“You don’t really think there are ghosts up there do you?” Sara asked Meghan, the girl who shared the backseat of the old Ford Bronco with her. The boys that sat in the front seats were Luke and Brian. Luke had been Meghan’s boyfriend throughout highschool, and Brian was Sara’s ‘surprise’ date for the night. Sara’s family had moved to Smithfield, Colorado just before the start of her senior year, and she had yet to make many friends; when Sara showed up to meet her best friend Meghan and saw that she had invited Luke and his friend along she almost bailed on the trip altogether.
“Nah, they call it a ghost town, but it’s really just abandoned. They barely got the mine started up there before winter set in, and they ran out of money. By the time everything thawed out the next spring nobody wanted to mine up here anymore, they all wanted to go to California.” Meghan told the story with the ease of a local that knew all about her little community.
Sara leaned in close to Meghan before whispering, “I still don’t see why you brought them, I thought you wanted to have a girls-night-out?”
“Relax, for God’s sake you have to learn to let go a little.” Meghan tried to persuade her nervous friend. “We’ll do girls-night-out another night, I promise. But we couldn’t come up here without Luke’s Bronco. Besides, it’ll be fun to have a couple of big strong guys to keep us safe up there in that dark spooky town.”
“I thought you said no one goes up there.” The anxiety in Sara’s voice was clear.
“They don’t.” Meghan reassured her, and then clasped her hands in front of her chest and batted her eyes before continuing, “But we can still act like a couple of damsels in distress, and use being scared as an excuse to cling all over these guys.”
“Oh no honey, I’m amazing. Just ask around.” The two girls fell into a fit of laughter as Luke steered the Bronco further up the mountain.
The road outside of Smithfield that led up to the abandoned mining town of Utica was little more than a one lane unpaved switch back that was nearly washed out in several places. They were continually passing signs that said the road was unsafe, and that no trespassing was allowed, and a couple of times they had to stop to move two-by-four barricades out-of-the-way.
After the second barricade Meghan fished a bottle of Jack Daniels out of the backpack between her legs, she removed the cap and took a drink before passing the bottle to her boyfriend behind the wheel. “A little liquid courage before the ghosts come out?”
“Hell yeah.” Luke replied, accepting the bottle and taking a couple of big gulps. Luke passed the bottle over to Brian who followed suit before passing the bottle back to Sara.
Sara looked at the bottle in her hands, and then over to Meghan as if she had no clue what to do next. The look in Meghan’s eyes gave a clear answer, and Sara didn’t need to be a mind reader to know what her friend was thinking. Sara lifted the bottle to her lips and tilted it up letting the warm liquid fill her mouth before she swallowed hard. The taste was harsh, and it burned her throat all the way down to her stomach, she stifled a cough as she gave the bottle back to Meghan; quite sure her drinking days were already over. The four teenagers reached Utica just as the bottle was passed back to Sara on its second time around, and she was glad to use the distraction as cover to give the bottle back to Meghan without taking a drink.
Utica was little more than a dozen or so hastily thrown together buildings split by a narrow dirt road that led up to the mine entrance just past the last building. After more than a hundred years of harsh high altitude winters most of the buildings were in shambles, and only a few still resembled buildings at all. Luke pulled the Bronco to a stop in the middle of the road halfway through town; all four of its occupants piled out and met at the rear of the vehicle where Luke lifted the tailgate and retrieved a couple of flashlights, handing one to Brian.
“So, the show I watched the other night,” Meghan began explaining to the others, “these guys were paying top dollar for old mining stuff. Old shovels, and picks, like…a couple of hundred bucks each.”
“You got a plan? Muahahaha.” Luke asked as he held the flashlight under his chin and flicked it on and off.
Meghan slapped his arm and continued, “Yeah, I think we should split up so we can cover more ground. Sara, you and Brian start on this end of town, and me and Luke will start at the other end, and we’ll meet back here in the middle.”
“Seriously?” Sara mouthed to her friend.
Meghan grabbed Sara by the arm pulled her away from the two boys. “What’s wrong?”
“If you wanted to set me up on a blind date we could have just gone bowling, or to dinner and a movie, or something. What am I supposed to do with him, alone in some ghost town?”
“Do what you would on any other first date, go get to know him. I mean, you think he’s cute right?”
“And this place is exciting, right?”
“No, no buts. Do you need another shot of Jack?”
