Bogleech.com's 2017 Horror Write-off:
Submitted by Rahkshasarani
The genesis of Espiritu is a mystery lost to time. The Miwok name for it roughly translates to "the place where spirits walk." This is the single fragment of oral history left by the once-numerous native people regarding the site. By the time Elias Bannon stumbled upon the place, disease and slave raids had whittled the settlement down to almost nothing. Bannon noted a few peculiarities of the remaining Miwok that were found nowhere else: that they eschewed the regular obsidian arrowheads, in fact they shunned all reflective surfaces whatsoever. The tribe had lived in a bark-shingle village that skirted a small pocket of badlands, the houses themselves seeming to form a protective circle around the place. When he offered to trade trinkets for their handmade goods, the tribe refused and buried his offerings. Elias theorized that they guarded some valuable secret, something that made living in such a wasteland worthwhile. Whatever the reason behind their behavior, by the time Bannon returned the following winter the village was deserted. Searching through the buildings, Bannon stubbed his toe on a lump of gold the size of his fist.
Mining towns proliferated like toadstools during the gold rush, Espiritu was no exception. Once word of the lode got out people flocked to the town in hundreds. Espiritu drew mostly the naive and desperate, because the claims made about the gold brought out skepticism in more experienced miners. Claims that the gold could be seen in every crack in the badlands, that the metal itself glowed in the nighttime, that the metal was so soft one could gouge it from the ground with a spoon. Espiritu seemed to thrive on word of mouth alone, erecting a general store, church, mess hall, gambling hall, post office, stagecoach stable, and a hotel all without one ounce of gold being extracted from the ground.
No gold was ever sold from Espiritu. In fact townsfolk seemed to treat the suggestion as an insult. The town itself seemed to grow more sickly and insular as it grew in population. An itinerant preacher passing through noted that the locals had gained a greening discoloration around their eyes and mouths, and that the church itself was windowless and closed to outsiders. The promise of gold was only currency in those days; the town floated on credit, racking up a bill that went into the thousands with nearby port merchants.
Travelers who passed through began calling it "the valley of ghouls" as the townsfolk sickened visibly. Elias Bannon rarely came out into public, the last reliable eyewitness account described him as skeletal and hunched-over as an old man. This did not stop the influx of new bodies, however, and the town's population ballooned to around 40,000 at its zenith.
After a year and a half of dues with not a scrap of gold to show for it, various merchants in the areas sent their collection agents to the town. They described a scene of horror that would not find equal until the Civil War nearly a decade later. To quote one agent:
"...bodies stacked like cordwood, plastering the cracks in the ground where the gold was said to be. A terrible stench upon the place like death. Not a single man could lift head in greeting to us. One begged us to look upon the ore and see that it was still in bloom, he dribbled from his mouth and could barely speak for sores. Many lay flat as if protecting the earth with their person. The few left living cried out for water, promised gold for payment. As for Bannon, we found not hide nor hair of the man. The church had a hole dug in the nave. The townsfolk begged us not to enter, for Bannon had entered the hole days ago after swallowing the nugget he'd first found. Three men descended and were overcome by bad air. We blocked the hole. The living folk still wept and begged us not to take gold as we loaded up to leave Most had died by the time we came back with the posse. No gold in sight, not a single nugget."
Of the thousands that inhabited the town, four lived long enough to see the Pacific Ocean. Homer Clements died of the strange wasting sickness in a San Francisco hospital, outliving his fellow survivors by a grand total of three hours, deliriously babbling that the vein of ore was not unlike the vein of a body, and that it needed to draw strength from the people to thrive. He begged the doctors with his dying breath to return to Espiritu and make the town "live" again. His corpse turned and remained a verdant shade of green, leading to his burial in the lot designated for victims of tuberculosis and other infectious diseases,
The buildings of Espiritu were left standing, for it proved too costly to reclaim the wood. Eventually, due to natural wear and decay, the town disappeared into the wilderness once more. The town's former site is said to be somewhere in the Sand Hills region of California, but no attempt to rediscover it has been successful.