Ghost Town

By: Catherine Day










When traveling west, one will come along many curiosities. Sands as red as blood, towers of stone striped with aged layers of rock, canyons wider than any raging river. You may find Indian relics, little flint arrowheads lying buried in the sand, or the skulls of animals- and people- who perished on the journey. The most curious of these curiosities, however, is the ghost town. Once a bustling little ranching village or religious parish, these settlements could be abandoned within days if the wells went dry or the rains stopped coming. Now, all you will find are the husks of the empty buildings, their false fronts still standing tall, like flats on a playing stage. Some whisper that these towns are haunted, that their old residents return to walk the streets every night. Don’t be so sure of that- people can imagine quite a lot when they’re alone in an unfamiliar place. Still, it’s probably best if you steer clear of the ghost towns for now. We wouldn’t want anything… sneaking up on you. 


It had been four weeks since Hugh Simmons had seen another person, and it was starting to get to him. While he had enough supplies to make it through the next few days in the desert, if he didn’t find a settlement soon, his chances out here were getting slimmer. It had been a stupid desicsion to make this journey now, in the middle of the summer, when the sun was the brightest and the days the longest. But he didn’t have any other choice. If he hadn’t left when he did, he would- 

His horse, Taft, snorted, and stamped his foot. Hugh nodded. It would be dark before they knew it, and they’d have to sleep with the rattlesnakes if they didn’t stop and make camp. Hugh gazed out from under the rim of his felt stetson, searching the horizon for prospective shelter. Nothing. 

As the afternoon wore on, waves of blistering dry heat washed over Hugh and Taft. These Arizona summers were a menace. Hugh had almost decided to stop and try to start a fire when a dark smudge appeared far off in the distance, mingling with the inky twilight that stained the edge of the sky. Hugh blinked, making sure the smudge wasn’t a hallucination brought on by dehydration and heat. No, it was still there. Hugh glanced down at his horse’s dappled grey head. Taft’s ears were back. 

“Come on, buddy, it’ll be fine,” Hugh told him. “Just a quick stop for the night. You’ll like sleeping in an actual stable again, won’t you?” Taft perked up at that. A stable did sound nice. 

“That’s settled, then,” Hugh said, and nudged Taft’s sides with his spurred heels, urging him into a trot. As they got nearer to the smudge, the shapes of buildings started to form out of the darkness. Strangely, there were no noises. No donkeys brayed, no doors slammed, no voices shouted. Where were all the people? 

Soon, they came upon a sign. Barely legible, battered from decades of wind and rain, it read El Pozo, Arizona. Established 1874. Beyond the sign was the town gates, but there was no one there. What had appeared from a distance to be a small, thriving township was actually nothing more than a cluster of dilapidated buildings, the remains of a long gone populace. They’d found a ghost town. By now, it was twilight, but through the darkness Hugh could make out that few structures remained standing. Those that were upright were so damaged that that you could barely tell what they used to be, although one large wooden building strangled by the remains of a wrap-around porch looked as though it could have been a saloon. 

“Whoa, buddy.” Hugh stopped Taft in front of the saloon, and dismounted, tying his reins to the railing of the rotting porch. “I’m going to see if I can find us some water.” He grabbed an empty canteen, and gave Taft a pat on the flank. “Don’t worry, I’ll be back soon.” 

Hugh set out apprehensively. Sure, this place might have been abandoned for years, but that didn’t mean there weren’t wild animals living in the ruins of the old post office. Coyotes, Gila monsters, and scorpions all lurked out here in the desert. Hugh headed for the hills, where springs might break through the ground. Soon, the sandy terrain was giving way to rocky hills studded with scrubby grasses and loose stones. He figured that the plants would grow closer to a water source, so Hugh headed towards a particularly green- or rather, less brown- patch of grass. As he walked, the night wind whistled by. 

“My fault…” 

Hugh froze. He’d spent weeks making sure he wasn’t followed, who- 

“It’s all my fault…” 

He turned his head slowly, tensing for a bullet to bite him in the back, but it never came. There was no human there. Still holding his breath, Hugh turned again, back to the spring. He knelt next to a burbling stream of water and unscrewed the lid of his canteen. Just as he was about to bring the brim of the bottle to the mouth of the spring, the voice spoke again. 

“They’re all dead, and it’s all MY FAULT.”

Hugh whipped around this time, ready to face whoever it was who’d come for him, but there was still no one there. Instead, a pulsing yellow light hovered a yard above the ground, suspended in mid-air. It was jaundiced in color, a sickly yellow that made him want to gag, and its very presence seemed malevolent. Sure that this, at least, had to be an illusion, Hugh blinked. The light was gone. 

