October is the season of scares and new snow. What better setting than the old bars of Silverton for a ghost story?
There’s a large, wood-framed mirror behind what was once the Miner’s Tavern Bar in Silverton, Colorado. It has been there for more than 100 years, reflecting the faces of Europeans in search of silver, Ivy League poets living like drunk monks at the end of the road and ski bums who ride the double chairlift to hike the West Face ridge in search of powder just outside of town.
In 1918, the town stacked bodies in the bar when Spanish Influenza killed 10 percent of the local population. They rotted like infected cordwood. Dozens of others had their whiskey or gin here and then went out to die from avalanche, mine collapse or hypothermia. A dance hall girl once caught a stray bullet, and was buried in the cemetery on the hill.
It gets so cold, and the snow so deep, up in the high San Juans, that the dead have to wait for summer until someone can dig a hole. Maybe that’s why people who work on the second floor sometimes hear music and loud voices coming up the stairs even when the bar is closed.
What memories does a mirror hold? Bob Cross was an investor from Manhattan who went to the Miner’s Tavern for drinks with his old friend Lefty, a red-bearded childhood friend from Maine who became a ski patroller at Jackson Hole. Since college, they set aside a week to ski together every year.
Up at Silverton Mountain, Bob and Lefty enjoyed the deepest, steepest powder they had ever shared. Dropping over a knoll, Bob found himself floating in chest-deep turns of such bottomless soft snow, he felt as if he were carving across a cloud.
“We didn’t even take a picture for Instagram,” he realized at the bar.
Lefty joked, “If a skier gets a faceshot, and no one takes a picture, did it really happen?”
They were both stoned on the legal weed and soft powder, and two tequilas and several beers without any food since noon. Bob was tired and dehydrated. He had put on weight and not trained for the annual ski adventure as he had in previous years.
He felt as if someone was watching him. Or wanted his beer. When he glanced up, he saw two older skiers sitting directly across from them, and nodded to Lefty, “That’s us in 10 years.”
Lefty looked back at Bob and laughed, “That’s a mirror, asshole.”
Bob said, “Wow. Man. Maybe we should order some food.”
He was just 40, set for life from making Wall Street money, with a beautiful wife and two perfect kids back home. Except the guy glaring right back at Bob in the mirror was in his 50s for sure—and angry. He slit his eyes in response to Bob’s broad smile.
It gave him a shiver, how every dead drunk in the world would suck out his soul for one more hour on that stool. And he tried to find other things to watch in the mirror: the people playing pool, country two-steppers or the drunk mewling along to Lynyrd Skynyrd, “Tuesday’s gone with the wind…” Yet every time he glanced back, he saw that dark version of himself with the stone-faced stare.
He remembered the first time he took mushrooms in high school, freaking out and grinning like a fool, when he said, “What’s happenin’?” to a passerby.
“What isn’t?” was the reply.
That stopped him cold. It made him think of lonely lakes, still streams and basement bathroom mirrors waiting for some reflection to hold. Of photographs frozen in time, with the past looking right into the eyes of the present, pinned against a bare white wall.
And when Bob looked up again, all hell had broken loose. The mirror was like an open window, a stretched glass bubble torn with the retching, mildewed faces and flesh-shorn arms of a hundred clawing ghosts. The smell stung his face like a century of thirsty skeletons cresting across the glass of stagnant, brackish water, their mouths agape in Gore-Tex, wool and fur.
Bob Cross felt dizzy as he turned to Lefty and said, “Dude,” then slipped like whiskey being poured onto the floor.
When he awoke, Bob found himself in a crowded corridor, filled with people waiting to use a bathroom down the hall. Except the line never moved. No one said a word. Everyone just stood there, looking at their shoes, waiting for that fleeting moment when they could glance back out at what was real.
The coroner said Bob Cross died of a heart attack, brought on by his lack of fitness, dehydration and the altitude. And when the airlines shipped his body back to the East Coast, his family sent a letter asking how he had aged so much on the return home.
Sometimes, after the lights are out at the old Miner’s Tavern, people say they hear a rising pitch that vibrates like a swarm of cicada under ice from behind the bar. It is the sound of Bob Cross, screaming from the other side of the mirror.