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Chapter 8

Heads…you lose…

“Where are we going?”  Brian asked.

“The Head Bridge.” Ed Gilmore answered. They were both in the back seat of Skylar McCabe’s car driving down a back-road Brian recognized as just outside of Greenville. The air was cold, but the bright, full moon lit up the night and a slight breeze blew leaves across the road in front them. Brian felt his stomach rising and falling as Skylar’s car climbed up and down the rolling hills of the Greenville countryside. Greenville sat nestled in a valley between the Blue Mountains and the Atlantic coastline twenty miles Northwest of the City and the fertile land was perfect for dairy farming. Content Holsteins grazed in lush, green fields and rows of tall, hearty corn stalks dominated the summer landscape. Greenville was Horse Country, and there was no shortage of rambling stone houses complete with wrap around porches, porch swings and squeaky, slamming screen doors. Ancient, spreading Oak, Elm and Maple trees shaded every front yard, and every back yard had a horse trailer sitting in front of barns of every size, each filled with the aroma of fresh hay. Saddle shops bristling with riding crops, bridals, tall boots and the smell of deep, rich leather were mandatory. Where there are horses you can be sure there are hounds, and the area outside Greenville is teeming with the inspiring sight of the Red Fox running wild across the barren ground of the fall farmland. There were still organized Fox “hunts” where dignified riders sporting authentic English riding hats, hunt coats, breeches and Dehner boots chase after packs of fox hounds; American, English, Virginia and Welsh, moving in brown, black and white packs across the freshly furrowed corn fields. Missing, of course, were the muskets of the revolutionary fox hunters or the Remington, Winchester and Marlin oiled, blue steel double barreled shotguns of the 1900’s, as modern-day fox hunts are bloodless pursuits, each one ending happily, the fox allowed to scamper free, long before the pursuing, baying hounds get anywhere near her; the thrill of the hunt enough to satisfy the tradition.

“So Bri” Brian was shocked to hear Ed call him by a nickname already, even if the nickname was just his real name shortened. “What do you normally do on a Friday night?”

Brian thought of his recent Friday nights spent pouring over algorithms trying to discover the formula to alter the muscular fiber make up of his legs. But he dared not mention that.

“Watching tv mostly” Brian covered up.

“College basketball games” Ed lit up, thinking he had found some common ground with Brian?

“Actually, lately, yes, I have been paying more attention to basketball lately.”

“Cool. I’m a huge Central fan and we just won the National Championship.”

“The Wildcats” Brain said almost subconsciously as he remembered seeing all the Central Wildcat t-shirts, sweatshirts, and hoodies recently. Now it made sense. They were winners.

Ed tapped Cindy Sandy, who was in the passenger seat up front, on the shoulder. Cindy was a cheerleader. She hadn’t said a word to Brian, or even so much as glanced at him, since he got in the car.

“Hey man, turn the heat on.”

“Dude, you’re wearing shorts and a t-shirt in October” Skylar laughed looking at Ed in the rear-view mirror.

“It was warm today.”

Brian wasn’t sure what he was doing. His head spun.

“The Head Bridge? What’s it in charge of Brian asked, half joking? Skylar’s window was down and even with a hoodie on Brian felt the cold air chill him. He agreed with Ed…” turn the heat on” he thought, but he didn’t dare say anything.

“It’s called the Head Bridge because there’s a bust of the guy’s head carved into the cement of the bridge. You know, the guy who built the thing back couple hundred years ago.”

“Why are we going to that bridge? What’s there?”

“Nothing is there.” Gilmore shot Brian a puzzled look. “What’s wrong with you Ferco, isn’t that enough?”

“I’m just wondering what we’re going to do when we get there that’s all.”

Gilmore looked at him and said simply “Nothing, get out of the car and check it out.”

“Check out what?”

“Ferco, you’ll see when we get there, ok?”

Skylar pulled up to the bridge and stopped on the gravel covered cut-out to the approach.

