Setting out on a whim or perhaps a death wish, Dr. Muzro drove aimlessly to look for somewhere to eat. He was hoping for somewhere quite a distance from the hotel but still close enough  to civilization that he could find something to do to occupy his mind. He wound up driving for about three hours, finally stopping at a nearby town only because he needed gas… and because he couldn’t stand the thoughts [or lack of them] his starvation induced. Hyperbolic, perhaps, but one would be very hard pressed to convince him of that presently. So locating the nearest gas station, he was taken aback at how old fashioned… 'quaint, really' it was. There were all of two pumps –one was diesel, the other, manned [or woman-ed I should say] by what appeared to be a young college aged woman in her early twenties.

"Hello, sir! How may I help you? Er, how much gas do you need?"
Murmurs a hello, then, "Whoa… this is pretty surreal… Uh, you do
take credit card, right? If so –fill 'er up!" He says excitedly. He always wanted to say that since a minute ago.
Musical open laughter, "No worries! The town remains antiquated in image only. I assure you we are modernized!"
Still soaking up the sights, he asks, "Oh… is there a restaurant nearby? I mean, well I suppose there should be, but what do you recommend?"
"If you're not a vegetarian or vegan or allergic to or morally opposed to eating meat, you should try the venison. It's cooked and seasoned so well you wouldn't want to eat anything else. It's become a bit of our specialty since, for some reason, deer is abundant here. They aren't afraid of us locals –so much so that we have a deer park. It's an open park that deer freely mingle with people. We warn tourists not to feed them! But they do, so much so that some of the deer have developed a taste for cow meat…or whatever pink slime is shat from."

She says this so matter of fact-ly, he wondered how she could keep such a serious demeanor. At any rate ~deer it is. Then he asks her, "So this is an historic site?"
"Well… yes and no… There's an inn in the center of this town ~ the life force, the very foundation without which this town wouldn't ever have existed… well… okay maybe not in that extreme but the point is the founder of that inn, essentially created this town. He had plans to construct a city with its heart as a college [or university]. Unfortunately, he never realized his dreams because he was ousted by his business rivals. [Involuntary surprised face. He didn't know why it was so surprising because it wasn't] Don't grieve overly much –he was ruthless… Or so the rumors go. I don't know or care. Other tales include how the now abandoned inn was cursed upon his death. The cause of his death was supposedly suicide but of course foul play is the key suspect here. [He pays her for gas] Thank you!
"After his death, the inn was used by the government as an orphanage but whoever actually owned it exploited and milked that guise for what it was worth… for a sweat shop enslaving kidnapped children. Afterwards it was converted into a mansion by some affluent couple and now it's abandoned… by 'now' I mean for about forty years now."

"Wait, so how was it cursed?"
"I honestly don't believe the inn itself was cursed. Bad things seemed to happen to it only after the proprietors changed it drastically. [look of perplexity] Sorry, allow me to rephrase: His adversaries were undeniably cursed. There is a preponderance of evidence. Don't give me that expression! Most people need proof –are skeptical to downright deniers of the supernatural!"
"Oh no! That's not what I was trying not to laugh at. Is it because I'm old that you used that expression?"
"…? What? … …Oh! 'preponderance of evidence' [Guffaws] That's my go to phrase when explaining our plight, er history to passersby."

Still laughing, "I apologize, please continue –this is all very captivating!" He says trying not to sound patronizing.
"I think whenever they, the proprietors, wildly altered his plans, they met with an ill timing fate. No one wants the inn because they believe it's cursed, but again, I don't see that as being the case. Now that it's abandoned, the town barely scrapes by. As long as it was up and running, whoever ran it, was exceedingly successful and the town thrived! But as I've mentioned when it changed, the town would suffer with it. It has its advantages… we just wish someone would rebuild its heart. I would. I want to! But I don't have the money, obviously… and I wouldn’t even begin to know how to run an inn…"

