Ed Baldwin left his home in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula right after graduation and vowed never to return. He’s patched things up enough that he’s bringing long-time boyfriend Joe Sutton home to meet the family. Ed knows no family dynamic is ever perfect, but with the differences between their upbringings, he worries this will be the deal-breaker in their relationship.
Nervous and on-edge, Ed picks a fight with Joe the entire trip. When Joe has enough and stops at a run-down motel to take a break, their relationship is tested in a way Ed never imagined. There’s not a lot of rest to be had at the Easy Rest Motel and Ed must learn to trust both himself and Joe before they become permanent guests. But that’s not the end of their adventure and Ed knows one thing -- this is the last time he lets Joe take the scenic route.
A telephone rang. The noise loud and grating over Joe's easily recognizable snores. Ed groaned and stretched his arm out. His hand flailed until he woke enough to realize this wasn’t their bedroom and the sound wasn't coming from his cell. “Joe,” he mumbled. “Phone.”
Joe gasped awake in mid-snore. “Whaaa?”
The phone rang again. Joe grunted, peeling himself away from Ed and leaning toward the nightstand. He fumbled in the dark before finding the pull chain and turned the lamp on.
“Urgh,” Ed protested the painful bloom of light that seared across his eyes and rolled in the opposite direction, pressing his face into the pillow.
“Hello?” Joe yawned as he answered the phone. “Hello?” He hung up and patted Ed on the hip. His hand heavy and uncoordinated. “No one, just a bunch of static.”
“What?” Ed jolted upright. Joe's mumbled explanation sent an icy sensation up his spine. His earlier misgivings returned in a flood, leaving him wide awake and on edge. “Again?”
Settling himself against the headboard, Joe wiped his hand across his face and scratched at his chest. His relaxed posture the perfect contrast to Ed's sudden hyper-awareness. “What do you mean 'again'?”
“I told you,” Ed said. “When you were in the shower. I thought you were screwing around.”
“You distracted me.” Joe smiled at the memory and trailed his fingers up Ed's sheet-covered leg. “I might be a little distracted again right now.”
“Joe.” Ed pushed at the hand now resting on his thigh. “I'm serious.”
“So am I.” Joe moved closer and brushed his mustache across Ed's ear. He grinned knowingly when Ed shivered at the light caress. “Can you believe I forgot all about the mirrors?”
The phone rang again. The strident sound popping their bubble of contentment. They both scowled at the instrument before Joe lifted it to his ear once again. “Hello?” He waited a brief second and then hung up. “Static.” He yawned a second time.
“This is weird. First the thing with the television, and now this.” Ed clutched the sheet to his chest and looked around their small cabin, searching for something or someone to explain the strange events. “No one even knows we're here.”
“There's always the guy from the front desk.” Joe smirked at Ed. “Maybe he's got a crush on you. It wouldn't be the first time you were a creep magnet.”
“Don't be disgusting,” Ed said. “What time is it, anyway?”
“Early.” Joe yawned for a third time, his eyes already starting to close. “Too early for creepy stalkers.”
The phone rang again.
“Okay, this is just annoying.” Joe reached for the handset and answered it this time with a mocking, “I hear you knocking, but you can’t come in.” He covered the mouthpiece and whispered, “Static” over to Ed, who made a hanging up motion with his hand.
“I don't like this.” Ed pulled the sheet higher up his neck.
“It's probably some kind of malfunction in the circuit,” Joe said in that overly calm and rational voice that made every cell in Ed’s body dig in their non-existent heels with mulish resistance.
“That’s what you said about the television.”
“No. I said it was probably something with the wiring. They are two different things.”
Ed gave him his best “I am so unimpressed, and you are never getting laid again” face.
“Fine.” Joe flopped back against his pillow. “What did you hear when you answered?”
“I don’t know. But no malfunction.” A chill raised the hair on Ed’s arms, despite having wrapped himself in all the bedding. He thought about the distorted voice, the underlying hatred, and the unmistakable viciousness behind the few words. “I don't like this.”
Instead of answering, Joe lifted himself up and pressed a finger against Ed's lips. He held it steady, cautioning Ed to silence. “Listen,” he whispered.
The patter of rain had lessened, and in the sudden stillness between them Ed heard what had caught Joe's attention.
The noise was a solid, repetitive thunk and oddly familiar. “What is that?” He held his breath and concentrated on the sound.
Thunk. Thunk. Thunk.
Ed grabbed Joe's arm. “What the hell?”
The sound stopped and Ed dug his nails deeper into Joe's bicep. They both held their breath and waited.
“I don't hear anything.” Joe spoke so quietly Ed had to strain to hear him.
“I don't either.”
Thunk. Thunk. Thunk
The noise came again. Ed tilted his head, a fragment of his childhood in the U.P. floating to the surface of his memories. “Sounds like... someone chopping wood?” He hated the way the uncertain lift at the end of his statement turned it into a question.
“Come on.” Joe worked free of Ed's grip and rubbed at the divots left in his flesh. “Who'd be chopping wood at this hour? It's too early and too wet.”
“How would I know.” Ed's uncertainty lessened in the face of his annoyance. God forbid Joe admit Ed’s greater knowledge one lousy time. “But I'm the one who grew up here, and I say it sounds like someone's chopping wood.”
They glared at each other, set in a determined stand-off until the television suddenly blared to life once again, the loud buzz of static and flickering lights demanding their attention.
“How in the hell --"
The phone rang. They both jumped, their gaze swinging toward the nightstand and the no longer so innocent looking device.
The television, the unplugged television, cut out when the phone shrilled again, and Ed tamped down a hysterical rush of laughter. Guess he knew where each device stood in the freaky hierarchy of evil.