The car doors swung open and everyone poured out, including Brian. Brian recognized the bridge. It was the Knox Covered Bridge built by Frederick Knox in 1880.  He had crossed it many times during the day with his family but never at night and he for sure never knew it was called the Head Bridge. He never even noticed the bust of the supposed architect of the structure, but there it was, just as Ed Gilmore had said, carved into the side of the cement. It was the first thing he saw when he stepped out of the car. During the day the Knox Covered Bridge’s Barn Red paint stands out against the countryside, but tonight it looked as black as the night surrounding it, despite the bright, full Harvest moon shining down. Under the bridge flowed Valley Creek. North of the bridge Valley Creek is two streams, East Valley Creek and West Valley Creek, and they are both shallow, meandering brooks that rarely reach a depth of more than a few feet and, when it doesn’t rain in the summer for several weeks, the depth drops to a few inches. Valley Creek Canoe Company lies along the creek 5 miles North of the bridge and many canoers and tubers often find themselves carrying their tubes and canoes through the shallow water. The confluence of the two streams takes place a quarter of a mile North of the bridge and then Valley Creek crosses the Fall Line. From there, the depth of the creek increases dramatically. South of the bridge Valley Creek is known as Valley River. The elevation of the land drops 162 feet in less than 10 miles and the steep descent, deep water, and poor visibility from Peat runoff turn Valley River into a dangerous waterway.

“See Ferco” Gilmore pointed at the carved bust. “The Head of the Head Bridge.” Ed bowed to the bust.

Brian walked toward the bridge abutment with the carving. It was Frederick Knox. His name was right below his Relief.

“It’s a Relief” Brian quietly spoke to himself.

“What” Ed looked at Brian, puzzled?

“Oh, nothing. You said a bust of the man who built the bridge but it’s technically a relief.”

“What’s the difference Ferco?”

“A bust is three dimensional, but a relief is carved into the material it’s made out of, like this is.”

“I didn’t know that. I knew hanging out with you was going to make me smarter Ferco.”

Brian reached his hand out.

“Don’t touch it Ferco” Skylar warned. “Mess with the head and you’ll be dead” he said ominously.

“What’s he talking about” Brian asked, turning toward Gilmore.

“Supposedly if you mess around with the head, the sculpture, bad things will happen to you.”

Brian was a scientist and any thought of superstitious activity was beyond his normal thought. “Any examples of these supposed bad things happening?” Brian asked, confident that science would always overcome superstition.

Gilmore looked at Brian. “Couple of years ago some kids were driving around out here…you know, drinking. One of them had to…you know…had to go.”

‘Yeah, we got it get to the good part” Cindy cut him off, rolling her hand for Ed to get on with it.

“The guy decides to go right on the Head.”

“Big mistake” Cindy interjected. She looked at Brian and to his surprise, smiled and winked. Not a flirty wink and smile, but a “this part is true” wink and smile.
“Anyway” Gilmore continued. “He jumps back into the car and they tear away, but they don’t get more than 100 feet and suddenly, for no reason at all, the car flips over, bursts into flames, and everyone inside is burned up…. alive…”

“Sheesh” Skylar chimed in. “Really dude…come one.”

“True story” Ed said, raising his arm into the swear position.

“Bull” Skylar continued.

“It was in the paper.”

“Man, a car flipping over and bursting into flames for no reason would be national headlines.”

“Not when it happens in Greenville. And the cops didn’t report the crash as “caused by the Head Bridge.” The official cause of the crash was speeding and reckless driving.”

Ed kept going. “Okay, try to explain this one. Do you remember about 5 years someone was setting all the covered bridges in the county on fire? You know, arson mostly and some copy cats?”

“Sure” Brian answered. “That actually was national headlines, I saw it on CNN, but they never caught anyone, and the fires just stopped suddenly, right?”

“Right, right. Well, someone set this bridge on fire a couple of years ago and some car passing by called 911 and they told the dispatcher to hurry, there was someone trapped on the bridge they could hear him screaming for help. The fire company pulls up, quickly douses the fire, and they rush onto the bridge. There was nobody there.”

Ed looked directly into Brian, Skylar and Cindy’s faces one by one as a chill passed through them. Even Brian, highly skeptical of Ghost Stories, felt eerie. Cindy shivered.  The breeze blew cold air on the group and Brian shuddered too. When he finally spoke, he tried to sound rational. “More likely the people in the car mistook sounds from the fire for sounds of a person in distress or, more disturbing, someone else was nearby pretending to be trapped on the bridge.”

