In this episode, Alice and Keisha decide to hole up in an old, abandoned motel for a few days, and each have a life-changing encounter.
The episode begins with Keisha narrataing, stating that she had received word from Tamara, her contact at the LA Times. Basically, the story that she’s been working in is almost ready, she just needs to verify a few more details. Keisha assures her that she understands, adding in monologue, “I had waited this long. What was another day, or week, or year? What was a lifetime?”
Keisha then tells Tamara that she and Alice will lay low for a while, before the point of view switched to the aforementioned Alice:
For three nights, we got off the grid. Afterward, things were different between us. I’m still not sure what happened at that motel. Can’t piece together any part of it. I don’t know Keisha’s half, and I certainly don’t understand what I saw.
Keisha then adds, “But we were different after the motel. I don’t think the rest of this road trip would have happened as it did without those three nights.”
The credit rolls, and then we get into the episode proper. We continue with Keisha in the narrator’s seat, explaining that they would need to lay low for a while to keep from accidentally running into any Bay & Creek or Thistle agents while Tamara works on her article.
Eventually, they come across an old motel called the Triumph Tiki Inn. Keisha remarks that it reminds her of a motel that she saw in a town called Charlatan. She adds that it looks like it’s been abandoned for quite some time. They decide that this is “off the grid” enough for them, and pull into the parking lot and hunker down for the time being.
That night, Keisha seems something rather peculiar, given the motel’s dilapidated condition: a light on in one of the rooms.
It didn’t seem possible. I doubted anyone had paid an elecric bill here since the turn of the millennium. I even doubted whether the power lines along this stretch were serviced anymore. But there it was. Hmmmm. Maybe a local generator? A squatter? I wasn’t scared. Squatters mostly mean no harm. And, after all, we too were squatters.
Keisha then looks up to see a person standing on the balcony outside the room with the light. She approaches, and shouts “hey” up to him. The man shouts “hey” back, and motions for her to come up. She obliges, and the two strike up a conversaton.
“Cigarette?” he said.
“Nah,” I said. he shrugged and lit himself one. “I’m Howard,” he said.
“Keisha,” I said. “What brings you here, Howard?”
“What brings anyone to a place like this?” he said. “Circumstances in my life are what they are. This place isn’t bad, truth be told, but I wish the service was a little better.”
Keisha is somewhat befuddled by the above statement, since the motel is abandoned and there is no one there to provide any of the bespoke service. She doesn’t bring this up, however, and Howard continues.
“Feels like housekeeping hasn’t come by in days,” he said. “I could use a fresh towel, I’ll tell you that.”
I looked about me at the sagging building, missing most of its windows and several of its doors.
We cut back to Alice, who mentions that she’s decided to stay by the truck, mostly because this place gives her the creeps: “I had seen what waited in abandoned places, and I had no interest in exploring them any more than I needed to.”
However, she catched movement out of the corner of her eye. At first thinking that it’s a possum or a similar animal, and then thinking it might actually be a person, she decides to investigate.
I picked my way through the broken front window and into the lobby. It looked like someone had tossed all the furniture a few times in the air. Time truly wrecks all. There was no one in the lobby, of course, and no mevement. My eyes had tricked me. Or that’s what I was thinking when I heard the music.
We then cut back to Keisha and Howard. Howard is explaining that he had gotten into quite a bad argument with his wife, and decided that the best thing to do would be to leave for a while to let things cool down. He mentions that he does miss his children terribly, though, and Keisha says that she’s sorry to hear that.
Howard tells her that it’s OK, and “just a thing that happens.” He then says that he’s glad for the company, and notes that he wonders how the motel stays in business because of how quiet it is there. He then adds, “But that’ll change real soon. My wife’s gonna bring the kids, and I’m gonna take them down to the pool. Havent’ been able to take them to a pool in years.” Howard preemtively apologizes if his kids end up playing too loud, but hopes they’ll be able to forgive them because of how happy their presence would make him. Keisha looks over at the pool, noting its current empty and cracked state, as well as the deck chair that the wind tangled up in the fence.
