Tuesday, 31 October 2017

The Disappearance of Wilson

This is my first "published" short story. Put here for free on my blog for Halloween. 

A bit of back story, this is a piece of Flash Fiction, written in a single sitting. Though it is technically a short story I like to think it came to me in a flash. I thought of it while out in the Northern Ontario cottage country, going on a Lovecraft binge, which, surrounded by picturesque nature and country made me think the Canadian wilderness probably had many secrets to hide. 

In a restless night I sat down and put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard as it were) and the story poured out over the course of a few hours. There was some minor tweaking in the later stages as I adjusted the plot, and a few amazing beta readers helped out with some of the language and words. However, this is probably the most I have written in a single sitting, and I hope to write more. 

I also happen to like this one as it happened to top out at exactly 3,000 words. A small something, but it gets a chuckle from me every time I see it.

Hopefully I can scare people with more as I write, but I want to write other fun things too. For now though, join me as we take a journey through the history of this small town that inexplicably vanished into the night...

It is the opinion of many uneducated – and alas all too many educated – persons, that in the 21st century there is nothing which can escape the public view, and therefore nothing outlandish or ‘unknown’ may go unnoticed in the world. One could be excused for holding this opinion were the opposite not so manifestly obvious. One merely has to look at the volume of information available on the daily news and through the internet in order to see this. It is evident that the sheer volume of information that creeps through allows for the outlandish and bizarre to be routinely undetected, and when it is, dismissed and forgotten about for belonging in a category of human interest regularly related to “click bait” which before was regulated to rag journalism one could find at the checkout line in grocery stores.

Gripping headlines such as “Woman Gives Birth to Alien Baby” or “Ghosts Inhabit White House” and other such outlandish and fantastic titles would bombard us and elicit nothing but rolled eyes and triggering our smug predilection towards the rational, ordered world we are always told to put our trust in. How can it be, we ask ourselves, that anyone could believe such nonsense? Well, anyone that is who does not live with a tinfoil hat around their heads to block out alien mind control. In that vein we are of course comfortable dismissing anything that penetrates the layers of sensationalist journalism about popular actors and political crisis as something meant only for those gullible types who are clearly our intellectual inferiors.

As such the bizarre and frankly supernatural slips by us every day, and when we have even a passing glance at it we dismiss it as so much junk. Especially when such things occur outside our borders. A village disappears in Equatorial Africa? Warlords and terrorists killing each other. Strange lights in the South China Sea? American secret weapon testing. Mutilated bodies found in ancient ruins in Mexico? Drug lords run amok. The list is endless, and we can even make exception for such instances when they occur within our own borders. I myself would make these mistakes.

Such of course, was the case with the disappearance of Wilson Ontario.

If you have never heard of Wilson Ontario that is hardly a surprise. I myself was not even aware of it until well after these events. Located well to the north of even the most rugged country along Ontario’s Highway 11 it could well be referred to as the back road of the back road. Hardly a destination any sane traveller would find themselves moved to visit, much less local inhabitants to inspect too closely. Dull, drab, and absolutely boring; it had little life in it before the mining booms at the turn of the century when everyone believed there were untapped veins of gold in the fastness of Ontario’s rocky northern hills.

Most of course, were wrong, but in Wilson Ontario there was some luck.

Though well south of the Big Three mines which would spring up, Wilson was a hard luck little speck of rock named after the lucky prospector who had founded The Dome mine which drew thousands north in search of fortune. Perhaps the inhabitants hoped to find a little of his luck. In a way they did.

A drunken fortune seeker named William Donnelly is known to have chanced upon a vein while wandering in the dark seeking a place to relieve himself. In 1911 the drunken fool, who had spent his last dollar on a train ticket north to fortune stopped at the ramshackle alehouse on the town`s main street. He had been unable to find employment at the big camps, obviously due to the drinking problem, and so landed hard on his ass there. Drinking poor beer, and wiling his time away in the hilly backwoods he poured out his problems to the world and anyone who would listen to his drunken laments.

Donnelly spent the whole winter of 1910-1911 doing such a thing, until one glorious March morning after having drank too much, he wandered far in the dark. He had somehow wandered past the outhouse into the hills. It was then that he – quite literally – fell into riches. A great untapped vein of gold stared him right in the face. Once he had sufficiently recovered from his drunken stupor to hightail himself back to the inn and telegraph his claim, Donnelly soon found himself a rich man.

