Old wooden bones, stripped bare by the winds of time, yawned towards the heavens: the brilliant whites and azure shrouded by the red-orange canopies of autumn. Nature had long since begun it’s reclamation — the hard packed dirt path, paved by the footsteps of a hundred or so people mostly eaten away by the encroaching green. Grooves gouged by wagon wheels, now invisible to the eye.

Vines crept up wooden walls, pulling them down back to work in heaps of rubble. Grass and ferns pushed up from beneath shattered floorboards. Mold, dropped from a century and a half’s worth of rain, ate at the wooden rafters.

It was peaceful, in it’s slow decay. Undisturbed by the whimsies of mankind, and his ever growing need for progress. Industry had barely touched it before the last man walked it’s dirt path. And there it sat, untouched in it’s decay right before the turn of the last century.

And so it was in this condition that I found it: this hidden gem, nestled deep within the forests of the Sierra Nevadas. It wasn’t on any map of the region that I could find, nor was it on any hiking guides. A lost treasure, tucked away in it’s solitude.

Slowly, I wandered the grass between the crumbling buildings, admiring what I was seeing. I had never heard of a western town being this far into a mountain. Normally, I thought, they were on the edges of deserts, or by mountain passes so travelers could stop and resupply, or settle there, if they so wished.

What was its purpose? A way-station for travelers looking to find gold in the mountains and in the snow runoff streams that ran just yards away? Maybe as a place of rest for those looking to make a home in California in its earliest days? How long had it been since a human last set foot here? Years? Decades? A century? More? These questions, and many more ran through my mind as quickly as a lightning’s flash. Each one, fueling the excitement that welled within me.

Most pressing on my mind, however, was one simple question: how did it die? Dozens of houses lined the streets, standing tall and proud next to a U.S. Post office, a general store, a bank and a saloon. This was once a bustling hub of civilization, where none existed — hell, where none exists to this day. But now, here it sat, alone and rotting with no mention of it in any history book, or in any guide of the area. Forgotten and buried by the sands of time.

I approached the least damaged of the houses: it’s front door held up more by the moss growing on its face, than the hinges that had rusted off and disappeared in the brush beneath. The door fell in with a gentle push, slamming onto the floor. Birds scattered with frenzied wing beats and quick chirps all around the town, and the forest rustled as whatever animals lay watching ran off. As the dust of what was once wood beneath the door settled I made my way in.

The air lay still and heavy, like the pall over a cemetery. Quiet consumed my entire being as a I fell into a hushed, reverent silence. I moved as quietly as I could, as if my very presence disrupted those living there: there was no one though. No shadows shifted, revealing a phantasmal apparition. No floorboards creaked or groaned, as weight shifted, deeper into the abode. No. Nothing stirred but the dust in the air.

Sunlight filtered through layers of dirt, caked on the window. I walked slowly and softly across the old floorboards, careful not to put too much weight on them in fear of them collapsing underneath it. The latch on the window was steadily locked, and with a bit of finagling, it flung off, swinging wildly before falling off its hinge.

After a few seconds with my shoulder pressed against the window, it slammed open, and air  rushed past, to the outside for the first time in a century, and it felt like the temperature had dropped a few degrees in a matter of seconds. It was worlds easier to breath, and see now, as the sunlight ran unabated into the room.

I was in a kitchen: it was small, by today’s standards, but probably large for the time. It had a wood-burning stove in the corner: it’s cast iron front covered by a thick layer of slime, with a large black iron pot lying on the burner. A small table, with four chairs sat around it lay in the center of the room.

Walking past the table, my hand roamed over the table surface. The moss slid off as my fingers past over it, until they came across a small mound under the moss. I paused and looked: there were four mounds around the edge of the tables.

What were they? I asked. They were all similar in size and shape. A hand? I shivered at the thought as I dug my fingers through the moss until I felt the resistance of whatever it was. Nope. Not a hand. I ran my fingers along a metal rim and pulled at it.

A tin plate. There was residue of old food still clinging to the sides, and a moldy mess, coagulated in the middle of what had once been a meal. Ants hadn’t gotten to it, I asked myself and looked around. Sure enough, no ant mounds popped up over the grassy carpet.

Wait a moment, food? I moved around the table and dug into one of the other mounds, and sure enough, another plate. I pulled it out just the same, and sure enough, the same congealed mold grew in the center. It was the same with the other next to it, and the last one.

No. No. I told myself, this meant nothing. Perhaps some campers found this area, years ago, and used the kitchen for a meal. I walked around the table and to the stove. The lid was covered with the same slimy moss that covered everything. It took a bit of pulling for it to come out: foul smelling dust flew from the pot into my face. I pulled my head back and spit out the taste from my mouth.

There was a big clump of mold on the bottom of the pot: the same as the ones in the tin plate, no doubt. How long had it been there? I shut the lid as the question went past my mind.

Down on one knee, I opened the small hatch to the wood-stove to peer inside: sure enough a pile of gray ash rested in the bottom of the furnace. I wiped the ash on my hand onto my pants leg and stood, the floor creaking ominously as I rose.

