Scott Westerfeld and Alex Puvilland

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November 16, 2016

Russell’s Bottom

As a kid, I often visited my cousins in Texas. They lived in a small town called Salado, which didn’t have a lot for teenagers to do. But it did have Russell’s Bottom, a low-lying scrubland with dirt roads and poisonous snakes.

In Salado back then, every urban legend—Hook Man, The Devil in the Dance Hall, The Dead Boyfriend—took place around Russell’s Bottom. The Bottom had a “goat man” who could run as fast as cars, which I later found out was actually a Maryland legend. The Bottom also supposedly had its own panther, which had escaped from a traveling circus in the 1920s. (Whether this was a breeding population of panthers or one ancient creature, I was never quite sure.)

In other words, Russell’s Bottom was a gravity sink of fear, a way of drawing all the far-flung terrors of the world into the local and immediate space. The Bottom was a geographical “friend of a friend” that made scary stories personal.

It was also a great way for my older cousins to scare me.

In Addison’s reality, the Spill Zone serves that same function, especially in Po’Town. For all its real horrors, the Zone is also full of legends and rumors. The nearby forests are home to strange creatures, even when they aren’t. Like Salado, my Po’town even has its own reputed panther.

I wanted the Zone’s former residents, like Addison, to own those legends. To use them to scare outsiders the way my older cousins did me. It’s a kind of power, living close to something uncanny and dreadful. Addison is an artist, after all, and art is all about the power of story to bend reality around itself, even when that reality is already bent.

See you next Wednesday for more pages.

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