Missing Mile is a fictional town in North Carolina where some of the stories by Poppy Z. Brite – including two of his novels, Lost Souls and Drawing Blood – take place. And it’s also a virtual place in Second Life (which I’ve stumbled on thanks to my friend Tristan Treves). Inspired by Brite’s work, SL’s Missing Mile is dark, rural, sinister and somber. It homes some disturbing events and raises terror and horror in its visitors.
In SL, Missing Mile occupies 2 neighbor sims, Soap and Paper. They are certainly different, but both have a weird atmosphere (this is not derogatory at all, “weird” here being a compliment, actually). And in some way, they display a fusion of many horror and terror elements evoked by Brite’s early novels.
It is not easy to build the atmosphere of Brite’s Missing Mile. If we consider only his novels, the town appears both in a vampire story (Lost Souls) and in a love and horror reassessment of the traditional haunted house fiction (Drawing Blood). In other words, it is home to some different styles of terror.
In SL, maybe one of the greatest trump cards of Missing Mile is the fact that the sims don’t seem to have been designed to a particular kind of terror and horror: vampire-based stories, psychological thrillers, ghost tales… And maybe this is why, although role-playing is a possibility at Missing Mile (and there are hidden places and traps to help the ones who want to follow that path), the sim owners do not determine in advance, as in other sims, what kind of role-playing is to be enacted there. It is only stated that Missing Mile is a “dark rural community”.
It doesn’t mean that Missing Mile lacks elements that draw a close tie not only to Poppy Z. Brite’s universe (even The Sacred Yew, where the Lost Souls? band used to play, is there), but also to a more general “Southern U.S. horror fiction” genre. Actually, this is what it is about: a Southern rural community in the U.S. with an atmosphere that evokes horror and terror. And if we take Ann Redcliffe’s definition of both words, maybe we can say that Soap is where horror takes place and Paper is more of a terror ambiance.
In Ann Redcliffe’s characterization, terror has to do with the sublime – which, for a number of philosophers since Edmund Burke, is related not to any particular object, but to the astonishment we can feel, to the greatness we can sense from things we cannot exactly “see”. In other words, terror is related to uncertainty, to the unknown, to obscurity. On the other hand, horror comes with atrocity, with unpleasant displays of cruelty, inhumanity, abomination. As Redcliffe writes in On the Supernatural in Poetry, “terror and horror are so far opposite, that the first expands the soul, and awakens the faculties to a high degree of life; the other contracts, freezes, and nearly annihilates them.”
It may seem here, by the descriptions that I resort to, that terror can be more powerful than horror – but the fact is that both can produce notably powerful experiences, just of different kinds. And this is more or less what I feel about Soap and Paper, as sims. At Soap, Missing Mile reveals its horrible, sometimes repulsive side. That’s what we see, for instance, in the town hospital – especially on the second floor.
Paper, on the other hand, is a sim where horror is in the air, is to be there at any moment, but not yet present. Its lake with a monster coming from its deep waters can even be romantic – as Missing Mile on Drawing Blood can also be a scenery for a love story.
As a final note, it’s interesting to observe how the U.S. Southern horror fiction genre is structured at Missing Mile in SL. Part of the appeal of the genre comes from the fact that the stories are set at smaller, rural communities where bonds between people are supposedly deeper and ties, more solid. Such a world is thought to be more stable, less changing if compared to urban areas. And also, more isolated, less connected to other places.
Missing Mile is characterized by both the idea of isolation and the atmosphere of a smaller community. It is noticeable that, at Soap, there are characters on the streets – stressing that it is not a ghost town at all. It could be, but actually it is interesting that it is not. I mean, the visitor actually feels like being at a place where people live, do stuff, go to the movies and so on – and where horror takes place.
If you got curious, go and check it – but be prepared to both horror and terror. I can assure you that Missing Mile in SL has much more than the photos here show.