There was a set of stairs in front of the door, so I made my way there, walking past the table and making soft, deliberate steps on the way up. A few pictures hung on the wall on the way up in wooden frames. Now long since faded into white paper, hanging by wooden squares on old, rusted wires. Dirt caked the windows up here, too, though there was enough light to navigate from.

Wood creaked under-heel, though it gave no signs of giving out. The moss hadn’t yet crawled it’s way up those stairs, and most of the upper portion of the house lay in near perfect array, aside from being under a thick layer of dust.

Nothing in the hallway seemed to have been touched by human hands in over a century. Shelves still lined the walls full of porcelain and clay knick-knacks: features rubbed bare by time. No footsteps disturbed the thick layers of dust on the floors, and no doors had been pushed open by a careless explorer…save for one.

A door on my right lay on the ground: it’s hinges still clinging to the walls, in a mess of splintered wood. I walked towards it and into the room, expecting to see it ransacked. But no…it was not. It was something, much more chilling.

A small bed lay in the center — small for modern standards, anyhow, along with a wooden crib. Dressers lined the walls, and, a quick check confirmed that they were still full of clothes. An old dress from the late Victorian Era, yellowed from age. Baby’s clothing, men’s clothing, children’s clothing. All in there.

A footlocker sat on the foot of the bed — it’s lock seemed weak, and rusted. And, sure enough, it came off with one hard pull, splintering the wood of the latch.

Inside were a variety of things. A wedding dress, folded neatly. It was in good condition — though yellowed with time, and the wool going through natural decay, it had no moth holes, or tears of any kind, though there were some stitch marks, made by an expert’s hand. I set it on the mattress and dug further in.

An old pocket watch: lord knows how old. Silvery in color, and cool to the touch. It wasn’t tarnished like the plates downstairs. The chain was weak, however, and as I lifted it from the trunk from it, a link broke, sending the watch itself hurtling down. It shambled to the ground and bounced off the rim of the trunk, to the floor, and slid against the dust some few feet away. I went to it and held it in my hands once more.

The impact had caused the watch to open. Stuck to the inside of the latch, was a black and white photograph, but, unlike the ones on the way up, and the ones on the shelves in the hall outside, this one seemed to have been protected by the decay of age.

A woman sat within — dark hair hung in curls around her pale face, and light eyes. She wore a circlet of flowers in her hair, and a white dress around her shoulders. She was beautiful, even by today’s standards. I stared at it for a moment longer: then I looked back to the trunk, with the wedding dress folded neatly within. He loved her, it was easy to tell.

A shadow moved in the corner of my eye and caught my attention, as I looked at the dress, and, before I could shift it to out of my periphery and into full focus, it was gone. I heard no footsteps, no creaking of floorboards, nothing but the hushed rush of wind out the door.

I followed behind, but the wind was gone before I made it to the door. It was then that I felt my heart racing — I had felt this before, several times. When I was climbing Mount Shasta three springs ago, and the rocky face that I had stuck my pick in gave way, nearly sending me plummet down the side. I had felt it when surfing in the pacific, when a large, curling wave knocked me from my board and pushed me under the salty depths. I had felt it when backpacking through the Himalayas when a tiger stalked through my camp and pawed at the door to my tent…

I hurried out the front door — and breathed in as much air as I could. Calm down, I told myself, it was just a shadow. You’ve seen plenty of them all of your life. Nothing to be worried about. Nothing at all. A few moments later I was able to get my heart rate down to a good pace. I would continue exploring the town, I told myself. Something, didn’t seem right, and I know it would pull at my mind for the rest of my life unless I figured it out then and there. The call of a hawk drew my attention skyward, and it circled the outskirts of the town, like a vulture circling a carcass, and I felt my heart thump again.

Once more I wandered the green in the middle, this time heading to the general store, that stood in the middle of the town. It was in fairly good repair, compared to most of the other buildings in town. I had hoped to stop by the bank as well, seeing as they probably held a stockpile of gold at one point, but that had long since been collapsed by a collapsed redwood. There was no way I’d be able to get underneath it, then.

The glass doors had shattered, though it wasn’t apparent what from, though I knew enough to know that sometimes that glass could shatter in extreme colds, like those that the winters in these mountains have had throughout the years no doubt, so I thought nothing of it, though it was strange that none of the other glass in the town seemed to have the problem, nor any of the glass on the store’s walls. I put it out of my mind, however, as I walked through the front door.

Shelves were neatly stacked in the middle of the room, and on the wooden walls all around me. A variety of items sat on them — books, clothing, food, ammunition, guns that had long since rotted into uselessness. Canned food stood, neatly stacked on the floor and on tables. Jerky and rotted meats hung from hooks in glass displays — shattered by the same force that broke through the windows no doubt — dripping into  putrid puddles on the floor.

Silence lay like a pall over the store, aside from the dripping sound of rotted meat to join the puddle below, slowly seeping into the floorboards. The rot assaulted my senses, robbing me of my sight as tears fled to my eyes, and bile rose in my throat. I hurried outside and knelt over, and retched on the grass.

My arms trembled as I held the position for a while, emptying my stomach of all of its contents. When I had finished I stood and wiped my lips off with a handkerchief I kept in my pocket, and tossed it to the ground, and stood there shaking for a brief time.

