Sunset In Satan’s Kingdom

It was getting late in the day and I had been driving for hours.  The highway signs at the deserted intersection directed me to my choice of three different states but, to be honest, I wasn’t even sure which one I was in at that point.  My legs and back were screaming at me that it had been too long since I had last stopped to stretch, and my head was informing me that if I did not put caffeine and maybe some Tylenol into myself, it was going to produce a world class headache and then where would we be?  Sighing wearily, I turned the truck into the parking lot of the store at the corner to see about caffeination and getting my bearings again.

Iced coffee and a few minutes of walking around later, and I was starting to feel better.  Getting back in the truck, I decided it was probably getting to be about time to make my way home, since I hadn’t really found what I was looking for and it was getting late, anyway.  I turned my GPS on and started to tell it to steer us home.  Before I tapped the “Home” box, though, a name on the map caught my eye.

Satan’s Kingdom*.

Huh.  Well, that’s a thing.

I noted the distance from my location, and considered going to check it out.  It was only about 20 minutes west of where I was, but detouring would put me at least an hour out of my way, and I hadn’t brought anything that would pass for dinner with me.  The last 100 calorie packet with all of four almonds, a cashew, and two sliced up dried cranberries was not going to cut it.  As I weighed my options, the opening notes to “Sympathy For The Devil” came drifting out of the radio speakers.

That answered that question.  I switched my GPS’ destination and pointed the truck toward Satan’s Kingdom.  I know a hint when I hear one, and that one was loud and clear.

The highway was empty and the area was pretty much just trees, pavement, and the occasional run-down old house, and that was about it.  I mean, credit where due, if you’re going to go looking for a town called Satan’s Kingdom in god-knows-where Massachusetts, the area was doing its level best to provide the appropriate atmosphere. Definite A+ work, there.

The GPS instructed me to turn down a very narrow and winding side road and out into the woods. It was paved, I’ll give it that.  I gave my GPS some serious side-eye when, in the middle of absolutely nowhere, it announced “Arriving at destination”.

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Um. Right.

Also, it’s a switchback road.  That comes to a dead end.

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The road looks like it continues further, and if I wasn’t wearing a skirt and boots without good traction, and it wasn’t maybe half an hour until full dark (the sun was already below the trees and it was overcast), I might have considered hiking in, but alas…

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Since a hike was out, I decided to call it a day and go back to my original plan to head home.  So much for this trip, I guess?  I mean, interesting side road, but definitely not worth the hype.  I questioned the radio telling me to come out here.  It didn’t usually steer me wrong, but here I was, looking at an actual dead end.  I got back in the truck, turned around, and started back on up the road.

When I got to the main road that I’d turned off of to get to this particular section of hinterlands (there’d been a few houses and a wide field area), I noticed an old cemetery set back from the side of the road and decided to check it out.  It was still light enough, and I do have a fondness for old cemeteries.

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As I turned from the cemetery to get back in the truck, I was struck by the strange desolation of the area.  I mean, sure, some of it’s the fact that it’s winter, it was overcast, and dusk, and it’s probably much more inviting in the summer, but it had a Feeling about it…it reminded me of the feeling of standing on a widow’s walk in November, looking out over the sea…

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It was eerily quiet.  A place like that, I’d have expected to hear snowmobiles, or dogs barking, or something, but there was nothing but the sound of my truck’s engine idling and my own breathing.  Vaguely disquieted, I got back in the truck and turned out onto the main road and heading back toward home again.

Not a few hundred feet down the road, something caught my eye.  I slammed on the brakes in the middle of the road and stopped to look at the big, old house.  I didn’t remember seeing it on the way in, and that alone bothered me a bit.  I notice houses like that, and I swear I hadn’t seen this one.  Of course I pulled into the driveway that ran up one side.

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Not creepy at all…

As I drove up, a rabbit bolted out from where the driveway curved up and around behind the house.  It stopped and looked at me for a moment, before running toward the back courtyard that I could see the edge of.  I had an urge to follow it, to see where it was going, but decided that following a rabbit toward the old, abandoned house at dusk was probably not the best plan.  I settled for simply parking, and walking back to the edge of the road to take a picture of it.

I felt like it was watching me the whole time.  I fully expected to see someone looking back at me, but windows remained dark.

