I'm from a town called Leaning Birches; it grew up seemingly overnight around a single mining a camp.
Like any other town there’s a church, a saloon a school, a jail and shanties. There were houses on the ridges and even a cemetery. A train comes through now and then to take away the gold, sometimes the dead and it brings supplies too.
In the town of Leaning Birches men have wasted away to nothing working in the mines, they don't think about food or drink or even women when they hit those veins. No one there can remember their life before the mines, it just isn’t as important as what is under their feet.
In Leaning Birches in one way or another the Mines have claimed or spawned what's now above ground.
Once I was lost in the Mines, it was only for a little while though. I'm not sure why but I took my time walking through the darkness to the entrance. I thought I saw Miners down there, laboring, fighting, working, dieing. Only they where nothing more then shadows and whispers.
Ghosts I suppose.
Along my way I also saw carvings on the walls, in parts of the caves the miners had ventured into and then abandoned. The figure was always the same, a woman with arrows clutched in her hands. Corpses at her feet and a sly smile painted across her lips. She had no eyes and a veil of long black hair. Sometimes the figure was painted and sometimes carved. Sometimes it was life sized and at other times she was no bigger then the palm of my hand.
image courtesy of Heather Blakey
I don't know how long I walked before I found my way out; I walked towards vaporous figures that became more solid as I approached. Their voice became solid and real too, not whispers or hints of sound.
" Christ almighty, " one said as I approached " what the hell is down there? "
" Rats, " another answered " dead rats and they must be waist deep in that one enclave, I ain't going in there again the smell is God awful "
" You're sure Amory? They were all dead? How can that be? We were just down there yesterday and everything was fine.
" " Listen Del, I’m telling you that cave is full of them. They all went recent too, they're still, you know, fresh"
The voices retreated, and now I stood near the entrance, I placed my hand against the hall and my fingers danced...like spiders when they spin a web and when I took my hand away the woman with the arrows in her hands was there.
And now, so was I.
I crossed the threshold and I was topside. The town was very much alive, but I saw the shadows everywhere.
These shadows weren't shadows cast from the Sun, they were cast from the darkness and they moved liked predators stalking prey. They slid up and crossed the faces of men, women, children, livestock and they nested there.
As the shadows become darker the figures under them seemed to fade until nothing was left.
Sometimes they saw me through the Shadows. I saw traces of their faces and I also saw their fear, I saw their anger, I saw their regret. And sometimes I saw relief. They died very quickly.
The road to the cemetery was traveled almost hourly now, sometimes even at night. Later, when they all became sick the entire town turned into a cemetery and the dead were left to rest where they fell.
The town of Leaning Birches simply shut its eyes one evening just before sunset and drew one last long rattling breath and stopped.
It was done in less then 3 days.
That's how the town of Leaning Birches died. It was murdered by my hand and what I brought from the Mines with me. It was a Black Death that consumed them all. When I was done I retreated back to the mines.
I'm still down here, wandering the tunnels carved by the Miners and I still make my little drawings. Sometimes animal ventures in and I take it, sometimes it ventures back out alone and sometimes I go with it.
My little town is famous I've learned. There's a legend that over 500 souls disappeared from it without a trace over one night. The story says a surveyor came up and found food set out on tables, half filled glasses in the saloon. Money on the counter at the bank. He made it sound like all those people and their animals just got up and walked away into the hills.
Of course he lied, I know because I was there. As it would happen because I claim what is mine...no matter how far I have to travel, I found him years later in another country at another mine and I saw the look of regret on his face in the last few minutes of his life.
I didn't begrudge him his tall tale. He shouldn’t have and you shouldn't either.
He did come to the town and he sat on his horse on the ridge above the town and looked down into the ruins I had created. Bodies littered the street, the smell and silence and ugliness seemed to reach up from below and grab him by his throat.
The horseman didn't see the corpse of a ruined town; his mind simply refused to see it. I think he saw one corpse in that valley. Not, buildings or bodies or decay. A single ruined corpse.
"Somebody killed this town,” he said to himself " as surely as if they put a rifle to it's head and pulled the trigger."
Then he felt me. His hand went to the back of his neck and he saw the hairs standing up on his arms on that hot summer day. He nearly fell off his horse as he felt me approach from the bluff below. His mind slammed a door shut so hard in his own head that even I heard it.
Then I was next to him.
He couldn't see me, but he felt me. His head snapped from left to right, he turned in his saddle and his eyes were bright, defiant. I admired him very much. Which is why I didn't take him that day.
Then his horse reared and threw him to the ground. " Not here, Jesus Not here...Christ those poor people...God, God in the streets like runned over dogs...God..." he was saying from the ground. He was on all fours for a moment and then he was on his feet and his horse tried to gallop away, but I put my hand on it and it screamed in terror and stood still. It's eyes rolled and its sides heaved but it would not move past me.
I'm not sure who showed him Mercy that day but when he looked back down into the town he really saw the tale he told all those years later. He didn't see death and decay. He saw nothing except dust and empty buildings.
The town was completely abandoned by the world once it heard about the sickness there. That tale didn't come from the horseman, it came from a woman who escaped my attention entirely and I'm not sure to this day how she managed that.
So the world never came back, my presence you see...after all of this time you can feel it. You can see it in the trees and grass that don't seem to be as green and alive as the trees and grasses that grow on the opposite side of the river. The air here is still fetid and dank.
The way it is in the mines.
Still, the explores come. They try to stand in the places where buildings once stood and never seem to venture very far down what was once the main street. They don't go to the cemetery because, they tell each other, it's flat and there's nothing to see. They don't even realize it is a cemetery as all the markers were wood and when the Blackness came for them the Miners and townspeople stopped using markers at all.
But there's plenty to hear and if you can't hear it you can feel it.
That cemetery is never quiet and nothing sleeps up there. Sometimes hikers happen by and so do the hunters and the lost. But nothing stays here. The wind won't even travel these streets and sunlight doesn't come any closer then it has too.
But I walk these hills and valleys and sometimes I travel far away from this place.
But I'm from this valley and from these Mines and I am always here; I will always be here.
© anita marie moscoso 2005-text