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TITLE: In the Hall of the Mountain King
WORD COUNT: 50,504
SUMMARY: A stranded traveler discovers there's more than meets the eye underneath the mountains surrounding a remote Idaho town.
The needle on the gas gauge hovered near empty when Peri decided to pull off on the next exit from I-90, near the border between Idaho and Montana and just before Lookout Pass. The night had descended several hours ago, sinking the surrounding landscape into a Stygian darkness. The interstate and the smaller roads entering the town of Tangent glowed under her car's headlights from unplowed snow.
Peri carefully maneuvered her sedan over to the nearest gas station and got out to pump the gas into her car. The air was icy, stinging any exposed skin. As she waited for the tank to fill up, she blew into her hands and looked over the small town, a dark blot against the surrounding mountains rising up like sentinels. The moonlight reflected off the snow as if the terrain was wearing a new coat of armor.
The nozzle clicked loudly as the gas finished dispensing. She replaced the nozzle and closed up her gas tank, her fingers chilling as it touched the metal. Then she went inside the gas station, huffing and stamping her feet as she warmed up from the outside. The clerk, a thin young man with wearing a baseball cap, sat behind the counter leafing through a sports magazine. A crooked name tag pinned to his sweater read “Eli.” Peri approached to pay for the gas. The clerk took his time to ring her up.
She stifled a yawn as she pulled out her credit card. “I don't suppose you know if there's a hotel nearby, do you?”
The clerk looked bored as he pointed out the window, into the darkness. “There's a motel on the main street. When you turn out here, go right. When you see the Tangent Cafe at the intersection, make another right. The motel will then be on your left. It's called the Painted Lady.”
“It's a regular tourist attraction up here. It used to be a brothel during the 1800s. There's a sign. You can't miss it.”