The tiny hamlet of Wilson soon ballooned from a backwoods hole in the wall for drunken prospectors, into a prosperous little town of over 3,000. Men, women, and opportunists all flooded in building a vast shanty town. Prospectors poured into the hamlet, new buildings went up, and Donnelly himself purchased the inn and turned it into a great gambling house of illicit pleasures and high profits. He would dine on only the finest imported foods and liquors, and he had for himself the best women and brought girls from Canada and the United States. He even built for himself a grand home overlooking that pit where he had stumbled. There he held host to great parties, and extravagant entertainments to men who thought he might establish another big venture in the north. Yet strangely, despite the increase in population, Donnelly would allow no place of worship to be constructed. Perhaps to encourage the vice which seems inherent in all such locations.

Like most towns of ill repute there was considerable violence and double dealing. Men were murdered over trifling affairs, and other ne’er-do-wells or undesirables might have simply wandered off or left for the next town or gone looking for better prospects. The fact that many of the missing seemed to be last known to have associated with the now prosperous Donnelly seems to have slipped the notice of most, or at least they did not feel comfortable enough to challenge this backwoods baron on the matter. The gold was flowing, and the booze was cheap.

This continued for two years, until the winter of 1913. At that point, the vein seemed to dry up. No matter how deep men dug, no matter how much they blasted, no matter that they had seen the veins going before, the gold was gone. Simply gone. In January 1914 a great blaze consumed a cabin full of immigrant workers who had been in the employ of Mr. Donnelly. One small sliver of gold was uncovered. However, after this people soon began leaving. The little known “Wilson Rush” was over.

With the start of the Great War and the patriotic fervor that ate up the headlines, no one noticed the decline of a once great town. The other more successful ventures were reported on, and from time to time Donnelly’s name could be found in passing alongside other successful ventures he invested in, and his debts seemed to be paid and he was never in abject poverty. However, the town he had given birth to faded from memory. Even its local people by and large vanished. By 1940 it had less than 150 locals living in the run down ruins of former glory.

Not coincidentally, 1940 is the year Donnelly himself died. He still lived in that grand old house of his, which was now a rundown ruin. The former whitewashed walls faded, the ballrooms where he entertained business magnates and free drinking prospectors rotting and their ceilings caving in for wont of care. He had only his own rooms looked after; all the others boarded up and shut. His former wealth largely gone he lived alone, save for a bastard daughter who seemed to care for her father, and some even gossiped that care was more than merely father and daughter.

There had been, since 1914, little activity from the town. Sure travellers might take a wrong turn on those back roads and march through the dilapidated ruins of the boom town. They might comment upon the lack of fortune in the hamlet, the signs of old age, and the odd lack of any house of worship. Seeing the only grand establishment, the former inn, doing a rough trade in beer to the locals, and the single story homes of the gas station owner, the blacksmith, and the various other little shopkeepers who eked out a living from the locality would impress upon them of the remote poverty. This offset only slightly by hardscrabble herders who had small flocks and hunters who sold animals at market, and the few miners who worked at other odd jobs and lumbermen who did not struggle quite so much.

Most had simply settled there when their money ran out, those unfortunates who could not escape when the town dried up. They left all sorts of stories the outside world would never hear. Rumors of disappearing travellers who looked to Donnelly for aid, lights down in the abandoned mine when there should be none. And into the 1930s when they felt little from the Great Depression that rocked the world, they told stories of an odd light seen pacing the grand old house on the hill, leading to all sorts of salacious gossip about the old man on the hill. Then in 1940, Donnelly died. His bastard daughter it appears, vanished not long after, not even closing the grand doors on her way out. It was a brave party of local men who found old Donnelly dead in his bed, his face contorted in a gruesome expression, eyes staring wide and his tongue lolling out. After that, few ventured to that house on the hill.

It is after 1940 that any mention of little Wilson largely vanishes. True there was mention of it in the early 60s when a party of surveyors vanished, but it was soon forgotten. The town struggled on, eking out its lonely existence. From then on out, little of note seems to take place.

Then of course, in the winter of 2011, the town disappears, quite literally.

Now, it should be said that it was not quite so dramatic as all that. The earth did not shake and it was not swallowed up in some mass earthquake, or thunderous bolt from the blue. No, in the spring of 2011 a trucker looking for a place to fill up took a wrong turn down a back road and ended up in the old town. However, he seemed to be the only one there.

The old buildings still stood, or perhaps leaned was a more appropriate word, and the hotel that had once dominated the town gazed mournfully over the single story dwellings it dominated like a surly elder minding its juniors. The gas station where the trucker had stopped was perhaps the most modern building in the little hamlet, built in 1970, and it seemed as worn as the rest. The man, more than a little intimidated by the strange silence, looked around for a phone, but not daring to intrude on others, prudently pushed his truck to the limit before reaching Hearst. He duly notified authorities, before drinking the image of the abandoned town away and moving on with his life.

