As some of you know, I’m irrationally terrified of bridges, particularly their dark underbellies. My mind comes up with imaginary worlds when I look into them… grim worlds… worlds that one can’t come back from.
Here is a brief glimpse at one of those worlds. Eventually, I’ll put together a whole collection about bridges. And not a single story will feature trolls. Some of my favorite writers have already taught me how to stand up to trolls.
Under the Bridge
by Curtis A. Deeter
Shadows over my shoulder, dancing at the corners of my vision. I look back, nothing there besides the cold breeze and a place I’ll never return. I look forward, a place I’ve avoided all these years.
The city is dark tonight. No moon, no stars, no fire left in its heart.
An alley cat knocks a planter off a sill. My own hearts races, faster than it already was. If it goes any faster, it’s going to beat right out of my chest, and I’m not strong enough to carry my heart in my hands anymore.
Someone is burning tires. The toxic smell and black smoke give them away. If they’re lucky, if I’m lucky, they’ll burn the whole neighborhood down.
I need to get out. I’ve known that for a long time. But in order to get out, I have to cross under the Bridge. No one’s crossed under the Bridge. At least no one who’s lived to tell us what’s on the other side.
As I draw closer, I shove my chapped hands in my coat pockets, stiffen my shoulders, and slow my pace. I’m ready, but I’m not ready. I’m alive, but I’m dead. Only the Bridge can bring me back, or hammer nails into my coffin.
There have always been stories about the Bridge. Mary McConnel’s boy was murdered under it, shot in the back of the head, execution style. Joe Dentman lost his virginity there, but he can’t remember the girl’s name. And no one has seen her since. Supposedly, there’s a portal to Hell tagged on its underbelly in black and red spray paint.
But I’m not afraid. All of those are things of myth. Hearsay. Ghost stories told in the night to keep us too afraid to leave.
Mary McConnel’s been off her meds since 2012 and off her rocker even longer. Joe Dentman, well, that kid will die a virgin, if you ask me. And as for a portal to Hell? I’m already in Hell, so I can’t imagine it taking me anywhere worse.
I can’t breathe. My calves cramp up. I feel the cold in my teeth, hear the night whisper from under the Bridge.
“You can’t do it,” it says. “You’re too afraid.”
Maybe I should turn around. Maybe things on this side will get better, after all. Then again, maybe they won’t.
I turn around, anyway. I haven’t gone too far… yet.
Dozens of masked figures block my escape. They’re wearing black hoodies, pulled tight against their misshapen bodies, and red cigarillo embers burn from within the blackness of their faces. I step forward, they step closer. I step to one side, they shift with me. I step back, towards the Bridge, and they remain motionless.
I guess my decision has been made. What lurks under the Bridge can’t be any worse.
Then why is my skin crawling? Why are my palms sweaty, my cheeks tight?
A train roars by, knocking dust and loose concrete onto the ground. It echoes from the Bridge’s maw like the cry of a monster. So, it gobbles me up; what other choice do I have?
Under the Bridge, my world turns black. Blacker than the night. Blacker than the smoke seeping out of the alleyways. Blacker than the formless faces barring my return. Something slithers across my Adidas, up my pant leg, and wraps around my ankle. It squeezes, fangs digging into bone. Something else reaches from the void, grabs my arm, and pulls me towards oblivion. I fight back. I flail and scream and cry until my eyes fall out.
“Hey,” a voice calls. Blue light of a cellphone envelopes me. For a second, I’m blind. “You okay down there?”
In the light, I see the snakes that slithered up my leg; a rusty section of razor wire, discarded when the old asylum was demolished. And the sleeve of my coat is caught on a nail sticking out of the concrete.
“You alright man?” he asks, taking my weight.
My knees are shaking, but I think I am. If not, I will be now that I’ve crossed under The Bridge. Now that I’m on the other side.