Some days, seems like everything on God’s green earth’s tryin’ ta kill ya. Just survivin’s a high accomplishment.
Life is tough. But it used to be a lot tougher. Back before antibiotics, a cut could kill you. So could a bad glass of water.
Cholera outbreaks have cost millions of human lives and spread concomitant fear and strife that have upended societies.
Well, they say, when it rains, it pours. In the desert, it’s closer to “when it dries up, it parches to drought”. So it was that, as the gold in Graveyard Valley dried up, the water became death – cholera found a foothold in the area. Children, parents, entire extended families fell victim to – as so often happens, the tiniest of invaders – Vibrio cholera. A bacterium so small as to be as good as invisible decimated populations, and, in the late 1870s, it visited its wrath upon the boomtown of Graveyard Valley, California.
By the time it was over, fully one in two residents of the town would have succumbed to the disease. However, the dead quickly went from mourned to envied, for no one who survived had not lost a lifetime’s worth of loved ones in a matter of months.
Those survivors found themselves in a half-functioning ghost town.
None survived without a damaged spirit. Many didn’t survive without a damaged mind.
The town’s sheriff, a man who’d survived action in America’s deadliest war – The War Between the States – was someone the people of the town counted on for his level head, and his fair but assertive demeanor. He had always been a calming presence. A man who well knew that no one was perfect, he’d be quick to lock up a belligerent drunk, but just as quick to let the man out the next day once he’d regained his composure and sobriety.
That’s why it came as such a shock to all the town’s other survivors when it became clear that he, of all people, had been a “victim” of cholera. His body had survived it – again, those who hadn’t were the lucky ones – but his mind was never the same. He was far from the only man whose whole family had been taken from him by the pitiless bacteria. And he was far from alone even in going mad as a result. But never a stronger, more reliable and steady man had the town known, so his case was the one that most surprised the townfolk were when it became clear his mind would never be the same.
By the time most of the townspeople were – admittedly, slowly, mechanically, with a battered, beaten draw to their faces and vacuity to their gazes – returning to the task of living, he remained at home – allegedly, semi-incoherent, according to anyone who attempted to engage him.
“Couldn’t get a word out of him,” said Josiah Collins.
“Wouldn’t look me in the eye; couldn’t rightly understand what he was saying,” reported Ned Jeckel.
As it became his habit to man the rocking chair upon his porch day and night, with a shotgun in his lap, like a soldier always on guard duty. Townsfolk claimed they could hear his squeaky rocking chair going all through the night.
It eventually came to the attention of one or two of the townspeople that no graveyard had been erected in his plot of land, and none of the headstones of the town’s recently expanded cemetery bore the names of his lost loved ones.
By that time, it had been well established that there was no communicating with the sheriff. Those sufficiently brave (or with the mental fortitude) to pass close enough to hear more than the sound of the aged rocking chair on the creaky wooden porch say that, amidst the mumbling, and usually accompanied by suspicious looks, you could pick out the phrase, “This is a man’s job – to protect his family.”
The town itself was not unlike the sheriff - hollow. The mines had dried up (or, at least, anyone’s willingness to dig had), and folks were leaving in droves. One morning, it was noted that the sheriff was not at his post. It was later realized that, during the night, he had stood up and walked into the desert. It was witnessed (and vividly remembered) by a couple of the local kids and their dog, agog at witnessing him actually leave his porch…and then proceed to walk up the mining hill till he was clear out of view.
A search party went looking for him but found no hat, no bones, not even his shotgun – only his badge. A deputy reckoned it was because the sheriff felt he’d failed at his job and took it off. The Sheriff was never seen again.
Yet people still claimed to hear groaning that sounds eerily reminiscent of the rocking chair on his porch. Others tell of hearing faint sobs. Not from the sheriff – while he was a man afflicted by monumental sadness, tears were not his way. No, this, they report, is the crying of a young woman.
In fact, far from simply aural phenomena, consistent visual reports have also come from disparate witnesses. A woman whom popular sentiment identifies as a grieving widow who went mad – likely lost her husband, perhaps her whole family, to the invisible assailant. A beautiful but hearty blonde woman, appearing to be in a daze, often with hands that seem bloodied. People’ve taken to calling her Pandora, for the looks of her, she may very well have released all the evils on the world, several of which had clearly come back to take their toll.
Townsfolk figure it’d’ve taken something like that to get the sheriff off that porch – someone who knew his pain. Someone with whom he could empathize.
Like a final nail in a coffin, these sights and sounds, imagined or not, drove out the remaining occupants of Graveyard Valley.
Unexplained noises have been heard as far away as the closest neighboring town – just across the Nevada state line. Some claim its name – Rockville – came from early inhabitant, doctor and eventual civic leader John Rocke. Others swear that it’s from the rocking you sometimes hear on a calm night, wafting over the state line on the breeze from the west.
The latter would seem apocryphal, until it’s revealed that an extensive search through the town’s archives turn up only one doctor/politician in the town’s early days, a man by the name of John Stone.