Tales of Terror

Crossing The Waters
by
Zen McCan

I believe things can happen that change your whole life. . .

I first saw her on the old railroad bridge south of town when I was fourteen. Coming back from fishing the muddy river I took the wood planked walkway that paralleled the train tracks on the steel bridge.

She was standing midway across, hands resting on the rusty waist high railing. She watched silt choked water swirl slowly past feet below. The town was small, so I would have known her unless her family was new or she was visiting.

The girl didn’t look up until I was beside her, staring dumbly at her like she was some circus freak. I was at that point in my life when the opposite sex occupied a great deal of my thinking but I was at my worst advantage as to what to do or say.

She looked at me with violet eyes from under heavy dark lashes.

"Hi." I stammered.

"Hello." She flipped a long braid of raven hair over her shoulder and down her back.

In place of the usual summer teenage uniform of jeans or cut-offs and T-shirt she wore a dress.

"I’m Josh . . . Josh Riggins. Just coming back from fishing."

She looked at the pole and tackle in my hand. "I could tell." There was just a hint of teasing smile at the corners of her mouth.

"You must be new in town because I know pretty much everybody. It’s hard to be a stranger around here. I’ve lived here all my life so I know about everybody."

She turned and leaned an elbow on the rail. "I didn’t think anybody came here."

"They don’t much." I pointed down river to where automobiles crossed the river. "Since we got the bridge."

"Why are you here Josh Riggins?"

"Short cut. Wanted to get home there’s a baseball game on. Royals and the Cards playing a three game series."

"I’m Amanda but everybody calls me Manda."

"It’s nice to meet you Manda. What are you doing on this rusty bridge?"

The girl looked back to the river. "I like to watch the water."

"That dirty old stuff. It’s more mud than water. I think all the fish choked to death on that liquid dirt."

When she smiled her eyes crinkled up at the corners.

"The water looks like a painting that’s always changing. If you stare at it long enough it’s like you’re moving instead of the water."

I looked down into the slow moving eddies, so brown and filthy that it cast no reflection other than some glints of sun light.

"You just move here or something." I asked as I watched the water and got the disorientating feeling that I was sailing along on the worn out old railroad crossing.

"Or something."

I looked up at her and lost the feeling of movement. The sudden stop gave me a dizzy feeling.

"I’m here visiting. I’m surprised you were here."

"What’s so strange about it?"

"I was expecting someone else that’s all."

That made it pretty clear at least to me. "Oh, a boy friend. I’ll get going, I understand. Pretty girl waiting in a sort of secret meeting place."

The girl laughed hard at me. So hard that it brought spots of color to the pale skin of her cheeks.

"I’m sorry." She gasped. "I’m not laughing at you. Just what you said. You complimented me, belittled yourself and found a way to duck out of our conversation. That’s pretty good use of words."

"I still need to get going."

"I’m not waiting for a boyfriend. Please stay, it might be awhile before they show up. I don’t get much chance to talk to people my own age. I travel a lot."

"Okay, for a bit. But I want to hear the end of the game."

"It’s a deal I’ll let you go by then. Nothing is going to happen until the ninth inning anyway."

"What?"

"Nothing. Why don’t you try your luck off the bridge." She nodded toward my pole.

I shrugged and baited my hook then let the line drop into the water.

"So who are you visiting?"

She was quiet for too long.

"The Johnson’s."

"Johnson’s? There’s just Mr. Johnson since his wife got killed a couple months ago. Rammed her car into a tree down on the quarry road."

"That’s him, Tim Johnson."

"See I told you I knew everybody around here. What is he? Like your uncle or something?"

"Yeah . . . on my mom’s side. What’s school like here?"

"It sucks . . ."

We talked for the longest time. At least I think it was a long time because the next thing I knew the sun was sliding down the horizon. Amanda asked questions about everything and answered none. Every time I asked about her she quickly changed the subject.

"I don’t think whoever you were going to met is coming." I finally told her.

