The town of Stony Ridge had long since gone down in the books of history as a lost cause; calling it a ghost town was being generous.
No one really knew exactly what happened to the town; the exodus from it was just as mysterious and mythical as the city itself. Some said it was a plague, a sickness spreading like wildfire, and whoever survived had fled, eager to start a new chapter in another place. Others said that a civil war of sorts had broken out, clans breaking down in the middle like weakened tree branches, brothers turning on sisters, fathers on sons, leaving nothing but blood in its wake. There were as many stories and myths as there were people, and it was near impossible to discern fact from fiction.
Everyone knew that the desert was unforgiving, harsh and controlled by nature rather than man. But that hadn’t stopped people from migrating, often with their families in tow. Desperate to eke out a living, with or without the government’s aid, the town had grown bit by bit, a quiet, lonely refuge from the sand and sun, making money here and there from travelers passing through.
There had been a fragile, tenuous peace, when the O’Malley family came to Stony Ridge; they were easily the richest folks in town, and they could afford to live on the hill outside of town, ringed with green, prickly succulents that grew higher with each passing day; it was almost as if they were protecting the newcomers from the rabble that lived below. They were just and fair, and they were kind, even though they went out of their way to separate themselves from the other townspeople.
And then one of the other clans, a son that had convinced his family that the O’Malleys were sporting to take over, to wipe out everyone that had been there before, and pad their own pockets with money made from bringing their own family members and friends from far away.
Though there was no real proof, everyone knows that in a small town, gossip, even at its most harmless, is nothing less than potent poison.
By the time the rumor had reached the townspeople that hadn’t been swayed by the man’s words, it was too late; the cottage was in flames, casting a rainbow of warm colors down the hill. By the time someone had made the climb, all that remained of the O’Malleys was the ring of cacti, and the bodies of the family lay twisted and mangled, torched beyond identification.
The exodus began after the murders; no one wanted to stay and see the wicked family that had killed the O’Malleys ascend to the throne on the hill, having paid their way to it in blood and suffering. A couple here, a family there, and soon all that remained was the family that had taken over in a violent coup, and their descendants.
And then the desert had claimed all of them as well.