The Bridge

By David Alan White

Originally published on Jesus Ate My Baby.

As they pulled up to the bridge, Ian’s heart was steady. His hands did not sweat or shake. His mind, however, seemed to be racing towards a heart attack.

“I can’t believe I’m doing this,” he thought to himself over and over again as he pulled the key from the ignition. Without making eye contact he nodded towards Chris who sat shaking in the passenger seat.

“Fuck man,” Chris whimpered as his hand fell on the door handle.

“It’s okay. We do this, then we leave and drive away and it’s okay. We just have to do this part.”

“I know man, I know.” Chris took a long breath and all at once stopped shaking. He seemed to nod to himself this time, then opened the door and got out. Ian looked after him a moment before hitting the trunk release and then quickly did the same.

They met at the back of the car where they both stood and looked down at the trunk lid, still only slightly ajar. So far away from town, the light from the trunk pierced through the darkness, shining out at them like light from a tomb.

After a minute or two of silence between them, Ian looked at Chris and said, “Get the rock.”

“Right,” he answered as if from far away.

As Chris walked around the car to open the backseat door, Ian reached down to open the trunk the rest of the way. He hesitated a moment before all at once throwing it open, his eyes never moving.

Inside the trunk was a man with his hands and feet bound by rope. The right side of his head was covered in dried blood, half of it covering the side of his face. His eyes were closed and his chest moved at a slow but steady pace.

Chris came back around the car struggling with the weight of a large rock he held with both hands. He slowly leaned down and set the rock on the pavement. After a deep exhale, he stood up fully and joined Ian by his side. Looking down into the trunk, he shook his head a few times.

“Still unconscious, huh?” he asked Ian.

“Yeah. Thank god for that.”

“I don’t know if I’ll be thanking god for anything tonight.”

“No. Probably not.”

The two reached into the trunk, each grabbing an end of the man. They then hoisted him out and laid him down on the road. Chris disappeared once more around the car, returning with another length of rope. Then Ian lifted the rock at various angles while Chris tied the rope around it. One it was securely fastened, Chris took the one free end of the rope and began to tie it to the bindings as well as separately around the man’s ankles. As he did, his hands began to shake until they did so violently, preventing him from finishing any kind of knot.

“Watch out,” Ian said as he gently but impatiently pushed Chris aside. Within a minute he had finished. Afterwards they both stood above the man, inspecting their work.

“It’s alright, Chris. You’re doing okay. We’re almost done, then this will be over forever. Just remember, we had to do this. You know that. And hey, if we had to do it, at least we had to do it together, right? I mean, could you imagine being out here by yourself?”

Chris looked around, the night lit up only by the stars and the light from the open trunk. It was only nine, but it felt like midnight. He noticed there were no crickets chirping, and for a moment he thought that was strange.

“I don’t think I’d like to imagine that, Ian.”

“Right, me neither. And if I have to be out here with someone, I’m glad it’s you. We’ve been friends for a very long time Chris, and in that time we’ve conquered a lot of things together. We’ll conquer this, too.”

“Yeah we will. I know. It’s just… I’m fucking scared man. I’m fucking scared. What if this doesn’t work? What if-”

“Chris!” Ian yelled, his voice carrying in the silence of the night. “Pull yourself together. Don’t make me do this alone! Fuck man, we’ve got to keep our minds straight. This is going to work, there’s no reason it won’t work. And besides, you know as much as I do that we have – no – other – choice. So get your head back down here with mine and help me do this before he wakes up. You know how horrible that would be. We don’t need him to suffer.”

Chris took another long, deep breath and stood with his eyes closed for a moment.

“I’m sorry. You’re right. If we’re doing this, we need to do it now. I don’t want him to wake up. I’d rather kill him with my hands then do this while he’s awake. And I don’t know if I can do that. I really don’t.”

“Neither do I. So let’s do this, then let’s get in the car and go get a drink, and think about where we’d be if we didn’t do what we had to do. Help me get the rock. We’ll put it up on the wall, then we’ll lift him over and he should take the rock with him. If he’s just hanging there I’ll push the rock in. Now I got him pretty hard, so I can’t imagine him ever waking up in time. It’ll be like he died in his sleep.”

