On Finding Myself Standing Upon Author’s Ridge

It’s funny, when I left the house the other day in search of a roadside god or some other strange thing, the last place I expected to find myself was standing on a hilltop just before dusk, shivering in the thinnest sweater I own and a light scarf I’d dug out of the back of the truck against the mid-November wind, a battered leather bag with my travel notebook and pens in it slung over my shoulder, looking down at the gravestones of Louisa May Alcott, Emerson, Thoreau, Hawthorne, and others.

When I left the house, I had some road snacks, my writing bag, and a vague idea of heading somewhere northeast-ish, since I rarely go that direction.  It was one of those rare November days where the sky is a bright, cloudless blue instead of overcast or raining, though the wind was still sharp-edged and cold.  Good driving weather.  I figured I could get a good two or three hours of questing in before dark and, if I was lucky, maybe find Something Interesting.

The thing about eastern Massachusetts is that it’s Old.  Sure, maybe it’s not old compared to other countries, but for the US, it’s one of the oldest places we have.  Other people read about the Revolutionary War, the Pilgrims, the Salem Witch Trials and all that, but we trip over the damned stuff all the time. I regularly drive down roads that famous people once rode horses down, yelling that the “British Are Coming!”, and pass signs proclaiming that some historical event happened or historical figure stopped for lunch there.  Those roads were also, in many cases, decided on by what direction someone’s damned cows decided to take regularly and everything else just sort of built up around them.  They’re twisting, winding, and heavily congested with traffic, because we pack a LOT of residents, commuters, and tourists into a small area of real estate.  There’s so much going on that it’s hard to hear the small, quiet things in all of that.  Which is why I typically head out towards the western parts of the state most of the time, away from it.

Still, something said to go that way, so I did.

I drove for a couple of hours, past yellowing post-harvest farmstand fields, through downtowns with their eclectic mix of old and new architecture and industry, meandering around with no purpose other than to see what I might see. I admired monuments and memories, and mused on the differences and similarities between small gods and genius loci.  I smiled at kids horsing around while walking home from school, and glowered at people who decided that they were going to take their half of the road from the middle, and the rest of us would just have to get out of their way.  I passed through several towns, yet another nameless driver on the roads.

I found nothing.  My thoughts turned inward, twisting in on themselves, and I started to wonder what the fuck I was doing out here, wandering aimlessly like one more lost cow, with delusions of making a living writing about…what?  Half-imagined feelings and things I saw from the corner of my eye that were probably just trees or abandoned old restaurant mascots, or a dog?  There was a stack of dishes so deep on the counter at home that it was going to take days to dig through, because I’m trying to maintain two households and failing at both, and what the hell was I doing?

I decided that it was time to go back and deal with the mountain of dishes.  Besides, it was getting late and the sun would be setting soon.  I turned onto a minor highway with a route number I knew would eventually lead me home.  I worked on trying to soothe my brain, but it was settling in for a good sulk, and to be honest, at the time I was having a hard time trying to come up with reasons that it was being unreasonable.  On a whim, I turned into an old cemetery that looked interesting, because I find them soothing and I needed to stretch my legs anyway.

It was probably one of the most beautiful old cemeteries I’ve seen, laid out in a way that spoke of deliberate planning to be both walkable and integrated with the land’s contours in a way most usually aren’t.  There were the remnants of old cobblestone paths, and benches to sit on, and massive old trees.  It was breathtakingly, heartachingly lovely, and I forgot about being unhappy in the face of its beauty and peacefulness. 

I’d been wandering around for about 10 minutes or so when I came across the back of a sign near one of the entrances.  Figuring it would probably tell me the name of the cemetery and exactly which town I was in, so I could come back when I had more time to poke around, I walked around it to see what it said.

Sleepy Hollow Cemetery.  The name rang a bell, but I couldn’t remember where I knew it from.  Maybe it sounded familiar because of the ghost story?  That didn’t feel right.  Then I noticed another sign nearby.  It was a state park sign, with a piece of paper under the glass, proclaiming “Graves of Interest” and a list of names.

