Bud Smith

The Wasteland Motel

Bo was unhappy. He should have been grateful to be a member of one of the last few clusters of humanity that’d survived the apocalypse, but whoop-de-doo, he wasn’t.

He decided one Wednesday morning that he wanted more from life. He didn’t like tending the goats: brushing them, feeding them slop, shovelling their shit. 32 years of that was enough. He put in his two week notice with Todd, the goat boss, deciding to try his luck in the wasteland beyond the rusted steel walls of the camp instead.

Not surprisingly, when he said to Todd, “I’m putting in my two weeks notice,” Todd replied, baffled, “You’re what?”

“I read about it in an old book Crazy Charlie gave me, when I was a kid…”

Charlie had been a lunatic, a total drain on the camp, but somehow he’d managed to teach Bo how to read before he died. So that was nice.

Bo said it again, “Two weeks notice.”

No one had ever quit a job post apocalyptically.

This troubled many of the people in the camp. Especially Mort and Linda, who talked rather harshly about Bo to whoever would listen. “He better not think he can waltz over here and get a job with us and our chickens…”

“If he can’t handle goats, he certainly can’t handle chickens.”

“Or the eggs.”

“Or the pecking…”

They all agreed, no one was hiring Bo. But Bo didn’t come around to ask anyone for a job. No, for his last two weeks in camp, he just went about his business, conserving his water and rations, and sharpening a spoon into a small dagger as defense against the unknown dangers beyond the camp’s towering walls.

After his last shift with the goats, he said goodbye to everyone. They’d all gathered around in a loose circle, regarding him nervously. Directly behind Bo was the ramshackle gate marking the forbidden perimeter. Nothing came in. Nothing went out.

“Where you going?” Clara asked.

“Into the Wasteland,” Bo said offhandedly.

The crowd gasped in unison.

Clara opened her mouth to say something but her mother kicked her shin, prompting her to remain silent.

“Dave, open ‘er up,” said the mayor in resignation, motioning to the lone guard on duty. “Let the kid go…”

As unfathomable as it now seemed, really they’d all seen this coming. Bo had always been a strange dreamer, and his dreams tended to prompt two very distinct reactions from others in the camp. Most of them were afraid of people who dreamt, inviting disaster as it often did. The rest of them didn’t fear him at all; he just made them feel guilty about not following their own dreams themselves.

“The Nukies are still out there. S’all I’ll say, boy,” a shrivelled-up old woman said to him. She was blind and could barely walk.

“Nukies, jeez,” the mayor remarked. “It’s been a long time since anyone mentioned them…”

“Maybe there’s werewolves out there too,” Bo said, hoping to lighten the mood.

Nobody said anything in response. It was awkward.

But it’d been so many years, people didn’t know what to believe about the outside world anymore. The camp offered safety, but safety from what? No one really knew, but Bo intended to find out.

Bo shook everyone’s hand as the door was pried open for the first time in a generation. Before walking out into the blowing sands, he turned and said to his campmates, “I hope to see you all again soon.”

“Don’t forget the secret knock,” the mayor reminded him.

“Shave and a haircut, two bits,” Bo replied.

And with that, he walked out into the wasteland.

His destination was supposedly just a short walk across the dunes, maybe half a mile or so, just long enough for him to contemplate what Charlie had told him all those years ago along the way.

“Reason you suck at shovelling goat shit’s cos your family used to own a motel right up the road…”

“A what..?”

“A motel,” the old man repeated, “fer vay-cay-shun-ing. Quite the famous place, if I remember correctly. Why, folks used to come from miles arou…”

Charlie had abruptly stopped talking then. Before Bo could even ask him what either a motel or a vay-cay-shun was, the old man freaking died, right there in front of him.

To make matters worse, it turned out no one else in the camp was any help explaining the terms to him either. “All Greek to me,” Mort had joked.

Bo decided to drop the subject after Charlie was buried in the ground, but for many years after, his curiosity remained.

Cresting the final dune between him and his birthright, Bo gazed down upon the trail of crumbled asphalt lying just on its other side. Following the highway north, it wasn’t long before he caught sight of a severely dilapidated building in the distance. A large, faded sign remained standing out front, its bright red letters having long ago faded to the lightest of pinks.

It read simply, “MOTEL”, just like Charlie said it would.

Bo crouched behind a rock and waited, staking out the hills for any sign of life. He hadn’t seen much since leaving for the motel, but he wasn’t about to get ambushed in all his excitement to get there.

Once he felt certain the coast was clear, Bo came out from his hiding place, took a deep breath, and bravely marched forward.

He stayed there all alone that night, a little lonely and just a tad bit frightened. He occupied himself by straightening up the place, which looked like it had survived a nuclear war. Digging around in old piles of papers, sorting thorough various debris, it wasn’t long before he discovered some brochures that gave him a pretty good idea of what a motel was supposed to be.

