The Room: A Short Story By Joel Crockett

     It seemed almost too good to be true. But they paid six months in advance, and I needed the money. Guess I was too eager to line my pockets... don’t need it no more!

     My name’s Rusty, just plain Rusty. I’ve got this big house, ya see, up on the north coast of California. Way off the grid near the mouth of the Navarro River. ‘Bout as far west as you can go in the U.S. Part of the Emerald Triangle; a terrific hideaway. The house? Counting a few nooks and crannies it’s got ten, eleven rooms. I rent out a bunch of them, generally only for a few nights. I been known to let a drifter hang out here for nuthin’, but not very often. And I got about 4, 5 folks who been here awhile. But these two guys, they was different.

Just showed up, like outta nowheres. Nice enough, I suppose, but not from around here. I never seen no one dressed the way they was before. Kinda tight fittin’ stuff... weird colors. Wanted a quiet room near the ocean. But not to see the water. Fact is, they covered the windows with black stuff from their little, sorta like a suitcase — promised they’d clean up before they left. Said they wouldn’t be leavin’ the room too much. Heck, they never left at all, far’s I know. Not ’til their six months was up.

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     It got kinda spooky. I mean I do get some peculiar folks in here from time to time. But I never been afraid before. Not even sure what I was afraid of. I don’t generally pay no mind to folks who crash here. None of my business. But a couple of my regulars, they started asking me questions. Like, “Hey; how are these guys eatin’ if they  never even leave the place? They ain’t dead, we’d smell ‘em. Besides, we hear them soft kinda-like whirlin’ noises every few hours, night and day. They gotta be doin’ sumpin’, don’t they? What the hell is it?” Well, I don’t get uncomfortable easy, but these two strangers were gettin’ to me, too.

Finally, I knocked on their door. Hard. But just twice. Then a voice came at me; not sure from where. It was like a loudspeaker, but it was just in my head. We told you we don’t want to be disturbed. We still have 3 months, 2 days, 11 hours and 27 minutes on our time here. We will talk with you then.

     Now here’s the really weird thing. All the folks in the other rooms heard the same voice. In their heads. Like I did. Some were like me, a little nervous; a few didn’t give a rip. And three were pissed. Folks who didn’t even hardly know each other started arguin’ about what to do. It got so bad a couple of nasty fights broke out. I had to kick out one dude who just wouldn’t shut up. Me, yeah; sure I was curious; hell, by now I was downright scared. But I couldn’t think of nothin’ to do. And after all, I had their money. Shoot, they weren’t hurtin’ nobody.

     Well, those three plus months went by pretty damned slow, I’ll tell you that. By the time they was ready to leave, we was down to one other guest and me. Finally, and I’m gonna guess it was exactly six months later down to the very second (not that it matters anymore), they came out of the room.

     They was just the way they was when they went in — strange clothes, a stupid-looking suitcase. Nothin’ else. They looked me right in the eye and told me, and my one remaining guest, the followin’:  the exact words was stuck in our heads, forever (however long that might be) — and, I s’pose, in everyone else’s head everywhere else, too.

     Eight of us, from a place far from here, have visited your beautiful planet for six of your months with high hopes. Finding and protecting havens for sentient beings is our eternal mission.

     Each of our four pairs has settled in a geographically strategic location to monitor, measure and understand individuals, and groups of individuals, to see how you have evolved and work together.

     We now know you, your governments, and your world. Rarely have we found a less worthy group of what we believed to be intelligent beings. We are disappointed. Greed, fighting and self-interest seem to prevail in your species. You have not protected your planet. Without intervention, you will destroy your home within 11 of your years. With it will go all the beauty and most of the creatures and plants which make your planet so very rare and special. There’s only one way to save this from happening. In three Earth days, all sentient beings on this planet will simply disappear.

They left yesterday.

 

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