Sara shivered at the thought, “God no.”
“Well the only way you’re going to get to know him is to talk to him. Who knows, you may find out that you like him, and then you may really want to get to know him.” With that Meghan turned her friend around by the shoulders and pushed her from behind in Brian’s direction.
Sara grabbed Brian by the hand as the two girls rejoined the boys and pulled him off towards one end of the dilapidated town. “Come on.”, she told him.
Brian obediently followed, grinning from ear to ear.
“Don’t forget to keep an eye out for anything we can sell.” Meghan called after them before grabbing Luke’s hand and pulling him towards the other end of town.
The first building Sara and Brian went into had just one large empty space, it was filled with empty frames of what used to be bunk beds. At one time it was meant to serve as a barracks for the men that would work the mine, but now the one story building had most of its ceiling laying in a heap in middle of the room, the large hole in the roof allowed the two teens to see the cloudy night sky overhead.
“Meghan said you moved here from Georgia.” Brian said, as he looked around the edge of the room with the flashlight.
“Yep, from Winder, outside Atlanta. My dad’s marketing firm sent him out to the Denver office, but he didn’t like the idea of living in town, so we moved out here.” Sara followed close behind Brian and the lone light in the darkness.
“That’s gotta be tough.”
Sara nodded behind him, “I miss my friends. I don’t know what I’d do if I hadn’t met Meghan.”
“Yeah, she’s pretty cool.” Brian pulled back some debris from the side of the wall, but found nothing behind it.
“Have you ever been up here before?” Sara asked him.
“No, they try to keep people from coming up here anymore.”
“They say it’s where criminals hangout, or weirdos, or crazy people, or something. I don’t think any of that’s true though.” Brian turned around to face Sara, she was standing close enough for him to smell the strawberry scent of her hair. “They just told us that as kids so we wouldn’t come up here. They were scared someone would fall down into the mine shaft.”
Sara stood there looking up into his steel-blue eyes, she was glad to have him there now as she thought about some stranger lurking in the shadows. Sara was nearly overcome by the urge to feel his lips against her own, but he took too long to make a move and as the awkward silence drug out between them she blurted, “I think this room’s a bust. Do you want to try the one across the street?”
Brian had gotten lost in Sara’s chestnut eyes, but her voice brought him back to the present; he felt his lower lip trembling in anticipation of the kiss they almost shared as he tried to process the question she had asked him, and his mind searched for the appropriate answer.
Sara didn’t wait though, as she turned and carefully picked her way back towards the door, she called back over her shoulder, “Are you coming?”
“Right behind you.” Brian answered, he shone the light on Sara from behind as he followed her, admiring the view and hoping that he had not blown his only chance to kiss her that night.
“I hope you’re not doing what I think you’re doing back there.” Sara called back playfully.
“How about shining that light up here so I can see where I’m going.”
“Oh, right.” Brian took one last look before shining the light up ahead of her.
Sara and Brian stepped back outside of the old barracks house and were hit with a blast of cold air. When Brian looked up at the night sky the thick clouds were hanging much lower. “Looks like we’ll get snow later.”
Sara pulled her coat tight around herself, “Do you think we’ll be able to make it back down?” There was a hint of fear in her voice from the idea of being stuck on the mountaintop.
“Yeah, don’t worry about that. That truck of Luke’s has been in worse spots than this and gotten out just fine.” Brian slid his arm around Sara, and she let him pull her close to keep her warm as they stood looking out at the building across from them.
“Do you really think we’ll find anything that’s worth anything up here?”
“I doubt it. This isn’t the first of Meghan’s ideas to make a quick buck, and none of them have amounted to anything yet. But even if we don’t find anything, it was worth the trip just get to met you.”
“Oh wow, that was cheesy.” Sara said as she stepped out from under Brian’s arm and headed across the road for what looked like an old church, she reached back and grabbed his hand at the last second pulling him along.
The pair had trouble getting the door to the church open at first, but were able to manage with both of them pulling on the handle together. Once inside the small building they were surrounded by an eerie quiet. This building seemed to still be intact, but also looked like it had been emptied of everything long ago. Again Brian led the way with the flashlight, and Sara followed close behind him. The wind outside howled and the whole building shook, as it did Sara yelped and grabbed onto Brian from behind. “I don’t think it’s safe to be in here, it sounds like this whole place is ready to come down.”
