Tossing and turning with darkness and melancholy on my chest, I rolled out of bed and dressed slowly. It was girls; it was my sister; it was an oppressive home and a bone-deep sadness that held back sleep, but it was also a calling.
Something from far away was calling. A yearning, a need, a desire to be seen—to be heard—came through my window and stole into my room. It was desperate. It was lonely, and it summoned me from miles away. I was helpless to hold back its call. When I had bundled up against the weather of a Missouri November, I snuck out of my room and out into the darkness.
My stepdad wasn’t home yet. My mother fast asleep, there was no one to see me as I crept out of the house and into the night. The cold held me close, but I had Wisconsin blood in me, and I did not find it harsh. The walking felt good, and with an urgency that could not be placed, I turned my feet northeast up Highway Z and disappeared into the darkness.
Southwest was town. It was fast food and civilization. It was a lit path, a safe path, but that was not where I was going. I was headed into the dark, headed down a windy outer road that would take me where, I did not know. I passed the abandoned watch tower that loomed, judgemental and pious, above the trees. It seemed to know my destination and warn me of delving too deep into the hollows of Missouri. But the call was stronger out here, and I did not pause. I put the old ranger tower to my back and ventured forward.
When I reached the last lights of the city, I walked passed them quickly. I did not want to be seen, did not want the questions that would come. I left Best Western behind and slipped into the cut of a road that disappeared into mystery, a place I had not been before, a place I had not even seen on my quick passes through this area. But I was being led here. The excitement of the being that summoned me was palpable in the air. It was a vital thing of long ago past, and I knew it was nothing of this world. Its need was too great to be anything human, and its power too mighty to be of nature.
The dark road here was telling in its stillness. It spoke of a hidden truth, a place forgotten and abandoned that had been left to die. This was Old Route 66, a road replaced by the busy interstate, whose loud bustle was even now fading into the darkness. I walked on, my breath frosted and frantic as I moved, my heart quickening to the growing rhythm of my treads as I heightened my pace.
I found an island of light when I had gone miles on, a great street light, higher than any I had ever seen, and wider and brighter than I had remembered street lights ever being. This was the solemn guardian, the last bit of protection from the savage black, and I passed it as fast as I could, fearing it would reach out and hold me back. This tiny road was calling me, and I dove into it head first, gripped by a dire need to find the beast that ached for an ear to speak to, a soul to lay its burden upon. I walked another half mile before I found the bridge and stepped out onto the road that spanned the Big Piney.
It was a rusty steel structure with pocked cement and a skeletal framework that rose above it. Rails of steel held up a cage that supported the bridge, and I longed to climb the supports and howl to the night sky. I walked to the verge and stared down at the water, steaming and rushing below, that echoed back the image of the stars and the pregnant moon. I was here. Nearby, a creature was weeping, lonely and abused by time and space. Nearby, a soul needed my help.
There was a swishing of water, a passing that could not be normal. A thing lived under this bridge and, whatever it was, it was huge. It moved the water below. I sent my hearing there and found a slight whimper of mournful tears.
I called out to it softly. The words I said were inconsequential. I cannot remember them at all. They were spoken not of mouth, but of mind and heart, a reassurance that I was there, that I had come to help, and that I longed for its sadness to stop. I asked it desperately to come to me, let me gaze upon it and lend it aid in its stark loneliness.
I heard the dripping of water behind me and spun to see a sodden woman in a sheer dress, more tendrils of cloth than anything a human woman would wear. She did not shiver in the bitter cold. She did not show any sign of discomfort. She simple stood before me, steaming and weeping. Her hair was swept up off her neck. Her fingers, long and elegant, dripped quietly. She stepped forward, and I loved her instantly and fiercely.
Her skin was the slight hue of green, the whites of her eyes blue. Her hair was dark and gleaming. As she parted her lips, I needed to kiss her like I needed to breathe.
“What are you?” I asked, for she was not of this time, not of the world I knew. When she spoke, she possessed a voice of clarion quality and resonant tone that was at once beautiful to hear and terrifying to experience.
“Call me Leviathan, for I am of the water.”
“I am Jesse. Not much and from nowhere.”
“Now you are from here. Now this bridge will be your home,” she said, and I knew she was right. I fit here. I was of this place, as she was. I had found a home for my hope and my imagination, a seat of power for my mind.
“Why do you wait here, and who do you wait for?” I asked.
“I was trapped when the water receded. This valley was at one time an ocean. My mother spawned me here, and within this hollow I rested. When the waters left me, I was trapped here. That was eons beyond understanding now, a time this world has forgotten, and a place that has moved on.”
She looked upon my chest, and I felt her gaze within me at the heat and the will that drove me.
“What is that?” she asked with a gasp. She stepped forward and spread webbed fingers to place her palm on my chest. She seemed both drawn to, and terrified of, my pounding heart. I touched her hand that trembled and felt the cold wet of her skin. It jumped when my flesh touched hers, as if a current of love so pure and so powerful coursed through me that it brought me to quaking.
“This is my heart. This is what keeps me alive. This is what gives me life. It belongs to you now. It is yours for the taking.”
And had she stole it from me, I would have been satisfied. Had she turned her claws in on my chest and ripped my heart from my body, I would have been content to die in her arms and become her specter, to remain with her forever. But she did not claim my life. She drew her hand away with a shudder and smiled a sad smile.
“I will wait and claim it later. Then I will keep it for all time and cherish it beyond all things.”
She drew in close to me, and I opened my coat and arms, and wrapped myself around her. She eased within the warmth of my coat, and I pressed against her. In that moment, she was all that mattered, all that existed, and I dreaded being pulled away by a world that waited just beyond the bridge.
“My heart is here, this bridge, this river. I give it to you willingly and ask you take it with you everywhere you go, and return as often as you can to see me and grant me gifts.”
“What gift might you ask from me?” I said, for I knew that anything she asked would be given fully and without measure.
“Bring me stories of this place. Give me the gift of your voice and your passion. Bring me the people of your life and the way of your mind. Be with me here in this place as often as possible, and never forget me, until the day when I can come to you and leave this place forever.”
“It will be done.” I kissed her then. A cold, wet kiss, given freely and with a passion that dwelt within millennia of loneliness. She passed it all onto me then, a love that knew no harness, that could not be tamed or controlled. She gave me verve and an understanding of the mysterious and the beyond. She gave me the ability to see tales and understand them, to grasp a telling with both hands and shape it to a thing of beauty. She gave me words. She gave me power, and she handed me her love of all things dark and secret.
I woke up in my bed, my covers wet with what could have been sweat, though I was frigid and trembling. I dressed and rushed off to school and the monotony of the world. That night, I begged a friend to take me down that road and past its guardian, toward the tiny town of Devil’s Elbow. I had him drive out that last half mile to the bridge I had never seen but in my dream. When we stepped out onto the bridge, I told him a tale.
That was when it all started, and that is what I have been doing since. I tell my love her stories, and I hold her in my arms. She still trembles at my touch. I still ache for hers.