If there is danger in glimpsing an unknowable truth, dear reader, I say put this manuscript down and back away. Treat it’s unthinkable teachings as pools of lava or quicksand and skip over them as you quickly pass, intact. It has often been suggested by the thinkers of our time that the human mind lacks the ability to assemble all it knows. That seeming weakness is in truth our greatest blessing. We are protected by forgetfulness. We are shielded by dreams and hope for something greater. We are kept from the great horrors of existence by the inability to add it all up. The Big Picture eludes us to our benefit; the bright colors of day are matched by the clinging black of night. Every joy ends in screaming. Every gain is equaled by loss.
It is not without some jeopardy that you hear this tale, and from the outset I should say that a modern person such as yourself will undoubtedly have some trouble accepting it as truth. You sit amongst the structures of civilization within the bright of a normal day. You stride the earth’s surface as its seeming master, unaware the hidden hierarchies established long before your line began. It is within this more ancient region we will travel as we follow the trail to truth.
If you have come for mere entertainment, then again, recant yourself from this tale for it will surely not satisfy. Dismiss yourself now, that I may take those who already know; the value of story is in the moving towards a conclusion, rather than the capture of a tidy and moral end. We will capture nothing tonight, only lure out curious beasts that stalk beyond the reach of our communal light. We will not own them as trophies, but instead prize their memory, their mystery.
We will be glad to not know.
Such things as are told herein do not fit in your world.
They have their own realm, one of lost direction, missed chances, deep pools of shadow and narrow natural formations. This place is known to only a few remote souls who can dare to distance themselves from everything--conveniences certainly but also more basic things. Water and company, the sound of other voices and the feeling of fresh ideas are all scarcities. One trades those things for the open sunlit sky and a clear window to the stars at night. The open range and ragged hoodoo horizon are a wealth of spirit that comes with being here, being alone, being among.
The silence here hums a subtle song to itself, and only those of such slow pace can chance to hear a stanza, never more, of this unbearably lost cadence. In such a flattened place, time passes differently. It has been said that time and space are parallel lines that meet, and here on the hardpan it has never shown so clear. Without the forests and hills to add structure and pace, time spreads flat across the playa, slowed to a crawl, with pools forming in the slightest unevenness of a regular horizon. Men have sought such barren badlands for solitude and escape since the first runaway set foot to the sand. History is rife with tales of outlaws who escaped both justice and fate in equal parts once they found the right place.
Progress covers the globe in metal a foot thick. Within our own American countryside, only the deserts and wastes are left more or less alone. Perhaps it is some poison that afflicts the very soil in spots, a stain that drives even nature away.
Within the flats are hidden slots that barely reveal a feature to the open air. The narrowest of cracks in the redrock flats can lead down into tight mazes of eroded rock and choking time. The twists and sculpted forms, illuminated by refracted and frozen light, hidden so slightly away from the seldom-trodden central basins are but one of the marvelous deceptions the region has tucked away.
There is a spiritual badland out here, offering nothing to life in the way of shelter or nourishment. No seeds take root. Any that do are torn away by the savage climate of these lost or forgotten lands.
Those native to the west share tales of such things; lies that the desert tells, tricks that it plays, and even songs that it sings, to warn or to lure. In every case it is a place of super nature, where worlds of strange design meet and meld. Drawn by the quartzite in the rock and sand, beings from very distant points visit to congress with mankind.
Visible to the intrepid, who brave the flats and slots, are rock panels carved with the images of these strange beings. In a growing number of cases these images are the last thing explorers see before succumbing to terrible thirst or heat.
Yet none of this is brought to light in brochures of attractions or travel agent pitches. There it is a brief nuisance, passed over with scarcely a comment. The long hot highways that do cross it are merely an excuse to turn up the air and speed, open it up and race for the next, leagues-away city.
The American Wasteland, the high desert of the continental southwest, has become a spread of lonely signs on ever-widening spaces. Most signs out here, and there are not many, are unkempt, inaccurate, and dangerously out of date. Population signs announce ghost town inhabitants to those who slow long enough to read. Numbers that were generous in the town’s heydays are now much closer due to dying things being drawn there for ages.
