So, I have a new fan obsession. No big news there, that’s par for the course. But it’s been a while since I’ve been this hooked. What’s snagged my attention, you may ask?
Just a little, unassuming desert city called Night Vale.
Welcome to Night Vale is a bi-weekly podcast that started in 2012, and I had no idea it existed until a few weeks ago when it came up in a list of must-listen storytelling podcasts. After giving the first couple of episodes (which are each about 20 minutes long) a listen, I’m a confirmed Night Vale resident (I’m up to episode 20 by now; I like to wait until night to listen to them). The podcasts are done in the style of a radio broadcast delivering news, local announcements and ‘weather’ reports for a city where bizarre and horrifying things happen on such a regular basis the citizens hardly bat an eye anymore. It’s funny, creepy and delightfully weird with terrific writing, great non-sequiters, an affable host and a firm fan base. I love it!
But it got me thinking, dear readers. It’s summer. It’s a time to travel, to get out there and see what’s beyond your home town’s borders, and often times people do this in long car trips cross country. And what if you happened to come across a town like Night Vale or some other place off the beaten path where things seem fine on the surface but something just feels…off. And the longer you stay, the more secrets begin to unravel and the more things come to light that you kinda wish you hadn’t dug deeper into. There are plenty of examples of towns like that in pop culture, so may I present the top destinations to travel on your summer road trip to fictional creepy towns.
(For the purposes of this list, I’m including towns that you could, in theory, conceivably come across if you were to get into your car right now and start driving, so I’m excluding cities from other continents, other dimensions, other worlds, other planets or shielded from Muggles. Sorry Hogsmeade.)
At first glance, Night Vale is a typical desert town with a pretty name. But, if you listen longer than five seconds to the regular radio broadcast you’ll realize it is unique in the most horrifying and amazing ways possible. It has all the basic ingredients of a city; a city council, a public library, an Arby’s, an arena, a dog park, a fun center, etc. But then you start to hear about…weird stuff. Like how the public library is located next to the private library and how the massive arena is only open one night a year, and how you should never go in the dog park. Seriously, NEVER go in the dog park. In fact, don’t even look at the dog park.
It’s a city where hooded figures, angels, five-headed dragons, a visitor in a tan jacket you can’t seem to remember after he’s gone and a gorgeous scientist who moved there to study the city are all residents. And walking you through it all is Cecil, the voice of Night Vale’s community public radio. So stop by and prepare for chills, laughs and ‘wha’s?’
You can go ahead and skip neighboring town Desert Bluffs. They’re the worst. THE WORST!
(And don’t forget to listen all the way to the end for that episode’s proverb. A couple of my favorites; “What has four legs in the morning, two legs at noon, and three legs in the evening? I don’t know, but I trapped it in my bedroom. Send help. ” and “Does the carpet match the drapes? No, it doesn’t. You’re the worst interior decorator. Please leave my home.”)
Okay, next stop…
In a lot of ways, Twin Peaks is the quintessential freaky town, the one that started it all. We first heard of Twin Peaks due to that unfortunate murder of local homecoming queen Laura Palmer. That brought in FBI agent Dale Cooper, and that in-turn fully revealed the secrets lurking beneath a place known mostly for their coffee and pie (really, you gotta try the pie, especially cherry). Log Ladies, giants, backwards-talking little people in prophetic dreams, spirits named Mike and BOB, residents with things to hide and a deceased teen girl with a troubled past in the heart of it all, Twin Peaks is a must on your tour of the weird.
Where is the best spot to spend a whole summer, you may be wondering? A place with fresh air, lots of trees, a kitschy little tourist trap called ‘The Mystery Shack’ and some actual mysteries popping up on a regular basis. That’s what you’ll find in Gravity Falls, as vacationers Dipper and Mabel Pines will tell you with great enthusiasm. The two of them have faced gnomes, ghosts, wax figures that come to life and lake monsters, and that’s only the first few episodes. Though the adventures in Gravity Falls are spooky, they’re also hilarious, so definitely worth a stay.
Heading down south, we find the quaint little sunny town of Sunnydale. It may be small, but it has a lot to offer. Good schools, a mall, a hip club called The Bronze, a whole bunch of cemetaries, and it’s all built on a literal mouth to hell. So come for the California sun and the small-town feel, but stay for the massive amounts of vampires, werewolves, demons and other creepy things that are naturally drawn to Sunnydale. No need to worry; the town is also host to vampire slayer Buffy Summers. She’s got it all under control.
A newer addition to our tour is Wayward Pines, ‘where paradise is home’. Fair warning, though; once you get into Wayward Pines, it’s very, very hard to get out of it. Between the local hospital keeping you there against your will, the townspeople actively working to undermine your escape attempts, the one road that always leads right back to town and the huge, electrified fence that surrounds it’s borders, you visit there at your own risk, dear travelers. But it is pretty. It’s got that going for it.
For you science aficionados, we’re taking you back to Oregon for a town not a lot of tourists know exists. Eureka is a haven for some of the best scientific minds (many of whom work for the Global Dynamics company) to create new breakthroughs and products. Granted, a lot of that science can run amok, and fairly frequently. But Eureka has an excellent sheriff, a gentleman by the name of Jack Carter, to help keep the peace, so do stop by and soak in all the science, you big nerd.
Last stop on our trip is the historic village of Sleepy Hollow. You may have heard of this one. If you’re a fan of American history or Halloween stories, Sleepy Hollow is the place for you. Between all the touring of the famous sites where history unfolded, you’ll get to view up close the current battle to stop the apocalypse and the arrival of the four horsemen, one of whom has no head (really, his head is just gone!). Be sure to look up Police Lt. Abbie Mills and her partner, a Mr. Ichabod Crane, to get the real scoop on what to see in town (just be careful at night).
So there you are, from one bizarre town to another, you have plenty of stops to visit this summer. Any places I missed? Go ahead and post them in the comments section.
Stay safe, have fun, and until next time, End of Line.