"I guess not today." She answered looking up toward town. "You should probably go if you want to finish listening to the baseball game."

I had forgot all about it. I reeled in my line and grabbed my tackle box

"What about you? You could walk with me."

"I’ll wait here for a while, just to make sure they don’t show up. You better hurry that game is about over. I think the Royals can win it."

I went past her toward town. Once I was to the end of the bridge I called back to her.

"Will I see you again?"

I could she her smile. "I would like that Josh Riggins. Maybe so."

* * * *

Two doors down from my house my friends Danny Correll and Pete Landry were in the garage drinking sodas and eating potato chips as they listened to the game on a radio.

"Where have you been shitbird? The Royals are getting waxed." Pete acted as if my presence could save the Royals from yet another shellacking.

I pulled up a milk crate to sit on and grabbed the bag of chips from Danny.

"I went fishing. What’s the score?"

"It’s three to one Cards bottom of the eight. I don’t see any fish. You never stay fishing this long if they aren’t biting."

"I met a girl." I told them around a mouth full of chips. "Got any more soda’s?"

"A girl. What was she a mermaid?" Pete laughed.

"She’d have to be half catfish if you caught her in that muddy water. Probably got long whiskers like an old mud cat." Danny said coming back from the old refrigerator and tossed me a can of RC cola.

"Actually she looked kind of like Elizabeth Taylor in National Velvet."

"Well that’s nice since you look like Mickey Roonie." Pete smiled.

"Where did you find this girl?"

"She was on the old railroad bridge." I told them.

"What was she doing there." Danny asked stealing the chip bag back from me.

"She said she was meeting somebody there."

"Her boyfriend. I’m surprised he didn’t kick your butt."

"She said it wasn’t her boyfriend, doesn’t matter they never showed up."

"Who is this girl anyway?" Pete asked. "I’ve never seen any lonely beauty around here."

"Her name is Amanda. She’s here visiting her Uncle Tim Johnson."

"Tim Johnson, that crazy bastard ain’t got any family since his kid drowned and his wife wrapped herself around that tree." Pete told us with authority.

Pete’s dad was the local mortician. By close proximity Pete had a very casual attitude toward death and the dead. According to his stories filled with graphic details he had seen numerous dead bodies in all manner of disrepair.

"At the funerals for the baby and later for Tina Johnson there was about ten people. All of them friends of the family. She was an orphan and his family all croaked years ago."

"Why would she lie?" Danny asked.

"Maybe her family is close to Mr. Johnson and she just thinks of him like an uncle."

"I don’t remember seeing any girl like you’re talking about around for the funeral. Why anybody would claim that guy is beyond me." Pete shook his head. "He’s been wigged out ever since his family bought the farm."

"That guy is off the deep end dude. He looks like hammered shit, he doesn’t work just sits at home all day or out at the cemetery. My dad says it some kind of weird that the guy hasn’t punched his own ticket just like his wife did."

"Guys shut up." Danny screamed. "The Royals got two men on they can tie or win it."

She had said the Royals would win. Well, not so much would win as could win. I guess there’s a difference.

* * * *

That evening I walked ten blocks out of my way to look at the Johnson house. The grass was overgrown and there was only one light on in the kitchen. There were no vehicles parked in the driveway or at the front curb. If Tim Johnson had company they were gone now.

Before I went to bed I called Pete.

"How did Tim Johnson’s kid die?"

"It was a baby. The mother left it in the tub for a minute when the phone rang or something and it slipped under the water."

"What about Mrs. Johnson? You said she killed herself. I thought she had a car wreck."

"She smacked a tree out on the quarry road doing about a hundred miles an hour, no skid marks, no swerving to avoid it. Hit dead on. My dad says the grief was to much for her."

"Thanks Pete."

"Did you go visit your sweetie?"

"I walked by. The place looks barely lived in. I didn’t see anybody."

