Small towns in the overlooked corners of America are the sum of something and nothing. They’re places where people’s daily lives go about dully, going to work, to school, to the movies, to their homes for a forgettable meal and a night’s sleep to start it over again, little lives moving like windblown sand through the concrete bones of an abstract beast. Dreary small town people boring to each other because they don’t know the secrets their neighbors bury inside themselves.
Surrounding the town is a blankness, plains unfolding in flat nothingness until it reaches somewhere more interesting, with townspeople and travelers alike ignorant of what lives there. City and plain mirror each other, both a place where a bland exterior hides the strange things sliming and squirming beneath the surface.
I live in one of these small towns, called Longcord, where I work evenings as a janitor in a bank. After an evening of scrubbing scuffmarks off the tiles and giving the whole place a general polish, I head back to my small house (some would call it a shack) on the edge of town, the only thing on the prairie side of the road, outside of a small daytime gas station that looks like a faded Coca-Cola ad.
I was in bed and staring at the lit sign of this gas station one night. It hung in the night sky like a giant second moon with “Earl’s Gas Station” stenciled across it. As I fell asleep, the moonlit features of my room faded, but the gas station sign remained, its glow undiminished. In dreamland’s featureless territory I could do nothing but stare at the glow until a menagerie of unseen musical instruments began playing in an overwhelming cacophony. Soon the noise became a drone, then the droning became a voice, which spoke to me.
“Shamus,” said a voice made of the whining of violins and the blaring of trumpets. “The woods nearby, the woods nearby, you must go and go and go….” The voice trailed off in the low notes of woodwinds.