The deserts of southwest America offer much of that shattered frontier; harsh landscapes, dusty wastes and endless Martian redrock. There in the lands between the Midwest and west coast lie the most intemperate and unforgiving folds of earth anywhere. Deemed a burden to exploit for riches beneath the skin, this land was then left forgotten, like a skull turned to stone by the sun. Early explorers, being sailors by trade, called these giant crags ‘reefs’ after their oceanic coral counterparts. In truth, and unknown to men of those days, the whole of the Great Basin was once an ancient sea, making such an analogy wholly appropriate. There are times in the deep night, after one has sped for hours across history’s dried seabeds, when a reef will loom out of the dark. Enormous and powerful in passing, the sharp shapes suggest dorsal fins and teeth to a tired mind and jerk such a driver awake.
It is to these barren and blasted places our path will lead, away from your green New England hills, once the subject of their own dark love of crafted myths, dark no longer in the light of cities which never sleep. The American coasts are each thriving models of opposing progress, showcases of new ideas and new objects. The mysteries and horrors have fled inland, much as disease never strikes at the edge. Just as it is always that central soft tissue that is attacked, it is always some spot at the end of a long and twisting trek, that spawns such terrible suffering. Monsters crawl from caves.
The New England hills and odd, backwater towns have long since disclosed their secrets. Even places with names like Dreadwich and Harkam, once so deeply drawn in shadow that it seemed night most times, have become whitewashed boardwalks and perfect, painted homes.
Progress pushed in from the sea and inadvertently forced the shadows that survived to escape. In the least it was a monstrous migration to lands less trampled by men. Yet however distant and spread, these lands were already claimed by their own native myths, and the arrival of strange ones made for a crude and unquiet binding.
It is time to commit, reader. Choose now. Follow me on this journey, from the familiar settings of your tranquil abode, out into the night of unreason, towards uninhabitable places painted gold by a frozen sun. Or refuse to play. Put down the tale and go seek lighter fare in the company of others, and laughter. Should this walkabout lead into the darkness you may long to hear your own.
I first came to know those foreign hills and wild, unlivable lands much by accident. Faced with a stretch of unemployed freedom, I decided to drive cross-country and absorb what I could of the states. The first few days were mundane as I left the city. Every year it seems another day is lost to the extrication of oneself from the system, and more effort is required to make that break.
On day five I raced across the uncurved horizon from Kansas to Colorado and slammed headfirst into the Rocky Mountain Range, seeming all the steeper due to the last four days of flatland.
Most key moments in my life have come at the golden time between afternoon and evening and this was no different; there on the curved ribbon of asphalt that wound razorwire through sidewinder pass, I hit a high point. Of course it could have been the elation of having a month ahead of me. There in the sheer golden glow of sunlight bent by ancient granite slabs I had a moment that seemed like a fire inside me lighting. Something connected and seemed clear. I was on a path to something magnificent.
Hours later I was cursing along that limitless black stretch of asphalt. It tears across America like a constrictor breaking its victim’s bones in order to accord the swallow.
All day I had been humming at high-speed, air conditioning roaring against that angry flatland sun, and with the onset of the evening hours casting the west in gold, I gladly rolled down the window and rested my elbow on the sill as I drove. The air remained warm, but had dropped considerably in a very short time. As it brushed and whipped at my hair, I could catch the occasional hint of sage, and the distant, deeper musk of night.
Moths began to appear, most swirling in self-destruction before the relentless stare of my high-beams. Through the rush of wind I could detect an odd chittering, as if a great many crickets were performing in tandem for the arriving silence of sleep. Their harmony seemed somehow strange of tone, though I am no stranger to the sounds of insects, being fascinated by them since childhood. But somehow, with those I was hearing there was a distinguishable difference, though vague enough to elude description save that it left me just barely shaken, somehow the more nervous in my solitude on that limitless road.
The prospect of a hotel in this void of vanishing sand and emerging stars seemed an anachronism in what was a primitive, ruined land. Should I have seen one, a dash of neon far up on the flat, I surely would have discounted it as a mirage.
Often I think of what a different chain of events might have occurred if only a few elements of that night were altered. If the scalding sun had not drained my strength, taking with it my normally sharpened senses, or if I had ordered black coffee instead of dark beer at that far-distant truck stop.
Whatever the case, I soon found that the occasional grit which blew in the wind acted as surely as the sandman’s legendary tonic, and I was forced to pull off for what I believed would be a brief and mundane nap. I saw a dirt track heading off to the left, to the south of my westward path. I nodded even as I signaled, with no driver in sight, and pulled off the blacktop to sleep for an hour or two.