“You’re kidding me.”
Austin shook his head. “Nope. It’s going to be awesome.”
Ashley giggled and sipped her coffee. “No way,” she said. “I’m totally not going.”
“Please?” Austin whined. “Pretty please?”
“Why don’t you take Timmy with you.”
He gave her his best puppy-dog eyes. The crowd was relatively sparse as they sat at a table in the corner of their neighborhood Starbucks with their drinks and pastries. It was their typical Saturday morning routine.
“Because I would rather share this experience with you.”
“Gina’s not letting him out of the house tonight, huh?”
“I’m deeply hurt honey,” he said, feigning pain. “I love you and want to spend my Friday night with you.”
“Yeah, it’s their anniversary or something,” he said. “But that doesn’t change the fact that I love you.”
Ashley rolled her eyes but still smiled. She was near the edge and he knew that he just needed to give her one last little shove to send her toppling over.
“C’mon, babe,” Austin said. “You’re the one who said we needed to get out and have adventures a little more often.”
“I was talking about like Disneyland or going out hiking or something.”
“Well, this is sort of like Disneyland and hiking all rolled into one,” he said. “C’mon, it will be a ton of fun.”
She took a bite of her blueberry scone and smiled. “Call me crazy but I don’t think running around in the dark, scared out of my mind, screaming my head off sounds like a ton of fun.”
“It’d be fun for me.”
Ashley laughed and threw a bit of her scone at him. “I scare easy, you know that.”
“I’ll be right there with you, babe,” he said. “Nothing is going to happen to you.”
“So if some crazy homeless guy with a chainsaw comes at us,” she said. “You’ll jump in the way and let him hack you to pieces so I can get away, right?”
“Probably. Most likely,” Austin said and smiled. “I’m pretty sure I would anyway.”
She giggled again. “You’re such an ass.”
“Come on, Ash,” Austin begged. “For me? Just come check it out. It’ll be fun. I swear it.”
She sighed dramatically. “Fine. If it means this much to you, I’ll go.”
He leaned over the table and kissed her on the cheek.
“You are the best,” he said. “You won’t regret this.”
“No, but when I’m bitchy tomorrow because you kept me up so late, you might.”
“So what is this place again?” Ashley asked.
Austin had gotten off of the dark, two-lane highway and had driven down a smaller road. The weeds growing up through the asphalt and the forest pressing close on either side of the car testified to the road’s disuse.
“Officially, it’s called the Lemon Creek Bridge,” he said. “But most people just call it the Bloody Bridge.”
“Charming,” she replied. “You really know how to wine and dine a girl.”
“Romance is my middle name.”
Pulling on to a wide shoulder, he stopped and parked the car. The road ahead was blocked by a large gate put up by the city bearing a warning that trespassers would be fined. Despite the impediment and threat, a sizeable collection of tire tracks, footprints, beer cans, food wrappers and other assorted debris showed that it was still a pretty popular place.
“We’re going to have to walk from here,” he said. “Don’t worry, it’s not far.”
She sighed, opened her door and got out. “For the record, this already isn’t more fun than Disneyland.”
Austin laughed, took her hand and they stepped on to a well-worn path that led around the gate. It was a warm spring evening and the full moon hung high in the sky and cast the world in a monochromatic light. They walked hand in hand down the center of the abandoned road. The air around them was filled with the sound of birds taking flight and small animals scurrying through the underbrush as they approached.
“See?” Austin started. “This is kind of romantic, isn’t it?”
Ashley rolled her eyes but smiled. “Just so you know, I prefer flowers and a nice dinner out.”
“I’ll keep that in mind next time.”
Gravel and dirt crunched beneath their feet as they walked in companionable silence for a while. Austin loved the way he and Ashley could enjoy a simple silence between them. Though they loved talking and spent hours upon hours doing just that, sometimes it was nice to just enjoy each other without a lot of unnecessary words. They could just “be” and that was okay.
“So what’s the story with this place anyway?” Ashley finally asked.
“The bridge was built a little more than a hundred years ago,” he said. “Apparently, it was a popular spot to commit suicide. They say that dozens of people have thrown themselves off of it down in the river below.”
“Back in the day, there was a pretty heavy Klan population around here,” he continued. “And they loved hanging people from the bridge. It was a warning to stay away from the town if you weren’t white.”
“And it just gets better.”
Austin smiled at her; he loved ghost stories and creepy old legends. Visiting supposedly haunted sites made him feel like a kid on Christmas morning.
“But back in the early 60’s,” he lowered his voice to a dramatic whisper. “A woman suspected that her husband was cheating on her so one night, she followed him and his mistress to this very bridge. As they were walking across it, she snuck up behind them and buried an axe in his skull. Somebody happened to be driving across the bridge and saw the woman murder the mistress with the axe before throwing herself into the river. She was never seen again.”