"I told you. She lied to you for some reason. Maybe she’s a gypsy or something casing the town for the rest of her band so they can rip off the unsuspecting citizens."

"You need mental help Pete." I hung up on him.

* * * *

The next morning I was up early. I rode my bike to the Johnson house. In case Amanda and her family were staying at the motel in Hobbs Corner, the next town over, and that they would be back today.

When I rounded the corner there was a car pulling out of the drive. I put my head down and kept pedaling as it passed me, watching it out of the corner of my eye.

The driver was the only occupant, Tim Johnson. I turned around and followed. It wasn’t hard to do in such a small town. Once he turned and started out Sunset Street I knew where he was going, the cemetery.

Mr. Johnson pulled to a stop, got out of the car and walked to a pair of graves that were new enough that the grass hadn’t grown back over their raw surfaces. There weren’t even real grave stones, just those little metal markers. I stopped my bike on the far side of his car and waited, hoping to talk to him when he left the cemetery.

The minutes passed and I started to get impatient. I concentrated my gaze on his back trying to get him to return to his car. The harder I stared the more obvious it was that his shoulders were shaking. My ears strained for sound and finally it came to me, faintly at first and then stronger. The braying sobs of a man with no care of discovery.

I walked toward him across the dewy grass trying to make some natural noise to warn him of my approach. I was as silent as a ghost the one time I wished for sound.

He was drawing in great gulps of air and releasing them as tear soaked breaths.

"Mr. Johnson are you alright?"

He turned his face to me not with a start from fear or shock but with a resigned sigh.

"Who are you?" He asked with a soggy sniff to clear his nose.

"My name is Josh Riggins Mr. Johnson."

He looked closer at me.

When I looked back at him it was much like looking at a dead man. His skin had the tint of ash and was much thinner and more deeply lined than a man his age should be. His hair was in need of a cutting and hung greasy and limp around his face. But it was his eyes that shook me the most. It was like glimpsing eternity. They seemed to be bottomless and unfocused. Almost as if there was nothing but pain behind them.

"You’re Jack Riggins boy?"

"Yes sir."

"What do you want?"

"I saw you here sir and I wanted to make sure you were alright . . ."

"I am fine. If you could just leave me alone." He said turning back to the graves.

"Actually sir that was a lie. I followed you here to talk to you."

"What? I don’t even know you, I barely know your father. Just leave me alone." His voice sounded as hollow as his eyes looked.

"Mr. Johnson yesterday I talked to a girl her name was Amanda."

His back stiffened.

"I met her at the railroad bridge. She said she knew you."

He didn’t look at me but his voice seemed to be drying up a little, taking on some life. "You must be mistaken, I don’t know any Amanda.

"She told me you were her uncle. That her family was visiting you. I came by last evening to see her and it didn’t look like anyone was at your home."

He was wringing his hands in front of him. "I don’t know why you’re doing this but I don’t know any Amanda and there is no one visiting me. I’m trying to spend a few minutes with my wife and daughter if you’ll just let me be."

He walked rapidly back to his car. Before he got in he turned to me.

"If she were visiting me why would she be way down at the railroad bridge?"

"I don’t know sir. She said she was waiting to meet someone. I’m sorry to have bothered you. She must have been lying." I stood with my hands shoved in my pockets.

"If you see her again let me know."

"I will sir."

* * * *

I rode my bike to the railroad bridge for some reason thinking that when I got here she would be standing in the same place. The bridge was empty.

I walked down to where we had stood the day before, hoping that something in the air would give me answers. Why would she lie to me, was she a run away or some kind of criminal like Pete had suggested? Had she simply picked a name at random and been lucky enough to pick a name I knew? I didn’t think any of my ideas were any truer than what she had told me.

The trip home took me by the grade school playground. There in one of the swings was the girl, Amanda. She was watching me as I rode. From this distance, I could just make out a small smile on her face. This morning she wore jeans and a sweat shirt with the sleeves cut off. She pointed at something and I followed with my eyes just in time to avoid crashing into a telephone pole.