I took a couple of quick pictures in the fading light, and then turned to go back up to my waiting vehicle.  As I did so, I nearly jumped out of my skin.  There was a boy, maybe 10 or 12, with a pale, rangy dog sitting next to him, standing on the other side of the road behind me, looking at me.  It was a long, straight road, and there hadn’t been anyone walking along it, nor in the field across the street.  I don’t know where he came from, but there he was.  I nodded at him in greeting, but he just stood there, watching.  I went back up to where I had parked.

I’ve seen a number of horror movies in my life, and let’s be real, this was a classic horror movie setting if I’ve ever seen one.  Big, abandoned, old house in a remote New England town named Satan’s Kingdom just before dark?  Check.  Wildlife luring you further in?  Check.  Creepy child with dog staring at you?  Of course.

I’m not saying it was haunted, or that the boy was anything other than a normal, real boy, but ya know….the signs were all there that something was a little odd that day and I figure it’s better safe than sorry.  I got back in my truck and headed home before I ended up becoming a ghost and haunting the place, myself.

I did apologize to the radio for doubting it, though.  It was right, and it was worth the detour.

 

*It’s an unincorporated township that no one seems really sure how it got its name.  There’s a few theories ranging from early colonists getting driven out by the local Native tribes who lives there, to a preacher delivering a particularly fiery speech on Sunday, only to come out of the church to find the woods on fire, and making some remark about Satan’s Kingdom coming to challenge him or something.  No one really knows, though, and for whatever reason the town never became a town.  Eventually it ended up getting folded into Northfield, but still retains it’s name and not much else.

Of Unicorns, and the Treachery of Bullfrogs.

A story for a dark winter’s night…

A long time ago, just yesterday…when I was just a wee little river nymph of maybe 10 or so, we lived in a little town (barely more than a village, really) in an old white house with black shutters, where my mother grew roses and lilies in the yard.  Behind the house, across a small road, there was a swamp where, I was convinced, a unicorn was known to visit…

Now, my mother tried to convince me that there was no such thing as unicorns, not really, but let’s be honest; when you’re the daughter of a witch and a river some things are just not to be believed.  A unicorn visited the swamp and that was that. I just needed to wait long enough and I would see it.

I would go out into the swamp in the early morning before the mists were burned off by the sun, and in the evening as the last rays of daylight sank into the shadows, day after day, week after week, month after month, but still there was no sign  Yet my stubborn self persisted.

One day, after months of nothing but failure (though a developing appreciation for the sunrise and sunset) , I decided to try something different.  I went up the road to where a feral apple tree grew and I picked the best apples I could find, reasoning that unicorns were distantly related to horses and horses love apples so unicorns probably did too, but were likely more interested in wild apples instead of the boring ones from the market.  I stashed the apples where my mother wouldn’t find them (she didn’t approve of my habit of eating them, because they were probably full of worms and she didn’t believe that I could tell which ones had worms and which ones were fine, and besides, you can just cut the wormy bits off and the rest of the apple was fine and well, it was just easier to hide them) and went on about my day, secretly planning.

That night, when I went to bed, I pretended to fall asleep and, when I was certain that it was late enough for everyone else to be asleep, I quietly crept out of bed and, taking my stash of feral apples, snuck out of the house and out into the swamp.

It was a full moon that night, or near enough, and so I didn’t really need to carry a light to find my way through the small patch of woods and to the edges of the swamp.  It was so bright and beautiful, and it looked nothing like I was used to it looking, and it was wonderful. I knew from all of my research that unicorns were drawn to singing and so I sang little songs to the water and the frogs and the summer night’s wind and watched the light play on the water while I sat on a small rock that was the perfect size and shape to sit comfortably on for hours.

The mosquitoes were, to be honest, more than a little annoying, but I was determined to ignore them.

I admit, I got a little bored after a while, and noticed that there were an awful lot of frogs around the water’s edge…green frogs, wood frogs,  pickerel frogs, tiny little peepers, and of course, great croaking bullfrogs. I fed them some of the mosquitoes that were trying to eat me, because the circle of life is a beautiful thing and in the swamp sometimes it’s eat or be eaten, and I had Opinions about being on the menu.  Besides, it never hurts to have friends in watery places.