"You're so young! How do you know so much? Ah… that was belittling. I'm sorry, please disregard that."
"Ha, ha! No ~ it's okay… this
time [smiles]. I'm quite aware how much my generation 'hates' history, knowledge and facts. But my own dream is to become a librarian. I know A LOT about my town! Ask me anything!"
"Er, well… I want to! But… I'm a bit famished and I am
quite a ways from my hotel. But! I'll come back. I'm in the middle of my vacation with nothing really 'exciting' planned…"
"Oh? What do you do?"
"I'm a psychiatrist, but of course that's not my title er job description. We're not allowed to frighten away potential clients with ruthless daunting bland a title as that…
"Well… I understand why there's quite the stigma attached to psychiatry and frankly, I don't care about titles."
"Why did you go into psychology? To specifically become a psychiatrist?"
"Ah… well… it's pretty asinine now, but at the time I wanted to do whatever my parents didn't want me to do or to be. Don't get me wrong –psychology is
interesting… but it's just a job to me… I really ought to retire from it soon… like yesterday…but it's all I ever knew. I don’t know what to do with my life."
"Well… I'm certain you'll find your answer here. [He looked at her, startled. She was leering, hazel eyes glowing ever so charmingly] Hello?"
He blinked rapidly and shook his head.

"I said, 'I hope you'll find your answer.'" She focuses her warm brown eyes at him.
"Yeah… thanks! Sorry about that. My eyes are playing tricks on me. That's how hungry I am."
"Hmmm… well, old man, I'll let you go now, then. You have quite the drive back, too, according to you."
"Old man?! It sounds awful when you say it –not when I admit it. [he pouts, she laughs]"
"I apologize… big baby."
"OK so DR. Old Man to you. And I'll be back tomorrow."
"Try to remember that you promised."
"Don't worry, I'll remember to forget." She mock glowered at him. He quite enjoyed the conversation –it was an actual conversation… perhaps he should retire after all… especially considering he may be the one who needs the psychological help…
… His memory almost returned to him, or so he wanted to believe. But all he could think about were hazel eyes. WHY did he hear and see something different than reality… but… he was fairly certain that superimposing hazel eyes on the poor girl wasn't just from his memory [or imagination] but an actual… warning? Taunt? Some message that he wasn't properly piecing together. He claimed to have nothing else going on in his life so why not pursue the antagonist… ic eyes that appear without warning? He had this niggling feeling that if only he could recall the conversation he had with a [mysterious] missing client he could better understand or at the very least properly plan his next move instead of bumbling around and accidentally discovering… clues…

At the restaurant that Zoiyah [no, he never asked for her name; it was on her name tag] recommended he noted that the old couple who owned the place were the cooks, servers and clerks. It was rather cozy –a bit on the small side but not small enough to be uncomfortably cramped if it were full of patrons. They were very kind and quite chatty –they were excited for a new face in an old town: they reminisced about a time when tourists flowed like water but that now they [the locals] had to help each other out by frequenting each others' businesses. Yes, they knew the owners of the gas station. No they weren't familiar with the woman who works there. Was he sure she looked like that? What an exotic name! Perhaps she worked there part time. But how did she know so much about the town? They offered to show him where the library was –he could easily research what she said! She MUST be some know it all college student! Really she claimed to be from this town? Their youngest resident is in his mid thirties!

The more they questioned him the less certain he became. Was this how his clients felt when he badgered [some] of them with questions? So unrelenting! After eating the delicious meal he told himself to drive by the gas station to see if she was there before heading back to the hotel. If she wasn't there then… Then perhaps her shift simply ended.

How do I know the old couple weren't senile or playing me for the fool? Even if they were indeed having their fun at my expense, I harbor no hard feelings. They are quite frankly the very least of my worries.

He had a newfound purpose so he was quite determined to follow through until the end… rather until its conclusion. He didn’t like how finalizing 'until the end' truly sounded until just then. Being certain and having tried and true methods of factual establishing [truth isn't established, it's recovered] lulls one into a false sense of security [false sense of certainty]… really pursuing truth is more frightening than noble as he [was] first [taught to] believe[d].

After paying and thanking his hosts, he left. But… while attempting to drive by the gas station he somehow became lost instead. He was positive the gas station was there, it was a pretty straight forward route from there to the restaurant. He made a u-turn in hopes of retracing his path. Except… he couldn’t locate the restaurant either… strange. He went precisely the same way. He parked the car near the closest store and rolled down his windows. Air is necessary for breathing… and for cooling down. Why was he breaking out in sweat?

Out loud, "OK. Calm down." The sound of his voice startled more than calmed him. He sounded so squeaky and he didn’t quite appreciate it. Maybe he should just go straight to the hotel –try not to worry about anything. Taking a deep breath, he rolled up the windows and restarted the car. He drove out of the parking lot and made it back to the hotel without further incident.

The End

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