Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Valley of Stories

(A version of this post originally appeared on the Total-E-Bound blog, Hitting the Hot Spot. I've reposted it here because it fits so well with my Monday post.)

Near the center of Massachusetts, the huge, butterfly-shaped Quabbin Reservoir practically divides the state in two. Constructed in the nineteen thirties to satisfy the thirst of the Boston metropolitan area, Quabbin figuratively divided the state as well, pitting the rural inhabitants of the Swift River Valley against the city dwellers in the state capitol. Four towns--Dana, Enfield, Greenwich and Prescott--were drowned by Quabbin's advancing waters. The houses of their inhabitants were dismantled and relocated on higher ground. Bodies were exhumed from their graves and reburied elsewhere. Forests were leveled in order to reduce the amount of degrading biological material that would pollute the reservoir. The land that had belonged to Dana and its unfortunate fellows was allocated to neighboring towns. Communities which had prospered in the valley since the seventeen hundreds ceased to exist.

Needless to say, the Swift River Valley is haunted. Even if you don't know the history, you can't escape the sense of mystery as you drive the winding length of Route 202, which hugs the west end of the reservoir. The evergreens that were planted to protect the watershed have grown tall now, shadowing the road. The woods around the man-made lake are home to bears, bald eagles, wildcats and perhaps stranger, more secret beings. On the eastern shore, overgrown dirt lanes meander through the village of Petersham, sending tentative fingers toward the still water.

Ghosts of the dispossessed inhabitants from the flooded towns still seem to hover in the area. They're joined by older creatures from the earlier times when the Algonkian natives fished in the Swift River, grew their corn along the banks, and worshiped the spirits of the forest.

Necessary Madness is partially set in the Quabbin Valley. As I've commented previously on this blog, I almost always have a specific location in mind when I sit down to write a story. Necessary Madness is a M/M paranormal novel that revolves around various psychic powers--precognition, telepathy and the like. I used to live near Quabbin, and had friends in Petersham. It seemed like a natural place for the home of a consulting witch who helps individuals with psi talents to understand and control their abilities.

I'm not the only individual to feel that the Swift River Valley is full of supernatural stories. The movie version of Stephen King's Dreamcatcher features the reservoir as a prominent plot element. The cult horror author H.P. Lovecraft explicitly set his now-classic tale "The Color Out of Space" in the valley before its flooding. A variety of other authors and singers have been touched by the mystery that seems to permeate the place.

Years ago, during a serious summer drought, my husband and I went hiking in the woods around Quabbin. The level of the reservoir was at a historic low. As we followed our way down the hill from the Prescott Peninsula, we found ourselves on what had clearly been a road. Tumbled stone walls marked its boundaries. The tracks worn by cart wheels were still visible. In a normal summer, the road would have been submerged, but now it wound for a quarter of a mile, down to the reservoir's edge. Then it disappeared into the gray water.

We stopped to contemplate this fragment of history, revealed by the vagaries of climate. The air had the sultry weight of a New England August. The silence was complete--no birds, no cicadas, not a breath of wind. We both felt their presence--the souls of the folk who had last used this road almost a century ago.

I wasn't writing then, at least not for publication. Even so, I knew there were stories here to be told. Now that I've ventured into the valley with Necessary Madness, I expect that I'll be returning to explore more of these tales. I hope that the inhabitants won't mind sharing them.


Judy said...

Goodness, you are very brave. I do not know if I could have went that far, especially feeling a presence. I am a scardy cat. I love your stories, I have Necessary Madness on my TB list.

Tamsyn said...

I find your post interesting. In many cases when dams are built for reservoirs, many villages are sacrificed but governments go ahead anyway with their projects. It is sometimes very sad to see those dispossessed of their homes on TV, pleading their case.

marcy said...

Fascinating post! I hope to read "Necessary Madness" soon!

Unknown said...

Sounds eerie. I get goosebumps watching ghost stories on TV, and I imagine Necessary Madness will do the same. Sounds like something I need to read when I have people in the house. You can't believe what a big coward I am. :)

booklover0226 said...

I stay away from places with even a "hint" of hauntness (I know that's not a work, but I kind of like it...)

Anyway, Necessary Madness sounds great (hauntness and all!)

Sherry said...

I'm not sure if I really believe in ghost but I love to read books about haunted places I think its very interesting.

Estella said...

Very interesting post.

Stacey Smith said...

Sounds Spooky but I like that.When I was a kid I would go to grave yards and wounder about the people in thouse times.

s7anna said...

What a tragic past for a place...I can't even begin to imagine how restless the spirits must be.

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