The day pushed heavily upon my shoulders. Disappointment. Frustration. Exhaustion. Worry. When all was said and done, my car door shut against the wind and the day that bit just as deeply, all I wanted to do was talk to you. This hasn’t happened in such a long time that I can’t remember the last person I called just for a much needed smile. I needed you and I haven’t needed someone in awhile. And that terrifies me.

Curse the quiet
    damn the moments
 untarnished by distraction
hex the freedom of the wandering mind
     unchained by responsibility
imprecate every second
   that I’m allowed to realize
how much I miss you
and disparage my heart
    for falling in love
  with someone I can never have

You wouldn’t believe me if I told you the whole story, not that I’ve ever told anyone before who blatantly argued against the tale, but being that this is my final statement, I’ll only tell the truth and the whole truth at that.

It was October thirty-first, not that that’s any surprise considering what happened that night. I was out late, not that I was invited to a party or celebrating All Hallow’s Eve in any way. Not that I wouldn’t have celebrated if given the opportunity, but I was alone that night, much like every night since then which explains why I’m sitting alone in a cabin with nothing but this typewriter and a shotgun. So alone, I am, that I fear that if my smell doesn’t give away my whereabouts to a passerby that I will never be found because I will never be missed.

Anyway, to the point. I was out late after all the kiddies had returned home with their sacks full of treats having missed the tricks that were lurking in the shadows there, the tricks that waited in the quiet of the Halloween moon for a lonely, lost man to meander by on his drunken walk home. The bar was loud and I had grown tired of the squealing of scantily dressed girls who feigned fear when boys crept up behind them. I left, walking one staggering foot in front of the other, trying to find my way home in the dark. To my left, the houses had gone silent, festive decorations dimmed if not already torn down to make way for Christmas décor. To my right, the woods whispered eerily about its vicious plot for anyone brave enough to breach its border on this night of the walking dead.

Suddenly there was laughter behind me. Not that of the drunken Halloween tramps, but a child’s laughter. I turned, but the street was empty just as it had always been.  I picked up my pace, my feet momentarily ignoring the vast amounts of alcohol coursing through my veins.

That laugh again. I turned quicker, but still there was nothing behind me. I waited, pretending to take a few steps forward to see if someone would emerge from the woods, but there was nothing. I laughed to myself and turned back toward my house and there she was. A tiny, dark haired girl no more than eight years old. She was staring at the ground crying.

Now, I’ve never been a kid person. I never had any nieces or goddaughters and I certainly never had a kid of my own. So what’s a man to do when confronted with a crying child well past midnight on All Hallow’s Eve?

So I knelt down before her, keeping my distance so as not to be accused of anything unsavory, because that’s what happens now to men like me. I asked her if she was alright, but she just kept on crying and crying. I couldn’t stand the sound of it, but I couldn’t just leave her out there either. What if something happened after I left? I couldn’t live with that on my conscience. So I reached out and touched her shoulder, really gently and asked again if she was alright. At that exact moment, her head snapped up and the empty holes where her eyes should have been pierced right through me, chilling me down to my bones. She screamed, her blackened tongue and teeth vibrating with the force of that scream. Then she disappeared. She was gone.

I stood up and looked around for her, but she was nowhere in sight.

Now, some would just say this was the alcohol and the holiday playing with a lonely man’s brain, but the next morning, I’m sitting there in my living room, nursing a rather mean hangover with some overly strong coffee. and I couldn’t believe it, but I see that little girl on the news. The reporter lady said she went missing while she was out trick or treating with her brother, but they found her body in the wee hours of the morning right where I saw her, but about 100 yards into the woods. Some madman had carved out that little girls eyes before burying her alive in the dirt. The dogs had sniffed her out, poor thing.

So now you know why I wouldn’t want to tell anyone about seeing her. You go ranting about seeing a dead girl on your drunk walk home and they’re sure to lock you up for the crime or at least for insanity. I looked down at my hands to see the coffee cup was shaking in dirt-caked fingers. I figured a shower would be a better way to sober up.

The ache is unbearable tonight
after just realizing
you’ve been holding my heart this whole time
I thought I’d grown comfortable with loneliness
but as it turns out
I’d only grown comfortable
entrusting you with my love

But you don’t see me
    or at least don’t act like you do
and my whispers affect you not
you do not startle at my heart’s pitter-patter
and simply laugh at each trembling advance

Love,
sweet illustrated man
you’ve consumed my chest
my mind
my breath
and all I can do
is curl up with my fantasies of you

As soon as the elevator doors closed, I found myself wishing I hadn’t run that red light. Just two minutes later and it could have been somebody else in here with this man whose stench was impossible to ignore.  It was mixture of gasoline and burning meat that rolled off him in waves and heaved from his mouth with every breath.  I hadn’t realized I’d been holding in my own breath until he spoke.

“Would you ever have imagined that this is how it all ends?” His voice sizzled and snapped like firewood. He stood in the opposite corner, unmoving, his face hidden by the black hood of his jacket. He was so still I almost thought I’d imagined the question.

“Excuse me?” My voice caught in my throat, my response barely audible over my pounding heart.

“Life, my dear,” he turned his piercing blue eyes upon me. “One moment, you’re driving home from a job that you hate, speeding through stoplights to get home to your pathetic apartment and needy cat without a care in the world for anybody but yourself. Then the next moment, well…” he paused, a terrifying grin pulling on the paper thin skin that clung to his jagged cheek bones. “Why should I spoil the surprise?”

