Mark leaned over the edge of the bridge and dropped a fragment of rotting board, watching it plunge into the churning, green-black waters below.
Cool! Watch this! Steve yelled, as his spiraling, falling chunk of wood smacked into Marks before both disappeared under the water.
The old covered, red bridge had been boarded up for years. Despite the boarded entrance and the numerous painted Keep Out signs, Mark and Steven had squeezed inside to play as they often did. It was a tight squeeze and they narrowly missed the twisted nails that protruded through here and there. The bridge was closed up after the Hollow County Dam went in sometime in the late fifties. Every year the city council discussed tearing the hazardous contraption down, but every year funds were never allocated for the demolition. Occasionally, construction crews went out and renailed the boarded up entrances, or put up new warning signs to discourage kids from exploring or vagrants from sleeping there. Those efforts didnt really do much to hinder kids from playing on the bridge though. The bridge was the forbidden fruit of Hollow County and every boy at one time or another had been dared to at least set a foot on its shaky beams.
Mark had more of a daredevil spirit running through his veins than most of the boys in town, so he made it a practice to visit the old bridge often. Besides, it was a great place to hang out without being under the constant watch of some adult. Adults never came to the bridge because it was dangerous. Unfortunately, the thing that kept adults away from the bridge was the very thing that attracted Mark to the bridge. Occasionally he dragged a friend along with him on his adventures. Today he had persuaded Steve to come along. Steve had been on the bridge before but wasnt too excited about returning. However, Mark was the cool kid in school, and most kids wanted to impress him. So, Steve reluctantly followed Mark into the dark and dirty bridge to explore.
Mark enthusiastically began to jump up and down causing the bridge to violently wobble. He laughed loudly. Yee haw! he said, jumping again.
Man! Cut that out! Steve shouted, bracing himself against the side of the bridge. Dust and splintered wood rained down on them from the sagging ceiling. Come on, stop it! This whole pile of crap is going to collapse!
Chicken? Mark taunted, jumping again this time harder. Bawk! Bawk!
A sharp crack split the air as the floor beneath Mark gave way with a sickening shattering of wood. Mark plummeted through the rotten boards, arms flailing, desperately seeking for anything to grab onto during his descent. Steve was too far away to get to him quick enough.
Help! Mark shrieked, his voice filled with shock and terror.
Suddenly, a boys hand caught Mark by the back of his jeans and he struggled to hold onto the fabric. Mark kicked in a state of panic under the hole in the bridge. You there! the boy yelled at Steve. Get over here and help me!
Steve sprinted towards the boy who was leaning over the jagged hole, clutching to Marks pants with one hand and holding onto a beam with the other. Mark dangled precariously over the roaring water. Together Steve and the boy yanked Mark onto the creaking floor. All of them collapsed in relief.
Hey, thanks, man! Mark said towards the unknown boy, and then lay there clutching his chest and panting.
You two shouldnt be here. This bridge is dangerous. Youll get yourselves killed, the boy said angrily. He frowned, and pushed himself off of the ground, brushing off his pants.
Thats what my grandma always says! Mark said, rolled over onto his side. He lay there looking at the hole that he had fallen through. His face was still pale, his breathing still ragged. Guess the wood gave out.
Steve agreed. Too busy examining the hole, Mark and Steve didnt see the other boy leave.
Hey, whered he go? Mark asked, looking up. His eyes sought the boy through the dim light of the bridge, but the kid was nowhere to be seen.
Dont know. He was just here a second ago. Weird. Maybe he had to go home. Steve looked at his watch. Hey, speaking of home, we should get going. I have to be home soon and Ive had enough excitement for one day, man.
Lets stop by my grandmas house on the way. Im thirsty and she might have fresh cookies too, Mark said. I dont think we should mention this to her or our parents though. You know, me falling through the bridge.
Yeah, especially since were not even supposed to be on the bridge in the first place. I dont need to spend the weekend grounded, thats for sure. Dylans party is this weekend.
The boys squeezed back into the daylight and walked to Marks grandmothers house.
Grandma? You home? Its Mark, Mark called as they entered the house. Everything was neat as a pin and the air was heavy with the aroma of baking cookies. Mark rubbed his stomach and smiled at Steve. They laughed.
Steve followed Mark into the living room to wait for Marks grandmother. He looked around and then blurted, Hey! Thats the boy on the bridge! He pointed a trembling finger towards an oval-framed black and white photo on the fireplace mantle.
The grandmother entered the room exactly as Steve was pointing out the photo. She didnt look too happy at what she had just heard. Marks grandmother knit her brows sternly. You were on that bridge again? How many times do I have to tell you how dangerous that thing is? The city keeps it boarded for a reason.
Mark reached to the mantle and picked up the framed photo. Who is this, grandma? he asked, holding the frame towards his grandmother.
Thats Tony, my little brother. He died on that god-awful bridge. He was playing around on that rickety thing just like you were today! His death was one of the reasons why they boarded that old bridge up in the first place. She didnt try to hide the anger in her voice.
Mark and Steve looked at the photo and then at each other. Their eyes were wide in disbelief and their hands shook visibly. This boy saved Marks life today. The floor collapsed and I couldnt get to him fast enough, Steve said, his voice quaking up a few octaves.
Boys, Tony has been dead over fifty years now. I dont know who was playing on that heap of firewood with you, but it wasnt Tony.
Brown plaid shirt. Rolled up jeans and no shoes, Mark recalled.
His grandmothers face went white. That was what Tony was wearing the day he fell from the bridge, she said in a whisper.
That was what the boy on the bridge was wearing today, grandma. Mark waved the framed photograph in the air to emphasis his point. This is the boy who saved my life.
Steve sat down on a chair as Marks grandma clutched her hand to her mouth.
I guess he really meant it when he told us we could get ourselves killed. Mark stared at the faded photo in his trembling hands.
Angeline Hawkes-Craig received a B.A. in Composite English Language Arts in 1991 from East Texas State University. She is a member of HWA. Angeline has publication credits dating from 1981 and is a former secondary education teacher. Scrybe Press will reprint her Speculative fiction collection, Momento Mori, in 2005. Also, Nocturne Press will release The Commandments, a themed Horror fiction collection, in a signed, limited edition in 2005. Recently, Naked Snake Press published Angeline's Horror/Thriller chapbook, Through A Glass Darkly. Hawkes-Craig writes primarily Horror and Speculative fiction. Visit her website www.angelinehawkes-craig.com .