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.)
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.