“Alright, Dawson, I know you’re there. Let’s get this over with,” he called as he stood up. No one answered. Hugh frowned, and fingered the gun strapped at his hip. 

 “Look, I know you want to kill me, but don’t you think rigging up a hoax light and hiring some dame to say weird things is a bit much? I’m already sorry that I killed-” he broke off. The light was back. 

“I don’t want to kill you…” it whispered. The voice was as dry as a desert creekbed during a drought, and as cold during an icebox in winter. Hugh swallowed, nearly choking on the sudden lump in his throat. Somehow, this thing could speak. “What- what do you want?” he managed. 

The light flashed brighter. “I want you… to follow me.” 

His eyes widening, Hugh took a step back. “What if… what if I don’t want to?” 

The light gave a little shiver, as though it were laughing. “You want to.” 

And strangely, it seemed he did. The light was now the most radiant thing he’d ever seen, a beautiful aurora of gold. He was sure that it would take him to exactly where he needed to be… that it would keep him safe. He barely felt the canteen drop from his hands. Just as he’d reached the conclusion that he would follow the light to the ends of the earth, it disappeared. Hugh swallowed a scream. Suddenly, he couldn’t bear to be without it.

Just as suddenly, the light appeared again, this time a few yards up the hill.

“Follow me…” the voice hissed.

Panting, Hugh started up the hill after it. Yet, just as he got close enough to touch it, the light blinked once, reappearing higher up the hillside. Hugh gave a short, desperate laugh. It was leading him somewhere. But did he want to find out where that somewhere was? 

What was he talking about- of course he did. 

And so he made his way up the hillside, the yellow nimbus always remaining at the edge of his line of vision. As the grass fell back and the terrain grew rougher, the light also seemed to grow, to almost the size of Hugh himself. His booted feet slipped on loose stones, and once or twice he fell, scraping his hands on the rocky ground, blood and dirt crusting on his palms and smearing on his shirt sleeves. Yet he always kept his eyes on the light, on the effervescent golden color of its glow.

Finally, they crested the hill, and Hugh found himself standing not two feet away from the aura, which was pulsing like a human heart. It was almost as large as Taft now, and its light seemed to envelop the whole hilltop in its warm radiance. 

“You followed…”  came the voice, now as rich and supple as leather. 

“Of- of course,” Hugh stuttered. “What… what do you want me to do?” 

The light pulsed brighter, stronger. “Stay still…” 

“Stay- what?” 

The voice came as a harsh, hoarse shriek: “STAY STILL!” 

Hugh barely had time to scream before the ground fell out from under him, and he vanished, down, down, down into the darkness. 


His body hit the ground with a heavy crunch, his limbs and back thudding onto the hard rock. When he eventually opened his eyes, he could see it was no use. The cave around him was so dark, he could barely make out his hand in front of his face. He sat up, groaning, his entire body throbbing from the fall. What was he going to do? Taft was tied up without any source of water, Dawson would be here any day, some malicious thing had trapped him down here, and he didn’t have any way to see, let alone-

Then, Hugh remembered the matches in his pocket. Scrabbling in the dark for the packet, he struck one on the side of his ranching boot. Light flared in a tiny orb, not unlike the apparition Hugh had seen up above on the hillside. He lifted the match high above his head, but the hole he had fallen through seemed to be gone. The higher light source, however, illuminated a piece of wood lying in the far corner of the cave. Hugh tried to get to his feet; immediately, his head spun like a carousel at a summer fair. Walking wasn’t an option, then. Balancing the match carefully in one hand, Hugh crawled across the floor to the board and picked it up. It was an old sign, its faded letters reading: 

El Pozo Copper Mine- DANGER. DO NOT ENTER. 


Hastily, Hugh put out the match. If there really were dangerous gasses pent up down here, then the last thing he needed to do was set fire to them trying to escape. He tried to stand again, this time using the cave wall next to him for support. When he breathed a sigh of relief, however, stabbing pains coursed through his chest. Fractured ribs then, and possibly even a punctured lung. He needed to get out of here, now. Deciding to risk one more match, Hugh lit another. The glow showed him that he had pretty much one option: forward. A dark opening gaped in the wall a few paces off from where he had found the sign. Gathering his wits about him the best he could, Hugh set off into the darkness. 

Only a few moments after Hugh had left the cave, a light flared right where he had landed after his fall. Out of the jaundiced yellow glow stepped a human form, a young woman with long red-blonde hair. Brushing her locks behind her ear, her hard brown eyes landed on the opening, and her stark white teeth gleamed in a beguiling grin. 


