By On the occasion of our 20th anniversary
By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
A cold wind blew in from the direction of the setting sun as the man rode up to the town's outskirts. After stopping his horse, the man pulled his worn duster closer to his body and set his Stetson lower on his head. Then he looked up at the sign stretched over the town's main drag.
"Welcome to Ghost Town 1885."
The man watched what looked like hundreds of people—most dismounted, others pushing baby carriages—moving slowly up and down the drag. Not much of a "ghost" town, he thought.
The man pulled his horse to the right and got to his feet near the town jail. Or, actually, what remained of the jail—a low stone-wall front and back with no sides and no roof. Whatever drunks and lawbreakers once slept behind its iron bars were long gone, replaced with laughing kids who were playing prisoner behind the two remaining barred windows. So much for law and order. The man hitched his horse anyway and walked into town.
It was a good thing he left Old Paint when he did—Ghost Town's streets weren't dirt and mud, pockmarked with horse droppings, but hard and smooth as though carved of clay. The streets were also much too narrow—in Dodge City or Tombstone, a man could fit three or four stagecoaches side by side and still not span the street. Here, a man could stand in the middle with both arms stretched out and almost touch both sides of the street.
Leaning against a smooth wooden fence that penned in a little dirt garden with rocks and a tiny bleached steer's skull, the man watched whole families stream past him. They milled around a store marked "Gem Shop" (funny, there didn't seem to be an assayer's office nearby), carrying bags and strange food items. Sometimes they'd toss paper wrappers into hard black barrels. Others would just drop their garbage onto the street, where it would sit for a few minutes until some diminutive Hispanic man in a white shirt came over and scooped it up.
Shaking his head, the man walked on. He wandered up one street just past the Gem Shop, past an old silver mine where somebody seemed to be allowing kids inside. "Don't look too safe," he muttered as he walked by. A few feet more, and the man stopped in front of another store, this one carrying the sign "Kids Korner & Kandy." Hmm, three K's. Didn't know that was popular this far west.
Nearing the end of the street, the man turned and walked back to pick up another spur. As he did, he thought of how much this Ghost Town reminded him of Calico, that little silver and borax mining town out toward Vegas that thrived until the price of both goods plummeted, quickly returning that town to the ownership of the Gila monsters and tumbleweeds. That was a rocking little town, with its raucous saloon and ample "horizontal refreshment" at the old bordello.
The man glanced around. He didn't see any bordello. He didn't see many attractive women at all. In fact, the town was missing a lot of things—horses, wagons, a hotel, an Anti-Chinese League. What the hell were all these people doing here?
Back in the center of town, the man walked over to the blacksmith's shop. There, the smith—who looked pretty damned clean to have been working in that shop—was telling some yokel how the forge worked. The yokel kept nodding as if he understood. Then the smith went over and started banging a piece of iron into a perfectly useless shape. After a while the smith stopped, allowed the metal to cool, and then sold it to the yokel for 6 whole dollars. Damn—what a town! If fools were gold, this place would be the Klondike.
Leaving the shop, the man noticed, of all things, one of the old wood-burning mine engines from the Calico borax mine parked outside. Strange, to have it mounted in the middle of the town, but there was Old Betsy, looking pretty good and still mounted on rails. But something wasn't quite right about the train. The man stepped back and looked her over. Then it hit him: someone had planted flowers in Betsy's hopper cars.
By now, the man was aware of strange, lingering smells in various sections of the town. At first, it was the smell of butter—buttered corn, to be exact—sold by a man cooped up in a bright red wagon. A few stores down, where the dresses and clothes and frilly women stuff were sold, the smell changed to a stifling cinnamon. Farther on, it was ribs, although the man couldn't understand what the sign "Hawaiian Ribs" meant.
As he passed the bottle house—where people were, of all things, trying on headdresses—the man thought about the cans of beans and salted bacon in his saddlebag. Ribs might be pretty good, but where were the cattle? They seemed to be selling a lot of ribs, and that meant a lot of dead cattle, but where were they putting the carcasses?