“Who are you?” My mouth felt like it was made of sandpaper. I glanced anxiously at the floor indicator. It remained blank, but I could feel we were moving. Were we going down?

“You know who I am,” he breathed, another wave of that stench washing over me.

“I believe I’d remember you if we had ever met before.”

“We’ve never met, but you know who I am,” he said, the campfire tone of his voice seeming to grow from a blaze to a brushfire.

I took a step toward the elevator buttons, hoping that any one of them would let me off this horrifying ride.

“I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” he chuckled. “If you try and leave too soon, I can’t guarantee the outcome.”

“What do you want from me?” I could feel tears pricking at the edges of my eyes. My knees were trembling beneath me, threatening to give out at any moment.

“I want to give you a choice,” he said, that wicked smile spreading again revealing his dirty, sharpened teeth. “Let me ask you a question,” he said, though I barely heard him over my heartbeat as it pounded in my ears. “Are you happy with the way your life is going?”

“Happy?” Was this a joke?

“Are you happy? I mean, you hate your job and your coworkers. You live alone and never go out with friends. Do you have any friends?” He waved the question away with a bony hand. “That’s beside the point. The only creature you confide in or even remotely love is your cat who is going to die in two weeks, three days, fifteen hours, and twenty three minutes. So I ask, are you happy?”

“No, I’m not happy,” I said as tears ran down my cheeks.

“What if I told you I could make you happy?” His eyes sparkled in the dimly lit elevator. “What if I said that you could have everything you ever wanted?”

My heartbeat skipped, fear bumping its rhythm askew. “How?” I whispered.

“Just a little trade,” he said, clasping his skinless fingers before him.

“I don’t have anything to trade.”

“Oh, but you do!” He reached a bony finger toward me. My back pressed against the wall and I became horribly aware that I had nowhere to run. His finger stopped an inch from my chest, pointing at where my heart was rapidly beating.

I made the mistake of looking into his eyes at that moment. The unnatural blue seemed to stretch far beyond this box. Looking into them, I could see mushroom clouds blooming above desecrated landscapes. I saw dismembered bodies crawling along deserted streets. There were prison camps filled with starving people who looked like walking skeletons. I could see abused children crying alone in dark and dirty rooms.

He smiled and the wicked grin seemed to split his head in two from ear to ear.

“And if I don’t trade?”

I could see the answer within the blue ocean of his eyes.

“I don’t want to die,” I cried, tremors shaking my body.

“Then trade and I’ll be on my way,” the fire within him raged. The cracking heat of his voice blew against my face, my lungs filling with the putrid odor.

I wiped away my tears, daring one last look into his eyes. The scenes of my death replayed over and over within them. I pulled my gaze away and nodded. “Okay, I’ll trade.”

“We just need to seal the deal with a kiss,” he continued to grin as his bony fingers grabbed hold of my chin.  “This might hurt a bit,” he laughed as he leaned in.

Nobody drives on this bridge anymore. Since the highway has offered a convenient bypass, the road leading here has become cluttered with fallen trees and overgrown weeds. The water does not flow as freely anymore as through the currents have realized they flow through a forgotten world. It’s an hour hike along the abandoned dirt road to reach the bridge, but today was a worthy day of such a hike. The wooden planks are rotting and draped in various shades of mold. Harlequin, pistachio, shamrock and asparagus painted in intricate patterns along the wooden planks and pillars. It looks so intentional it’s as though someone told the mold where to lie.
There is a wet, creaking sound at every step I take as the boards threaten to snap beneath me. It’s a warning. “Go home,” they say. “Leave before we decide your fate.” I ignore them, trying to make sense of the mold, the intoxicating, entrancing, captivating mold.
The trees hang low, low enough that if I risked a jump on the feeble planks, I’d be able to grab a handful of autumn stained leaves. The yellows, oranges and crimsons seem to glow above the damp and dismal bridge. It’s seems the sky has caught fire and the greens and greys of the bridge are standing in protest against the blaze.
I stand at the peak of the bridge, gazing at the bright path beyond. There is such a contrast between the path from which I wandered and the path that lies yonder. I traveled through dark and gloomy. I journeyed over treacherous and frightening. But there, on the other side of the bridge, the trees part to allow the sunlight to fall warmly on the path. Is it an illusion, I wonder? Allowing wanderers the reassurance of safe travels only to swallow them whole in more darkness. I dare not find out.
I rest my hands on the simple wooden railing. The water below is rushing furiously despite its diminished volume. If one stares long enough into the dark slate grey, it almost seems to stop moving. It appears as a solid mass of darkness. It calls. Beneath the rushing roar is a subtle whispering. It beckons and I feel my flesh warm to its sound. The water catches flecks of the fire above me and it appears there are ribbons of gold caught in the grey water.
Jagged rocks peek through the surface of the water. They were once invisible, I imagine. They, too, wear the collage of mold; a grey canvas that blends into the grey water. The mold must continue beneath the rocky surface. It crawls up the river bed, intermingling with the vibrant grass. Mold everywhere. Perhaps that’s why this place feels so perfect.
There are no fish, I notice. Not a single living creature, in fact. I hold my breath, which is useless with the rushing water, but I cannot hear a bird chirping. There are no signs of life either. There aren’t any papers or bottles littering the sides of the bridge, something that is expected when one gets closer to the city. The river just keeps running, unaware that life has continued on without it.
I cannot see the sky from where I stand. A canopy of trees blocks my view. All I can see if river and trees stretching for miles before and behind me. It’s endless beauty. Endless and forgotten.