Keisha tells him not to worry about it, and decides that she should take her leave. The two wish each other good night, and Howards heads back into his room, shutting off the light. She notes that she can still smell the smoke from his cigarette.
Alice, meanwhile, describes the music that she heard:
Strings. Classical music. Sounded like a ballet, maybe. It was coming from the pool. The music glitched and warped and occaisionally lopped back on itself, repeating the last several seconds then jittering ahead. I didn’t like that music. I decided to return to the truck.
When Keisha came back, I wanted so badly to put my arm around her, but I didn’t. She was right. She didn’t need me to protect her.
The next day, Keisha mentions that the two of them didn’t really do much. In particular, she notes that one of the things they didn’t do much was talk to each other. Then, that night, she sees the light in Howard’s room on again, and so decides to go and talk to him again for a while. She notes that he seems a bit down, and asks him if everything’s OK.
Howard sighs dejectedly, and then puts the cigarette he was smoking out with his foot. He tells her that he’s “in a bad place” because his wife did not come by with the kids like he was expecting her to.
“Well,” I said, “I’m sure she’ll bring them eventually.”
“I dunno,” he said. “See, she was the one that screwed up first. That’s the thing about all this. I was in the right, you know? But I savored it too much. Righteousness is a powerful drug. There can be comethign dangerously addictive about beng the justifiably angry one in an argument, you know?”
Keisha, reluctantly, says, “Maybe,” and then we cut back to Alice, who has her own, somewhat less amiable encounter.
She hears the discordant music that she described earlier, but this time decides to go and actually investigate: “That was always my job, to turn toward the terror and witness it. Because if we don’t look at what’s bad about our world, how will we ever fix it?”
Alice heads towards the chain link fence surrounding the empy pool, where she sees what appears to be a woman spinning in place to the music:
It was a woman in an old dress, torn at the bottom, streaked in mud. She had her hands over her head in a vague approximation of a ballet pose. Her arms were very long, her fingers were crooked, broken maybe. She stopped spinning and took a leap, legs splayed out, landing on her knees and stumbling back up.
We go back to Keisha and Howard, who tells her that, in an attempt at punishment, that he had shut his wife out. Rather than punish her, however, this only made things worse between them: “That was me fucking up. Now we’ve both fucked up, and then what? There was no winning, no upside, we had both lost and now I wait for her to bring the kids and she never brings them.”
Keisha suggests that he go home and that they try to work this out, and Howard says tath she’s right and he might actually do that. Then he decides against that, saying, “It’s no use…She isn’t going to forgive me, and I’m not going to forgive her. Feels like we’re stuck like this. No way out for either of us.”
Trying not to cry, Howard tells Keisha good night, and apologizes for not being better company for her. He goes back into his room, and shuts the light off behind him.
Alice, in the meantime, tries to step back from the pool. However, one of her sleeves gets caught in the chain link fence, and the fence rattles when she pulls herself free. This has the effect of alerting the dancing woman to her presence:
The woman stopped, and the music stopped in the same moment. She looked directly at me, and I saw her face. Oh god, her face.
People say that bad experiences are like nightmares. This wasn’t a nightmare. What I remember most about it was how real it was. Even as it happened, I noticed that most.
She dropped to all fours, her arms exactly as long as her legs, and she ran toward me, right up the side of the empty pool.
Quite rightfully freaked out, Alice runs away from the pool and doesn’t stop running until she reaches the safety of the truck. She looks behind her, only to find no one is there. Then the music from the pool starts again.
Later, Alice tries to tell Keisha that they should leave. Keisha responds that she likes it here, and wants them to stay for at least a couple more days. Alice doesn’t want to argue with her wife about this, but she does make sure that the cab to the truck is locked before they turn in for the night.
Keisha then recounts a somewhat odd experience she once had in a hotel:
Once I was in a budget motel. Doesn’t matter which one, they’re all the same. The same institutional carpet, the same rubberty boiled eggs at breakfast, the same wi-fi able to download three entire emails per minute. I needed a shower and a decent nap, and so I splurged on a stay.