Then, after a small age, I heard a faint splash in the distance.  I stopped singing to listen, in case I was mistaken, but then it came again.  This was it. I knew it. As the sound drew closer, the frogs and crickets grew quiet, and so did I.  There was a Feeling in the air, like something magical approached. I was as still and quiet as a mouse, and as I watched, I saw a faint glow shimmering through the grasses and water-logged trees.  It was here! The unicorn! Any moment it would step through the grass into view and I would see it in it’s pale, moonlit glory, and I would offer it one of my carefully chosen apples and it would accept my offering and eat it and I would be the first river nymph in generations to befriend a unicorn and…

*CROOOOAAK CROOOOAAK CROOOAAK*

There was a frantic splashing and the sound of hoofbeats running into the distance.  Angrily, I looked down at the edge of the water at the base of my rock and there I met the flat, bored gaze of the one who had chosen that, of all moments, to decide to announce TO A UNICORN that this bit of swamp was his.

A big, fat, bullfrog.  Unrepentant and shameless.  I HAD JUST FED HIM MOSQUITOES AND HE HAD BETRAYED ME.  I glared at him, and he just looked at me, unblinking. I wished owls on him.  I wished herons and turtles and weasels on him. He was unmoved by my wrath, treacherous thing that he was.  I threw an apple at him but he dodged and stared at me from a little further down the shore.

I knew that there was no chance of the unicorn returning again that night, and besides, it was getting early and I knew that the longer I stayed, the more likely it was that I would be caught and get in trouble for wandering off into the night.  Leaving the remaining apples for anyone else that might come by, I crept out of the swamp and snuck back into my bed before my absence was noticed.

I tried a few more times, but never again did I hear the unicorn nor see the gentle glow of it’s horn, as it made its way through the swamp.

 

To this day, I still blame that frog for scaring it away.

 

Never trust bullfrogs.  They will always betray you, no matter how many mosquitoes you give them.

The Oracle of Roads

“apantomancy. Noun. divination by chance meetings with any objects that present themself, most commonly animals, but can also be numbers, objects, weather, etc.”

For most of my life, I’ve had a fascination with divination, chance, symbols, superstitions, and other things of that nature.  My mother got into astrology when I was little (it was the 80s…it was sort of A Thing) and I grew up around mediums and tarot readers and all that.  As a result, my interests on those lines were fostered from an early age, tempered by the fact that my father is a complete skeptic who believes in nothing he can’t see for himself.

Over the years, I learned a bit of everything on that front, and a whole lot about how divination and oracles work, at the fundamental levels, and have slowly built my own system of sorts.  Because I’m me, there’s a whole lot of road and travel-related parts to it.  Flipped coins at crossroads, the position of the crows and hawks, the patterns of windblown leaves and snow on pavement, the roll of dice to answer a question, that sort of thing.  Many times, I’ve considered formalizing it somehow into something that doesn’t require being out on the roads (because sometimes one needs some insight and can’t go out driving around until the answer appears), but I haven’t gotten around to actually doing it yet.

Until now, that is.  I’m finally working on creating the Oracle of Roads as a tangible thing.  It’s a bit complicated because, while much of it can translate to a card-based format, like The Waitress or The Frustrated Hawk, some things, like The Sentinel Crow, or The Statue, usually involve variables that don’t simplify and translate as easily.  With The Sentinel Crow, for example, generally things like whether the bird is on the ground, in a tree, or on a light-pole, as well as what direction it’s facing, are all factored in, so how to translate something like that is tricky and would probably work better as something like a round disc or thrown object.

Alternatively (she mused aloud), I could start by writing down all the variations and offering readings based on them while I get the larger logistics of format and spreads sorted out….

Things to ponder, I guess.

Roadside Gods

On the side of the old Post Road, there is an ancient and forgotten god that watches over travelers as they pass by. It was a god of hospitality, once, but now it’s mostly a god of mice and beetles and the odd wanderer who happens to see it for what it is. It’s shrine is falling down and overgrown with weeds, and old bottles and litter blown by the wind lie scattered around it’s pedestal.
I’ve taken to offering it a greeting as I pass by. It seems lonely, and I feel a little bad for it. Plus, it can’t hurt to have a god well-inclined toward you while you’re traveling, even if it is only a small and forgotten one. I keep thinking that I should maybe leave it an offering of some kind, but I don’t know what would be appropriate for it. I’m not entirely sure that it even knows, these days. It may not even remember that it’s a god, anymore.
Still, I should visit it’s shrine, and leave something for it.
After all. I am an odd wanderer, and I see it for what it is.
 
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