Oh.  Right.  That’s why I recognized the name, and now I knew exactly where I was.  I checked the map, and made my way up to the top of the hill opposite the entrance, smiling with amusement.  No, more like giggling.

And so it was that I found myself on top of a hill, shivering in the chill that comes when the sun sets in New England this late in the year, looking at the graves of literary giants who, in their own ways, had forged paths of writing that also left the proverbial beaten path, on the day I came very close to giving up on writing.  Message received.

I may not have found what I thought I was looking for, but a small god of lost writers found me just the same, and I’m very glad that it did.

(Originally posted at https://www.patreon.com/riversdaughter. Patreon subscribers get to see posts 3 days before they open to the general public, and help me feed the cats and keep a roof over all of our heads.)

There Are Other Things Along The Roads

Sometimes I come across roadside gods and saints or their shrines that are of darker natures than the ones I generally write about, and I wonder if I should write about them or not. Gods of black ice and dead ends, gods that are not of the road, but of Other Things. Gaping maws that swallow the roads in ink-black voids. Decaying shrines that were there before the road came and may be there after it’s long since cracked and crumbled back to stone and tar. Shapes that watch from the hills and fields as I pass by, waiting to see if I will be careless enough to stop and leave the safety of my iron and steel truck. Things that shift and stretch across the sky in ways that clouds do not do. Shrines of pylon and wire that sing crackling, whining paeans, hymns that may once of been devoted to gods of fire and warmth, but have twisted over the eons to become something new.

Perhaps I will write about them. After all, they are there, beside the road, and it’s not a bad thing for others to be aware of them, I suppose.

(Originally posted at https://www.patreon.com/riversdaughter. Patreon subscribers get to see posts 3 days before they open to the general public, and help me feed the cats and keep a roof over all of our heads.)

There Are Two Types Of People

The other day I decided to stop at an antique shop that I’ve been driving past a lot lately and check it out.  Poking around old antique shops is one of my comfort hobbies, and has been one of the things I’ve missed most during the pandemic.  On this particular day I *really* needed the happy brain chemical hit, so it seemed like a good time to grab a mask and wander in.  

It was a nice little place.  Small, well-lit and clearly well-dusted, filled with mostly beautiful old furniture and dishware, an unusual number of handmade witch dolls, and now that I think of it, a somewhat disturbing quantity of taxidermy.  Like, really.  I don’t know why that didn’t occur to me before.  It’s strange to realize just how very much the entire perimeter, near the ceiling line, was entirely lined by dozens upon dozens of taxidermied animal heads, and that it really didn’t register as anything particularly odd at the time…  Huh.

So that’s a thing, I guess?

Anyway, I was wandering around, looking at well-maintained writing desks, hutches, dining sets, and all that, when I turned a corner and came nearly eye to baleful eye with the most ragged and moth-eaten stuffed rabbit I have ever seen.  I stopped dead in my tracks and blurted out “That is the MOST cursed looking thing I have ever seen in my life!” to the old guy who ran the place, who was sitting on a bench nearby.  He laughed, and agreed.  I took a photo of it, because holy cats.

(A faded, bright yellow stuffed toy rabbit, missing large patches of fur, with a pale blue ribbon loosely tied around its neck, sits on an old olive green and brown antique sled. It has a single, unnervingly red eye.)

There’s only the one eye.  The other one is gone, probably sacrificed in exchange for some nefarious purposes.

Being me, I posted it on social media when I got home, and I have to say, I am deeply amused at the reactions to that thing.  It was a 50/50 split of “I NEED A YOUNG PRIEST AND AN OLD PRIEST!” and “Awwww, someone loved that bunny so much!”

There are two kinds of people.  Only one of them makes it out of the horror movie.

Which one are you?

(Originally posted at https://www.patreon.com/riversdaughter. Patreon subscribers get to see posts 3 days before they open to the general public, and help me feed the cats and keep a roof over all of our heads.)

