Show: Angel, Buffy
Summary: a strange traveler finds Oz’s new digs.
It was off the 15, not far off, maybe ten minutes off, which meant the casual tourists, they didn’t come so much. If they’d been depending on the bored, desperate driver needing to piss before they hit Nevada, they’d have been out of business a long time ago, but that’s not who they cared about.
Which was good, because it was getting harder to find the place, like there was some sort of strange magic, keeping away the kind of Californian driving an SUV while blaring frat rock and drinking Fresca. Maybe there was. Roadside attractions like the Zen Motel and Garden were getting fewer and further between. Even the billboard, big as life and twice as tall, already seemed faded as though it had been there fifty years and not two. The locals would often forget about it, even when an anxious Japanese schoolgirl was asking in carefully phrased English exactly where the Zen Motel and Garden was.
“Zen Motel?” the clerk at the AM PM mini-market would ask, his or her voice thick with conclusion. “Are you sure it’s out this way? I thought it was closer to Palm Springs, maybe out that way. Maybe it was here. Might have been. But not now, I don’t think.”
The tourist slash pilgrim would produce a map and directions and the clerk would wake up, perhaps too sleepy from the artificially frigid air and eternal hum of a thousand freezer cases. She’d suddenly remember that half of his questions were about the Zen Motel and Garden, one of American’s newest and coolest off-the-beaten-track attractions. It was so cool, in fact, that only celebrity hippies, digital hipsters, and non-Americans knew it existed.
“Oh, of course, the Zen Motel and Garden,” the clerk would say, stung into momentary wakefulness. “Oh, no problem. Y’see, you take–”
And that would be that. No one who didn’t need to find the place did, and those searching would find. It was almost Biblical, if you went in for that sort of thing. The owners of the place really didn’t, but that wasn’t their philosophy was all. They didn’t grudge the metaphor to anyone else.
The Zen Motel and Garden, the largest Zen garden in North America, if not the world, was the sort of place that was supposedly peaceful and tranquil, and somewhere on the 25 acre lot, there was indeed some peace. Mostly, there was jostling. The Zen Motel and Garden only had twenty-two rooms and it was rare one of them was empty overnight.
The traveler coming to see the place knew this, and she didn’t mind. She knew there would be room for her. First of all, they didn’t take reservations, and second of all, it was the kind of place where if you were meant to have a room, one would be waiting. She was the kind of traveler who was always meant to have a room; besides, she was traveling with an old friend of the innkeeper.
“Man, do you have any more of that water?” the boy asked, still sounding vaguely stoned. “Where are we, anyway? This doesn’t look like Sunnydale.”
“It’s not,” the traveler said with a slight smile. “Remember? You told me last night you’d come anywhere with me if I would just give you more of my awesome peyote.”
The boy–old enough to be a man, but still nothing more than an overgrown boy–blinked and sat up. “I was like, speaking metaphorically, you know,” he said. “Shit, we’re in, like, the desert.”
“Not like. We are actually there,” the traveler replied. “We’re going to see some friends.”
“I don’t have any friends out here–” the boy replied dazedly. He was an idiot, was Mr. MacLeish, but he was pretty. And necessary.
“Oh, we all have friends in the desert, Dev,” the traveler said with a smile. “You’ll see.”
The gravel kicked up an impressive spray as the traveler’s vintage black Cadillac, driven over route 66 before there were Cadillacs or route 66, finally reached the parking lot of the motel, standing there as it did in its faux 1950s motor hotel glory. The traveler knew for a fact that the Zen Motel and Garden was built only two years ago in perfect similarity to the old style. She liked it. She liked it a lot.
“You’re a weird chick,” Devon said. “Is this what you do? Travel the world in a big black Caddy finding wacked out places to hang?”
“I do, actually,” the traveler replied. “I used to go with a friend. He’d have liked you. He was a friend to the traveling musician. We followed the Dead for a while, but we parted when he wanted to follow Phish or whomever. I respected the Dead. No one else even compares.”
“Really? But you’re like, my age,” Devon said. “And you followed the Dead?”
“Babe, I’m not the girl you think I am,” the traveler said, opening the door to the searing desert heat and throwing her pale white legs into the glaring sun. “I’ve traveled forever, it seems like. Wherever you can think of, I’ve been.”
Devon put on his sunglasses and got out of the car, momentarily cursing at the heat as the traveler had expected. He was only mortal and sinful and human, after all. “Yeah? Well, you like been to–I don’t know, have you been to Canada? Like, the Yukon?”
“Sure. I used to know a guy up there named Jack,” the traveler replied. “He liked dogs. And snow. Come on, Dev, let’s go. There are people waiting for us.”
Devon was busy goggling at the stretch limo parked in the lot, right next to the rusted-out scooter that had clearly died on its final approach to the motel. He suddenly shook his head and followed.
“Hey, hey, babe,” he said. “What’s your name, anyway?”
“Martha,” she said.
“Martha,” he said. “That’s an old lady name. Why would your parents call you that?”
“They were sort of old-fashioned,” the traveler replied, yawning slightly as she gazed at the pool. One of them was skimming out the dust and dead bugs, something she heartily approved of. Innkeepers should keep their accommodations neat. “Plus, they gave my sister the pretty name.”
“Wild,” he said. “My parents named me Devon because it like, sounded Scottish. And we’re Scottish. Maybe Irish.”
“As good a reason as any,” the traveler said, opening the door to the lobby. It was slightly cooler, but she could tell if there was air conditioning, it was a minimal sort of conditioning, which went with the minimalist sort of place that this was. Bright carpet decorated with diamonds and swirls sat beneath their feet, blinding the traveler slightly. It was so deliciously ugly that it made her heart sing.
