Inkster of the Week: Harrison Marshall

Thursday 29th September 2022

For his Level Three writing portfolio, Harrison elected to write the opening chapter of a novel. Here it is for your enjoyment.

All The Good Times - Chapter 1

Rusted chairs and ashtrays welcomed visitors with open arms. And touch starved rooms patiently slept in their quaint dresses. A sign that barely stood anymore read in faint white chipped paint; Misty’s Place. A stretch of 9 doors, each with faded numbers, lay behind a mostly glass reception sporting free coffee stickers and a DVD rental sign. If this place had been lifted up and shot into a midwest state where nothing but lizards and dust move, it would fit right in. But it isn’t. On one side, a thick slab of coast stands naked while bipolar seas shape its belly and salt its air. On the other side, endless meadows house local livestock and the occasional bungalow - sheep and cows mostly - grazing season after season.

Inside sat a receptionist. She sat straight, as though her spine had been removed and replaced with a long ruler. Her eyes gazed down at a soft-covered journal, which was hidden behind a taller extension of her desk, where visitors paid. The lady was skinny with a long grey plait that ran down to the middle of her back like a second backbone. Misty’s Place had shown all the evidence of an area that had once seen many good times. A place where many people had been, and where many things had happened. But now it appeared to run dry - Petered out. Forgotten.

​​ Outside the reception, a cream 1995 LandCruiser ute growled - its dull lights revealing a soft drizzle and the sea mist, as the day came to a close. Standing by the passenger door stood a woman. She had loose denim jeans, almost flared at the cuff, which rested on black Adidas sneakers. Above, she wore a wide fuzzy fleece similar in colour to her car. She hid her young face behind a corduroy black cap. 

She finished unloading two big suitcases out of the open back, which she then covered with a black cover to keep the damp air out. With the light quickly escaping the now dull sky, she threw a backpack around her left shoulder, took the key out of the ignition, shut the door, and headed to the reception - now a dimly lit glowing box of reflections. 

As she opened the door a small bell chimed, and she removed her cap revealing hay blonde hair that fell just above her shoulders. The air was cool, even cooler than outside. The smell of magazines and cheap pine candles scented the room. The woman behind the desk kept her head down, her attention remaining on the paper in front. Before saying a word, the visitor noticed the lady’s face. She looked older, but not the natural older that comes with ageing, more the accelerated older that suggested chain-smoking or a lifetime of stress? Her face drooped ever so slightly, as though her skin contained iron sand while a magnet hung from her chin. Canyons and arroyos diverged throughout her weathered cheeks and forehead and her oak eyes glanced up at the incoming visitor. The young girl spoke.

“Hey, you wouldn’t have a room spare I could stay in for just tonight?

After she spoke, in the swift pause of silence before the receptionist replied, she realised what a silly question that was. Of course there was a spare room. The place was completely dead. The receptionist opened her mouth as the start of a word formed, then closed it again quickly.

“Let me just have a check for you.”

She smiled scarcely, lips together. A beam of harsh white light lit her face and octagon glasses relocated from her head to her eye line. “We have Room 9 free, right down the end. It has the nicest view - you can see all the way down the coastline”

She angled her head down and gazed her eyes up away from her spectacles. The visitor paused for a second.

“Yeah… Yeah okay, that sounds great”

“What is your name hun?”


She smiled. Her zipped-up fleece acted like a thick turtle neck, and she tucked her chin into it to feel the fuzzy warmth. She left her two suitcases behind her and with her backpack still hung around her shoulder, she stepped forward to the counter.

As she moved, she noticed the decor around the room. The wall’s skin, an eggshell colour, crawled with small imperfections; cuts, scrapes and spots of darker shades. A box radio sat in the corner, facing a small circle coffee table with two cushion chairs around it. A large framed photograph hung on the wall behind the receptionist. It was a portrait of a man. Black and white. And not modern. Much older. What looked like a name penned in black ink in the bottom corner remained unreadable from behind the counter.

The Eftpos machine lit up. With the touch of a card the payment was completed.

Julia slipped her card back into her fleece pocket.

“So what brings you to SeaCliff hun?”

“I’m on a gap year” she replied enthusiastically, despite her exhaustion.

“Oh very nice”

The receptionist paused. Her face blunt. Her eyes grew small behind her spectacles. Silence quickly filled the room. Then she said

“How old are you?

“I’m 19” Julia replied quickly

“You have circles under your eyes”

“Excuse me?” Julia asked as she thought she heard wrong.

“You have dark circles, under your eyes”

The receptionist’s tone was soft but unsettling.

Julia let out a forced polite chuckle.

“And you are quite skinny aren’t you”

She looked up and down like she was evaluating Julia

“Weak bones, weak genes”

“But your face makes up for it - nothing to worry about”

Again Julia forced a smile, trying to hide the blooming uneasiness that this conversation was feeding.

“Have you any siblings?”

“Yes, two.” Julia responded politely

“Do they all have eyes as pure as yours? They are as blue as they come.”

“I wanted blue eyes you know. I used to cry about it all night long. My parents ought to have gotten rid of me. But sometimes things can not be chosen.”

The receptionist reached back over her shoulder, stroked her thick plait, and lifted it so it ran down the left side of her chest.

“Don’t worry.” she whispered

“The white noise of my seas can help clean even the most troubled of minds.”

A heavy splash of pain hit Julia’s chest and her vision became vignetted. Her ears began to ring and she felt a growing want to burst out in tears and scream till her vocal cords broke. The ringing got loud and her vision rapidly declined. She reached into her pocket which contained her meds. But then it stopped. She was horrified. Nothing had ever been as bad as that. In her pocket, she clutched onto the plastic sheets of prescriptions she had become so familiar with - Anxiolytic for her anxiety, Vilazodone for seasonal depression and an inhaler for her panic attacks.

The receptionist opened a drawer and pulled out a silver key with the number 9 attached to it. She placed it on the counter.

“His name was Truby King if you were wondering” She glanced back at the framed portrait.

Her eyes filled with awe.

“He was based in the town 20 minutes north of here”

“But SeaCliff was his real home”

Julia grabbed the key and turned her back and headed for the door. Making no stop she picked up her suitcases along the way.

The rain had picked up since she was inside and now it was one droning note. Rhythmic crashes of the sea and the cliff’s trees windy whispers orchestrated the night. She paced to room 9, at the end.

                                 *       *       *       *        *

Julia's hair lay upon the pillow like a sleepy golden storm, and her head felt as clear as the morning sea sky. The light poured down like honey through the gaps of the velvet curtains. Looking out the window, Julia noticed that the waves that raged so powerfully throughout the night were now gentle glassy swells. 

She walked to the mirror. From the late night and long drive, she anticipated to see a ghost in place of her figure, but to her surprise, she looked splendid. Her skin, which usually maintained a consistent paleness, was glowing. Her eyes, still glimmering blue, looked refreshed. No sign of the immense fatigue she had felt in the mornings of her previous stops. 

She opened the room 9 door and was met with the view of a lush green landscape. Beautiful gardens and trees surrounded the area, and tidy paths lead from each door and winded up into more greenery. Julia thought that with it being so dark and wet the night before, she must have missed all the foliage. She couldn’t recall much from the night before. Soft laughter and incoherent chatter travelled from the direction of the reception and a small arrow sign that pointed toward the greenery read King Gardens. There were now cars in every park, but all of the rooms still looked unused. 

Julia turned and stepped back to the front of her door, but before she could enter a voice appeared behind her. It was a man. He was looking right at her when he said -

“You are perfect. Everyone here is going to love you”.