New Jersey gothic.
1. The man on the country road selling Jersey tomatoes and corn has piercing blue eyes that never blink and a wide toothy grin that doesn’t flinch. He never speaks. You always leave with more in your bag than you remember picking up. If you do not eat them by the stroke of midnight in three days, they putrefy, stinking of rotting flesh.
2. “What exit?” is not just an inside joke. Those who do not know their exit are trapped in a crack between dimensions, driving eternally on a Turnpike that never ends. They are never seen or heard from again.
3. There are diners everywhere. You see one on every highway, in every sleepy town, every bustling city center. It is the same diner. The customers sit in booths and at the counters, moaning as they pour scalding coffee down their throats with trembling hands. Enter, and the waitress at the front, with her sunken eyes and hollow cheeks, will say: “Room for one more, honey.”
4. On Memorial Day, people across the state load into their cars and head down the shore. They drive in a trance, as if guided by an unseen force. The highways are bumper to bumper for miles. Something is pulling them there. They flock to Wildwood, Seaside Heights boardwalk, Asbury Park. When they reach the sea, they abandon their cars and walk hand in hand into the ocean, toward the humming black orb that hangs in the sky.
5. Look outside your house in the winter and you’ll see a million glowing eyes staring back at you - hundreds of whitetail deer. Their jaws are moving, as if they’re chewing something. You think they might be speaking to you, but you are too afraid to open the door.
6. On the eve of their 18th birthday, every New Jerseyan is given: a copy of Weird NJ; a map of the state; a flashlight; and a crucifix. “Your journey begins at sundown,” their parents say, smiling with pride and worry as tears spill down their cheeks. “Godspeed, my child.”
7. On the Garden State Parkway, the radio plays only one song, no matter which station you flip to: “Born to Run” by Bruce Springsteen. He is telling you to run, get out while you can. But once you can hear it, it is too late.
8. New Jerseyans are blisteringly proud, defiant in their love of their home state. The best pizza, best bagels, honest and tolerant people, especially compared to their neighbors in Pennsylvania. But there’s nothing to be proud of in crime, corruption, pollution, bigotry, ignorance - the things that make us change the channel when they come up on News 12. Scarier still than looking outside is looking within ourselves.
9. Everyone claims to know someone who knows someone who’s seen the Jersey Devil. The legend is laughed off as campfire talk. But when they remember the bright red eyes from beyond the trees, the inhuman screech coming from somewhere deep in the woods, the laughter turns to anxious silence.