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.
It is, perhaps unsurprisingly, somewhat difficult to begin the daunting task of organizing a formal archive of items and ephemera that have been stuffed willy-nilly in boxes and on shelves for decades, may have been left in the locations where they were found, or, in some cases, may not exactly exist as most generally understand them to. Be that as it may, I’m working on doing so, as it has come time to start properly cataloguing and archiving the various cursed objects, liminal spaces, haunted flotsam, and other oddities that I encounter on a fairly regular basis, and to start taking better field notes, as it were.
Someday I suppose I’ll even have to figure out a proper title for the archive itself, but it’s only the first day of this project, after all, and I’ve got time. In the meantime, I’ve got a pile of dusty old boxes to start going through and attempting to start sorting into something that makes some kind of reasonable sense.
I saw a ghost one night, years ago, and the memory of it has haunted me since.
It was around midnight or so, in late autumn, at one of those big rest areas off the Maine Turnpike. There was a woman standing by the big glass window, looking out. Even though it was late, that particular rest area is always pretty busy, but she was standing there, alone, a still figure in a pool of quiet amid the louder river of people, and no one seemed to see her but me.
She wore a black chiffon party dress, patterned with fern green flowers and emerald beads that glittered slightly from the fluorescent lights overhead. In one hand she held a pair black high heels dangling loosely from her fingertips, the strap to one clearly broken. On her feet she wore a well-worn pair of brown hiking boots, and over her fancy dress she wore a faded, blue flannel shirt that was somewhat too big for her. Something about the way she wore it made it clear that it had never belonged to anyone else, instead of something given to her by someone else to keep her warm.
Her hair was long and dark, and hung loose down her back, though it looked like it had been pinned up not long before. At first glance, she looked young – maybe 22 or so – but was more likely past 30. She had one of those faces that are hard to place ages to. Not ageless, per se, but more like Time wasn’t quite sure where she fit, if you know what I mean?
She seemed to be both gazing at her reflection, lost in thought and unaware of the discordance of her surroundings, and looking out into the darkness, past the parking lot lights, at some distant thing only she could see. Her expression was a strange blend of emotions – sorrow, hope, resignation, determination – all at once. It was like she was looking at her past and future at the same time and making up her mind about something. It was a look to break your heart, because you knew there was a deep hurt behind it that hadn’t yet started to heal.
After a moment, she sighed, turned, and walked out, pausing on the concrete landing just outside the glass doors of the lobby. As at the window, no one seemed to notice her as she passed them, or they, her. She looked thoughtfully at the broken shoes in her hand for a moment, as if unsure of something, then placed them on top of the rubbish bin. She stepped onto the pavement and walked out in the darkness beyond the lamplight, the handkerchief hem of her skirt fluttering in the chill autumn breeze and wind from the nearby turnpike. Another wandering ghost resting for a moment in the liminal space of a rest stop in the middle of the night before continuing on down the road.
At long last, I am free of the World’s Most Annoying Headcold and am back on my bullshit again.
Last weekend, while still down with said cold, I had a day where I was feeling well enough to start getting a bit stir-crazy from being stuck inside for days and, even though it was supposed to snow, I decided to go out anyway. The road was calling and I needed to answer it.
Normally, a spontaneous drive mostly involves me pacing around the house for a couple of hours before realizing that I’m super restless and should probably grab a bottle of water, some snacks, and my keys and go for a drive. This day was different. There was a sense of, I don’t know, Fate or something behind the restlessness. As if the Road was telling me that there was something I needed to see out there, and it would not be denied. This was not to be a typical drive, but was one that I should approach as the routewitch that I am. This required preparation and everything I brought with me was important, and as such it was important that each item be chosen with care, down to the drink that I brought with me.
As I stood before my tea selection, I considered the feeling that I was getting from the Road, and narrowed down to two options….blackberry-sage, or a chai blend from a company that no longer exists, called Crossroads. I couldn’t figure out which was more appropriate, and so I consulted the dice. The dice said that the Crossroads were the key, and so that was what I filled a travel mug with (it’s a chai made with lapsang and darjeeling, so it has a harsh, smoky finish…perfect for the message I was getting.), and went out on the Road.
There is a flat, steely kind of light to the world before a snowstorm, and a silence as loud as a warning. As the snow begins to fall, the powder skitters and slides across the pavement, ghostly as mist and shadow. It is an eerie beauty.
As I drove and the snow fell and the light faded, I began to wonder why the Road had called me out onto the roadways, and if I had misunderstood what it had told me, but the pull remained strong, a whispered “wait and see” sighing through my soul. I drove on, through the woods and the farmland and the towns slowly being blanketed in white, while the other travellers faded off the roadways to curl up by warm fires.
Then, just at the edge of a small town, at a place where two roads crossed, I saw them; a small band of Juniper Monks, gathered along the edge of the road.
No one knows for sure who, or even what, the Juniper Monks are. Often mistaken for burlap-wrapped evergreens (hence their name), they are rarely seen, and then only under specific conditions. They appear in severe weather, generally snowstorms, but they have also been reported during heavy rains, as well. Why they gather during these times is not known, and speculation ranges from harbinger to messenger to things more sinister in nature. Most, however, believe that they are a kind of roadside guardian, appearing to warn travellers of dangers and protect them from harm. Some carry talismans in their vehicles, tucked into glove compartments or hung from mirrors, to invoke their protection when venturing out in bad weather. Most go their whole lives without ever seeing them, and it is considered great fortune to encounter a band of them. To be honest, I had believed that they were a myth, myself; a figment of the imagination, brought on by the dim light and swirling snow playing tricks on one’s eyes, but now, having seen them for myself, I can’t deny their existence.
Having seen the Monks, the Road signalled that I had seen what I had been called to see, and that it was time to go home. I came to a roundabout, and returned back the way I had home, though the Monks were gone by the time I drove past the intersection again.
I’m thinking about acquiring a talisman to carry in the truck with me, as I often find myself out in inclement weather. If I’m able to locate some, I’ll try to get some for others who may also wish to invoke the protection of the Juniper Monks for their own travels, as well.
On the side of the old Post Road, there is an ancient and forgotten god that watches over travelers as they pass by. It was a god of hospitality, once, but now it’s mostly a god of mice and beetles and the odd wanderer who happens to see it for what it is. It’s shrine is falling down and overgrown with weeds, and old bottles and litter blown by the wind lie scattered around it’s pedestal.
I’ve taken to offering it a greeting as I pass by. It seems lonely, and I feel a little bad for it. Plus, it can’t hurt to have a god well-inclined toward you while you’re traveling, even if it is only a small and forgotten one. I keep thinking that I should maybe leave it an offering of some kind, but I don’t know what would be appropriate for it. I’m not entirely sure that it even knows, these days. It may not even remember that it’s a god, anymore.
Still, I should visit it’s shrine, and leave something for it.
After all. I am an odd wanderer, and I see it for what it is.