There is a mineshaft in a place you might know as Virginia City, a little historic town in northern Nevada with haunted bars, hotels filled with blood and cemeteries decorated with skeletons and baby cribs. This mineshaft is not difficult to get into; it is buried beneath a general store. All we had to do was pay the reasonable fee of $10 each and voila, the gate opens and down a shabby, groaning ramp we went. The descent is far lower than the store advertises, which claims a two story descent but is actually 10 story descent. Probably some legal reasons why they don’t list it, who knows. Anyway, the ramp turns into stairs, which are so frail it feels as though they might collapse with each step you take. Minus the measly, vintage light fixtures dangling from the walls, it is an abysmal darkness. It is impossible to avoid walking into cobwebs and there were many times I almost tripped on a loose, rusty nail and fell to my death.
I was with my boyfriend at the time, Brandt. We were both 20, underage in such a boozy town but our fake IDs have worked wonders before so I didn’t doubt they would work now. Growing up, we both loved going up to Virginia City and we wanted to have a little date for our six month anniversary.
The further we went down into the mineshaft, the more I wanted to turn back around. But every time I brought it up, Brandt told me we have to keep going because there was no way we were going to get our money back and he’ll be goddamned if he let $20 go to waste. And I tried to tell him that he could’ve let me pay for half because my parents gave me some extra money for our trip but noooo, he had to be a dumb chivalrous man about it and that lead into an argument about how it’s the 21st century, you don’t have to let women pay anymore if they don’t want you to and he was like “it’s the principal of the thing” and then we had a fight about principals and, long story short, we didn’t turn back around. That is how long this flight of stairs was; we were able to fight and resolve multiple different arguments.
Anyway, we continued to make the fateful trip down the stairs, and did I mention how much colder it became the further down we went? Mind you, I was in booty shorts and a tank top, so I was fucking shivering just halfway down. Brandt was in jeans and a tank, but he runs cold and would not stop bitching about it. I was really tempted to push him down the stairs because he wouldn’t shut up and I just wanted this dumb mineshaft trip over with. I could be looking at stupid shirts in a general store or using my fake ID in some random bar instead of this. But down we went, and the colder we got, and the more pissed we became at each other.
We stopped holding hands a long time ago, but after a moment of silence Brandt grabbed my hand and held me close, claiming he felt something graze his ankle. I was tempted to squat down and feel if there was something in the space between the slats in the stairs, but I didn’t want to entertain his childish fears because he has a history of crying wolf – I call it “youngest child syndrome” — and I just wanted to get out of there. So, I held his hand and told him it was probably just a cobweb or spider or something, who knows how many were crawling on us. We went down another story — or at least I think it was another story, it became really difficult to tell – when we both heard a faint laughter below us. It was like those stereotypical witch cackles, except this was deeper and lasted much longer. I tried to pretend that it was just our imaginations playing tricks on us, but the laughter just grew louder. Brandt and I looked at the dark outlines of each other’s faces and I could tell he wanted to get the hell out of here, $20 or no, and let me tell you I have never loved that man more than when we both took off running up the stairs.
But up the stairs was the worst thing we could’ve done. We only made it up three steps when a slat broke and our legs fell through it, our bodies slamming against the stairs behind us and breaking those, too. The pieces of wood and nails came tumbling down with us and it was at this moment that I realized I might die because my stupid boyfriend didn’t want to waste $20 at a Virginia City tourist attraction. Brandt hit the ground first and I fell flat on his arm. I heard a crack and we both screamed. For a moment we forgot the creepy cackling because we were in the worst pain of our lives. After a few short seconds we started to calm down a bit, and then the angry screaming started. We fought and talked over each other, my voice louder than I realized it could ever go – though maybe the vast powerful echo of the place helped with my volume. My relationship with Brandt was not a very happy one, suffice to say.
