Stan rang the bell on the counter a second time, then wiped rain from his hair.
“Hello?” He was tired, he was wet, and he was impatient.
Finally, he heard a door open somewhere and the muffled sound of someone saying, “Just a moment.” A door behind the counter opened and an old man stepped out, still tucking in his shirt.
“Sorry it took me a second. I was catching a few winks.”
“It’s all right,” Stan said.
“Single room?” the old man asked, pulling a set of suspenders onto his shoulders.
“Yes, sir. And just one night.”
After a few clicks on a keyboard, the front desk clerk got the rest of the information he needed from Stan, then slid a key across the counter.
“Room 116,” he said.
Stan opened the door to his room and flicked on the light switch. Inside, he found exactly what he expected: two double beds with a night-stand in between them, a long dresser against the opposite wall, and a small table with two chairs in front of the window. A typical room in a typical motel, situated near a typical interstate. With embarrassment, he had asked the old man at the desk what state he was in. He had driven nineteen hours and had lost track of exactly where on the road he was. The old man said Wyoming, and Stan had no reason to doubt him, so Wyoming it was.
The clock between the beds said 3:17 A.M. He shook his head as he placed his duffle bag on the foot of the nearest bed. He knew he should have stopped earlier. He had been driving tired, but kept pushing on. Finally, after jerking himself awake when he hit the rumble strips on the shoulder, he decided it was time to find a motel. Two miles later he came across the Dew Drop Inn, located in what it turned out was Wyoming. He hadn’t caught the name of the town when the old man said it, but it didn’t really matter.
Reaching around the little table, Stan turned on the heat to knock the chill out of the air. Though it was just late September, he had been getting into higher elevations for a number of hours. He wondered what the weather was like in Seattle, his final destination. He took off his coat and tossed it beside the duffle bag. He walked into the bathroom and took a look at himself in the mirror. His hair was wet from the rain and he contemplated getting a shower. Instead, he simply grabbed a towel to dry off with. He was too tired to shower.
He froze, the towel covering his head and face.
He yanked the towel off his head but stood silently in the bathroom. Surely that whisper was in his head. He wasn’t going crazy; he was just tired.
“Stan? Seriously, come out of the bathroom. We need to talk.”
Stan swallowed hard. His eyes were beginning to ache from being held open so wide. There was someone else in the room, someone who knew his name. For the first time in his life, Stan Foster was truly terrified.
“Come on, Stan. We need to talk. If I could walk, I’d just go in there with you, but I can’t, so you have to come out here. You can’t stay in the bathroom forever.”
Stan slammed the bathroom door shut and leaned against it. He didn’t know what “if I could walk” meant, but he hoped it meant just that. How did someone who couldn’t walk get into his room? How did anyone get into his room, for that matter? He reached into his pants pocket for his cell phone. It wasn’t there. It’s in my coat, he realized.
“Stan? Stanley, come on, man.”
There was an odd quality about the voice, something he couldn’t quite place. It sounded like a male, but definitely not a man’s voice. Not a child’s either, for that matter. And there was a slight hollow sound to it. It almost sounded fake, like someone was using a fake voice to call out to him.
Finally, Stan got up the nerve to speak. “Who are you?”
“I’d . . . I’d rather not say. I think you need to see for yourself.”
“If you can’t walk, how did you get in here?”
“Stan, just open the door.”
“How do you know my name?”
“All right, all right! I’m coming out. But you had better stay where you are, okay?”
Slowly, trembling, Stan cracked the door. No one was standing in front of it, so he felt a little safer. He began opening it very slowly, still seeing no one. Finally, the door was open wide enough and he slowly slid out. A quick glance around the room showed him that there was no one else in the room with him.
“Good God, I’m going crazy,” he murmured.
“You aren’t going crazy,” the voice answered, and with it there was movement at his duffle bag.
Stan Foster stood wide-eyed with his mouth slightly open for what felt to him like years. There, poking out of his duffle bag was Teddy, the puppet Stan had used to make a living for the past nine years.
Little Teddy, as he had sometimes been called, was not a ventriloquist dummy, but a half-body hand puppet used behind a curtain. For nine years, Stan had gone to schools performing shows about the dangers of things. The dangers of drugs, the dangers of talking to strangers, the dangers of talking to strangers on the Internet, the dangers of peer pressure, the dangers of . . . well, it didn’t matter. Whatever the schools wanted him to cover, he covered. Sometimes Stan used other puppets at the assemblies, as well, but Teddy was a constant. He had been Stan’s first puppet and his favorite. And now Teddy was in the room with him, when Stan knew for certain he had left him behind. Stan planned to make a new life for himself in Seattle, and he no longer wanted to be a puppeteer. He had purposefully left Little Teddy behind with his old life.
“Stan,” the puppet said, and Stan screamed like a little girl, backing up into the clothes hangers behind him. Startled, he screamed again.
“Stan, seriously, get a hold of yourself.”
Somehow the puppet’s mouth was opening and closing on its own . . . like it was talking. It looked like it was talking to him!
“I’m dreaming! I’m going crazy! It’s late and I’m tired!”
The puppet shook its head, “You aren’t going crazy, Stan, and you’re not dreaming. True, it is late, but you’re not hallucinating because of that, if that’s what you think.”
“I need to sit down,” Stan said, partly to himself.
“By all means,” Teddy answered, and his left arm flopped to the side, indicating the other bed.
Stan slowly nodded and made his way to the bed. He sat down, facing the bed where his puppet sat in the duffle bag. His head seemed to be in a daze.
