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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Checkout (06/09/11)

TITLE: Echo Motel


Echo Motel sat mute on the north rim of Laurel Canyon.

In its prime, the property had been considered a charming haven for couples without rings—or, worse yet, couples wearing unmatched sets. In spite of its bravado though, Walter Pederson had witnessed the unending erosion of the chalet’s exteriors until, eventually, they matched the lurid feel of the interiors.

Not that he could have done anything to prevent it. He was only a managing partner, the half without money. It was literally none of his business.

Walter figured the gravel parking lot would never see another convertible.

But he was wrong.

Late one Sunday under the light of a single lamppost, a '68 Mustang, the shine gone, pulled to a stop directly in front of the registration office. A young woman in jeans and white t-shirt stepped out. Only some of her dark hair was pulled back in a ponytail—the rest fanned windblown around her tired face.

She scanned the row of units, each a measure smaller than the next until her eyes traveled back to the office from where Walter watched. Instead of a bag, she carried a book over the threshold.

"If you're looking for someone, don't bother." It was an odd way to start a conversation, but he'd long ago learned the difference between a cheater and someone who'd been cheated upon.

She brought the book, a leather-bound journal, up to her chest. Several yellow tabs tucked themselves under her chin. "Who said I'm looking for someone?"

"Your face said it—but I don't tell nothin' to no one. Never have. It's called ‘survival.’"

The girl's mouth curled toward her nostrils. She shoved the journal into Walter's hands, too fast for his flight reflex. "It's my mother's—was my mother's. She didn't survive. Though it's a pity God didn't take her when her heart first broke. People like you—" She shook her head. "God help you."

Opaque purple underscored the yellow speckles surrounding her irises. It had been decades since Walter had really looked at someone. "Leave me alone. I'm old—you know how many men have passed through them doors?" He gestured to his left, felt the jiggle of his flaccid upper arm at the shirtsleeve.

"It was my mother—she was seventeen."

He wanted the journal out of his hand, but she'd crossed her arms over her body. "What d'ya want from me? What people do is their own damn business." He flung the book down next to the registry, but the feel of soft leather lingered on his fingertips. "What d'ya want from me?"

"Can you see who checked into Unit 2 on the dates I marked?"

She'd taken him seriously.

He pulled the first tab. August 18, 1969. "You're kidding, right? You know how long it'd take to go back nineteen years?"

"I've got all night. I can help." Those eyes remained worn and steady on Walter—her lashes sparse.

"I don't need your help. Go get some sleep."

For an hour Walter sat in his back office on the edge of his La-Z-Boy, the journal opened on his lap. The static that had started up in his head was making it impossible to think. He'd just tell her he hadn't found anything. It was none of his business. That's how he'd survived.

But the man who the girl was looking for was her father.

He should have checked ID’s. He could have done that much. How many under-aged girls had there been?

That line of thought continued through the fuzz, gathering focus. What was his business? Whose keeper was he? Whose keeper had he been?

Certainly not of this girl's mother.

Not of this girl's mother…

Not of this girl's mother…

Then who?

The sun rose past strand after strand of pines, now finding its way center above the canyon. The girl must have been as exhausted as he was. But she'd be there soon. He'd emphasized with her, as with all his guests, that checkout time was firm—he only had two housekeepers for two hours.

Walter pushed the arms of the recliner forward, feeling his own arms quiver as he lay back. He reached for the soft leather that rested on his heart, ignoring the pressure beneath. A note to her extended from behind the cover—he wished he'd gotten her name.

And now there was no chance of getting it—the time for survival was over.

He wouldn't even be there to take her key.

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Member Comments
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Laury Hubrich 06/16/11
Echo Motel - I love this title and I particularly like how you began your story, how it "sat mute."

You have excellent descriptions. I feel like I know Walter Pederson and even the young girl who was looking for her father.

There were many loose threads in this story. I'm sure it would have been tempting to tie up a few of them to make your readers happy but it's much better this way. Let our imaginations loose and fill in the blanks the way we choose.

I thought at first that Walter figured out he was the father. It could go in so many different directions. Love this story. It's haunting and truly sad on all accounts.
Beth LaBuff 06/16/11
She forced him to look at her eyes, to see that she was a person, something his "minding his own business attitude" had prevented. Had Walter has seen those eyes before, and had perhaps encountered the previous owner of that convertible? I love how you've focused on the eyes throughout. You so subtly leave clues.. You can't alter a "firm" checkout time, no matter who is checking out from what. I like the parallel's between who didn't "survive" (the mother, and then Walter)…and then there's "the note to her…." Wow!
Verna Cole Mitchell 06/16/11
I'm captivated by the aura of mystery that's echoed throughout. Detail upon detail carefully laid makes the story real. In this superb story, I'd love to read the note in the front of the journal and see the girl's face when she reads it.
Virgil Youngblood 06/16/11
From start to finish, you wove a delightful tale. Well done.
Bonnie Bowden 06/18/11
This story has so many mysterious threads woven through it. It was captivating from beginning to end. The descriptive phrases were excellent.
Janice Fitzpatrick06/22/11
Very well written. Sad and moving, enchanting and mysterious-great elements in this wonderful piece! Thoroughly enjoyed it.
Edmond Ng 06/23/11
Enjoyed the read.
Verna Cole Mitchell 06/23/11
Happy Dancin' with you. This story is wonderful--superb writing as always!
Rachel Phelps06/23/11
I've missed reading your stories, Lisa. They always leave me craving more. Congrats!
Patricia Turner06/23/11
I kept wondering what she'd find out and wasn't disappointed not to find out. This is so excellent, as others have already said, on many levels. Congratulations.
Sharlyn Guthrie06/23/11
Mysterious, melancholy, and masterful come to mind. Congratulations on your EC for this excellent entry!
Noel Mitaxa 06/23/11
You almost have us choking in the musty, dusty air. Well-deserved placing; you have drawn us into the whole sordid scenario, with a desperate fight for dignity poking some holes in the hopelessness.
Steve Fitschen 06/24/11
Great mood/atmosphere. You’re mystery ending just inspired my entry in Jan’s 100-word challenge. (Good luck to folks reading this comment months or years from now.) But yours puts mine to shame. Mine is dangling; yours is WILDLY wide open, even after paying careful attention to the clues. Do YOU know how it ends?

Congrats to one of my favorite writers.
Bonnie Bowden 06/28/11
Congratulations on your 4th place EC win.

I hope you finished editing your novel. Please let me know when it comes out in print.
Troy Manning07/18/11
Nice to see you back--& in fine form! Loved the little details that propelled your tale along. I did need a few cues from the others' feedback to grasp some of the ending. I'm wondering if the manager knows he's about to go because he's taken something to facilitate that (& thus the pounding heart). But I'm certainly not one to raise many concerns about ambiguity. :) Quality job, Lisa!
stanley Bednarz07/20/11
Great story Lisa. I've read some good beginning sentences in my time, but this one...wow. That hook had me sunk deep inot the rest of the story. So many lessons for the wannabe writer to glean. Authentic dialogue, white space that say so much, descriptions that don't disract or slow the story, but only enhance it. Bravo! Stan