once upon a time

once upon a time

A Story by LJ

Here I try my hand at a little magic realism, set in an ordinary place: a small town motel.


     Often, when I drove over two hundred miles north to Arcata, I drove alone. I took Highway 101, close to the California coast, and soon wove through the Redwood National Park on a two-lane road, sheltered by giant trees. I'd play music loud and drive the curves like I was skiing. I stopped sometimes at various tourist traps, the kind that had a redwood bear carved with a chainsaw outside, and redwood boxes and trinkets inside. There are lots of travel stories from those trips to visit my daughter at Humboldt State University.
     But this is not one of those. This is a tale of events in Garberville, a little town a bit east of the redwood park, still in Humboldt County.
     Jim and I decided to take off a day when visiting my daughter, and go rest in Garberville, then known as a "lumber capital." Now it's more aptly called a "cannabis capital," which is what it was famous for all along. There were always fine buds to buy there. The word "Humboldt," added to a description, signified good pot, and it seemed easiest to get in Garberville.
     It was not a large town. When we visited, the population was less than a thousand people. Still, there was more than one motel, built for tourists who found their way there. Garberville had a more peculiar layout than most highway towns, in that we had to drive a little way to get there and, to return to the highway, the main street took a U-turn and so did we, driving past town businesses twice.
     This time though, we stopped at the Best Western and got a room there. Two queen-size beds looked very welcoming. It was early in the day, and I went out on the balcony to smoke a cigarette. I looked back and forth, but nobody else was there. Several maids' carts were in front of open rooms, but even when I walked by those rooms, I saw no-one.
     It's a strange fact of motel life that one rarely sees the maids who clean the rooms, even when their cleaning carts seemed to be everywhere. That was the case once again. The parking lot had a few cars in it, and one pedestrian looking a little lost. When I walked down the steps to get a couple of Cokes from machines down there, the pedestrian said, "Hello, miss?"
     "Hello," I said.
     "I can't find the office," the man said. He carried a case that could've held a small guitar and he wore a wide-brim hat. "I need to get there to rent a room. My friend dropped me off back here, but I've walked all the way around and still can't find it."
     "Well, it's separate, made to accommodate cars, I guess. Go around once more and look out toward the road. It's a kind of funny set-up. There's just a big sign on top of this main building. The office is like an afterthought."
     "Thanks," he said, and tipped his hat.
     When I gave Jim one of the Cokes, he said, "Do you know who you were talking to down there? What did he say?"
     "Nope," I said. "He was a stranger who couldn't find the office."
     "That was David Grisman, the mandolin player. He's played bluegrass with Garcia. Been in lots of bands. I thought maybe you knew him."
     "Naw. That's pretty cool, though. Maybe we should ask around, see if he's playing near here tonight."
     "I'm gonna call for a pizza," Jim said. "I'll ask them first. Where are you going?"
     "Looking for a maid. I'll ask one of them, and we could use an extra towel, right?" I laughed. "Be right back."
     I took my Coke with me when I stepped out. The cleaning carts were still there but, once again, I didn't see anyone until I reached a corner room. The door was open, and I couldn't see well in the dim light. Someone said, "Come on in. Don't just stand there."
     Several women laughed. I took one step through the door and saw them all, sitting on the two motel beds, passing a joint. There were maybe five of them, and they wore maids' uniforms and big smiles.
     "You're welcome to join us," the long-haired one said. "Or not."
     I took another few steps in but stopped when I saw the rest of the room, if indeed I saw the rest. It looked limitless, and as if it was outdoors. It wasn't in redwood country either, but somewhere like the plains I knew from Oklahoma. There was grass and the occasional tree, and it wasn't even bright daytime there. It looked like evening.
     "What?" I said. "What is this room? What happened?" I turned around, and the motel balcony was still there in broad sunlight.
     The women laughed again, and the same one spoke to me. "This is the supply closet. My name's Laurel. Have a seat if you want to stay, and maybe smoke a little Humboldt gold. Is anything wrong? Need extra towels?" Everyone laughed again, except me.