A sign hung over the bell desk. Devon walked up and scrutinized it, looking ridiculous in his long sleeves and long pants with movie star sunglasses. The traveler smiled at the image, almost excited about the inevitable future.
“Hey, Martha,” he said. “This place is wild! Check out what their little thing says!”
She knew the little saying by heart, had read the book the day it came out in Berkeley, and did not tell Devon so.
“What does it say?” the traveler asked, hoping that it would be the wolf and not the champion who came in to see them for some reason. Probably because the reaction of the wolf would be more interesting.
“It is good to have an end to journey toward,” Devon began, “But–”
“It is the journey that matters, in the end,” someone finished for him. “Devon?”
Devon went pale. “Oz? Oz-man?” he asked. “Is that you?”
“No, I’m an optical illusion,” Oz replied sagely.
“But–oh,” Devon said. “Wild, man. It is you. And you’re in the desert in this crazy hotel.”
“He owns it, Devon,” the traveler said, smiling.
“You do?” Devon asked. Oz nodded. “Cool, man.”
“Who’s your friend?” Oz asked, looking at the traveler with the faintest question on his face. She smiled at him.
“Hi, Oz. I’m Martha. I wanted to check out the place and this seemed like the best way.”
“Martha takes metaphor very seriously, man,” Devon said. “I said I’d go anywhere if she fed me some peyote and she took me here. She said she’s followed the Dead, Oz. Is that not the wildest thing ever?”
“Pretty wild,” Oz replied, looking the traveler over. She realized that he could probably smell what she was. If he could place what she was. There weren’t so many of them walking around, not anymore, and not in the desert places. “Your Caddy?”
“She’s taken me where I need to go,” she replied diffidently. “Where’s Groosalugg?”
“We call him Greg around here,” Oz said.
“You’re called Oz and you begrudge him Groo?” she asked, lifting an eyebrow. “That’s not very fair.”
“Not me,” he said. “His thing. You know Groo.”
“Actually, I don’t,” she said. “So. Got a guess yet?”
“The name gives it away,” he said. “That and the smell.”
Devon looked at them both like they’d sprouted extra arms and extra legs. The traveler smiled at him and he seemed to hear something that Oz didn’t here. He nodded and sat down on a couch that looked like a pair of bright red lips. She turned back to Oz and smiled.
“What do I smell like?” she asked, wondering what he would say in an era of so little holy magic and so much holy war.
“Fresh bread,” he said. “And magic. So.”
“Yes?” she asked, waiting for the question.
“Did you really go to France, like they said?” he asked.
The traveler thought of France, vaguely surprised that he hadn’t asked her about kitchens and sisters and sitting at the feet of someone whose memory she’d almost managed to shake in the great traveling she’d done. She shrugged.
“I did. Don’t know if it was when they say, but I went to France,” she told him. “I’ve gone everywhere. Mostly with friends. Mostly then I’d go with Julian–but you probably don’t know him so well because he’s not in the book. We both liked hotels. Hotels and the road.”
“I hear you,” Oz said. “Are they all like you?”
“No,” she said sadly. “Mostly they’re like the statues. Like your statues. Which I like, by the way. Very colorful.”
She shrugged toward the brightly painted plaster saints behind the bell counter, holding their arms out in imitation of the great one, silent and bright and infused only with human prayer. Oz looked at them and nodded.
“We have a free room today,” he told her. “Stay the night. You and Dev. I’ll cook. Groo will help.”
“Of course,” she replied. “But first, I need to speak with Groo. You can catch up with Dev while I do, if you’d like.”
Oz looked at her strangely, his eyes narrowing protectively. “I think I’ll go with, actually.”
“Fine by me,” she said. “You can ask me the question you really want to ask then.”
Oz nodded, not surprised that she knew what he was intrigued by. “You mean about the man himself?” he asked. “I mean, you are that Martha, aren’t you? You knew him.”
The pool was kidney-shaped and so blue that Martha knew that the walls and bottom have been painted aquamarine. She wouldn’t put it past them to have dyed the water; except dyed water was disgusting and people still occasionally swam in this pool.
“Yes, I knew him,” she said, looking at where the Groosalugg was skimming bugs, very much the particular half-man, half-demon she’d been searching for. She could smell Oz on the man, a faint odor that she knew the werewolf-man didn’t know she could scent for herself. So they were involved, then. It was fitting. “Funny, you calling him that. The man himself. It’s the way a lot of us think of him, at least the ones left. Particular us that came to America.”
“Did you really ask him to make Mary help you in the kitchen?” Oz asked, looking at his putative pool boy and smiling just a very little bit.
“I did,” Martha replied. “And he told me, very politely, no. Of course, I finished making dinner anyway. The bread would have burned. And they all ate dinner after listening to him, didn’t they?”
“They always do.” Oz smiled, and then pointed over to Groo. “There’s my man. He’ll save the day for you.”
“Who says it needs saving?” she said, slightly dismayed that Oz had guessed.
“No one,” he said. “Groo’s still there, either way.”
She kissed him on the cheek. “Go talk to Devon,” she said. “We’ll be back in a moment. I’d like to have dinner.”
Oz walked away from the saint and went to see his best friend from high school, still smiling at the coincidence. Only in the desert, he thought, can it happen like this–and only at the motel.
Laughing at the amazing predictability of the unpredictable, Oz went to find Devon, leaving Martha to speak to Groosalugg and find another savior for a world that already needed a thousand and would find a thousand more.
It would all be just fine.