A ghost town love story novelette in progress. New segments will be posted regularly.
Copper and Grace and the Fall of the Church
In all things, Titus was a few steps behind Grace, but he always caught up. He reached into the passenger’s seat, rubbed the soft cotton of the floral robe that was wrapped tightly around Grace’s urn, and knew this time would be no different.
“Ok, baby. I’m here.”
Titus eased the car to a stop and pushed up at the gear shifter on the steering column. His eyes instinctively moved to the rear-view mirror.
“You’d always sleep back there on long trips. You’d wrap yourself up in that raggedy old sun-bleached quilt and sleep like a baby.”
He poked the mirror to aim it down at the wide vinyl backseat.
The quilt was there, folded neatly.
“Thought it’d be nice to be up front with me this time. Brought your favorite robe, the one with those big purple flowers on it, for this trip. Hope that’s alright.”
Old eyes surveyed him as Titus prodded the mirror back into place. Two faded grey spots buried beneath heavy brows that had so long ago turned grey they would soon be white.
A cross, small and copper, hung there below the mirror. Titus pulled the thin copper chain from around the mirror, clasped it around his neck, and tucked the cross behind the top button of his flannel shirt.
The mountain was smaller than Titus remembered. It was decades since the mine under the mountain gave up the ghost and relinquished the last cartful of copper. He supposed it was now larger on the inside than it had once been so many years ago. Now the mountain sat like an old, crumpled rag, stiffened and dried out by the sun’s unforgiving gaze.
The town, or what was left of it, clung to the sides of the slopes like the brittle bones of a snake trapped in an unrelenting embrace. A single, barely still paved, thread of a road wound its way out of the gaping mouth of the mine up to the three meandering levels of the hanging town.
From there, the road climbed up one venerable tier further to the leaning white steeple of the town’s only church, perched directly above the dusty remains of the place. Up there on the peak of the mountain it resembled a crooked star balancing atop the dried-out branches of a February Christmas tree.
“Now what, Gracie?”
Titus looked to the soft bundle in the passenger’s seat, then unconsciously to the dark mouth of the mine.
He groaned as he dragged himself up and out of the driver’s seat to stand, leaning heavily against the open door of his long beige sedan. Pain, his now perennial companion, poked at him from the inside and he sighed heavily, pressing a palm against his gut.
In a reflex perfected by years of muscle memory, Titus softly thumped at his chest with a thick leathery hand. He felt the bump of metal and nodded to himself.
“Thought I’d left it in the car for a second there.”
He shuffled slowly to the guard rail at the side of the road.
“Not feeling too good today, Gracie. But I’m glad I made it. Do you remember this spot? I know, of course you do. Now when I tell you that I remember it...I remember it!”
Titus leaned his hip against the guard rail. He could see them there, their younger selves. Ghostly images of two figures laughing, throwing rocks down into the ravine, pawing at each other with the hesitant touches of young love.
“Right here,” he chuckled. “Summer of nineteen sixty-five. June if I recall. You had on that yellow sundress and were dancing around like a canary that’s just been set free from the mines. And ‘outa nowhere you rushed up, gave me one sharp peck of a kiss right on the cheek, and then ran away chirping and laughing, singing I’d never catch you.”
He looked back to the car, to the empty backseat, the silent passenger’s seat.
“I caught you alright. And I’m going to catch you again.”
Below his perch lay the mines, empty and lifeless, long abandoned. Most of the townsfolk had left when the copper dried up. Some, like Titus and Grace, had stayed longer than others. Others had stayed longer than they should have.
There were bones in the churchyard that could have made it out. In the end the place had become truly empty, desolate and soulless as the mines below. Now, here, in a solitary future that Titus had never allowed himself to truly consider, this place was a ghost town.