Image via WikipediaThis excerpt a couple of pages into the book and introduces life at the Moonflower Motel Youth Hostel. We begin with Luke, who left New York City seven months prior and at 17 has just become manager of the hostel and has moved into his own trailer . . .
Luke felt something like excitement for the ﬁrst time in almost a year, and he welcomed it. He could hear the murmur of voices and laughter outside. Guests were returning from their day trips to nearby parks— Arches, Canyonlands, Monument Valley— and he needed to get back to the hostel. He stashed his stuff and put on a clean shirt, then jumped out the door and locked it, pocketing the key. He looked to the La Sal Mountains in the distance. He felt both contained and free in this valley, surrounded by the red sandstone of the Moab Rim. Moab was named after the Promised Land, he remembered Jim saying during one of their many conversations that winter, a twinkle in his eye. The ﬁrst Mormons had given the town its biblical name in 1880.
It had certainly been that for Jim and Clare, discovering Moab last summer on a meandering road trip through the Southwest, after taking their daughter, Ava, to New York following her high school graduation in May.
“Where in New York?” Luke had asked.
“She goes to Barnard College, on the Upper West Side,” Jim
had told him.
“She must be crazy smart,” Luke had said, not mentioning that
he’d lived around the corner from the school.
“Well, she was smart enough to want to get a job right away, rather than tour the country with her parents.” Jim and Clare had burned rubber in a straight line west from New York to Denver and started their wanderings there. At ﬁrst they just enjoyed the sights, but when they got to Moab, they were amazed by their visceral response to the place, and their willingness to jump into another life.
Some would call it impulsive, but Luke knew exactly how Jim and Clare felt, although he didn’t consider it a “spiritual conversion” the way they did. Well, the way Jim did.
A cherry red Jeep was idling in front of the hostel. The main parking lot must be full.
“Can I help you?” Luke asked, approaching it.
“Yeah.” There were two college- age kids in the Jeep. “We just got here. Where can we park?” Luke directed them to the alternate parking area behind his trailer.
He nodded to a few travelers congregating out front by the pic-nic tables as he opened the door to the hostel, knowing he would ﬁnd Tangerine inside. She had jumped at the chance to ﬁll in for him at the front desk because she was looking for more hours to work so that she could afford to stay longer. It was toward the end of the season, and businesses weren’t hiring anymore. She was talking to Brigitte from Chicago, who also had started living at the hostel earlier this summer and was thinking about quitting law school. Brigitte had patched together a full- time work schedule by cleaning at the hostel and making mochas at the coffee house on Center Street.
Luke stopped, mesmerized by Tangerine’s Australian twang. She had very bright red hair in two braids down her back, green eyes, a nose ring, a tongue stud, and several earrings. For all of that outer adornment, she didn’t wear any makeup, and Luke thought she was stunning. Of course, she also made him ner vous. Luke grabbed the guest book from the desk, wanting to ﬁnish the paperwork from his
“I’m broke and my mum wants me to come home, but I’m not ready to leave.” Tangerine sounded unusually glum, and the intimacy in her sadness made Luke feel like an intruder, so he turned and went back outside.
The sun was ﬁnally behind the building, and guests were milling about, wondering what to do for dinner. One family was ﬁring up one of the grills, and two of the three picnic tables were full. It was virtually impossible to be alone at the hostel, and Luke had to zigzag between three children playing tag to get to the empty picnic table to ﬁnish his work. He saw the guys from the cherry red Jeep and motioned them toward the door, knowing that Tangerine would get them settled.
Hal sat down next to him. Hal had been hanging around the hos- tel for years, so when Jim bought the place and took over, he sort of adopted Hal with it, giving him the gloriﬁed title of “maintenance manager,” which was a nice way of saying that Hal was willing to do the dirty work but needed some management himself. Hal lived in a trailer on the grounds, even though he had family in town. Luke had never gotten the whole story, but he knew that Hal had been born and raised in the area, that his geologic knowledge was impressive, and that he believed in the inherent evil of extraterrestrials and Big- foot. He was also a diagnosed schizophrenic, but Georgia, who had been an art therapist specializing in adult psychosis, would have called Hal “high- functioning.”
Luke raised his chin brieﬂ y. “How’re ya doin’?” he asked. Luke noticed that Hal had food stuck in his drooping mustache, but it never did any good to call attention to that. His graying hair was also constantly a bird’s nest, adding to his permanent look of confusion.
“Hangin’ in there,” Hal said as he turned away from Luke to greet the two new guys, who sat down at the other end of the table, opening cans of beer. Hal started talking to them. “You know the Zettians come in and just explode your world, man. It’s a totally mind- blowing experience!” The Zettians again. Luke smiled weakly at the new guys. He needed to do some damage control.
“That’s cool, man,” Luke said, knowing from experience that the best way to deal with Hal was to agree with him.
“No, man, it’s not cool.” Oops, wrong. “It’s not cool to have aliens invade your head and take you away with them. Those negative vortexes, man, stay away from them.”
“Wait,” one of the guys said, trying not to laugh. “What’s a negative vortex?”
Hal’s eyes bugged out. “You don’t know about vortexes? There’s electric and magnetic, positive and negative. You’ve got to watch out for the negative. You don’t know what can come through. Bigfoot,
the Zettians. They take over your mind and you can’t think for yourself, and the Zettians do what ever they want with you . . . They pick your brain, they just pick, pick, pick . . .”
“Hal,” Luke said gently, putting his hand on Hal’s arm. It always made him a little nervous when Hal was in one of his moods. “Sorry, man, that is rough. Hey, could you make sure there’s enough
toilet paper in the bathrooms? Somebody mentioned something about it this afternoon, but I forgot which one . . .” The look of panic was beginning to fade from Hal’s face, and he nodded.
“I’ll get right to it,” he said, and went inside the hostel.
“Was he for real?” came the inevitable question, and the two guys laughed. Luke laughed too, and he relaxed. Some people thought Hal was scary, but he wasn’t dangerous, just part of the wacky charm of the hostel. And he was deﬁ nitely for real. At the Moonﬂ ower, Luke didn’t have to question his reality, the way he’d been forced to last year in New York. He shook his head slightly. Home in New York
with his father, Frank. That was another lifetime ago. Home could be anywhere. Home was right here. He loved this makeshift community.