I stood with my feet on the ground straddling the cross bar of the bike. Amanda got up and went to the see-saws motioning me over. I left my bike at the curb and went to where she stood.

"Get on." She said choosing an end of the see-saw. Once I was on she lifted her feet but nothing happened. I out weighed her and so controlled the balance. I pushed slightly with my toes to start the teeter-totter motion.

"Did your team win the game?" Her hair was loose today and it billowed out around her face.

"Yes. How did you know?"

"A lucky guess."

We traded high and low points in the cool morning air.

"Did your friend ever show up yesterday?"

"No. I might have better luck today."

"I went to Mr. Johnson’s house last night."

She didn’t seem surprised. "Did you find what you were looking for?"

"You weren’t there."

"You came to see me? How sweet." Her smile was a constant thing, her eyes never leaving me.

"I talked to Mr. Johnson this morning. He said he doesn’t know you."

"Mr. Johnson has been under a lot of stress lately. He sometimes doesn’t know what he’s saying or doing."

"I’ve never heard anybody call their uncle Mister before."

She hopped off her seat when she was at the top, landing nimbly like a cat.

"Let’s do the merry-go-round, come on Josh Riggins."

She grabbed one of the bars and started running. Once she had it going to a satisfactory speed she jumped on and lay down on her back.

"Make it go faster Josh."

I grabbed the bars as they passed, flinging each away from me with all my strength, pushing the carousel faster and faster, unsure of how to continue our conversation. My curiosity demanded I question this mysterious girl but a kind of fear kept me from it. I was afraid I would frighten her away by asking too much.

"Get on. Ride with me." She called.

I jumped on and laid down. Our heads almost touching.

"You don’t even know Mr. Johnson do you?"

"That’s not true I do know him. I’m just sure he never expected me."

"You’re not traveling with your family are you." Some strands of her long hair fluttered across my cheek.

"Not really." Her voice was very quiet.

"Are you a run away?" The cloud’s overhead were spinning like pinwheels in the powder blue sky.

"Sort of." There was a pause. "You won’t tell on me will you? At least until I see who I came to see. Because if you do we won’t be able to see each other anymore."

I had no reply. There were too many thoughts in my head.

"Where do you stay?" I finally said. Asking what I thought of as a harmless question.

"I found a way to sneak into the school. Don’t worry I won’t tear anything up. Foods not a problem . . . I have money."

"Will you keep my secret Josh?" She pleaded.

I thought about it. "For now."

She reached over and took my hand in hers. "Thank you."

"Why don’t you just go to whoever it is that you are supposed to meet? Wouldn’t that be easier?"

She rolled over and propped herself up on one elbow her hand still grasping mine.

"You’re smart Josh and I know you’re curious. But you have to promise no more questions, or we can’t see each other anymore. I’m taking a terrible chance as it is, but I like you and since you came along on the bridge I figure what can it hurt."

"Okay Manda, no more questions."

She sighed. "I have to meet this person at a certain spot. No place else will do."

I knew she had told me more than she felt she should, trying to satisfy my questions.

I jumped up and started pushing the merry-go-round. "This train is slowing down and we can’t have that. Hang on Manda here we go, faster than light."

She sat up laughing. Laying her hand on top of mine again on the metal bracing.

"Woo, woo." She imitated a train whistle.

Again we talked away the hours as we played like two little kids on the swings and slipper slides. Once the sun was high over head we stopped to catch our breath.

"Do you like ice cream Manda?"

"Who doesn’t?" she asked.

"We could go get some. At the drug store, it’s not far."

She looked away toward the river. "I’d like to Josh, more than anything. But I have to be getting to my meeting."

"Will I see you again? I mean if you have this meeting today will you just leave?" My eyes were downcast.

She moved close beside me. "I will try to see you again no matter what happens." She leaned against me and I could feel her heart beat like the fluttering of a bird. She kissed my cheek very lightly.