“How did . . . how is . . . I don’t . . . .” He couldn’t find the strength to finish any sentence.
“Stan, you tried to leave me behind in Greensboro and I understand. I forgive you for that. You’re trying to leave your old life behind you and I do not fault you. Sometimes we just have to move on, you know? I get that. I’m not mad at you.”
“I didn’t . . . I didn’t pack you in my bag.”
The puppet’s head tilted back and forth in a nod.
“When your bag was on the floor, I pulled all your clothes out and stuffed them under your bed. Then I climbed in and zipped myself up. I thought we’d never stop. Where are we, by the way?”
“Wyoming.” His own voice sounded far off, distant, and he wondered whether he was going to faint. His eyes gradually rose from staring at Teddy and he looked at the curtain, listening to the rain outside. Yes, he decided, he was going to faint.
“Stan? Stan! Stay with me, man, this is important. I didn’t zip myself up for a cross-country trip for the fun of it. We need to talk.”
“Okay.Yeah. I need some water.”
Stan rose and made his way to the sink, watching Teddy in the mirror the whole time. His hands were shaking and he couldn’t unwrap the plastic from the cup on the counter. Finally, he stuffed the plastic back into the cup and filled it that way. He drank two, three cups of water, keeping an eye on the puppet. His fourth cup of water he splashed in his face, to wake himself up. When he turned around, he saw that it hadn’t worked: Teddy was still there, watching him.
“Can we talk now?”
Dear God, he thought, it’s still moving its mouth.
“I need to sit,” he said and he went into the bathroom and sat on the toilet lid. “I think it will be easier to talk if I can’t see you.”
He heard what sounded like the puppet clearing its throat.
“Stan, she won’t marry you just because you drive to Seattle to see her. Change of heart like that only happens in the movies. She doesn’t love you anymore and no amazing, romantic gesture is going to change that.”
“What the hell are you talking about?” Stan burst out of the bathroom. “That’s not why I’m moving to Seattle! She has nothing to do with—what the hell am I doing talking to a puppet? I’m losing it! I’m going crazy.”
“The only thing crazy about this is you believing she has nothing to do with your move to Seattle.”
“There are a lot of theatre opportunities out there. I want to get back into legit theatre and away from stupid puppet shows. Sure, she’s in Seattle, but that isn’t why . . . Are you smiling? Why—and how— are you smiling?”
“Do you hear yourself, Stan? ‘Theatre opportunities?’ Do you really believe that? What about New York City? Ever heard of that place? The theatre Mecca of the world? Or Chicago? Or L.A.? Hell, you could have moved an hour and a half to Charlotte!”
“Shut up! You don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“I do. And that’s why you’re talking to me. You can’t ignore me or just write me off as a hallucination, can you, Stan? You’re talking to me because I know you better than anyone else in the world. Probably better than yourself. I may be fake but I’m not stupid, you idiot. You try spending nine years with someone’s hand up your ass and see if you don’t get to know them fairly well.
“You’re going to Seattle because you still love her . . . aren’t you?”
Stan walked to the door and opened it. He needed the cold air. He needed to see the rain drifting through the beam of the lone streetlight in the parking lot somewhere in Wyoming. In all honesty, he didn’t know why he left Greensboro. Yes, he wanted to see her again, but he had no delusions of a loving reunion. Other than seeing her with his own eyes, he had no other plans for Seattle. He hadn’t really thought that far. He had just packed and gotten in the car. Even during his trip he had rarely thought of what would happen when he arrived on the West Coast.
“I just want to say goodbye,” he whispered. “That’s all.”
The voice behind him seemed to distant and out of place, yet so familiar and so much a part of him. He realized that Teddy was speaking with the voice that he himself had been providing for nine years but had never heard outside his own head before. The voice was coming into his ears, not from his own mouth, and it made him uneasy. He reached his hand out into the rain. The feel of cold rain running across his hand made more sense, somehow. His shirtsleeve began to soak up water and get more and more damp before his eyes. This, too, made sense somehow.
“Yes,” he answered. “I just want to see her. I do still love her, but it’s not about winning her back or anything. I’m stuck, Teddy.”
“I know, Stan.”
“That’s why I left you in Greensboro. I want to start over. I want a new life. I don’t want to be a puppeteer anymore, and I don’t want to love her anymore. I had to leave you behind, and I need to say goodbye to her. To give her one last hug, look into her eyes and say, ‘You failed me. You took my trust and my love and failed me.’ I want her to know that I won’t love her forever, and that she failed the person who loved her the most.”
Stan’s arm was soaked as he dropped it to his side. He was cold but barely felt the chill. The slashes of rain in the parking lot changed from silver to gold and back to silver as they passed through the lonely beam.
“That’s all, Teddy. I don’t want her back.” He laughed to himself as he finally understood it. “I just need to say goodbye.”
Stan turned from the rain and looked at his duffle bag. It sat on the bed, unzipped. He walked over to it, already knowing what he would find. Sure enough, when he opened the bag, there were his clothes, just as he had packed them. Reaching for a dry shirt, he smiled to himself.
“I’m sorry I left you behind, little man, but I think it’s better this way,” he whispered to the air. “Besides . . . I know what I’m doing now.”
This story was written years ago, but since I’m in rehearsals I don’t have time to get something new posted. What’s fascinating to me is that this was written years before I moved to NYC . . . and became a puppeteer. An interesting case of life imitating art.