Those of you who have been following my blog for a long time know that I’m a girl who loves a plan. Everything goes in my planner, from work meetings to brunch dates to poop times. It’s one of the reasons I’m so successful today, and how I’ve reached peak fulfillment in my career, love life, hobbies, health, and beauty. However, life doesn’t always go according to plan.
As some of you may know, my boyfriend of 7 years and I broke up at the beginning of this year due to infidelity. I was so heartbroken: how could the love of my life leave me for one small mistake, after everything we’d been through? After all the plans for the future we made together? No, my mistake was not jumping into bed with someone else. My mistake was loving a man who wouldn’t forgive me for my flaws. (I will be posting about this experience later on. Stay tuned.)
So what’s a girl who loves a plan do when life doesn’t go according to her plan? You guessed it. She takes a spontaneous trip to a destination she chooses by closing her eyes and pointing her finger at a map. Some of you might think I’m crazy. “Why not stick to the classics? The Bahamas? The Caribbean? Orlando?” Well, the fact is, I’ve been to all of those places like several times. The only thing that would heal me was to go somewhere completely unexpected. I needed to leave it all up to fate. So, that’s how I ended up in Armadillo Springs, Texas.
As I exited my air conditioned bus, entering the sweltering Texas summer heat, I was greeted by a sign:
“Welcome to Armadillo Springs! Population: 712.”
I proceeded forward, dragging my suitcase along the hot pavement in search of a place to stay. There was nothing in town but an abandoned gas station, a boarded up thrift store, and a little movie theater with one daily showing of Minions: The Rise of Gru. Finally, I approached salvation: The Armadillo Inn.
“DING DING,” the entry bells rang as I opened the door. I found myself inside a saloon, which was largely empty except for a couple of gruff men nursing some beers at the bar, and an elderly woman sitting at a table eating a cheeseburger the size of her head. Well, I thought. Everything is bigger in Texas. Everyone was staring at me. The bar tender, a middle aged woman sporting blonde braids and overalls, finally spoke up.
“Can I help you, Mam?” She set the whiskey glass that she was drying down on the counter.
“Hi, yes. I’m looking for a place to stay. Do you have any vacancies?”
The elderly woman laughed and resumed eating her cheeseburger.
“Vacancies? Darlin’, this place ain’t been a working hotel since 1973,” the bartender said.
“I got a vacancy for ‘ya,” one of the men said, looking me up and down. His friend laughed and sipped some more of his beer.
“Earl, pipe down!” The bartender swatted him with her towel.
“Ouch!” He yelled.
I blushed, standing still. Suddenly this trip felt like a huge mistake.
“I see,” I said, tears spilling over my eyes. “Thanks anyways.” I turned around and proceeded to walk out the door.
“Wait!” the bartender yelled. “Don’t go so soon. Sit down. Have a drink! On the house.”
I halted. Life was presenting another unplanned opportunity. Should I take it?
Four vodka sodas later, I had essentially learned Leslie the bartender’s entire life story. At 14 years old, she left her alcoholic mother in Dallas to go live with her father here in Armadillo Springs. He owned and operated a successful saloon and inn: The Armadillo Inn.
“Back then, this town was booming. Tourists from all around the world came to see Armando the Armadillo.”
Armando the Armadillo was a famous animal oracle, much like Punxsutawney Phil the groundhog. However, whereas Phil could predict with 40% accuracy whether spring was near or far away, Armando could predict with 100% accuracy when and how you would die.
“Yep, you heard me right,” Leslie said, my jaw dropping. “My daddy made the mistake of seeing that little Texas speed-bump himself. Told him he’d live to October 15, 1973. Car accident. You know what day it was when he told him? October 14. 1973.”