"Don’t follow me Josh. You have to promise." She whispered.

"I won’t." I promised myself as much as her.

Her lips brushed mine and then she was walking away. "See you Josh Riggins."

"Mr. Johnson asked me to tell if I saw you again. What should I do?"

"What do you think?"

The child in me saw a distinct difference in not telling about something if it didn’t come up in conversation and not telling an adult about something that they had asked about. One was a deletion the other was an out right lie. The coming adult in me said that I had made a promise and that maybe Amanda’s business was no one’s but her own, even though she was no older than me.

"Royals by two today Josh. Impress your friends."

* * * *

The Royals won by two that afternoon but my heart wasn’t in it. Even when Pete and Danny sat looking at me with their mouths agape at my pre-game prediction.

My gaze kept going to the south out the door of the garage. To the river and the rail bridge, wondering if she had made the meeting that she was waiting for.

Who was she. All I knew was her first name and that she had asked for my trust and friendship. The touch of her lips was still hot on my mind.

" . . . Christ you fruit, are you in a coma? Earth to Josh. Come in

Josh." Pete was shouting at me.

"What?" I stammered back.

"I ask if you saw your girl friend?" Danny snickered.

"No." I lied. It came easy to my tongue. It was just one word like yes, only the opposite.

"She was probably some hippie run away. Already blowed out of town with some trucker."

"Pete you have a twisted sense of things. I have to go, I have some stuff I need to do."

"See you later moon-unit. Going home to stare into space and make some more ball game predictions?"

"Exactly asswipe."

"See you Josh." Danny replied.

"See you when you get back to earth." Pete sneered.

* * * *

I rode straight to the Johnson house. It looked deserted but I rang the bell anyway. Curtains rustled in the living room and the door swung open.

Tim Johnson stood in the opening a bottle of whiskey in his hand, he looked even worse now than he did this morning. Another ten years could have been wrung from his life.

"You again. Part two of your little prank?" He drank from the bottle.

"I don’t know what you’re talking about Mr. Johnson. You told me to tell you if I saw her again."

"This Amanda girl, right?" He weaved a little in the doorway and I thought he might topple over.

"Yes sir. Why don’t we go inside sir, so you can sit down."

He flopped down on his haunches back resting on the door jamb.

"We can sit right here. What did this girl look like kid? This Amanda?"

I felt embarrassed for him. That someone might pass by and see him in such a sorry state. I was too young to understand the depths of some grief.

"She’s very pretty. Violet eyes and black hair, lots of wavy black hair. She said everyone calls her Manda."

He let out a keening wail, trying to get to his feet. "Why are you doing this? Why would anyone be so cruel? My wife and daughter are dead. What enjoyment can you get from this?"

He swung the bottle drunkenly at me. I ducked under it easily and it smashed into the wall of the house. The momentum of his movement caused Mr. Johnson to trip himself up and fall to the ground. He was unable to regain his feet and lay struggling on the ground.

I helped pull him to a standing position with a hand under his arm, pushing him back into the house as I did so. The house had the closed up heated smell of an animal lair. I steered the wreck of a man to the sofa in the living room. He lay down on it in a heap.

"Mr. Johnson I don’t mean you any harm. Everything I’ve told you is true. I hardly know more than you. The girl, this Amanda seems sad and lonely. I think she’s some kind run away. For what ever reason she thinks she knows you. I’m going to go now and I won’t bother you again." I turned to go.

"Where did you see her this time?" He sobbed.

"At the school playground, but she left there. Said she was going to met this person she’s supposed to meet."

I didn’t turn back to him instead I kept my gaze downcast. It fell on a photograph on the coffee table. There was a framed picture with the glass shattered out of it. I picked it up to get a better look, Mr. Johnson and a woman obviously in happier times.

A lamp snapped on. The woman in the picture could be Amanda’s sister, the hair and eyes a perfect match

"My wife Tina. That was taken on our honeymoon."

