Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Legend-haunted Saskatchewan

I was once riding a bus from Saskatoon to Edmonton. In my lap was a book of short stories inspired by The Shadow Over Innsmouth, by H.P. Lovecraft. After reading a particularly good one, I stared out the window at the summertime fields, imagining the rotting seaport of Innsmouth with its shuffling denizens. I imagined Lovecraft's Massachusetts: an ancient land with malicious things lurking in lonely places, a land where civilization is clapboarded onto a wild landscape and unimaginable creatures writhe at its edges. Here's a nice one of Innsmouth taken from darkmartin.net.

It is a compelling setting, one which easily lends itself to horror. Other writers have their own horror settings. Stephen King has his Maine. The early horror writers had scores of tumble-down European castles, mansions and abbeys for their ghosts to populate, settings which are now old-hat. But what about my home province, Saskatchewan?

This I pondered as the scenery whizzed past. I tried to see why Saskatchewan was scary. I imagined dark things lurking under the trees, creatures hiding in the fields, strangers gone missing, unspeakable acts committed in anonymity amongst the farmhouses.

I couldn't. All I could see was beauty. Everything was pleasant, canola was blooming, pollen was in the air, the sky was blue and golden. Outside, I knew a warm wind was tickling the aspens and if you strolled one of the dusty grid roads, curious people would wave from their trucks as they drove past. This land is inherently friendly.

Since then, I've been on a mission to find the scary in my province and mostly been frustrated. The scary is minimal or hackneyed. Nobody needs another Indian-burial-ground-ghost or squeal-like-a-pig-hillbilly troubling their literature. There are no abandoned castles here.

So after several years, here's what I've come up with. Rather than explain it to you in rant form, I'll use flash fiction. In no particular order, this is why Saskatchwan is scary:

1.
The orange farm light in the distance didn't seem to be getting any bigger. Daniel trudged along the bleak road. No moon lit his way, but the snow reflected cold starlight. The stars blazed innummerable and white above him. Cold wind blasted from them and stole his breath.

Daniel turned to shelter his bare face from the gust. The wind rattled the leafless poplars at the roadside and hissed in the snow. It leaked through his parka and chilled his legs under his jeans. He found his breath and stared to the indescernable horizon. He could no longer see his Toyota.

The wind passed over the wood and vanished onto the prairie, leaving figid silence. It blew still, but in a deadly whisper. The snow scrunched under his boots. In the dark, where his car should be, something black on the road moved.

He shut his eyes and spun back toward the farm light. He shielded his face, muttering, "I didn't see anything." But when he heard the echo of his snowy boots from the woods, the trees resounded another set of footfalls.
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2.
The old wood creaked under Greta's step as her eyes adjusted. She was on a dance floor speckled with mouse droppings. An old stage loomed before her. Light spilling through broken panes revealed a pile of wheat husks at the far end of the hall where some farmer had stored grain. A podium was toppled against a dusty upright piano.

Here, decades ago, her great grandfather had tuned his violin. Her grandmother sat at the piano and her great aunt strummed a guitar in one of these overturned chairs. Where she stood, a vanished community had waltzed and jigged. It was a place of warmth and laughter.

The hall was not warm now. It was damp and musty. The only music was sung by distant meadow larks.

The roof creaked and settled in the prairie breeze. Greta rubbed her bare arms, flattening goose pimples. She felt like an intruder. She wanted to leave, but did not.

Instead, curiosity drew her to the piano. She lifted the lid from the keys. Real ivory shone in the dim. With a thumb, she played middle C. Her eyes widened. The note was in tune. Her fingers traced the first melody that came to mind, "The Blue Danube", each note well-tempered. She stopped when she felt something clammy clap on her shoulder.

A hollow voice asked, "Would you like to dance?"
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3.
It wanders into town at night. When I first saw it in my headlights, I thought it was a bear. But giant eyes, round as the full moon, reflected back at me. It shuffled into the ditch and vanished into the endless forest.

When I see it, it makes no sound. It travels from house to house, wanders the landfill, opens sheds and outhouses and just looks. It rummages through piles of trash by the road to the airport and watches children on the playground swing set if they stay after dark.

It haunts certain people the most. It follows Wendy Bear every night, loping just beyond her vision as she staggers home from the hotel, drunk. It peeps in the Delorme's trailer window and watches Norman beat his wife. When I found that baby skeleton lying in the woods, it was crouched on a mound of moss in a nearby strand of jackpine.

I don't know if anybody else can see it. If they can, they don't tell anybody. Nobody tells anybody anything here. They just live with it.

I would leave town if I could, but I don't have the money. I never will. And every night as I light my glass pipe in the dark, I see the lighter's flame shining in its round eyes as it stares through my window.
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That's what I've come up with. I'm sure this is not an exhaustive list. Dear readers, what do you find scary about Saskatchewan? I invite you to share. Relate a tale, post some flash fiction, or give me a mini-essay. Leave it in a comment, e-mail me or Facebook me. If I get at least three responses, I'll make a separate post and publish it here. Fire up your creative brains and let's hear it. Hokay? Hokay.

http://pharoahphobia.blogspot.com

4 comments:

  1. Of the three you've mentioned, the third is definitely the spookiest. Being on a dark road at night in the dead of winter is really scary. For me the only other frightening aspect of Saskatchewan is sheer size and, from a human perspective, emptiness of the forests. For vastness and indifference it's almost like the outer reaches of space. I'd write something, but Algernon Blackwood already captured that spirit in 'Wendigo', which I'm sure you know quite well.

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  2. Correction, I meant to say that the FIRST is the spookiest!

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  3. Simpson, the student of divinity, it was who arranged his conclusions probably with the best, though not most scientific, appearance of order. Out there, in the heart of unreclaimed wilderness, they had surely witnessed something crudely and essentially primitive. Something that had survived somehow the advance of humanity had emerged terrifically, betraying a scale of life still monstrous and immature. He envisaged it rather as a glimpse into prehistoric ages, when superstitions, gigantic and uncouth, still oppressed the hearts of men; when the forces of nature were still untamed, the Powers that may have haunted a primeval universe not yet withdrawn. To this day he thinks of what he termed years later in a sermon "savage and formidable Potencies lurking behind the souls of men, not evil perhaps in themselves, yet instinctively hostile to humanity as it exists."

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  4. For those who haven't read Blackwood's 'Wendigo', the above paragraphs sums up why I think Saskatchewan could be scary.

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