The Bridge

Kim Saunders chewed her lower lip, trying not to let this little field trip bother her. She sat in the passenger’s seat, dressed as Little Red Riding Hood with a small wicker basket resting in her lap. Angela Peter’s party had been totally lame. Bobbing for apples? Did she think they were all still in the fifth grade?  Carter Donovan, her boyfriend, drove—his face painted like Brandon Lee’s The Crow. He was a wide receiver on the football team, two years her senior, and incredibly gorgeous even in ghoul make-up. She would’ve gone anywhere he asked her to. And it wasn’t like they were going alone. There were Tony and Tina, Mark and Ellen…three couples crammed into an old station wagon on a dark country road. Safety in numbers, right? There was nothing to be nervous about. Nothing. After all, there were no such things as ghosts… even on Halloween.

As Edna Collings Bridge drew nearer, she found her heart thudding louder in her ears. “Old” places bothered her. It wasn’t that she found them creepy, although she did. If she spent enough time in some buildings, she got physically ill—headaches, nausea, chills. There were even older portions of the school that made her head spin. The doctor chalked it up to a simple mold allergy or mild asthma.

These breathing problems had made her mother overprotective to the point of smothering. The woman would go crazy whenever Kim got a simple bruise or scrape. More recently, they nearly came to blows over the issue of Kim’s driver’s license. Her Driver’s Ed instructor granted her a waiver, but dear old Mom said she needed more practice. At last her father—

The voice of reason!

—stepped in to say she’d earned the right to take the test.

“Amy, just because she has a license doesn’t mean she can take off whenever she wants,” he reminded her, “We still hold the car keys.”

Her mother gave him that scolding glare of hers—the one that said, “You always give in to her”—but she finally agreed to let Kim take the test.

Which I passed, thank you very much!

And what would Mom think of this late night ride to the middle of nowhere?

She wouldn’t like it at all, Kim thought with a smile. Which is all the more reason to do it.

The car entered the gaping maw of the elderly covered bridge. Faint light from the dashboard was all that stood between them and total darkness. Carter drove to the middle of the overpass and stopped.

“Turn off the motor,” Mark called from the back seat, his voice filtered through the hockey mask he wore. “You gotta turn off the motor.”

Carter nodded and pulled back on the key. The engine coughed several times, then died. After a moment of uneasy silence, he gave Kim a wink and she smiled in spite of her fears. Slowly, he turned to face the back seat. His letterman jacket made an odd creaking sound. “Has everyone heard the story?” he asked.

Tony pulled off his ninja hood and grabbed Tina by the shoulders. “She hasn’t.”

The Hershey’s flag from Tina’s silver kiss costume slapped him across his face. “It’s bullshit, whatever it is.”

“We’ll see, won’t we?” Carter grinned—a gothic clown with a campfire story for the kiddies. “Back in the 20’s there was this family who would come here for picnics along the stream that runs right under this bridge. They would eat and lounge around, the father would fish, and the little girl would swim in the stream. When it started to get dark, the parents would drive into this covered bridge, turn off their motor, and honk three times. That was the signal for the little girl that it was time to go home.

One day, when they honked their horn, the girl didn’t come. They looked everywhere for her and, finally, they found her body. She’d drowned.” He paused for effect, his eyes spanning each of their faces before continuing. “They say that if you drive into this bridge at night, turn off your motor, and honk your horn three times—”

Mark cut him off, “I thought it was five times?”

“That’s Candyman,” Ellen corrected with a nervous giggle. Kim couldn’t believe her mother let her walk out of the house in that dominatrix outfit.

Carter went on. “You honk your horn three times, just like her parents did. If you do that…the ghost of that drowned little girl will come get in the car, ready to go home with you.”

There was another brief silence, broken by Mark’s mock moaning. Ellen elbowed him and Tony laughed.

“Shut-up everyone.” Carter placed his hand above the steering wheel, ready to smack the horn. “You guys ready?”

They nodded.

He hit the horn…once…twice…three times.

Kim looked around nervously. She felt something brush her leg and stiffened in her seat. Thankfully, she didn’t shriek. When she looked down, she could barely make out Carter’s hand in the darkness—stroking her thigh.

“How long is it supposed to take?” Tina asked.

Tony put a finger to her mouth. “Shhh! You’ll scare away the ghost.”

There was something coming toward them—a dark shadow blotting out the square of moonlit road on the opposite end of the bridge. Whatever it was, it had wings. Before Kim could say a word, the form collided with the windshield.

The girls screamed at the loud thud.

“What the hell was that?” Tony wanted to know.

“It was a bird,” Carter told them, his hand left Kim’s thigh—feeling the glass where the animal impacted. “Damn thing smacked right into us.”

“It wasn’t a bird,” Kim told him, clutching the handle of her basket. “It was a bat.”

He shrugged. “Maybe. This place is old and in the woods.”

“And haunted,” Mark added with a nervous giggle, puffs of breath rising like smoke signals from his lips.

“Don’t bats have radar or something?” Ellen asked, then shuddered. “Start the motor again, I’m freezing.”

“We can’t,” Tony huffed. “The ghost won’t show if the car’s running.”

“The ghost isn’t gonna show anyway,” Tina assured him, “because there’s no ghost.”

Behind Kim’s head, the passenger window shattered. An ice storm of glass blew inward, stinging the bare skin of her right arm and leg. Her hair broke free of her hood, blowing across her face like a tattered shroud. Between the strands she saw a figure step from the shadows. It moved closer to her door—a little girl with a blue, wrinkled face, sunken eyes, and green hair matted with sediment.

“I’m ready to go,” the dead thing said, its voice no louder than a whisper. “Ready to go home.”

It reached into the car and grabbed Kim by the arm. Its flesh was soft and horribly spongy. She screamed until she thought her throat would rupture, until the sound began to unravel into a hoarse whining. Carter turned on the engine and slammed his foot on the gas. As the car lurched forward, the little girl’s wet grip slipped from Kim’s wrist.

When they cleared the bridge, Kim slid across the seat, stray slivers of grass carving into her legs. She was still trying to scream as she climbed into Carter’s lap. The car stopped quickly, a cloud of dust rising from the road, and he tried to find out if she was okay. For what seemed like an eternity, she couldn’t speak. Finally, she told him, “It touched me! It touched my arm!”

Carter Donovan had not seen the dead girl. None of them had. They thought another bat had flown at the station wagon, thought it had brushed against Kim before retreating into the dark. She never told them what really happened. Insurance paid for new glass, Band-Aids covered the cuts she received from the broken shards, but nothing could fix her shattered sense of reality, and nothing could cure her newfound fear of the dark.

For this and other chilling tales, order Skull Full of Kisses now from:,,,,,, Barnes&Noble, BooksAMillion, Kobo, iBooks, Joseph-Beth, Powell’s, Indiebound,, or your favorite book store.

And to learn what happens next to Kim, order Cinema of Shadows now from:,,,, Barnes&Noble, BooksAMillion, Joseph-Beth, Powell’s, Kobo, iBooks, Indiebound,, or your favorite book store.

Illustration from Cinema of Shadows by Matt Perry