South Dakota. A land unknown to ninety-percent of the world. Perhaps they know Mount Rushmore is somewhere in it, but the state is much bigger than the thirteen hundred acres encompassing the park.
I drove through it, admired the undulating desiccated grass and Wild West towns. Something about this state was different; it did not have the plain air of Minnesota nor the uneasy intensity of Montana.
I traveled over lengthy stretches of flatness, large hills with a climactic feeling as one crested them, and the occasional respitic river.
The first house I came upon was empty, a drywall shell devoid of any life. The next one after that was the same, made of wood instead. Its aged, weathered appearance shook something deep in my soul. That habitation had seen its share of use, people living inside it, using it as a bus stop shelter, a hunting shack, who knows what uses. At some point, everyone had abandoned it and considered it a lost cause.
These buildings, all similar in their air but different in their construction, had lost all their friendliness and instead sucked up the desolate air of the surrounding emptiness. I did not feel that they would give in easily to human habitation anymore. The structures had turned savage and hermetic with time.
At the third sighting of an abandoned building, I stopped with a mind to investigate. They were too fascinating to let drift past. Upon reaching a distance of twenty feet away, I hit a solid wall and stopped in my tracks. It was so clear that I could hear the voice in my head, telling me to leave the structure alone.
I tried to shake off the feeling, telling myself that it could not be anything tangible, just my imagination. Summoning up my reserves of courage, I took another step forward, nearly onto an animal skull.
That was the final sign; I turned back and headed in the other direction, constantly checking over my shoulder for the danger that felt so apparent.
After that, I avoided the constructs and tried to minimize their effect on me, diverting my eye as they approached. A tingle of regret haunted me, a curious pull leading me back into the dangerous vicinity of them. I could feel it pulling me ever so softly.
My mind was made up– no more house hunting. Once was enough. So I went on, past the middle of the state and into the western fringe, approaching the badlands. The scenery became even more explicitly Western, the type of subject a painter would be enamored with capturing. Sun was setting on the horizon, so I stopped to enjoy the tangerine shading over the oceans of native grasses and the vivid, watercolor sky.
Continuing on, it the world became bluer as twilight fell. The hopeful setting of the sunrise was replaced by a more lonesome, tense feeling.
Nearly at the top of a hill, I decided to stop soon thereafter, but just as I was about to set up camp, another one of those terrible buildings appeared close by.
This time it was impossible to ignore it, for reasons of safety, curiosity, and that subconscious pulling of my attention. I followed it, on foot. My boots swished over the grasses, sounding as noisy in the fading light as a marching band. There was a sound just ahead, in the building. I hesitated for a second but went on, trusting my strong faith in the Lord.
The mouth of the structure loomed over me, having no door and only two rooms, the second room not visible until one was past the first. Taking a long breath, I crossed the threshold into the front room. A destroyed floor and peeling wallpaper greeted me. The wainscoting was chipped and warped, and the only other objects in the room were small pieces of broken glass. There was another sound further in the house, a rustling.
My faith wavered severely. This situation was not the safest one to be in, and with nobody at all nearby I was entirely on my own. I sighed and took a step backwards, looking at the ground. Oppressive vibes overtook the area even more heavily.
“It is now or never,” I thought, turning the corner so I could see into the second room.
It was entirely empty. A large tumbleweed blew across the floor, scratching noisily as it hovered by.