Somewhere deep in the backwoods of Louisiana, there is a town. Or at least, there is the wreckage of one. If you should ever be so unfortunate to find the particular stretch of swampy woodland, you would see the skeletons of buildings of every kind. A sign advertising a grocery store, held high in the air by planks of rotting wood. Rows of houses overrun with weeds and vines that snake up and down the damp, worn out walls. The entire town has been besieged by vegetation, where flowers bloom freely in all earthen corners, and weeds coil around one another in an eldritch fashion.
But among the thick vines and sea of flowers, a single building remains untouched by the natural takeover of the rest of the town. As the vines creep ever so close to its steel doors, their path of growth halts. When the vine continues to grow, it unnaturally turns away from the building, as though it's afraid. Though years of oxidation have reverted the metal building into a rusted variation of its former self, it still stands tall and proud amongst the sea of green that plagues the neighboring buildings.
This town is the very definition of a ghost town. Not even a single insect inhabits any space within any building for as far as the small town stretches into the backwoods. But to understand the fate of the small town, it has to be understood that the town itself was killed when that proud metal building was erected almost 30 years ago.
In 1982, the town of Maple Landing enjoyed a status as a small yet prosperous community. Despite it being the 20th century, the town itself and the people who occupied it were very much rooted in the practice of traditionalism, making the community more akin to that of a town from the early 1950s. However, this wasn't necessarily a bad thing for the people of Maple Landing; the men worked, the women kept their homes with pride, and the children got proper schooling and occasionally helped their parents with the daily workload. The lives of the people were simple, yet fulfilling, and their agricultural lifestyles were lucrative and rewarding. Farmers were able to produce such an excess amount of meat and eggs that they were able to sell most of them while retaining some to feed their family. Life in Maple Landing was by no means easy or carefree, but the work they did was honest, and the lives they led were even more so.
In 1983, the town seemed to snap out of the American dream by a series of tragedies that would permanently affect all of the townsfolk.
In the first early months of the year, the town was hit with a particularly long and unforgiving drought. As a result, several citizens died of illnesses brought about by dehydration, and many more suffered the severe effects of long-term dehydration before the drought eventually ended. Unfortunately, the people weren't the only things affected by the drought. Almost all of the town's livestock dropped dead from malnutrition due to the lack of water, and the ones that lived were so sickly and near death that reproduction was out of the question. Even after the drought ended, the townspeople were faced with a terrible crisis: food shortage.
About a week into the month of April, shortly after the drought ended, the people called a meeting in the Town Hall to weigh their options and come up with a solution. Their collective brainstorm session proved fruitless however, as everybody was in too much of a panic to think rationally. Somebody suggested fairly rationing what little food they had saved, but the people knew in their hearts that there wasn't enough for everybody fairly. Idealism would not save their lives.
One man called for a mass exile to limit the population, and another called for mutually assured cannibalism in order to stay alive while increasing food supplies. Both of these ideas were shot down immediately, and the two men who suggested them were silently branded as lunatics by the rest of the citizens. With each suggestion growing more desperate and more fantastical, it seemed as though nobody had a legitimate solution to their grave predicament.
Just as the people began to lose hope, a man they had never seen before swung open the doors to the town hall, subconsciously inviting all the citizens to cease their conversation.
The man wore a light grey suit and a dark purple dress shirt underneath, with a matching purple necktie. He wore a light grey trilby to compliment his suit, and he held a briefcase in his right hand. The man looked to be in his late 30s, with a solemn, almost expressionless face that commanded the people's attention.
"I heard you folk were badly affected by that drought, eh?" he spoke in a low tone, but his accent indicated that he was a northerner.
"I reckon we are," replied one of the town's councilmen, "but what's yer business about it, stranger?"
The man smiled. "What if I told you fine people that I had your solution right here?" he said, tapping his briefcase with his free hand. It was at the mention of a solution that the town's mayor, who previously remained silent, felt inclined to speak to this strange man.
"What's in the briefcase then, stranger? And just who are you?"