He was sitting up studying my face.

"I have to go. I won’t bother you again." I felt leaden fear in my stomach. There was something I could not understand at work here.

"Did your friends put you up to this prank? Go scare the crazy man, describe his wife to him. See if we can drive him around the bend?"

"No Mr. Johnson that’s not it at all. I told you I won’t bother you anymore."

"No, no you won't." He replied with an even gaze and an iciness his voice. "Tell them they needn't have bothered. I've decided no one is going to bother me. Now get the hell out of my house."

I fairly ran from the house, but called out as I slammed the door. "I think she wants to see you Mr. Johnson."

* * * *

I spent the rest of the day in my room making every attempt to listen to a ball game on the radio. The girl Amanda and Mr. Johnson filled my thoughts. Who was she and what was her purpose here? Had Mr. Johnson’s comment meant what I thought it meant? Was he so locked in his sorrow that taking his own life seemed the solution?

Evening was coming, the summer sun was losing its heat and the light was beginning to soften. I had no idea who won the ball game. My mother shouted to me that supper would be in half an hour as I ran out the kitchen door.

I pedaled to the Johnson house as fast as my legs would carry me. Pounding on the door brought no answer, I tried to look in the heavily draped windows. Every glimpse of the dark interior was empty.

I raced to the railroad bridge. Mr. Johnson's car sat at the end of the street that paralleled the tracks through town to the river. My gaze went immediately to the crossing. There was no one there. My stomach sank, I was too late.

The sorrow had been too much for him. The desire to end his loneliness and guilt had outweighed his hold on life. I stood near the hood of the car, afraid to go down to the river. His body would have been swept away by the current but the thought of going so soon to the place a man had ended his life kept me from moving.

"She never came." A voice startled me from my fear struck meditation.

I spun to the direction of the voice.

Tim Johnson sat behind the wheel of the car. Eyes bloodshot, shoulders slumped in dejection.

My heart was thudding so loudly I thought my chest would burst.

"Mr. Johnson, you...I thought..."

"Come to see your handy work? Where's your friends?"

I walked to the open window.

"My friends have nothing to do with this. There's no sick game like you think. I only know what she told me and what I feel from you. Mr. Johnson I can't begin to know what you're going through but I can't think that your wife or your child would want you to stop living."

My daughter drowned in a moments careless accident. Barely four months old and we lost her. My wife felt the guilt so heavy that she took her own life to end it. I couldn't save either one of them and now I don't want to be without them anymore. Is that so wrong?"

"I can only imagine how much you miss them, but to end your life because theirs is over. That can't be right. Do you think what your wife did was right?"

"Right? What could possibly be right about my family being taken from me. A baby, a tiny baby and a beautiful woman that never intentionally hurt a soul."

"So you know that your babies death wasn’t her fault?"

He hung his chin to his chest and sobbed. "I never blamed Tina. I knew it was an accident. No matter how horrible it was, I never blamed her."

"Would you want her to give up on life if you had it to do over Mr. Johnson?"

"No of course not."

"Would she want you to give up?" I wasn’t even sure where the words were coming from but they poured out to this broken man, trying to help him find comfort and courage.

"Would she want you to give up?" I repeated.

"No." He shouted. "No she wouldn’t."

"Would your baby want you to give up?"

"No, Goddamnit."

"Respect them Mr. Johnson."

He started the car and pulled away from the curb.

"She never came. I thought she wanted to see me."

I looked down at the rusting hulk that spanned the river. Maybe she was gone for good. Had I been duped into playing some cruel trick on Tim Johnson?

I felt worn out and empty but couldn’t resist the urge to go down to the bridge, waiting to see if she would come to stand on its worn wooden planks waiting for some mysterious meeting. I stood watching the swirling water until full darkness came and the water and the night blended as one. Crickets chirped and night birds fluttered, no Amanda.