“Daddy panicked when he heard the news. Couldn’t leave his room the next day. I had to run the entire inn myself. Well, by 9pm, Daddy ran out of his room, yelling, ‘Take that ‘ya dumb Hoover Hog! Looks like I’m gonna make it!’ The whole bar started hootin’ and hollerin’. People bought him round after round of drinks. Daddy got so drunk that by 11:00, he could hardly make it up the stairs to use the can. Made it up to the top step and fell backwards. Landed at the bottom and completely passed out.
Someone needed to take Daddy to the hospital that night. But I was 14 years old, and I ‘aint never driven a car before. Well, thank goodness for Lightning Larry. We called him that ‘cuz he was struck by lightning two times. He was a walking miracle- the perfect man to beat the odds and take Daddy to the hospital. But of course he was piss drunk. I helped him load Daddy into the car and said a prayer as he drove away. He made it five miles down the highway before crossing into the opposite lane of traffic, crashing into a big rig head on. ‘Course Lightning Larry survived. He could survive anything. But Daddy didn’t make it. At 11:59pm on October 15, 1973, he was pronounced dead. That god damn possum on the half shell was right.
Not only was he right: he made sure of it. Wanna know the real reason Lightning Larry swerved into the opposite lane that night? Rumor has it there was a little critter on the road. Not just any critter: Armando.”
My hands flew up to my mouth. I nearly choked on my vodka soda.
“Yeah, that’s right. Witnesses saw him flee the scene just before the ambulance came, that little bastard. Wanted to make sure Daddy was gone for good.”
“But why? Why would he do that?”
“No one knows for sure. I suspect he had a little racket going with that death telling of his. Employed by the city to boost our economy, meanwhile he was running behind the scenes making sure these deaths happened the way he told them. More rumors started to get out. Back in ’56, Armando predicted that Kathleen O’Donoghue would die at age 59 of cancer. Well, one night her son Robbie heard some suspicious clanging upstairs in his momma’s room. Worried it was a burglar, he barged in with his baseball bat, only to find a tank labeled “Radon” spewing gas in the air. He quickly shut it off, and turned around just in time to see a little brown leathery ball rolling out the door and down the stairs.
And then there was Bob Sanders, who was told by the little devil that he’d die of a heart attack at 83. Bob started noticing that his wife’s food was tasting saltier than usual. Well, one night while Mrs. Sanders was making her famous chicken and dumplings, she turned to grab some carrots from the fridge. When she looked back at the pot, there was a half empty salt shaker spilled over on the counter. She could’ve sworn she saw a little ball dash around the corner too. Four days later on his 83rd birthday, Bob suffered a massive heart attack right there at the dinner table.”
“But that doesn’t make sense,” I said. “Why would he go through the trouble of killing all these people? Why not just make up their deaths like most fortune tellers do? Then take their money and send them on their way?”
“People needed to believe it was real. They needed enough true stories before they made it all the way out here and spent all that money to see him. But, like I said, we started to get our suspicions. And Armando ran away before too many people caught on. Hasn’t been spotted since 1973, the year my daddy died. As you can see, this whole town’s been in the crapper ever since. Luckily there’s enough drunks livin’ here to keep this bar runnin’.”
I shuddered: suddenly I wanted to vomit my vodka sodas. My forehead broke out in a cold sweat.
“You don’t look so good, Darlin’. Should I take you to your room?”
“My room? I thought you said this wasn’t a hotel anymore.”
“It’s not, but I still live here. I got an extra room. It’s yours if you’d like.”
I hunched over, clutching my stomach, a stabbing pain.
“What is in these vodka sodas?” I asked, half jokingly.
“Don’t you worry bout a thing. Leslie will take care of you.”
Leslie grabbed my arm, helping me off the bar stool. My legs felt numb; I could barely hold myself up anymore. Leslie dragged me all the way up the stairs to her spare bedroom. She tucked me into the little twin cot, and I closed my eyes, unable to keep them open.
“There is one thing I didn’t mention,” Leslie said, halfway out the door. I struggled to listen. I didn’t know if I was awake or dreaming at that point.