“Alright.” Another deep breath. “Let’s do this.”

They each got on one side of the rock, and on a count of three they both lifted it into the air. They walked over to the four foot tall concrete wall that lined the sides of the bridge and proceeded to lower the rock onto the top of it. Except when they let go, the rock was imbalanced and quickly leaned until it fell over the side of the bridge, towards the river below.

A startled and desperate “Wait!” shot from the man as he was dragged up and over the wall to follow the rock. It only took him four seconds to hit the surface of the water, but those seconds seemed to last hours.

“Oh fuck me!” Chris cried. In a flash he was at the car and back with a flashlight from the trunk, peering desperately over the wall.

“What are you looking for, Chris?”

“Shut the fuck up! JUST SHUT THE FUCK UP!”

“It’s too late. That’s it. I’m sorry. That’s it.”

“Bullshit! What the fuck! What the fuck did we do?!”

“Damn it, Chris…” Ian’s mouth tightened as he turned and walked to the passenger side of the car. He reached in, opened the glove compartment, and grabbed what was inside.

Chris had begun crying hysterically, still desperately peering over the wall for any sign that they had failed, for the man to come bubbling up to the surface so they could fix this some other way.

Ian walked directly to Chris, grabbed a shoulder and spun him around. Before Chris ever really had a chance to make out the gun in the darkness, Ian quickly stuffed the barrel of the small revolver into Chris’s mouth and fired the trigger. The back of his head exploded out above the water and in the same four seconds came splashing down into the river below. His body went limp and slung down against the wall.

“Damn it. Damn it you son of a bitch! Why couldn’t you just stay calm?! You mother fucker!”

Ian thought about kicking him, kicking him until he heard the bones in his ribs give away. But he knew that would be stupid, and so he closed his eyes and gathered himself. Then he walked over to the car and grabbed the degreaser and hand towel he had thrown earlier in the backseat floorboard in case he had to do this. He didn’t want to do it, but he knew he had to. Chris would have lost it, sooner or later, and keeping his best friend was not worth the risk of that. Thankfully, Chris’s nervous and detached behavior towards his loved ones these last few weeks gave Ian the perfect cover.

He grabbed a pair of gloves he had also put into the glove compartment and proceeded to clean the gun. After he had thoroughly cleaned it, he walked back to Chris, wrapped Chris’s hand around it several times, and then dropped the gun close below it as if he had dropped the gun once pulling the trigger.

Ian looked down into Chris’s face, both the open gaping eyes and tear streaked cheeks reflecting the soft orange glow of the trunk light. He shook his head once disappointedly. Chris never even questioned why Ian had insisted they take Chris’s car. He had been so worried about the mounting events of the last month he had begun to lose his ability to think like he used to. Ian was afraid this would happen, and once they had decided to kill the man, he knew he might have to kill Chris, too.

After a long last glance, Ian turned and walked over to the car and closed the trunk. He began heading towards his house then, through the woods and the darkness he had known so well from growing up in this town.

****

It took him several hours before he made it up the steps of his porch and in through the front door. As he closed the door he reached for the light switch and then stopped himself. There was something comforting in the darkness of that night, and he didn’t want to spoil it. In a way, his home had never felt so safe. It was all over now. Everything was buried. Every last tie had been destroyed. What should have been perfect failed, and failed terribly, but it was over now and the mistake had been wiped away. Tomorrow would be a new day of life, and he knew he would have to face the unfortunate suicide of his friend with it. But he would be strong, like he always had been, and this would turn out to be a new beginning for him.

He walked up the stairs to his room, where he finally turned a light on. There was a mirror hanging on one of the walls that he then stood in front of. He stared at himself seriously, inspecting the calm in his face, and then brought himself to smile.

“A new beginning,” he said to that face. Even his eyes smiled. He would be alright. And perhaps someday, he would make this up to the world, to Chris. And maybe somewhere out there his spirit would understand, and even thank him for doing what he had to do.

“From now on buddy, I’m living for both of us.”

After taking a long shower he came back into the room, opened the window to let in the spring night air, and then slipped between the sheets of his bed.

“Livin’ for both of us…” he said as he closed his eyes. He found his mind at his ease, and soon began to drift towards sleep, his body tired from the walk, and his mind tired from everything he had had to go through.

