Monday, February 5, 2007

Where the Fog Comes From

I grew up in a place that doesn't have a name, its just an empty place on the map, where the river bends, and there are many small bays where the river people cluster their homes and park their boats and put their backs to the dark woods that surround them.

We lived in a small white house on a hill, tucked away in the woods, and you could see our porchlight from miles away through the trees, sometimes, but the rest of the neighborhood could flood, and I remember how surprised I was that I could ride my ancient green bike through muddy water that came up to my waist, and the quiet-kids-who-weren't-allowed-to-play lived in stilt-houses on the lowest road, and sometimes they had to ride to the place where the schoolbus came for us in their parent's fishing boats.

I spent most of the time running around and exploring the wilderness, alone, a wild kid who hardly ever talked, with burs and twigs and leaves tangled in my hair, my arms and legs covered in scrapes and cuts and bruises and cold mud, and although there wasn't a soul who knew the woods and bogs and meadows and swamps better than I did, there was a lot I didn't know, there were directions I never explored, like the deep parts of the swamp, past the place where the reeds grow as high as trees, the place where the fog comes from.

I never went very far in that direction, because it gave me the creeps, and the deeper I went, the stronger that sense of the creeps got, until I had to turn back.

Too easy to lose your sense of direction in an endless forest of reeds that's taller than you are.

There's a part of this that is probably hard for some of you to imagine, I know it'd be hard for me, if I hadn't come from there, because it can be hard enough for me to remember how it was, nowadays, let alone describe it.

We all tend to live in places where everything has been discovered already, where everything has a name, where everything is known, and there are more people than animals, and more houses than trees, sometimes.

When you walk in a place where people have walked for many generations, the unknown is some immaterial thing, very far away.

But there are places that are not like that, places on the edge of the wilderness, where you not only get close to the unknown, but you can even enter it, and wander around inside it, if you dare, and it was daring, because if anything happened to you, there'd be no one but the animals to hear a poor kid shouting for help, and we'd all probably be living on the moon before they found your body.

You'd always be watching out for quicksand, and poison oak, among all the other things that don't even have names, like those vines that grow across pits and become covered in leaves, which can even be kinda fun, if you don't break yer balls discovering them when yer legs poke through the holes in the weave and you dangle by your crotch like an idiot over the unknown amounts of air below you, yah, they can be kinda fun because they work like a weird plant-trampoline, like one of those nets under a trapeize.

And there are strange, gray jungle-gyms to play on, formed by trees struck down by lightning, but you have to watch out for colorful snakes, and you always have to watch where you are putting your hands when you climb, because animal poop can carry something that works like heartworms for humans, a kid died from it when I was in elementary school.

I don't know if there's actually more ghosts in the country than there is in the city, but the people in the country tend to die in creepy ways, like someone's older brother falling through the ice on the river in the winter, and all winter long we all have to think about the bodies down there that can't be retrieved, down there in the darkness below the ice, when we drive over that spot on the bridge every morning in the school bus.

And then there's the Country Dark, on overcast nights when there is no moon, and you can't see anything but black when you wave your own hand in front of your face, and you have to just feel your way along like a blind person, to get home.

Even if you were smart enough to carry a flashlight when you went out to play in the light of the morning, on the way home, in the pitch blackness of the Country Dark, a flashlight can only penetrate the darkness so far, and sometimes you might as well turn it off, if you end up in the middle of a meadow, you won't be able to see the edges of the field, and it becomes super easy to lose track of the direction you are facing if you splash the flashlight around too much, because there's nothing but a bunch of identical pictures of grass going out in every direction to help you set a course, and even when you get to the edge of the field, where it meets the woods, you can no longer be sure of which edge of the field it is.

And the woods won't help you, either.

And sometimes, at night, you'd hear the screams of animals, when they were caught and being eaten by other animals, but you wouldn't know what kind of animal was screaming, because they don't sound anything like they look, when they die.

And the animals aren't afraid of you, either, because they've watched you long enough that they've gotten used to you, or maybe its because they haven't had enough contact with people to be afraid of us, yet, or maybe they can tell when yer a predator looking for food by how you move, or something, but yer just another animal, and a slow-moving one, at that, to them.

It can even be downright disney, when the weaker animals are scared, they tend to stay closer to humans, because their predators are more cautious of us, and so the little ones feel safer around us, they'll even rush at you when something else spooks 'em, and that can be a little disconcerting heh.

But there's also an even darker side than I've been talking about, there is a madness that infects the animal kingdom, where the natural order of things is thrown aside and it all becomes totally unpredictable, where the animals sit on their ass like humans and giggle out piles of saliva, and its called rabies.

And then there's the fog, fog that so thick that you can stand on the edge of a road, on the way home from afterschool detention (yer walking home fer miles and miles through the countryside, baby, 'cause there's no buses fer detention kids and you don't want yer parents findin' out you got in trouble heh), and see nothing but swirling milk when a car rockets by, three feet away from you.

