I am driving with my mother somewhere in the south or the mid-atlantic.
Not really the south or the mid-atlantic, somewhere that bears an energetic resemblance to the aforementioned but is unique in its particularities.
Quite unique, I will find.
In the back seat is a blanket covering a BB gun and a giant cap rifle, food, and various other nonessentials.
We go down the somewhat traffic ridden road and I know there are police almost everywhere, but still my mother fails to correct some sort of vague illegality that is sufficient to get us pulled over. I am disappointed.
Blue and red lights.
We roll the windows down. A cop dressed in olive drab walks up to the back window and instantly pulls the blanket off the guns and gives me a severe look.
He knew! I am amazed.
“Why do you need these?” he accuses, handling the BB gun roughly and with an almost utter lack of gun safety.
“That’s a BB gun and the other is a cap rifle, they’re not very dangerous,” I clarify.
He eventually seems to arrive at the conclusion of what they are. I have the feeling I did not even need to tell him.
“We could have taken real guns but I thought that would be a bad idea. I’m sorry. Please.”
I am nearly on the verge of crying. I do not desire to go to jail or pay a large fine for something as typically trivial as this. My pleading is followed by silence for a few seconds.
The cop rolls the situation over in his head and seems to deduce that we are not particularly dangerous people.
“It’s not a big deal; I’ll let you off this time.” he says casually. He replaces the guns over the blanket.
“But do you know what’s up there on that hill?”
An air of mystery descends. On our right side is a large, dark hill covered with thick forest and grassy cattail marshlands leading up to it, as may be seen in parts of Pennsylvania. There is no path leading up to it and it seems exceptionally isolated from the rest of the world.
“No, I have no idea,” say I.
“I can show you,” he says, mystery thick behind his voice.
My mother is not at all interested in coming. She stays behind.
I do not know what pulls me towards the wild but it is an irresistible force and whatever is out there seems much more fascinating than the highway, and more dangerous.
We start off. The policeman begins to descend the ten foot slope directly beside the road and I follow him. He makes his own trail amongst the knee-high grasses that undulate for two-hundred feet until the more severe section of the slope upwards. After traveling increasingly far from the safety of the highway, we approach the trees and walk through them, in the midst of the dark and subconsciously-attuned woods native to this part of the country. The noises of broken sticks and crushing leaves sound.
However, I feel some sort of break in the solidity of the forest. I see light through the other side of the vegetation. The policeman smiles.
We break through the forest to a concrete ramp guarded by a chainlink fence. There is a hole in the fence that we step through. To the direct right of the slope is a large brick apartment building with faded yellow window casings on its myriad windows.
The building is clearly not being used.
I feel very apprehensive at the bizarre and monolithic feeling caused by such an object in the middle of the woods, but curiosity propels my feet nevertheless.
After mounting the incline, we turn to the right side and see another building that was being hid behind the first as we were on the ramp, and to the right of that one is yet another smaller version of the same, so that the three combine to make a U shape which we would have been on the left side of a minute ago.
We make it to the middle of these structures. They look at least seventy years old. There are stairwells down to possible entrances underground but we worry not with them.
Suddenly the policeman takes a pistol out of his holster and starts shooting at the wall and windows.
“What are you doing?” I ask, startled. The gun seems inexplicably quieter than a real one. His aim is very specific. I am not used to policemen breaking the law.
“Look in those windows.” he says. I feel a dirge bell ring.
I can see clearly inside each of these windows. As I walk, in awe, down the side of the apartment building, I see room after room of people, motionless, going about their lives or simply sitting and staring out at whatever is in front of their windows. Young people, old men, all sorts of different inhabitants.
They are all stuck there, silent, but look as if they could suddenly move if something in the atmosphere shifted. It is so nearly like they are still alive.
“There was an accident here,” saith the policeman gravely, “A bad accident. Something happened nearby and everyone in these apartment complexes was frozen in time where they stand. It happened decades ago.”
The gravity of this dawns on me and I feel a strong sense of melancholy. It reminds me of a similar event somewhere else in the world.
“Here, take this rock lobber,” he says, out of the blue, handing me an underpowered or modified pistol. “Shoot some of them.”
I don’t know what comes over me, or if I am simply afraid to not obey, but I fire at a few of these ephemeral personages and small holes seem to appear in them where the slow rocklike projectile hits them. It is like a bizarre target gallery.
I give the gun back, wondering if I should feel guilty or contented with ending their ceaseless vigil. I cannot tell if I killed them or not, but nothing about them essentially seemed to change after being shot.
Either way, the policeman’s habit of coming out here and regularly using this hideous place as a target gallery makes me feel nervous.
“I am going to leave,” say I.
“You should go up that path to the new civilization,” he advises. I nod. East of the apartments, further into the wilderness, lay a concrete path with a gate partially blocking it. I pass through the old gate and continue along. Rocks litter the way.
The policeman leaves and goes back to his car.