I pedaled home and got chewed out by my mother for missing supper. I ate the plate she had saved for me cold and went to bed.

The next morning milky sunlight through the window woke me. A pearly fog covered the neighborhood, clinging to everything like a wet shroud. I played with my breakfast, trying to let the sun burn away the depressing vapor.

My mother picked up the bowl of soggy cereal. "If you’re not going to eat it don’t play with it. Go on outside see if you can get some of this blue funk blown off of you. Go. Supper is at 5:30, be here."

Her talk of a blue funk made me realize that if I was depressed by the fog what would Mr. Johnson be like?

I pedaled like a madman, his garage door was up, the car gone. The cemetery, he goes to the cemetery in the mornings. I streaked through the fog.

Once in the cemetery I pedaled slowly, out of respect for the dead and a goose fleshy fear of foggy cemeteries, to the spot where his wife and baby were buried.

No Mr. Johnson, but the small metal markers had been replaced with the actual head stones:

Beloved Wife Tina Marie Johnson 1949-1974

Cherished Daughter Amanda Jane Johnson 1974-1974

The metal markers hadn’t even listed the child’s name. Had it been published in the obituary? Had the girl seen the name there?

The only other place I could think to look for Mr. Johnson was the crossing. I pedaled that direction disregarding my fear of the dead and cutting directly across any grave between me and the gate.

In the shallow valley that formed the river bottom the fog lay as heavy as a wool blanket. It deadened sound and distorted distances. I was nearly on top of Mr. Johnson’s car before I saw it. This morning the interior was empty.

The crossing bridge was hidden in the mist. I walked in its direction following the overgrown foot path. Near the end of the bridge a shape separated itself from the fog, Mr. Johnson walking toward me.

"I saw the markers this morning Mr. Johnson. I didn’t know your daughters name before that I swear." I began in way of explanation.

His face was still haggard and unshaven but it had somehow changed. There was some focus of light in his eyes, a color of life to his cheeks.

He nodded. "Almost no one knew. My wife and I were having a terrible time picking out a name. Jane was my mothers name, Amanda was Tina’s grandmother, we just couldn’t decide."

There was a smile on his face. The first I had seen.

"I started calling her Manda. That’s what they called Tina’s grandmother until she died at eighty-three. Almost no one knew, she was so little when we lost her."

"Are you all right Mr. Johnson? You look different."

He laughed. Not a hollow empty thing, but full of mirth.

"I am surprisingly well for the first time in a long time."

He looked back at the bridge. "I never would have believed . . . "

He turned and looked at me. "She’ll want to see you I’m sure. She said you were a great help to her. Thank you."

He put a hand on my shoulder and squeezed. "I’ll wait at the car if you want."

I nodded and he walked away.

I went down onto the bridge. My footfalls dull thuds on the planks.

She was there at the center. Today she wore cheerleaders outfit, with ponytails. She didn’t look up until I was right beside her.

"Hello Josh. What do you think?" She held her arms up and spun around. The red and white pleated skirt opening like a parasol.

"I think it would have been fun. Maybe date the captain of the football team. What about you?"

"I don’t think dating cheerleaders is really going to be my thing. I’m not that good a jock."

"You never know. I really like you." She motioned to her outfit. "And I’m a cheerleader."

"I think this is different." I leaned against the railing.

"You’re probably right. You kind of put me in a fix showing up the way you did that day. But it all worked out and I’m glad I met you."

"What do you mean?"

"It’s funny how some of it works. I was supposed to meet my dad on the bridge that day. I was only four months old so I couldn’t very well meet him that way and make much sense. So when he came down here to jump in the river and saw me I would have been about his age. We would have had a long talk and hopefully he wouldn’t have done it."

"I’m really confused."

"Instead you came along and I ended up like this, your age. Dad saw us and it scared him off. So in a way you saved his life that day and I think everyday since then."

I looked into her eyes again. I knew what I felt needed to be said.

"You're not real are you?"

