Welcome to Hell
When we lit the fires, we had no idea how severe the repercussions would be. It was part of the "Rejuvenation" plan for our little mining town. The landfill was an eyesore and the town officials arranged for the fire department to set controlled fires while new refuse was shipped to a larger dump away from our piece of the American dream.
Despite the warnings offered by the fire chief, the council insisted. The dried leaves that fell from the autumn trees settled amongst the heaps of old furniture, plastic trash bags, and fermented food stuffs that had become readily combustible. Not long after, the dream became a nightmare as the pit fire ignited an exposed coal vein, triggering a rapid chain of events.
The "controlled" fires spread into the mines following the anthracite load, feeding hungrily and creating deep crevices beneath the surface of our town. Streets buckled and cracked. Black and yellow smoke filled the air as ashes drifted down like gray snow. Sinkholes formed, releasing sulfur gases and condemning the structural integrity of many homes. We reinforced the buildings with brick framework braced against the exterior walls and attempted to make repairs to the asphalt and concrete. This was our town and we refused to let it die.
Fissures in the ground appeared faster than we could fill them and after a month, the earth itself began to groan. The fire that now lived underneath released something more horrifying than the toxins the state government claimed we were subjected to. They crawled out from the cracks and holes, flesh as ashen as what coated our homes and eyes as black as the anthracite that lay burning within the mines. More frightening were their bodies. They resembled miners that had met their deaths since the operation began, loved ones that had passed on years before, and even some figures that were represented in historical photographs. Ghosts of the past.
Their hunger was as voracious as the flames that ignited their existence. Overnight, the creatures devoured nearly every resident of the town, save a handful. One-thousand four-hundred and twenty-three souls consumed, nothing left but a finger bone or a tooth in the place the person had been captured surrounded by a small pile of smoldering embers. Witnessing the act was terrifyingly beautiful as the wisps of smoke engulfed its victim and dragged the body to the gaping maw of the creature that controlled it. With a touch from a withered hand, the person transformed into a screaming charcoal briquette before being inhaled bit by burning bit.
Appetites sated, the demons left only six of us alive, crawling back into the ground. But it wasn’t without a cost to our own souls. We were bound to our town with our vow of loyalty and with it the creatures that came from beneath. The government attempted to make us evacuate, not knowing what had truly occurred before they arrived to quarantine the area. Assuming the others had relocated, our town was essentially wiped from existence. Our postal code was repealed and we were taken off of every known modern map. When GPS was created, our coordinates were deleted. But still, we live here, all but forgotten.
Many travelers and seekers of curiosities manage to find our little town, whether by accident or actively researching obscure records. They leave their mark with graffiti on the broken highway along the smoking cracks, oblivious to the evil that lives beneath their feet. Perhaps they can sense it. Often, references in the street art reflect this. In large white capital letters on the asphalt, “Welcome to Hell”. Some will find us keeping our streets clean and mowing our lawns. Over five-hundred houses were demolished since the incident, leaving only four, the church and a few business fronts. But we still have pride in the place we call home. Most of our visitors come during October, looking for a thrill before Halloween, wondering if the urban legends are true, hoping to see ghosts. We welcome them and tell them the stories of days gone by and the glory of what the town once was.
For fifty years the fires have burned. The ash has ceased falling, but smoke still seeps from the fissures and sinkholes, covering the ground like an unholy fog. And each year during the autumn months, the creatures clamber up from their resting place in the smoldering coal and sulfur. We wait for them, ready with their food supply. We are the gatekeepers of Hell.
Author’s Note: In 1962, the fire department in the town of Centralia, PA lit the landfill on fire to “tidy up” for the Memorial Day celebration. A coal vein caught fire and quickly ignited the mines. The fires have been burning ever since. It is believed by some that the fire is now traveling toward Ashland. There are five residents in Centralia and they are still fighting in court to keep their homes which were “officially” taken under eminent domain. They claim that there is no longer any fire or toxin hazard, accusing the government of trying to steal millions of dollars in mineral rights. Many people still visit the burning town out of curiosity even though Route 61 is no longer a functioning highway and Centralia is considered non-existent by state officials.