's 2015 Horror Write-off:

" San Lorenzo "

Submitted by Rahkshasarani

San Lorenzo was never officially a town. You can still drive down the I-5 going towards Death Valley and take the turn down Manzanita lane, travel down 15 miles of unpaved road and wind up at the windmill with a cattle skull at the base. But the shanty town that would have once greeted your eyes has long since been torn down, burnt, and ripped apart in the years since 1976.

Like many other squatter-communes, San Lorenzo was founded by hippies hoping to escape the rigors of modern society. One of the founders, Larry Holtz, claimed to be a member of the Merry Pranksters, though the still-living pranksters deny ever having known him. As can be expected of a town built by philosophers instead of engineers, San Lorenzo was built with whatever materials were handy, rather than what suited the climate. Residents roasted inside of shacks made from tin siding, overturned boats, and the omnipresent VW van. The town had one well which often ran dry due to lack of regulation on drawing water. The main source of food for the town were care packages sent by concerned parents and shared communally with all. Despite the hardships, San Lorenzo was described as a calm and peaceful place.

San Lorenzo was quite well known locally as the ER farm, due to the amount of emergencies incurred by the townspeople. Some residents sought to stave off hunger by eating anything in reach or slaking thirst by ingesting cactus pulp. In addition to this, town founders Larry Holtz and Dennis Edbridge(who had taught literature at UC Berkeley before being dismissed for inappropriate relations with a student) would regularly lead the whole town in shamanistic journeys. Adult and child alike would ingest hallucinogenic compounds on assigned nights. Sometimes residents would go missing and have to be rescued from death by dehydration in the desert. However, no amount of warnings would dissuade the squatters from experimenting or exploring, both of which may have lead to the town's demise.

Edbrige journaled extensively, and one of his last entries detailed the find of a bright pink cactus in the desert. The root system was strangely small for even a succulent, and the cactus gave off an odd chemical odor. The man who found it(whose name is unknown because Edbridge referred to all males as 'brother' and females as 'sister' in his writings) sliced off a piece and put it in his mouth. Witnesses saw his eyes roll back in his head before he proclaimed that he could see farther and clearer than he ever had.

We can only assume the rest of the town followed suit. Edbridge's diaries left off shortly before he would try the cactus, describing his fellow citizens as vocally ecstatic and affirming the rolled-back eyes as a typical response, though he noted that it did not seem to impede their movements.

The next thread was picked up by the police department of Independence, who came to investigate a smoke pillar rising above San Lorenzo. They found the smoldering remains of several tents and no people. A flurry of footprints led off into the greater desert. The ground along the way was littered with shoes as residents began discarding clothing in a hallucinogenic mania. This made the next discovery no less shocking.

Although the exact number of residents in San Lorenzo was never recorded, a few children were known to dwell with their parents. These children were also found discarded by the path of footprints, their upper bodies bound with cloth. Autopsy was unable to determine whether they had died of asphyxiation due to restricted breathing or heat. The footprints gave no indication of pausing in their steps, meaning the act was likely undertaken while on foot.

The trail dissipated completely just before Furnace Creek. Police reported that the footprints merely ended despite the presence of soft ground in all directions and a lack of bodies.

The children were sent to relatives when possible and buried in a public plot when no family could be found. Though the desert was combed many times in the decades since, no sign of the adult San Lorenzans could be found.