Cooper awoke to a frantic scream, a yell of terror. He glanced over at the motel clock and saw it was dead of night, three in the morning. Sitting up groggily, Cooper cocked his head, but now silence. The high desert town of Ely, Nevada seemed fast asleep. No heavy trucks thundered down Route 93, which ran through Nevada’s Great Basin settlement.
Then he heard a scrapping sound, as if a sack of potatoes was being dragged down the street. Cooper got out of bed and went to his window. It was still dark, but in the road he saw little people, no more than three feet tall, reminding Cooper of mythical beings. A handful of them were hauling a bound girl up the walk of the mansion that was across from the Prospector Inn where he was staying the night.
He rubbed his eyes and gaped as the small figures levered the struggling young woman through the door of the rundown house that was set back among the cottonwood and popular trees.
Suddenly, one of the small men turned and peered at the motel, causing Cooper to jerk back from the window. Instinctively he reached for his iPhone, pressing the phone awake, his thumb hovering. He hesitated to call 911. What would he say? He’d just seen trolls abducting a woman, secreting her in an abandoned house on the edge of town? That he was calling from Ely, Nevada, northeast of Area 51. Cooper knew if he made a call like that, they would probably commit him again.
Instead, Cooper put his phone down and returned to the king bed. It was only three thirty and he needed more sleep. The restaurant was open at six, so he would have a quick meal, then leave Ely.
Cooper managed to sleep fitfully with strange dreams. He awoke to what he thought was light tapping at his door. He listened attentively, but all was quiet. It was now five-thirty, so he showered, dressed, quickly gathering his laptop and clothes. At six, he went down the hall to the restaurant where he was surprised to see the same tall, slender blond girl who had waited on him the night before.
Her name was Jane and she greeted Cooper with a warm smile and ushered him to a window seat that looked east at the rising sun on the high desert. Jane was charming and in her day probably a high school queen, but now she was thin. Her pretty face was narrow with sunken cheeks and she gazed at him with muddy brown eyes, pouring him a coffee. She stood by his table; her pencil poised awaiting his order.
When Cooper’s eggs and bacon with toast were served, Jane came back and sat across from him as the breakfast room was quiet. Asking if it was okay, she lit a cigarette, exhaling the smoke to the side.
Jane asked where he was going and Cooper said he was returning to Boise, but would leave in a couple of weeks for Vermont where he had a lake cabin. She tapped her cigarette in an ash tray she had produced and looked at him longingly.
“Take me with you.” She said.
Cooper laughed and nodded, glancing at Jane and wondering what had happened, where she had gone wrong. Perhaps it was the scourge of methamphetamine or too many boozy nights at the local saloon.
He leaned forward and whispered to her. “I woke at three this morning and saw something…something really odd, trolls.”
Jane’s face went ashen and her eyes widened. She stared intently at Cooper, took a puff of her cigarette, and then slowly shook her head.
“You didn’t see anything.” She said with a thin smile. “You had a nightmare. That’s all.”
The two of them looked at each other. Jane’s eyes told the tale. Cooper had an odd dream. And now it was time to get out of town. He took a few bites of his meal, then took the check and put some bills on it, pushing it to Jane who crushed out her cigarette.
Cooper smiled, increasing taken with Jane. “Come with me.” He said. “We’ll go to Boise, and then spend the summer in Vermont. You can swim and fish.”
Jane ran her tongue against her thin cheeks then over her lips. She took a deep breath and sighed dreamily. Her bony hand crept across the table like a pale spider and pressed his.
“Don’t I wish. I love to swim. Could I swim your lake?”
Cooper appraised her, probably mid-twenties, still time for remediation. Jane was an innately intelligent girl, worth salvaging.
“Sure, I will row over while you swim across, then you row back and I can swim…every evening, a swim across the lake.”
There was silence as the two of them gazed at each other, savoring their few seconds of the getaway. Then Jane burst the bubble, shaking her head wistfully.
“It’s too late for me. They would never let me leave.”
Cooper started to speak, but Jane put her finger to his lips, smiling sorrowfully at him.
“You have to go. Get away from here. And don’t look back.”
Cooper returned to his room, grabbed his overnight bag and computer. Hurrying to his car, he threw his things in the trunk, and got behind the wheel. He looked around, but the street was empty, not even RV traffic.
Carefully obeying the traffic signs, Cooper breathed easier as he was able to accelerate from 25 to 35, and then started to relax as he saw the 45 speed limit. He peered through the windshield; the morning sun shimmered on the black, ribbon road that cut through the Great Basin, the rugged White Mountains to the west, and the mystical Creek Range to the east.
He raised his eyebrows as ahead he saw a line of cars and something overturned blocking the highway, perhaps a tractor trailer. Cooper slowed and checked the rear view mirror for following traffic. He saw them and fear clouded his eyes as his heart thudded and his blood ran cold.
There were two small people in the back seat.