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Weirton, WV

Weirton, WV


Only a generation ago Weirton, West Virginia was a thriving boomtown built on a foundation of sweat and hard work. At the center of it all, with smokestacks flaring and machines whirring twenty-four hours a day, was the Steel Mill— the great, mechanical heart of the city. Employing nearly the entire nearby workforce, the Mill continuously pumped out the molten lifeblood of the region: steel, sourced from iron and coal mined deep from within the Appalachian Mountains. Weirton was a city of metal and industry. There was a time when the iron hung so heavy in the air that a fine red coating of rust clung to every surface in the town. The rust permeated everything, the buildings, the trees, the ground, even the people. But Weirton’s heart couldn’t beat forever and the Mill began to die.

They say it happened slowly at first, a few layoffs here and there, but soon entire divisions were liquefied. Massive sliding doors were chained shut and locked tight. Lights were cut and the great furnaces of Weirton extinguished. The Mill became little more than a monument to the past, left to rust neglected and abandoned in the middle of the city. The people of Weirton simply live around it now. Bridges pass through its grounds, shoddy tenements butt up against its chain-link borders. I would imagine the people of Weirton barely even notice the Mill anymore. Every now and then, with barely anyone around to notice, a building or two go missing, torn down and sold for scrap. The only value left to be found in the great Mill is in whatever usefulness they can rip out of it.

Standing in both stark contrast and mocking parallel on the far edge of the city is the Scrapyard, a rusting graveyard of twisted iron and steel cordoned off by cruel barbed wire and chain-link. Resting just off the interstate exit, it now serves as a harsh welcome to anyone brave enough to venture off the main road and into the city. The Scrapyard now greets those few wayward travelers with Weirton’s own mountain range of jagged, rusty peaks scraping mercilessly against the sky.  From here those leftover pieces of the Mill are torn apart and resold, it is a veritable black market for the city’s organs. The city still produces metal, only from a different source, cannibalizing their own heart a little at a time.

Unless some faceless customer has just bought up a pile of scrap metal, there is very little life within the confines of the Scrapyard, no plants, no animals, not even the quintessential junkyard dog barking ceaselessly against the background noise of the city. Occasionally, however, you may see a small front end loader making its rounds from heap to heap and in its seat the sole occupant of the Scrapyard, Greg Cotton. And for a long time very few people in Weirton even knew Mr. Cotton’s name let alone that anyone even worked among those mountains of steel, but then a relatively unassuming headline in the local paper caught the city’s interest and Mr. Cotton’s name and occupation were quickly thrust into Weirton’s spotlight. The article’s title read, quite simply, Man Found Wounded In Scrapyard.

The  details provided by the paper were vague at best. They simply explained, in rather uncertain terms, that one Mr. Greg Cotton, a long-time employee of the City of Weirton and supervisor for the Weirton Scrapyard, had been found gravely wounded. The injuries, it said, appeared to be the results of a wild animal attack, but that assault had not been completely ruled out. It concluded by stating that an investigation into the cause of the attack was pending and that anyone witnessing anything unusual the night of the attack or with any information pertinent to the case was asked to contact the Weirton Police Department. It was the details that the paper left out at the behest of the police commissioner, and that eventually leaked to the public by way of some unknown source, that sent the town into a frenzy. Something new now pumped through the aging veins of Weirton: fear.

The wounds that Greg Cotton suffered that night and the scene discovered by his brother, Warren, the next morning were far more grisly than the paper let on. When Warren stopped by to see his brother, having not heard from him after work the night before, he was certain that he had been killed. Lying amidst a bed of rusty spikes, some of which tore savagely at his flesh, was Greg. His chest, torn open by some unknown assailant, glistened sickeningly in the early morning light. Dark blood pooled beneath him, still dripping from the tattered remains of his work jumpsuit and mingling with the powdered rust that lay thick across the entirety of the Scrapyard. Warren rushed to his brother’s side expecting the worst, but was both relieved and horrified to hear ragged breathing and faint signs of life coming from Greg’s mangled frame.

When the emergency response team finally arrived, they were genuinely baffled at his survival. Based just on the amount of blood found at the scene, they couldn’t imagine how Greg had managed to hold on all through the night. On top of that, the severity of his wounds should have sealed his fate, but they eventually chalked it up to sheer force of will and a desire to keep living. At the hospital, doctors warned Warren that his brother’s chances of survival were not good, but he insisted that his brother was a fighter and would pull through. Not even Warren’s tentative optimism could have predicted his recovery over the next few days.

Within a day Greg had regained consciousness, much to the amazement of both his brother and the medical staff. Two days later he was out of intensive care and taking his first unaided steps in physical therapy. By the end of the week he had escaped the hospital, leaving behind him two dead security guards, most of a nurse, and countless injured staff members. The manhunt that followed lasted for weeks and the complete remains of that attending nurse were never recovered.

