Cotton Mayweather had three appointments January 16th. He’d been working nearly 15 hours through weather conditions that ran between blue sky and snow, sometimes in a few minutes. Nearly out of gas, completely out of food, and his abdomen filled to capacity, Cotton programmed his GPS for somewhere to address all these issues.
Quickly disoriented on the country roads, Cotton trusted his navigator on every turn until he reached an empty highway hung along a chain of hills above the tree-line. Surrounded by forest, a city was nestled in the valley below. Cotton took an unmarked exit and followed the slope past quaint houses with dark windows.
Bent toys and bicycles lay discarded in yards piled high with snow. There were no people in sight.
At first blaming the cold for keeping people inside, Cotton soon found the stores and shops were empty as well.
He paused to check the antique store with it’s OPEN sign still hung in the locked door. The streets had no cars parked and no pedestrians, and an eerie stillness hung, like the air was frozen. Cotton discovered a gas station, but found this dark and locked and pumps disabled as well.
Cotton was deep in the city when his car ran out of gas. There had been no service on his cellular phone for some time, and the Sun hung low in the sky already. Ill-prepared to sleep in his car, Cotton knew he’d be staying in this place whether he found an open hotel or not. Abandoning the car, Cotton set out to find suitable shelter.
Documenting his progress with the camera on his cell phone, Cotton explored red brick edifices that appeared to have stood sentinel for more than a century, with other buildings between barely a decade old.
Cracked blacktop streets had no cars or people, though several lots contained vehicles that had clearly not moved in years. Most storefronts were empty, but the few with stock in the window were locked as if the owners had closed one night and never returned. While Cotton did not see another living person during his exploration, he claimed there was evidence of recent activity. Certainly, his photos appear to show footprints and snow removal.
When the Sun went down, Cotton was shocked to find the street lights still came on. White globes illuminated the downtown.
This gave Cotton hope he was not alone, but eventually he assumed the power was automated. The last person out the door had not flipped the switch.
Clearly this city had emptied within Cotton’s remembered lifetime, but he could not recall an event that would have forced such an evacuation.
Taking shelter in an abandoned storefront, Cotton wrapped himself in dirty blankets evidently from vagrants.
He could not estimate how long he slept, but first thought it was the howling of wind between the building that awoke him.
Cotton told himself the shrieks and chants were his imagination, but the voices grew stronger each minute as if marching down the street to his camp.
He took refuge behind a display case. Feet pounded a beat to song and led the voices to slowly retreat. The sound grew steadily weaker and disappeared altogether.
Cotton remained hidden until the Sun gave the ghostly street lamps their rest.
The next morning, half-frozen and starved, Cotton hiked out of the valley to the forgotten highway. He was discovered wandering just after dark that night by two teenagers driving back-roads. Cotton was near death and could not recall his journey. His story was first regarded as the jabber of a madman unil Cotton released the 32 photos taken with his cell phone.
No record of an abandoned city could be uncovered.
Such a ruin would be clearly visible to airplanes. One of Cotton’s photos shows train tracks, but he could not find any lines that ran through the region.
Spotty details of Cotton’s past put his credibility in doubt, and he was accused of collecting the photos in the different cities and towns where he sold water-purification systems.
Cotton stuck to his story, but the media attention was short-lived.
Cotton tried to forget and return to normal life. Confronted on camera at a shopping mall the following Christmas, Cotton claimed his story had been a symptom of exposure.
Early that Spring, a pair of hikers led police to a burned out factory in the same forest.
They had stumbled upon the ruin and found animal bones and bloody messages scrawled across walls. A third hiker had gone missing while they explored, and no body was ever recovered.
One survivor showed Cotton photos taken during the ordeal. Cotton recognized geographic locations in the photos and believed he could locate the ruin from the factory. He studied maps and newspaper accounts, and visited local communities for stories of witchcraft and devil-worship going dating back more than a century. Children named it “Doom City.” A worm-eaten volume in a museum shack told of a massacre at the meeting of two rivers. Cotton had found such a confluence creating a natural amphitheater complete with alter in the middle of the city.
Cotton became obsessed, convinced he could locate the ruins himself. He left civilization late in May. After a phone call the following afternoon, Cotton Mayweather was never seen again.
According to witnesses, Cotton’s sister received e-mails from Cotton a year or more after his disappearance, sending cryptic messages and more photographs of an empty, titanic city.
Cotton’s sister, Cassandra, has not spoken to the public or released these photographs. The disappearance of Cotton Mayweather remains unsolved.