer of the dresser and found what he knew would be there. He propped himself onto the bed and opened the old Bible. Whoever had used it last had folded a page in Luke and highlighted a verse:
“to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
Matteo closed the Bible and held it close. He looked up to the ceiling again as a sudden warmth filled him.
“I understand, Lord. I will give them light. I will guide them. Thank you, Lord.”