Saturday, January 14, 2012

Death of a Ghost Town

Death of a Ghost Town—No.60W of Sundance Western: Illustrated World Library Series published by World Distributors (Manchester) Ltd, UK—is the story of an abandoned town called Richville in California. Set in 1880 at the time of the gold rush, the town, a typical cluster of wooden structures, is deserted except for a lone bandit and gold digger called Welton who is desperately searching for old Orson’s gold stashed in one of the houses.

About half-a-day’s journey from Richville, a stagecoach is making its way to an unknown destination when three masked men on horseback ambush it and kidnap one of the occupants, a young boy. The gun toting men bring the boy to Richville, which they’d heard of before, and lock him up in one of the houses and leave on an errand.

It’s clear at the outset that the gangsters have mistaken the young lad for a rich man’s son and kidnapped him with the intention of claiming ransom from his father. Now the boy’s father, a poor man, works for the rich man whose son they were actually supposed to abduct. But the hoodlums don’t know this.

The gold digger, who is no paragon of virtue, watches quietly from a distance. He knows what the men are up to and, in their brief absence, hatches a plot to whisk the boy away and claim the ransom for himself. “This is another way of making a bit of cash without working hard for it,” he thinks to himself.

The bandit rescues the boy who instantly realises that he is in the clutches of just another rotten scoundrel, but there’s no escape. The bearded man tells the boy, “I’m not one of the same breed as those three rogues. I said right away when I saw you in their hands: ‘I will help him. This poor kid’.” The young lad is far from reassured.

Even as the two set out toward the bandit’s horse, the gangsters return, forcing the two to hide in one of the other houses. Not aware of the gold digger’s presence, the men think that the boy has escaped and is hiding somewhere nearby. The men call out to the boy and when he fails to appear, one of them, who looks to be the gang leader, begins to set the houses on fire — “The one way to make him come out quick. You’ll see!”

His two accomplices are not convinced this ploy will work and as they argue, an interesting story is unfolding inside, where the boy tells his so-called benefactor that if they ever leave the place alive his father would surely reward him. “But my father is poor!” he says, to Welton’s disbelief. “What did you say?”

As the gangsters continue to squabble outside, the boy realises why he has been kidnapped. “Ah! Now I’ve got it. They thought they were kidnapping the boss’s son who should have made the trip. They mistook me to be the boss’s son!”

By now the house in which they are hiding is also torched and as the flames begin to lick at the dilapidated wooden structure, Welton orders the boy out so that he can escape by the back door. But the boy refuses to leave the bandit to whom he says, “They would kill you if they saw that you tried to save me. I’ll stay with you. Let’s try and find a way for both of us to escape.”

Welton is stunned and even as he tries to make sense out of the boy’s words, the ceiling collapses, but he is pulled to safety by the young lad. What happens next is equally bewildering for the bandit who discovers the hidden gold under the debris.

Outside, the gangsters are caught in a gunfight and eventually part ways and leave town.

As the fire spreads rapidly and destroys all the houses in the ghost town, Richville, for the first time, sees “a gesture of generosity and affection” which isn’t lost on Welton who takes the boy home.

Photo: Scanned cover of my copy of the western comic-book.

You can read my review of two short stories by Anton Chekhov at


  1. I bet there are literally thousands of books I'd love that I've never heard of because of where they were published. this sounds like a fun one.

  2. Charles, this one is actually a pocket-sized western comic that I picked up recently. I thought it was good material for a short story review. The ideal thing would have been to scan the comic-book and post it here.