Right as his mind was slipping into that irrational state right before sleep, he was pulled back to his senses by the sound of something heavy scraping across the pavement, down the same street he had walked to get home.

He laid there, his eyes open in the darkness and his ears searching for the sound again, hoping to identify it. But there was only silence. Complete and utter silence, save the gentle rustle of tree branches in the wind.

After several minutes he again began to drift into sleep. As his mind swayed again from reality, the sound came a second time, drawing him back awake.

“What the fuck…?” he muttered sleepily to himself. “What the hell is…?”

Then it came again, and the sound was a little more familiar. It was the sound of stone being dragged across concrete.

He jumped out of bed and ran to the window. He pushed open a part of the blinds with his hand to get a view of the street, which was lit up by a streetlight just a little way down on the other side of the road. He saw nothing unusual though, just a street of sleeping houses.

Eventually he lay back down; though this time he did not begin to drift off. Instead he lay there with his eyes open, waiting for the sound again. Just when he thought it must have been his imagination, it came again, and a moment later again. A slow, scraping rock sound.

It seemed like it was coming down the middle of the street, but as he peered out the window there was again nothing there. He stood there for several minutes before backing away and sitting on the end of his bed. As soon as he sat down, the noise came again, this time continuing until he made it to the window. It seemed to be getting closer each time he heard it, but again there was nothing there. He began to pace the floor, and as the sound returned he refused to return to the window. The sound dragged closer and closer, but he couldn’t accept it as anything but his imagination. A memory rushed into his mind then, that of being a child in grade school and reading “The Tell Tale Heart.”

“Oh fuck that. No fucking way.”

Then he was brought back to reality as he heard footsteps on the porch, followed shortly by a loud thump as something was dragged up the stairs of the porch, then another thump, and another, each one accompanied by the sound of wood splintering off the steps.

He finally ran to the window, knowing it was already pointless as he would not be able to see onto the porch from above.

Still the sound continued, this time of stone dragging across the porch, having already cleared the steps.

“It’s alright,” Ian thought to himself, “The door is locked. Nobody can get in if the door is-”

Then he heard the sound of the front door swinging open with no trouble at all, no lock being picked and nothing to suggest it was broken open. It just… opened.

There was silence then, and again the story he read as a child entered his mind.

“I’m just going crazy,” he said out loud this time. “I’m exhausted and I’m losing my grip. I just need some fucking sleep, and I’ll be okay.”

He began to walk towards the bedroom door to go down the hall into the bathroom where he had a prescription of Ambien he sometimes took.

“I should have taken it in the first place,” he muttered aloud. Then, just as his hand gripped the door handle, he heard he footsteps again, now moving towards the stairwell. His hand jerked away, then back again to lock it.

The footsteps began to ascend the stairs, followed then by a loudening thump, thump, THUMP. Up the stairs, one by one. THUMP, THUMP, THUMP.

When all the stairs were cleared, the sound stopped again. Only the hallway separated him now from who or whatever was outside his room.

There was another minute of silence in which Ian begged it to be his imagination before the steps and the dragging continued down the hall.

All the way, slowly they came, until finally whoever was out there would have to have been standing on just the other side of the door. Ian hugged the far wall and began to weep to himself, a steady flow of warm urine running down his leg.

“What the fuck do you want?!” he cried maddeningly.

Another moment of silence, and then coming through bloating watery vocal cords he heard, “Waaaait.”

****

In the morning Sarah, Chris’s wife, came over to the house to tell Ian of the discovery of Chris’s body and the apparent suicide. She stood on the porch knocking on his door while trying to steady herself and keep from crying. After he didn’t answer, she then tried calling him, knowing he must be at home as his car was in the driveway.

After several minutes and no answer at the door or on the phone, she used a spare key Ian had given her when he moved into the house.

She searched downstairs, calling out his name all the while. Not finding him in any of the rooms, she finally went upstairs, down the hall and to Ian’s bedroom door. There was nothing but silence.

“Ian?” she said in a strangled voice, already fearing the worst. Slowly she pushed open the door, and there on a soaking wet carpet, lay the pale body of Ian.

Later, an autopsy would discover the cause of death to be drowning.

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