She touched my cheek and smiled. "I'm as real as anything you'll ever see. I'm as real as you."

Amanda kissed me on the mouth. The first time I had ever really kissed a girl.

She pulled away and looked at me. Before she could say a word I grabbed her shoulders and kissed her back.

When I let her go she took in a deep breath.

"So you don't forget me." I explained.

She had a blush to her cheeks. "Go home Josh I have to go."

"I'll never see you again will I?"

"I told you I'd never say good-bye. It may be awhile before we see each other again but we will I promise." Her eyes looked soft and misty.

"It's not fair." I complained.

"Things happen for a reason. Don't forget that. You helped save my dad’s life. You have a way with people that you should use." She held my hand and I didn't want her to let go but I knew it was coming.

"Where will you go?" I asked.

"Not far really."

"I'll never forget you."

"You better not, otherwise how would I find you again. Now go."

I turned and walked off the bridge toward town. Every fiber of my being wanted to look back but I knew I shouldn't. I was afraid that if I looked back I would see some transparent sparkling image of my imagination, of my insanity fading from sight. If I didn’t looked back she would always be there on that bridge like the first time I saw her. . .

* * * *

"What happened the last few days?" I asked Mr. Johnson.

"I don’t know, I don’t understand any of it. I only know in my heart that it was real and that I owe you a debt of gratitude That I hope I can repay someday."

"You don’t owe me anything." I looked back at the fog. "I only wish that . . ."

* * * *

When I came into the clinic the first patients of the day were ready to be seen. It was still a small town and I knew almost everyone by sight.

Linda Pomaroy the receptionist smiled at me from her desk.

"Morning Dr. Riggins."

"Good morning Linda. Does Alice have the first patient ready for me to work on?" I rubbed my hands together in a mock parody of a mad scientist.

"Room two." She laughed. "But Alice called in sick. She said she would be in later."

"Nothing serious?"

Linda shook her head to the negative. "Just the flu. They sent a temporary over from Hobbs Corners to help out until Alice is back up."

I walked to the number two exam room. "Call Alice and tell her I will stop by her house later to see her, so she can stay in bed and rest please."

"Sure doctor."

In the exam room was a mother and coughing child. More flu to battle.

"Hi Katie." I said kneeling down to get closer to the little girls level. She managed a small smile despite her illness. "Still having problems with this darn flu?"

The little girl nodded and stifled a cough.

"Fever still up there Jennifer?"

"Yes I've used the Diamatap and those medicated suckers you gave for her sore throat but she doesn't seem to be improving."

As I looked at the little girls eyes I heard the door to the exam room open and close behind me.

"Well I tell you what this little Chickadee may have hatched out something more serious than the flu. Maybe she found some strep throat out there somewhere. We'll check it out and maybe prescribe some antibiotics. Nurse could you get me a ..."

A tongue depressor appeared near my hand. A nurse with as much ESP as Alice from the hospital at Hobbs Corner. I was impressed.

"Thank you...I'm sorry Linda didn't give me your name. Say Ah for me Katie. I'll need a swab too please."

The swab appeared by my hand.

"Here you are Doctor Riggins. My name is Amanda, but everyone calls me Manda."

I looked up into a pair of violet eyes framed by long dark lashes.

"How?" I croaked.

"We can make choices where I'm from too."

"Fifteen years, were you not sure until now?"

"It was only a second to me, I swear. I got there and came right back here. You’re the one that let so much time pass. That happens here, not where I was."

Mother and daughter were staring at us.

"She's a ghost." I explained.

"Of course she is." Jennifer replied, thinking I was joking with her. "Just what I always thought a ghost would look like."

"No I mean..." I tried to explain.

Amanda put a finger on my lips.

"Actually I was an angel, but I’m retired now." She told the mother.

The little girl laughed. "Angels don’t retire."

Amanda bent down. "Sure they do sweetie. It’s just that most times nobody notices."

THE END

Dec.20,1998 Zen McCan

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