The midnight streets of Chincoteague have an almost post-apocalyptic emptiness. The air is wet and the streetlamps slime the cracked gray sidewalks in orange light. Houses line the street but nothing moves in them: no TVs flicker, no dogs bark. I pass by a magnolia tree in full, vigorous blossom and breathe in deeply, but there is no scent at all. It’s eerie, is what it is, like a set on a movie lot, or an empty stage.
My four fellow Tropists—Tom, Evan, Roger, and Will—are in high spirits, and their laughter rings off the vinyl siding of the empty homes we walk by. My arrival initially made them shy, or maybe they were actually a bit startled by me, an emissary from “over there.” After a lawn chair pow-wow, and ritual bathing in Bud Light Limes, I’d slipped through the membrane between “us” and “them,” and now we walk together, but I keep looking around, and wondering where, exactly, are we?
The Trop Collective is a colony in the peculiar border state between fiction and non-fiction, and I feel like that blurred-boundary aspect has been manifested by the men here—Jester Street is like a setting in Roger’s novel, a name so apt it could be fictional. Reams have already been written about Tom’s luxuriant mustache, which has the character hook of an eye-patch or a silver-topped cane. Will speaks in an entirely new voice, a schizoid bumpkin twang, and issues observations almost always beginning in “Whatfer.” Evan, last seen in a mild-mannered button-up, is now exclusively dressed in neon day-glo t-shirts, and cherishes violent grudges against hapless townsfolk. The Tropists are still themselves, but weirder, more potent, more selves of their own making.
Like the ravening kudzu weed, Trop is thriving here in Chincoteague’s primordial atmosphere. After two weeks of eating and drinking and playing cards and writing together, the Tropists are strong, filling and transforming everything around. That is where we are on Chincoteague: a place of our own invention. And now that Liz is here, and we’re even weirder and stronger, Jester Street is taking us exactly where we want to go. The semi-permeable membrane between fiction and non-fiction, reality and surreality, our dreams and our futures, has been taken down, and it feels like now that we’re together, everything is possible.
A.C. DeLashmutt is a Virginian living in New York. Her writing has appeared in McSweeney's, The Washington Post, theNewerYork, Flash magazine, and elsewhere. She also writes plays. Follow her on Twitter @acdelashmutt.