Beyond a handful of major cities, the American Midwest can be understood as an archipelago of small towns rising from an agricultural sea. For most travelers, these isles are little more than waypoints between two nodes in a great concrete network: exits from the highways where gasoline is gathered, and urine is left behind.
At night, when the influence of the moon is at its peak, these isles are submerged beneath rising tides of grain as their residents sleep. Only two types of structures remain visible above these amber waves: the radio antennas, each aflicker with an abundance of red eyes, and the colossal, cephalopod-like monstrosities known as water towers.
The latter of these loom over their communities as giant, steel totems. Many are painted with the names of their kingdoms in capitalized letters, and some are even given faces with their own personalities. These serve as reminders, in the seventy-mile-per-hour blur of the interstate, that a real place is present beneath them, where human beings are born and marry and die. No matter how small these domains may be, their metal titans still stand guard over them, announcing to the world with their dignified posture that “this is not simply a place where gasoline is gathered, and urine is left behind.”
Despite their ubiquity, the origin of these structures is poorly understood. There are few who question whether or not they merely contain water, or how deeply their long, metal tentacles reach beneath the soil. It is altogether possible that, in their stillness, the towers are dreaming of being surrounded by human life, a contagious dream that spreads through the water supply. After all, while it is not considered wise to dwell on such things, there is a shared, unspoken superstition throughout the region that, should a water tower collapse or be removed, the town beneath it will soon follow.