Brian turned around to face Sara, “Don’t worry, you’re safe with me.” he told her as he put a hand on her hip and pulled her body in close to his. He leaned down to kiss her, not waiting for the moment to slip away this time, and as they both closed their eyes and their lips began to touch a scream from somewhere outside pierced the night.
Sara jerked back from Brian, “Oh my God….Meghan and Luke.” The two ran outside where huge, heavy snowflakes had begun to fall; they headed for the far end of the street. They ran into the only building with an open door.
Half fallen down now, the former saloon was in worse shape than the barracks that Sara and Brian had ventured into earlier. “Meghan! Luke!” the two teens were shouting for their friends as they entered the building, but got no response. They frantically searched the area, but found no signs of them other than the half empty bottle of Jack setting next to a blanket on the floor, and Meghan’s discarded jacket.
“Meghan!..If you’re playing this isn’t funny!” Sara yelled out, begging for her friend to show herself, tears started to roll down her checks.
“Hey, it’s okay. You have to calm down.” Brian went to Sara and put his hands on her shoulders trying to comfort her. “Something probably spooked them, and they ran off. We should go wait at the truck, they’ll probably head back there.”
“What could have spooked them? I thought you said no one comes up here.” Sara was starting to shake slightly.
“There isn’t anybody up here. They probably mistook a shadow for a wolf and took off into the woods.”
“What if it really was a wolf?”
“Then inside the truck is the safest place for us to be, and Luke knows that too. They’ll circle back around, and we should be there waiting for them.”
Sara allowed Brian to lead her out of the saloon and back to the Bronco parked in the middle of town. Luke still had the keys, but they had left the doors unlocked. The two teens climbed into the back seat; Sara sat next to Brian with her head on his shoulder staring blankly off into the distance and silently sobbing.
As time slowly passed the snow started to fall heavier; it began to stick to the windows of the truck making it hard to see outside. “Shouldn’t they have been back by now?” Sara asked, she had stopped crying and there was a hollow aspect to her voice.
The answer to Sara’s question was ‘yes’, but Brian didn’t want to tell her that; instead he just sat there silently with his arm around her.
“We should go look for them, they might need our help.” Sara told him as she sat up and looked Brian square in the eye.
“We don’t have any idea which way they went, we’d probably freeze to death out there before we ever found them.”
“Then we have to go get help.” Sara declared.
“Not in this weather, not at night. One wrong step and you’d fall right off the mountain, and no one would ever find you. We’ll wait for first light and head down then.”
Sara wanted so badly to do something to help her friend, but she knew that Brian was right. She sat, straining to see anything outside of the windows until they were completely covered with snow. Sara laid her head back on Brian’s shoulder, “Do you still think this trip was worth it?” she asked him.
“Yes…do you still think I’m cheesy?”
“Yes, but I like cheese.” Sara reached up and pulled Brian’s face down to her own and they shared a long, deep passionate kiss. Then she put her head back on his shoulder and fell asleep, despite her constant shivering.
It was nearly noon the next day when big black Chevy pick-up truck Sara’s parents were riding in pulled up behind the snow-covered Bronco. Sara’s mother and father, Linda and Marty, got out and quietly approached the vehicle. The sun was still hidden behind thick clouds and the whole world had a hint of gray to it. The quietness of Utica was something Linda never got used to; when she reached the abandoned truck she brushed some of the snow from the hood and placed a bouquet of flowers on top of it.
“My sweet little girl.” Linda spoke to no one that was there. “Wherever you are, I hope you’re warm now. We were going to come last night, but the weather was just too bad. I can’t believe it’s been ten years since you went missing…”
Linda couldn’t go on any further; Marty put an arm around his wife and led her back to the their truck. They both knew they would be back again next year on the same day to visit the Bronco that serves as a silent memorial to the four friends that went missing that night. Most people believe they got separated during the blizzard that night, and wandered off into snow, and that their bodies are still up there on the mountain somewhere. Some people blame it on criminals, or weirdos, or crazies that live in the mountains. Their story has been added to the legend of Utica, and people now tell about the four highschool seniors that died on the mountaintop that night, and how there souls are trapped to forever relive that fateful night. No one calls Utica abandoned anymore, it is a ghost town.
written for: Goodreads – Week 199: Ghost Town
photo by: Falln-Stock