Stephen King once said that the impetus for The Mist came from a trip to grocery with his son and wondering what it would be like if there were prehistoric insects in it. From there, he no doubt wondered what they’d be like, how they got there, and what it would be like. King, being King, imagined a worst case scenario involving monsters, people losing their shit, and no end of mist covering the land.
It was kind of like Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, only with more monsters and less hope. And, of course, it predated The Road by almost three decades.
This is how it is to be a writer. It’s all imagination. It’s like the games we used to play as kids, pretending all manner of adventures with talking rabbits, dogs with machine eyes, and Farmington’s vast wasteland behind my house that became any number of terrifying things. Are those flashing lights in the sky satellites, planes, or something more sinister? What if that noise you heard in the night wasn’t just the cat knocking things off the counter because she’s bored?
In other words, what if it was real?
We recently took a trip up to Edwards, CO – a small town close to Vail, but without the associated snobbery. The road took us up through Alamosa, CO, and onto a long, empty stretch of highway that cut through the Colorado plains like a knife. Just north of the Colorado Gators Reptile Park (yes, it’s real. You can go see live gators living in the natural, snowy habitat) lies the UFO Watchtower.
The UFO Watchtower is an out-of-the-way place dedicated to, among other things, documenting UFO activity in the area. You can stop and visit for only $2 a person or $5 a carload. It’s not a big place and in the bright sun it’s not much to look at. But remember, this isn’t about what it is, it’s about what it could be.
At night, you’d be able to see for twenty or thirty miles in every direction in a place where light pollution simply doesn’t exist. In the pitch black, standing on the roof of the watchtower, you’re likely to see all manner of amazing things.
That’s neither here nor there, though. UFO watching is an American pastime and there are more spots dedicated to watching the skies than you can shake a stick at. What made the UFO watchtower interesting wasn’t what was happening in the skies, it was what was happening on the ground.
You see, according to the woman who was running the place that day, there are numerous energy vortexes in the area where you can talk to the spirits or even, I suspect, travel to other places. To a casual observer, it looks like people have dropped off rubbish, bits of things, and the odd bra, and it was all left in situ to create some monumental bit of performance art – a modernist ode to the disposable American spirit, if you will.
That, however, is not the case. The ground is dedicated to small plats where people have left offerings to the spirits, hoping for a little goodwill or help with terrestrial problems. There’s a certain organized chaos to the place, like this wasn’t the ramblings of a diseased mind so much as one that had seen something beyond the pale.
Of course, that could all be marketing and a lot of available free time.
The point is, there’s mystery there. It’s something odd and unique. It may or may not be real, but what if it was? What a story that would make! The UFO part can be interesting on its own if it’s handled well (the X-Files did a marvelous job with it), but the addition spirits and energy vortexes adds a whole new dimension.
All the detritus out there is something that was important to someone, something they felt was worthy of handing off as an offering in exchange for some help. It may look like trash from the distance of Internet and time, but in the heat of the moment, that might have been a powerful experience for someone.
Now take that feeling, and turn it into a story. Then take it a step further and ask yourself what if it was real. Or, at the very least, start wondering. If you want to write, you need to look at things not as they are, but as they could be. And don’t be afraid to be amazed at things.