Book of Days: April 7, Grey Mesa

When I was younger, I heard the phrase Ghost Town, and always connected it somehow to the movie idea of the Old West. I thought of abandoned saloons, still with bottles on the shelves, covered in dust. I could picture the swinging doors, that look more like a gate, the way they’d creak in the quiet air as whoever had stumbled into this place surveyed the empty tables and tried to make out their reflection in the grime-coated mirror. And of course, given the name, there would be something else in the mirror, something that shouldn’t be there.

It never occurred to me a Ghost Town could come from any other age, not until I passed through Grey Mesa. The name seemed to fit that incorrect notion of an Old West town, but they built Grey Mesa in the sixties on the outskirts of a research facility. It was a gold rush of a different kind, science in those days, so I suppose it’s not so strange it would repeat the past when the prospects dried up.

I found Grey Mesa by accident. After all, place like that isn’t going to be on Google maps, not unless the charting driver got really adventurous. You’re not even supposed to be able to go down the road that leads to it, but the barriers had been erected when the facility and its connected town all closed up, and no one had bothered to keep them maintained. By the time I was driving around, lost as only a city-slicker can be when surrounded by empty spaces and few selections for turns, it had crumbled away, the KEEP OUT sign flat on the ground and covered with mud.

It had been a relief, seeing those buildings in the distance. I’m still not sure what my first wrong turn was, but it had landed me on a highway in the wrong direction and though it probably would’ve been smart to just admit defeat and turn around, a part of me thought I would have to reach some sort of landmark soon, if I just kept going. In a way, I suppose, I did.

So I kept going until I saw houses, and sat up higher in my seat, hoping to find a person I could ask for directions, or a store where they might be used to pointing lost strangers in the right direction. The first thing I remember thinking was that the houses were all the same. It was as if some giant child had constructed a model town out there in the middle of nowhere, or like it had been built in a video game, all using the same assets. I didn’t know it then, but that was near enough how Grey Mesa had been put together. The research facility had been built first, highly customized toward the needs of the scientists, but when the commute grew too much for them, and the work they were doing became all the more secret, homes nearby were necessary, and so they just put up a bunch of model homes all the same, with different colours of siding to pretend there were differences. For someone who’d grown up in a neighbourhood with over a hundred years of municipal history behind it, where no house looked like any other not even those in the same year, this regularity was enough to set me on edge even before I came across any of the things that should have scared me away.

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by | Apr 7, 2021

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