Ashley shook her head and hugged herself. “I’m sorry I asked.”
“They say that you can hear the moans and cries of the dead,” Austin went on. “And on the night of the full moon, you can supposedly see the ghosts of the murdered man and his mistress wandering across the bridge.”
“This is definitely less fun than Disneyland,” she said. “By far.”
Laughing, Austin took her hand and led her around a small bend in the road. Bathed in bright, silvery moonlight, the Bloody Bridge stood before them. Excitement coursed through Austin’s body as he looked at the rickety old covered wooden structure. Night birds chirped high up in the trees and the gentle sound of the gurgling river filled the still air around them.
“I don’t know about this,” Ashley whispered. “Can we just go back to the car?”
He smiled and pulled her forward with him. Reluctantly, she followed.
“C’mon, we won’t stay too long,” he said. “I just want to check it out.”
Austin walked them to the foot of the bridge and Ashley planted her feet.
“That thing doesn’t look safe,” she said. “I’m not going on that thing. And you shouldn’t either.”
“They built things better way back when,” he said as he let go of her hand and stepped onto the bridge. “This thing will last forever.”
She shook her head. “Well when you fall through the bottom into the river, don’t even think I’m not going to say I told you so.”
“I know nothing would please you more.”
“Being at home on the couch with a chick flick and a glass of wine would actually.”
Smiling, he took a camera out of his bag and handed it to her and paused. “Did you hear that?”
“Ssshhhh,” he whispered. “Listen.”
He strained his ears and heard what he thought sounded like a voice, moaning low as if it were in agony. A chill ran up his spine as he looked over at Ashley. She rolled her eyes but he could see the flicker of uncertainty behind them.
“It was the wind,” she said. “Or the sound of the river.”
“Maybe.” Though he had to concede that she could have been right, he desperately wanted to believe otherwise.
“Definitely,” Ashley replied.
“Do me a favor and just start snapping some pictures,” he said. “I’m going to go out on the bridge and take a look around.”
“And then we can go?”
“You’re not getting scared are you?”
She playfully punched him in the shoulder. “Shut up. No, I just want to get home and watch Jersey Shore.”
He shook his head. “And you question my taste in entertainment?”
“Go,” she said. “Do what you need to do and let’s begone from this place.”
Laughing, Austin turned and walked out onto the bridge as Ashley started snapping pictures with his digital camera. The wooden bridge groaned and creaked ominously beneath his feet. He could see that moss and lichen had taken over whole sections of wood and that the bridge was in a serious state of decay. They may have built things better back in the day but nothing lasted forever apparently.
Slipping another camera out of his bag, Austin stopped to snap some photos from inside of the covered bridge. When he’d been researching this place online, he’d seen dozens of pictures containing “orbs” and a variety of different supposedly supernatural or paranormal things. None of them looked even remotely credible or believable to him so he wanted to document something real on his own. He turned back to see Ashley still looking around, randomly snapping photographs.
The sound of the river was a soft but persistent gurgling inside of the covered bridge and the rustling of birds in the rafters overhead could be heard. It was all sort of like the sound of a freeway when you were inside your house though… you knew it was there and could hear it if you paid attention to it otherwise it was like a low, thrumming, white noise in the background that you didn’t take notice of. It was somewhat peaceful inside of the Bloody Bridge.
Standing at about the halfway point of the bridge, Austin snapped a few more pictures before stepping to the side railing and looking down at the river below. His body shuddered and his heart seemed to skip a beat when he saw what looked like a woman’s body floating in the water below him. He peered down through the gloom harder, trying to positively identify what he was seeing when a sudden and pervasive chill enveloped his body. His breath came out in steamy plumes as he stepped back from the side of the bridge, his heart suddenly thundering in his chest and adrenaline flooding through his body.
“You are mine. You are not hers. Never hers.”
The voice was low. Threatening. Menacing. It sent waves of fear washing over Austin. He stood rooted in place as a feeling of malevolence wrapped itself around him. As suddenly as the cold and the fear had come on however, it vanished just as quickly. There one moment, gone the next. The warm evening air returned as did the sounds of the birds and the river. The paralysis broken, Austin blinked and looked around, fear still making his heart pound away inside of his chest. The thought that he needed to get out of there fast suddenly flared in his mind which sent him into a near panic and he sprinted back down the bridge toward Ashley.
“Come on, we have to go,” he said, trying to catch his breath.
“What happened?” Concern was thick in her voice. “What’s wrong?”
“I- I heard something,” he said. “Something was in there with me. We just have to go.”
His body trembled and sweat poured down his back as she hugged him close. He looked around frantically as she held him; sure that something was coming through the darkness to get him.
“We need to go, Ash,” he said, his voice trembling. “Now.”
“Okay, we’re going.”
