Stop me if you've heard this one - but you know what I miss? Supermarkets. And, no, not for the food. Well, okay, maybe a little for the food, but mostly for the checkout lines. You see, back in the day, guys couldn't be into gossip magazines. Oh no. They were for the rank and file. But in that three-to-five minute window before you reached the cashier, it was either talk to the people in line (God forbid), pretend to look through 37 flavors of gum, or check out the gossip rags. And I will now gleefully admit - I found the crazy ones fascinating.
They were filled with absurdly obvious Photoshopped bat-boys, crocodile men and mutated farm animals. Insane stories about bigfoot sightings, alien abductions and conjoined twins (or sometimes triplets). Fabulous dead celebrity headlines like "Inside John Lennon and Marilyn Monroe's Secret Wedding" and, if you were really lucky, "I'm Having Elvis' Baby." The best part? People actually believed them. Like for real believed them.
A few days back, Priscilla and I came across a family living inside an old highway rest stop. We traded a still-wrapped toothbrush I'd found for some of their best turtle jerky (which was much tastier than it sounds) and swapped stories. I was hoping to get some info on the Patriots, but all they wanted to talk about were the Wintalefs. Feather-covered dogs that cluck like chickens to lure in potential predators and then devour them. Had I seen any? Did I know how to ward them off? When I said I didn't, their youngest daughter gave us both necklaces of quartz and mountain mint. (Apparently, Wintalefs don't care for the smell.) So now we're safe to travel without fear of the dog-chickens.
Since the Blackout, I've heard a lot of these kinds of legends. Some are just holdovers, vampires, werewolves and such. Others are the byproduct of a dead world. Like the feared cry of an Appalachian mountain dragon (which I'm fairly certain was just wind howling through the remains of a downed 747). Or the water sprites of Paddington Lake, who drag under any swimmers who aren't "pure of heart." (Probably just an overzealous pastor and some bad rip currents.) Wasteland Mole-Folk (poorly marked mine fields) and Plains Nation firebirds (fracking at its finest.) And those are just the mildly almost believable ones.
To be honest, I can't really blame people. We've been coming up with supernatural reasons to explain the unknown for thousands of years, and it's not like the world's reading level went up after the Blackout. We're a scared people cut off and alone in the dark, and sadly, some of us still remember what light was like.
I don't believe in Wintalefs, mountain dragons, or firebirds. There are enough real bad things in the world already. But I will say, there's a part of me that misses standing in that supermarket, looking at those silly black-and-white pictures and knowing exactly what I should be afraid of and what I shouldn't. Because after everything I've seen over the last year, I'm just not so sure anymore.