The Thrill of It

by Emily Laubham

A boa constrictor lived in the walls of the East Exit Motel and the only person who knew was dead. On August 17, 1996, exotic animal dealer Hector Almonte checked in with a snake but left without one. He learned of its escape three states later. The expensive constrictor was a painful loss as Hector was trying to pay off a mortgage. Luckily, he sold a serval in the fall. But in the end, it didn’t matter much. A tiger mauled him in the spring.

True to its name, the motel appeared so suddenly off exit 28 that most drivers only saw it in the rear-view mirror. To pull off in time, they would’ve had to know it was there before they left the Michigan State Trunkline, and with no signs along the highway such a feat was impossible. The lack of advertisements and paying customers meant business was bad, but luck or something stranger kept it open.

Over half the guests, including Hector, were delivered by the grace of the gas station three miles down the road. If a driver looked tired or drunk, nineteen-year-old Edward Netherly, cashier, tipped them off to the motel’s existence. He had been hit by a drunk driver two years earlier. It left him with a noticeable limp, regular nightmares, and a sense of servitude toward sober drivers.

It was after 3 AM on a Thursday when Edward rung up a desperate-looking woman—Letty Robbins, formerly Beasley. She had bruised arms and a shallow cut across her cheek. He didn’t ask questions—he was actually rather shy around women—but pointed back toward where she came from. The motel wasn’t much, but it was a place to sleep it off for under 30 bucks.

Her room was farthest from the road. After letting herself in, she checked for hidden cameras in the walls. It wasn’t habit so much as it was ritual—something her mother had always done when she was alive. Satisfied that she wasn’t being watched, Letty ripped back the top cover. She fell into bed, laid on her side, and hugged her knees.

For a moment she hoped her husband was out looking for her—that by daylight they’d make love in this roadside motel. Then her eyes flicked to the chain across the door. As she’d learned many times before, rage slept too close to passion. A part of her hoped that he was looking, yes, but she also hoped the door would hold.

After she’d fallen asleep, the constrictor emerged from a space behind the bathroom sink. During its nearly twenty-year reign of the motel, the snake had grown to 6 feet. It had beautiful rainbow scales—so unlike the once-white-now-brown carpet—and didn’t seem to fully live in the waking world. It came and went as it pleased, hunting in the woods and walls.

The constrictor sensed Letty’s living heat and made its way up the bed post and onto the mattress. It curled into the space between her legs, dreaming of warmer weather.

When Letty opened her eyes, she did so with cautious clarity. The snake was gone, searching for a spot in the sun, but Letty sensed she’d been visited by someone or something. She had dreamed of her mother walking barefoot in the jungle. She was in obvious pain—rocks and biting ants at her feet—but the pride on her face outweighed any discomfort.

Letty’s mother used to tell stories of the Peruvian hotel where she lived and worked for three years. It’s where she became pregnant with Letty, though she gave birth back in the States. She spoke of it longingly but sparingly, like she was afraid to reminisce for fear of waking some unwanted memory.

Letty made her decision in the midst of the dream. She would take the money her mother left in her will and fly south, leave the country for a while. Trade her husband for something tropic. She wouldn’t wait for him, enraged and lusting, to find her like he always did. She was sick for something wild and unfamiliar. Sick for the smell of green and the feel of leaves beneath her belly.

As she drove away from the East Exit Motel, the snake was throwing yet another coil around something small and soft and brown. The little creature’s heart slowed. After all these years, it was the will to survive that drove the hunt—some underlying imperative, monotonous in its regularity.

But sooner or later, every living thing remembers: to survive can be a thrill. 

Emily Laubham is not sure why she writes, but she’s glad she does. If she didn’t, she would know a lot less about her self and the importance of silence. She’d also drink less.
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