Darwin Chubrough once spent an entire summer in the abandoned mining town of Gravesway with nothing except the cold and dust and the dead for company.
He had gone alone to Gravesway to photograph and draw the abandoned houses, stores, church, saloons and a little brick schoolhouse. He had spent an eventful week exploring the graveyard and one morning tried to follow the railroad tracks that wound their way up Cavanaugh Mountain.
He was forced back by deadfall and rock slides after a freak rainstorm.
He didn't know the devastation from the slides were much worse in the valley. It wasn't until later he realized that he was trapped in this place where nothing lived...and nothing died.
Darwin met Mr. Gravesway and his Associates the day after the storm. He was staying in the abandoned Saloon, because it had a good roof and the rooms though dusty were dry and very livable despite having been standing empty of almost 100 years.
One day Darwin heard the doors downstairs open then shut and footsteps coming up the stairs to his room.
He heard snatches of conversation and he even heard someone sniff then sneeze.
Then there was a knock on his door and it swung open slowly and a good natured looking man who looked as if he enjoyed more then one trip to the bottom of the occasional bottle of hard liquor said " hello there Sir. I was wondering if you'd care to join my friends and me downstairs for a drink or two. "
That was Mr. Gravesway, the first dead person Darwin ever met.
And he wouldn't be the last.
" Well give you a moment. " The Gentleman said and then he was gone and the door was pulled slowly shut.
Darwin was rooted to the spot, unable to move because his mind was to busy having a conversation with itself and had no time to respond to the little voice that was Darwin begging his legs to move or run or for his voice to work enough to scream just a little.
" I just saw a dead man, a pale shade of a man I could almost see through invite me downstairs for a drink. Isn't that the darndest thing Darwin? I mean did you see that? "
RUN! The little voice was yelling.
" I don't think he was alone, that's the bad part. I don't mean just bad I mean you are so screwed BAD. So what should I do? "
" I think I should get the Hell out of here!" his voice screamed back to his brain out loud.
From downstairs someone cleared their throat and called up cordial and nice as you please, " Everything okay up their Sir?"
Darwin stood in the middle of his room, his face as pale and drained of blood and life as the man who'd just been upstairs to talk to him and he called back, " just a second! "
And then he fainted.
Mr. Gravesway and his Associates were looking down at the man on the floor. He had a round pleasant face and he wore wire-rimmed glasses. His hair was dark and curly and he was in need of a shave.
" Poor fellow, " said a voice with no body to house it, " I thought this might be to much for him. Really Gravesway, couldn't you have been a little less obvious? "
" What would you like to do? That business where we write in the dust? Talk into his tape recorder when he's not here? Go into his head when he sleeps and let him dream us? Parlor tricks for ghosts and we're not Ghosts. Remember that ladies and gentleman, we're not ghosts. "
" That's our problem, isn't it? " said a little girl holding a china doll in a blue dress.
Mr. Gravesway nodded. " Yes it is Tanith, that's our problem alright. "
" Do you think he can help us? " the little girl asked.
Mr. Gravesway peered into the round friendly face of Darwin Chubrough and saw he wasn't completely passed out. He said firmly and happily " Yes I think he can ".
When Darwin came to, Mr. Gravesway was sitting on the sun-seat and he stood in alarm as Darwin's eyes began to roll back into his head. " Oh, don't do that again young man. That can't be good for you to keep fainting like that. Look, I'm all alone and I'm going to sit right here and not do anything...unpredictable. But I am going to tell you a story and when I'm done I'm hoping you can help my Associates and myself. If not, it doesn't matter we're still going to help you find your way out of Gravesway..."
" Road..." Darwin croaked.
" Oh, that's gone I'm afraid. Buried under a mountain of landslide. But there are other ways. Tunnels and the like. We'll help you Mr...
" My name is Darwin Chubrough "
" Mr Chubrough..."
" Darwin, call me Darwin " he said as he sat up.
Gravesway extended his hand and Darwin stood to shake it and their hands passed right through each other. Gravesway held his hand up to the sunlight and his good-natured face suddenly looked sad and he started to remember...
" The sickness came the day we started mining over in 64. She was a treacherous mine. She collapsed, sent up rotten air that made people sick for days. That was just the beginning.
Once we got her working the suicides started, the sicknesses started and people started to fade..."
" Die you mean? " Darwin asked quietly.
