Monsters, Trailer Parks and Truck Stops
By Gail Z. Martin
People who aren’t from Pennsylvania picture two cities: Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. If you’re from PA, you know that the state’s whole center is farmland and nearly uninhabited forest (drive across I-80 sometime and you’ll see what I mean). Where I grew up, in the top corner near Lake Erie, not only do most people have a taxidermist on speed dial, but I’m pretty sure the car dealerships not only sell pickup trucks with gun racks as standard equipment, but I think the guns may be part of the package. Schools and businesses officially close for the first day of Deer Season. Most people I knew could field dress a deer with a pocket knife.
This matters because there’s urban horror and then there’s rural horror. They play off different kinds of fears. Urban horror plays off the anonymity of the big city, the strangers, the manmade caverns of concrete and the trackless tunnels underneath, dark alleys and seedy neighborhoods. Rural horror is a little more primal: wild animals, crazy loners holed up in caves or cabins, the brutal Darwinism of the elements and the fear of what you find in the vast, empty darkness, far away from street lights or cell phone signals.
My story for Big Bad 2 was inspired by getting lost in rural areas, and unexpected inspiration at a truck stop.
We’ve still got family in Northwestern PA, even though we’ve been in North Carolina for nearly 20 years. So we have worn a groove in I-77 and I-79 North over the years, heading nearly all the way up to the shores of Lake Erie. We’ve got the drive down to a science, and we trade off drivers every two hours at our favorite places to stop. One of those is a Flying J truck stop in Fort Chiswell, VA. It’s one of those restaurant/gas station/convenience store/gift shop kind of places, and one day, as I was getting a huge cup of coffee for the road, one of their t-shirts caught my eye.
“Mess with me, and you mess with the whole trailer park.” The guy depicted on the graphic looked like someone out of Cabin in the Woods, not the shell with the most gunpowder, if you know what I mean. But for some reason, that statement of backwoods solidarity got me thinking. What if the trailer park was full of monsters? Hmm.
Getting lost in a city can be scary if you end up a bad neighborhood. Getting lost in rural areas means you’re not in anybody’s neighborhood. Three situations made an impression on me. In one case, it was late at night, we were back home in what should have been our stomping grounds, and we missed a turn on a rural road. No problem, we had a pretty good idea of where we were, and we took the next left, expecting it to cut across. The blacktop road went from two lanes to one lane, then became a gravel road, then a dirt road. This was before GPS. I thought our odds were good of ending up in front of someone’s barn, facing a big German Shepherd and the business end of someone’s shotgun.
Now we probably would have been OK. We were on home territory, and that meant we could have played the “Do you know my parents, aunts, cousins, cousin’s sister-in-law’s aunt’s neighbor” verification-by-relative game. But it’s a scary thing bouncing down a road without street lights that isn’t on the map and where there are no signs to tell you which road you’re on if the mile markers aren’t enough for you to know. There’s a whole lot of dark emptiness out there.
Another time, we had to get off I-79 onto a detour in West Virginia because of road construction and we somehow lost the detour. This is a bad thing if you’re not from there, and we aren’t. See, there are what’s called “hollers”, or mountain valleys. There’s the front of the holler and the back of the holler. First rule: you don’t go into the holler if you don’t belong there. Second rule: you don’t come out of the back of the holler if you go in there and you don’t belong there. It was a ‘paddle faster, I hear banjos’ kind of moment.
Then there was the time I was taking my daughter back to Penn State, which is in the middle of the state and the middle of nowhere. We missed a turn (ok, maybe I shouldn’t navigate), and said ‘that’s OK, we’ve got GPS’. Yeah well. Instead of four-lane highway, we took a charming scenic detour through increasingly smaller hamlets on one-lane roads that were wavier than pan-fried bacon. I was fine with it—it was daylight, we had a full tank of gas, and it wasn’t like we were going to run into cow gangs from the wrong side of the tracks. There were even places where the cell phones kinda worked.
But my daughter, raised in Pittsburgh and Charlotte, got more and more nervous the farther we got from ‘civilization’. When I stopped for gas at a no-name station in a tiny one-traffic-light town and had to pay inside (horrors!) she actually locked the car doors until I came back. (Just because everyone in sight is wearing camo does not mean you’re in danger. Up there, they sell camo lingerie and camo baby onesies, just sayin’.) But her nervousness outside her comfort zone got my writer brain working on what makes us afraid.
Put it all together, and you get “Old Nonna,” my story for Big Bad 2.
About the Author:
Gail Z. Martin is the author of the new epic fantasy novel War of Shadows (Orbit Books) which is Book Three in the Ascendant Kingdoms Saga; Vendetta: A Deadly Curiosities Novel in her urban fantasy series set in Charleston, SC (Solaris Books); and Iron and Blood: The Jake Desmet Adventures a new Steampunk series (July 2015, Solaris Books) co-authored with Larry N. Martin. She is also author of Ice Forged and Reign of Ash in The Ascendant Kingdoms Saga, The Chronicles of The Necromancer series (The Summoner, The Blood King, Dark Haven, Dark Lady’s Chosen) from Solaris Books and The Fallen Kings Cycle (The Sworn, The Dread) from Orbit Books. Gail writes two series of ebook short stories: The Jonmarc Vahanian Adventures and the Deadly Curiosities Adventures and her work has appeared in 20 US/UK anthologies.
Find her at www.AscendantKingdoms.com, on Twitter @GailZMartin, on Facebook.com/WinterKingdoms, at DisquietingVisions.com blog and GhostInTheMachinePodcast.com, on Goodreads https://www.goodreads.com/GailZMartin and free excerpts on Wattpad http://wattpad.com/GailZMartin.