As I walked along my floor, I passed a room that’s door had been left open. I looked in, and it was all the same layout and furniture as all the rooms. Every room in the hotel was identical. But this room was full of televisions. All over the bed and the floor, piled up on the table, on the ledge of the window. Hundreds of TVs.
I kept walking. It didn’t mean anything, and yet I think of that room regularly. The room full of TVs. These moments stick with us.
She later sees Howard standing outside his room again, and approaches for one last conversation. He starts out by apologizing for being such a downer the night before. Keisha tells him it’s OK before asking how he’s doing. He tells her that he’ll be all right, and that he just has to be a little more patient as his wife will certainly bring the kids down for the day. Howard invites Keisha and Alice to join them if and when she brings the kids, but Keisha tells him that the two of them will be leaving in the morning.
Howard is disappointed but understanding, saying, “Not a lot of life left in this place. I’m sure folks like you have better things to do than wait around in this backwater. Unlike me.”
The scene shifts back to Alice, who hears the music again and goes back to the pool.
When I heard the music that night, I walked to the fence around the pool knowing what I would see. And there was the woman again, in the same muddy, torn dress, spinning and flailing around as the music dipped and wavered horribly. This time the sound I made wasn’t accidental. I took a deep breath, let it out slowly, and then said at a normal, conversational volume, “Hi.”
Meanwhile, Keisha and Howard continue their conversation. Keisha tells him that she enjoyed having Howard as a neighbor, which Howard reciprocates. He tells Keisha that she and alice should be careful on the roads, and Keisha decides to take a chance and asks him if the word “Praxis” means anything to him. He laughs and says that he might, “but it’s not the kind of thing that can be talked about. It’s more of a thing you do, you know?”
Keisha doesn’t respond, and Howard adds, “Maybe you don’t know. Well, I’m sure you will soon.”
Keisha asks Howard if he’ll be all right; he tells her that he’ll be fine. He adds that he can’t wait to see his kids again soon, before wishing Keisha a good night.
Back to Alice. She has managed to get the attention of the dancing woman, who begins to rush towards her the way that she did the night before. Alice, however, stands her ground instead of runing this time.
In the movies, people always run from ghosts, and I always wondered what could they actually do to you? Sure, they look terrifying, but what, specifically, was a ghost going to do to you if it caught you? I suspected nothing worse than what a human being could do to you, and I’d survived a lot of that. If you ask dangerous questions, you will get dangerous answers. But sometimes we need dangerous answers.
Eventually, the dancing woman gets to the fence, and stops.
She smelled like old paper. She unfolded herself slowly upwards, and I realized how tall she was, several feet taller than me. Her face was exponentially worse this close up. We met eyes for a long silence, and I saw tears. She shook and shook and she held out her hand and I took it. Her hand felt like old paper.
“Thank you,” she said. “Thank you for staying, even if just for a moment.” Her voice sounded like old paper.
The two of them stand that way in silence for a while, before the dancing woman rolls back and drops down into the pool. Alice doesn’t hear her hit the bottom, nor does she see her in the pool when she goes to look. She then heads back to the truck, noting that the music hasn’t started up again.
The next morning, Alice and Keisha start to head out. Keisha notes, “That silence that had laid heavily over us for so long was still there, but it was different. Instead of a wall we had built for ourselves, it felt like a shared obstacle that together we could overcome.”
Keisha and Alice take either other’s hand, and then drive off. Keisha again makes the observation that the trip would not have gone the same way if they hadn’t stayed at that motel.
So, this episode seems to be a beginning for Alice and Keisha to try and repair their relationship. Keisha, in particular, ends up needing to hear what Howard had to say about being right is less important than relationships. Alice’s encounter seems to have been more about her needing to open up a bit more, or at least it seemed that way to me.
I also think that the two ghosts in question (which is what I’m pretty sure they’re supposed to be) appear to be related. In particular, I think the dancing woman may actually be Howard’s wife, since he keeps mentioning the pool and that’s where Alice encountered her. I could be pulling that out of my ass, though.
Also, the voice Jasika Nicole uses when she’s quoting Howard makes me think of Steve Carlsburg from Welcome To Night Vale. It doesn’t really have anything to do with the episode; I just thought it was kind of funny.