Valley of Stories
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.
My upcoming TEB release, Necessary Madness (coming in December), 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.
Here's the blurb for Necessary Madness:
Nineteen year old Kyle sees visions of disasters, visions that tear his world apart. Everyone assumes that he is schizophrenic, but Rob, the cop who picks him up off the street, knows better. Rob's own experience has taught him that psychic powers are real, and potentially devastating. Since his telepathic sister's brutal murder, Rob wants nothing to do with "gifted" individuals like Kyle. Yet he can't deny his attraction to the beautiful, tortured young man -- an attraction that appears to be mutual. When a brilliant, sadistic practitioner of the black arts lures Kyle into his clutches, Rob faces the possibility that once again he may lose the person he loves most to the forces of darkness.
You can read an excerpt on my website.
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 its unsettling aura.
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 made our way through the underbrush, 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.