His heart had finally stopped racing by the time pulled into their carport. Slipping the key into the lock of his apartment, Austin shook his head, realizing that what he’d experienced on the bridge had likely been his overactive imagination. He’d always been like that. As a child, he’d always heard the things that go bump in the night, imagined monsters in the closet or beneath his bed and always heard murmuring voices when the wind blew. The paranormal fascinated him and he often wanted to believe something so badly that he grasped at anything.
But it seemed so real.
Stepping inside, Ashley rushed by him and ran to the bathroom. Setting his keys down on the table by the door, he heard her retching and throwing up. Concerned, he stood outside the door and waited until she’d finished.
“You okay, babe?”
The toilet flushed and her voice was weak. “I must have eaten something bad. I don’t feel so hot.”
The door opened and Ashley looked pale, clammy. Sweat ran down her face and her forehead was burning to the touch. Austin helped her to bed and pulled the covers up to her chin. She smiled weakly at him.
“Food poisoning probably,” she rasped.
“Get some rest.” He leaned down and kissed her on the forehead before backing out of the room to let her get some sleep.
Austin wandered into the living room and flipped on SportsCenter. He sat on the couch for a moment, watching the highlights from the baseball games. The memories of the evening’s events kept flashing through his mind. They gnawed at him. Though he’d written off his experiences to his imagination, something wasn’t sitting right with him. Getting up, he switched on the computer, grabbed his bag and dropped it on the table. He dug the cameras out, set them next to the computer and waited.
When the computer booted up, he plugged in the camera he’d been using and scrolled through the pictures he’d snapped from his spot on the bridge. Nothing unusual stood out to him as he scanned the photos. There were lots of ghostly “orbs” to be seen though to him, they looked more like dust particles caught in the flash of the camera.
He saved the files, unplugged his camera and plugged in the camera Ashley had been using. The first dozen or so photos showed nothing more than the trees, rocks and a couple of nice shots of the bridge in the moonlight. If nothing else, they’d caught a few nice screensavers on film.
When he called up the 13th picture, his blood ran cold and a shudder passed through him. The picture showed him on the bridge looking over the side. It was dim but the photo had captured a dark figure standing next to him as well as several other figures hanging motionless from the bridge’s rafters. The figure standing next to him was outlined with an orange mist and two red, glowing eyes stood out. The next photo showed him again standing still, looking up. Austin thought that photo had been snapped moments after he thought he’d heard the voice. The figure had moved away from him but was now closer to Ashley. The subsequent photos had showed the red-eyed figure moving progressively closer with each shot until nothing but a twisted, distorted and utterly evil looking face filled the entire frame, dominated by those red eyes.
Austin trembled as he looked at the photos in succession again and again. It was unmistakable. Whatever had been on that bridge with him, had moved closer and closer to Ashley. But she hadn’t screamed which told him that she probably hadn’t even seen it. He stood up and walked back to the bedroom, quietly opening the door. A sliver of light from the living room fell across her face. She was still sweating profusely and murmuring in her sleep though he couldn’t make out her words. She sounded scared. Terrified. He considered waking her up, to end whatever nightmare was flashing behind her eyes. But then he backed out of the room and softly shut the door. If she was suffering from food poisoning, it was likely that she was murmuring in pain and discomfort rather than in fear. He was letting his imagination run wild again.
But the pictures.
He made his way back to the couch and laid down as he processed all of the information he’d taken in. He obviously hadn’t imagined the voice on the bridge. They had proof that there was something there with him. And whatever it was, hadn’t been camera shy and moved toward Ashley while she was snapping photos. Had she seen it? Had she sensed it?
These thoughts and more passed through Austin’s mind as he drifted off, dreams of nightmarish, twisted and ghoulish faces parading through his sleep.
He woke with a start and took a minute to orient himself. For a moment, he thought that Ashley crying out had pulled him from sleep but their apartment was completely still and silent. The television was off and the room was still dark. He knew that he’d fallen asleep with everything on. He’d been watching SportCenter. Had he woken up and turned everything off?
Austin turned his head and froze. The moonlight outside was waning but Ashley was perfectly silhouetted against the sliding glass door. He couldn’t see her face but the outline of the axe in her hands was clearly visible.
“Babe, what are you doing?” Austin’s voice trembled and his bladder felt like it was on the verge of letting go. “What’s wrong? Are you okay?”
She stood motionless and silent making his heart thunder in his chest again.
“Ash,” he called. “What in the hell is wrong with you?”
“You’re mine,” she said. “Not hers. Never hers.”
Austin screamed and futilely threw his hands up as she advanced toward him, raising the axe above her head.
This has been my entry for therealljidol Season 8, Topic 34(A) Bridge. Once again, I thank you all so much for your support over the course of the season. I truly appreciate you stopping by to give me a read week after week. If we have a poll, don't forget to swing on by, read some of the other fantastic stuff and spread a little voting-love around! We're down to the final 14 left standing... things are getting crazy so every vote counts! Thanks, guys!!!