Saturday, March 1, 2014

Ghost Town

I’m an old man now. But I can still remember things fairly well. They say you never forget your first love and I remember mine. Sally was my first love and my first wife. I remember that Sally was full of life and never met a stranger. And I remember the day I lost Sally.

I’ve told this story a hundred times, at least, and have never found more than one person who believed me. That person was the one who warned me before Sally was gone but he also told me that he could not help me find her.

Sally and I were married in the summer fifty years ago. Although I had a nice house to take her to, she wanted a honeymoon somewhere else. I liked her idea of a traveling camping trip so we bought a small camping van with about everything we would need in it. Putting my business in the capable hands of my general manager, Sally and I began our cross country adventure. We were on the last leg of our journey as we headed back home to California.

Crossing the Badlands of Nevada, Sally got excited when she saw what looked like a child’s scribbles on a board on the side of the two lane highway. I had seen another one a while back telling us about an old western ghost town, but knowing that such places were only a bunch of worn out buildings with nothing else to see, I ignored the thought of stopping. But Sally was bouncing around in the seat screaming for me to turn into the dusty road indicated by third sign stating, “Ghost Town Ahead.”
About fifty yards off the highway a small guard type building stood like a ghost building itself. As we got closer an elderly man stepped out and waved us down.

“Hi, folks, I guess you want to see the ghost town here, huh?”

I nodded and replied, “Yes sir, at least my wife does. Since you are guarding the place, I reckon there is a charge for the visit.”

The old man grinned and nodded his head as he spoke, “Well, I do charge folks five dollars a person, but you can stay as long as you like until sundown. I don’t allow vehicles in there so you can park over yonder.” He pointed to where two cars were parked off to the right of the road. As I handed him the ten dollar bill, he handed me a pamphlet and began to tell us about the town.

“This here ghost town was a mining town way back in the last century. There were a few ranches about but most men folks worked in the mines. Since it was so hot during the day they worked at night and partied during the day, mostly in the saloon down there. Now, there are a few buildings left down there, mostly weathered and rundown, but the town still exists. You can take cameras but no guns, drugs, or cash. Leave all that in your van, it will be safe.”

I thanked the old man and started the van. He put a weathered and wrinkled hand on the rolled down window edge and spoke with worried voice.

“There is one other thing, fella. Take this stone here and keep it in your hand all of the time. Don’t put it in your pocket and don’t lay it down anywhere. Above all, don’t try to talk to the ghosts you may see there and don’t try to touch them. There is a bunch of them that were killed when the mines began to cave in and a few cowboys who just went crazy.”

Sally and I laughed at the old man who was looking at us so seriously like telling us not to talk to the ghosts. We waved at him and turned to park the van.

After putting our valuables including our watches and the necklace Sally had on into the glove box, we put two water bottles in the small knapsack I could carry and headed down the road toward the ghost town. As we walked over a small hillock, we stopped to survey the few rough looking weathered graying buildings. As I had suspected, there was little else to see. I told Sally that we had seen all there was but she was adamant about getting closer to the ruins. We casually ventured forth.

As we neared a small building ahead of us, the gray of the side boards began to take on a pinkish white glow. As we got closer we could hear muffled voices from within the building and as we rounded the corner we could see through a large glass window two men moving a large box. We laughed and talked about the actors doing their thing without even seeing us. Seeing a couple of cowboys passing by on horses, we followed them to the large building with a sign over the swinging door telling us of the saloon.

As we approached the building, the weathered boards took on the colors we had seen before. We could hear laughter and talking amidst the sounds of a piano playing a lively tune. As we pushed the swinging doors open, we could see the large room filled with small round tables around which were men of all sizes and dress drinking, talking, arguing, and playing cards and dominoes.

As Sally moved through the tables taking pictures of the men and the few women, none of them paid any attention to her or the flashing light when she clicked the shutter. When Sally was approaching the long bar at the rear of the room, I saw a heavy set man wiping the top of the counter with a rag. I hurried to Sally remembering her proclivity toward strangers.

Sure enough, before I got to Sally she was in a conversation with the bartender. Just as I got close enough to speak to her, I watched my sweet wife turn and walk to a small door at the end of the bar. As the door opened, I could see a white room beyond before she closed it behind her. I stood at the end of the bar guessing she had gone to the restroom and waited for Sally.

After fifteen or so minutes, I glanced at the bartender who had been wiping the counter behind me and saw that he was at the far end of the bar. I stepped to the door and turned the knob.

Now, I was a young strong man back in them days but what was revealed to me when I opened that door still give me the shakes. The white I had seen when Sally opened the door was gone. The dusty way between the buildings outside of the saloon caused me to catch my breath. I stepped out to look for Sally dropping the blue stone I had been carrying since leaving the van into my pocket.

At once the sounds of the saloon stopped and the colors of the sides of the few buildings, including the one I was standing near faded into the weathered gray of age. I stepped back into the saloon and could not breathe as I saw there were a few tables and chairs but no people. The piano which had been filling my hearing with such raucous noise was silent. Gasping and choking on the dust in the room, I held my hand to my throat and ran across to the swinging doors and out onto the dusty road.

Silence followed me as I ran stumbling toward the way we had walked into the town. As I tripped over my own feet I looked back at what I had left to see only a few broken down aged buildings which were almost hidden by the blowing dust. I turned and hurried to the guard house.

The old man stepped from the small building and held up his hands for me to stop. I stood in front of him gasping for breath as he stared at me. I saw him look at my hands and I remembered the blue stone he had given me. As I was digging for the stone in my pocket, the old man, anger now filling his face, virtually screamed at me, “You took the stone out of your hand!” I could only nod as I tried to stand up straight.

The old man was staring at me angrily and then, with a twist of his head, he asked, “Where is your wife, mister?”

When I could do nothing but shake my head as I put my hand out to touch the guard house, he screamed at me again, “She’s gone, isn’t she?” When I nodded, the old man slapped me, hard. As I staggered back, he screamed again, “You fool, I guess you saw what happened when you put that stone in your pocket, didn’t you?” I could only nod and wipe my face with my hand. I listened to the old man almost crying.

“Another one gone, shit, what am I going to do?”

I finally got my voice and stuttered out, “The actors, they were not real, were they?”

The angry old man gave me the answer I expected, “Hell, no, you idiot. Those people you saw and who your wife must have spoken to are real ghosts that you can see only when you are holding the blue stone. I found out about the stones when I came out here ten years ago. The place was in the shape it is today then and when I asked in Doubt, the nearest town, I was told not to go there. You see that car setting there close to your van? Well, that couple that owns it has been gone for two days. I called the sheriff in the town but they won’t come out here, out of their jurisdiction, you know.”

“What am I going to do,” I asked, suddenly unable to breathe again. I was shaking with fear that I was not going to be able to see my Sally again.

“Mister,” the old man groaned, “There is nothing you or I can do for your wife, now. She is gone like those other two people and there is nothing we can do about it. Go on, get out of here and get on with your life. Forget your wife. Seeing that such a pretty girl has been taken, I am going to burn that damn town down and make sure no one else ever sees one of them ghosts again. Go on, mister, get.”

In a fit of anger at the old man for letting us get into such an awful place and full of anguish and sorrow for losing my darling wife, I got in the van and headed down the highway toward the town the old man had spoken of. I believed him when he said the police in Doubt would not even try to find Sally in the ghost town, but I had to try, anyway.

I never saw Sally again and I never went back to Nevada.
©Cayce B. Shelton

Click on Cayce B. Shelton for bio and list of other works published by Pencil Stubs Online.

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