Ghost towns have always been eerie, but this one took the cake. Dead eyes peered through broken windows and stared at the shiny red convertible as it came to a gentle stop in the middle of town. It contained two passengers, Kimberly and Charlie, who were on their way home for summer vacation. Charlie stepped out of the car, unaware of the eyes examining her from the shadows.
“Come on, Kim. Let’s stretch our legs. We’ve been driving for hours.”
“I dunno,” Kim mumbled from behind her book. “It looks pretty run-down to me. Why don’t we move on and find an actual city to rest in?”
Charlie laughed as she removed her camera from the back seat.
“Where’s the fun in that? Besides, I told professor McShay that I’d add some photos to my portfolio over the summer. This place is perfect.”
“Suit yourself, but I’m staying here. I like the shade.”
“I can tell. You look like a freaking vampire.”
Kim shrugged and waved Charlie away as she adjusted her glasses and resumed her reading. Charlie shook her head and began photographing the crumbling buildings around them. Shadows skittered around her as she explored the oil town with no name, and Charlie eventually wandered into the old cemetery.
The rusted remains of a wrought-iron arch and matching fence poked through the grass in sharp, twisted teeth that surrounded the ancient plot, and Charlie carefully avoided their bite as she entered the sacred space. Headstones littered the ground in haphazard lines, and Charlie silently read the names and took photos as she walked through time.
After what seemed like hours, Charlie came to a portion of the surprisingly-large cemetery where the headstones were almost pristine. They were marble and shone in the sunlight with an otherworldly glow that sent shivered up her spine, but she had to get closer.
Kimberly had just reached the climax of her book when a knock at the window made her jump out of her skin. She rolled down her window and glared into the smiling eyes of her sister.
“Charlie! Christ, don’t do that.”
“Sorry. Hey, I found something weird I want to show you. This way.”
“This better not be like the time you “found something” and forced me on a three-mile hike in the rain.”
“No, this is just around the corner. You’ll see.”
As they walked, Kimberly noticed that Charlie’s camera was missing.
“Hey, where’s your camera? you didn’t lose it, did you?”
“Don’t worry about the camera. We’re almost there.”
Something in Charlie’s voice sounded off, and Kim shuddered as the wind picked up around them.
“Charlie? Are you ok?”
“Yeah, but we’d better hurry. Storm’s coming, and we don’t want to be late.”
“Late? Late to what?”
Charlie didn’t answer, and Kim huddled in her sweater as they approached the cemetery. She paused at the gate.
“Seriously? A cemetery? You know how I feel about cemeteries.”
“Yeah, but this one is different. You’ll like it.”
Charlie turned around and gave Kim a smile that stretched a bit too widely, and her movements weren’t as graceful as they were a moment ago. Kim shook her head.
“No… I think we’d better get back to the car. We have a lot of driving to do, and it’s getting late.”
Kim turned to go, but Charlie grabbed her arm.
“We can’t leave. They’re waiting.”
“Who’s waiting?? Let me go!”
Charlie had always been the more athletic of the two, and she dragged a struggling Kim through the graveyard to the circle of marble headstones and threw her into the middle. Kim fell hard and cradled her sore wrist as she blinked back tears.
“Why are you doing this to me? What’s going on?”
Charlie pointed to the graves. “Look at the headstones. Then, you’ll know the truth.”
Kim looked at the nearest headstone. It read “Charlie Hardgrave, saved on 5.5.2019”
“Ch… Charlie? Why does this headstone have your name on it?”
“The town saved me, Kimberly, and I see our destinies in the stone. You must become one of us.”
Kimberly began to cry as shadowy figures appeared behind Charlie and circled them. The headstones began to vibrate with energy, and Kim let out a scream as Charlie’s form dissolved into static. The figures then began to pulse and swirl around the headstones, and Kim felt her body tingle as the stones worked their magic. Looking up, Kim saw a dark, shimmering face peering down from the center of the vortex with endless black eyes. Kim released one last scream as her body dissolved and she became part of the ghost town forever.
The next morning, Deputy John Grady of the Highway Patrol came across a worn convertible parked in the middle of the empty highway.
“What the hell? Who left this here?”
John exited the vehicle with his partner, Hank Greenbow, two steps behind him. Hank knocked on the dusty window.
“Hello? Anyone in there?”
“In this heat? I doubt it. Probably fell off the back of a tow truck.”
John tested the handle and found it unlocked. He opened the door. Resting on the driver’s seat was an old camera caked in dirt, but a small red light told John that the battery was, miraculously, still alive. As soon as he hit the power button, the camera began playing back the last photos taken. A picture of two young women popped up, and he showed it to Hank.
“Think these are the owners?”
Hank held up a discarded wallet. “Looks like it. Says here the blonde one is Charlie Hardgrave.”
“See if you can find the other wallet,” John asked before turning his attention back to the camera. All the photos showed the same ramshackle town, but it was one that John had never seen before. Pale, glitchy faces shone out in stark contrast to the drab surroundings, and John had an uneasy feeling that he’d seen those faces before.
“Hey Hank, look at this. Do those faces look familiar somehow?”
Hank took the camera. “Yeah, they do, but I can’t quite remember where I’ve seen them.”
“Me either. Maybe it’s just a fluke.”
As he spoke, the camera switched to the last photo on the SD card.
It was of a polished white headstone that read: “Kimberly Hardgrave, saved 5.5.2019. Quota fulfilled. He is pleased.”
The prompt for this story was to “write about a ghost town that’s not what it seems.”
This is my interpretation. What’s yours?