You can’t always rely on the Internet to find last minute accommodation. Trust me, I know.
The motel comes into view as we drive around the corner. Grass is growing between the cracks in the concrete. Paint is peeling from the faded sign.
I climb reluctantly out of the ute. Heart sinking. Foolish optimism making me hope that maybe first appearances are deceptive. I’ve booked the motel for the eight of us to stay overnight before taking the ferry across to Hamilton Island. I need to check it out.
A paper sign is stuck to the window with Sellotape, handwritten in black ink. “Call Dave on 0431 254 876”. I peer inside the darkened interior. A figure moves slowly towards the door. A middle aged man, dressed in baggy trousers and a stained cotton shirt pushes the sliding door open.
We’ve booked rooms, I say.
He mumbles. You’ll have to speak to Dave in room 5. Just knock on the door.
The door to room 5 is closed. The curtains are pulled over. I knock.
No response. Knock again, calls Beryl.
I knock again, louder. The door opens. I see a bed. The sheets and blankets are pulled to one side, pillows piled in the centre.
We’ve booked rooms, I say. At this point I’m contemplating my escape plan.
Dave, hair sticking to one side of his face, taps the side of his head.
Give me a minute to get my head together. Just give me a minute.
He closes the door, then quickly reopens it. His face confused.
You have to give me a minute to get my head together.
We’d like to see the rooms, I say. He fumbles in his pocket and drops a handful of keys into my hand. Look at 3, 5 or 6.
I look at the jumble of keys. I can see two with labels marked 3 and one with a label marked 9. Room 9 is nearby. I turn the key in the lock and look inside. The room is a mess of bed clothes, a mop and bucket stand by the door. I close the door quickly. No way are we staying here.
He said look at room 6, says Beryl. As I walk over to the door marked 6, I hear Howard call out. Lovely gardens you have here.
The small dirt area in front of the motel building is sunbaked. A few lonely weeds struggle to find life in the desolate strip of soil.
A strange noise is coming from room number 6. My feeling of foreboding increases. I walk towards the door. Hand ready to turn the handle, I stop and listen. Silence, except for the strains of a familiar song playing in my head. “Welcome to the Motel California, such a lovely place, such a lovely face…”
There is a key to room number 6, but the door opens as I turn the handle. Two beds. A view. It looks all right, says Beryl. Inwardly I admire her chirpy optimism. I wish I could share it.
The red counterpanes on the beds look old and tired. The carpet threadbare, well worn. Turning back the bedclothes I see biscuit crumbs.
A sound comes from the bathroom. I turn my head. A cloud covers the sun and the room darkens. I take one step forward. The door to the bathroom slowly opens. I step back in surprise as much as horror.
“There’s plenty of room at the Motel California, any time of year, you can find it here.”
I run quickly from the room and thrust the keys back into Dave’s hand. It’s not what we are looking for, I call, as we drive away.
What did you see? Asks Richard. I look out of the window at the figure of Dave receding in the distance. The doorman is just visible behind the smeared glass entrance door. A shiver runs down my back, I’ll never tell.
“You can check out any time you like. But you can never leave…”