I won’t say it called out to me, more like it was waiting. So close to my sacred bridge, shrouded in darkness, and patient, it sat calculating what it was going to get from me. It had a rage I had never seen in a structure before. It had a kind of horror that is without definition.
I can only fail to capture in words what it was like to stand beneath this towering colossus and see it look down on me. I must use a mood to describe what my friends and I have dubbed the Bridge of Nightmares.
Leviathan and the werewolf live on a sacred bridge on Teardrop Road near Devil’s Elbow. Old Route 66 stretches straight and powerful, but Teardrop shoots off at an angle, wrapping around in a strange curve that joins 66 again about three miles on. The road is shaped like a teardrop, and thus it gets its name. To ride this road is to find a certain melancholy. The old stretch of pavement is potted and pocked and creased with decay, but it is a gorgeous ride through some of the most beautiful country Missouri has to offer. The retired road is forgotten by most, save the few who live there and those who come to visit. Teardrop is tired, but its majesty can not be dulled.
Teardrop is kind. Teardrop is worth visiting. When my friend’s car was stuck half-off the road in the darkest hours of night, I walked to the house of a sweet girl I will call Addy, and her father let me call for help. He offered to let me sit and wait for my ride. She and her father were good, wholesome people. They were Teardrop people.
But close to this bridge, there is another kind of road. This one dirt-clogged, with trees that pull in close and a cliff skirting its other side. Rocks could tumble from that cliff at any time. The road is broken and dark, with no lights, and only a few glum houses that have an unwelcoming taint to them.This switchback road is treacherous to turn onto, slippery with gravel. More than once I nearly got into an accident there. One time, it very nearly devoured my car. This bitter stretch of road snarls as one drives through it, and it leads to the Colossus and its rage.
We found ourselves traveling that patch of road one night. The bridge I loved had given me everything it could that night, but we were still thirsty for more. So, we made the switchback turn and went into the forbidding path. As soon as we passed into its mouth, the three of us, Tony, Walleye, and I, all fell quiet. In our silence, the radio was blaring. We soon turned it off.
Walleye started humming.
I knew the tune, though I had no idea why it came to him. We hadn’t heard it in a long time. Within a moment, I was singing it, too.
“And I think to myself, what a wonderful world,” I muttered.
“I see eyes of black, blood red, too. I see them cry. I see them die,” Walleye said.
“And I think to myself,” Tony said.
“What a wonderful world,” I finished.
My skin crawled, and I wanted out. Let me be clear. I did not want to turn the car around and go back to a place where darkness could not find me. I wanted out of the car. I wanted to climb. I wanted to be seen by whatever was out there. I wanted to serve it.
We crossed a place in the road where a shallow stream rushed over. When we passed that barrier, something changed. We all heard it, a rattling noise, a passing, a clacking.
“What is that?” I asked.
“A train,” Walleye answered.
We turned a curve in the road and our headlights hit the beast all at once. It was angry and raging. Its legs planted firmly in the ground, it rose to dizzying heights, a scaffolding of massive wooden logs that crossed over and again on one another. The skeletal form raked against the night sky and gleamed like black bones in the moonlight. We could hear a train rolling over it, though this bridge had not seen a train for a long time.
I saw a man sitting on one of the cross beams. His neck was bent strangely, and he grinned at me. I looked again, and he was gone. I grabbed the handle of the car door, and Tony stopped me. He gripped my arm, and when I looked back at him, he shook his head.
“No,” he said.
I shook him off. “I have to,” I replied.
I stepped out and under the bridge and it looked at me. I walked past the headlights, casting my shadow across the great feet of the beast, and I thought I saw it tremble. Walleye was out of the car now. Tony was standing in the door, gripping it tight and looking out over the hood.
The road stretched under the bridge, and I stepped to it and touched the dusty wooden legs. It’s gritty skin came off on my hand, black and chalky, like soot or ash. I turned to Tony, and I lost track of myself. What I tell you now was told to me afterward.
I smiled at him and said, “They finally found me.” I grinned, and the sight of it chilled Tony’s blood.“Oh momma, I’m in fear for my life from the long arm of the law.”
“What?” Walleye said.
“Hangman is coming down from the gallows and I don’t have very long,” I said. I started to climb. Tony told me not to, but couldn’t stop me. He was frozen in time, frozen in place. I kept reaching up, as if someone there was going to give me a hand. I was singing a low dirge.
“Oh momma, I can hear you a cryin’. You’re so scared and all alone. Hangman is coming down from the gallows and I don’t have very long,” I sang.
Tony called out to Walleye who was walking across the head lights, casting himself at the feet of the monster. Walleye’s voice became gravelly, and he grinned as he started singing.
“I see skies of gray, clouds of black, stacks of smoke, lungs of ash.” He stopped and turned, his body lit harshly by the light of the car. He laughed. According to Tony it was not a laugh any human man should have been able to make, and Walleye nodded slowly and smiled. “And I think to myself, what a wonderful world.”
I stood now on a high beam with my arms spread wide, and I shouted, “The jig is up. The news is out. They finally found me. A renegade that had it made, retrieved for a bounty.” I laughed and looked down with a grimace of fear and rage. “Never more to go astray. This will be the end today. I’m a wanted man.”
Tony doesn’t like to talk about what happened then. He said he knew at that moment I was going to drop to my death. I was dozens of feet above the ground, and I looked as if I was going to dive. Walleye said he didn’t know what happened. The next thing he knew, we were riding back the way we had come.
I remember stumbling out of Tony’s car, back on my Teardrop bridge, and dropping to my knees.
Every time I hear those songs, a dread feeling rises up in me, a feeling that something malevolent is watching me, a terrible certainty that I will be swallowed up by an evil out on a hateful road, and that my bridge, the beautiful bridge of Teardrop, will have to watch it all, too far away to stop it, too far away to reach out as I plunge to my death.
It is out there waiting. It is patient and plotting. This colossus of darkness has killed once before. I could smell the breath of the one who was helping me, guiding me up the side of the bridge’s bones that night, reaching down to pull me up as I climbed. I know he did not survive his climb.
I did. I’m sure I won’t try to climb the bridge again. I’m sure that next time my curiosity and my horrible fascination carry me out there, I won’t hear that song, and I won’t reach for a hand up.
I’m sure of it.