In Dark Molasses

He stared out the second-story window, corners darkened with grime and surface streaked with droplets of rain. It was still dark out. Still groggy, his eyes found the motel logo in the parking lot. Just when its neon letters managed to hold still in a clinical glow and equally-clinical buzz, its arrhythmic heart would coldly throb again, letters pulsating in the blackness, angrily. The sign had seen better days; he had seen better days.

On the street just beyond the parking lot, a giant mushroom bobbed up and down, east and west. Rain crashed down on its head, dribbling off its wide edges and pouncing onto the sidewalk below. The morning was so young that it was still dark molasses, and the mushroom’s four legs–two legs much stubbier than the other two—struggled to churn in it. Its giant head held its progress back, a parachute in the wind.

Inside, room-temperature Chinese takeout–styrofoam containers partially open, entrees partially finished, and food more than enough to feed a family–basked in similar darkness on a round table. The table was one of those finished with a generic, golden-oak veneer as cheap and fake as its buyer, edges peeling away. Beer bottles were strewn on the floor; the shards of one, maybe two, patterned the still-wet bedside carpet. He breathed in. The smell of orange chicken, Coors Light, and cigarette smoke flirted and danced in the air.

Two sets of eyes in the mushroom blinked. One pair, three feet high, glanced back; a look of confusion and worry colored its face. The other, much taller, focused on the bus waiting at the end of the street. Its legs whisked ahead, the shorter pair moving hurriedly to keep up with the longer pair. The mushroom lurched towards the bus, stem pulling forwards, head pulling back. At the stop, the mushroom body split, and a small child separated from the stalk and clambered into the bus.

The mushroom head flew. A shriek rang out from the now-headless stalk, piercing the nakedness of the wet dark, one foot in the bus. The head fluttered in the air, leapt over a bike, bounded above a row of cars, floated across the street, and plowed into a telephone pole. It laid, deflated, in the gravel shoulder. Four peppermint candy-sized holes in its canopy glared. Several ribs were fractured, contorted towards the sky, an ode to its fated flight and fruitless escape. Its fabric top–sun-bleached to an inconsistent, deep wine-brown–was no longer a domed cap but a jagged, broken peak.

The four eyes were now behind a bus window, faces darkened with grime and streaked with rain. They blinked, but only two locked with his. He sighed, filling the void of the bus as it left the stop.