The Bella Vista Motel is certainly a work of fiction. If I could remember it, I’d throw in that bit they put in at the end of movies – All resemblance to actual people, living or dead, total coincidence, etc. But if you’ve read my first post, you know I have peculiar ideas about the secret lives of ghosts and fictional characters. (And if you haven’t read it, don’t blame me if this doesn’t make a whole lot of sense...)
To paraphrase myself, I believe in ghosts. I also believe that fictional characters are a kind of ghost.
Sometimes fictional characters really have to work to push their way out into the material world. Sometimes they pick authors or artists who are thick skulled or weak or just resistant to giving birth. Those ghosts have a hard road ahead of them and have to be persistent, sometimes they have to be bullies.
The Bella Vista Motel has been like that for me. I've tried many times to walk away from the whole damn thing and let it go. I didn't get it at all in the first couple of years. I wrote little scenes, little vignettes set in a world I didn't understand. I wrote the way you would doodle on a napkin with a ball point pen until something distracted you. And my ghosts stomped around me pulling out their spectral hair.
Their first big break came from foisting a Ouija board on me so they could tell me some of the story. But I'm getting ahead of myself, I'll tell you about that later.
First, I'll tell you how the story began.
In 1993, I drove across the country from Los Angeles to New Orleans at the request of a lover who was on her way to becoming my latest ghost. Something happened to me driving on the 10. All that time spent alone inside my own head just opened me up, I suppose. I was already pretty wide open as far as belief went, all manner of wild-eyed ideas flew with me back then.
But what I believed in most, was that everything that happened, happened for a reason. I was a spiritual student of the universe. I didn't know what I was going to do when that trip was over and I got back home to LA, but I believed the trip was necessary and that I would learn from it. Even if it involved a broken heart. Even though, it did.
One night on my way through west Texas, there was a lunar eclipse. I drove right into the moon as it darkened to a sliver and then went black. It was very late and I was on a highway that disappeared in opposite directions into points of nothing, in a landscape that bent around me into an unbroken horizon line, blue on black with silver star shine highlighting every pebble and every twig. If there were other cars on the highway, I stopped seeing them.
When the moon disappeared into a black circle in the middle of my windshield, I pulled over to the side of the road and got out of the car and just walked right out into the brush. I was so struck with lunacy at the sight of that black hole in the sky, like a portal through the stars, that I felt like I could have leaped up through the opening and flown away. I was drunk on starlight. I was damn fool.
I threw my arms out and said to the sky, "If there's anything out there that wants to talk to me, I'm here. I'm open. I'm listening." And I stood there like that waiting for something spiritual to happen until the silver edge of the moon came back. I listened to the wind and I filled up with earth love and sky love and at one with all creatures and the goddess love until I got really cold and then I got back in the car and drove on.
I had been staying at motel 6s all the way through on the advice of my practical friend and being as it was late and I was tired, I finally stopped staring at the moon and instead scanned the horizon for the friendly sign.
Somewhere near Ozona, I spotted the motel 6 sign on its unmissable roadside pole and got off the highway. The off ramp went around in circles and dumped me off on a road that showed no sign of a motel 6. I very quickly got lost. Being worn out and disinclined to backtrack, I decided to take my chances with a little blue neon motel sign I could just barely make out up the road.
Cue ominous music...
I've always remembered that motel being called the Castlerock, which is funny because it was just an average little roadside motel from the forties with maybe ten or twelve rooms. There was nothing castle-like about it. And that whole area was flat as flat could be.
I pulled into the driveway, dragged myself into the lobby and was given a room key by an old guy who looked like he'd been sleeping on his feet behind that front desk for thirty years. I don't clearly remember what number my room was, maybe six in mockery of my lost motel 6? I do remember glancing up at the rear of the grounds and seeing a tall row of trees against the sky blacking out the stars, the hushed rattle of dead leaves blowing around in circles on the pavement, and feeling a little anxious to get inside my room.
Pause ominous music...
I wasn't traveling completely alone. I had a lizard in a box. It was a bearded dragon, which is close to an iguana in appearance and maybe the size of a very small chihuahua, but with much shorter legs and a lot longer tail. I think her name was something like Zelda.
The lizard hadn't really been much company though, truthfully speaking. She mostly just slept in her box because it was November and it was a little too cold for her. She had an electric rock that I'd plug in when I checked into motel rooms. She would slowly crawl onto the rock while casting resentful glances in my general direction.
I tried to walk her once somewhere in New Mexico, because that whole state was mostly just god awful boring desert and I thought it might cheer her up to walk around in something like her natural habitat. She was cold and limp and hadn't moved for hours when I set her down in the sand. She opened her eyes, looked around and took off running really fast. I almost lost her. Damn reptile. Since one of the main reasons for my trip was lizard courier, that would have been awkward to explain.
Resume ominous music...