After putting some much-needed distance between me and those awful apartment buildings, I find myself curious as to what is ahead. I walk another five hundred feet.
My curiosity is satisfied as I see, far away, a small village built on top of a huge slab of concrete. A minute later I am there.
The terrain is generally somewhat flat, and the town is hemmed in by forested wilderness. The town is on the top of a hill, though, so the highest parts of the trees barely manage to rise above the settlement.
There are people here!
I find some young teen boy, somewhat overweight, and we walk along the main corridor of the town, talking about it. He seems so bored that we become friends quickly, as I am the only new thing to happen at the town in quite a while.
I ask him how the town was founded. He explains that some of the original residents from the apartment buildings managed to make it over here to start a new civilization. Now there are at least forty people in the area. I wonder how anyone could have escaped the accident.
The buildings around here are but small, blackened plank structures, but they give off a comforting if archaic energy compared to the brutalist Eastern European ambience of the last ones. I see some work being done in the area, dirt and gravel being moved, and there are several bobcats and excavators going about, doing their jobs.
Due to its remoteness, this settlement does not feel boring in the manner of some locations, but it does feel difficult to actually do much nonetheless.
We get off the beaten path and explore a fairly large cabin surrounded by woods. It has brown shingles and a single medium-sized window.
I walk up to it and peer in the window. There are many pots and pans, primitive darkwood furnishings, a few old books, and an icebox in it. But something is sitting in the chair close to the window I am looking into, on the right. A man-sized insect, a cricket or spider, or some unholy combination of man with the aforementioned. Its giant brown hairy legs splay out of myriad directions.
The thing is sitting there motionless.
“Let’s get out of here,” I say, very nervous.
“Oh yeah,” replies the boy. “Those are dangerous, we should go.”
We head, surprisingly slowly, back up the path separating us from the mainland of the town. My new friend and I mess around with gravel piles, look at construction equipment, perhaps go in a small cabin or two, and try generally to pass the time in any way we can. Sometimes we can see many people in the town and other times it looks nearly abandoned, but no reason is ever made clear as to the volatility of its rugged inhabitants.
After a while it becomes difficult to play around any more, and I do not want to retrace my steps and go back to the highway either. I feel that chapter of the adventure is over with and I am spooked still by those frozen structures.
Night is beginning to fall. It is not blurring the colors of the landscape or turning everything to black, but the carefreeness of the start of my voyage, if there ever was any, has faded away.
We are bored and feel the irresistible urge to explore more, dangerous as it may be.
Past the section with the bugman house is another turnoff into the woods, which has evidently been traveled before. We walk down the path, which heads downwards off the plateau of the town.
We come to a section where the grassy path ends and is replaced by a large square mass of concrete, fifty by fifty feet, with different rectangular shapes layered on top of it. It nearly seems like a children’s playground except for the vague eeriness and mystery surrounding its purpose.
We use it, however, for its supposed purpose and climb about on it, finding it a respite from the last events.
Then I hear something a ways behind us. Fear is in my friend’s eyes. I turn around and see, on the path coming from the town, another one of those horrid creatures. It lurches towards of with many light-brown hairy hairy arms and I don’t know how many legs.
We try to hide behind a concrete rectangle, but I hear it coming around the side and run to another shape before it sees me.
It is even more terrifying up close. I lose my friend at some point, and although I can deduce that he was not killed, I am never quite sure where he goes. My best guess is into the dark surrounding woods.
I play cat and mouse with the thing through different shapes until I eventually end up and the far end of the slab form the town. The pathway continues on further past that.
It sees me and has me cornered so that my best choice is to continue down the path.
Quickly the woods and trees go by me, for I am at top speed and jumping over logs and turning corners with an emergencial exhilaration I have rarely felt hitherto.
But it is yet behind me, and I find with horror that it is a tiny bit faster than me and is gaining ground at a tortuously slow rate. I need something to save me and at the next turn something does. An oak tree stands in the middle of the path so I barely brush by it and then put it between me and the thing as I continue running.
It smashes into the tree and falls. I look at it for a moment.
It is not dead but needs to make it off the ground before it can continue its pursuit.
I wonder what terrible accident could have caused such an abomination. The one at the apartment buildings or some sinister de-evolution from the surviving town? Or were they always in the surrounding woods?
At any rate, I continue as fast as I can and note the path’s curvature to the right. Perhaps it will eventually make a semicircle and join up with the rest of the town.
But yet again the thing is gaining on me and I run, filled with terror that I will trip up at some point and make a mistake. I am lucky, but it is only ten feet behind me.
I dodge under a branch and go around an S-bend, and see the path raise up. Five seconds later I am nearly on the level of the town again.
The creature is overrun and I make it, panting and happy to be safe again, onto the foundation of the town. The thing, evidently, is fearful of the area, for I never see it again.
And there is my friend, far away, on the top of a mound of dirt.
Finally, we are reunited, and I hope that my trials are over.