     "I used to work as a janitor, and this isn't like any supply closet I've ever seen!" I said. "Why does it seem like... well, don't you see that... what is the place over there? It looks like another country that somehow has a motel room in it! Um...."
     "Hey, lady," Laurel said. "If you see the savanna, I guess you really have worked a custodial job. Or not." She laughed. "You could've already smoked maybe too much of the really psychedelic pot around town."
     I fumbled a cigarette out of my pack. "I've only smoked this." I lit one. "And I still see like a big prairie over there. See it?"
     This time, none of the women laughed. Laurel put an ashtray on the bed nearest me. I sat down because I might've fallen otherwise.
     "You see what's really there, at least for the maids at this motel," she said. "We're called the fastest team in the county, and there's a reason beyond experience. None of us is young anymore, except in this room. Look at us. Or just look at me."
     I looked, though it was hard to not watch the evening scene on the prairie at the other end of the room. Laurel looked like she'd been crying. Her mascara ran in two dark stripes clear to her mouth. Her mouth was small and she had a few white whiskers. Her eyes caught my attention because they looked almost alien, round and dark. Her pupils seemed so big, and her hair was different. It was changing colors while I watched, shifting to black and pale gold.
     Her voice was far away when she spoke again.
     "The male groups call themselves coalitions, so we call ourselves a convocation. We are maids, yes, and much more in this room with its hidden place. Here, we are the fastest land mammals in the world. We run down prey easily and hunt by sight, and we use sight when we clean motel rooms. This is a wonderful way to finish things, find a good meal and go home."
     "What are you?" I asked. My hands were shaking. I noticed her deep chest, her long legs... I noticed her four long legs.
     Her voice was a whisper. "We're not after you. You, in fact, could be one of us if you needed to. Soon we'll go to the savanna and be gone for another day. It's near sunset at home. We get up so early to clean here that our time flows differently than yours."
     Laurel wasn't just an older woman. She was a cheetah. I couldn't believe it. She sat a moment, looking at me. Her head was rounder and her gaze went directly to my soul. She was a huge cat, just sitting there on a motel bed. I couldn't stop staring at her.
     She sort of slid off the bed and was joined by four more cheetahs - the other women. She watched me, and the others each looked at one of the four directions. They seemed like a perfect look-out team. They were, in fact, very lovely and very, very scary.
     Then Laurel chirped. Really, she chirped, and they all sprang away to the savanna. They were gone in an instant, running toward the sunset. I saw that they covered over twenty feet with every leaping stride they took. It was quite a display of power. Unreal.
     That part of the room suddenly seemed so dark, I could hardly see it. I glanced at the ashtray still on a motel bed. The balcony was still out the door, bright in mid-day light. I could even smell the joint that burned to nothing in another ashtray, and the smell of what must have been a cat odor. The whole room was closing in, and I wanted most to be outside. As I stood, I heard a man's voice.
     It was David Grisman. "It's you again," he said. "Isn't this my motel room? You seem to be everywhere today.""
     "Sorry," I said. "I was just leaving. It's not my room. I was, um... in the wrong room."
     I stepped around him to the balcony and made a hasty retreat. I noticed that all the maids' carts were gone and every motel room closed except the one I left and the one I went to. I was caught between belief and disbelief about what I'd seen.
     But I held an extra towel, and it was marked by the dirty paw print of some very large cat. I laughed. I laughed the same way those maids had laughed, the kind of laugh that erupts from knowing a good secret. I was glad Jim brought his laptop. I had some research to do.
     Back at our room, Jim said, "Oh, the pizza guy said Grisman is playing at a club called The Savanna tonight. Want to go?"
     I had a little coughing fit.  

© 2020 LJ

Author's Note

Did the progression of the story suit you? The format and pace....
Does it fit the tag "magic realism" in your opinion?
Should I write another about these people?

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Added on September 11, 2020
Last Updated on September 11, 2020
Tags: motel maids, guest, town, magic realism




i am testing this to see what it's all about now. i used to write here years ago, and enjoyed it very much. i wrote fiction mostly, and many reviews for other writers. i made friends, and hope to agai.. more..

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