I pulled up to the Movie Manor in Monte Vista, CO, and was surprised to see that it was a Best Western. I’d imagined it a mom and pop establishment handed down from the booming days of drive-in movies. I’d expected something a little funky, a little broken down, but clean and well run. I pulled up to a long low line of beige cookie cutter rooms running the length of a parking lot. I parked my car in the empty lot, and walked into the office. Hmmm…my car. Yes, I guess it had come to feel like my car not long after I crossed the Mississippi.
I requested a room near the gym because I figured it might be nice to get some blood flowing after the full day of driving. My room, therefore, was all the way down the row of rooms.
Second to last door next to the room with the treadmill and solitary stationary bike – the “gym” – at the very end. I slid my key into the lock and immediately the hair stood up on the back of my neck. I looked back over my shoulder across the empty parking lot. The pavement ended in darkness, but I knew what lie beyond. Nothing. Miles and miles of nothing. It was the emptiness that lifted the goose flesh on my arms. I thought.
I stepped into the dark room and the door closed behind me. I was momentarily comforted by the small enclosed space. I set down my pack, moved to the window and pulled aside the heavy black out curtain. The window was huge and looked out onto more dark emptiness. I knew there was a screen out there somewhere that would’ve been playing a movie with the sound pumped directly into the room through the wired speaker mounted above the bedside table. But the screen was dark and invisible in the starless night, and the speaker was silent – I had arrived one week after the close of movie season.
I shut the curtain to defend against the dark. I turned on every light in the room in the hopes of dispelling the unrest I assumed was brought on by the dark emptiness surrounding me. it didn’t help. The hair on my neck would not lay down. The knot in my stomach pulsed and the hunger pangs I’d been feeling at check in were obliterated by the adrenaline rushing through my body. What was going on?
It was my first night alone on the trip. That must be it. I just needed to relax, calm down. I decided to call my mom.
“I’m calling from Colorado. Left Bri’s this morning and made it to this wacky drive in movie theater motel. Only the movies are over for the season. It’s a little creepy, actually.”
“Yeah. I’m the only guest, it looks like. And I’m all the way down here at the end of the row of rooms and it’s just so much emptiness everywhere. I’m in the middle of nowhere. I can’t explain it, Mom. But I’m just…I don’t know…scared. Something’s freaking me out a little.”
“When we hang up, I want you to go up to the office and tell them you want a room at the other end, the one closest to the office. okay?”
“Yeah. But they gave this one to me specifically because – ”
“Meg, I want you to go do that now, and call me when you are in a room that you can see from the office.”
And so I hung up, grabbed my unopened backpack, and headed up to the office…at a sprint. The guy behind the desk traded out my room key and told me he’d be in the office all night if I needed anything else. That felt right. I walked out of the office, and a few steps down the sidewalk to room 10, the first room in the long row of rooms. This time I left the heavy blackout curtain pulled across the movie screen window. Light from the office leaked under my door all night, and the hair on my neck stood down. I called my mom.
“I did it Mom. I’m right up here by the office.”
“Yeah. I know I was being silly. But I really do feel better in this room.”
“Sometimes you have to follow your gut. Now get some sleep.”
And I did. The next morning I woke up early, and checked out. I wanted to put in some good miles before breakfast. As I pulled away from the Movie Manor, I looked back across the empty parking lot. In the faded morning light I could see where the parking lot ended, and the flat, empty space began. The empty seemed to stretch on forever.
Just a few miles down the road, I passed a diner claiming to serve the best coffee for miles, and I figured I shouldn’t pass that up, and pulled in. Now that the adrenaline of the night before had been washed away by a good night’s sleep, my appetite was back, so I figured a Spanish omelet with home fries and toast would be a great way to fuel my day.
As I walked in, the headline caught my eye. The story was on the front page of both papers in the self-pay box. I bought a copy of the local and stood in the vestibule to read it. The hair on the back of my neck was at attention once again.
Their bodies had been found in the emptiness beyond the edge of the hotel parking lot where the mom and her daughter had been abducted, raped, and murdered the night before.
My gut was sending a clear message. I ordered my coffee to go, climbed back into my Taurus, and drove.
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