So where do you work, people ask me, and I say, Bluffton. And they say, aw, don't kid me, where do you work? And I say, Cleveland, and they are satisfied.
But I live in Cleveland. I work in Bluffton.
Isn't that strange? To go from the big city to the small town? What could possibly be in a small town that's worth leaving the big city for?
But there's a lot of work for me. I have to shore everything up, see, and track how far the river has bent today, and where the dividing line in town is now, and I have to do all of this before dawn so that I can tell the mayor's office first thing in the morning and they can announce it to the town. I wonder, when the line moves past the town hall and the whole thing becomes incorporeal, how is the town government going to function? Are they going to move their offices? Will they have enough time to move, or will the line leap forward, like it did when it caught Old Lady McGucket in her shack?
I take it you've never been to Bluffton. See, the town founder was somewhat inexperienced in the wilderness. He was a man from London, named Saunterblagget Hampterfuppinshire, and he thought it would be a good idea to set up a town on a high bluff above the Ohio river. I told him, hell, half the company told him, don't listen to that preacher, he's four years old and he doesn't know what he's talking about, the angel of the LORD isn't going to come down to earth at this spot. But he said I shouldn't worry my pretty little head. That was how they talked, back then. I've since given up my attempts to change the past; nobody there ever listens to me.
Anyway. Hamperfuppenshire decided it would be a good idea to build a town on a river bluff. Not only would his people be right there for the Second Coming, it was a place easily defended. What could possibly go wrong, thought the man from London in the middle of the American wilderness?
Hampterfuppenshire had no idea that rivers wear away at bluffs.
Sure, the bluff was granite, so it took a really long time to wear away, but no stone on earth can resist a river forever. Within 50 years it became clear that the river was undermining the bluff, though the bluff itself had not fallen, but instead become a great overhang. Nor did it ever fall; half the town is now part of the overhang.
This would be a mere unusual geological feature, if not for the fact that every part of the town on the overhang is become incorporeal. Ghostly, you might say. Dead. You can see it, when you walk into town and look down main street. Everything on the overhang is kind of pale and grey, and frequently misty. The dividing line itself isn't clear, which is why I have to do my measurements each day to figure out where, exactly, it is. If I don't warn people, they might stumble over the line and become incorporeal. And they can't ever come back. Unless you can summon some powerful demons to aid you, like I can, the ghost town is a one-way trip.
Throughout history, many fugitives and refugees have run into Bluffton, with slave-catchers or federal agents or whatnot chasing them; quite often these fugitives have entered the ghost town and discovered that their pursuers would not follow. Their joy was usually short-lived, once they discovered that they were lost to the world of the living. None remain to tell me their stories; the have all since vanished.
On my forays into the ghost town, I frequently hear residents muttering about leaving, which confuses me, because I know, and they know, that they can't get back into my world. And yet, the next time I come back, these people have vanished. Sometimes they open certain doors in their houses that ought to lead into rooms, only they appear to go elsewhere, and then these people step through them and vanish. And I do not dare follow, for I cannot be certain I would return; those who go through the doors never do.
I have gone down to the river itself, sometimes, and there seen docks full of boats, but the boats and the docks are incorporeal.
Where do they all go?
Where will the rest of Bluffton go? Why do they not go? Few people in the living part of Bluffton have any desire to leave. Mayor Durland tells me he's still waiting for the second coming. I get the feeling the other residents are waiting for something more obvious and imminent. But why do they not pick up stakes and find some safer town? Why not start over in sunny Cleveland? Or out west?
I think of the people who live near Mount Nyiragongo, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The residents of Goma know full welll that their city is right in the path of the lava flows, which are relatively frequent. Despite this danger, they stick it out. Is it because they have little to lose, or too much to lose if they decided to move? Maybe there's no other place they could go. Or, maybe if they did pick up Goma and move it, it wouldn't be Goma anymore. or maybe they don't have enough money to start over elsewhere.
Imagine if everyone in Bluffton decided to move. There's no empty land left in the U.S. to build a town, so the people couldn't found a new town with all of them together. They'd have to scatter, like some kind of diaspora, and they'd gradually lose contact with each other, and Bluffton would be no more —
And the ghost town would be lonely.
Love keeps them together, even if it means their doom.
It's possible that they aren't doomed entirely. Rivers, after all, can only bend so far before they break through the bend and leave an oxbow lake. Should this occur, the ghost line will stop moving. The doom of Bluffton will halt. I'll be out of a job. Honestly, I'd hate for that to happen. There's a certain thrill that pervades the town, since they know the ghost town is overtaking the living. What would happen, if it were to stop? It would be like the first-century Christians who kept waiting and waiting for the Second Coming to occur within their lifteimes. What a grand promise to go unfulfilled!
Nobody I talk to in Cleveland has ever heard of Bluffton, which is why they think I'm kidding. I mean, when I say "Bluffton", it almost sounds like I'm bluffing, but I'm not. Bluffton is real. It's not on any map I've ever found, but it's real. Not all of it is solid, but it's real.
Why are you looking at me like that? I wasn't kidding about Frostbite Falls either.