He smiled again. "My name is Simon DeMonte, I'm a scientist from New Jersey. I've been working on something that I think can improve your situation. My only request is that I present my design to the mayor only."
The mayor was skeptical. He wasn't sure what this man wanted, but he was so desperate for a solution that he reluctantly granted DeMonte a private audience and adjourned the meeting.
As the people exited the Town Hall, one boy intentionally strayed far behind the others. This boy, named Sammy, was dreadfully curious about what DeMonte was presenting to the mayor. He made sure he was one of the last people out of the Town Hall, then slunk back to the front door and pressed his ear up against it. Through the doors Sammy was able to hear bits and pieces of their conversation. He heard the mayor let out a slight gasp, then murmur something under his breath. The only thing he heard that made any sense was DeMonte mention a construction project, and he uttered a series of words that Sammy didn't understand:
The very next day, a private construction crew appeared, informing concerned townsfolk that they were associates of DeMonte, and that the mayor had approved his solution to the food shortage. The crew worked tirelessly day and night, and by the end of the month they had produced a large, metal building. It looked like a modern office building, except for the fact that it was windowless. Shortly after its construction was complete, the mayor called another town meeting to discuss what this meant for the people of Maple Landing.
"My fellow townspeople," the mayor began once the townsfolk were all seated and silenced, "I know you're all agitated 'bout what's been going on with Mr. DeMonte and his project. Well, we've reached the end of the construction, which brings me to this important announcement."
Mr. DeMonte appeared, carrying a lottery ball spinner. He placed it on the table in front of the mayor, and leaned against the table, folding his arms over his chest.
"I'll make this explanation brief," DeMonte said, "every other day, the mayor is going to roll this here lottery spinner. What makes this spinner so special? Every ball in it has the name of one of you people. Every one of you is accounted for within this spinner."
The people were stunned. Many of the adults dreaded what he was going to say, while most of the children were innocently excited about a lottery system that personally involved them somehow.
"If your name is picked," he continued, "you will be transported to the building you've undoubtedly seen at the outskirts of town. From there, volunteer workers will provide you with food, both immediate and food for the future. The idea is that we avert this crisis fairly, and we avoid the mad rushes for food and supplies that occurred during similar crises."
DeMonte's explanation was convincing, but many people were deeply troubled by the implication of a lottery. One man, the man who suggested exile, leapt to his feet in anger.
"There's no damn food in there!" he hollered. "He's gonna execute us, one by one!"
This outburst caused mass panic among the people, who began nervously chatting and angrily shouting amongst one another. Several police officers appeared behind the mayor, as DeMonte tried to quell the crowd. It was no use. Eventually, the mayor had to silence the people with a decree.
"Friends, you are all too distrusting of Mr. DeMonte," he said sternly, "but if you refuse to cooperate, you will have no choice but to face police action."
Many people were arrested in the coming weeks, as more and more resisted the police once their names were drawn. Those who complied were escorted into the building, and they were never seen again. Obviously, these disappearances set everybody on edge, and further fueled the conspiracy that DeMonte was executing the citizens of Maple Landing. People were too afraid of the lottery and the building to notice the flowers blooming all around town, most of them unseasonably so.
Sammy was out playing in the street, when he saw the police officers arrive at his door. They knocked, and were greeted by his mother, whose face grew pale at the sight of them. After a brief conversation, his mother began to cry. Sammy's face grew just as pale and worried when she raised a shaky finger past the officers, pointing straight at him.
Though a young boy of nine, Sammy had heard the whispered talk about the building and the people who got sent there, and he stood frozen in fear as his mind raced to find a solution. Alas, his idea for a miraculous escape was absent when the two officers took him by the arms and led him, slowly yet firmly, towards the building on the outskirts of town. He could hear his mother's screaming sobs as they carried him off. He wondered if he would ever hear them again.
When they reached the buildings, one of the officers momentarily loosened his grip on Sammy to pry open the handleless steel door. In this brief moment of vulnerability, Sammy attempted to wrest himself free from their grasp, but the other officer tightened his grip as Sammy tried to run, causing him to stumble stupidly down the steps of the building, landing face first in a bed of roses that had been planted recently. He cried out in protest as the officer lifted him to his feet, dragging him into the building and then closing the door behind him.