So, even though it was late and I was tired, I had to lug the lizard box into my room so I could plug in her rock. I didn't even bother with my suitcase. As soon as I opened the door and got inside the room, I felt weird. I sort of panicked a little trying to get the key turned in the lock while juggling the lizard box and found my heart was beating on the fast side as I closed the door and set down the box.
The light switch next to the front door didn't seem to be connected to anything. Flipping it resulted in an empty click and no light. Motel rooms are usually pretty predictable as far as layout goes and that room was as plain as any, nothing in the way of furniture but a full sized bed against the wall with a bathroom and closet on the other side of it. My eyes were already accustomed to the dark and I really just needed to crawl into a bed and get some sleep, so I walked around the side of the bed to use the bathroom.
I paused in the doorway to the bathroom and reached inside for the light switch. I could see the silvery outline of the mirror on the wall and the sink below it as I felt along the wall. My fingers found the switch and flipped on the light.
The click that turned on the blazing white light set off an explosion of blood and thick, hot matter that splattered me, the bare skin of my face, the white tile walls. The air was filled with fiery red impact. I saw, felt and heard a gunshot blow apart a man's body right in front of me in a very small space. I felt the impact against my chest. I saw blood hit the mirror and run down onto the sink, I saw myself, my screaming red and white face in the blood streaked mirror. It happened in the flash of light.
My finger was still on the light switch and I must have flipped it right off again because it went dark and the next thing I knew, I was flattened up against the far wall on the other side of the bed back by the front door, my ears ringing, my heart pounding right out of my chest, panting for breath and crying like mad.
I was a stubborn girl. I believed in my own invincibility back then in a way that just makes me shake my head now. Did you note what I said to the open black hole in the sky? I didn't say, "If there's anything made of sweetness and light with nothing but good intentions out there that wants to enlighten me with rainbow love, I'm here." No. I said, "If there's anything out there that wants to talk to me, I'm here. I'm open. I'm listening."
Anything? Really? Okay, if you say so...
Up until that moment, I hadn't experienced a single moment of fear driving across the country alone. I had a protection charm in my pocket that I made myself. Made it out of crystals and herbs and a little piece of velvet and um, string.
So, you know what I did once I got my breath back and stopped crying? I walked back across that room and stood in the doorway peering into that dark bathroom and I reached back in and turned on the light again. And of course, there was nothing to see but a clean, empty, white tiled bathroom. But I felt bone crushing sadness. I felt left over despair that was as palpable as steam from a hot shower. Somebody had died by their own hand in that bathroom, I was as sure of that as anything I've ever been sure of. The room felt exactly the same as my mother's apartment had felt the day my brother killed himself.
But it seemed the show was over as I stood in the doorway for the second time. There was nothing more to see in that motel room in Texas. And I was a stubborn girl.
So, I pulled it together and plugged in the lizard's rock. I made myself brush my teeth and use the toilet in that bloody, not bloody bathroom. I couldn't talk myself out of my clothes, but I had to drive the rest of the way across Texas and on into Louisiana and I was on a schedule, so I made myself lay down on the bed to try and go to sleep. I did leave the bathroom light on, though.
Guess how long I lasted... about forty five minutes. The air in that room was cold and heavy and itchy. Yeah, you heard me, itchy. I kept looking around for bugs, but I knew the creepy crawly sensations I felt were under my skin, not on it.
And the worst part was, that anonymous ghost, that sad leftover psychic replay or whatever the fuck it was got me started thinking about all my own ghosts. The deep personal ones that I'd worked very hard to keep in manageable cryonic storage. I laid there on top of the bedspread in a rigid state of understanding. This is how people go to motel rooms and just freak out and kill themselves, I thought. I had always assumed people went to motels to do the deed so they wouldn't leave a mess at home or be found by someone they loved. But maybe that's just what I would think, given who I was and what my experiences had been. Maybe some of those people had no conscious intention to kill themselves when they checked in. But when it's just you and the ghosts and those dull orange and brown bedspreads... well, I'm just glad I had that damn lizard to deliver. And that I was a very stubborn girl.
I got up, said sorry to Zelda for the lukewarm rock and turned in my key at the front desk. And the old guy up front? He just made up the receipt and charged me the full rate without a word. I couldn't have been there more than an hour. What did he suppose I had spent an hour in a motel room doing? Shooting up dope? Did he wonder at all? Did he know about that room? I thought about that guy a lot on the rest of my drive. And I thought about that motel and about motels in general and about all the things people leave behind in them, both material and immaterial.
And you can bet, from there on out it was nothing but motel 6 for me. I know. That doesn't make any sense, bad things must happen in motel 6s too. But for some reason they seemed safer. Maybe just because my friend, the one the lizard belonged to and whose car I was driving to New Orleans for, the soon to be ghost, had told me to just stay at motel 6. They always charge a fair rate, they're all the same so you know what you'll get, they're always clean, they take pets and they won't turn you away for looking freaky. That was a consideration back then. The looking freaky part.
Anyway, that was the beginning of the inspiration for the Bella Vista Motel story.
(originally posted Sunday, March 16, 2008)