" Not all of them "
" Excuse me? Some people lived? "
" No, I mean only parts of us died. This sickness only took parts of us. "
Darwin was puzzled and he before he could ask Mr Gravesway seemed to wake up and he said, " It was as strange illness Darwin. You see, it killed our souls and left the rest of us behind to fade like old photographs. "
" I guess Mr Chubrough, you'd call us Zombies. "
From below the window Darwin thought he heard voices passing by, maybe a dog or two barking and even an echo of laughter. They were everyday sounds. He looked over Mr Gravesway's shoulder into the empty street below and asked, " Do they know, do they know they're different now? "
" Some of them, poor wretches. You know, they can't tell if they're dreaming or awake. Most of them thank God, think they're just dreaming...things you see look very unreal to them. " Gravesway stood and joined Darwin as he looked out the window. " I see my town, alive as it was the day I took ill and became this. In a moment I'll see something that happened a year ago, two days ago or a year from now. I might find myself in my office or riding my horse into the hills "
" After a while you just fade and fade till youÂre an echo. Then you go crazy and we think, we think we go into the mines. "
Gravesway echoed to him self sadly; " we go into the mines forever. "
Darwin looked into GraveswayÂ s fading face and understood. " It's happening to you now, isn't it? "
" Once it does you know, well the others...they're young folk for the most part, they'll be young and left alone to face this. It's a terrible thing Darwin for a young person to look into oblivion alone. "
" I guess I'm asking you Darwin, to help me figure a way out of this. I can't believe there's nothing we can do. "
And that's Darwin learned later is why Mr. Gravesway outlived most of his Associates.
He simply refused to let go.
Darwin was alone in his room that night and from his window he heard the town of Gravesway come to life. He heard music from the Saloons, he heard wives scolding husbands, he heard horses and mining equipment being worked. He could hear some fighting and in the distance a gunshot or two.
Then he picked up his notebook and aimlessly wrote, " Tanith, maybe aged eight. Doll with a blue dress. Wise beyond her years. I think she was like that...before. " And then he wrote, " Only heard a voice, no image. Older man Irish accent..."
The crying from the rooms downstairs was soul wrenching, " Mr. Gravesway, MR GRAVESWAY! My Tanith is GONE, oh God... the Mines she's gone into the mines. Mr. Gravesway please help me find my Tanith! "
Darwin raced down the stairs and saw a woman as solid as himself crying onto the shoulder of the fading Mr. Gravesway. He didn't startle at the sight of Mr. Gravesway empty eye sockets. It would have been ungentlemanly to do so and even though he doubted she could feel it, he rested a comforting hand on the shoulder of Tanith's heartbroken Mother.
Later in the evening Darwin was standing at the Bar, tended by a very lively man by the name of Leo. " Sorry I can't offer you a drink there Darwin...but..."
" It's okay. So tell me Leo. How are you, you know feeling. "
" Lost my Granddad this morning. At least, I think it was this morning. Maybe it was a month ago...you know how it goes around here."
Darwin let that pass because Leo's grief was at the moment very real to the both of them.
" He knew all these great songs and stories from the old country. Could keep us laughing and crying for hours. "
" Old country? "
" Ireland, he was from Ireland. " Leo said with pride but Darwin was all ready halfway up the stairs to his room and pulling his notebook from his backpack and screaming for Mr. Gravesway before Leo was even finished speaking his sentence.
Darwin spent the rest of that summer with the People of Gravesway. He wrote down their stories and drew pictures of things they told him they could see and with each memory they left with Darwin they were able to leave Gravesway.
Not by the mines, according to Mr. Gravesway, but by train.
Mr. Gravesway hung on until the end, or tried to.
One morning he told Darwin it was done. Everyone in Gravesway was gone...almost.
So through that morning Mr. Gravesway worked with Darwin on maps, detailed maps Darwin would become famous for. These maps detailed lost mines and hidden cities far beneath the earth and a way for Darwin to leave the valley.
It wasn't until Gravesway time had come that Darwin realized the extra details were a gift from Gravesway... a fate altering gift.
Within a few years Darwin's family would become wealthy and well known for the discoveries they would make because of what was on these maps.
And above all they would be all known for their good hearts and generosity.
As the last detail was drawn in Darwin realized Mr. Gravesway was gone... most likely he was on his way to the Mines he feared so much and was willing to face for his friends and Associates. Darwin cried onto his journal, hoping with each stroke of his pen that he wasn't to late: Mr. Gravesway was my good friend and a good man.
Darwin didn't know if that was enough, he hoped with all his heart it was.
Across the street in the Station Darwin was unable to see, Mr. Gravesway boarded his train. As it took him out of Gravesway he wished he could have told Darwin that thought was more then enough.
And one day he had no doubt he'd be able to tell Darwin himself.
© anita marie moscoso 2005-text