“Back in my hometown there was an old, steel bridge spanning a local river. The river was fed by a hydroelectric plant. As a consequence the water tended to be much colder than the season would dictate, and was much faster than the normal course of the river would allow.
It was not uncommon, on the harder days of my childhood, for me to go to the bridge and walk its length. I would do this over and over, distracting myself with the sound of the wood underfoot, noting the places where the sound was different. Those beams in between the steel struts had a particular sound. A deep, hollow tone.
On the cold days of winter the cold air would howl across the expanse. But the bridge was sturdy and took no notice. The steel turned a burnt orange with age and weathering, but the bridge remained strong. And it remained a place where I could go when I needed to feel safe or wanted to get away from everything. Away from my home.
When I became a teenager it became a place for the local boys to hang out, throwing rocks into the water and spitting off the edge. On the whole they left me alone, but often they wouldn't. One time some of the bigger kids grabbed me and held me over the edge. Never mind the fact that the water wasn't very deep at that time and the drop was significant.
They thought it was hilarious. As for me, I never got over my fear of heights, and would keep a greater distance from the edges of the bridge after that. I used to enjoy looking over the edge and watching the water flow. But after I developed a fear of heights that became impossible.
The bridge used to be a fine mix of the natural and the artificial. The sight of the water off the edge of the steel construction. But with my fear of heights two things changed. Firstly, I saw the bridge only as a artificial thing. And two, I could never recreate the feeling of security I used to have during my youth. Though God knows I tried.
Eventually, I began walking the bridge at night instead of the day. The bullies tended to go other places at night, so the bridge was mostly left to myself. Old, yellow lights would illuminate it, and many a night I would wander home just as the sun was beginning to rise.
I was walking one night when I saw an old man limping across the bridge. He had a dark, olive green suit and a pink shirt. His hair was thin and wispy, and his face was wrinkled and dusted with age spots. He held onto the railing as he went, and would cough in harsh fits every twenty feet or so.
This was a long time ago. We didn't think to be afraid of strangers. I went up to him and asked him if he needed any help. The old man chuckled a little, and as I got closer I could see his gums and lips were black.
“All I can get,” he responded. His voice was like glass on concrete.
I took his arm and began to walk him across. His skin was ice cold, and I found myself shivering despite the temperature.
“How have you been?” he asked.
I was instantly uncomfortable. He talked to me like he knew me, or at least was aware of me. But I assumed he had misspoke and was trying to be friendly, so I decided to go along with it.
“I've been alright. Yourself?”
The old man grimaced. He stopped and looked right at me. “You haven't been alight. Things at home have been getting worse. Less time with your family. More time on this bridge.”
I didn't know how to respond. How could he know these things about me.
“You let fear rule your life. You don't face it. You just crumble to it. Its why you walk at night. The fear of heights. Fear of people. I am here to help.”
He chuckled again and broke into a smile. But it wasn't a smile. Or was it? I am not sure. Sometimes I remember it one was and sometimes another. Sometimes its just a grin. Sometimes it is something worse.
I felt my head begin to ache. Worse than I had every felt before or since. I nearly passed out and fell to the ground, gripping the sides of my head.
“You are a coward John. That's okay. I'll be brave for you.”
My vision blacked out then. I could hear him. I could hear the sound of his old shoes on the old wood. The distinct hollow spots between the supported and the unsupported spots. He grabbed me. But he wasn't grabbing me. He was sinking. I was sinking into him. Him into me. I was cold. I was so very cold...
I don't remember waking up. I just was awake, walking towards the bridge...I walked along the edge. The fear was gone. I felt secure like I hadn't been in so long. I wandered the edges, stopping at last to stair into the water. To watch it move.
The were things in the water. This time of year, the water level was low. The bullies bodies. Once they were over the edge it was just a matter of gravity to take care of the rest. They simply were settled in the water, caught on the stones and the plants. The water cut around them. It took little notice. Just moved around them. They were in its way.
When I arrived on Wellington Street, I heard the stories of the Old Man. People around here are so damn scared of him. Me...I can't help but smile when I think of him. I'm still scared of heights, but sometimes I go back to my home town. I can look over the edge of the bridge and into the water. I can imagine the bodies. I can do it without fear.”
More of these damn stories. This one is interesting. First time I have ever heard of one of these “home grown” legends being talked about outside of Wellington Street. Old Man is an old legend. Heard about him as a kid.
Used to give me nightmares.
Have nightmares about other things now.
Police couldn't find any evidence on the cooler where I found my wife's face.
Thinking of the bridge.
It was unusually warm today.