by Brian Biswas
ight was beginning to fall as I started across the bridge; my journey had been unsuccessful, I wished now only to be home. My hands in my pockets, my lantern slung over my shoulder, I moved quickly ahead; I was long overdue and my wife was surely worried: even from the start she'd expressed grave misgivings about my venture.
I was nearly halfway across when I thought I heard a cry rise up from the water below. I drew close to the edge and peered into the gathering darkness, but saw nothing. Only the nighttime playing tricks—or so I thought; I shrugged and continued onward. But I had traveled no more than a few paces when the sound came again, unmistakable this time: a low, shivering moan. I crossed to the other side and, my hands on the railing, stood on tiptoe and peered into the water below. The moonbeams danced upon the effluent river, but I saw nothing portending imminent danger, only pieces of flotsam which bobbed restlessly about. I was turning to go when suddenly, unexpectedly, I saw what I wish now I never—never!—had seen: it was a body, floating upon the water, floating serenely upon the water, face downwards, it made no movement; it was not real—I repeat, it was not real—but to me it was real. And possessed by a flight of fancy I pulled off my clothes—a chance for success could not be dismissed!—and I dove into the water, my arms opened wide so as to snatch up this poor victim the water had claimed. "Hang on!" I cried as I dove through the air, but when I reached the spot from where the sounds had come, there was no one there, no one to save. At first I felt a sense of relief, realizing no one had drowned, but that feeling, which can only be described as ludicrous in nature, gave way to one of abject horror, as I realized the full extent of my foolishness. Look what had happened to me!
The icy water caressed my face and I shivered uncontrollably; the river, which I estimated at some fifty yards wide, flowed sluggishly, as it had appeared to do from the shore, no deception there, and I was able to tread water with ease; the moon, shining over all, bathed me in a soft, pale luminescence; wavelets swirled around me, molding me, caressing me, and always the river's undercurrent tugged gently at my heels. I tried to swim to shore, but the waters, bewitched, held me fast. I could only float with the current which, though perceptible, seemed to carry me nowhere. At one point, I was certain I heard the laughing sounds of several travelers, drunk with their revelry, as they crossed the bridge, and I cried out repeatedly, my voice firm, urgent, but they paid me no heed.
Helpless and alone, unable even to struggle, I resigned myself to the inevitable: I was doomed. With only my lantern to guide me, I sank slowly into the depths.
Brian Biswas lives in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, with his wife and two children. His work has recently appeared in Dreams & Nightmares and Zahir.
His short story, "A Betrayal," was published in Issue #11 of The Cafe Irreal, and "The Room at the End of the World" appeared in Issue #14. "The Bridge" originally appeared in Colorado-North Review in 1991.
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story copyright by author 2006 all rights reserved