Fog like that was common, there were times of the year when it came rolling in every day for weeks at a time.

On the bright side, cars passing by were pretty uncommon, we used to lay out in the middle of the road and drink the beers we stole and watch the stars spin past for hours, and we could hear the wet noise of car tires cresting hills in the road from miles away, if there'd been any, but there usually weren't any.

And, in the rare event that a car did come by, we'd get up and dive into the bushes on the side of the road at the last second, right before they'd see us.

Yah, that was called "car-dodging" heh.

Anyways, we moved away from there when I was in my mid-teens, and I went to high school in the suburbs, and eventually I ended up working way up in a skyscraper in the middle of one of the biggest cities on the earth, but over the years I've had the opportunity to go back there a few times, usually after somebody at a party decided they wanted to go on a roadtrip to the "scariest place" anybody knew about.

The scariest place I know about is a place we called the Ruins, back there in that place with no name, where the river bends, in the deepest parts of the woods, overlooking the swamp of high reeds where no one ever goes, where the fog comes from.

And that's where I'd take you.

According to the ancient raisin-headed farmers in the area, it had been a farm, deep in the woods on purpose, 'cause it was a place where some bad guys made booze, back in the prohibition times, but all that was left of it was some stone walls around a courtyard, and something that looked like a tower, which was probably the remains of a grain silo.

And there was a small stone room, off the courtyard, with a crumbling stone roof, and an area of the stone floor that was sunken, like some kinda ancient roman bathhouse.

And in the center of the courtyard, which was now completely overgrown with dead weeds and stunted attempts at trees, was a big square stone, affectionately referred to as the "chopping block."

The whole place was half-swallowed by a hill, so that the top of the tower and the top of the wall on one side of the courtyard was at ground level, and the ground fell away steeply from the bottom of the wall on the opposite side.

You could look down into the courtyard from the top of the "tower," and it was filled with dirt up to a point where the top of its wall made nice place to sit in a circle, so we'd always build a fire in the center and sit around, but depending on where you were sitting, you had to be careful not to lean too far back or you could take a nasty tumble off the wall.

Anyways, anytime I went back to it, the Ruins never failed to entertain, and by "entertain" I mean: scare the living shit out of whoever I brought there.

Weird things happen at the Ruins, just as weird things had always happened at the Ruins, from the very first time me and a buddy found it, in the deepest part of the woods, on the edge of the swamp where no one went.

Everything was fine and dandy that first time, until we decided it was time to go, and even though we could see the path through the woods we needed to use to get home from the top of the tower, by the time we descended into the thick underbrush at the bottom, we totally lost sight of it, and we ended up getting lost in the woods for two hours as we tried to get away from the Ruins, only to eventually find ourselves staring at its crumbling stone walls again.

My friend was so scared that second time we came across it with our slap-powered flashlights that he didn't even want to make sure it was the same Ruins, he was saying crazy stuff like "the Ruins won't let us get away! It won't let us leave!" and he just wanted to turn around and run back the way we came, but if we would've done that, we would've been heading deeper into the unexplored swamp, and farther from home, so I'm glad I didn't listen to him.

Yah, its weird enough, alright, there's a part of me that's glad I don't ever have to go back there heh.

The last time I went, which was many years ago, now, our fun kept getting interrupted by the unearthly screams of small animals getting killed by something moving along a perimeter in the woods around us.

But we were a tough group, and we stuck it out, for a while.

After the fourth or fifth animal died, the novelty of it was really starting to get thin, and the comedy was getting hard to come by, and suddenly there was an air-raid siren going off somewhere, far away, in the middle of the night, and that's when folks decided to pack it in.

It was very dark as we made our way to the car, so travel was slow, and by the time we got there, one of those thick fogs had decided to roll in, and to make matters worse, the fog was everywhere we drove for two hours, including the entire length of the tollway, which means it had spread through every town we'd passed and across at least half the state.

That's not exactly supernatural, or anything, y'know, but its uncommon enough to give you the creeps.

Especially since the Ruins overlooks the place in the swamp where the fog comes from, the place with the high reeds where no one has the balls to go.

Sometimes I wonder, y'know, with the way we keep spreading out and building homes and supermarkets and parking lots and shit, if the Ruins is still back there, exactly as it was, sulking in its creepy rat's nest of woods under the Country Dark, lonely, wishing it had someone to scare the shit out of.

But I only wonder a little.

Because I don't think I'd really like to know the answer, either way.

The idea of it still sitting there, the same as it was, in a place humanity has collectively decided to avoid, gives me the chills.

And I'd be tempted to go and knock on your door and warn you, and look like a crazy person, if you lived in a house that was built on top of that place heh.

No comments: