2012 Totem Head Story Contest Winner:"The Traveling Motel" By hanna, 16 years old, Sammamish, WA.
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2012 Contest Winner

The Traveling Motel
Written By:   Hanna Schwinn, 16 years old, Sammamish, WA.

So there I was in the driver’s seat of a grey 2011 Toyota Camry with my partner, Alec, doing something we’d never done before – getting away from the scene of a crime. Undoubtedly, we were both terrified – Alec more than I.

"Go, man, go!" Alec howled next to me. "Go!"

"Trying to, I’m trying," I insisted.

He stared out the back window at the cop cars behind us. "They’re coming up quick!"

"Hush up and let me think!"

"What do we do!? We can’t get caught! We’ll get years for this!"

"Years for armed robbery? Naw, maybe a year or two, but we’ll get bail first."

"My sister hates me! She’s never gonna pay me no bail! She’s pinching pennies as it is."

"Then I’ll get out and come get you."

"Man, ain’t you scared?"

"Heck no!" I said. "Hold on!"

I turned that wheel and us in that Toyota Camry squealed down a little road not much bigger than an alley. A cop car tried to follow at a wrong angle, and we heard him crunch against the street lamps on either side of the road.

"Are we safe?" Alec asked.

"Maybe." I said.

"Park! I don’t care about no money now! Let’s park and get away from this stupid car."

That’s how I found myself in the freezing November in Denver cold, my breath fogging up in front of my face, frozen hands clinging to burlap sacks marked CHICKEN FEED. Alec tossed a black cap over my head – "to hide your face from the street security cameras" – and took two sacks for himself.

"Thought you said you didn’t care about the money," I challenged.

"Forget that," he said. "I was just being nuts."

Not far away from the abandoned car, a little building to the right appeared quite literally out of nowhere, a red neon sign blazing THE TRAVELING MOTEL. It was an unremarkable place, something neither of us would’ve noticed if we hadn’t been looking.

"I’m dead tired. Let’s go there," Alec said.

"You sure? It’s not far from the car," I said.

"Just one night here, then we’ll move on. They’ll be expecting two guys with sacks of cash to drive to Vegas and blow it on gambling. That was never your or my style, but of course, neither is spending a night in a dirt-cheap motel. At the very least, they won’t be coming to a place mere inches from the crime scene."

The lobby was nicer than you’d expect for a place like that. Marble flooring, a crackling stone fireplace, a dark wood desk. A check-in clerk sat swathed in shadows and bathed in pale light from the candelabra above our heads.

"What is this place?" Alec whispered.

"Come on," I said back. "This looks sweet."

We approached the desk. The clerk didn’t appear to be either old or young, his features half-doused in the flickering gloom. He was tapping at the desk with a pencil as we approached, and didn’t look up even as we got very close.

I cleared my throat, and he flicked black eyes to meet mine, appearing exceptionally unconcerned to see us there, considering he hadn’t been paying much attention to our entrance. "Welcome to the Traveling Motel, my friends. It’s very nice to meet you."

"You too, sir. How much for a room, for one night?" I asked.

"One night? Free," the clerk said.

"Seriously?" Alec asked.

"Absolutely," the clerk said. "But no one ever stays one night."

"Why, is your service just that great?" I asked.

"Trust us, we’ll be your first one-night customers," Alec drawled.

Suddenly, something lurched out of the shadows at the clerk. The clerk pulled aside the hands that had clung to his throat, and pushed the young boy out from behind the desk.

"Shay, down!" the clerk said.

Shay could not have been more than ten or eleven, with dirty blonde hair curling past his ears and a slight frame. He shrunk from the light of the candelabra, and turning saw Alec and I. He froze. Without any warning, he threw his head back and howled, like a dog mourning at the moon.

"I’m afraid you’ll be staying longer than one night," the clerk informed us, strangely audible despite Shay’s shrieks.

"No, you can’t stop us. We’re leaving in the morning," Alec said.

"Gone, gone, gone, we’re gone. All gone," Shay’s howls mutated to words.

"You can’t leave in the morning. You can’t leave ever," the clerk said.

"No. We’re leaving now," Alec said.

He tugged at my arm, dragging me back to the doors. It was with relief that we threw them open, but it was short-lived, when we saw where we were.

Outside it wasn’t nighttime anymore. There was no traffic, no roads, and no people. Alec and I stood in the middle of a deep green field, with trees on both sides and snowy peaked mountains rising just above their canopy. The sky was pale pink; a rising sun hung like a golden orb.

I gawked. Alec retreated back towards the doors of the motel. As the slam of the door registered, I hurried to follow him back inside the sinister motel.

Shay had ceased his terrible howling. The clerk had handed him a dry mop, and he dragged it across the fireplace’s stone hearth, knocking clouds of dust into the air. Alec was on his knees in front of the clerk’s desk. The clerk stared down at him impassively.

"Take us back to Denver! I’m telling ya, please take us back!" Alec begged.

"I’m sorry," the clerk said. "The Traveling Motel cannot return to a place it’s been to before. Perhaps we’ll land on your planet again in a few millennia."

"We’re not on Earth? Oh…" Alec keeled over face first.

The clerk stared down at Alec, but directed his words to me. "You expected to stay one night. Fools. This is the Traveling Motel. It travels."

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