Sammy assessed his surroundings. The place they sent him looked like a 1950s living room, complete with a sofa, a plush carpet covering the entire area of floor, an armchair, a coffee table, and in the place of the television there was a small radio resting on a stool. The floor itself seemed to slant towards the dead center of the room. The room was incredibly dimly lit, with only a single bulb to illuminate it. The bulb was positioned over the furniture, so the corners of the room were dark. Cautiously, Sammy moved towards the center of the room, unsure of what exactly he was supposed to do.
"H-Hello?" he called out timidly. "I-I-Is anyone there?"
As though it sensed his movement, the radio sprung to life, blasting a more modern tune Sammy had never heard.
There's danger out tonight,
The man is on the prooooowl
DUN DUN NUH
The room filled with the blasting noise of an electric guitar. The noise rattled the bulb, filling the entire room with pure, ambient sound.
Sammy was too busy covering his ears in an attempt to drown out the noise that he didn't notice the abstract shape beginning to stir in the leftmost corner of the room.
As the song slowly deteriorated into pure noise, Sammy's head began to pulse with irritation as he called for help.
"Somebody! Anybody! He-"
He stopped when he saw the darkness shuffling towards the radio. Whatever it was, it seemed groggy, as though the screeching noise had awoken its slumber. From the darkness, Sammy saw a pulpy, fleshy hand braced against the ground. It was black, with streaks of green running down its arm and pouring over its hand. In a single swift motion, faster than Sammy could comprehend, the radio was on the ground in pieces, the noise slowing to a gurgle before dying out. Sammy backed away in fear. As the thing pursued him, it crawled under the bulb, allowing Sammy to see his pursuer.
Whatever it was, it used to be a human. Its skin had either fallen off or had been pulled off a long time ago. Its hands were blackened as though burnt, making them look like gloves when contrasted to the fleshy red of its upper arms. If it had a face, it was covered by a graft of melted flesh that was sealed over its face like a velcro strap. There was a large gash in its back, from which an ambiguous green fluid flowed outwards, soaking the carpet upon which it crawled. Just looking at the thing made Sammy dizzy. He stumbled, desperately trying to catch his footing. He felt his knees brush against each other as his legs inadvertently crossed, sending him to the ground clumsily. He stared upwards at the creature, which was eyeing him confusedly.
Sammy screamed. And as he screamed, the creature leapt forward, alerted by the sound.
When the creature had finished with Sammy, it dragged his lifeless body to the center of the room and put it aside. It pushed the coffee table to the side and began digging at the carpet under it until it revealed the trapdoor placed under the rug. It slowly nudged Sammy's limp body into the circular trapdoor, and went back to its dark corner, drifting off to sleep as sickening crunching noises emanated from the room under the trapdoor.
In the year 1984, many people deserted the town of Maple Landing. Law or no law, the amount of disappearances was undeniable, and they weren't going to stick around until they were the ones missing. Soon, the only citizens left were the mayor and a handful of obedient citizens. DeMonte had left town shortly after the lottery was issued, leaving the people with an ominous message that his system "would make their town beautiful again."
And it was beautiful. For every person who disappeared, a flower bloomed in the most unusual of places. Sometimes, by the entrance to the town, sometimes, behind the school, and sometimes, near one of the many empty graves issued for the missing people. The mayor feverishly continued the lottery until he was the only soul in Maple Landing, and then he blew his brains out in his office one evening near the beginning of April.
In a matter of two years, Maple Landing was completely empty.
The building still stands among the natural wreckage. As do the flowers that, by all accounts, should have wilted and died years ago. For all the adventurous souls that visited the graveyard of a town in the following years, none of them were brazen enough to pry open the rusted steel doors of the supposed hunger shelter. Still the building stands, and still the thing within sleeps, waiting for the day when the doors will inevitably be reopened, and a new flower will be planted.
Maple Landing is empty. But it is so, so beautiful.
Written by Parlour