The town is full. There are faces looking out of every window, if you know how to catch them right. They call Maxwell a ghost town, but although devoid of life, it is crowded nonetheless.
I come here every month to look in the windows, to try to catch a glimpse of their faces.
There are no rules about coming here, no laws banning visitors to Maxwell, not like those towns in the coalfields where perpetual fires burn below the earth like an upwelling of flames from Hell. The streets are public roads that anyone can travel, though few have cause. Technically, entering a building would be trespassing, but I doubt anybody cares. Nobody has lived in them, worked in them in years.
No great disaster carried off Maxwell, no tragedy, unless you count the closure of the mills as a tragedy. Business died and the town died with it, the people moving west in search of hope, leaving their dead behind in a dead town, empty save for memories.
The sound of my car engine startles the birds that roost here every time I drive into town, a roaring beast chasing them from their perches. But, it doesn’t expel the ghosts from their stations, gazing out silently upon the town they knew in life.
I never park in the same place – there is an infinite number, it seems – but, begin my search anew each time from a different starting point, adopting a different perspective. Each time, the town appears different in subtle ways, beyond the shifting of the seasons, but never in a manner that provides answers or offers closure. I might see the faces of the ghosts looking down, impassively, at me, but never do I see theirs.
I first came to Maxwell ten years ago. In some ways, I never left. Pamela and Martin never did. They’re still here, somewhere, I know it, no matter what anyone else might say.
It was my idea, my fault: I suggested it. We were taking a trip across the state, visiting places of historical interest, antiquing. Maxwell was one of the places I found online. Not the oldest, nor the most interesting, but intriguing. I regret ever adding it to our itinerary.
The visit really should have been nothing much – it isn’t as if Maxwell is replete with sites of any interest, just the detritus of over half a century ago – just a stroll through the echoing streets.
Martin was fascinated by the town, as if it were a gigantic playground. Ignoring our calls, he ran off, eager to explore, not hearing us when we tried to call him back.
“Don’t worry, I’ll get him,” his mother said, hurrying after him, an exasperated smile playing about her lips.
I laughed. Yes, I laughed. In that moment, I, too, was caught up in his enthusiasm, in the game. My son was happy and that delighted me.
No parent can fail to find pleasure in the exuberance and energy of a young child.
It was a perfect moment – one I wish had never ended – Martin’s squeals echoing back to me along empty streets.
Then, abruptly, they ceased.
It was strange. Echoes should slowly die, decline away to nothing. But, not his happy cries, nor the sound of my wife’s hurrying footsteps.
It was a sudden silence, oppressive and deep.
“Martin? Pamela?” I shouted their names and heard them echo back to me, unanswered.
They were gone.
Not that I realised it then, accepted it.
I still don’t accept it. That is why I return every month, seeking, just as I did that day.
It was impossible for them to just be gone, to have vanished. They had to be there, somewhere, within Maxwell, trapped somehow, lost.
Not that I had heard a thing, a shriek, a shout, a crash. Nothing, save silence.
I looked everywhere I could in the immediate streets, initially on the ground floors of the shops, then upstairs as high as their attics and down into their basements, checking every room, opening every cupboard, kicking down doors if I had to. But, nothing.
That evening, I called the State Troopers.
We searched late into the night and all the next day, and the next, looked in every conceivable place they could be. Searched the entire town.
They had been taken. That is what the State Troopers eventually decided, casting their net wider.
Logical, I guess, given the lack of any evidence they were still in the town, dead or alive, and the fact I hadn’t heard anything to actually signify an accident.
Of course, I hadn’t heard any cries for help or the sound of an engine, either.
I think they even came to suspect me. Even more logical a train of thought. They questioned me several times, examined the car minutely. But, of course, they found nothing.
As their thoughts moved away from Maxwell and the energy of their search declined, I returned to the town, certain my wife and son were still there, despite the absence of any evidence.
I couldn’t give up.
It was about a month after their disappearance that I caught my first glimpse of a face at a window.
They were the first person I’d seen who wasn’t part of the search party. I’m not sure what I expected them to reveal, but I rushed inside the house to confront them. But, there was nobody there.
I thought they’d run away, but then, I spotted another face, and another, each one visible in the glass only if you got the angle exactly right.
They perplexed me. They still do, only I’ve grown used to their silent presence, watching as I explore the town. They are the dead, the memories of Maxwell, I’m certain.
In the secret inner sanctum of my heart, I know I never shall find my wife and son among the living – they’ve been gone too long. But, I hold out hope they haven’t abandoned Maxwell entirely and that, one day, I shall see them again, if only fleetingly, upon a pane of glass.
I don’t know how or why, but Pamela and Martin are trapped in Maxwell, or its shadow, unable to get back to me. It is that thought, that promise vouchsafed deep within my soul that keeps calling me back to these silent streets and empty shops.
If I cannot rescue them, perhaps, one day, I may see them, if only for one last time.
Or, maybe, I will join them, leave behind the land of the living to become a ghost caught in glass like a fly trapped in amber.
But, not today. Not today.
Today, I return to my car, watched by unseen, silent faces and startle the birds, once again, with the thrum of my engine as I leave Maxwell behind for another month, silent and empty.
A ghost town rich with ghosts.
DJ Tyrer is the person behind Atlantean Publishing and has been widely published in anthologies and magazines, including Chilling Horror Short Stories (Flame Tree), and The Horror Zine’s Book of Ghost Stories (Hellbound Books), and issues of Sirens Call, and has a novella available, The Yellow House (Dunhams Manor).