Jonestown is a place that existed between the city of Helena and the gold mine. I’ve worked at the mine for several years, and sometimes, when I feel I need to clear my head, or think about the things that happen in my life, I walk.
It’s a good walk, a good distance from my home in the outskirts of the city. It takes me a good four hours. The path takes me through Jonestown, I know it well by now. I don’t worry much of vagrants or robbers or drug addicts, the ghosts keep them away.
Jonestown is a place where two thousand people lived. It was a place where workers of the mines lived, where people coming in and out of the city stopped by for a walk in the park, for a quick meal in the morning. It was a place to escape the city, where people went to be away from their problems for a little while, where people went for a late night drink in the quiet bar at the end of main street. It was the quick vacation spot for the people of Helena, just a quick getaway.
It burned down thirty years ago. A fire started in the gas station. It was the wrong time for a fire it seems. The wind was strong that day, and the fire spread fast. Few houses were spared, few buildings remained. It was the middle of the night when it happened. Hundreds died in their homes. Some were burned alive, some were suffocated by the unrelenting smoke, others died escaping, run over by panicked neighbors. The town was never rebuilt, it was more a commodity of the city anyway. Not truly a necessity. And after the fire no one cared enough to go back, or maybe they did care, but for one reason or another never got to it.
I don’t know. I moved to Helena fifteen years ago. Jonestown was already dead. I first noticed it on my trips to work. I asked the guys about it. It was such a strange sight. Nothing had been restored, but nothing had been demolished either. The town seemed to have been frozen in time after the fire killed it. Trees and bushes grew around the half burnt houses, around the streets and buildings.
Now I walk through it often, alone. The air is different there. It’s different from the air of the city or the air in the mines. There is a lingering, almost undetectable smell of charcoal. Insects have made their home of it, singing loud as the sun goes down, ignoring the sound of my footsteps on the old road.
I can hear them sometimes. As I walk through the bar, sometimes there is a sobbing. It’s the sobbing of the man who had left his home to be away from his wife. He’s sobbing because he wants to go back.
Sometimes, when I walk through it I sit on the curb of a house I like. I sit there because the wind is nice on that spot, and when I do, sometimes I hear them. Inside the house there is laughter. It’s the laughter of the children playing in the yard. Inside the house I can hear the dishes. It’s the woman who’s cleaning the plates where her family has just eaten.
But they aren’t really there. I’ve checked on several occasions. I’ve confirmed that the houses are empty, that history is true, that the town burned down and that they are all dead. It’s them who keep the town like that. Alone. Frozen in time.
I’ve grown to like them and I think they’re getting used to me too. Just the other day, as I was about to leave it behind, on my way home, I ran across an old man. At the time it didn’t strike me as odd.
“Good evening.” He said. “‘Hope to see ya around here again soon, we have a dance next Sunday down at city hall. Don’t miss it.”
I went back on Sunday. I went down to city hall, but there was no one there. It’s okay. I wasn’t expecting anyone. It was simply an old man saying the words he said before the town burned down. Frozen in time. Frozen like the streets, like all the rest of the ghosts of Jonestown.