1. Williston, North Dakota
Half-light colors the hotel bar—wood paneling, cigarette smoking, blackjack and talking about horses. Above the bartender's head, a chandelier of dusty glasses. She's a born-again Christian from Nebraska who followed a dream of God that told her to come to Williston. She's writing a novel about the Apocalypse, quotes Revelations as she pours more gin. He's a roughneck from Montana. He turns and looks at me through thick, grimy glasses, talks about Truth, how we're nothing without it.
2. Manville, Wyoming
Among deserted houses and overgrown lots, a man in a red wool jacket sits beside a pile of firewood. He's in his sixties, half-Cherokee he tells me, with a wavy auburn mohawk. He invites me in for coffee. He's the village outcast, always in and out of jail. His wife died of breast cancer a few years ago. In the living room he's set up a small shrine with photos in gold-painted frames and her things: a beaded bracelet, hair pins, small ceramic animals. Our coffee cups are almost swallowed up by the sea of pill bottles that covers the table.
3. Fillmore, North Dakota
Wind gallops down empty streets where yellowed grass fissures the sidewalks. The general store is adrift in a field, smashed-out windows dangle bits of frame as the breeze stirs up eddies of mouldy receipts for things that no longer exist. Inside the one-time bar, the smell of stale cigarette smoke lingers. The community hall pushes out a gust of cool, dead air as the wooden door opens onto the entombed memory of a half-finished Christmas pageant. Houses barley seen behind webs of leafless branches and feral hedges.
4. Jeffrey City, Wyoming
A city rises out of Wyoming's Great Basin, almost empty. In the early 80s the uranium mine closed. Now, hardly anyone remains where once there were bowling alleys, swimming pools and street signs. He's come back from Arizona, embracing the broken asphalt abandonment; after wars and pick-up truck crashes he's returned. A rope-leashed dog eats scraps of meat from a tin can at the man's waist. As day fades into night, the streetlights for nobody flicker awake. He's walking down Bob Adams Avenue, its only guardian.
5. Fusilier, Saskatchewan
Almost at the Alberta border, the silhouette of a grain elevator appears on the horizon. Ringed with scrappy barbed-wire, the hollowed-out houses and shops are off-limits, corralled histories. At the edge of town, amongst a sea of tractor tires and long-dead Buicks, Fusilier's last resident is wading through the metal and wood accumulations of his life, looking for an always-already lost sprocket. He's almost eighty. We're sitting at a kitchen table that's thick with mail and juice glasses; we're flipping through a leather-bound book, a home-made history of Fusilier. As our eyes pass pictures of spectral rodeos, barn dances and grade school classes, he tells me how and when they all died.