Word spread swiftly after Greg’s escape from the hospital. It was just whispers at first, that there had been an accident and a lot of people were hurt, but the gruesome details of the attack were on everyone’s lips by the next day. With the police remaining quiet on the matter while they investigated, people came up with their own theories and outrageous tales of gunmen, lunatics, and even terrorists were tossed around. But amid the survivors, those people unlucky enough to have seen the horror that erupted from Greg Cotton’s hospital room that night, there was silence. Witnesses refused to tell their stories and the press was continually denied interviews. Many of the injured became veritable recluses, shuttering themselves away inside their homes. The lack of information only served to feed the public’s fears as panic gripped the city tighter than ever. With all eyes on the hospital, no one seemed to notice when the first wisps of smoke made their way into the sky as the great furnaces of the Mill burned for the first time in a generation.


Long-dead machinery was bathed in the sickly orange glow of molten metal as life was slowly breathed back into the Mill. Wild rushes of biting air tore bitterly through the halls, pulled inside by the sudden change in temperatures. Eddies of swirling rust danced in corners and doorways while the footprints of the first visitor the Mill had seen in years were quietly wiped away. Any trace of the final resting place of Greg Cotton, or at least what was once Greg Cotton, was lost to the wind as a particularly heavy cloud of rust snaked its way between the rows of glowering furnaces and out the door before finally being lost to the cold night sky. Crippled but alive, Weirton’s heart was beating again and its fires burned like never before. With no workers to monitor it, the remaining steel boiled away unimpeded.

Come sunrise the next day, the entire town was choked in a thick brown fog. Rust hung heavy in the air, heavier than it ever had. Even during the height of Weirton’s steel production the town had never seen a day like this. Things only got worse as the day wore on. Soon a thick coat of red clung to everything. Weirton was locked in a monochrome nightmare of rust. People attempted to go about their day at first, but most hastily found the fog too oppressive to tolerate for more than a few moments. With the attack at the hospital still fresh in their minds, this new catastrophe only fueled the fire and the public’s fear reached fever pitch. The breaking point came that afternoon.


Both the police and the news had been urging citizens to stay inside unless absolutely necessary, but by late afternoon phone lines were buzzing with reports of crowds gathering in the fog. Obscured by the rust, callers claimed they could just make out masses of people wandering the abandoned roads. The calls quickly became more and more outlandish, it wasn’t just people now, impossible silhouettes were seen moving in depths of the rust. The piercing cries of metal on metal echoed through the city and rumbling footsteps shook the ground as dark, towering shapes made their way through the baleful mist. Frantic callers reported seeing neighboring houses engulfed in a flurry of red as their residents were drawn screaming from their homes. Through screams of her own, one terrified woman told police that her son had forced his way out of their home, madly fumbling at the door with rust-stained hands. Madness descended on Weirton.

At the center of it all, glowing with hateful intensity, was the Mill. Ancient smokestacks billowed out continuous streams of sickening vapor and white hot vats of steel burned violently. The fog hung thickest here, clinging to air around this forgotten monument to Weirton’s past. With people trapped in their homes and the city rapidly descending into pure chaos, there was no one to bear witness to the monstrosities that crept from the open bay doors of the Mill, nor should anyone have wanted to. All through the night and well into the next morning, abominations of hate and rust and rage poured from the Mill only to disappear into the ever-thickening fog.

The city’s infrastructure rapidly began to fail. With phone lines down, citizens could no longer call the already non-responsive police force and had to watch in helpless terror as the creeping layer of rust began to find its way into their homes. The people found themselves assailed by wretched shapes that clawed mercilessly at every opening and could only fight back with impotent weapons against any that managed to find their way in. For the people of Weirton, Armageddon came at the hands of their own creation. Fueled by a forsaken relic that would be ignored no longer.

And salvation came only by chance.


The first few drops of rain went wholly unnoticed. However, as puddles began to form, the intolerable fog finally showed the first signs of relenting. Where vision had been obscured by an endless sea of red, now a impenetrable downpour descended on the city. Even the Mill, burning with its white hot rage, failed in the face of this deluge. The malignant haze grew thinner and thinner while the dark umber rapids coursing their way down the city streets grew ever deeper, working to carry away the hateful rust. Still sealed inside their homes, the survivors breathed a collective sigh of relief as Weirton’s unearthly plague was washed away.

With the sunrise, people began to venture from their homes to wander the newly-cleansed streets bewildered. Piles of soggy, harmless rust still clogged the drains and gutters, but all threat seemed to have gone with the previous day’s rain. A sense of normalcy returned over the next several days as people returned to their lives and the Ohio River ran less and less red. The greatest gift mankind has for facing the unknown is the merciful ability to forget, or to choose to forget. And the residents of Weirton chose to forget. There hadn’t been anything in the fog. There was no creeping rust or monstrous shapes, just mass delusion. Clearly after the uncertainty over the attack at the hospital, a series of unfortunate events had caused everyone to overreact. And of the people who had gone missing, some had moved away before all this, some had been in industrial accidents, some had simply gone home. The was a rational explanation for the whole thing. Just like there always is.

And bolstered by this rational thinking, no one dared to noticed one night as a final obscene shape made its shadowy way from the mouth of the Mill, through the dark streets of Weirton, and into the darkness of the Appalachian forests.