We were so pissed at each other, even though Brandt had no reason to be pissed at me and I had every reason to be pissed at him. We only stopped when we heard a loud door slam from far away. This was when the terror took hold of us again. We cried for help for a few minutes, but that was a lost cause because we were ten stories below ground and the teenager at the front desk of the general store looked like he’d rather be in the cemetery than working at the store. Even worse, our phones were completely out of service.
After a few deep breaths, we helped each other stand and leaned against one another. Getting up was miraculously not as difficult as I expected after falling down the stairs. We must’ve been closer to the bottom than we thought. Hobbling, we followed a faint light, which ended up being where the stairs ended, and there was a small little railroad that lead into a subtly green lit hallway.
Brandt and I crept past a curtain and entered a bright room that reeked of dust and death. It took our eyes a moment to register the light when we realized it was completely, wall to ceiling to wall, covered in bones. Most of the bones were disconnected, but there were a few fully clothed skeletons wearing hardhats and dusty pleated trousers with soot all over their faded, ripped shirts. There were clumps of hair next to one skeleton, and the toes of a boney foot were sticking out of the shoe of another. Brandt and I were too stunned to do anything until the cackling started up again. And now we could see who I it was coming from.
In the far corner of the room, next to the door with a sign that read EXIT in bright red, a figure was rocking back and forth in a chair as creaky as the broken stairs far above us. The figure was wearing a construction hat and suspenders, like a miner from the Silver Rush. Brandt and I inched closer to exit, leaning against the wall so we could maintain our distance. The thing in the chair had long white wiry hair. Crooked teeth poked through its thin cheeks from all angles, dried blood crusted on its lips, and the skin on its neck drooped so far down I could’ve sworn it was melting. Its shirt was ripped open, revealing broken and missing bones where the ribs should be. As the thing rocked back and forth in its chair, its laughter changed volume and tone. It tapped its fingers against the arm rests and its toes against the floor, all of which were covered in a slimy sore muscle. Each digit stuck to the wood before lifting into the air, blood and an oozing film sticking to the surface.
My first instinct was to book it as fast as I could, get in my car, and drive Brandt and me to the nearest hospital our sore bodies could find. Yet we weren’t able to pass the laughing body. It wasn’t blocking the exit, we could’ve simply walked past it, but something was holding us back. We stared at the thing in the chair, entranced with its rhythm. I don’t know how much time passed, how long we stared at it, until it suddenly stopped cackling and stood. It walked over and whispered something in my ear, then took a hold of Brandt’s hand and led him away to a different part of the room neither of us noticed before. Brandt disappeared behind a curtain with the figure, and I was left all alone. For a moment, I wasn’t sure which direction to go, what to do.
But you already know what I did.
You know I didn’t go after Brandt. I don’t know what happened to him, and I didn’t waste any more time in this terrifying mine shaft under the general store. My body was cold and my heart was colder. I opened door and you can’t imagine how relieved I was to find a set of stairs that went up into daylight. They looked brand new, at least newer and in better shape than the broken ones. I ran, walked, crawled up them, listening to the heavy door slam behind me as I reached the surface. My phone’s service was restored, but I didn’t know who to call. I just sat on a bench on waited.
A few moments later, Brandt appeared out of thin air and sat next to me without a word. His presence had changed and he smelled terribly. He was quiet and rocked back and forth, wincing in pain with each movement. We were silent, then quietly walked to my car. I drove us to the hospital. I had broken Brandt’s arm when I fell on it and our ankles and backs were sprained, but that was as far as the physical damage went. I dropped him off at his apartment then drove myself home and went to bed. I stared at my ceiling, the darkness suffocating me. I had to turn my nightlight on.
Brand stopped talking to each other after that. We really officially break up, but it was over between us the minute he sat next to me on that bench. I texted and called him a few times; he never responded. I ran into him a few months ago at a summer food truck event. We made eye contact for a minute and he looked sad, exhausted. That was the last time I saw him.
I don’t know what happened to him down there in that mine shaft when I left him. I don’t know where he is now.