She arrives at the motel an hour before sunset. Her suitcase sags as she makes her way to her second-story room, but even so she refuses the elevator and hauls it up the stairs. Once she has put her suitcase in her room, she steps back out to the balcony and studies the scene ahead. There is little to see – a mostly-empty parking lot, a quiet two-lane road, and beyond that, scrub brush punctuating a desert expanse. She re-enters her room, opens her suitcase on the bed and proceeds to remove and arrange dozens of locks and other steel contraptions on the mattress.
The sunset comes in warm through the window as she mounts lock after lock on the motel door, pausing only to ensure the silence around her. Once the locks are lining the perimeter of the entire door, she begins attaching less recognizable steel devices on the door and the window. This is all done quickly, but with the precision of a surgeon. By nightfall all that is left in her suitcase is a few days worth of clothes, a photograph and a small dead bird.
Her room prepped, she makes her way to the bar downstairs, orders a drink and makes small talk with the bartender. She has learned the difficult art of listening. At the end of the night, the bartender will assume that he knows as much about her as she does of him. He won’t have a single detail. She spends the next hour passively extracting information. First it’s mostly inconsequential things – the weather over the past month, the history of the motel, the broken jukebox’s idiosyncrasies. Then it shifts to things that only he thinks are inconsequential – recent visitors, local skirmishes, cloud formations. Once they have run out of things to talk about she takes her drink, sits in a corner of the bar and nurses it, listening in to every other conversation.
When the bar closes, she takes a seemingly casual walk around the perimeter of the hotel four times, taking in every last detail. Behind the motel she places her hands on the earth, closes her eyes and listens. She then takes the stairs to her room, locks the door dozens of times behind her, and sits cross-legged on the bed, vigilant until morning. When the sun is up, she sleeps for much of the morning, then dismounts and stows all of the locks before departing.
She walks alone toward the bus stop far down the road. Today she will do exactly what she did yesterday, and the days before that. The only thing that changes is the weather, the softness of the mattress and the bartender. A car passes noisily and she smiles to herself. It was easier when walking was the only way. The weight of her bag was more punishing then, and there was no chance to daydream during the journey.
To anyone that saw her walking down the dusty road, she would appear a young woman traveling alone. But if you were to pass her on the road, look back and catch her at a precise angle, you would note that her right hand was slightly upturned and seemed to be holding on to something. And if you watched long enough, and the sun was in the right place at the right time, you might for a moment catch the shadow of the enormous hulking creature lumbering beside her. And the quiet song she sang would make perfect sense.
Illustration by John Rooney