In no great rush the Ontario Provincial Police arrived and conducted a less than thorough search. They noted that of the town’s registered 89 residents from the census, none could be found. There appeared no signs of calamity, as there was no evident property damage, and no signs of struggle or intrusion on any of the buildings. They did note there was a fine layer of ash coating the town, which seemed to have wafted down from the hill where the old home of Donnelly had stood. It had burned down, whether this was before the arrival of the man who reported it or after they could not say as he did not recall. The only other odd detail was a vehicle found at the entrance to the long abandoned mine; a car which was registered in Toronto, but one which now sat abandoned. Upon investigation it was discovered it belonged to Mary Donnelly, the then 99 year old woman who had lived with her father until her hasty departure upon his death. One set of footprints led to the mine entrance where they simply stopped. Her car was not reported stolen in Toronto, and a search of her apartment revealed no sign of forced entry or even a hasty departure. It seemed as though she had just up and decided to drive one thousand odd kilometers and vanished.

So it seemed had the whole town. A detailed search was later carried out, and items catalogued, and images taken, but in the end it was ruled that the inhabitants must have fled in fear of the fire that had engulfed the old house, lest it begin a great fire that could ruin them all. Despite this, none of them ever turned up in a neighboring community, and the abandoned car near the mine was never thoroughly investigated. Not long after, in 2013, a fire did indeed burn the abandoned town down. The official theory is that the inhabitants may have perished in poor winter conditions. All this, received perhaps a six hundred word article in one national newspaper.

Indeed I sincerely doubt this story will ever be more widely known. Few have reason to investigate it, and with manpower shortages and the vast spaces up north it seems a proper search might be impossible to carry out. So the matter was laid to rest officially.

I however, did have a personal stake in this story.

My own lineage can actually be traced back to a boom miner who stayed in that town during those bright years, and the discovery of her diary in the attic was a harmless bit of family history. She was out prospecting for riches herself, and down on her money when she arrived there. She reports on the goings on in the town – which I find are backed up by a book written by an eccentric who lived in Wilson and published an oddly comprehensive history of that hamlet –because what else would one do while living on the back road of the back road – and paints an odder picture.

Every time there was a success in the mine she relates, a death soon followed. Usually someone who associated with Mr. Donnelly. These continued until 1913 when, as she relates, Donnelly was heard boasting that “not even Satan himself could rob me of my riches” while at a dinner party with a Chicago business magnate. Soon after, the mine dried up. There then came the burning of the immigrant workers which allowed a paltry success before the town collapsed all together.

This ancestor of mine refers to whispers, and only that, of dark happenings at the Donnelly home. His lovers disappearing, black shapes stalking through the night, and more disappearances amongst the tramp workers than one would usually expect. She even relates a story which was omitted from the obnoxious official history.

As the story goes, Donnelly, down on his luck and dirt broke, drunkenly cursed God in Heaven for allowing him to fall into such disgrace. What good would He do if He allowed His children to fall into such squalor? Could there then not be a greater, but darker power which promised him such riches? He then vanished into the hills for a night, and he was not seen again until he stumbled in to stake his claim.

Could it be then he made a bargain with a darker power, and that is how he found his gold? Then feeling no loyalty to his benefactor he claimed the riches for himself? In life he seems to have paid his debts, but perhaps in that life he made debt that could only be paid in death. No one can say, and the story is of course hearsay in a century old diary. Certainly though, one true fact can be borne out from this diary.

My great-grandfather, is in fact a bastard. This was a fact he had no trouble acknowledging and became something of a joke in the family over time. However, this diary ominously spells out who the father was. One William Donnelly, who it seemed, took pity on the author, for a price. The strange happenings and Donnelly’s lusts soon forced the writer to depart in 1915 with her child, and she never looked back.

My thoughts sometimes wander to an image I saw while looking at the police report of an abandoned car and footsteps leading to a closed mine. I wonder if that could someday be my fate should the forces that collected a price for the riches of Wilson ever come calling again, and I wonder whether I ought not to alert others who would share Donnelly’s blood of the possibility.

But who would believe me? Is it any more believable than strange images of ghosts at the Tower of London? The alien babies whose births are printed in poor quality magazines at checkout lines in grocery stores all over? When there is so much information out there we feel safe in dismissing any possibility of the strange? Why then should this strange but true story be taken as anything other than an oddity with an already existing official explanation at hand? Who then would be interested in such a tale, and what would happen other than its digital decay on some corner of the internet where such theories go to be dissected, pondered, and then almost mercifully forgotten les they excite the imagination to strange, horrible possibilities that lie beyond what we would regularly accept as news and information.

No, I think I shall keep this secret, but commit it to paper just in case. I would like that if one day a debt were to be called on me, that someone might know the reason for my sudden and unaccountable disappearance. 

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