“I went and saw the little tactical possum myself, the day of my daddy’s funeral. Planned to kill that son of a bitch with my bare hands. But he stopped me right in my tracks. You know what he said to me?
He said, ‘Leslie Bates. 2022. Murder, at the hands of a young female traveler. She will wander into your inn, looking for a place to stay. You must kill her Leslie, before she kills you.'”
And with that, Leslie slammed the door shut.
I woke up in the night, drenched in sweat and vomit. Memories of the evening came rushing to my head, along with a roaring headache.
Oh no. No no no no no. I wasn’t just drunk. Leslie had really tried to kill me didn’t she? But, her plan failed. My body had ejected those poisonous vodka sodas. I lived.
Barely. I sat up in bed, massaging my head. I needed a plan, but I could hardly think straight. I attempted to stand up and immediately came crashing to the floor. Still dizzy. Oh god, please. I hoped that fall wasn’t too loud.
Maybe I could crawl down the stairs, I thought. Or should I play dead, and wait until I get my strength back up?
I didn’t have time to decide. Suddenly, a draft. The door had flung wide open. A shadow with a shotgun stood in the doorframe.
I screamed and cried. “NOOOO! PLEEASSE!”
“Nice try, Darlin’. But this world ain’t big enough for the both of us. And I ‘aint ready to go just get.” Leslie cocked the shotgun and aimed it right at me.
“I’m not here to kill you” I yelled. “I promise! Please! I just needed a place to stay and heal from my breakup! And I’ve been to The Bahamas too many times!”
Leslie approached, slowly. I watched her feet, my hands in prayer position.
My eyes were drawn towards something shiny on the floor next to me, just under the cot. A knife. I inched my fingers toward it and clutched the handle. Leslie was within arms reach now. With one swift motion, I sunk the knife into her thigh.
“AAARRGGG! YOU BITCH!” she yelled.
I pulled the knife out of her leg and hobbled out the door. It was pitch black. BLAM! Leslie fired the shotgun after me. Missed. I was in the hallway now. As my eyes slowly adjusted to the lack of light, I could just see her limping after me. She fired again.
“AAAAAHHHH!” I yelled. This time, she got me right in the arm. I ignored the pain as best as I could, sprinting and crashing around the corner towards the stairwell, the very stairwell where Leslie’s daddy had fallen so many years ago. There was a window, just near the landing. I hid myself in the thick drapes, knife still in hand.
Leslie came charging towards the landing. But before she descended down the flight of stairs, she stopped. and turned around. She stood still. The whole inn became quiet. She knew I was nearby; she was listening for my breathing, which I could not steady. I could just see the silhouette of her head flick towards the drapes. Could she see me?
CRRRRRWHOOOOSH. A bowling ball, hurtling down the hallway. And then, it flung itself right into Leslie’s shins.
She screamed as she teetered backwards on the top step.
Before Leslie could steady herself, I charged forward from the drapes and shoved her so hard she tumbled backwards all the way down the stairs, landing in a heap at the bottom.
“Nobody escapes the fate of Armando,” muttered a gravelly voice at my feet.
I shrieked. The bowling ball had unravelled itself to reveal none other than Armando the Armadillo.
Before I could respond, he disappeared into the shadows, never to be seen or heard from again.
Instead of coming home right away, I made a detour to The Bahamas to cleanse my spirit of the heinous bloodshed that had just occurred. While there, bathing in those turquoise waters, I realized something that only the thrill of taking a spontaneous vacation to a place I pointed at with my finger on the map after cheating on my boyfriend, only to wind up complicit in an armadillo’s murder plot that was decades in the making, would make me realize:
Life is a highway. And I wanna ride it. All. Night. Long. Even when it gets bumpy. Even when it gets twisty. Even when there’s armadillos in the road. I’m gonna ride it wherever it takes me.
Unless it takes me back to Texas. Then I’m getting off the road and taking a flight straight to The Bahamas.