Small Town with a Secret
by P.T. Hylton
I grew up in a small town, so I am allowed to say it: small towns are creepy.
The towns were fairly isolated where I lived as a kid in rural Illinois. We were thirty minutes from the closest shopping mall and twenty minutes from the nearest movie theater. The surrounding towns all had their own individual feel. For instance, Marengo was only about a fifteen minute drive from Woodstock. On the surface, the two towns looked almost identical, but they felt very different from each other.
Maybe that’s why so many great pieces of dark fiction take place in small towns. Something evil could grow in one of these out-of-the-way hamlets and remain undetected for quite some time. As a storyteller, it is tempting to dig past the lonely-looking water towers and the single stop-light downtowns and reveal something evil underneath it all.
You know the type of story I’m talking about – ‘small town with a secret’. Our protagonist moves to a small town or returns to a small town after being away. Something is different. Maybe that something is apparent from the start or maybe it’s an uneasy feeling that grows as the story progresses.
Here are five of my favorite ‘Small Town with a Secret’ novels:
- Harbor by John Ajvide Linqvist – A creepy tale from the author of Let the Right One In. After a little girl disappears, her father’s investigation uncovers a series of strange events in this small harbor town. This book does an excellent job of keeping the reader wondering what secrets this town is hiding, and the payoff is worth the wait.
- The Midwich Cuckoos by John Wyndham – Our hero returns to the English village of Midwich and finds that every woman in town is pregnant. Seems weird, right? Wait until you meet the kids. Within a few years, it becomes clear that there is something different and unsettling about these children. The government and the locals work together to keep the situation contained within the village. And then the kids start showing us what they can do. This story was made into a movie under the name Children of the Damned, but the book is worth digging into even if you’ve seen the film. Wyndam has dry, matter-of-fact writing style that contrasts nicely with the outrageous events of the story.
- ‘Salem’s Lot by Stephen King – Writer Ben Mears returns to his hometown of Jerusalem’s Lot and decides to live in a spooky old mansion. Bad call, dude. Something evil has set up shop in ‘Salem’s Lot, and it’s up to Ben and a few other unlikely heroes to stop it.
- The Stepford Wives by Ira Levin –The term ‘Stepford Wives’ has certainly entered the modern lexicon, but if you haven’t read Ira Levin’s great short novel, you are missing out on a potent and unsettling piece of storytelling. Like Levin’s other novels, Rosemary’s Baby and A Kiss Before Dying, this story is built around the idea that we shouldn’t trust anyone, especially those closest to us.
- Drummer Boy by Scott Nicholson – There’s a cave in the Appalachian Mountains called “The Jangling Hole”. Strange noises drift out of the cave. Maybe it’s just the wind… or maybe it’s something else. Scott Nicholson has authored a number of modern Southern ghost stories. He has a distinct and authentic voice, and he really knows how to creep me out. Drummer Boy is a great place to start with the Nicholson catalog.
P.T. Hylton is a writer, podcaster, and instructional designer living in Appalachian mountains of Eastern Tennessee with his wife and daughter. His own novel about a small town with a secret, Regulation 19, is available on Amazon and Nook. Check out his blog at www.pthylton.com.