He was stunned, gazing at the old photos of a time before he was born, when people actually traveled freely, occasionally coming in from the road to rest, relax, put their feet up and enjoy a nice, ice-cold beverage.

Wow, imagine that? An ice-cold beverage…

A week later, when Bo returned to the camp and announced his new motel, they all just laughed at him. He explained to them in detail what a vacation was. They all just laughed even harder.

“A wasteland vacation!” cried Linda, Mort’s wife, clutching at her belly as she doubled over with laughter.

“No wonder you didn’t want to shovel my goat’s shit,” Todd the goat boss said, “you’re a comedian, not a goat tender!”

Bo had been hoping for a warmer reception, but he resolved to win his former campmates over eventually. He traded some goods discovered in the rubble for some much-needed supplies, returning over the dunes to his new home that night.

Sometime the next morning, his first guest arrived. Turned out Clara didn’t like living in the camp anymore either. She traded some sex action to Bo in exchange for room and board at his motel.

He set her up in a room around back. “Sorry about the giant concrete hole in the ground,” he said. “When my funds get fluffier, I’ll have it filled in. For now, just be careful around the edge.”

Clara looked down into the concrete hole and frowned.

With Clara having taken up residence there, a few men from the camp came to visit the Wasteland Motel as well. Turned out the other prudes back at camp just couldn’t turn as good of a trick as she could.

Business wasn’t great for Bo, but it was good enough for now. He filled the vending machine with long-expired orange sodas he found in an old storage room.

“I can add the continental breakfast soon, if business keeps improving,” he said.

One day, Bo found a set of keys. He had no idea what they were meant to unlock. He showed them to Clara. She had no idea, either. Bo regarded the keys curiously for a while before hanging them up on the wall behind the front desk.

A few days later, the camp mayor paid a surprise visit to the Wasteland Motel. He came on his ancient, sputtering dune buggy in a swirling haze of sand and noise.

Bo took the mayor all around the grounds, showing off the motel and all its amenities with pride. The mayor just laughed at first.

“Place is a dump!” he said.

That was before Clara invited him into a room. When he came out, he wasn’t laughing anymore.

“I’m still not sure of this place,” he said, buttoning his pants as he prepared to leave in his dune buggy.

The next day, he came back with Linda. He rented a room, fucked her in it. Then Linda came and sat around in Bo’s office afterwards. They shared a can of beef stew while the mayor went into the room with Clara once again.

That day Bo finally discovered what the keys were for.

There was a hatch around back, next to the big concrete hole in the ground. Bo unlocked the hatch and went down into the darkness. He was scared for his life but just had to find out what was down there.

What he found was stacks and stacks of white plastic bags. Inside the bags were chlorine pellets. He didn’t know what chlorine was or what it was used for, but he figured it out rather quickly from the writing on the bags.

The concrete hole in the ground was supposed to be a swimming pool. How nice…

There was something else down there, too. Something like 4,000 pounds of red string. In crates. This too puzzled him, for some time afterwards, until the day he found the plaque beneath a large pile of rubble out front.

“THE WORLD’S BIGGEST BALL OF STRING”, it read.

What a turn of events. No one was laughing at Bo anymore.

Eventually, the motel became a very popular place for all the people from the camp. They came there to get away as time and work allowed, and they always brought goods to trade in return for their stay.

On the one-year anniversary of its reopening, Bo decided to throw a big party at the motel and he invited the whole entire camp, free of charge. They all came over the dunes and celebrated together. It was a very happy day indeed.

How foolish they felt as they all milled about, joking, laughing, and drinking by the pool that night. It felt good to swim in the cool, clear water, far away from camp.

They spoke about the odd curiosity of “The World’s Biggest Ball of String” and what it must have meant to travellers from times past, back when the road outside still went somewhere. But that was the other thing.

“The road could go somewhere, couldn’t it?” Mort said.

“I suppose…” The mayor was forced to admit, floating on his back in the pool.

The people began to smile, considering the possibility. The thought of the world opening back up to them, when it had seemed so lost and destroyed and closed off for such a long time before.

Bo looked up at the stars and lost himself in reverie. He felt great pride for having left the camp, re-staking their claim on the outside world, when everyone else had been so fearful and close minded. For the first time in his or anyone else’s recollection, they felt hopeful, unworried as tribe.

Certainly no one was worried about the silent, shadowy forms closing in on them.

Deformed. Scab-faced. Hairless humanoid mutations. Armed with cinderblock clubs, repurposed car parts, and sharpened, ax-like stop signs, let’s just say they were far less concerned with “The World’s Biggest Ball of String” than they were with the pool of floating meat there before them.

Reclining peacefully in her pool chair, the old blind woman whispered, “told you so…”

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