After twenty minutes of following the tunnel, Hugh had to admit that he wasn’t getting anywhere. He had decided to use just one more match, which turned into three, and then five, until he had eventually run out. Luckily, he had identified some minecart tracks on the floor of the tunnel before the last one had burnt out. He knew he should have conserved his matches, and that there were the gasses to worry about, but for some reason he couldn’t bear the thought of being alone in the dark. It was silly; he had slept outside at night plenty of times before, but then there had been the stars and the moon for light. Here it was pitch black, and he couldn’t shake the feeling that the light- that thing– was going to come back. Well, it was too late now. He was alone, and it was dark, and he had no way of knowing if he was even walking in the right direction. And, the going was getting harder, because of the ground’s uphill- 

Hugh stopped. If he was going uphill, then he had to be getting close to an exit! He started to walk again, faster, and then run, ignoring the pain in his chest, jumping between the rails of the tracks as he followed them up, up, up to the- 

Cave-in. Hugh cursed his own idiocy. Hadn’t the sign also warned about cave-ins? Right after, in fact, the deadly gasses that he still had yet to see hide or hair of. Full to bursting with frustration, Hugh aimed a kick at the wall of rock before him, before noticing a dark shape sticking out from beneath it. He paused, then bent down and felt the object with his hands, squinting through the dark. He fingers grazed rotted fabric, then a leathery surface studded with hard knobs- instantly, it became clear to Hugh what he was holding, and he lurched backward, gagging. 

There was a human hand sticking out from the pile of rock, with the rest of the human was presumably buried underneath. Hugh got shakily to his legs, shuddering. What had happened here? Why was this person dead? He must have been killed in the cave-in, but what had caused it? And how was he, Hugh, going to get out? Hugh felt his head spin, his breath speed up sporadically, and the overwhelming pains in his chest worsen when he tried to take deep breaths to calm himself. The pain got stronger as he stumbled along the wall blindly, panicking- What was he going to do? How was he going to survive? He was going to die down here, alone in the dark, and, and- 

And then the wall gave way beneath his hand and he fell, for the second time that day, down, down, down. 


This time the landing was softer. Hugh’s impact was absorbed by a tough mass, and he lay there for a few minutes in the darkness. When he finally was able to muster the strength to move, he rolled over onto the hard stone ground. 

And came face to face with a dead body. 

Hugh scrambled back, as far away as he could, which, given the size of the cave he was in, wasn’t far. The body simply lay there, swathed in a crumbling cream colored cloth with long strands of hair extruding from its shrunken head. Hugh sagged against the wall. The situation before might have been hopeless, but this was infinitely worse. He was trapped in a tiny stone pit just twice the size of an outhouse with only a cadaver for company and no way out. 

It was at this moment, when Hugh had lost all hope, and was slumped against the wall, his head buried in his knees, that the woman appeared. 

Out of a golden light, directly above the corpse, she bloomed, beautiful, with long red-blonde hair, glimmering white teeth, strong brown eyes, and a tall, slightly incorporeal yet voluptuous figure. She was dressed in a long cream colored nightgown at least 30 years out of date, and her skin glowed a healthy, sunny bronze. In fact, all of her seemed to be glowing. Softly, she crossed the room to Hugh and knelt next to him, laying her delicate hand on shoulder. 

Startled, Hugh glanced up, and screamed. 

“Shh,” the woman said. “It’s all right.” She spoke with a soothing Southern drawl, her rounded t’s rhythmic. “There’s not much time, so you’ll have to listen to me, all right, honey?” 

“Who-who are you?’ Hugh stammered. How has this woman gotten down here? Did she know a way out?

“My name is Lilly Ellsworth,” she said. “Pleased to meet you, and all that, but I need you to listen now.”

“What do you- what do you want, Miss Ellsworth?” Hugh said. 

She smiled sadly, her eyes crinkling at the edges. “I don’t want to kill you.” 

Hugh recoiled, his eyes hardening in recognition and fear. This woman must have been there when he’d fallen, she must have helped lure him down here! She knew what the light was! “You,” he hissed.  “It’s your fault I’m trapped down here. You witch, you’ve killed me, I’m going to die-” 

Lilly clamped a semi-transparent hand over his mouth. “First of all, I am not a witch, I’m a ghost. Second, you need to be quiet! She’ll hear you!” 

Hugh shook her hand off with a toss of his head, his mouth opening again- “Who? The other poor person you’ve got stowed down here?” 

“No, you silly man, the thing that wants to murder  you,” she scowled. “The thing that got you stuck here in the first place. The other part of me.” 


To be continued…


Art Piece by Iana N.