“Or” Ed quickly glanced at Frederick Knox’s serious face carved into the hard, grey concrete.

Cindy jumped up onto the bridge abutment and started balancing along the edge. “No more ghost stories you guys. Those stories were being told when our parents went to school. That guy in the bridge can’t cause bad things to happen. And why would he if he could?”

She hopped down and walked directly up to the carved face of Frederick Knox. “You wouldn’t hurt us, would you? And she leaned forward, puckering up as she did.

“Cindy no” Skylar yelled and reached for her, but he was too late, and she lightly kissed the bust’s stony cheek.

“See” she said, spinning around, “no worries” and she hopped back up onto the abutment, continuing her balancing act.

“Hey, if the Head Bridge doesn’t impress you guys then I’ll take you to the Baby Bridge next time” Ed said as he scooped up some gravel and started throwing pebbles at the Bridge Height 17’ 6’ sign.

“The Baby Bridge?” Skylar asked

“Woman and her baby went over the side in a car” Ed explained hurling a stone at the sign. It struck with a load clang.

“Hey man cut that out” Skylar said sounding worried about the noise but then, feeling the loneliness of the spot, felt foolish.

Ed threw the remaining stones to the ground and continued.

 “Now, if you cross the Baby Bridge at midnight your car stalls and a baby comes up from the water, crosses in front of you, then goes down the other side. Then your car starts up again all by itself.”

“Dude, that is sick” Skylar added.

“Hey man, it’s not my story I’m just re-telling it”

“Urban Legend” Skylar countered.

Brian watched with amazement as Cindy Sandy balanced along the abutment in front of him. Most girls, if given the tag Cindy Sandy by their parents, would battle their way through school starting at an early age but not Cindy. Cindy Sandy had been told since she was three years old how pretty she was, and there was a reason why. She was beyond pretty. Thick, black hair sat atop her dark body and the combination of her emerald eyes and ruby lips could literally hypnotize people. When she was a little girl, adults doted over her and, as a teenager, boys fell over themselves trying to get near her. As for her name, she embraced it at an early age as “the most unique name in the world” and relished hearing adults and kids alike saying it out loud. She responded to any combination of the two names and replied to you even if you only used Cindy or even Sandy for that matter. That, however, was the extent of her openness or friendliness, unless you were part of her group.

So, Brian was surprised to find himself saying “be careful Cindy.” It was the first time he had talked to Cindy Sandy since an awkward encounter in a class they had together a year before. It was a social experiment in Brian’s Social Sciences class. A girl and boy were randomly chosen to describe each other in one word and Brian found himself paired with Cindy Sandy. Cindy went first, looked at Brian, and without changing expression said “studious.” Brian looked at Cindy Sandy and said the first thing that came into his mind… “ravenous.” Cindy Sandy raised her eyebrow and gave Brian a “where did that come from” look, but the rest of the class just laughed. Brian meant nothing by it other than the word fit, but he still turned red and scrunched down into his seat.

“I’m a cheerleader, Brian” Cindy Sandy said smugly, not even bothering to look at him as she confidently demonstrated her poise.  “I have perfect balance” and as she said it, she went up onto one foot and stretched her leg out behind her. “See?” Suddenly, Cindy listed and, losing her balance, fell sideways off the ledge with an “oh damn” and directly into the dark water below. Brian heard her hit the water but before he could say anything, Skylar and Ed were scrambling down the embankment toward the creek. Panicked, Brian stood to follow them, but suddenly found himself standing on top of the bridge abutment in the same spot where Cindy had just tumbled off. He couldn’t see the water under him, but he could hear the rushing current and the splashing of Ed and Skylar entering the creek. Brian knew what he had to do, but the thought made him swoon. He was all alone in the cold night above the watery abyss. There was no grownup to turn to. No adult to cry out to for help. Only the gloom of the night and the sound of the angry water below. It was now or never. Estimating the distance to the surface, Brian took a deep breath, held it, closed his eyes, and, bracing himself for the shock of the ice-cold water, leaped off the abutment of the Knox Covered bridge and into the frozen night air.




Submitted: April 04, 2019

© Copyright 2020 Gary192837465. All rights reserved.


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