Rich had wanted a muscle car, but Becca pointed out they didn’t have enough, so Rich had to compromise – they hired a red Mini Cooper instead. It was the tail end of their holiday to the States and they’d done all the tourist things, Empire State Building, The Smithsonian, even ran up the Rocky steps in Philadelphia. They were at a loose end, with a couple of days to kill, so they decided to drive to Centralia.
Centralia is the stuff of legends to a certain crowd – the horror crowd. ‘We loved Silent Hill’ Rich had pointed out. It was coming up to Halloween, so visiting a ghost town seemed to fit.
‘Nearly sixty years’ Becca said reading from a guidebook, ‘it’s insane to think the coal mine has been burning under the town for so long’. She shook her head and picked out another crisp from the packet placed between her legs.
‘You better stop reading that, Becca. You’ll make yourself car sick’ Rich said, then opened his mouth wide to let Becca drop the crisp in. She glanced over, placed it in his mouth and then continued to read.
‘Not much further now, but it looks like we’re driving straight into that’, he said, nodding ahead down the highway towards the skyline. Becca looked up at the storm clouds and sighed.
‘Maybe we’ll get there, and it’ll put the fire out’ she chuckled, turning the radio dial absentmindedly.
‘Knowing our luck, it will. Can’t believe the price we paid for this rental. A little more and I could be driving a Camaro.’ Rich replied. Becca took more crisps from the packet and quickly fed them to him.
She put the book down, leaned back, and opened the window a crack to let in some air. A few songs on the radio later, the storm clouds broke, and the car was lashed with rain. The windscreen wipers tried admirably to keep up with the deluge, but Rich decided to pull over and wait for the worst to pass.
Thunder struck all around as an 18-wheeler barrelled close by, rocking the car as they huddled together. The trees creaked and strained as branches fell and debris went flying, they were in God’s country and rapture was coming. Then as if in the eye of the storm it eased, and a silence surrounded them.
Tentatively, Rich pulled back on to the now empty highway and the radio was crackling as they turned on to the final stretch of abandoned road that led to the town. The road had been covered in graffiti and the rain had crept into the crevasses and holes causing smoke to rise and whip around them. The smoke blanketed like a fog and the clouds had dampened the daylight. Rich turned on the headlights to avoid the worst of the potholes where the road was collapsing.
‘Pretty eerie’ Becca said, as she leaned forward looking around them. Rich had slowed the car to a crawl. Either side of the road dense brush hampered their view, ‘What was that?’ Becca said, pointing into the bushes – ‘I saw something move’.
Seconds later a shape leaped out in front of them, they gasped, and Rich slammed on the brakes. ‘Just a deer’ he said and smiled as it bounded off across the road and was lost in the smoke.
He sped up a little and the hatchback bounced down the road, ‘careful’ Becca said, ‘we don’t want to get a flat’. Rich nodded and decelerated slightly.
Up ahead they could see a white boarded house, the windowpanes smashed, the boards cracked and chipped. Becca hit Rich on the arm, and he stopped the car. They got out and Becca started taking photos, nervously looking around after each shot. The wind had picked up and it howled through the old bones of the house.
‘Feel the floor’ Rich said, and Becca turned to see him crouching, his hand flat against the tarmac. She reached down and felt the warmth of the ground as the fire beneath raged unchecked. The cold wind whipped her hair over her eyes. Rich stepped forward and she looked up to see him wide eyed and starring behind her. She looked round and framed in the doorway was a man watching them. ‘I thought this was a ghost town’ Becca whispered, ‘So did I’ Rich replied. They walked quickly back to the car and when they got there – he’d gone.
‘I think we should leave’ Becca said, but they’d driven so far, ‘Let’s just explore a little more’ Rich urged. They drove by houses, graffitied and derelict, until they could drive no further. A large fissure lay across the road, snaking out from a building just visible through the brush. Through the lingering smoke, they could make out a wooden structure, with a door off its hinges – a sign ‘Warning – Danger: Underground Mine Fire’, bold red on white.
‘Just this and then we’ll go’ Rich said as it started to rain. They got out of the car and began walking to the entrance when they heard a deep rumble – the tyres screeched as they left.