A shadow jumped out from my periphery once more and I sprung up, and looked around frantically. Relief washed over as I saw a deer  rustling through the brushes on the outskirts of town. It walked on the outskirts, and made its way around the town, never venturing a hoof into the town itself. When it reached the very end, it moved inwards, towards the town, and continued running until it disappeared, down a slope.

I hurried to where I had seen it last, on the outside of the town, and, sure enough, a deer trail stretched off as far as I could see. I turned around and followed the path that the deer took: perhaps it was what I saw from my periphery from the room in the house that I had been in. That would put my mind at ease, I told myself as I followed the path, through the trampled grass. It led me around the town, through an underbrush…but never through the town. A quick glance to the house where I had been, revealed that it had no windows facing this direction. It continued to go the length of the town, and a few yards out, and stretched through the woods, further. I kept an eye on the house, but no angles from the path revealed a window, or even a hole in the wall that I could peer out from, just empty, rotted walls.

But something else niggled my mind — why did this track not lead through the town? When followed from end to end, it made a giant “C,” shape, as if they deer, and whatever critters used the same path intentionally avoided the town…but that was ridiculous, wasn’t it?

Was it, though? I hurried back to town and looked around, for anything to defy my welling suspicions. I looked towards the crevices in the roofs that still stood for nests. I checked the roads and by every house for an ant mound, for a swarm of maggots. For any droppings, or burrows…anything. But nothing.

I ran into one of the other houses — shadows scattering in the corner of my eyes. I turned my head as quickly as I could to catch…whatever it was, but couldn’t. They slinked out of the room through shattered windows and shattered floor boards…rodents? I sighed as I thought that. Rodents. Of course. I don’t know what had gotten into me. I turned heel to head out the door, and quickly glanced up the stairwell. At the top of the stairs, illuminated by the orange light of the sun, filtering through the dirty windows, was not a rodent, but something else entirely.

Skin that looked like boiled cabbage clung to it’s squat body. It was hairy — not like an animal, but as if he were a man, or an imitation of one. It stood no taller than my knee, and had feet smaller than my large toe, in which it wore leather slippers, and leather pants on it’s short, fat legs. Porcupine-like quills grew from the top of it’s head, and ran down it’s back like hair, and small, glass-like eyes stared back at me, equally bewildered.

“What…the…fuck.” I whispered aloud.

It sprinted down the stairs, screaming loudly and right past me, it’s quills bristling against my jeans. What the hell was I seeing? I ran off after it, not thinking for a second. I have seen every matter of animal in my life, but I had never seen anything like this. I have encountered platypus, bats, tigers, sharks and more, but nothing, nothing like this. Nothing like a small man.

The thing continued screaming — it’s voice warbling and changing intonations. Was it speaking? At that moment, all around me the same type of screaming echoed through the woods, it hurt to hear, but I kept hearing it. Several creatures stepped out of the shadows inside and outside the buildings, running past me and into the surrounding woods. There was a dozen now, no a score!

Soon, I chased them out of the town, and the woods rustled around us as animals sprint from their hiding places. Deer, squirrels, hares and all matter of rodents ran underfoot away. Were these things the reason why the animals seemed to avoid the town? Even a large grizzly barreled past, down the hill and away from the swarm of strange, nearly human like creatures. We rounded a bend and stopped near a small cave. No, not a cave. A small hole in the ground that seemed never ending.

I caught my breath, and before I could get anything out, I heard something move behind me. A dozen footsteps approached from behind, and something poked the back of my leg. I glanced downward and half a dozen of these creatures were using small black needles to poke at my legs to get me to move forward. The pain was something akin to jamming a pin into your leg, and it moved me forward with no problem. The twenty or so that I chased, stood on the edges of the hole, with tiny bows in their hands. I tried to back up, but was caught in the calves with the tiny spears.

Each one pulled a quill from his back, pointed it at me and released. I crossed my arms over my face and neck. The overwhelming pain and a couple more jabs on the back of my calves sent me onto my knees.

My arms went numb and fell to my side: was there something on those quills? They readied another volley, and fired. Each one entering a different part of my body. Limply, I hurdled down the chasm, into the hole. I hit the bottom with a loud crash, as a dozen broken rib cages stabbed into me. Slowly, ever so slowly I felt the life drain from me as stared into the face of a child’s skull. Slowly, ever so slowly, my blood painted the yellow bones red, to be washed away by the next rainfall.

Old wooden bones, stripped bare by the winds of time, yawned towards the heavens: the brilliant whites and azure shrouded by the red-orange canopies of autumn. Nature had long since begun it’s reclamation — the hard packed dirt path, paved by the footsteps of a hundred or so people mostly eaten away by the encroaching green. Grooves gouged by wagon wheels, now invisible to the eye.

Vines crept up wooden walls, pulling them down back to work in heaps of rubble. Grass and ferns pushed up from beneath shattered floorboards. Mold, dropped from a century and a half’s worth of rain, ate at the wooden rafters.

It was peaceful, in it’s slow decay. Still undisturbed by the whimsies of man, and his ever growing need for progress.

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