Road Lore: Bridges and Hungry, Old Gods

Not all of the roadside gods are kindly or helpful.  Some are, at best, indifferent to humans, while others…others have little but malice in them, and it’s best to continue down the road away from them and their domains as quickly as you can.

In a quiet New England town, small and forgotten long before the mills shut down and the trees grew through the abandoned factory floors, there sleeps an ancient, blood-stained god.  Its temple and altar stand at the place where two roads meet, over the river that doesn’t quite hide the stains of Its sacrificial tithings.

I came across this god and Its temple many years ago, when an unfortunate detour on my road led me to Its courtyard and I found myself out of gas with a busted engine and no money for repairs, stuck until I could find a way to get back on the road.  I’m ashamed to admit that I didn’t realize, at first, that I was in the presence of an old god, nor that I was at the entrance of Its House.  In my defense, it was in the process of being rebuilt; the previous structure having been left to rot for too long, the townsfolk having forgotten that an old, mad god slept in their town until It had started to awaken, and so it was obscured by the banality of construction.

I had accepted shelter at a house nearby while I tried to get up and running again, and so I was able to watch as the new temple rose by the day.  

After a while, I began to notice the strange way the townspeople talked about what I had assumed was just a replica of an historical site; the exacting attention paid to the way each stone was laid, each board nailed in; the way it was referenced in even the smallest things -images of it in it’s completed state on coffee mugs at the local diner, the name of the small antique shop – but no effort was being made to draw tourists in, which was odd, given the reverent way they spoke of the structure.

The day it was finished, they held a great ceremony at the site, with prayers and speeches and a parade.  It seemed a bit overdone to me at the time, but I gathered that it had taken a near-Herculean effort and some years longer to complete than it should have, so it did make an amount of sense.  I’d be excited, too, if I’d lived through several years of constant construction and inconvenience, instead of the few months I’d been in town.

As the weeks passed, however, I noticed a strange trend taking shape, where every. single. time. a car would pass beneath the roof of the temple, they would honk their horns.  It didn’t matter what time of day it was, either.  This would happen even in the small, silent hours of the night, which changed from annoying to unnerving.  The first day or so, sure. A bit weird, maybe, but nothing notably unusual.  Months later, however, is disturbingly obsessive.

The thing with this god is that during the day, Its temple appears harmless to the casual observer.  Cheerful, even. The river it rests over is pleasant and one can often see herons and other water birds wandering the banks in search of frogs and small fish, and the whole thing is almost postcard-perfect.

And then the sun sets, and night descends.  Oh, then.  Then, does its true nature show.  Then, as the shadows writhe and dance in the mist, bathed in the sickly orange glow of the single street-lamp, while the river gibbers and cackles maniacally to itself, do you realize that you are in the presence of something More.  The reeds whisper and giggle and tell tales of the eldritch thing that lurk in the darkness below the bridge’s shadowed peak, and clings, wetly, to the beams that lie so close beneath the road, and only then do you realize that you are standing before the home of a hungry god.

That is when you remember the odd reddish-brown tingeing that stains the stones and discolors the pools, and how the sounds echo strangely in places where there shouldn’t be echoes at all.  When you realize that the vehicles that you’ve seen pass through that failed to sound their horn in supplication are never seen again, and while yes, it could be coincidence, it’s too frequent to be able to fully convince yourself that.

Eventually I was able to break free of the town and get back on the road, away from the god.  Every now and then, though, I return to the temple out of some strange compulsion that even I don’t fully understand.  Maybe I slept too long beside It and It is trying to lure me back.  I don’t know.  

Yesterday was one of those times, and I noted how the new temple, barely more than a decade old, is already showing signs of decay, and I wonder if the townsfolk waited too long, and if the god is more awake than any of us realize…

I sounded the truck’s horn as I drove beneath the temple’s roof.  I’m not ready to find out what happens to those who fail to offer a prayer to this particular god just yet.

(Originally posted on Patreon at https://www.patreon.com/riversdaughter.)