by Roland Goity
This is Rockhaven, a half-day’s drive to civilization, where the heart of town – post office, gas station, general store slash deli, and First Presbyterian Church – revolves around a 4-way stop. The quadrant on the hilly side stands out. It’s the church that’s Rockhaven’s centerpiece. Reverend Thomas led the effort behind its shiny new paint job, which emits a sparkling halo on extraordinarily sunny days, ‘otherworldly’ some call it. The church bell rings not only Sunday. Events take place throughout the week, once the public school kids and quasi-professional, non-farmer types have returned from studying and working in Summertown, or from as far away as Adams Valley. There’s no industry in Rockhaven. Hasn’t been since the psychiatric hospital in the distance shuttered decades ago. Evidently there were some serious problems at the facility so it had to close. Now all that’s left are brick barriers, concrete walkways, and jutting rebar in a skeleton maze of what once must have been a formidable structure. Although First Presbyterian is the town’s official place of worship, every year more and more teenagers try to summon spirits while partying down at the hospital ruins. They ignore the Danger and No Trespassing signs and slip through a bolt-cut wedge of a chain-link, barbed-wire fence in the dead of night, their cars parked off in a stand of woods nearly a half-mile away. The dilapidated site fascinates them with its history, its morbidity. Without fail someone will spout: ‘I’d rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy,‘ before taking a swig of wine or liquor. The old joke takes on a special meaning here: frontal lobotomies and electroshock therapy treatments were performed as routinely as oil changes, the hospital’s patients like vehicles in need of a tune-up or lube job, required repair if they wanted to safely navigate the road back home. Such a legacy, when combined with a brisk wind or snapping branch under foot, sends chills across the arms and shoulders of kids, many of whom are drunk, high, tweaked, or maybe tripped out. There’s always a hint of uncertainty. They gaze at the night’s shadows figuring ghoulish figures might suddenly appear and reclaim their right minds, and the right to think for themselves. It’s a source of entertainment that can’t be found in Summertown, or even Adams Valley. It’s a Rockhaven thing.
– Roland Goity lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, where he writes in the shadows of planes coming and going from SFO. His stories can be found in Fiction International, The Raleigh Review, Word Riot, Compass Rose, PANK, and more recently in The MacGuffin, Menacing Hedge, Defenestration, and Bluestem. He edits WIPs: Works (of Fiction) in Progress.