A True Story
The following story is taken from the 2009 journals of Jeannie Hope Gibson and skillfully narrated by Jann Dillon. The movie “Psycho” with Norman Bates, the owner of The Thirteen-Room Motel.
Deep in southwest Texas badlands, Jann and I are tired and hot after a long day of exploration with our archaeology group from Colorado. We have been looking without success for even one motel to appear in this lonely, utterly desolate landscape. Finally, there it is, at a crossroad in the middle of nowhere, sitting alone beside a battered sign that tiredly announces we are in Comstock, Texas. Only a few other mostly-abandoned buildings squat in the red dust, their windows black and empty. The doors sag open on broken hinges.
Jann narrows her eyes. “I really don’t feel good about this.” The motel has 13 rooms and looks 100 years old. Faded paint peels and curls its way down the outside walls. Dust and dead weeds cover the parking lot, but the battered sign says “Vacancy.”
“Oh, how bad can it be?” I answer hopefully.
Pushing open the door to the office, we find a very old woman sitting in a rocking chair with an equally old grey cat curled up in her lap. Both of them have cataracts and white whiskers. In a whispery voice she tells us the room will be $15 dollars. Jann’s lips tighten, and I can tell she would like to walk out.
Huffing a snort of disapproval, she follows me to number 13, at the end of the building. The door reluctantly opens with a creak. There is no phone, and the bed sags like a hammock. But the ancient comforter appears clean. Just the same, we check for stray bedbugs under the covers.
“I knew this was a terrible idea,” Jann mutters, setting her backpack on the bed.
As we start to unload our suitcases from the car, three huge pickups roar into the parking lot, dust flying everywhere. A huge confederate flag flutters on a pole in the back of the first truck. Much to our relief they park at the other end of the building from us. Eight men spill out the doors, stretch and scratch as they stare boldly at us.
“Hurry,” Jann hisses. “Let’s get back inside before they get friendly.”
“They’re just fishermen, Jann. See the gear? They’re harmless.” But I follow her inside and start to unpack.
Throwing ourselves down on the bed for a short nap before our showers, it feels so good to finally relax after a long hot day of hiking.
“Screech! Screech!” We bolt up startled. Peeking through a crack in the curtain we watch with sinking hearts as metal chairs are dragged along the walkway and placed outside our door. Eight dark figures appear through the curtains, back-lit by the waning afternoon sun. Pop-pop-pop! Oh no! Beer cans are being opened, as the men settle into their chairs by our large window. Someone sighs and belches loudly.
One of them remarks in a gravely Texas accent, “Hey look, a Colorado license plate! I bet they go to college. Them’s must be sorority girls! They’re all real educated up there in Colorado!”
“Hey, boys, did any of you go to college?” One answers, saying, “Well I went for one semester, but it was real hard, so I left.”
Thunderous banging on the door and window drives us to bolt up and run for the tiny bathroom, where we cower in fear, certain they’ll soon break the door down and storm our room.
“Hey, Cody, look at them liquor boxes in the back of their car! “That means them’s party girls!” Only our blankets and food are stored in them, but that doesn’t dampen their rising spirits.
We can see the shadowy figures circling Jann’s Explorer. “What’s this bumper sticker say?” “I…brake…fer…pee…tro…glipes. What are peetroglipes?”
The sticker actually says “I brake for petroglyphs.” If we weren’t so scared, we might have laughed.
Another responds confidently, “I think you pronounce it petro. And everyone knows “petro” means oil.”
“Huh? I…brake…for…oil? Okay, what’re ‘glipes?”
“Beats me,” is the answer.
The banging becomes louder and more insistent. Now the old window glass is shaking as they beat on it, yelling drunkenly for us to come out and party. Suddenly Jann steps around me and faces the door, brandishing her 22 Colt pistol. Her eyes flash fire, her mouth is clamped shut in a rigid line of rage. “I swear, Jeannie, if they come through that door, I’ll shoot every last one of them in the crotch. So get out of my way!”
I don’t want to be raped, but I’m not anxious to see the potential carnage, so I race back to the bathroom, looking for another way to escape. There is none. My cell phone shows no bars, but in desperation I dial 911. A beautiful voice says, “Del Rio State Police Department. How can I help you?”
I sob into the phone, telling her we are being attacked by 8 drunk men in Comstock, Texas. The voice assures me a trooper will be there as soon as possible. The noise outside the door is now deafening. Jann stands guard, her eyes narrowed, her body braced, her big pistol aimed and ready to kill.
Suddenly it becomes very quiet, as through the curtains we see the flashing lights of the Highway Patrol. A deep voice says, “Evening, boys. Having a party?” No answer, only silence, as the raucous party boys sit mutely, looking as innocent as possible. There is a knock at the door. Jann covers my back with her pistol while I cautiously open it. Now I am peering directly into the belt buckle of a very tall, uniformed officer with mirrored sunglasses. Raising my eyes upward, I behold the most breathtaking image I’ve ever seen. A god in a trooper’s uniform. An angel with a billy club and gun.
As he helps us load our things into the car, the eight men sit silently, heads bowed. The officer leans casually against his truck, one hand slapping the club against his other palm, steely eyes locked on the abashed men. He totally ignores Jann brandishing her big pistol. Smashing my sun hat down over my face, I slink to the car and quickly slide down in the passenger seat.
But Jann needs to vent her anger. She’s enraged and out for blood. Standing in front of the men, her long, skinny legs spread, she waves her gun and glares. “Well, boys, I hope you had fun!” she hisses. The cop suppresses a smile and continues to slap his billy club against his palm. The mirrored glasses hide his eyes, but I imagine they are sparkling with amusement. With great dignity she finally stalks to the car, her head held high, and slides in. Gunning the engine, our big Explorer spins out of the parking lot, leaving a cloud of dust whirling around the men.
We cry all the way to Del Rio, where we find the best motel we can and ask for a room right by the desk. The three clerks are concerned about our teary faces, asking if we are ok. Between sobs, we spill our story, mentioning the dreaded Comstock motel. With a collective gasp, all three lean across the desk at once and exclaim at the same time, “Oh no! Not the thirteen-room motel!”